A new kind of discussion has begun about Vatican II and it cannot be stopped.

The other day I picked up at Ancora bookstore near St. Peter’s Basilica a copy of Serafino M. Lanzetta’s book Iuxta Modum: il Vaticano II riletto alla luce della tradizione della Chiesa.   The author proposes a re-reading of the Council in the light of the Church’s tradition… rather  Tradition.

These days you can find any number of books and people discussing what Vatican II really said and how Vatican II was really implemented, or not implemented.  Lots of questions are being raised, and rightly so.   There is a growing sense that a) not everything is going well today, b) some of the problems stem from Vatican II itself, and c) others problems come from its documents poor implementation.

Moreover, I stress that Vatican II was just one Council among many and – attention! – among those Councils, Vatican II wasn’t anywhere near being as important as some think it was.

This was unthinkable speech a few years ago (except in some circles).  This double-plus-ungood-thought was the stuff of expulsion from seminaries, of crucifixion in chanceries.  It still is, to the extent that men and women of a certain age are in charge.   But the biological solution is helping with that.

In any event, there is a great discussion rising about the Council.  This is healthy.

My morning musings flow in part from a comment I read over at Rorate, namely:

Whatever might be said about the current situation of the talks between the Vatican and the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), and whatever one’s doctrinal position might be, one thing is clear: the frank discussion of the ambiguities of Vatican II and of post-Conciliar Vatican documents vis-a-vis the pre-Conciliar Magisterium has begun, and can no longer be stopped. While it would be easy to exaggerate the quality, extent and openness of the discussion so far, it cannot be denied that signs of it have been appearing in unlikely places, ….


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Johnsum says:

    I was a young man at the time of the Council. Like myself, many of my co-workers were also Catholic and followed events in Rome with great interest. Unfortunately, we got most of our news from the NY Times and other secular news sources. I recall at the time we were shocked (not always in a bad way) to hear all the changes that were being discussed at the Council and eventually implemented. Specifically, my understanding of the proposed Mass reforms was that in the future it would be in English. That seemed already revolutionary never mind the subsequent cut and paste job it turned out to be.
    I remember the first time hearing Monsignor annunciating the Mass in English. My friend and I thought his delivery was awkward in a way that made us smile. I do not know why we thought it amusing but we did.
    If no other changes had been made as a result of V II but the introduction of the vernacular in the Mass it would have already meant fundamental reform in the Church. Add to that all the other documents to change way too many things and no wonder the results we see today are not alltogether salutary. I say, nothing short of a disaster. I cannot think of a single good thing that resulted no matter the constant happy talk we get from all manner of official sources.

    The parish [nay! my entire diocese] where I must go to Mass is so far away in spirit from pre-Council Catholic devotion and respect for the Eucharist, typical even today at a TLM, that one immediately senses something has gone very, very wrong. Even though the NO has been newly reformed in language yet all the other distractions remaining, chiefly in music and attitude in worship– including most clergy, is enough to cause instant alienation let alone lead to worshiping in union.

    So, I say let the discussion go on at full speed; the sooner it will be on the better. I hope to die a Catholic. I do not know what to call myself today.

  2. Phil_NL says:

    I hope – but I’m not overly optimistic – that if this discussion is being had in a broader setting and scope, for once people will make the proper distinctions. For example, between issues where VII was ambigious, and those where it was crystal clear but ignored (e.g. it did not do away with latin). Or between stuff that is truely dogmatic, and issues that can be changed simply by decree for the Holy Father. And not in the last place, the proper form of the liturgy and theology vs. the practial, and often abysmal, implementation of those matters on the ground.

    Maybe it is some sort of silver lining (with the continuing rupture as the cloud) that the SSPX talks haven’t borne fruit yet. Among that group, it’s likely that such a dicussion would lead to foregone conclusions, which in its turn would prevent other from looking at the issues with an open mind (and be convinced that there is a cartload of work to be done)

  3. Legisperitus says:

    This is what makes the “you must simply kneel before Vatican II” attitude toward the SSPX seem suddenly quaint and outdated.

