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Vatican II and the Living Church

March 14th, 2012by Sr. Marla Gipson

Recently I participated in a committee meeting of my congregation, the Sisters of the Precious Blood. It was a gathering of our Vocation Ministry Committee. I came away energized as I do with most community meetings but this one was different. Upon reflection, I realize it was different for me than some of our other meetings of women religious simply because the committee members include the addition of four people who are not Sisters, two women and two men. More importantly, they are members of the millennial generation.  What is energizing about working with the entire membership of this committee is that we are representative of the three generations of Catholics commonly referred to as pre-Vatican II, Vatican- II, and post- Vatican II Catholics.

During a break in the meeting my eyes were drawn to the latest America Magazine sitting on the coffee table.  The cover story read Vatican II at 50. The words in white were typed over a black and white aerial photo of the opening session of the Second Vatican Council in 1962. Richard Gaillardetz, systematic theology professor at Boston College, is the author of the cover story. In the article he uses the work of one of the Council’s theological consultants, Yves Congar O.P., in part, to further develop an understanding of the Council in terms of conciliarity- the view that the Council involved something deeper than being just a one-time juridical event which produced sixteen documents. A view of conciliarity toward the Council would take into account its deeper reality in terms of its actual occurrence and its lasting effects.  It is not a minimalist approach to understanding the Council.

This got me thinking about the writings, surveys, coursework, and just plain talk in Church circles these days about the existence of the three generations of people who comprise the Church. The one defining event around which these generations are defined is the Second Vatican Council. In reflecting upon this, I thought about how much, when teaching in catechetical courses, RCIA, Christ Renews, adult faith venues, scripture studies etc. , have I prefaced my comments with “before Vatican II…and now after the Council we shifted to this or that… or we practice it this way…” Not that there is a complete dichotomy between the pre-and post-conciliar Church, but meaning and practices did shift with a more personalist approach to our relationships with God and one another.

Somewhere I read that, historically speaking, it takes about one hundred years after a Council for the Church to absorb and integrate it. Given that we are now in a very global Church, technology seems to force us to move faster or energizes us to move faster (I don’t always know which). I wonder- where will we be in another fifty years? What does it look like to integrate a Council over the course of time? When other parts of the global Church are growing while some parts are losing members, what will the Church of the future look like? In fifty years, the Council will be, for everyone, an event of history. There will be no generations present of those who lived through it. Somehow this seems like a loss. Will the common ground of the hopes and dreams of each generation who lives now be realized or even applicable in the future?  I hope so. I pray so.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Sr. Marla Gipson

Sr. Marla Gipson C.PP.S is a Sister of the Precious Blood. She currently lives in Minster, Ohio with a local community of Sisters where she ministers part-time as a Pastoral Associate at St. Augustine Church. She also ministers part-time as a Religious Education Consultant for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in the northern area regional Office of Evangelization and Catechesis and serves as one of the many Course Instructors for catechist certification. She holds a B.A. in Sociology from Ohio State University and an M.A. in Theological Studies from the University of Dayton.