Closing of Council’s Third Session
November 21, 1964
With the proclamation of the constitution on the nature of the Church and the decrees on ecumenism and the Eastern Churches, Pope Paul VI solemnly brought the third session of the ecumenical council to a close in the presence of the entire body of the Church’s bishops.
During the course of the ceremony he proclaimed Mary “Mother of the Church” and announced that the council will have its “definitive conclusion in the fourth session.” The date for this session was not announced, and speculation in council circles has ranged all the way from March of next year to a date sometime during 1966.
In a surprise move, Pope Paul VI changed the Eucharistic fast regulations, reducing the time of fasting from solid foods before Communion from three hours to one hour.
Archbishop Pericle Felici, secretary general of the council, made the announcement during the council’s closing session. He said the new relaxation applies to priests as well as to the faithful, and was made “at the request of bishops of many countries.”
The proclamation of the council’s most important document on the Church came immediately after a Mass concelebrated by Pope Paul and 24 council Fathers. Each of them has within his diocese a major Marian shrine and was chosen to concelebrate for this reason. The Mass was that of the day’s feast — the Presentation of Mary in the Temple. Among the celebrants was Archbishop Patrick A. O’Boyle of Washington, in whose diocese the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is located.
After Archbishop Felici briefly read from the beginning and end of each chapter, a formal vote on the constitution was taken. The results were tabulated almost immediately: 2,151 affirmative to five negative.
The bishops were directed to stand and remove their miters, and Pope Paul began:
“In the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The dogmatic Constitution on the Church, which has now been read in brief in this sacred and universal Second Vatican Synod, lawfully assembled, has pleased the Fathers. And we, by the apostolic authority given to us by Christ, together with the venerable Fathers, in the Holy Spirit approve, decree and enact this constitution and command that what has been thus enacted in the synod be promulgated for the glory of God.”
Thunderous applause broke out in the basilica.
The same formula was carried through for the two decrees, first that on the Eastern Churches, then on ecumenism. The first was affirmed by a vote of 2,110 to 39, and the second by 2,137 to 11.
In obvious deference to the patriarchs of the Eastern Churches who are mentioned prominently in the decree, Pope Paul then announced through Archbishop Felici that its implementation was to take place in two months, but he granted to the patriarchs “the faculty of reducing or prolonging this time for just cause.”
Each proclamation was followed by prolonged applause.
Concluding the ceremony, the Pope spoke for a half hour, praising the assembly for having “studied and described the doctrine on the Church, thus completing the doctrinal task of this Second Vatican Council….
“Henceforth it will be possible to have a fuller understanding of the thought of God in relation to the Mystical Body of Christ, and we shall be able to draw therefrom clearer and surer norms for the life of the Church, greater strength in order to lead men to salvation, better hopes for the progress of the Kingdom of Christ in the world….
“We are very pleased that this doctrine has been studied with an abundance of documentation and careful study and has been brought to clear conclusions. It is a duty to do this, to complete the teaching of the First Vatican Council. It was the time to do it, because of advances of theological studies in modern times, because of the spread of the Church throughout the world, and the problems encountered by ecclesiastical government in the daily life of the Church, and because of the expectations of many bishops who are anxiously awaiting a clarification of the Church’s doctrine pertaining to them.”
This was a reference to the most hotly debated issue contained in the document, the third chapter’s doctrine of “collegiality” of bishops, which states that they are successors of the apostles as the Pope is the successor of St. Peter, and that together with the Pope as their head they exercise “full and supreme authority over the Church.”
It was not the Pope’s intention, nor that of the council, to proclaim a solemn infallible doctrine by this constitution. This was made clear throughout the last days of council voting, and was reiterated by the Pope in his talk.
This constitution “was the way to handle this question,” he said. “And thus we do not hesitate, bearing in mind the explanation furnished on the doctrine and the terminology to be used, as also the theological qualification which the council intends to give to its teachings, to promulgate this present constitution on the Church.”
The “theological qualification” was clearly stated a few days before in the council session: “supreme teaching authority but not infallible.”
