December 8, 2023
This month of December holds many significant celebrations all surrounding Mary, our mother. One is the solemnity we celebrate on Dec. 8, her Immaculate Conception. Another is Dec. 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is very special to our Diocese with its large Mexican population. The final, of course, is Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Christ, born of Mary. All during December, Mary is present in the Advent season as the one whose perfect giving of herself to the will of God gave us God’s Son. As the Mother of Christ, she is present in the Christmas season as the Lord’s mother, and ushers in the new year with the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of the Lord.
This month of December also holds another significant celebration. That is the anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, which occurred Dec. 8, 1965, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Some of us are very familiar with the council, having lived before, during and after this significant event in the life of the Church. Some of us grew up during the days of the council and the implementation of its work. Many of us do not personally know the years of the council and, having grown up after it, are familiar with it only as history. However, no matter our living relationship to the Second Vatican Council, it continues to have a profound influence upon our lives of faith as member of the Catholic Church.
Like Mary, the Church is also our mother, and very much plays a role similar to Mary in handing on Christ to us. Just as Christ became flesh through Mary, Christ becomes flesh to us today through the Church. At the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Oct. 11, 1962, St. Pope John XXIII delivered an address, which set the tone for its work. This address, Mother Church Rejoices, not only set the council’s tone but also that of its implementation, with which we are still involved. The Church, like Mary, rejoices because she is the bearer of Christ. The Second Vatican Council was meant to help us grow closer to our Lord.
On Dec. 8, 1965, Pope Paul VI concluded the Second Vatican Council in an address in which he emphasized that the council left an image of the Church as a community of faith and love and also left the heritage of Christ’s teaching, which the Church has continually translated into “flesh and blood.” He quoted the words of Pope John XXIII’s opening address, “The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more effectively.” St. Pope John Paul II referred to the Second Vatican Council as a “compass” with which to orient ourselves in the third millennium.
Recently, in speaking with Italy’s National Catechetical Office, Pope Francis said, “The catechesis inspired by the council is continually listening to the heart of man, always with an attentive ear, always seeking to renew itself.” The pope insisted, “The council is the Magisterium of the Church and therefore you follow the council, or you if interpret it in your own way, according to your desire, you do not stand with the Church.” He asked that there be no concessions “to those who try to present a catechesis that does not agree with the Magisterium of the Church.”
During this month of December, as we celebrate Mary and the anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, we need to look at Mary, our mother, and to the Church, our mother, in a world which has changed drastically during the past 2,000 years, but whose basic problems and needs have remained the same. The message of Christ has not changed, and it is only the teaching of Christ that helps us to address the problems and needs of society as well as those of our own lives. Mary was keenly aware of this. With her gaze fixed completely on God, she was able to cope with the many challenges and difficulties she encountered, especially those which came to her as the mother of the Lord. With her gaze fixed on Christ, the Church has handed on the Gospel of Christ for 2,000 years in times that have revealed the difficulties and needs of humanity in new contexts. The unchanging Gospel always answers these difficulties and needs.
This year, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis will place a golden rose before the image of Mary at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. This represents his own personal devotion to Mary as well as that of the entire Church. May Mary, our mother, and the Church, our mother, continue to be “compasses” by which we can find joy as a “community of faith and love” in which the “flesh and blood” of Christ is truly present!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
December 8, 2023