VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Marking the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the start of a special Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI called on Catholics to revive the "authentic spirit" of Vatican II by re-proposing the church's ancient teachings to an increasingly Godless modern world.
The pope spoke at a special Mass in St. Peter's Square Oct. 11, 2012, half a century to the day after the opening ceremonies of Vatican II. About 400 bishops from around the world, including 15 of the 70 surviving members of the 1962-65 council, attended. Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury attended as special guests.
The observances featured ceremonies recalling milestones of Vatican II, including the enthronement of a book of the Gospels used at the original gathering and a re-presentation of the council's final "messages" to various categories of lay Catholics, such as artists, workers and women.
Vatican II, Pope Benedict said, had been "animated by a desire ... to immerse itself anew in the Christian mystery so as to re-propose it fruitfully to contemporary man."
He noted that Blessed John XXIII, in his speech at the opening of the council, called for both the safeguarding and the effective teaching of the "sacred deposit of Christian doctrine ... this certain and immutable doctrine, which is to be faithfully respected, (and) needs to be explored and presented in a way which responds to the needs our time."
"The council fathers wished to present the faith in a meaningful way," the pope said, "and if they opened themselves trustingly to dialogue with the modern world it is because they were certain of their faith, of the solid rock on which they stood."
Pope Benedict's homily celebrated Vatican II but deplored much of what followed in its wake.
Many Catholics misunderstood or ignored the council's teachings under the influence of secular culture and "embraced uncritically the dominant mentality, placing in doubt the very foundations of the deposit of faith, which they sadly no longer felt able to accept as truths," he said. "Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual 'desertification.'"
Fifty years ago, history offered glimpses of a "life or a world without God," he said. "Now we see it every day around us. This void has spread."
Calling for a revival in the church of the "yearning to announce Christ again to contemporary man," the pope stressed that any new evangelization "needs to be built on a concrete and precise basis, and this basis is the documents of the Second Vatican Council."
He reaffirmed past statements rejecting any expansive notions of a "spirit of Vatican II" that might be used to justify innovations diverging from traditional doctrine.
"I have often insisted on the need to return, as it were, to the 'letter' of the council -- that is to its texts -- also to draw from them its authentic spirit," the pope said. "The true legacy of the council is to be found in them."
"The council did not formulate anything new in matters of faith, nor did it wish to replace what was ancient," he said. "Rather, it concerned itself with seeing that the same faith might continue to be lived in the present day, that it might remain a living faith in a world of change."
(Francis X. Rocca, assisted by Sarah Delaney)
The Diocese of Raleigh will celebrate the opening of the Year of Faith with a Mass celebrated by Bishops Michael F. Burbidge at the annual Catholic Convocation on October 20 at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Cary. Information and registration is available online.