October 11, 2012, marks the 50th anniversary of the opening session of the Second Vatican Council. Blessed Pope John XXIII, born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, was elected to the papacy in October of 1958, at the age of 77.  Less than three months into what was expected to be a “transitional” and therefore uneventful papacy, he shocked both the Curia and the entire Catholic world with his announcement of a solemn convocation of all the world’s bishops, to be held in the grand halls of St. Peter’s Basilica.  The goal, mission and purpose  of the Second Vatican Council was, essentially, to recover and reconcile the spirit of the earliest Christian communities and the writings of the early Church Fathers with the expectations, situations and genuine needs of contemporary, post-industrial, twentieth-century man.

Of the 16 documents that emerged from the Council, four documents, four stand out from the rest as “Constitutions,” which, essentially, are documents of the highest merit, demanding full, unconditional acceptance in both our intellect and will by all the faithful, without exception. The four Constitutions here spoken of are Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Declaration on Divine Revelation Sacrosanctum Concilium, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Gaudium et Specs (Joy and Hope), the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World and Lumen Gentium Light of the Nations. 

Lumen Gentium, has played a most important role in defining the nature, mission and identity of the Catholic Church in contemporary times, and has had a monumental impact on theology in general, ecclesiology in particular, and additionally in the thought, preaching and writings of the four post-conciliar popes, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I, Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, all of whom were present at, and participated in the Council.

 “Christ is the Light of nations,” (which is the English translation of the Latin title, Lumen Gentium) the “sacred synod…eagerly desires…to bring the light of Christ to all men” (LG, 1). Therefore, “since the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of…union with God and of the unity of the whole human race, it desires…to unfold more fully to the faithful of the Church and to the whole world its own inner nature and universal mission” (LG, 1). 

Chapter One  “The Mystery of the Church”
“The Mystery of the Church,” provides a summary of the very nature of the Church as both the visible and invisible reality through which all persons are called to participate in the Trinitarian, divine life of God through, with and in Christ Jesus. “Fallen in Adam, God the Father did not leave men to themselves, but ceaselessly offered helps to salvation, in view of Christ the Redeemer, ‘who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature’” (LG, 2). This is accomplished chiefly through the Church’s sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. Baptism grafts and unites the elect to Christ’s Mystical Body, and enables them to participate in Christ’s work of Redemption, perpetuated in the Sacred Liturgy. “As often as the sacrifice of the cross in which Christ our Passover was sacrificed (1 Cor 5:7) is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried on, and in the sacrament of the Eucharistic bread, the unity of all believers who form one body in Christ (cf. 1 Cor 10:17) is both expressed and brought about. 

“By communicating his Spirit, Christ made his brothers…mystically the components of his own body….Through Baptism, we are formed in the likeness of Christ: ‘For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body’ (1 Cor 12:13 It is precisely in the partaking of the Eucharist that we are united with both Christ and with each other: “‘because the bread is one, we though many, are one body, all of us who partake of the one bread’” (1 Cor 10:17) (LG, 7). 

The document uses the analogy of the Hypostasis in Christ, whereby Christ’s perfect humanity and his perfect divinity are truly, inseparably united in a hypostatic union in the one Divine Person of Christ. Thus, the Church, like Christ, is simultaneously human and divine, earthly and heavenly.

Chapter One summarizes the Church’s nature stating that, “This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess as One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, which our Savior, after his resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd (Jn 21:17), and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority (cf. Mt. 28:18), which he erected for all ages as ‘the pillar and mainstay (or fortress) of the truth’ (1 Tm 3:15). 

Chapter Two  “On the People of God”
The People of God, having been grafted into the Mystical Body of Christ through Baptism, nd it is primarily through our participation in the Eucharistic Liturgy that we, the Priestly People, exercise our common, royal priesthood by offering ourselves through, with and in Christ to the perfect glorification of the Eternal Father as “living sacrifice[s], holy and pleasing to God” (cf. Rm 12:1) (LG, 10).

