There are numerous and often overlooked fruits of Vatican II. Many theological topics or modes of spirituality which we think are common sense, have only been fully brought to the forefront since Vatican II. We must be careful to not assume that the great fruits of Vatican II, which have roots in earlier times, were also so abundantly present in the decades preceding the council.
Marriage as a Covenant
One of these fruits is the consideration of marriage as a covenant. Now clearly marriage as a covenant is a biblical theme, and something heavily relied upon in the Old and New Testaments. Yet, did the pre-conciliar Church enjoy such an understanding as we do today? The answer is no it did not.
“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’.“1 (New Commentary on the Code of Cannon Law, Title VII Marriage by John P. Beal)
Why is this important? If we pick up Casti Connubii (on Caste 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.2 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 Restoration of the Epiclesis
A second fruit of Vatican II was recently brought forward during the 2023 Lenten homilies for the Papal household. Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, during his Lenten reflection on March 24, 20233, touched upon Vatican II and the reforms of the Liturgy.
“It is a gift that the liturgical reform of Vatican II has placed at the heart of the Mass the epiclesis, that is, the invocation of the Holy Spirit: first on the bread and wine and then on the entire mystical body of the Church. I have great respect for the venerable Eucharistic prayer of the Roman Canon and I love to use it again, sometimes, being the one with which I was ordained a priest. I cannot, however, fail to note with regret the total absence of the Holy Spirit in it. Instead of the current epiclesis of consecration on bread and wine, we find, in it, the generic formula: “Sanctify, O God, this offering with the power of your blessing…“3 (Translation provided by online software)
In my opinion on of the most beautiful expositions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is its explanation of the role of the Holy Spirit in the Liturgy of the Church. The ‘Vatican II Catechism’ devotes paragraphs 1091 to 1109 to the role of the Holy Spirit in the Liturgy. Paragraph 1112 aptly summarizes the important role of the Holy Spirit in the Liturgy. “The mission of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy of the Church is to prepare the assembly to encounter Christ; to recall and manifest Christ to the faith of the assembly; to make the saving work of Christ present and active by his transforming power; and to make the gift of communion bear fruit in the Church.“4 The preparing action, recalling action, making present action and praise/thanksgiving action of the Holy Spirit is amazing. The Epiclesis, the phrases after the Sanctus, in which the Holy Spirit is asked to be sent by the Father so the offerings may become the body and blood of Christ (Par. 1105) makes present the mystery. The Holy Spirit inspires us to give praise and thanksgiving in the doxology (Par. 1103). The Holy Spirit also recalls the saving actions of God in history which may be more or less developed depending on the liturgy (Par. 1103).
Early liturgies such as the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom had the Epiclesis explicit in the text.Eastern Liturgies have maintained the Epiclesis since the earliest times. By returning to the original sources, the reforms of Vatican II reintroduced this crucial part of the Liturgy back into the life of the Western Church.
Catholics Had Better Retention than Other Denominations
In Mass Exodus by Stephen Bullivant, several studies are presented that show that in America and Great Britain Catholic retention of its followers was higher than any other religious group in the post Vatican II era. It was better than Lutherans, Anglicans, Pentecostals and many others. The book does an excellent statistical study of the reason why people left and when. Stephen notes that “Let us be clear here. Even had there been no Council, no deep and rapid liturgical reforms ….. Catholicism would have had a fairly torrid time of the past half century. As has been shown, ‘leakage’ was already a recognized and worried about .. in the 1940s and 1950s.“5 He details how Humanae Vitae rocked the boat, urbanization rocked the boat, the sexual revolution, clerical abuse, and several other large scale non-Vatican II problems made many people leave. In fact, he claims that the Church Fathers at Vatican II should have done better because several already knew and had done studies to show that people were leaving the faith. As a result, he claims that Vatican II along with several other items (no one or the other) is to blame for not retaining more people.
In fact, I would push even further. As can be well demonstrated, the Catholic presence in regions such as Africa and Asia have increased since Vatican II. If Vatican II did not stop the increase in the number of faithful in Africa and Asia, then perhaps it is not solely to blame for the decreases in the western world.
The Most Complete Treatment of Mary of Any Council Ever!
Lumen Gentium Paragraphs 60 to 69 presents such a well developed theology of Mary and her role in salvation history that one cannot help but be amazed. Dr. Miravalle has for a long time made the argument that the Second Vatican Council’s treatment of Our Lady is the most complete of any Ecumenical Council.6 Upon reading the text of Lumen Gentium, few would argue with this statement.
We should also note that the best magisterial text to look at for support of the use of the term Mediatrix is actually Lumen Gentium Paragraph 62. Vatican II, although not speaking dogmatically here, does make the term normative and bring it to light in a way not previously done by prior councils.
We may quickly note here also that if you have a Copy of 33 Days to Morning Glory by Fr. Gaitley, go back and check out how Fr. Gaitley starts and ends the book with Vatican II content. I doubt this is by chance.
In conclusion I would like to sound off with a barrage of Vatican II fruits which can be further explored. Vatican II allowed for more Scripture during the liturgical cycles. It restored the traditional Catechumenate which was ended by Trent. It allowed for communal penance services to restore communal aspects of the sacrament of penance. It allowed for better recognition of Christ’s modes of presence in the Word of God and the assembled congregation. It broke through fortress mentality and allowed for the New Evangelizations. It allowed for the creation of lay associations which have been such a blessing to the Church. So many blessings!
- John, Peal, “Title VII Marriage cc. 1055-1165” in New Commentary on the Code of Cannon Law. Edited by John P. Beal et al. Pages 1234-1240. New York: Paulist Press, 2000.
- Evann Yakabuski, Concordance of Casti Connubii: of Pope Pius XI on Christian Marriage. Bolton Ontario, St. Joseph’s Concordance Collection, 2021.
- Raniero Cantalamessa, “Mysterium Fidei! Riflessiono Sulla Liturgia – Quarta Predica Di Quaresima 2023,” https://www.cantalamessa.org/?p=4080, Accessed April 16th, 2023.
- Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1112.
- Stephen Bullivant, Maxx Exodos: Catholic Disaffiliation in Britain and America Since Vatican II. Oxford, UK: 2019. (Cf. Page 253)
- Dr. Maravalle, “Mary and Vatican II: Part I,” MCast #83. https://airmaria.com/ 2009/10/21/video-mary-and-vatican-ii-part-i-dr-miravalle-mcast-83/.
2 thoughts on “Four Lesser Know Fruits of Vatican II: Marriage as Covenant, Restoration of the Epiclesis, Better Retention Rates, and the Most Complete Treatment of Mary Ever”
Thanks for this! It makes me want to re-read those sections in V2 regarding marriage and Mary.
I also get frustrated by the “V2 caused the current decline in the Church” narrative. It’s just so ahistorical; ignoring the clear decline before the Council and ignoring the host of other factors at play that encourages people to quit religion.
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Thank you! I agree, there is so much going on it is hard to be blank and white. I feel there must be a reason even if we cannot see it for most of Vatican II’s themes and ideas.