  4. VexillaRegis says:

    @Johnsum: It’s interesting to hear what different people who “were there” in the time of V II say about it. I myself was born shortly after the council. During my childhood and adolescence, I always had the feeling, that there had been a big blast in the Church, like WWII. All the glorious beauty one could still see in our old medieval and baroque churches was gone in the post-explosion Church, instead we had polyester and tasteless music. What matterd was to be nice and to have a social conscience, then you were OK. Confession? Ha, that’s only for real sinners, like adulterers etc. Priests and religious sisters left and married in an endless stream (or so it seemed).

    Things didn’t add up for me – why would people (the saints) even think of dying for this anything-goes faith??? Since I had recognised Our Lord in the Eucharist already as a child, I knew that the Church in it’s fullness of faith and inner beauty existed, but to my sadness, everyone told us, that the post Vat II Church was what Christ had intended His Church to be, so obviously I was mistaken. I secretly held my rosary in bed at night, because to pray it was to overact – only uneducated little old ladies prayed the rosary. It was important not to be over religious and not to love God too much, after all it should be enough to try to do your best in life.

    They robbed us of our full inheritance, the treasure of faith.

  5. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    Like most here, I mourn over the losses that the Church has suffered in the aftermath of the implementation of the so-called Spirit of Vatican II.

    I am fortunate to live in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., within easy driving distance of the magnificent Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. There I make informal, personal pilgrimages periodically to imbibe the gorgeousness that is our heritage as Catholics, and at home I treasure an assortment of ancient (published in the range 1904 to 1922) prayer books inherited from various relatives. From these I can make my devotions in the old prayers, which although they are framed in the archaic vocabulary (lots of thous and thees and vouchsafe), pack within them the language of heartfelt love and submission to the reality of the living God, in a way that most post-VII prayers do not.

    I am old enough, however, to have learned that there are often more than one side to every story, and that God in His infinite wisdom does permit what appear to be monumental disasters to unfold in our own lives and in the life of the Church, while yet working these ultimately to His own mysterious and holy purposes and plans throughout. Christ will vanquish; Christ will win. I don’t know if I am right, but I sometimes wonder whether it is possible that in certain corners of the culture within our pre-Vatican II Church, there may have lurked some spirit of lack of humility, perhaps, some lack of compassion toward those who are weak and the struggling, which needed to be corrected in order to conform Christ’s holy ones more closely to Himself. I could well be completely wrong on that, but I sometimes wonder a bit.

    In any case, throughout it all, God is on His throne, and I know that the King of Kings the Good Shepherd will keep His sheep close to Him as they follow in His path. No matter what may befall, my trust is in Him.

  6. HighMass says:

    It is said the John XXIII said on his death bed “Stop the Council”. Vatican II is exactly what the liberals wanted to “through the baby out with the bath” I too like Johnsum was a young boy/man at the time all ….broke loose.
    The Documents of the Council are Beautiful, but what price the church has paid…..
    Pope Benedict XVI has been a fantastic POPE….One wonders if only he was younger. But Jesus did say “the gates of hell will not prevail against the church”…One does realize that The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, was not the only thing that is different….the Liturgy more like a non-Catholic form of worship….even with the Holy Fathers S.P. in 2007 we are meet the Pastor’s not wanting to accomadate those who prefer the Mass of 1962……..

  7. asperges says:

    I was a teenager at the time of the Council. We prayed for its success in school and were genuinely enthused at what it stood for, never doubting the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.

    I am not sure at what point I felt it had become a monster with appalling consequences: probably when we had a reforming Martinet in charge locally who hated tradition with a passion, preached against it and abolished all that we loved and had stood for in a great reforming wave. Since then – and not just because of him (someone lnow long disgraced and departed), I have come to the conclusion that Vatican II was one of the worst things to happen to the Church since the Reformation. I think history will judge it as such along with other great landmarks of the past.

