Vatican II, the Vatican Press Office and covering the council

VATICAN CITY — The 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council is being celebrated as a major step in the opening of the Vatican Press Office, the successor of the council’s information office.

(CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)

LUMSA, a Rome university nestled between St. Peter’s Square and Vatican Radio, held a conference this morning marking the 50th anniversary of the press office, its evolving role and — more generally — the church’s changing attitude toward and relationship with the press.

As Catholic News Service marks the 50th anniversary of Vatican II by posting the dispatches written by its team of reporters covering the council, the work they produced becomes even more striking in the light of the problems that faced Italian Catholic journalists trying to report on the council.

During the Second Vatican Council, Raniero La Valle was editor of Avvenire, the Italian bishops’ daily newspaper. He said the fact that during the first session of the council almost everything officially was considered secret “put us in great difficulty.”

“Information did come out, but we couldn’t write most of it,” he said this morning. “Our hands were tied behind our backs.”

La Valle said Italian news stories about the 1962 session of the council are “not fully accurate” because the Italian Catholic press felt bound by the secrecy rules, while the Italian secular press based their reports on interviews with anyone they could find. La Valle said most of those willing to be interviewed had an agenda and wanted to get out their point of view.

“The council could not be covered except as a scoop by secular journalists,” he said.

As the old CNS stories spelled out, the U.S. bishops participating in the council acted quickly to help the English-speaking journalists cover the council. They established a panel of experts to meet with reporters each day and answer their questions.

La Valle said that when the second session of the council opened in 1963, Msgr. Pericle Felici, the council’s general secretary, told reporters that while the workings of the council were to be considered secret, reporters should feel free to use “common sense” in determining the limits of the secrecy. From then on, he said, the Italian Catholic media began fully reporting the council.

“For four years, the council was good news and that’s how the public saw it,” he said. Despite traditionalist voices that try to imply the council — or interpretations of it — have destroyed the church, “it remains good news, which is the reason the church is celebrating its 50th anniversary,” La Valle said.

Nov. 24 consistory won’t be one for the record books

VATICAN CITY — Setting a Vatican record today isn’t easy. It took only a few minutes Oct. 24 to find out that the Nov. 24 consistory for the creation of cardinals will not set a record for being the smallest consistory.

(CNS/Paul Haring)

Only six prelates are scheduled to receive their red hats in late November: U.S. Archbishop James M. Harvey, 63, prefect of the papal household; Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai, 72; Indian Archbishop Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, 53, head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church; Nigerian Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, 68; Colombian Archbishop Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota, 70; and Philippine Archbishop Luis Tagle of Manila, 55.

As we reported in our announcement story, Pope Benedict himself was created a cardinal at a smaller consistory. In 1977, the then-archbishop of Munich and Freising was one of four cardinals created.

But many people thought perhaps Pope Benedict would go down in history as the first pope to hold a consistory at which no Europeans were created cardinals.

However, that’s not true either. In 1924, Pope Pius XI held a consistory and created only two cardinals and both were from the United States: Cardinals George W. Mundelein of Chicago and Patrick J. Hayes of New York.

Forces of coercion and the “right to die”

In the New York Times, a writer with personal experience of lifelong disability warns against the spreading legalization of assisted suicide:

Perhaps, as advocates contend, you can’t understand why anyone would push for assisted-suicide legislation until you’ve seen a loved one suffer. But you also can’t truly conceive of the many subtle forces — invariably well meaning, kindhearted, even gentle, yet as persuasive as a tsunami — that emerge when your physical autonomy is hopelessly compromised.

Advocates of Death With Dignity laws who say that patients themselves should decide whether to live or die are fantasizing. Who chooses suicide in a vacuum? We are inexorably affected by our immediate environment. The deck is stacked.

This is eloquent and disturbing first-hand testimony of our society’s growing tendency to define and prize “quality of life” at the expense of life itself.

Liturgy was first up at the Second Vatican Council

Pope John XXIII leads the opening session of the Second Vatican Council in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Oct. 11, 1962. A total of 2,540 cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops and bishops from around the world attended the opening session. (CNS/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

Did you ever wonder why the Mass is structured the way it is? Latin-rite Catholics — 90 percent of us — have been celebrating Mass in the ordinary form we know today for about 45 years. That is longer than over half of today’s Catholics have been alive.

The Mass we know today has its roots in antiquity, but the nuts and bolts came about because of a strong liturgical renewal movement that began early in the 20th century and reached its zenith in the Second Vatican Council.

Liturgy was the first topic taken up be the council because, as one of the council fathers pointed out, liturgy is where Jesus’ redemptive act of salvation is lived every day.

CNS described the beginning of the council fathers’ work on liturgical renewal in its Oct. 22, 1962, dispatch from Rome:

The council press office said in a bulletin that the liturgy was scheduled as the first topic because the work of the council is directed primarily toward the task of an internal renewal of the Church.

The project on the sacred liturgy consists of a preface and eight chapters.

The first chapter outlines the general principles for renewal and promotion of the liturgy. It explains the nature and importance of the liturgy in the life of the Church and then deals with liturgical formation and with participation of the faithful in the liturgy, outlining the rules and general principles which must be respected for renewal and reform.

The first chapter ends with paragraphs concerning liturgical life in the diocese and in the parish and with ways of promoting pastoral action.

The second chapter deals with the mystery of the Eucharist, the Holy Mass and with sacramental concelebration. The third chapter is devoted to sacraments and to sacramentals and revision of the ritual. There also are paragraphs which deal with burial.

Chapter four deals with the Divine Office and other prayers. The fifth is concerned with the liturgical year and calendar. The sixth deals with sacred vestments and vessels. The seventh and eighth are dedicated to sacred music and art.

The council fathers discussed liturgical renewal of the church for over a month. The discussions were fascinating. They ranged from the use of vernacular — already in practice by the many of the Eastern and Oriental rites — to greater participation in the Mass by the faithful to the kind of music that should be used. The discussion ranged widely, but an amazing consensus emerged — amazing, that is, for 2,200 council fathers from all over the world.

The council’s work eventually became the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, one of the four constitutions decreed by the council.

You can follow the day-by-day discussion of the council fathers on the liturgy and learn why they made the decisions they did on the CNS blog, Vatican II: 50 years ago today. This year’s entries will continue through Dec. 8, the anniversary of the closing of the first session of the council.