BY ARTHUR JONES
THE final session of Vatican II opens on Tuesday, just under three years since the world's Bishops gathered for that first meeting in Rome. It seems longer, to look back to the early morning of Thursday, October 11, 1962, when that long chain of prelates, accompanied by Pope John, "who was quietly weeping", proceeded six abreast
into St. Peter's.
Yet the events of the next few days and weeks can scarcely be forgotten.
'[he first Council business session, on Saturday, October 13, lasted for 15 minutes. The Council Fathers were asked to vote on commission membership. Cardinal Lienart of Lille asked that possible lists of members he drawn up by national and regional caucuses. Cardinal Frings of Cologne seconded the proposition. The first indication of succeeding 'events had been given.
'I o speed up the elections. Pope John approved just a simple majority vote rather than the required two-thirds, and in doing so played his first card in guiding the Council the way he hoped it would go.
But it was the first debate—on the Liturgy—which showed how deep the diversity of view between some factions went. And as the debate developed the proponents of change could be distinguished fairly accurately from the others on the simple question of Latin or vernacular.
Names which soon were to be well known were being heard by ordinary Catholics for the first time: Suenens, Leger, Ritter, Doepfner, Ciracias. Names from around the world.
Debate on the Schema on Revelation opened on November 14. The reformers began to rally, heated discussions went on inside and outside St. Peter's. A new form of dialogue—between Bishops— was developing.
The communications media text was discussed toward the end of November, hut the Council closed only after two other Schemas, far-reaching in their intent, had been placed before it: the Unity of the Church, and De Ecclesia (the nature of the Church).
The end of the first session came with
the urging that the Schema, De Ecclesia be redrafted. And the Pope, better after an illness, thanked the Fathers for their work.
THE INITIAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE FIRST and second sessions was the election of Pope Paul. The death of Pope John had once again focused the eyes of the world on Rome. When the Council resumed, those eyes were still watching.
The new session started where the old one had left off, with De ErcIesia, but two particular topics were to set the tone for debate: the collegiality of Bishops. and the establishment of a permanent diaconate.
The debate was even deeper rooted, for the question was really: Is the Church of Rome to he decentralised? The Curia, and the Italian Bishops generally, were opposed to collegiality. They argued it weakened the primacy.
In his address, Pope Paul said he wanted the collaboration of the Bishops in ruling the Church. He had at least one hand on Pope John's reins.
Debate on the nature of the Church continued. The Bishops were preparing to vote on collegiality, and also on the liturgy. But most of the second session's important work was done behind the scenes. The battle for Council control by the Moderators of the sessions (rather than the Presidents of the Commissions) ended with victory for the progressives.
Again and again Bishops fell into place as either conservative or progressive with succeedmg debates. When discussion of the laity's place in the Church started, part of the text which stated that all things must he referred to the bishop came in for a very heavy drubbing.
The second session was unsatisfactory in many ways, but the appeal of Cardinal Suenens that more laymen, women and nuns he admitted remained one of the highlights. The fact that the Theological Commission, forcefully headed by Cardinal Ottaviani, seemed to be going its own way, despite evidence of the Council Fathers' desires, was one of the lowI ights.
However, the Fathers had learned a
lesson they were not to forget. They had agreed to approve the rewritten communications media text without discussing it—and only when it was too late was it realised how inadequ'ate the Schema was.
IN TERMS OF IMPORTANCE and volume of work, the third session of Vatican II was the key one. Most important wag the promulgation of De Ecclesia—and the overwhelming approval of collegiality. The text on the lay apostolate was debated, and by September 25 the Fathers were discussing the priesthood. Pope Paul appeared at a working session to speak about the missions, but the Bishops sent back the propositions on the missions to be rewritten.
All the Bishops had anxiously awaited Schema 13, the Church in the Modern World, which was put before them on October 20. But it was judged badly written and uncertain in its scope, and most were disappointed. This was the first of four disappointments, before the Council ended. The long-awaited endorsement of ecumenism was finally approved. During the second session Pope Paul said the Church acknowledged its faults with regard to Christian Unity. However, just before the vote Pope Paul inserted several amendments to the text, and rather than reject the whole thing the Bishops voted the measure through. But their dismay at some of the alterations was quickly made known.
The spark which set the final flare-up on which the Council closed had been lit. When the many Bishops petitioned the Pope to have religious liberty voted on— though other Fathers referred to the rule book which said there wasn't sufficient time—they were exasperated and annoyed.
The Pope closed the Council by declaring the Blessed Virgin "Mother of the Church".
The divisions in the final week of the session cast a pall of gloom upon the progressives. Now, nine months later, in what certainly must be the last session, the Fathers gather again.
The discussions will be renewed, the work starts once more. The Church is still working for the aggiornamento.