Pope John XXIII has put the finishing touches on preparations for the Second Vatican Council by appointing the council’s major officers and spelling out its rules and procedures.
He did so only five weeks before the council’s opening by issuing a motu proprio—the technical name for a document drawn up and signed by the Pope on his own initiative.
One of the Pope’s acts was to name a presiding council of 10 cardinals who will take turns in presiding over plenary sessions of the ecumenical council in the Pope’s name when he is not present. The 10 are from nine nations. Among them is Francis Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York.
With the release (Sept. 5) of the motu proprio, the Pope also:
- Named cardinals of the Roman Curia to head 10 council commissions which in general parallel the preparatory commissions he set up for the council two years ago.
- Appointed Amleto Cardinal Cicognani, his Secretary of State and former Apostolic Delegate to the United States, president of a Secretariat for Extraordinary Affairs which will deal with any unforeseen problems. Among its seven other members is Albert Cardinal Meyer, Archbishop of Chicago.
- Required a two-thirds majority—plus his own approval—for enactment of decrees of the council.
- Stated that non-Catholic delegate observers may attend not only the solemn public sessions of the council, but also the working sessions in which all the Catholic bishops take part.
The motu proprio was released Sept. 5. It is known as “Appropinquante concilio,” from its opening words (With the advent of the council…).
Pope John began the document by declaring that “the coming ecumenical council by virtue of the number and variety of those who will participate in its meetings evidently will be the greatest of the councils held by the Church thus far.”
With an estimated 2,800 participants expected, the Pope said that the very numbers will present problems, because of language and time. But he added:
‘What inspires confidence in our mind is the certainty that the Fathers of the council, though they differ by nation, race and language, are all our brothers in Christ and all act in one single and similar spirit, so that truly according to the words of Jesus Christ they will be able to shine as the light of the world and will be able to produce fruits ‘in all goodness, justice and truth’.”
The long motu proprio covers all phases of the council. It is divided into three major parts—spelling out who will participate in the council or aid in its work, listing the rules which will govern it, and providing the organizational framework in which the council’s work is to be carried out.
The first part of the regulations is contained in nine chapters subdivided into 18 articles. It lists those who may take part in the council by right of canon law and also gives a listing of those who may be permitted to be present at sessions of the council by virtue of their special duties.
The Pope in his document states there will be three forms of council sessions. The first are the public sessions. They are presided over by the Pope, and in his presence the Fathers give their votes on decrees and canons which have been drawn up in the second form of session.
These are the general congregations. At these full sessions, the true work of the council will be carried out. The Fathers will examine and debate matters before them and draw up the formal decrees to be voted on in the public sessions.
Each of the general congregations will be presided over in the Pope’s name by one of 10 cardinals he named to the presidency of the council.
These cardinals are: Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, French-born Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals; Achille Cardinal Lienart, Bishop of Lille, France; Ignace Cardinal Tappouni, Syrian Rite Patriarch of Antioch; Norman Cardinal Gilroy, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia; Cardinal Spellman; Enrique Cardinal Pla y Deniel, Archbishop of Toledo, Spain; Joseph Cardinal Frings, Archbishop of Cologne; Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini, Archbishop of Palermo, Italy; Antonio Cardinal Caggiano, Archbishop of Buenos Aires; and Bernard Cardinal Alfrink, Archbishop of Utrecht, The Netherlands. Only one of the 10, Cardinal Alfrink, is among the 45 living churchmen named to the College of Cardinals by Pope John.
The third form of conciliar meetings are the sessions of the 10 council commissions. Their presidents are the same cardinals of the Church’s central administrative staff who headed the parallel preparatory commissions which wound up their work last spring.
The commissions and their presidents are:
Doctrinal Commission for Faith and Morals, Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani; Commission for Bishops and Government of Dioceses, Paolo Cardinal Marella; Commission for the Oriental Churches, Amleto Cardinal Cicognani; Commission for Discipline of the Sacraments, Benedetto Cardinal Aloisi Masella; Commission for Discipline of the Clergy and the Christian People, Pietro Cardinal Ciriaci; Commission for Religious, Valerio Cardinal Valeri; Commission for the Missions, Gregorio Pietro Cardinal Agagianian; Commission for the Sacred Liturgy, Arcadio Cardinal Larraona, C.M.F.; Commission for Seminaries, Studies and Catholic Schools, Giuseppe Cardinal Pizzardo; Commission for the Lay Apostolate, the Press and Entertainment, Fernando Cardinal Cento.
One of the old preparatory commissions was not carried over for the council itself: the Preparatory Ceremonial Commission. In addition, the Pope has added the scope of the former Secretariat of the Press, Motion Pictures and Television to the work of the Commission on the Lay Apostolate.
