The Second Vatican Council opened in Rome 50 years ago today. The Jesuit John W. O’Malley, author of What Happened at Vatican II, says that the most important message of the council was a spiritual one:
The council had a spiritual message, as the very form and vocabulary of its decrees betray. For the first time in history, a council insisted on the “universal call to holiness” and made clear that promoting that call was what the church was all about. Moreover, through its vocabulary the council provided a template of holiness. I refer to such characteristic words in the council such as hope, friendship, partnership, collegiality, reconciliation, brotherhood and sisterhood. These are deeply Christian words, but words virtually absent from previous councils.
The council called us to work in the world for the church but also for the world itself. This might sound like a platitude, but no council had ever spoken this way or called upon Christians to expend themselves in this way. Theological disputes are necessary, for, if they go well, they help us stay on track and help us defuse ideological interpretations. But the real fruit of this council is how it taught us how to live. That is incomparably more important that theological niceties and will, I hope, be the lasting legacy of the Council.