    There is so much that it sparked off, that admitting it had its good points and that many of its documents were indeed sound, or that it embodied great hopes for genuine Church reform (all of which it did), or that its intentions were good, is hardly now the issue. It’s how to put the genie back in the bottle. There is almost nothing from Catholic education, to the now pitiful number of practising Catholics in most countries in the West, to the lack of vocations, to the liturgical crisis, to the sheer ignorance of the Faith generally, that cannot be attributed directly to the effects and consequences of those years.

    Some of these ills undoubtedly stem from the decadence of modern society, but much does not. It is time to say so openly and not be branded a fanatic or lunatic for admitting that Vatican II was largely a very costly failure.

  8. JKnott says:

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the “new discussion” of Vatican II included parish group studies of the previous councils (including Trent) and writings of some of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church to hitch the fullness of the Church and Tradition back onto the rogue horse of the “spirit of Vatican II”. Very wearying is the incessantly expressed notion that everything prior to the Council is pretty much null and void. After all, the Council of Trent sounded so “mean-spirited” and we are the new and nice “people of God” … on a bus.

  9. Johnno says:

    It might also be of interest to learn about what those of us who knew nothing but the reforms of VII think…

    We personally feel we have been robbed of our heritage. We’ve been lied to. We’ve been deprived. We’ve been led down a dangerous and unnecessary path. We’ve been uninstructed. We’ve been left out in the cold and left to the wolves without a safety fence to fend for ourselves. We who have managed to return have seen our friends, brothers and sisters lost and eaten. And we, or rather, I speak for myself, still harbor a sense of hatred and spite against much of the Church leadership in the lay and clergy because of this.

    I know this is unreasonable, and I know I must not have that hatred, and I have also confessed it, but the fact that it is still there, if only slightly, means I have not yet purged myself of it. Perhaps this is something only time and God can do. Perhaps God wills it necessary that I struggle with this.

    For this reason, even we who are seeking to return and fully conform to Tradition, are always paranoid. I will always likely view Pope Benedict XVI and much of the Church hierarchy with some suspicion and with a very critical eye. I cannot trust Pope Benedict XVI 100%. I do have 100% faith that Pope Benedict XVI is the man the Holy Spirit has chosen to lead the Church and he will receive all obedience and respect his position and office rightly commands. That is the way it is for better or worse. And that is another consequence of VII that you can add to the list.

  10. Bender says:

    The only ambiguities of the Second Vatican Council are those of one’s own making.

    Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II and Pope Paul VI and Pope John XXIII were all very clear that the teachings of the Council are to be read as one with the 2000 year sacred Tradition of the Church. To be sure, Pope John opened the Council with a ready-made rule of interpretation —

    The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine be safeguarded and expounded more effectively. . . . to transmit it in all its purity, undiluted, undistorted. . . . What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind in the unreserved acceptance by all of the entire Christian faith, without forfeiting that accuracy and precision in its presentation which characterized the proceedings of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council. What is needed, and what everyone imbued with a truly Christian, Catholic and apostolic spirit craves today, is that this doctrine shall be more widely known, more deeply understood, and more penetrating in its effects on men’s moral lives. What is needed is that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which the faithful owe obedience, be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms. For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honored teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else.

    If we read the documents of the Council in the context of the entirety of the deposit of faith — as we are instructed to do so — then there is no ambiguity, there is no contradiction, there is no change of teaching, there is no pre-Council Church and post-Council Church. There is only One Faith.

  11. It seems that many in the Church at the time of the Council were imbued with, and intoxicated by, the idea that there is, after all, no need to renounce the world: you could be of the world and still be a Christian. Perhaps that is the reason so many priests and religious have given themselves over to predominantly secular pursuits, and ended up forsaking their vocations altogether; perhaps that is the reason that, for as long as I can remember, many priests have tried to blunt the edges of the Gospel, reducing “love thy neighbor as thyself” to “be nice, especially to yourself,” and taking “take up thy cross and follow Me” out of the equation altogether. Like Luther, they regard as an “epistle of straw” the Epistle of James, which says that whosoever will be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

  12. Alan Aversa says:

    Fr. Z., have you seen “The New Evangelization: Quo Vadis?” in the recent HPR?

