A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Lesson of Vatican II

by Bill Lambert

by Bill Lambert

Maybe Pope John XXIII should have taken the name of Paul. The changes St. Paul sought to bring about in the Jewish religion are strikingly similar to the new values evoked by Pope John.

Paul had been a Pharisee, devoting all his energies to the meticulous observance of the detailed Mosiac law and the hundreds of further refinements devised by his sect. Explicit rules like washing which required at least two eggcups of water should be used; the arms washed from fingers to elbows and the water poured over upright forearms.

In his letters we see a new Paul who repeatedly tells us that the observance of man-made rules and regulations concerning daily living such as the choice of foods or the washing of cooking vessels are fruitless. All that matters is to know and love Christ, to love our neighbour and to gain control over ourselves.

John XXIII was concerned that the church had slipped back into a regime of observing man-made rules to an extent which obscured the real message of Christ. Sins were all rated venial or mortal. Occasions of sins were also included, entertaining sinful thoughts, going into occasions of sin. Abstinence of meat on Fridays held a high place in the index of sins, and could end you up in hell. There was some discussion as to whether whale meat was flesh or fish. The midnight fast before Eucharist took no note of daylight saving, but was to be observed from midnight Greenwich mean time. Food could be taken into the mouth, but not swallowed. And so on….

As with the Jews of old, our church had fallen victim to clericalism. When the Curia proved obdurate to change, John XXIII called bishops from across the world to Rome and the result was Vatican II. The outcome was to transform an introverted spirituality to an outward religion of love for our neighbour.

The lesson to remember is that the Curia does not constitute the Catholic Church – we do. We are the church. And the work of the church is not to rule society by laws and regulations but to convert it to Christ’s love.  

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