Because Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was already almost 80 years old when he became pope in 1958, people expected him to be more of a caretaker than an innovator.
But, as Pope John XXIII, Roncalli initiated one of the most sweeping eras of change in the Catholic Church since the Reformation.
And he did it by power to those outside the Vatican walls.
Realizing that the church had become too insular and dictatorial, Roncalli angered the church’s central administrative body soon after his selection as pope by calling for a great council dedicated to exploring change within the church.
Convened in 1962 and completed after Roncalli’s death in 1965, the Second Vatican Council ushered in many changes. Perhaps the most central change empowered Catholic bishops to decide whether to allow parts of the Mass to be celebrated in parishioners’ native tongues, instead of all in Latin, as the Vatican establishment had dictated for centuries.
Today, of course, Mass is celebrated in hundreds of languages around the world.
Lesson: Roncalli saw his job as servus servorum Dei—a “servant of the servants of God.”
— Adapted from Refounding the Church: Dissent for , Gerald Arbuckle, Orbis Books.
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