  13. muckemdanno says:

    If “some of the problems stem from Vatican 2 itself” then why is it demanded of the SSPX to accept all of it as being good, without reservation? It seems that they can have any opinion they want about Vatican 2…as long as it’s good.

  14. Bea says:

    Vatican II?
    Pentecost II?

    Some people talk as if the Church began with Vatican II and their ultimate authority are the documents of V2. God willing may this soon come to end so that we may return to Tradition and to the True Teachings of the Apostles and the Early Church Fathers. A return to discipline, humility, obedience and peace of heart.

  15. Clinton R. says:

    I very much agree with the comments above. Vatican II by and large has not resulted in a greater holiness or deeper understanding of Catholicism. Instead too many took it as a start of a new church, one made in man’s image. Catholics today either don’t know or don’t care how much has been lost since the “reforms” mandated by Vatican II. Prayers removed, the Mass changed into a clap happy Protestant-esque service, Communion in the hand, girl altar boys, etc. I went to Mass this evening (the Saturday night special) and it hit me how much the role of the priest has been minimized. The Church largely has allowed the priesthood to be seen through a Protestant lens. The priest is a presider, he merely sits on his chair while lay man pray to God (sadly while their backs are to the tabernacle). Isn’t the priest supposed to say all the prayers at Mass? I don’t understand why this was allowed to take place. I guess it’s in the name of false ecumenism. It is easy to see why the Novus Ordo Mass has led to a great decrease in priestly vocations. Other than consecrating bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Our Lord, the role of the priest is obscured by all the lay involvement and the seemingly endless self indulgent musicians with their banal Protestant inspired hymns. Is anyone else tired of hearing bad readings by the lectors? Didn’t the role of lector used to be a minor order? Why did Pope Paul VI do away with minor orders? I agree with someone who said they are angry about what has been stolen away from us. Those who trampled over the Lord’s Church are robber barons who instead of keeping the Master’s house in order as He left it, have knocked out the walls, painted it in garish colors and let the weeds grow a foot high. It is very difficult to continue to believe Vatican II should be seen as a hermenuetic of continuity when the Mass, and indeed Church teaching in most quarters, bears little resemblance to the Church pre Vatican II. It is also difficult to hear that the SSPX must bow down to Vatican II, while so many (like the Jesuits) continue to inject their poison into the Church and now the Faith is all but dead in Europe. Can’t anyone see that the Tridentine Mass and traditional Catholicism must, I say must be restored if the Faith is going to grow? I live in the Los Angeles are and I shudder ever time the Religious Education mess rolls around. Is singing and dancing at Mass going to lead souls to salvation? Would this have occurred if Vatican II had never taken place? I pray to never see anymore Assisi gatherings. Seeing pagans be allowed to pray to their false gods in a Catholic parish is quite depressing. Seeing the post Vatican II popes pray alongside Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc, while never attempting to convert them to the true Faith is ever more discouraging. Despite my deep concerns, I am not in despair about the future of the Holy Church. I am encouraged by faithful priests such as Fr. Zuhlsdorf and other good men who truly love the Church and her traditions. I continue to pray for the restoration of the TLM, for I believe, as Father Zuhlsdorf does, that saving the liturgy will save the world. May the Lord bless His Holy Catholic Church. +JMJ+

  16. VexillaRegis says:

    Dear @Johnno: That anger is just inverted sorrow and pain (been there myself). Do not be afraid!