Three other organizations which existed in the preparatory phases remain in existence for the council itself and maintain their former chairmen. They are the Secretariat for Christian Unity, headed by Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J.; the Technical-Organizational Commission, under Gustavo Cardinal Testa; and the Administrative Secretariat, whose president is Alberto Cardinal di Jorio.
The new Secretariat for Extraordinary Affairs, headed by Cardinal Cicognani, has seven other members: Giuseppe Cardinal Siri, Archbishop of Genoa; Giovanni Cardinal Montini, Archbishop of Milan; Carlo Cardinal Confalonieri, Secretary of the Sacred Consistorial Congregation; Julius Cardinal Doepfner, Archbishop of Munich; Cardinal Meyer of Chicago; Leo Cardinal Suenens, Archbishop of Malines-Brussels; and Archbishop Pericle Felici. Archbishop Felici was named Secretary General of the ecumenical council, the post he held in the preparatory work for the council. The secretariat will study new important problems presented by the Fathers of the council and if necessary refer them to the Pope.
Francesco Cardinal Roberti, Prefect of the Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature, Church high court, was named president of the council’s Administrative Tribunal. Its 10 members will be named by the Pope. It will handle all disciplinary matters, such as unauthorized absences from the council meetings.
Each of the commissions of the council will have in addition to its cardinal president 24 members—16 to be elected by the Fathers of the council and 8 to be named by the Pope. The cardinal president will select one or two vice presidents from the membership of the commission, and will name a secretary from among the theologians, canonists and experts of the council.
The general secretariat of the council will have four distinct offices: an Office of Sacred Ceremonies, in charge of all ceremonies accompanying council meetings; an Office of Juridical Acts, composed of notaries, promoters and examiners; an Office for Recording and Conserving the Acts of the Council, which will be in charge of the council’s archivists, readers, interpreters, translators and stenographers, and an office for supervision of all maintenance, operations and voting tabulations.
The motu proprio also states that the Pope will appoint two “custodians” of the council.
The last part of the same section deals with the delegate-observers of the non-Catholic Christian communions invited to attend the council.
These observers—they will include representatives of the World Council of Churches and of world organizations of Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Quakers—may neither address the meetings nor vote. They may attend public sessions and general congregations of the council unless in special cases the council of the presidency decides otherwise.
They are generally not permitted to take part in the meetings of the conciliar commissions without the permission of the legitimate authorities. The papal document specifies that they may keep their religious communities informed concerning the work of the council, but are held to secrecy in regard to all other persons.
The Secretariat for Christian Unity has been designated as the council’s official organization for liaison with the observers. It is to help them in following the work of the council.
The second part of the Pope’s document deals with a number of specific matters concerning the rules of the council.
It lists what form of dress the Fathers are to wear for the various types of sessions, establishes the order of precedence of the participants, and lays down the norms for the profession of faith and the oath of secrecy which all the Fathers and assistants must take.
In all there are 12 chapters divided into 25 articles. Among them is one specifying Latin as the sole language to be used in the public sessions, in the general congregations, sessions of the Administrative Tribunal, and in the compilation of all the acts of the council. Readers, interpreters and translators will be put at the disposition of the Fathers to help them in the use of Latin.
The mechanics of discussion are also outlined in this section of the document. Each matter for consideration will be presented or explained to the general congregation by a person designated by the president of the commission concerned.
Each of the Fathers who wishes to speak on the matter will present his request to the presiding officer through the general secretary. When his turn comes he will take the floor. If he is seeking a change in the wording of a text under discussion he must submit his changes or objections in writing as well.
After a matter has been presented and debated, the general congregation is to vote on the proposals individually. If accepted, they will be incorporated into the text under discussion.
If amendments are accepted they must be incorporated into the text and then presented to the general congregation again for approval.
Voting is to be tabulated by machine unless the president of the session decides otherwise. It is this section of the motu proprio that specifies that a two-thirds vote is necessary to approve a matter under discussion; but the Pope reserves the right to alter this rule.
The third part of the document, consisting of three chapters and 27 articles, provides the rules for carrying out the work of the council. It requires that public sessions in the presence of the Pope be accompanied by suitable religious rites.
At these sessions, the decrees or canons which have been approved by general congregations are read by the secretary general. Then the assembled Fathers vote again on the text. Then the Pope—if he approves—pronounces the formula: “The decrees and canons which have now been read are pleasing to the Fathers (without exception, or, with the exception of (blank) votes to the contrary). And we too with the approval of the sacred council, thus decree, establish and promulgate them as they have been read.”
—James C. O’Neill
From Council Daybook: Vatican II, Sessions 1 and 2, Floyd Anderson, ed. © 1965 by The National Catholic Welfare Conference, Inc. Used by permission of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the successor organization to the NCWC. All rights reserved.