Our unity of belief in all the Church teaches on matters of faith and morals are a living witness to Christ. All are given individual gifts by the Holy Spirit which help us to become what God created us to be.  

The people of God are one although they are from many nations and every race – we are all citizens of heaven. Baptism is the door through which we enter the door of the Church which is the Body of Christ and we become members of His Body.  We receive salvation through Him who is the one Mediator between God and man.

There are various “degrees” of membership in the Body of Christ. First, “they are fully incorporated in Church, possess the Spirit of Christ, accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops” (LG, 14). 

“The Church recognizes Christians who accept the authority of Sacred Scripture,  believe in the truths it contains, conform to the way of life and have received a valid sacramental baptism, they are truly incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, and are consecrated in Christ

Salvation is available to every human person who, with true, sincerity of heart, seeks the truth and strives to live a morally upright life according to his or her conscience, even if, through no fault of their own, they have not come to an explicit knowledge of Christ and the Gospel. 

However, we must remember that just “As the Son was sent by the Father, so too He sent the Apostles, saying: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world”. 
Chapter Three  “On The Hierarchical Structure of the Church and in Particular on the Episcopate”
This part of the document takes up the issue of the governance of the Church of Christ through the Episcopate. Jesus chose twelve men to be His apostles with Peter as their visible head, commissioning them to establish, sanctify, minister to and govern the Kingdom of God on earth. They and their rightful successors serve as the foundation, with Christ Himself as the “supreme cornerstone.” This apostolic mandate and mission, moreover, was confirmed at Pentecost, in accord with the promise made them by the Lord:
Bishops participate fully in the One, Eternal, High Priesthood of Christ, with the validly elected successor of Peter.

The “Bishops, with their helpers, the priests and deacons, take up the service of the community, presiding in place of God over the flock, whose shepherds they are, as teachers for doctrine, priests for sacred worship, and ministers for governing” (LG, 20). The sacrament of orders imparts “character”- an indelible mark – on the soul, enabling him to act in “Persona Christi” (in the Person of Christ). Priests and deacons also receive this “character” upon ordination, and participate, each in their own way, in the one, eternal High Priesthood of Christ, as assistants to their bishops.
The Pope, as the Bishop of Rome and as the Successor of Peter, receives the charism of infallibility when teaching “ex cathedra,” or “from the Chair,” on matters pertaining to faith or morality. “The college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. 

Priests, do not possess the highest degree of the priesthood, and are dependent on the bishops in the exercise of their power, nevertheless they are united with the bishops in sacerdotal dignity. By the power of the sacrament of Orders, they are consecrated to preach the Gospel and shepherd the faithful and to celebrate divine worship. In collaboration with their bishop, “They exercise their sacred function especially in the Eucharistic worship or the celebration of Holy Mass. 

A Deacon is an assistant to the priest. The duties of a deacon are, to administer baptism solemnly, custodian and dispenser of the Eucharist, to assist at and bless marriages in the name of the Church, to bring Viaticum to the dying, to read the Sacred Scripture to the faithful, to instruct and exhort the people, to preside over the worship and prayer of the faithful, to administer sacramentals, to officiate at funeral and burial services” (LG, 29) 

Chapter Four  “The Laity”
 The laity are all the faithful except those in holy orders and in the state of religious life approved by the Church. By baptism the faithful are made one body with Christ also known as the people of God; They too have a mission and share partly in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ. The laity, are in a privileged position to act as the “salt of the earth” they can carry the Good News, or the “Gospel” of Christ, into those worldly arenas that Sacred Ministers do not normally have access to. 

The Eucharist is the central sacrament toward which each of the other. The Laity should know that each of the other six Sacraments, while having their own specific purpose and graces exist for the greater purpose of bringing the faithful to a full and complete participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Holy Mass. It is true that the purpose of the Sacrament of Penance is to receive forgiveness of sins, receive grace and help to overcome sin, ultimately, Penance exists for the sake of forgiving mortal sins, as one cannot receive Holy Communion they are in a state of mortal sin. Similarly, Baptism, is an absolutely essential Sacrament of initiation forgiving original sin inherited from Adam, but ultimately, one is Baptized for the sake of being capable of participating in the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist, which is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. 