  17. albizzi says:

    @Clinton R.
    …”while so many (like the Jesuits) continue to inject their poison into the Church “…
    You don’t believe to speak so well.
    A few time after the Council’s opening I was a teen in a jesuit College, and the jesuit priests already had begun to anticipate it as if they already knew which would be its outcomes: By these years this was the first time I heard that odious expression I no longer can withstand: “According to the spirit of the Council…”

    You say: … “between issues where VII was ambigious, and those where it was crystal clear”…
    Many people like you and me partake in the opinion that some VATII’s teachings were ambiguous. And I wonder since long: Is ambiguity a main feature of the Holy Spirit?
    Then, did the Holy Spirit inspire all these teachings? Just wondering.

  18. HighMass says:

    Note To Bea<

    You hit the Nail on the head!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Yes how many sermans have week heard about V II, as if the Church never exsited before the Council…………………….

    Oh Could go on and on, But in the Spirit of Kindness will keep quiet.

  19. Gail F says:

    I do not believe that Vatican II was the worst thing ever to happen to the Church. I do not believe that there is not one good thing to have come out of it. I trust the Church and I trust the Holy Spirit, and I think that often one cannot judge things fully while they are going on — and often that they can’t be judged fairly until long after they are over.

    THAT SAID, the Church is in a horrible mess. I trust that it would be in a worse one had Vatican II never happened. Perhaps, if Vatican II had not happened, we would be going through many of the same things NOW, while Europe and Protestan Christianity are falling apart and Islam is a growing threat. I think we are recovering, not disintegrating as they are, at this critical time.

    Personally, I cannot find a parish that doesn’t make me feel profound dismay. OTOH, I have learned to understand in a visceral way that it is the priest’s ordination, NOT the priest’s personality and/or approach to the Faith, that is important. I have come to understand in a visceral way that it is Christ’s presence in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that matters, not who does the readings or what rotten songs they pick out this week. I would rather not have had to learn this lesson, but I must assume that it is an important one.

  20. Cavaliere says:

    Just as one can read the Bible and find any number of seeming contradictions when the passages are taken separately that contradiction disappears when understood in the proper context of the whole teaching. So too with some of the teaching of the documents of Vatican II. Members of the SSPX or their followers like to take various parts of documents and compare them to quotes from earlier papal documents to show a contradiction. However when one reads them with the proper frame of reference they appear less contradictory. For example in one cited work they compare part 2 of Dignitatis Humanae which starts,

    ‘This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.’

    They contrast this with the encyclical Mirari Vos of Gregory XVI,

    Now We consider another abundant source of the evils with which the Church is afflicted at present: indifferentism. This perverse opinion is spread on all sides by the fraud of the wicked who claim that it is possible to obtain the eternal salvation of the soul by the profession of any kind of religion, as long as morality is maintained. . . This shameful font of indifferentism gives rise to that absurd and erroneous proposition which claims that liberty of conscience must be maintained for everyone. It spreads ruin in sacred and civil affairs, though some repeat over and over again with the greatest impudence that some advantage accrues to religion from it.”

    So it seems that Dignitatis Humanae is at odds with this earlier teaching. However it is important to read the paragraph just before Part 2 which states, “Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.
    Now I dare anyone to find that last sentence used in any criticism of Vatican II by the SSPX. You won’t because it would weaken if not nullify their argument.

  21. francisp says:

    There is a growing sense that a) not everything is going well today, b) some of the problems stem from Vatican II itself, and c) others problems come from its documents poor implementation.

    This hits the nail on the head – thank you for saying it publicly!

    Some things that flowed from Vatican II (and the milieu surrounding it) have been great for the Church. As just one example, Dei Verbum is a beautiful document that truly advances the Church’s understanding of Divine Revelation. Some ideas from VII have been poorly implemented or just downright hijacked. But some of the problems today come from Vatican II itself and its sometimes ambiguous documents.

    Yet it seems that for years most Catholics fell into three categories:

    1) Liberal/Heterodox: The “Spirit of Vatican II” must be obeyed at all costs, and it means whatever we feel like it means.
    2) Conservative/Orthodox: Vatican II was perfectly fine and its documents are sacrosanct, but it has been implemented disastrously.
    3) Traditionalist: Vatican II is evil and should be forgotten in the dustbin of history.