“The best commentary on this doctrine is that through it nothing is really changed in the doctrine of the Church. What Christ wanted, we want also. What was present remains. What the Church taught for centuries we teach also. The only difference is that what was simply lived previously is now expressed; what was uncertain and not clear, what was meditated on and discussed and in some part a point of controversy has now reached a calm formulation.”
The last chapter of the document contains a glowing tribute to Mary and clarifies her role in the Church’s makeup and life. Referring to this chapter, the Pope pointed out that it is “the first time an ecumenical council presents such a vast synthesis of the place of Marv in the mystery of Christ and the Church….”
“In fact, the reality of the Church is not exhausted through her hierarchical structure, her sacraments, her juridical ordinances. Her intimate essence and the explanation of her fecundity are to be searched for in her close union with Christ, a union which cannot be separated from her who is the mother of the Word Incarnate and whom Jesus Christ Himself wanted so near to Himself in the mystery of our salvation… knowledge of the exact doctrine of the Church on Mary will always be the key to a precise understanding of the mystery of Christ and His Church.”
These things make us feel, the Pope said, “that this is the most solemn and appropriate moment to accede to a desire which has called for an explicit declaration during this council of the maternal role of the Virgin over the Christian people. To achieve this end we have felt it opportune to consecrate in this public session a title suggested from various parts of the Christian world and which is particularly dear to us, because in a marvelous synthesis it sums up the privileged position recognized by the council for the Virgin Mary in the Holy Church.
“For the glory of the Virgin Mary and for our own consolation, we proclaim Mary the Mother of the Church, that is of the whole People of God, of the faithful as well as of the pastors, and we wish that through this title the Mother of God should be still more honored and invoked by the entire Christian people.”
Twice during this announcement the Pope was interrupted by applause. When he finished, a standing ovation signified warm assent by the council Fathers.
It was not the only applause during his talk, however. Clapping also followed the Pope’s clear indication that he would make use of the long-discussed “senate” or permanent council of bishops in conjunction with a newly reformed Roman Curia.
“The constant recurrence of new problems in the modern world will make us even more disposed than we are now to convoke and to consult at determined times some of your number, venerable brothers (of the council), designated in ways to be determined, in order to have around us the comfort of your presence, the help of your experience, the support of your counsel and the assistance of your authority. This will be useful also because the reorganization of the Roman Curia, which is now undergoing careful study, will be able to profit from the experience and help of diocesan bishops, thus integrating its organization and drawing help from their wisdom and their charity.
“This plurality of studies and discussions will undoubtedly entail practical difficulties. Collective action is always more difficult than individual action. But we shall endeavor in a spirit of charity and mutual collaboration to overcome all the obstacles.”
He spoke of the work still remaining on the council’s agenda, particularly the schema under revision on the Church in the modern world and the declaration on religious liberty. The latter was blocked from its first vote at the eleventh hour of this session, just two days before, by a vastly unpopular decision of the council’s presidency.
Of the former he said: “The Church is for the world. The Church seeks no other earthly power for herself than that which will make it possible for her to serve and to love. As she perfects her thought and her structure, the Church does not aim to separate herself from the experience of individual men but rather endeavors to understand them better while sharing their sufferings and their aspirations. This place of the Church in the world, studied and discussed already in this session, will find its complete development in the next and last session.”
The religious liberty text, he said, “only because of lack of time at the end of this session could not be brought to a conclusion.” It was on this basis, and because of the claim by a reported 100 council Fathers that the redrafted text was too drastically revised to vote intelligently in such a short time, that Eugene Cardinal Tisserant the previous Thursday had announced that the vote would be held over until the fourth session.
Almost 1,000 Fathers appealed to the Pope for a reversal of this decision, but according to reliable sources he refused to interfere with the council presidents, who have the authority to make such agenda changes by council rules.
Turning to another aspect of religious liberty, Pope Paul paid tribute to those suffering persecution for their Faith, a recurring theme during the third session’s deliberations.
