In an article written for Catholic News Service ten years ago on October 12, 2005, marking the 40th anniversary of the close of Vatican II, Jerry Filteau interviewed four leading churchmen who were present at Vatican II as periti. The periti were approximately 450 priests from around the world, including 50 from the United States, who assisted the bishops as theologians and scholars. He asked the four about their lasting impressions of the council:
“Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore says the Second Vatican Council transformed his understanding of what it means to break open the word of God in preaching.
“Retired Bishop Raymond W. Lessard of Savannah, Georgia, says it was the council’s ecumenical dimension, even in the preparatory phase, that he found most striking.
“For retired Bishop John S. Cummins of Oakland, California, the council’s accent on Scripture challenged him to preach better and ‘changed the way we pray.’
“Monsignor Robert Trisco, a noted church historian, says the 1962-65 council ‘was such a long and comprehensive experience that it’s hard to sum it up. It was the part of my life that has been the most unforgettable.’”
I remember reading another article where Cardinal Keeler expressed the belief that the rediscovery of the role of the laity in the life and mission of the church was one of the council’s principal accomplishments. This is borne out in the Filteau article as well: “Cardinal Keeler said part of the unfinished agenda is ‘really absorbing the main message’ of the council’s constitution on the church. ‘It’s not yet fully absorbed by the people. . . . It’s a constant task to try and invite people to take a more active role in the church.’”
The breadth of the council’s work was impressive. Vatican II produced 16 documents. In our yearlong series on the major conciliar documents, we have highlighted six. This issue examines Unitatis Redintegratio, the Decree on Ecumenism.
Having grown up at a time when suspicion and name-calling characterized relations among the Christian churches, I find it wondrous to live in a moment when efforts are being made to build understanding and cooperation among the churches and to search for common ground rather than emphasize differences and past hurts.
The challenges of the day are too great for the response of believing Christians to be anything less than strong and unified. Ecumenism is lived out today in interfaith relationships and homes, in ongoing dialogues at every level of congregational life, in prayer services and service projects to meet basic human needs, especially of the poor. We seek the unity prayed for by Christ as he sat at table with his followers on the night before he died. It is his will.
In This Issue
Our September/October issue typically focuses on the church’s mission and ministries. Here we cut a broad swath rather than a measured one.
A good place to begin is by reading Ernest Falardeau’s overview of the Decree on Ecumenism. Ernest has devoted his life to ecumenism. Ask him why, and he will tell you that it is rooted in his understanding of his vocation as a Blessed Sacrament religious and priest. Our Rule of Life states: “Our celebration of the Eucharist, sign of the covenant between God and the human race, remains, in a sense, incomplete as long as we who are baptized are divided by hate or separated from one another. The celebration leads us to promote unity in all our activities” (38).
Peter J. Riga offers a short reflection on healing in Jesus’ ministry. Healing others is something all of us can do, whatever our particular calling in the church. Victor M. Parachin introduces us to the late Franciscan Sister Thea Bowman, a witness to inclusion and reconciliation among the races in the Catholic Church and our country. And Dennis Billy, CSsR, continues his series on theologians and the Eucharist.
Anthony Schueller, SSS