Closing General Congregation
December 4, 1963
The second session of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council came to an end with:
—An announcement by Pope Paul VI that he will go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in January.
—A papal wish that the council end at the close of its third session next fall.
—Overwhelming passage of the Constitution on the Liturgy and Decree on Communications Media.
Pope Paul noted that no pontiff since St. Peter has been in the Holy Land and added:
“We are so convinced that for the final happy conclusion of this council prayers and good works are necessary, that after careful deliberation and much prayer we have decided to become a pilgrim.”
The Pope also expressed the wish in a 6,000-word address that full council meetings end with the third session scheduled for Sept. 14 to Nov. 20, 1964. He suggested that after that date council work should be terminated in commissions, with the bishops being summoned to Rome for a final ceremony to promulgate the council’s total decrees.
The second session’s last meeting approved a sweeping reform of the public worship of the Church by passing the liturgical constitution by an overwhelming majority of 2,147 to 4. A tremendous burst of applause greeted announcement of the vote. The Pope then approved and promulgated the constitution, making it the law of the Church. (Editor’s Note: The full text of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” is available here.)
Pope Paul in his speech called the liturgical reform “the first invitation to the world to break forth in happy and truthful prayer and to feel the ineffable life-giving force that comes from joining us in the song of divine praise and human hope.”
It was announced immediately after promulgation that on Feb. 16, 1964, the first Sunday of Lent, the Pope will issue instructions as to when and how the constitution’s provisions are to be put into practice. A warning was given that until the instructions are made public, no changes are to be made.
The meeting also approved the Decree on Communications Media by a vote of 1,960 to 164.
Applause for the vote was less than that given the liturgical constitution. Pope Paul also approved and promulgated the decree. (Editor’s Note: The full text of the decree on the media of social communications, “Inter Mirifica,” is available here.)
In his speech the Pontiff said the decree is “not of small value” and added that it indicates the “capacity of the Church to unite the interior and exterior life, contemplation and action, prayer and the active apostolate.” Pope Paul also spoke about the collegiality of bishops, one of the most discussed issues during the second session, saying that “the episcopacy is not an institution independent of or separated from, or still less antagonistic to the supreme pontificate of Peter. But with Peter and under him it strives for the common good and the supreme ends of the Church.”
The Pontiff’s address was a review of the work done by the council so far and noted that “the council has labored much. As you all know, it had addressed itself to many questions whose solutions are in part virtually formulated in authoritative decisions, which will be published in time after the work on the topics to which they belong is completed.”
The final day’s ceremonies began at 9 a.m. with more than 2,000 bishops in their places in St. Peter’s basilica wearing white copes and plain white miters. The diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, Roman nobles and more than 10,000 people packed the church.
Pope Paul, preceded by 80 cardinals, was borne on his portable throne down the main aisle and was saluted by the applause of the bishops and crowds. He took his place on a throne placed on a platform built over the open space before the papal altar and faced toward the assembled council Fathers.
Mass was celebrated by Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, dean of the College of Cardinals, after which the cardinals left their places to file by and kiss the Pope’s ring. Pope Paul chatted at length with various cardinals and longest with Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York; Valerian Cardinal Gracias of Bombay; Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, Primate of Poland, and Paul Cardinal Leger of Montreal.
After the cardinals came the eight patriarchs of East and West, while the bishops chanted the Creed.
The final council meeting began with the enthronement of the Gospels and the intoning of the prayer Adsumus by the Pope. The Pope also intoned the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus, which was sung by all in the church.
At the hymn’s conclusion, the council general secretary, Archbishop Pericle Felici, mounted a pulpit and read the beginning and concluding paragraphs of the individual chapters of the Constitution on the Liturgy. This was done to save time, as the document is about 16,000 words long.
When the reading was done, Archbishop Felici asked the bishops to vote. Voting and tabulation of the votes by electronic machines took about 20 minutes. During the interval, Pope Paul sat motionless in prayer on his throne, while the council Fathers sang the Salve Regina.
When the results were tabulated, Archbishop Felici communicated them to the Pope and then to the council. Applause greeted the announcement of the totals and Pope Paul then read the solemn approval and promulgation which put the final seal of approval on the documents.
When all ceremonies connected with the decrees were completed, the Pope delivered his speech. He began by thanking all who took part in the council’s work and noted that the council was being interrupted for a second time to permit Fathers to “celebrate liturgical mysteries [at Christmas] in that place where Providence has entrusted to us His Church, His community and His priestly pastoral duty.”
The Pope also thanked particularly “those Fathers who have been good enough to contribute toward the great expense that the organization of this great event requires” and those who shared the expenses of poor bishops and who helped victims of recent disasters.
Pope Paul noted that “many of the council’s results have not yet come to maturity, but they are grains of wheat cast into the furrows awaiting their effective and fruitful development, which will be granted only in the future through new mysterious manifestations of the divine goodness.”
Although many things are still to be worked out, Pope Paul said, “let us rejoice, my brothers, for when was the Church ever so aware of herself, so in love with Christ, so blessed, so united, so willing to imitate Him, so ready to understand one another and to deal with one another, and, though we were almost strangers, through the process of union we have become friends.”
Pope Paul asked the Fathers: “Do we not see that if canon law, which governs the Church, is developed, its growth will extend in two directions? It will accord to every person and office in the Church both greater dignity and greater power of development, and at the same time it will strengthen, as it were, according to the intrinsic demands of love, of harmony and of mutual respect, the power which unites through hierarchical government the whole community of the faithful.”
