MILWAUKEE — It may be hard for some Catholics to believe the Second Vatican Council was convened 50 years ago this year – especially for all the debate it still inspires in the contemporary church.

In commemoration of the anniversary, the Marquette University Office of Mission and Ministry, together with the Department of Theology and Gesu Parish, are offering a series of lectures focused on the reforms introduced by the council, which opened on Oct. 11, 1962.

“The council has left a deep impact on the self-understanding of Catholics and has influenced our relationship to the world. Fifty years on, the spirit of that council continues to animate the church’s – and therefore Marquette’s – mission,” said Jesuit Fr. Thomas Anderson, assistant director of campus ministry at Marquette, at the inaugural lecture on Wednesday, Nov. 13.

The lecture, “Renewing the Liturgy, Revitalizing the Church: The Vatican II Reforms at 50,” given by Jesuit Fr. John Baldovin, professor of historical and liturgical theology at Boston College, took place in the upper church at Gesu. He evaluated the progress of reforms implemented by Vatican II’s first council document, Sacrosanctum Concilium (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy), approved Dec. 4, 1963.

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“It’s no secret that today we see a struggle within the Catholic Church regarding the interpretation of Vatican II, especially in reference to liturgical reforms that the council set in motion,” he said.

Fr. Baldovin called Sacrosanctum Concilium’s reform of the liturgy “profoundly revolutionary … at least potentially” but harshly critiqued several movements within the church in the past 50 years that he identified as having “sidetracked” its efforts.

“One of the major issues of the council is between the liturgy of the constitution’s insistence on full, active and conscious participation and the rest of the council’s teaching on the church. They are not totally in sync,” he said.

Fr. Baldovin also identified Pope Francis as a possible champion of reinvigorating Vatican II reforms, pointing out that the mission of increased collegiality between bishops and the Roman Curia is echoed in the pope’s recently published survey on various social issues.

He also identified what he saw as four challenges to the liturgical reform of Vatican II, including the 2010 Roman Missal translation and the evolving nature of the priesthood.

“It changed the theology of the priest, not only in terms of seeing the priest as a sacramental minister but also as a preacher and a pastor,” he said. “On the other hand … it did little to help us understand the relationship between priests and the rest of the assembly of the liturgy.”

He noted the “mass exodus” from the priesthood in the late 1960s and early 1970s, often blamed on Vatican II. However, Fr. Baldovin suggested this shortage actually triggered a harmful, de-facto marketing campaign which “re-emphasized the distinctiveness of the priesthood,” resulting in a clergy that was too set-apart from its congregation.

“Exacerbating these distinctions between clergy and the laity only makes it more difficult to appreciate that the Eucharist is the celebration of the entire Body of Christ,” he said.

Later in the lecture, he called for a greater emphasis on the corporate identity of the assembly and asserted the ordination of females as deacons is an inevitability, calling it “theologically, a no-brainer.”

Another subject Fr. Baldovin broached was that of the increasing popularity of the pre-Vatican II liturgy, commonly known as the Latin Mass. He called the sentiments of Summorum Pontificum (Of the Supreme Pontiffs), Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic letter which expanded the use of the Latin rite, “a disaster,” echoing the opinion of Georgia Masters Keightley’s essay “Summorum Pontificum and the Unmaking of the Lay Church.”

“(Keightley) points out that there are three aspects of the Mass of Pope Paul VI that are lacking in the earlier rite, and these distinctively shape our liturgical consciousness,” said Fr. Baldovin;these three aspects include the general intercessions, the Sign of Peace and the Offertory Procession.

“I think her argument is sound and gives support to the claim that the pope, in a sense, violated the Constitution of Vatican II with the widening of this permission to use the earlier Rite,” he said.

During the talk, Fr. Baldovin also identified four issues – or pieces of “unfinished business” – faced by the Vatican II reform today, allowing that Catholic worship has “lost a sense of mystery” inherent in the pre-Vatican II rite.

“I admit; some of that critique is true. We seem to have dropped a medieval choreography of the liturgy in favor of a much more cerebral one,” said Fr. Baldovin. “I think we’re getting better at finding the balance between mystery and communication. True reverence does not require this or that posture. This or that kind of music. This or that kind of architectural space. That is all irrelevant itself.”

He acknowledged that interpretation and implementation of Vatican II’s considerable liturgical reforms is an ongoing mission.
“That’s fine – because it means there is plenty of work still left for us to do,” Fr. Baldovin said.  Colleen Jurkiewicz