Vatican II on Becoming a People

At the heart of the Second Vatican Council’s vision is “The People of God.” But that does not mean what many “people” think that it means – indeed, it may mean the opposite.

It doesn’t mean that everyone IS a person of God, but that we’re called to be holy. More importantly, in English we have no way of distinguishing between “people” as the plural of “persons,” as in “a bunch of individuals,” and “people” as a singular, as in “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people.”

“People of God” means we’re called to be part of that nation, the New Israel, the Church. Here’s the central text from Lumen Gentium.

MEETING DURING SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL FILE PHOTOAt all times and in every race God has given welcome to whosoever fears Him and does what is right. God, however, does not make men holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased Him to bring men together as one people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness.

He therefore chose the race of Israel as a people unto Himself. With it He set up a covenant. Step by step He taught and prepared this people, making known in its history both Himself and the decree of His will and making it holy unto Himself. All these things, however, were done by way of preparation and as a figure of that new and perfect covenant, which was to be ratified in Christ, and of that fuller revelation which was to be given through the Word of God Himself made flesh.

“Behold the days shall come saith the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel, and with the house of Judah . . . I will give my law in their bowels, and I will write it in their heart, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people . . . For all of them shall know Me, from the least of them even to the greatest, saith the Lord.

Christ instituted this new covenant, that is, the new testament in His Blood, calling together a people made up of Jew and gentile, making them one, not according to the flesh but in the Spirit. This was to be the new People of God. For those who believe in Christ, who are reborn not from a perishable but from an imperishable seed through the word of the living God, not from the flesh but from water and the Holy Spirit, are finally established as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people . . . who in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God“.

–Second Vatican Council, “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church,” Lumen Gentium

Vatican II on Love of Scripture

The Second Vatican Council worked in various ways to strengthen the Church for the struggles of the modern world. One of its central strategies was to return to a traditional spirituality rooted in reading Scripture. This suffuses the document on the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) and the entire approach of the documents on the Church (Lumen Gentium) and on the Church in the modern world (Gaudium et Spes).

The following quotations, from the concluding section of the document on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) reminds us of the centrality of sacred reading to the tradition – pointing out that this is why translations like the Greek Septuagint and the Vulgate existed in the first place. (Remember, the Vulgate was the central life work of the very St. Jerome who said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.) It also gives a nicely concrete description of lectio divina: put yourself in touch with the sacred text itself!

MEETING DURING SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL FILE PHOTOEasy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all the Christian faithful. That is why the Church from the very beginning accepted as her own that very ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament which is called the Septuagint; and she has always given a place of honor to other Eastern translations and Latin ones, especially the Latin translation known as the Vulgate.

But since the word of God should be accessible at all times, the Church by her authority and with maternal concern sees to it that suitable and correct translations are made into different languages, especially from the original texts of the sacred books. And should the opportunity arise and the Church authorities approve, if these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to use them. . . .

All the clergy must hold fast to the Sacred Scriptures through diligent sacred reading and careful study, especially the priests of Christ and others, such as deacons and catechists who are legitimately active in the ministry of the word. This is to be done so that none of them will become “an empty preacher of the word of God outwardly, who is not a listener to it inwardly” (St. Augustine) since they must share the abundant wealth of the divine word with the faithful committed to them, especially in the sacred liturgy.

The sacred synod also earnestly and especially urges all the Christian faithful, especially Religious, to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures the “excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:8). “For ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Therefore, they should gladly put themselves in touch with the sacred text itself, whether it be through the liturgy, rich in the divine word, or through devotional reading, or through instructions suitable for the purpose and other aids which, in our time, with approval and active support of the shepherds of the Church, are commendably spread everywhere.

And let them remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together; for “we speak to Him when we pray; we hear Him when we read the divine saying” (St. Ambrose).

-Second Vatican Council, “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation,” Dei Verbum