“We are consoled by the thought of those of our brothers and sons who live in areas where they are denied sufficient and dignified liberty of religion, to the point that they must be numbered in the ranks of the Church of Silence and Tears. Their sufferings and their fidelity offer a stupendous witness to the Church as they imitate Christ, the Victim for the salvation of the world.”
He linked the decree on ecumenism, opening vast new possibilities for Catholics to work together with non-Catholics in areas which do not compromise belief, with the Constitution on the Church.
“We trust this doctrine (on the Church) will be kindly and favorably received by Christians as yet separated from us. May it have for them the role of a stimulus to that revision of ideas and attitudes which may bring them closer to our communion and finally, God willing, make them one with us. In this doctrine they can know that the Church, as she traces the outlines of her own image, does not restrict but rather widens the confines of her charity and does not slow down the march of her progressive, multiform and inviting catholicity.
“At this point we wish to express our reverent greeting to the observers representing Christian churches or confessions separated from us. We thank them for assisting at the council sessions, and extend our warmest greetings for their Christian prosperity.”
In conclusion the Pope announced his intention to send a special mission in the near future to Fatima, Portugal, “to carry a golden rose to the sanctuary of Fatima, dear not only to the noble Portuguese people — always, but particularly today, dearest to us — but also known and venerated by the faithful throughout the entire Catholic world.”
“In this manner,” he said, “we intend to entrust to the care of this heavenly mother the entire human family with its problems and worries, with its lawful aspirations and ardent hopes.”
The golden rose is a traditional sign of personal tribute by a pope to a nation, organization, or members of a particular Church. The gesture of sending it to the Portuguese shrine at this particular time struck many Vatican observers as a gentle answer by Pope Paul to severe criticism from Portuguese sources of his coming trip to India in early December to attend the International Eucharistic Congress in Bombay.
Relations between India and Portugal have been severed since the Indians forcibly took over Portugal’s longtime Indian colony of Goa more than three years ago. Portuguese authorities have suppressed all public comment on the Eucharistic Congress and the Pope’s trip. In one recent incident the government seized copies of a Catholic magazine that carried an article on the congress, indefinitely suspended its license to publish, and withdrew its recognition of its publisher, a missionary community, as a missionary congregation.
In all the Pope was interrupted seven times by warm and prolonged applause, increasing in intensity as the speech progressed.
The beginning of the morning’s ceremonies was silent, however. Contrary to his usual custom in Rome, the Pope entered the basilica on his gestatorial chair without any greeting or applause from the congregation. The recessional at the end was quite different, in fact, tumultuous, with cheers and shouts, sustained clapping and cries of “Viva il Papa.”
When he entered, the bishops were already in their usual places in the temporary stands erected for the council down the center portion of the basilica. They were dressed in cope and mitre. The cardinals and patriarchs entered in the papal procession and took their places at the front of the hall.
The Mass began immediately. It was a high Mass, sung in familiar chants by the council Fathers and virtually the entire congregation. The Epistle and the Gospel were recited from the high altar facing the congregation, while the Pope sat on his portable throne below and in back. After the Creed was sung the Pope recited the newly introduced “Prayer of the People,” which according to the new Liturgy introduced at the council’s last session, varies with the occasion.
He prayed: “Let us, beloved brothers, ask God the Father Almighty suppliantly that He who has gathered the pastors of the Church in the Holy Spirit may abundantly pour out on them all the gifts of His love, through His only begotten Son.”
The Julian Choir took up the prayer and intoned verses from the Litany of the Saints.
Then the concelebrants, who had been ranged around the foot of the altar in a semicircle up to this point, mounted the altar steps and continued the mutual offering of the Mass with the Pope.
Their voices could be heard one after another as the microphone was moved around the altar — except during the Consecration when the basilica’s organ burst forth, accompanied by golden trumpets.
