In Your Midst

A Blaze of Glory

Dec. 2010

The final installment in a series on the Second Vatican Council 

The Fourth Session of the Second Vatican Council began quietly but ended in “something like a blaze of glory” (Rynne).  When Pope Paul VI entered St. Peter’s Basilica on September 14, 1965, to open the last session of this historic Council, there was little of the pomp of previous years.  He walked at the end of the procession, wearing a miter, like all the other bishops.  “The elevated throne and the giant ostrich feathers were not in evidence,” wrote Archbishop Connolly, who was in Rome for the Fourth Session.  The simplicity of the Pope’s entrance was a quiet but revolutionary sign of collegiality (he was also the first modern Pope to carry a crosier, the traditional symbol of the bishop’s office).  The address he delivered following the concelebrated Mass was equally precedent-shattering.  The Pope announced the formation of a new Synod of Bishops which would outrank, but not replace, the Roman Curia, and which would make collegiality a permanent reality in the Church.  That stunning announcement was followed by another:  the Pope declared his intention of traveling to New York to plead the cause of world peace before the United Nations.  Both announcements were received with tremendous enthusiasm.

Archbishop Connolly procured tickets to the Council Mass for Seattle seminarians studying in Rome, among them third year theologian Michael Ryan (second from the left), and second year theologian Paul Magnano (far right).  The Archbishop was rather proud of his ability to finagle tickets to the Council sessions.  He wrote: "Did you ever hear of One-eyed Connolly, the champion gatecrasher of all time?"  From the Catholic Northwest Progress

        The Council’s work began without further ado the next morning.  At the disappointing end of the Third Session, Pope Paul had promised that Religious Liberty would be first on the agenda in 1965.  And so it was.  And as before, Cardinals Ottaviani, Siri, and Ruffini led the intransigenti, attacking the schema from various angles in hopes of getting it sent back to commission for rewriting.  These filibustering tactics had worked wonders in the Third Session, enabling them to table not only the Declaration on Religious Liberty but the major schema on the Church in the modern world.  But not this time.  The voices of many of the bishops from behind the Iron Curtain, including that of Archbishop Wojtyla of Krakow, helped to tip the balance in the other direction.
        In the end, though, it took papal intervention to keep the Religious Liberty schema alive.  On the morning of Tuesday, September 21, after a week of debate, the Cardinal Moderators arrived late in the Council Hall.  Immediately, they called for a vote, asking whether the Fathers wished the current text to serve as the basis for revision—thus making it impossible for the document to be more substantially changed, as the minority had hoped.  The response of the Fathers was resoundingly in favor of the document.   The word was soon out:  Pope Paul, knowing what was afoot, had called the Moderators to his office, and instructed that a vote be taken immediately.  He would depart for New York in a matter of days, and he knew he could hardly expect the world to listen to him unless this essential teaching on the basic rights and dignity of every human person had been proclaimed.
        While the Fathers began to debate on “Schema 13,” which would become the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Pope Paul VI was on his way to New York, on a trip that would change the church—and the modern world.  Pope Paul VI’s first trip to the United States set the pattern for subsequent papal visits, which under John Paul II and Benedict XVI have become a familiar attribute of the papacy.  He visited St. Patrick’s (he pronounced it Paytrick), said Mass at Yankee Stadium, and gave blessings and audiences in abundance.  But his real purpose was to address the United Nations, and the words he spoke that day have never been forgotten:  “No more war, war never again!  Peace, it is peace that must guide the destinies of peoples and of all mankind.… If you wish to be brothers, let the arms fall from your hands.  One cannot love while holding offensive arms.”
        Upon his return home, Pope Paul came directly from the airport to St. Peter’s, where the Council was in progress.  The bells of Saint Peter’s rang out, the Holy Father entered the aula, and the bishops cheered as, full of energy, Paul VI made his way down the great central aisle.  He gave them an impromptu account of his journey, which thus became part of the official records of the Council.
The very day after the Pope’s return from New York, the Council Fathers began to discuss the critical chapter on war of “Schema 13.”  On this subject, the Council Fathers were of one mind with Pope Paul VI.  Cardinal Liénart said, “in our time, the classical theory of the morality of war is unrealistic and inapplicable… The Council should refrain from mentioning ‘just’ wars.”  Bishop Rusch of Innsbruck went farther:  “The Council should solemnly declare that all aggressive wars are unjust under today’s circumstances.”  Bishop Boillon of Verdun, France, site of one of the bloodiest battles of World War I, reminded the Fathers that a group of laywomen were staying in a house in the Via dell’Anima, fasting and praying that God might enlighten the Fathers in their deliberations—among them Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement.
        Cardinal Ottaviani had managed to stir things up in almost every session of the Council, and when he rose to address this issue he created the greatest stir of all:  for he approved of this chapter of the document!  “War would only be a memory,” he said with great feeling, “if the words of Pope Paul spoken at the UN were fixed forever in the hearts of rulers and people alike.”  He urged that the definition of the very word war, as used in the text, “be broadened to include such things as armed revolution, guerrilla activities, and subtle acts of sabotage and terrorism.”  He wanted the document to include “a sharp reproof of war waged to impose a particular ideology.”  And he ended with an impassioned plea not only for world peace, but for world unity:  “The Council should give its vote to the creation of one world republic composed of all the nations of the world, in which there would no longer be strife among nations, but an entire world living in peace”!
        “Such eloquence,” writes Xavier Rynne, “of course was greeted by tremendous applause, said to have been one of the longest at the Council.”  It was Cardinal Ottaviani’s last address to the Council Fathers.
Our own Archbishop Connolly had been an attentive participant in Council proceedings from the beginning.  He had not yet addressed the Council himself, but he was a man of decided opinions.  He heartily approved Schema 13:  the Church should be “like Christ Himself, humbly knocking at the door of human hearts, fully respecting their freedom and dignity even when they are in error.”  And he was a little disappointed when “John the Good,” as he called John XXIII, was not made a saint by acclamation in the Council Hall.  Sometimes he disagreed:  “Last week, one of the council fathers rose to point out the fact that due to the exploration of space we should do away with our former concepts of heaven and hell, that they were outmoded in this interplanetary age.  What a development.  If they do away with hell, it will make serious inroad into my miserably meager vocabulary.”  He was even less sympathetic to “St. Joan’s International Alliance,” a group lobbying for women’s ordination.  “They have been passing out literature since this session began and of course, they have every right to a hearing.  But, bless me mother, for I have sinned, or maybe madam.  Oh!  Brother!”  (He was only a moderate revisionist, after all.)  Nor was he fond of the new habits some of the religious communities were contemplating:  “as a couturier of some note,” he said, “I could do much better myself.”

