ROME — Pope Francis on Tuesday called for unity in the Catholic Church as he marked the 60th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, lamenting the divisions his modernizing reforms have spawned as the work of the devil.
Francis presided over a special evening Mass to commemorate the opening of Vatican II which brought the 2,000-year-old church into the modern age by allowing masses in the vernacular rather than Latin and putting more emphasis on emphasis on the role of the ordinary faithful in the life of the church.
Sixty years later, Vatican II is still very much divided among the faithful, with progressives seeing it as a break with the past and conservatives seeing it as fully in line with Church tradition and resenting the progressive reading of “the spirit of Vatican II”. The latest battleground has been the ancient pre-Vatican II Latin Mass, with traditionalists castigating Francis’ decision to drastically restrict its celebration.
In his homily, Francis blamed the temptation to choose a side in ideological battles on the “devil who wants to sow the scandal of division.”
“How many times, after the Council, have Christians preferred to choose sides in the Church, without realizing that they were breaking their Mother’s heart!” He asked. “Being on the ‘right’ or ‘left’, rather than with Jesus? Presenting themselves as ‘guardians of truth’ or ‘pioneers of innovation’ rather than seeing themselves as humble and grateful children of the Holy Mother Church?
He pleaded for the faithful to act as one, like the flock of Christ. “Let us overcome any polarization and preserve our communion,” he said.
Tuesday’s mass was celebrated in honor of Saint John XXIII, who summoned the council and presided over its opening session, and his remarkably well-preserved remains inside a glass coffin were on display near the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica.
The ceremony began with a reading of John’s inaugural address to the council and excerpts from some of the key Vatican II documents. It ended with the faithful leaving the basilica with candles in their hands, recalling the candlelight procession that lit up St. Peter’s Square on the night of October 11, 1962.
That night, the “good pope” came to the window of the Apostolic Palace and delivered his famous “moonlit speech” to the thousands who had gathered below. While pre-Vatican II popes usually spoke in formal terms, John surprised the crowd with an impromptu pastoral address urging the faithful to go home to their children, hug them and say is the Pope’s caress”.
The council would last another three years and outlive John, who died in 1963 of stomach cancer.
But when it was over, the council fathers had agreed on major changes in the life of the church. In addition to allowing liturgies in the vernacular, the Council Fathers also encouraged efforts to improve relations among Christians and revolutionized the Church’s relationship with Jews, including removing the phrase “treacherous Jews” from the liturgy. .
Francis, 85, is the first pope to be ordained after the council, and his priorities draw much inspiration from that.
“Above all peace, above all the poor church,” Vatican II historian Alberto Melloni told The Associated Press of Francis.
Melloni also pointed to Francis’ insistence on a “synodal” or decentralized church, emphasizing lay Catholics rather than clerics. The Church’s lay-centered vision is clearly evident in Francis’ decision to allow lay people, including women, to lead Vatican offices and in the two-year “synod” process in which Ordinary Catholic faithful have joined a global consultation on the life and mission of the church.
Conservatives have bristled at the Francis Synod process, with German Cardinal Gerhard Meuller recently claiming it amounts to a “hostile takeover of the Catholic Church.” He told broadcaster EWTN that Vatican II reaffirmed that divine revelation could not change and that any other interpretation was not only wrong but dangerous.
“John XXIII did not summon Vatican II to reinvent Catholicism,” writes Church historian George Weigel in his new book “To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II.”
“As he said in his opening address, the council’s ‘greatest concern’ must be the more effective presentation of Catholic truth in its entirety” through new language and vocabulary that could be understood in the modern world, wrote Weigel.