The Pope praised the widespread, unflagging and lively participation of the council Fathers and paid special tribute to the lay auditors representing the Catholic laity throughout the world.
He said the council’s work was both laborious and enjoyed freedom of expression. He stated:
“This is the way that the Holy Church works today at the highest and most significant stage of its development. It works intensely and it works spontaneously.
“Our satisfaction is in no way diminished by the variety, by the multiplicity or even by the divergence of the opinions which have been expressed in the discussions of the council. On the contrary, this is a proof of the depth of the subjects investigated, of the interest with which they have been followed and, as we have said before, of the freedom with which they have been discussed.”
Speaking of liturgical reform, Pope Paul noted that the authorization of the use of the vernacular does not signify a wish “to lessen the importance of prayer.” He warned all against introducing “into the official prayer of the Church private changes or singular rites.” He said no one “should arrogate to himself the right to interpret arbitrarily the Constitution on the Liturgy, which today we promulgate, before opportune and authoritative instructions are given. Furthermore, reforms which will be prepared by postconciliar bodies must first receive official approbation.”
Turning to the communications media decree, Pope Paul said that he hoped “that this decree too will help to guide and encourage numerous forms of activity in the exercise of the pastoral ministry and of the Catholic mission in the world.”
After counting among the fruits of the council the faculties and privileges given to bishops at the Dec. 3 meeting, the Pope expressed his hope that the third session would complete the council’s work. He said:
“We hope that the third session in the autumn of next year will bring them to completion.
“It is fitting that we should have more time to reflect on these difficult problems and that competent commissions, on whose work we place so much hope, will prepare for future council meetings, in accordance with the minds of the Fathers as expressed specially in the general congregations, proposals profoundly studied, accurately formulated and suitably condensed and abbreviated, so that discussions, while remaining always free, may be rendered easier and more brief.”
As examples of matters to be thus treated, Pope Paul mentioned the schemas on Revelation, on bishops and on Our Lady.
As regards Revelation, he said that the council “will give a reply which, while defending the sacred deposit of divine truth against errors, abuses and doubts that endanger its objective validity, at the same time will provide directives to guide Biblical, patristic and theological studies which Catholic thought, faithful to ecclesiastical teachings and vitalized by every good modern scientific tool,·will want to promote earnestly, prudently and with confidence.”
Pope Paul continued by pointing out that the present council “is a natural continuation and complement of the First Vatican Council.” Therefore, he said, it is the “aim of our council to clarify the divinely instituted nature and function of the episcopacy, not in contrast to but in confirmation of the supreme Christ-given prerogatives, conveying all authority necessary for the universal government of the Church, which are acknowledged as belonging to the Roman pontiff.”
The Pope said that the council’s aim “is to set forth the position of the episcopacy according to the mind of Our Lord and the authentic tradition of the Church, declaring what its powers are and indicating how they should be used, individually and corporately, so as worthily to manifest the eminence of the episcopate in the Church of God.”
Pope Paul continued treating the problem of the collegiality of bishops by stating that the bishops work with and under the Pope and saying that the “coordinated hierarchy will thus be strengthened, not undermined; its inner collaboration will be increased, not lessened; its apostolic effectiveness enhanced, not impeded; its mutual charity stirred up, not stifled. We are sure that on a subject of such importance the council will have much to say that will bring consolidation and light.”
As for Our Lady, the Pope said he hoped for “the unanimous and loving acknowledgment of the place, privileged above all others, which the Mother of God occupies in the Holy Church … so that we can honor her with the title ‘Mater Ecclesiae’ [Mother of the Church] to her glory and our benefit.”
The Pope recognized the fact that many other problems have yet to be treated by the council, but he promised a “thorough and deeper re-examination” of these matters “so as to be able to present to the council schemas which are short and so worded that it will not be difficult to obtain a judgment of the council on certain fundamental propositions.”
Although he did not specify what these matters were, it was understood that it could refer to the statement on the Church’s relations to the Jews and that on religious liberty.
The Pope noted that the bishops will be called on to collaborate in the revision of the Code of Canon Law “to translate into fitting and specific norms the general decisions of the council.” He said he would name bishops to this commission, as well as members of Religious orders, as had been done for the preparatory commissions of the council.
With this as a basis, Pope Paul commented on the often-proposed idea of a senate of bishops to aid the pope in the Church’s government. Without using the word “senate,” Pope Paul said “experience will suggest to us how, without prejudice to the prerogatives of the Roman pontiff defined by the First Vatican Council, the earnest and cordial collaboration of the bishops can more effectively promote the good of the Universal Church.”
After a brief conclusion, the Pope made his surprise announcement of his intention to go to Jerusalem. As he spoke the words in Latin, few outside the Fathers understood the import of his message.
The Pope said he has been thinking of the journey for a long time in telling of his decision to become “a pilgrim ourselves in the land of Jesus, Our Lord. … We wish to go to Palestine in January to honor personally the holy places where Christ was born, lived and died and ascended to Heaven after His Resurrection.”
The Pope continued: “We shall see that blessed land whence Peter set forth and where not one of his successors has returned. Most humbly and rapidly we shall return there as an expression of prayer, penance and renovation to offer to Christ His Church, to summon to this One Holy Church our separated brethren, to implore divine mercy on behalf of peace among men, that peace which shows in these days how weak and tottering it is, and to beseech Christ Our Lord for the salvation of the entire human race.”
On this dramatic note, the second session of the council ended.
James C. O’Neill
NCWC News Rome correspondent