24: Vatican II: A Change Rooted in Continuity Preparing for the Third Millennium


Twenty years after the Second Vatican Council, an extraordinary Synod of Bishops invited the Church to reflect upon the elapsed twenty years. Renewal and reform were the themes analyzed. Today the Church, as an institution and as a community of faith, is starting a post-counciliar process, to engage the modern world in a dialogue about major social and intellectual questions of the day. The event of the Council follows the law of development in Catholic thought, that is, “the growing edge of tradition,” but it is a change rooted in continuity.

The principle and practice of collegiality is fundamental to the life of the Church. It can be explained as the collaborative relationship of the Pope with the bishops in teaching and ruling the Church. The Supreme Pontiff, together with the bishops, has supreme and full authority over the universal Church. Of course, a collegial style has several consequences in Catholic policy. First of all, it involves a decentralization of the decisionmaking process. Subsequently it demands an engagement of many people in positions of responsibility within the Church. The Church needs ecclesiastical changes and reform. Relationship with Protestant churches and other religious communities must be increased. Vatican II, with its themes of renewal and reform, has opened a new chapter of dialogue between the Church and contemporary culture. It has ascribed to the Church the task of protecting human rights and fostering peace in a nuclear age. Two important aspects brought along by Vatican II are the role of laity in the Church and the renewal of religious life. The role of laity received its strongest theological affirmation at the Council. The meetings of bishops and religious people are another aspect of the renewal of religious life. This ongoing dialogue can have an important impact on the Church's ministry and service, and on society.