CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo

The documents that came out of Vatican II

  • October 6, 2012
There were 16 documents approved by the Second Vatican Council — four constitutions, nine decrees and three declarations.


o The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) is about how Catholics read the Bible and the role of scholarship. Key quote: The tradition that comes from the apostles makes progress in the Church, with the help of the Holy Spirit. There is growth in insight into the realities and words that are being passed on.
o The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) defines the Church as the people of God. Key quote: At all times and in every race, anyone who fears God and does what is right has been acceptable to Him (cf. Acts 10:35). He has, however, willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness.
o The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) defines the Church's relationship with the present age and culture. Key quote: The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts.
o The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) sets out a framework for liturgical reform. Key quote: Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people" (1 Peter 2:9, 4-5) have a right and obligation by reason of their baptism.


o The Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity (Ad Gentes) recalibrates missionary activity with a new respect for non-Christian cultures. Key quote: Some of these men are followers of one of the great religions, but others remain strangers to the very knowledge of God, while still others expressly deny His existence, and sometimes even attack it. The Church, in order to be able to offer all of them the mystery of salvation and the life brought by God, must implant herself into these groups for the same motive which led Christ to bind Himself, in virtue of His Incarnation, to certain social and cultural conditions of those human beings among whom He dwelt.
o The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem) charges lay Catholics with a duty and responsibility to transform the world. Key quote: The Holy Spirit sanctifies the People of God through the ministry and the sacraments. However, for the exercise of the apostolate he gives the faithful special gifts besides (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:7), "allotting them to each one as he will" (1 Corinthians 12:11), so that each and all, putting at the service of others the grace received, may be "as good stewards of God's varied gifts" (1 Peter 4:10) for the building up of the whole body of charity (cf. Ephesians 4:16).
o The Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church (Christus Dominus) calls bishops to be the principal teachers of the faith in their dioceses and encourages them to work together. Key quote: Bishops should devote themselves to their apostolic office as witnesses of Christ to all men. They should not limit themselves to those who already acknowledge the Prince of Pastors but should also devote their energies wholeheartedly to those who have strayed in any way from the path of truth or who have no knowledge of the Gospel of Christ and of His saving mercy, so that ultimately all men may walk "in goodness, justice and truth." (Ephesians 5:9)
o The Decree on the Means of Social Communication (Inter Mirifica) declares that the first and best purpose of media is to preach the Gospel by word and deed. Key quote: First of all, a responsible press should be encouraged. If, however, one really wants to form readers in a truly Christian spirit, an authentically Catholic press ought to be established and supported.
o The Decree on the Training of Priests (Optatam Totius) envisions the kind of priests the Church will need as it begins to embrace and encourage the modern world rather than reject it. Key quote: "Notwithstanding the regrettable shortage of priests, due strictness should always be brought to bear on the choice and testing of students. God will not allow his Church to lack ministers if the worthy are promoted and those who are not suited to the ministry are guided with fatherly kindness and in due time to adopt another calling. These should be directed in such a way that, conscious of their Christian vocation, they will zealously engage in the lay apostolate.
o The Decree on the Catholic Oriental Churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum). Rather than stalking horses for an eventual Catholic triumph in the East, Eastern Catholic Churches are urged to fully embrace their liturgical and theological traditions as particular Churches or rites. Key quote: History, tradition and very many ecclesiastical institutions give clear evidence of the great debt owed to the Eastern Churches by the Church Universal. Therefore the holy council not merely praises and appreciates as is due this ecclesiastical and spiritual heritage, but also insists on viewing it as the heritage of the whole Church of Christ. For that reason this Council solemnly declares that the Churches of the East, like those of the West, have the right and duty to govern themselves according to their own special disciplines.
o The Decree on the Up-To-Date Renewal of Religious Life (Perfectae Caritatis) calls on nuns, brothers and religious order priests to rediscover the original charisms of their founders and to find an expression of the vows which embraces the Lumen Gentium vision of the Church in the modern world. Key quote: The up-to-date renewal of the religious life comprises both a constant return to the sources of the whole of the Christian life and to the primitive inspiration of the institutes, and their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time.
o The Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis) taught that priests do not exercise their ministry for their own sake but for the sake of building up the Christian community. Key quote: Priests, while being taken from amongst men and appointed for men in the things that appertain to God that they may offer gifts and sacrifices for sins, live with the rest of men as with brothers. So also the Lord Jesus the Son of God, a man sent by the Father to men, dwelt amongst us and willed to be made like to his brothers in all things save only sin.
o The Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) declares Christian unity a primary responsibility of the Catholic Church. Key quote: Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but they differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided. Certainly, such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages that most holy cause, the preaching of the Gospel to every creature.


o The Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae) commits the Church to the human right of freedom of religion. Key quote: The Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. Freedom of this kind means that all men should be immune from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups and every human power so that, within due limits, nobody is forced to act against his convictions nor is anyone restrained from acting in accordance with his convictions in religious matters in private or in public, alone or in associations with others.
o The Declaration on Christian Education (Gravissimum Educationis) stakes a claim for the Church's right to provide education as a social good to society as a whole. Key quote: All men of whatever race, condition or age, in virtue of their dignity as human persons, have an inalienable right to education. This education should be suitable to the particular destiny of the individuals, adapted to their ability, sex and national cultural traditions, and should be conducive to fraternal relations with other nations in order to promote true unity and peace in the world.
o The Declaration on the Church's Relations with Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) fundamentally changed the Church's relationship with Jews and with other religions. Key quote: The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and doctrines which, although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men.

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