In the new millennium on the path indicated by the Council
Jubilee 2000 Search


Gian Franco Svidercoschi

"... the Second Vatican Council was a providential event, whereby the Church began the more immediate preparation for the Jubilee of the Second Millennium".

We need to read the third chapter of the apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente in order to understand how the bond - a very close bond - which John Paul II establishes between Vatican II and the Great Jubilee is not simply a formal bond nor merely a symbolic bond. This Pope lived the entire conciliar experience personally. He lived it as a great unrepeatable "school" of deeper doctrinal study, ecclesial maturation and pastoral renewal. Indeed he describes himself as the "son" of the Council. And from the very beginning, as soon as he ascended the throne of Peter, he adopted the teaching of Vatican II as the essential reference point of his magisterium and his apostolic ministry.

For John Paul II, in preparing the Church for the transition from the second to the third millennium, the Council outlined an itinerary which seems to have all the characteristics of a profound change, indeed, of a real turning-point in the history of Christianity. A "new Advent", as the Pope foresaw, already writing this in his first encyclical, Redemptor Hominis.

In fact the great work of renewal began from there, from the Council. From there came a "new" image of the Church, focused on the mystery of Christ, and with a clearer awareness of her own nature and mission. A Church as "communion", the "People of God", marked by the fundamental equality of all the baptized. A Church renewed in her prayer, in her methods and pastoral structures, in her relations with other Christian Churches and other religions.

And, above all, a Church which was open to dialogue with the world: no longer seen aprioristically as an enemy, but recognizing the legitimate autonomy of earthly realities, rediscovering the natural solidarity that binds her to the human race. And this openness - the Pope recalled in Tertio Millennio Adveniente - was "an evangelical response to recent changes in the world, including the profoundly disturbing experiences of the Twentieth Century, a century scarred by the First and Second World Wars, by the experience of concentration camps and by horrendous massacres. All these events demonstrate most vividly that the world needs purification; it needs to be converted".

And the Church was the first to give the example. Through the Council she discovered anew that fundamental element of her nature - "at one and the same time holy and ever in need of purification", "Ecclesia semper reformanda, Ecclesia semper purificanda" - which since the time of the Counter-Reformation, since the Council of Trent, because of historical circumstances had too often been sacrificed in an apologetic attitude.

Thus it was the beginning of a profound change in the life of the Church and, at the same time, the start of a self-critical examination of past events. After two thousand years she removed the accusation of deicide levelled against the Jews and deplored all manifestations of anti-semitism. There was a request for the forgiveness of fellow Christians, and the reciprocal suppression of the excommunications of 1054 with the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople. And then, recognition of the right to freedom in religious affairs, so that "no one is forced to act against their conscience", thus involving a radical change with regard to the way of thinking inspired by disagreement, condemnation and intolerance.

And this renewal has continued also after Vatican II. What Catholicism has that is alive and vital today - on the level of spirituality, witness and social commitment - is, to a large extent, the fruit of the Council. Such as the changes introduced in the celebration of the eucharistic liturgy, and which have reached the vast majority of the faithful; the rediscovery of the Bible; ecumenical progress; reconciliation with the Jews. And, especially with John Paul II, action in defence of human rights and for the promotion of justice and peace, in this way releasing the Church from every collusion with temporal power. And then, continuing this self-critical examination, the many "knotty problems" of the past that the Pope had definitively solved on various historical fronts.

But that work has not been fully accomplished. Resistance, slowness to act and shortcomings have prevented the Vatican teaching from having a profound influence in the life of a large part of the Christian people. Besides, many Catholics have forgotten the Council, or they do not know it at all - like the new generations of young people - in its documents, in its authentic spirit, in the very newness it brought. So, with time, the Council has become a habit, a routine, if not even to some extent considered as being now outdated.

Not to mention, then, the Churches of the former Soviet Union and the countries of the Southern hemisphere where, either through a lack of freedom, or because of the predominant importance of problems of first evangelization, the Council was lived from afar and thus, without the necessary in-depth study.

And now, after being "prepared" by Vatican II, the Jubilee of the Year 2000 providentially arrives as an occasion, an extraordinary occasion, for recapitulating what has been achieved of that "revolution" - because, in some ways it was a real "revolution" - and what instead still remains to be achieved. In other words, there is, as it were, a continuous interaction between the two events. The Great Jubilee has at its goal a "renovatio" of the Church. And the Council now becomes, as it were, the "front door" to the Great Jubilee, which will lead to a deeper understanding of Christ's mystery.

Here too, to help us understand more fully the significance of this new phase, there is the Pope's reflection in Tertio Millennio Adveniente.

"The best preparation for the new millennium, therefore, can only be expressed in a renewed commitment to apply, as faithfully as possible, the teachings of Vatican II to the life of every individual and of the whole Church...".

Thus the renewal the Church wants to achieve involves recovering the authentic sense of Vatican II, and its progressive introduction into ordinary pastoral work, namely, into the everyday lives of Christian communities. In order to do this, however, knowledge of the conciliar documents is not enough; it is necessary that all believers have an attitude of permanent conversion, repentance, purification. In other words, there needs to be a constant verification that one's life - the life of both individuals and the Church - conforms to the spirit of the Gospel.

And this is where many perplexities arise when we observe how, at least up to now, little attention has been given to recognizing - as the Pope desired - the errors, the "sins", not only in the past, but also today. Or, more precisely, there is great interest in the "mea culpa" which the Church is saying - or at least this Pope is saying in the name of the Church - for the many forms of counter-witness and scandal which Catholics became responsible throughout history. And instead little or nothing is said about the "examination of conscience" that is required - with regard to the "evils of our time" - also concerning the reception given to Vatican II.

In Tertio Millennio Adveniente there is one passage that clearly reveals the decisive importance John Paul II attaches to this commitment.

"To what extent has the word of God become more fully the soul of theology and the inspiration of the whole of Christian living, as Dei Verbum sought?

Is the liturgy lived as the 'origin and summit' of ecclesial life, in accordance with the teaching of Sacrosanctum Concilium?

In the universal Church and in the particular Churches, is the ecclesiology of communion described in Lumen Gentium being strengthened? Does it leave room for charisms, ministries, and different forms of participation by the People of God, without adopting notions borrowed from democracy and sociology which do not reflect the Catholic vision of the Church and the authentic spirit of Vatican II?

Another serious question is raised by the nature of relations between the Church and the world. The Council's guidelines - set forth in Gaudium et Spes and other documents - of open, respectful and cordial dialogue, yet accompanied by careful discernment and courageous witness to the truth, remain valid and call us to a greater commitment".

It concerns the four conciliar constitutions, i.e., documents which are the fundamental framework of the Vatican II teaching. And if there is an explicit call to ensure that this teaching is received by the Catholic community more widely and deeply, and harmonized with the new evangelization, there is also, on the other hand, the great plan of renewal which should enable the Catholic community to face the challenges of the future.

A renewal based above all on the historical realization of that mystery - the mystery of faith and salvation - that was the Council's first fundamental acquisition regarding the Church's new image.

No one can deny that today the Church is more evangelical, more spiritual, more biblical, more aware of her own identity, more open to every culture, to every experience, and that she really lives visibly her own universal dimension. Now however, the time has come to complete this new image of the Church, so that she may be the clear expression of the communion, and the responsibility, of all her children.

Such a Church - following the path of purification of the Great Jubilee - will promote a radical spiritual and moral change. She will be able to help modern men and women to find true liberty in themselves, in their own consciences, and not burning their bridges with their Creator. And she will accompany these men and women as they cross the threshold of hope towards the next millennium.