Concelebrants of the day were: Latin-rite Patriarch Alberto Gori of Jerusalem, whose jurisdiction includes the basilica of the Annunciation at Nazareth; Archbishop Primo Principi, Pontifical administrator of Loreto sanctuary in Italy; Bishop Pierre Teas of Tarbes and Lourdes, France; Bishop Joao Pereira Venancio of Leiria, Portugal, whose jurisdiction includes the shrine of Fatima; Archbishop Pedro Cantero Cuadrado of Zaragoza, Spain, with its shrine of Our Lady of the Pilar; Abbot Raymond Tschudy, O.S.B., of the independent abbey of the Most Holy Virgin Mary of Einsiedeln, Switzerland; Bishop Thomas Leo Parker of Northhampton, England, with the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham; Bishop Stefan Barela of Czestochowa, Poland; Bishop Joseph Schoiswohl of Graz-Seckau, Austria, representing the shrine of Our Lady of Mariazell; Bishop Matthias Wehr of Trier, Germany, representing the shrine of Maria Laach; Archbishop Joseph Walsh of Tuam, Ireland, representing the sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock; Archbishop Michael Gonzi of Malta, representing the shrine of Melheha; Bishop Andre
Marie Charue of Namur, representing all the Marian shrines of Belgium;
Jose Cardinal Garibi y Rivera of Guadalajara, Mexico, representing the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe; Coadjutor Archbishop Pablo Munoz Vega of Quito, Ecuador, representing the shrine of Our Lady of El Quinche; Archbishop Abel Antezana y Rojas of La Paz, Bolivia, representing the shrine of Our Lady of Copacabana; Bishop Luis Tome of Mercedes, Argentina, representing the Shrine of Our Lady of Lujan; Auxiliary Bishop Antonio Ferreira de Macedo of Sao Paulo, Brazil, representing the shrine of the Aparecida; Archbishop Patrick A. O’Boyle of Washington, representing the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception; Archbishop Leon Duval of Algiers, representing the shrine of Our Lady of Africa; Bishop Michel Ntuyahaga of Usumbura, Burundi, representing the shrine of Mugera; Bishop Rajarethinam Sundaram of Tanjore, India, representing the Shrine of Velangani; and Archbishop Thomas Cooray of Colombo, Ceylon, representing the shrine of Tewatta.
The rest of the ceremony followed the pattern of the third session’s opening concelebrated Mass according to the newly devised rite of concelebrations.
After the Mass the papal throne was set up in front of the high altar and the choir sang the hymn “Christus Vincit” (“Christ Conquers”).
The patriarchs and two representatives of the cardinals paid tribute to the Pope, kneeling before him and kissing his ring, after which he led the assembly in the prayer regularly recited at the beginning of each council session.
Then followed the singing of “Come Holy Spirit,” alternating between the choir and the congregation.
Taking his usual position at the rostrum in the body of the basilica, Archbishop Felici began to read the documents, pausing before each to refer to the Pope as “Paul, bishop, one of the council Fathers.”
This was another outright expression of the collegiality proclaimed in the constitution on the Church and referred to over and over again in the Pope’s speech.
“We cannot thank God enough,” the Pope said, “for having granted to us the happy lot of honoring the sacred character of your ministry, O Venerated Brothers, the fullness of your priesthood, and recognizing the solidarity that exists between you and us.
“We have been edified to read how the primary, singular and worldwide mission entrusted by Christ to Peter and to his successors, the Roman pontiffs, has been amply and repeatedly recognized in this solemn document on the Church.
“This is not because of the prestige thereby deriving to our poor person, but because of the honor rendered to the word of Christ from the coherence manifested with the teaching and tradition of the Church, and from the effective harmony and government of the Church.
“It was important that this recognition of the prerogatives of the Sovereign Pontiff should come at a time when the question of episcopal authority was being discussed in the Church, in order that this authority would not be in contrast with the power of the Pope but should stand out in full harmony with the Vicar of Christ as head of the Apostolic College.
“Thus the power of the episcopate finds in the successor of St. Peter, not power diverse and extrinsic to its own, but rather its center and head. This in turn makes us anxious to laud your own prerogatives and to set them off in their proper light, so as to integrate them with our own. In this we fear no diminishing of our authority. Rather are we strengthened in the task of governing the Church by knowing that you are closely united with us and that all of us are closely united in the name of Christ.”
Father John P. Donnelly
NCWC News Rome Correspondent