Vatican II: The Decrees

Of the Vatican II documents the decrees are by and large forgotten about behind the Constitutions and Declarations but these Nine Decrees are pretty important. Some actually are pretty interesting as well but others are just dull.

Inter mirifica (Decree on the Media of Social Communication): This document is on the how the Church should interact with media. It states that the Church should use media to evangelize but the media itself should be moral as this is the only way the people can trust in the radio/tv/newspaper/cinema. Bottom line of this decree it is to help with the advancement of humankind’s being and their religious journey. This document has been criticized for not doing much. John Paul II would eventually set up the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 1988, he also in 2005 sort of issued a better document on Communications with The Rapid Development which points out that the Church should be paying “attention to the culture created by communications media” notably the internet. Pope Benedict XVI also touch on this In 2010 when he issued a statement encouraging to all priest to become digital citizens.

Orientalium Ecclesiarum (Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite): This one says that the Eastern Catholics should be unique rites and retain their own traditions while remaining in communion with the Holy See.

Unitatis redintegratio (Decree on Ecumenism): It calls for the reunion of all Christendom, offering something like what the Eastern Catholics have where the unique rites and traditions of the various rites would continue for the other Eastern and Oriental Churches. Of the Reformation Churches there are some other hurdles that would be faced (doctrinal). However, there is some talk of a first step in ecumenicism as we are all baptized.

Christus Dominus (Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church): Here the focus is on the Bishops across the world and that they are all brothers and should work together. This is where the National Episcopal Conference became a requirement for all nations, and some regions of the world also established regional conferences of Bishops as well.

Perfectae caritatis (Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life):  This one looks at religious life. It takes on the life and discipline of those institutes whose members make profession of chastity, poverty and obedience and to provide for their needs in our time. From here came a bunch of adaptations of Religious life, notably the habit being replaced with modern attire. This document is considered controversial as since many religious left religious life and the numbers of vocations hasn’t really recovered.

Optatam totius (Decree on Priestly Training): This one tackles the importance of priestly training and lays down principles which may be strengthened and by which those new elements can be added which correspond to the constitutions and decrees of this sacred council and to the changed conditions of our times. The one like the one on Religious life has been greeted with some controversy as there was a significant drop in priestly vocations in the Western World although some argue this has more to do with secularization, the sexual revolution and backlash against Humanae vitae.

Presbyterorum ordinis (Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests): This is just like the one on Bishops or Religious which outlines their role in the modern Church. This time around it for priests, “they do not seek to please men but rather must follow Christian doctrine, living a Christian life, always striving for holiness, and voluntary poverty.” Key aspect in priestly life in the celebration of the Eucharist and recitation of the Divine Office. The role of the priest is like the sower in the parable, casting out seed and hoping that some will land in the good soil so that something with grow for the harvest. This one like the one of Religious life and Priestly training is controversial, with a sharp decline in vocations after this decree came out.

Apostolicam actuositatem (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity): Here the Bishops offered some advice to encourage and guide lay people in their Christian service. It brings the laity and names them as of a the central importance for the Church. Cardinal Arinze summarizes this up nicely in his book The Layperson’s Distinctive Role that “lay people are called by Baptism to witness to Christ in the secular sphere of life; that is in the family, in work and leisure, in science and cultural, in politics and government, in trade and mass media, and in national and international relations.” I might look deeper into this one at a later time.

Ad gentes (Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church): To the Nations we are all sent out to evangelize, just like the apostles. With the Church’s current effort with the New Evangelization, it might be time for us all to look back here as a place to start the efforts.

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