Pope Francis is a pope of many “firsts.”

He is the first non-European pope since the eighth century.

He is the first Latin American pope.

He is the first Jesuit to be elected pope, and he is the first pope to take the name “Francis.”

I have been surprised, however, that no one has pointed out that Pope Francis is the first pope to have been ordained after the Second Vatican Council. As a “post-Vatican II” priest, myself, I find this to be the most significant of all Pope Francis’ “firsts.”

Jorge Mario Bergoglio is truly a son of the Second Vatican Council. He began his religious formation in the Society of Jesus in 1958, during the closing months of the papacy of Pope Pius XII. Shortly after he began his training, the newly elected Pope John XXIII — supposedly elected at the age of 77 to be a “transitional pope” — shocked the church by announcing his intention to convene an ecumenical council at the Vatican. Pope Francis was a Jesuit scholastic when Pope John addressed the opening session of the council on Oct. 11, 1962, and in the declaration “Gaudet mater ecclesia” (“Mother Church rejoices”) told the assembled bishops: “What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind in the unreserved acceptance by all of the entire Christian faith. … For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honored teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else.”

Among the documents of Vatican II are the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church/”Lumen Gentium” (“The Light Of Humanity”),” which speaks so eloquently of the church as “the people of God,” and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World/”Gaudium et Spes” (“Joy and Hope”), a message addressed to “the whole of humanity,” making it clear that the church is in the world, but not of the world, a church that “at all times carries the responsibility of reading the signs of the time and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.”

This forward-looking thrust was given an even clearer explication at the meeting of CELAM (the Latin American bishops’ council) at Medellin, Colombia, in 1968, which stated clearly that the church has “a preferential option for the poor.” This is the climate in which the young Jorge Mario Bergoglio came to maturity. This is the church in which he chose to minister.

On Dec. 4, 1963, the Council Fathers issued their first decree, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (“Sacroscanctum Concilium”), which said, “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy.” The conciliar decree took concrete form on April 3, 1969, when Pope Paul VI promulgated a revision of the Roman Missal drawing on the council’s teaching. This missal became normative on the first Sunday of Advent 1969, just prior to the Dec. 13, 1969, priestly ordination of Father Bergoglio. Our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, has always said Mass in the vernacular, according to the missal of Pope Paul VI. The so-called “ordinary form” of the Mass is most definitely “ordinary” for him; it is the only Mass he has ever celebrated.

The pontificate of Pope Francis will, I predict, mark the full flowering of the Second Vatican Council. The hopes born in the hearts of many on Oct. 11, 1962 were fulfilled on March 13, 2013. Pope Francis is the pope of the council. Long live Pope Francis!


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