Election As a seasoned Vatican diplomat and a cardinal closely associated with Vatican II, Paul VI was an unsurprising choice to succeed Pope St John XXIII. He re-opened the Council, which had been suspended on John’s death, and brought it to completion. He then had to preside over the conflicts that followed – one of the many crosses which characterised his life. He told Venerable Fulton Sheen: “I open my mail at midnight, and in almost every letter there is a thorn. And when I put my head on my pillow an hour or two later, I really lay it on a crown of thorns. But I cannot tell you what ineffable joy I have to suffer.”
The Credo of the People of God In the turbulent period after Vatican II, some theologians and bishops proposed views which seemed at odds with perennial Catholic teaching. So Paul VI enlisted two theologians, Cardinal Charles Journet and Jacques Maritain, to draft a profession of faith. Maritain’s draft was used with only a few emendations. It consists of a series of statements beginning “We believe…” and affirming God’s nature and providence, the revelation of Jesus Christ, the sacraments – in particular, the Eucharist and transubstantiation – and eternal life.
Humanae Vitae In 1963, St John XXIII founded a commission to study birth control. As the Vatican studied the issue, the world speculated. Could the Church adapt her ancient teaching against contraception? Paul never believed that such a change was possible, and on July 26, 1968 he confirmed it, writing: “The direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded … it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it.” It is said that the storm of criticism was such that Paul never issued another encyclical.
Mass of Paul VI In the years following Vatican II, a combination of directives from Rome and initiatives from bishops’ conferences brought about rapid changes in the liturgy. The vernacular was introduced; Mass was no longer necessarily celebrated facing east; Communion under both kinds was permitted; there were changes to the text of the Mass. In 1969 Paul VI promulgated the changes, with a revised Missal in the following year. These reforms coincided with huge changes at a parish level, with much experimentation.
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