Fruits of Vatican II Part 3- Liturgy -Marriage as Covenant not Contract – Communal Penance – Restored Catechumenate

The Second Vatican Council devoted paragraphs 48 to 58 of its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World to marriage…. Its teaching marked a watershed in the Church’s understanding of marriage. Avoiding the familiar term ‘contract’ the council consistently spoke of marriage as a ‘covenant.” (New Commentary on the Code of Cannon Law, John P. Beal)

Why is this important? If we pick up Casti Connubii (on Chaste Marriage) probably the most authoritative text on marriage before the Council by Pope Pius XI in 1930 we will see the term contract used 22 times. Marriage is described as a contract. The word covenant never appears in the whole text. Vatican II was successfully able to point out that marriage is a covenant so in tune with the covenants God has made with his people. The marriage feast of the lamb and the Church at the end of times (Rev. Ch 21) is the consummation of an everlasting covenant. This is an important teaching of Vatican II, especially in our times when so many people enter into non-sacrament contracts instead of covenant relationships. Vatican II’s teaching helped pave the way forward for a proper and more dignified understanding of marriage.

The catechumenate, a historic and fundamental way for prospect believers to enter the faith through stages and rites including minor exorcisms and increased participation in the liturgy was removed from practice after the council of Trent and restored by Vatican II.

The catechumenate, as a period of several months or sometimes even years of formation for entering into the Christian community, dates from the pre-Nicene period of the Church’s history. In 1614, after the Council of Trent, Paul V issued the Rituale Romanum, which contained the rite of adult baptism. This rite did contain the various liturgical elements of different stages of Christian formation but all combined into the one liturgical service. Consequently, the catechumenate as such fell into desuetude. At the request of various local ordinaries especially from mission territories, John XXIII, by a decree of the Congregation of Rites on April 16, 1962, approved an Order of Baptism of Adults according to seven stages of the catechumenate.” Vatican II in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy cemented the catechumenate into its reforms and Church practice after that. (New Commentary on the Code of Cannon Law, Micheal A. O’Reilly)

Reforms to the sacrament of penance were also fruits of Vatican II. All seven sacraments have a social and ecclesial nature. It was recognized by Vatican II that penance in particular needed reforms to better show forth this nature. Hence, the liturgical reforms from Vatican II included the creation of a communal penance celebration. Although distinct from the sacrament itself, these parish type gatherings are now very typically in most parishes were they are used for yearly Lenten and Advent confessions. Everyone gathers at the parish, the scriptures are read, a homily is given and some communal prayers are said. Next, individual confessions are heard. This very effectively restored the idea that sin is communal and that even confession has an ecclesial and social dimension.


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