Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and Jesuit Father John W. O’Malley, a historian, theologian and professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., gave his thoughts on the legacy of Vatican II in both an interview with the Vatican Insider and an op-ed piece in The New York Times.
Fr. O’Malley says that one of the council’s legacies is that it gave the church “a new role as reconciler in a world torn apart by hatred and threats of violence.”
Reconciliation was one of the great themes running through the council, according to Fr. O’Malley. “The document of the liturgy, for instance, promoted a reconciliation of the church with non-Western cultures by inviting symbols and rituals from those cultures into the liturgy itself. The church thus distanced itself from the Western ‘cultural imperialism’ that affected even Catholic missionaries,” he says.
“Related to that reconciliation but perhaps even more pertinent for today’s world, was the reconciliation with Jews and Muslims, as expressed in the document Nostra Aetate. This meant putting behind us a tradition of belittling and denigrating those faiths, a tradition that had contributed to the horror of the Holocaust,” says Fr. O’Malley. “Pope John Paul II set a marvelous example by his many meetings with Jewish groups, as it is well known. Less well known, but in today’s tense international situation even more important, were his many meetings with Muslims.”
Fr. O’Malley says that Vatican II has already passed from experience and memory to history. Future generations, he says, “will experience what the council did not as a change but as ‘the way things are’ and maybe assume that is the way things have always been.”
In his op-ed piece, Fr. O’Malley concludes: “The post-Vatican II church was not a different church. But if you take the long view, it seems to me incontestable that the turn was big, even if failures in implementation have made it less big in certain areas than the council intended.”