The Church's new principles of translation are “the latest expression” of the Second Vatican Council, said Father James Maroney of the U.S. Bishops Conference.

He has a good point.

Pope John Paul II's pontificate has been nothing more or less than Vatican II in action. His decisions, thoughts and words have been so shaped by Vatican II that he has changed the dynamic of Church dissent. Dissenters used to cite “the spirit of Vatican II” as their justification.

Now, it's increasingly clear that dissenting Catholics are dissenters from Vatican II above all else.

John Paul became Pope at a time when Catholics were factionalizing, dissent was “in” and it was anyone's guess what would happen to the Church in the future.

By creatively applying the council teachings, by preaching the council's message in visits to the faithful around the world and by his refusal to treat wayward Church leaders harshly, he pulled the rug out from under the feet of dissenters.

Don't get us wrong; there are still plenty of dissenting Catholic leaders. But now, the energy and life of the Church is in the young people who flock to diocesan reconciliation events, eucharistic adoration and papal World Youth Days.

And today, we see all around us the springtime of the lay apostolate: apologetics tape series, the conferences and retreats in the Register's “New Evangelization Events” calendar each month, Catholic credit card and phone companies, Catholic media efforts, Internet Web sites, new ways of serving the poor, the ecclesial movements, a high level of service to post-abortive women, and on and on.

In other words, we see the principles and prescriptions of Vatican II flowering and filling the Catholic world.

Authentic Liturgy (Liturgiam Authenticam), the May 7 document on translation principles that the Holy Father ordered, is just the most recent example. The document does nothing new. It merely implements the principles that Vatican II provided for the vernacular Mass.

That means that to object to it one must object to the Second Vatican Council itself.

It's the same with so many other masterworks of John Paul's pontificate: the Christ-centered ecclesiology of Dominus Iesus, the moral vision of Veritatis Splendor and the understanding of human sexuality in Familiaris Consortio all reiterate — and extensively quote — the council's thought on the Church, moral theology and hot-button issues like contraception.

Nonetheless it would be a mistake to think of the Holy Father as the man who rescued the council from misinterpretation or obscurity.

The reverse is more like it. The Pope didn't have to save the Church from the aftermath of the council so much as he had to implement the council to re-invigorate the Church in a messy century.

Vatican II's great project was to recover the sources of Christian life and apply them to the needs of our present age. What the Holy Father showed us is that enduring Christian truths are the best — and only — answer to the problems of man today.

John Paul's great accomplishment has been to unite the Church behind a council too many were dissenting from — in its theological, moral and liturgical teachings.

The Holy Father is always, of course, the visible sign of the Church's unity. But the present Pope has been so in a special way.

“Things fall apart,” wrote William Butler Yeats, “The center cannot hold.” By the grace of the Holy Spirit, who was the real “spirit of Vatican II” all along, John Paul II has proved him wrong.