Second Vatican Council

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The intervening period between the first and second Vatican Council was a time for both social and religious revolution. After World War Two, the new medium of television bought the Civil Rights Movement, the Women's Liberation debate and many other social and political issues into the lounge rooms of millions of people every night, sparking debate and fanning the flames of change. The Christian world did not escape this mood of change and in an unprecedented response, the Second Vatican Council was held. Between the time of the First Vatican Council and the Second Vatican Council the church was very conservative, traditional and remained virtually unchanged. The First Vatican Council addressed issues like rationalism and liberalism, and attempted to keep them separate from Catholicism. (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2012) However, in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s, concepts such as liberalism, communism, secularism, humanism, ecumenism and equality were all hot button issues that were affecting both the secular and religious world. Pope John felt that the First Vatican Council failed to address the pastoral aspects of the faith, so the Church decided to re-evaluate its practices and try to modernize the Catholic tradition by incorporating aspects of these ideologies into Catholicism. (Voice of Vatican 2, 2012) These religious paradigm shifts still influence our world today to a significant extent as topics discussed during the Council such as ecumenism, secularism, liberalism and equality continue to evolve within the Church today.

Vatican 2 was destined to be a radical shift from the conservative spirit which had overcome the First Vatican Council, and the general consensus was that the time was right for a review of the Churches practices. (González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. Vol. 2, 1985) While the initial catalyst of the council was Pope John XXIII, many external changes in the secular world played a significant role in assembling the council. Since the time of the First council, secularism had taken off and the Church no longer had the political power it once did. (González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. Vol. 2, 1985) The age of discovery was over, and independence and liberalism were strengthening. Both the face of Europe and history were changed by the devastation of the two world wars and the age of technology and communication had begun. (González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. Vol. 2, 1985) Thousands of young people were starting to protest and demand an end to inequitable treatment of black Americans and women, in addition to the many more protesting for an end to the war in Vietnam. The traditional and moral standards of the 1930's and 1940's were being challenged like never before. Discussions of contraception and abortion in the 'Roe vs. Wade' debate, the increasing number of public schools and secular humanism taking over as the new religion in the media were all issues the Catholic Church was facing during this period of cynicism and uncertainty. (My Father’s House, 2007) There was a growing tendency to distrust authority, and the Church needed to respond.

In a rare acknowledgement of current trends, Pope John XXIII called a council to re-evaluate the Churches practices and address the pastoral elements that were ignored during Vatican 1. The First Vatican Council was started by Pope Pius IX, in an attempt to defend Catholic followers from the influences of liberalism, modernity, the French Revolution and the Enlightenment while encouraging biblical literalism and Papal authority. (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2012) This period between the First and second council placed great emphasis on upholding traditional values, beliefs and practices. During this time, the priest was seen in a very authoritative light; he never faced the congregation whilst performing mass and he always spoke in Latin. (Mark Pattison, Church News, 2005) There was also very little participation of the laity, meaning...
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