    I’m glad to see we are starting to see a more nuanced view of Vatican II – that it is part of the whole Catholic Tradition, is helpful in some ways, but that some of its wording is ambiguous and some of its practical suggestions are just plan bad ideas.

  22. wmeyer says:

    THAT SAID, the Church is in a horrible mess. I trust that it would be in a worse one had Vatican II never happened.

    It is indeed difficult to imagine how the state of the Church today would have been worse had the Council never taken place. Prior to the Council, attendance at Mass was about 80% of the faithful; now, perhaps one-quarter of that. It had been commonplace that one went to confession each week, if one planned to receive communion; now, I am afraid many go the once a year minimum (or so it would appear, judging by the very small number appearing in the parishes I have attended.) Before, we had sermons, often with strong messages; now, we have homilies, gentle stories (too often) aimed at producing warm fuzzy feelings and an occasional laugh. Before, we had the organ; now, piano, guitar(s) and (ugh) drums–and stunningly banal “hymns” from Protestants and fallen-away Catholics.

  23. catholicmidwest says:

    When speaking about interpretation of the Holy Scriptures, the Pontifical Biblical Commission speaks of the senses of scripture, and in doing so speaks of the re-lectura or re-reading– in the context of continuity, and in the heart of the Church, that’s necessary to obtain a thoroughly Catholic and Christian understanding of Scripture.

    Rereading other inspired documents is not so different because the Holy Spirit inspires them in order to speak through them, using the familiar Incarnational principle. But they must be interpreted on the receiving end, because they are necessarily written in human language which mediates meaning for us. The documents of all the various ecumenical councils are inspired by the Holy Spirit, but must also be read with the help of the Holy Spirit, in very much the same way we read Scripture. Although these documents are distinct from Scripture, they also are inspired material for the use of the Church in all the ways that only inspired material can be understood and used.

    The problem for the last 50 years or so has been the emergence of fundamentalists of various sorts with respect to the documents of the council. Some of them have tried to evoke a general spirit in a vague manner; some of them have sought to interpret these documents in one or more synthetic ways with respect to the rest of the Church. Many of these readings of the documents of Vatican II are misleading and superficial. Some of them are downright spurious. Most of them completely disregard, even are ignorant of, the need for proper exegetical techniques and attitudes with respect to inspired documents, like the documents of councils.

    What needs to be done is starting to be done now. What you describe, Fr. Z, is the beginning of a proper and balanced exegesis, or “holy reading and re-reading” of these documents in the context of the entire Church herself, to whom these documents properly belong.

  24. catholicmidwest says:

    There is something else that applies to the Church’s attitude toward Scripture that surely applies here. The Church maintains that all reading of Scripture, from the most technical to the simple reading by children, is beneficial and to be honored. But all reading of Scripture is to be done in the heart of the Church, which can be experienced in a lot of different ways and on a lot of different levels, even in simple faith. But….those readings with the most validity are those most in continuity and context with the Church proper, now and through eternity. Readings by individuals or even small groups do not–cannot–“trump” or overwhelm the source Scripture itself. Ever. The same will be true for readings of the documents of ecumenical councils, no matter which council we’re addressing.

  25. Bill Foley says:

    from Bill Foley

    I have always felt a certain degree of discomfort when I read this blog and the comments. There is alway an undertone that somehow Vatican II was defective–which is not how John Paul the Great and Benedict XVI view it–and that somehow the ordinary form of the Mass is defective.

  26. Therese says:

    Implementation of Vat. II has been spotty, even more than forty years after the fact. The one clear success has been the ‘spontaneous’ rise of many lay associations intended to bring the Faith into the public square. These grassroots movements have far more to do with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit than a studied reading of the Council documents, however. Many people who cite Vat. II in making changes do not seem to know what the documents actually say.

    This ignorance extends to the pronouncements of the Holy Father also. My mother asked her pastor why the tabernacle had been placed in a side niche instead of in the sanctuary, where it belonged, and was told that Rome wanted it that way.

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