VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI opened the Year of Faith in Rome with a call for a New Evangelization rooted in an authentic interpretation of the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
“I have often insisted on the need to return, as it were, to the ‘letter’ of the Council — that is, to its texts — also to draw from them its authentic spirit, and (it is) why I have repeated that the true legacy of Vatican II is to be found in them,” the Pope said Oct. 11 to approximately 30,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the opening Mass of the Year of Faith.
Speaking on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, the Pope said that “reference to the documents saves us from extremes of anachronistic nostalgia and running too far ahead." Thus, "the new" can be welcomed "in a context of continuity.”
In scenes deliberately reminiscent of the opening of the Second Vatican Council on Oct. 11, 1962, the Mass began with a grand procession of more than 400 bishops from around the world. During the liturgy, the same book of the Gospels that was used throughout the three years of the Council was placed on the same golden throne that cradled it 50 years ago.
Benedict also chose to concelebrate Mass with 14 of the 70 surviving Council Fathers.
As a young priest and academic, Pope Benedict XVI was present at the Second Vatican Council in an advisory capacity to Cardinal Joseph Frings of Cologne, Germany. Today, in his homily, the Pope recalled how he felt during those years.
“During the Council, there was an emotional tension as we faced the common task of making the truth and beauty of the faith shine out in our time, without sacrificing it to the demands of the present or leaving it tied to the past,” he recalled.
The Holy Father lamented that when the Council closed in 1965 many Catholics misinterpreted its documents and “embraced uncritically the dominant mentality.” In doing so, they placed in doubt “the very foundations of the deposit of faith, which they sadly no longer felt able to accept as truths,” he said.
But the Second Vatican Council “did not formulate anything new in matters of faith, nor did it wish to replace what was ancient,” Benedict stated. Rather, it was concerned with seeing that “the same faith might continue to be lived in the present day, that it might remain a living faith in a world of change.”
For that reason, the Pope said he hopes the Year of Faith will “revive in the whole Church that positive tension” between “the eternal presence of God” that transcends time but “can only be welcomed by us in our own unrepeatable today.”
Despite predictions of an increasingly secularized world, Benedict said that he sees “innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life.” These signs include the upsurge in popularity of traditional pilgrimage routes such as the Way of St. James in northern Spain.
Towards the close of the Mass, Pope Benedict re-enacted his predecessor Pope Paul VI’s conclusion of the Second Vatican Council by issuing a series of “Messages to the People of God,” including rulers, scientists, artists, women, workers and the young.
American journalist Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online received the message to women, while Scottish composer James MacMillan was entrusted with the message to artists.
Benedict concluded the ceremony by entrusting the Year of Faith to Our Lady, praying that “the Virgin Mary always shine out as a star along the way of the New Evangelization.”