An historic moment for the Archdiocese of Seattle:  Archbishop Connolly addresses the Council Fathers on the subject of priestly obedience, October 25, 1965

        The last decree to be debated in the Council was the revised document on the life and ministry of priests; and on the second-to-last day of regular proceedings, Archbishop Connolly rose to speak on the subject of priestly obedience.  He spoke with his usual rhetorical flourish, and his usual tendency to land, in spite of himself, among the ‘moss-backs’:  “A crisis of obedience seems to have developed here and there owing to a false notion of freedom and independence, of a new atmosphere generated by this Council.  Some priests, pseudo-existentialists, denigrate authority as such; each one wants to be a law unto himself.”  Harsh words; but, Archbishop Connolly wrote home to his loyal Progress readers, “I took great pains to inform my confreres that I had no trouble on that score in the Archdiocese of Seattle, that my remarks were not personal nor were they aimed at the loyal, God-fearing, hard-working priests of the Archdiocese.  Something had to be said along this line and my remarks were considered to be quite apropos, as it were.”  Xavier Rynne wryly observed, “Fortunately for the archbishop, the bishops were by then so benumbed by rhetoric that his slur on the Council passed virtually unnoticed.”
        The last word went to the Archbishop of Turin, who spoke in quite a different vein from Archbishop Connolly.  He urged bishops to nurture the intellectual life among their priests.  “In the post-conciliar period,” he said, “there will be two dangers:  that of watering-down the norms of the Council which change old customs, and that of passing over everything that is old and of undertaking whatever is new only because it is new.  To avoid these pitfalls, priests will need not only humble obedience and a vigorous interior life, but also a clear view of problems and the historical reality within which these problems are to be solved.”  It was the perfect ending to the debates in the Council.
The last speech was made on October 26; the Council itself ended on December 8.  The intervening weeks were among the dullest and yet the most important of the entire Council.  For the Fathers, there was endless voting—48 important votes took place in one week—and a good deal of time off.  “One could almost go home and come back for the money that it is costing just to stay put here,” moaned Archbishop Connolly.  “Besides, this enforced idleness can make a Father somewhat ‘stir crazy,’ as the cons in the clink at Walla Walla say.”  (The time off did allow him to make a pilgrimage to what he called the “holy land”—Ireland, of course.)  Meanwhile, the various commissions charged with the different schemata worked long and late to get the final versions of the documents ready on time.  On October 28, Pope Paul VI promulgated several documents, including the decrees on Bishops, the Renewal of Religious Life, and the Training of Priests, as well as the Declaration on Christian Education, and (perhaps most important of all), Nostra Aetate, the “Declaration on the relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions,” which once and for all absolved the Jewish people of the charge of ‘deicide.’  And on November 18, he promulgated Dei Verbum, the Constitution on Divine Revelation, which some felt to be the most revolutionary statement to come out of the Council.
        Before the Council began, Pope John XXIII had called for a worldwide novena of prayer to the Holy Spirit for its success.  As the end of the Council drew near, Pope Paul VI echoed that gesture in calling on all Catholics to join in a triduum of intense prayer beginning on December 5, so that the whole Church might be united in supplication to God when the Council concluded on December 8. 
        The Council’s work was done.  It had been a time of progress and compromise.  For some, it went too far; for others, not far enough.  But as Cardinal Suenens said, “Perhaps we can say that we have not yet reached May but are only in April when night frosts still occur.  Nevertheless there can be no doubt that spring has come.”
Pope Paul VI asked: ““Now that the Council is finished, will everything go back as it was before? Appearances and custom say Yes. But the spirit of the Council says No. Some things, many things, will be new for us all….The period following the Council cannot be one of back-to-normal or the good-old-days. It must be a period of immense labor.”

Corinna Laughlin is the Director of Liturgy at St. James Cathedral

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