In 1961 Pope John XXII shocked the Catholic world when he announced that he would convene an Ecumenical Council. This would be the first such Council held since the First Vatican Council called by Pope Pius IX which closed on June 29, 1868. That Council was the first Council since the Council of Trent which was held three centuries earlier. This Council would be truly ecumenical including leaders of the world’s religions and they would have as its goal to address the place of the Church in and with the modern world. The four year Council was to address the place and relations of the church in and with the modern world.
Some may remember that one of the issues people were struggling with was the use of English, the native language in the liturgy. The theologians in Germany were already experimenting with a German language Mass and so, when the Bishops arrived in Rome on that eleventh day of October in 1962, each accompanied by two "periti" (expert) theologians, the liturgists of the world were waiting for them, and so the first document issued by the Council was the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. It was in the provisions of the Constitution that the reform which Pope John had demanded of the Council assumed visible and incisive forms.
One example of this was in the understanding of the sacraments. There were those who looked upon the sacraments as some form as magical, mystical rite. Say the words, do the action and something mystical would happen. Vatican II taught that the sacraments were a real encounter with Christ. Last Sunday we heard the story of the two disciples who met the Lord on the road to Emmaus. They had dialogue with the Lord, but it was in the breaking of the bread when they stopped for something to eat that they recognized the Risen Lord. And so this encounter with the Lord is what we experience each time we receive a sacrament. This week the gospel story continues the experience of the meeting with the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus as the disciples relate to the others what had taken place on the way and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.
There is more in the Church than the liturgy, but there is nothing in the Church that does not depend on it.
Fr John R. Mulvehill