As soon as Pope John XXIII announced the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, preparations began. Much of the preparatory work took place at the Vatican with commissions appointed to begin planning the myriad details involved in such an effort. All the advance preparation was not in Rome, as every bishop in the world was asked to submit possible subjects for the Council agenda.
In Dallas, Bishop Thomas K. Gorman convened a group of senior clergy and asked them to suggest subjects they felt should be considered at the Council. The group included Abbott Anselm Nagy, OCist., Msgr. (later Bishop) Thomas Tschoepe, Msgr. (later Bishop) Lawrence DeFalco, Msgr. Vincent Wolf, Msgr. Ernest Langenhorst, Msgr. John Gulcsynski, Msgr. William F. O’Brien and Father Thomas J. Shields, SJ.
Among the group were future bishops of Amarillo and San Angelo, an abbot and the local Jesuit superior. Recommendations from this group tended to be pragmatic and to reflect the pastoral needs of the church as they had experienced it.
Of the nine, five made recommendations for greater use of the vernacular in the Mass and Sacraments; three came from secular priests and two from religious. Five also recommended that Favor of the Faith cases be handled by the local ordinary; all five were secular priests.
Other suggestions made by more than one included:
- Restoration of the permanent diaconate
- Shortening the divine office
- Clarification of the function of the laity
- Modification of the Index of Forbidden Books
- Permission for evening Masses
- Relaxation of the requirements for clerical dress to allow for more comfortable clothing in the hot Texas summers.
Most had a half-dozen suggestions, except for the Jesuit, who had 39.
Other suggestions ran the gamut from allowing priests to join the Rotary Club to simplifying the blessing of altar stones. Several had to do with seminaries, including suggestions regarding no clerical garb in minor seminaries, a year’s novitiate for secular priests at the beginning of major seminary, stronger requirements for the study of Scripture and a suggestion that seminarians should be taught about other major modern religions. One suggestion was to have all graduate studies in special fields occur before acceptance into major orders.
A number of suggestions concerned Canon Law, ranging from simplified marriage legislation to revision of the 1918 code. There were 71 suggested topics.
It is interesting to note that many of the suggested topics were addressed during the Council or in post-consular documents:
- Most liturgies are now in the vernacular.
- Catechisms and catechetical ministry have been renewed.
- Priests now normally complete graduate degrees before ordination.
- Ecumenical guidelines have been developed.
- The Index of Forbidden Books has been suppressed.
- Holy Week ceremonies have been reformed.
- Evening Masses are permitted.
- The permanent diaconate has been restored.
- The laity have become much more involved at all levels of the church.
The nature of the church became the subject of the Council’s foundational document, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
Of all of the reforms of the Council, the one that the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy promulgated in 1963 was the first to bring the fruits of the Council to most Catholics.