Pope John XXIII leads the opening Mass of the Second Vatican Council in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Oct. 11, 1962. A total of 2,540 cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops and bishops from around the world attended the opening session.  CNS photo

The Register Archives: Vatican II begins its historic journey

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  • October 9, 2018

It was 56 years ago this week — Oct. 11, 1962 — that the Second Vatican Council began its work of addressing how the Church should adapt to the modern world. Vatican II ended three years later and the changes formed the basis of much of the Church’s liturgy and teaching to this day. The massive task of the council, mandated by Pope John XXIII, began with much pomp and ceremony, as The Register reported in its Oct. 13, 1962 issue.


VATICAN CITY – An estimated 500,000 people jostled and strained to witness the passing of history as the members of the Second Vatican Council marched in procession across St. Peter’s Square and into the basilica to begin the council.

This high moment in the Church’s history started at 8:30 a.m. when the long procession of the world’s bishops made their way to the basilica walking in front of Pope John XXIII, who was carried on his portable throne.

The council fathers had assembled at 8 a.m.: The cardinals in the Vatican’s Hall of Benediction and the Borgia Apartment; the bishops in the Hall of Inscriptions, and the Pope in the Hall of Vestments. The Pope vested in mantle and jewelled mitre, the cardinal bishop in copes, the cardinal-priests in chasubles and the cardinal deacons in tunics.

The Oriental Rite patriarchs were vested in the solemn vestments of their own varying rites. The bishops, archbishops and abbots donned white copes. All — cardinals, patriarchs, archbishops, bishops and abbots — put on simple white mitres with their double-pointed crowns rising high on their heads. Oriental Rite prelates wore the episcopal crown, a tall bulbous metal head-dress, richly ornamented, modelled after the crown of the Roman Emperor Constantine.

When all were vested, the Pope entered the Pauline Chapel of the Vatican Palace where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed. There he intoned the antiphon, Ave Maria Stella (Hail Star at the Sea) and the solemn procession began.

Walking before the Pope, the long procession wound its way down the Royal Stairs, led by the Crucifix and followed by the guards, the laymen and the ecclesiastics of the papal court. Behind them followed the officials of the Vatican’s court, ministries and offices; then the representations of religious orders, the abbots, the bishops, archbishops, patriarchs, cardinals and prince assistants at the papal throne.

For a full hour the procession passed: Every race and colour and tongue, every rite, every degree of dignity, every circumstance of human existence, respected and persecuted, affluent and poor — all one in creed, by baptism, in purpose of salvation.

At the end, borne on his portable throne, came Pope John. He was solemn-faced and in prayer: No longer the Angelo Roncalli who walked barefoot to school, but entering this assembly as the supreme judge and legislator on Earth of Christ’s Church.

The procession ended as the Pope stepped down from the portable throne and went to the altar erected before the tomb of St. Peter. There he intoned a second hymn, the Veni Creator Spiritus, by which he and all those present who took up the chant implored the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the work now begun.

The Pope went to his throne and Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, Dean of the College of Cardinals, began preparing to celebrate Mass in honour of the Holy Spirit as the assembly continued the hymn: “Enlighten our senses; implant love in our hearts.”

The ceremony of the opening of the Second Vatican Council concluded with an allocution by the Pope.

The Second Vatican Council had now begun. Three years of preparation had come before this day. All the powers of Heaven and Earth had been summoned to assure a successful outcome of what would follow. What would follow was known only to the mind of God whose Holy Spirit was already at work.

(To explore more from The Catholic Register Archive, go to catholicregister.org/archive)

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