From the moment of our Baptism we became participants in the Priestly, Prophetic and Kingly offices of Christ, the Eternal High Priest. Additionally, we became adopted sons and daughters of the Eternal Father, and brothers and sisters of Christ Jesus.

Chapter Five  “The Universal Call to Holiness”
 “The Universal Call to Holiness,” explains, that all the Christian faithful, regardless of their particular vocation in life, are all called to that same “perfection” and holiness of life that Christ speaks of in the Gospels in general, and in the “Sermon on the Mount” in particular “The Church…is believed to be indefectibly holy. Indeed Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is praised as “uniquely holy,” loved the Church as His bride, delivering Himself up for her. He did this that He might sanctify her. He united her to Himself as His own body and brought it to perfection by the gift of the Holy Spirit for God’s glory. Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: “holiness” and “sanctity” that all the Christian faithful, who have been baptized are called to holiness and sanctity no matter what our vocation in life.

Chapter Six   “Religious”
Some are called to embrace a vocation to the religious life, they give up everything that would hinder them from living a radically Christ-centered lifestyle, in imitation of our Lord, Who proposed this way of life to those who could accept it.  Heeding the Lord’s call to strive for perfection, they embrace the evangelical counsels of holy poverty, chastity for the Kingdom of heaven, and obedience. This calling must be praised for they are an inspiration and model for others to follow.

Chapter Seven
“The Eschatological Nature of the Pilgrim Church and its Union with the Church in Heaven”
“The Church, will attain its full perfection only in the glory of heaven, when there will come the time of the restoration of all things. At that time the human race as well as the entire world, which is intimately related to man and attains to its end through him, will be perfectly reestablished in Christ” (LG, 48).
In this chapter the document explains that, while is true that, as members of the Body of Christ, we are, indeed, adopted sons and daughters of the Father, it is additionally true that while we are in the flesh, we live as exiles. The Spirit, which grafts us to the Mystical Body, longs for a perfect union with Christ through works of Charity. We strive to be pleasing in the sight of the Lord, and when our life here on earth comes to an end we will go to the place prepared for us in Heaven.
The Church Militant, the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering are one Church forming the one Body of Christ.
Through participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we who are the pilgrim Church or the Church Militant, are most closely and perfectly united with the Church Triumphant as we worship God together in the sacred Liturgy.  

Chapter Eight
“The Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of God in the Mystery of Christ and the Church”
It is fitting that the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, devotes the last chapter to Mary, the Mother and Model of the Church. She is to Christ what Eve was to Adam. Eve participated with Adam, by providing him with the fruit, which served as the instrument of the fall of humanity from God’s grace and friendship, in like fashion, Mary, the new Eve, participated with Christ, the new Adam, by providing Him with His body, which served as the instrument of the redemption of humanity back to God’s grace and friendship. 

In view of her role in the salvific work of redemption wrought by Christ, she is also the Spiritual Mother and Model of the Church of Christ. She profoundly personifies the Church and all that can be stated about Mary can also be said of the Church and vice-versa. **

Many of the early Fathers compare Mary with Eve, and call her ‘the Mother of the living,’ ‘death through Eve, life through Mary’” 

It is most interesting to note that almost all of the theology needed to support a solemn, dogmatic definition of Mary as “Co-redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate,” is present, almost entirety, in this final chapter of Lumen Gentium. 

She is Co-redemptrix since, she was called by Divine Providence, to collaborate with her Son, in the work of Redemption.  

She is Mediatrix because by her maternal charity she makes constant intercession for the brethren of her Son, who are still on earth. This, however, neither takes away from nor adds anything to
Mary’s participation in Christ’s salvific act is entirely subordinate to and dependent upon the perfect work of Redemption wrought by Christ.   

Read LumenGentium  in doing so, you will avail yourself of the riches of the Second Vatican Council in general, and the Apostolic Constitution on the Church, in particular.*
Note: For a more detailed summary please check the link below on which the above summary is based:

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