|"Anybody can become pope; the proof of this is that I|
have become one." Pope John XXIII
Far from being the outright liberal that he is often portrayed as, Pope John XXIII's principal aims in calling the Council actually mirror his own desire to defend traditional Catholicism. His first aim for the Council was that "Christian doctrine [should] be guarded and taught more efficaciously"; his second intention in calling the world's bishops to Rome was that "fallacious teaching, opinions, and dangerous concepts [would be better] guarded against and dissipated", whilst Pope John XXIII's third stated desire for Vatican II was that "the greater part of the human race...[would come to] participate in those sources of divine grace which exist in the Catholic Church" (Address of Pope John XXIII on the Solemn Opening of the Council, 11 October 1962 - English translation).
Only now is the Catholic world finally realising that the decrees of the Second Vatican Council were completely misinterpreted during those crucial years that followed its closing. It appears that the Sacred Council's documents have very little in common with what came to be termed the "spirit of Vatican II" - a phrase that seems to have been deployed by modernists as a means of hijacking the Church's 21st Ecumenical Council.
From having read the Council's documents, Vatican II made no explicit mention of such novelties as the widespread use of the vernacular, Masses facing the people, the reception of communion in the hand, Eucharistic ministers, the wholesale desecration of churches and re-ordering of altars, sweeping changes to clerical dress and religious habits, the abolishing of sacred music (such as Gregorian chant), etc. In fact, a proper reading of the texts of the Second Vatican Council inevitably leads one to the conclusion that much of the liturgical and pastoral innovations (as well as the wholesale rejection of Catholic morality and doctrine) that crept into the Church during the 1970's and 1980's are definitely not in keeping with the real spirit of the Sacred Council! Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) famously highlighted this fact, when he wrote that many so-called "reformers" had gone "far beyond both the letter and the spirit of Vatican II." He also called for a "return to the authentic texts" of the Council as opposed to a reliance on its so-called "spirit", to an acceptance of Catholicism as it always has been taught and practised as opposed to a re-defined version of the faith (cf The Ratzinger Report, 1985).
The malign way in which the Second Vatican Council was hijacked by modernists and those with an agenda against Catholic liturgy, doctrine and morality is probably one of the most depressing episodes in the Church's long history. The widespread ditching of authentic Catholicism for the relativistic and revolutionary "spirit of Vatican II" has caused immeasurable damage, and the Church will probably require centuries to get back on track after falling victim to this particular false idol. Is it any wonder, then, that according to some reports, Pope John XXIII came to deeply regret calling the Council in the first place? He definitely realised that many liberals and modernist agitators wanted to hijack Vatican II, and wished to follow their own agenda, whatever the Council Fathers actually decreed. It is often said that Jean Guitton, the only lay peritus at the Second Vatican Council, was present at John XXIII's deathbed, during which time he allegedly heard the pope's last words: "Stop the Council! Stop the Council!" Even if Blessed John XXIII didn't utter these words - which certainly have an apocryphal ring to them - there is plenty of evidence to suggest that he did come to regret having called the Council, and would have been deeply distressed had he lived to see the false fruits of the so-called "spirit of Vatican II".
A few months before the Second Vatican Council was solemnly opened on 11 October 1962, Pope John XXIII issued the Apostolic Constitution, Veterum Sapientia (On the promotion of the study of Latin). Knowing the subjects that were to be discussed during the Vatican Council, this document reflects the Pope's mind on the use of Latin within the Catholic Church. It was meant to serve as a guiding document for the Council Fathers, and sought to strengthen the place of Latin as a sacred and essential Catholic language at a time when some were already talking about the need to ditch it in favour of our modern vernacular languages. Although many rightly argue that John XXIII firmly backed some of the Liturgical Movement's reforms, Veterum Sapientia proves that he was determined to keep the ancient liturgical and ecclesiastical language of the Church. In this document he even "commands" bishops to "be on their guard lest anyone under their jurisdiction, eager for revolutionary changes, writes against the use of Latin in the teaching of the higher sacred studies or in the Liturgy" (emphasis mine). Veterum Sapientia also confirmed Pope John XXIII's determination "to restore [Latin] to its position of honour" within the Catholic Church.
Seeing that today is his feast day, I think it only fitting, then, that the defence of Latin as the only suitable Catholic language should be made in Blessed Pope John XXIII's own words, as found in Veterum Sapientia:
The Church should make use of a language that is not only universal, but also immutable. If the Church were to hand down Catholic teaching using some or many changeable and recent languages, non of which has any authority over the others, clearly it follows, considering their variety, that it couldn’t be enforced with any significant clarity to make it obvious to all, nor would there be a common and stable norm to which all other meanings would have to be subjected. Latin, in fact, is already safe from various ambiguities associated with the meaning of words arising from popular usage, for it is understood to be set and unchanging, while certain new meanings of given Latin words that needed to be explained during the progressive clarification and defense of Christian doctrine have long ago been set and firmly ratified.
Finally, inasmuch as the Catholic Church is founded by Christ the Lord, and it far surpasses in dignity all other human associations, it is clearly therefore fitting that she should use a non-vernacular language full of nobility and majesty.
Furthermore, Latin, a language that “can be called truly Catholic” for it is consecrated by perpetual usage by the Apostolic See, mother and teacher of all Churches, can also be thought of as a “treasure of incomparable excellence” and a gate providing access to everyone to all the Christian truths and to the accepted ancient interpretation of Christian doctrine, and finally it is a most suitable bond that binds the Church’s present age with the past and with the future. (emphasis mine - English translation, here)Whatever we may think of Vatican II and its so-called and often misused "spirit", I think that most people would agree that Blessed John XXIII did not expect the Council to open the door to unchecked modernism when he solemnly opened it 49 years ago today. After reading documents like Veterum Sapientia, it is quite clear that Pope John XXIII had his fears concerning the Second Vatican Council even before it had formally convened. It is not surprising, then, that many people believe the stories which suggest that his last wish was for the Council to be stopped. Seeing that Blessed Pope John XXIII had no desire to break with the Church's heritage, I am sure that both he, as well as the other modern papal beatus, John Paul II, are now spending their Heaven praying for today's Successor of St Peter, Pope Benedict XVI - for it seems that our current pope is the only one truly qualified to heal that tragic rupture which tore the Church apart after Vatican II.
Our Lady, Mother of the Church, pray for us
Bl Pope John XXIII, pray for us
[Image: Portrait of Pope John XXIII, 1958; in the public domain; source: Wikimedia Commons]