Planning the Council: A Confidential Memo from Cardinal Suenens to Pope John XXIII

The account of Cardinal Léon-Josef Suenens, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels, of his famous memo to Pope John XXIII which led to the basic structure and approach of the Council. The Cardinal also provides the actual text of the memo.

During an audience with the Pope in March 1962, I complained to John XXIII about the number of schemata prepared for discussion at the forthcoming Council, which seemed quite excessive. There were, I believe, seventy-two of them, very uneven in value, and in any case so overwhelming in volume that a priori they prevented fruitful and worthwhile work at the Council itself. John XXIII asked me to clear the ground and submit to him a plan based on the prepared schemata.

Cardinal Leon-Josef Suenens, archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels

After studying these documents, I sent him a preliminary note designed to cut out a lot of dead wood and set the Council on a truly pastoral course. The note was both negative and positive: idem nolle as well as idem velle were both needed as a basis for more detailed work to follow. This note is given below as Appendix I. John XXIII approved this verbally to me; and it then paved the way for future work. Continue reading

Pope’s Address to World Month Before Council Opens

Following is the text of an English translation of the address made by Pope John XXIII on Sept. 11, 1962, in which he asked for recitation of the prayer of the Mass for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost for the Second Vatican Council. The broadcast was carried by radio networks in Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Ireland and Monaco. Delayed broadcasts were carried in Germany, Austria and Canada. Radio Free Europe broadcast it to communist-controlled Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Bulgaria.

Pope John XXIII delivers a radio address one month before the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

The great anticipation of the ecumenical council, just a month away from its official opening, is shining in the eyes and the hearts of all the children of the holy and blessed Catholic Church.

In the course of three years of preparation, an array of chosen minds assembled from all parts of the world and of every tongue, united in sentiments and in purpose, has gathered together so abundant a wealth of doctrinal and pastoral material as to provide the episcopate of the entire world, when they meet beneath the vaults of the Vatican basilica, themes for a most wise application of the Gospel, teaching of Christ which for 20 centuries has been the light of humanity redeemed by His blood.

We are therefore, by the grace of God, proceeding satisfactorily. Continue reading

The Bishops of Holland: ‘The Sense of the Council’ I

Several times [during the preparatory meetings], resolutions to abolish the Congregation of the Holy Office outright were brought to the floor. In the sessions that took place last June, after Cardinal Ottaviani had ordered that the Italian translation of a pastoral letter on the Council written by the Dutch bishops be withdrawn from circulation, the Indian cardinal—vehemently supported by Cardinals Doepfner, or Munich; Koenig, of Vienna; and Lienart, of Lille—came to the aid of Cardinal Alfrink, of Utrecht, by informing the Holy Office, and the Roman Curia in general, that while ecumenical councils usually ended with someone in schism, this time, for once, it would not be the outsiders, because they happened to represent not merely the majority of the Church but the senior pars, and they expressed their disdain for the freemasonry (a nasty word in European ecclesiastical circles) of Italian prelates, who have held the Church in thrall for too long.

—Xavier Rynne, The New Yorker, October 20, 1962

What did the Holy Office find so threatening about the encyclical of the Dutch bishops that Ottaviani’s minions had to confiscate it from the bookshops of Rome? Here for the first time in English is the complete text of their encyclical, promulgated on Christmas Eve, 1960, translated by Janice Poss of Los Angeles from the French, Le Sens du Concile: Une Réforme Intérieure de la Vie Catholique.

St. Catherine's Cathedral, Utrecht
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Observer Delegates At Vatican Council

Observer delegates representing the World Council of Churches and 10 separate Christian denominations have been designated to attend the forthcoming ecumenical council, the Secretariat for Christian Unity announced.

The secretariat revealed the names of a score of non-Roman Catholics who have announced acceptance of invitations to the council (Sept. 5). A spokesman for the secretariat said that the number of acceptances would undoubtedly grow as the Oct. 11 opening date of the council approached. Continue reading

Appropinquante concilio

This is an English translation of the motu proprio of John XXIII, Appropinquante concilio. The document, dated Aug. 6, was made public Sept. 5.

With the advent of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, our soul is filled with a great joy thinking of the now close and marvelous spectacle which will be offered by the multitude of bishops gathered together in the beloved city of Rome, coming from all parts of the world to study, together with us, near the tomb of St. Peter, the most grave problems of the Church.

Therefore we give deep thanks to God, not only because He has benevolently given us the inspiration to initiate such important work but also because He has continually guided with His help the preparatory labors of the council. This confirms us constantly more in the confidence that the abundance of divine blessings will not be wanting for the completion of the work begun, just as they were abundant at the happy beginning. Continue reading

Pope Issues Rules, Procedures for Council

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.

Continue reading

Our Bishops Speak

A Current Comment post from the September 1, 1962 issue of America:

In devoting their annual statement for 1962 to the coming Second Vatican Council, the American hierarchy has made a significant addition to a growing library of similar documents issued by the bishops of many lands. Looking ahead to the meeting scheduled to open in Rome on October 11, our 226 Cardinals, archbishops and bishops sound a note of optimism.

They base their hopes in the first place on the care with which preparations for the Council have been made. But they are also “humbly and gratefully” convinced that they, personally, “will not go to the Council empty-handed.” Though the American Church is young and has had a difficult history, the experience our bishops have gained will provide valuable insights as the Council takes up its primary task of effecting an internal renewal of the universal Church.

Our bishops know, for instance, “first of all, the advantages which have come to the Church from living and growing in an atmosphere of religious and political freedom.” They can testify to the faith of “lay people, men as well as women,” who “are to an extraordinary decree active, energetic members of Christ’s Mystical Body.” These insights and much more they have in mind as they travel to Rome, “not to give hasty answers . . .or mere routine approval . . .but to deliberate unhurriedly, to express their mature judgment.”

Catholics and non-Catholic Christians alike should be moved by this statement to follow the Council and to lend the bishops their prayers as they undertake so solemn a labor.