Pope John XXIII convened the council because he thought it was time to open the windows and let some fresh air in (Pope,2012). This restructuring of thought within the church was to open itself up to the modern world and veer from its antiquated modus’. Thomas Ryan, director of the Loyola Institute for Ministry said Vatican II’s message was to make the church–“Not against, not above, not apart, but in the modern world…The church sought to engage not condemn (Pope,2012).”
Following are some important shifts Vatican II made within the council’s documents, in order to “update” the church, offered by Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, chairman of the U.S. bishop’s committee:
- “Christus Dominus,” promoted collaboration… Bishops, priests, religious and lay people work together in a way they hadn’t in the past.”
- “Gaudium et Spes,” the document on the church in the modern world said the church shares the joys and sufferings of the world.”
- “Ad Gentes, the document on missionary activity states that all Catholics play a role in evangelizing through their lives, missionaries were no longer sent just to remote areas of the world to spread the word of God.”
- “It reshaped the church’s relationship with other Christian’s and other religions: the church adopted a spirit of respect and dialogue toward other faith traditions. Ensuing dialogues have built bridges of understanding and strengthened relationships with Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, Protestants and others.”
- “Lumen Gentium,” emphasized the importance of family. The family is the “Domestic Church.” While faith of the church flourishes in parishes, dioceses and nations around the world, before all else is the family. It is the family that provides a strong foundation for each believer (Ten ways Vatican II shapes our church today, 2012).”
Even though the church seeks to find a balance between tradition and modernity the church’s hierarchy within does not. Before Vatican II, nuns, formally called ‘women religious,’ had little contact with the outside world, often being cordoned off from the world in pursuit of holiness and prayer. When Sister Aloysius says, “we are rightly discouraged from crossing paths with priests unattended.” She ‘rightly’ supports the notion and expectations of nuns at the time, though she may not completely agree with, or like it.
Maureen Fiedler, who joined the Sisters of Mercy in 1962 when Vatican II began, offers this living and lovely metaphor, “I found this to be the most exhilarating time in my whole life as a Catholic, because it felt like the petals of a flower were opening, and that there was a whole new fragrance in the air of the church (Hagerty, 2012).” The Vatican II broke a barrier for women in religious orders, the nuns could wear common clothes instead of their heavy black habits, and many left their communities to live in apartments (Hagerty, 2012). They also took on causes, speaking out in favor of civil rights, worker’s rights and against the war in Vietnam (Pope, 2012). Women religious began to find freedoms in and outside the church.