Vatican II

The Crisis and the Promise

By Alan Schreck

Servant Books, 2005

320 pages, $20.99

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Editor’s note: This is the last of three Register book picks on Vatican II, Vatican II: The Crisis and the Promise.

At the beginning of the new millennium, St. John Paul II pointed to the Second Vatican Council as "the great grace bestowed on the Church in the 20th century." And he saw the Council as "a sure compass by which to take our bearings" in the 21st century. Pope John Paul II worked tirelessly to properly implement the Second Vatican Council and make its teachings clear.

In the book Vatican II: The Crisis and the Promise, theologian Alan Schreck draws heavily upon John Paul II and Benedict XVI to wade through the waters of interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. Schreck warns his readers of the murky waters caused by the two extremes of interpretation: "There was something wrong with the Council itself or its teaching" or a focus on "appeal[ing] to the ‘spirit’ of the Council to justify going beyond its actual teachings and directives."

And he systematically points out the follies of the advocates for either hermeneutic by showing the Council’s connection to the constant Tradition of the Church.

In my pastoral letter, Ecclesia Semper Reformanda (The Church Is Always in Need of Renewal), warning of false interpretations, I stated that "the so-called ‘spirit’ of the Council … is a ghost or demon that must be exorcised if we are to proceed with the Lord’s work." Schreck proposes the "true spirit of Vatican II … is a spirit of openness and boldness in sharing the truth of Jesus Christ and his Gospel with others. It is the spirit of the ‘New Evangelization, which originated precisely at the Second Vatican Council.’"

Schreck, who has taught theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville for the last 36 years, focuses in his book "on the true understanding of Catholic doctrine as found in the documents of Vatican II and on its proper implementation." He tackles the questions of the Council’s authority, its pastoral nature and its "harmony with past Catholic teaching," while also being an "advancement or development of Catholic Tradition."

The book contains a question-and-answer format, a simple structure for laypersons to understand. It offers reflections and explanations of each of the 16 Council documents.

At the end of each chapter, the author connects the documents of the Second Vatican Council to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and recent magisterial documents. He also offers a selection of key quotations from the Council documents for further meditation.

Schreck also offers a sobering reflection on the context in which we are living currently in the Church, stating that "there has been widespread confusion over the meaning and nature of the priesthood," and "Catholics … do not attend Sunday Mass or frequent the sacraments."

He sees the New Evangelization as a means of combating these problems. And he proposes a return to the basics, reminding the reader: "God has chosen to reveal himself to the human race in order to invite us into a personal relationship of friendship and fellowship with himself."

I encourage all the faithful and people of goodwill to read Alan Schreck’s Vatican II: The Crisis and the Promise, but not to stop there.

Go on to read the Vatican II documents — through the presentation of Scripture and Tradition found in them, the Holy Spirit invites us to imbue ourselves from the wellspring of grace. May the Lord bless your journey!

Bishop R. Walker Nickless

is the ordinary for the

Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa.