Exploring the Mystery of the Church
Address of Pope Paul VI at the Close of the Third Session of the Second Vatican Ecumenical
November 21, 1964
At the end of two months of fraternal activity and effort, Venerable Brethren, let us offer
thanks to God for the successful celebration of this Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican,
whose hard-working third session we are bringing to a close with this solemn and sacred
gathering. We are overcome by the need to tell God that we are happy and mindful of His very
special blessing in having allowed us to be present for this historic and providential event and,
even more, humbly and happily to play the principal roles, in giving it force, meaning, and fullness.
We really ought to feel as if the Lord's words had been spoken directly to us: "Blessed are your
eyes for they see: and your ears for they hear!"
THE CHURCH ASSEMBLED
Here before our mind's eye is the Holy Church of God, represented by the Bishops, with their
close by; this Church that has been divinely called together through the medium of Our voice.
is the Catholic hierarchy,
whose role it is to form and rule the holy people of God. It comes together here in one place,
with one mind, with one prayer, with one faith, with one charity on its lips and in its heart.
No greater sight
Look at this incomparable gathering. We never cease to admire it, nor can We ever forget it, for it
the glory of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and is intent upon recalling the lofty message
Revelation and examining its true and profound meaning. Look at these men gathered together
a body detached like no other from interest in its own gain and in vain things; striving like no
to give witness to the divine truth. These are men who are weak and subject to error, but who are
firmly convinced that the truths they declare can in no way be called into question or perish; men,
say, of this day and age, sons of this earth, but raised up above time and place to take on their
shoulders the burdens of their brethren, and to lead them to spiritual salvation; men with the will
give of themselves completely, inflamed with a love that is bigger than the hearts in which it
intent upon an effort that may seem rash but is marked by a serene confidence, to inquire into the
meaning of human life and history and to give them force, magnitude, beauty, and unity in
Christ only in Christ the Lord! All these things stir our admiration, Venerable Brethren, and the
admiration of men gazing at us from outside. Could we ever behold a greater, more religious,
solemn sight, one more likely to stir men's souls?
THE CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH
And our joy grows, here in the final moments of this session of the
Council, when we recall the matters that have been discussed and decided: the doctrine on the
has been dealt with and explained. In this way, the work of the First Ecumenical Council of the
Vatican has been completed, as far as doctrine is concerned. The mystery of the Church and the
divine plan for its basic structures has been explored.
We say once again, let us give thanks to God for this happy outcome and let us with good reason
hearts to swell with joy. From now on it will be easier for us to understand God's mind as far as
mystical Body of Christ is concerned. We can draw upon this knowledge for clearer and surer
principles, for greater strength to help the Church's unceasing efforts to bring men to salvation,
for greater hope for the progress of Christ's kingdom in the world. And so, let us bless the Lord!
There is a great deal to be said about the work that has been done: the devoted and exacting
efforts to see to
its full agreement with the truth of the Sacred Books and with genuine Church tradition; the
to uncover the intimate nature and basic truth of the Church as it is constituted, in order to draw a
distinction between what is unchanging and certain and what has developed from the principles
according to a natural and legitimate process; finally, the effort to cast light from every angle upon
the mystery of the Church so that light might be cast in a suitable fashion on the life of the
Body of Christ, with all its parts, all its functions, all the goals it pursues.
Studying the episcopate
But the most difficult and memorable point in this spiritual labor had to do with the doctrine of
episcopate. We have good reason, then, to say a little about what We think on this particular
We want to confess, first of all, that We were very pleased that this doctrine was made the subject
full study and ample discussion, and that clear conclusions were reached. This was needed to
complete the work of the First Ecumenical Council of the Vatican. And the right time had come.
Witness the great advance in theological studies in our day, the spread
of the Catholic Church throughout the world, the questions being raised for the Church in the
everyday pastoral ministry, and finally the desires of many bishops who were looking forward to
clarification of the doctrine pertaining to them.
Moreover, the way in which it was done was fitting, so that, taking into account the explanations
been added to interpret the words used and to give the doctrine proposed its proper theological
according to the mind of the Council We do not hesitate, with God's help, to promulgate this
Constitution on the Church.
Traditional doctrine made explicit
The best commentary that can be made on this promulgation seems to be that traditional doctrine
has in no
way been changed by it. What Christ wanted is what we want. That which was remains. What the
Church has taught for centuries is what we teach. The only difference is that something that up to
now could be found only in the vital activity of the Church is now clearly expressed as doctrine.
Something that was a subject of consideration, dispute and partly even of controversy has been
forth in a doctrinal formula that is certain. We can declare that, in God's providential plans, a
hour has shone upon us: an hour, We say, whose past approach was gradual, whose brilliance
forth today, whose salvific power will surely enrich the future life of the Church with a new
in doctrine, with increased powers, with bettersuited means and instruments.
The holy people of God
It is also good to take note of the honor that this Constitution pays to the people of God. For
please Us more than solemnly acknowledging the dignity of all Our brethren and Our sons who go
to make up the holy people. The whole ministry of the sacred hierarchy has as its goal their
their sanctification, their guidance, their eternal salvation.
And We are consoled just as much by what this Constitution has to say about Our brethren in the
How happy We are to see their dignity solemnly declared, their role celebrated, their power
acknowledged! What profound thanks We offer God for happily making Us the one to adorn the
sacred dignity of your ministry and the fullness of your priesthood with their due honor, and to
the mutual and binding relationship that exists between Us and you, Venerable and beloved
The Supreme Pontiff's role
We were pleased and edified to note that the singular, universal, primary role that Christ the Lord
upon Peter and that is transmitted to his successors, the Roman Pontiffs an office that We fill
despite Our unworthiness is acknowledged often and at length in the solemn document We have
just promulgated, and it is treated with reverence. This cannot help but please Us not because of
the dignity that comes to
Us from it, since We are awed by such a great office rather than being avidly desirous, of it, but
because of the honor thus paid to the words of Christ, because of the harmonious confirmation of
sacred tradition and the ecclesiastical magisterium that is involved, and finally because of the
and support thus given to the work of safeguarding Church unity as well as to the consistent and
effective action in directing the Church that absolutely must be guaranteed.
It was of supreme importance that these prerogatives of the Supreme Pontiff be clearly and
acknowledged at a time when the question of episcopal authority in the Church was being
so as to make it clear that this authority is in no way opposed to but rather in full accord with the
power of the Vicar of Christ and Head of the episcopal college, according to the nature of the
as it is constituted.
Brother to the bishops, and their head
Because of this close connection based on the very nature of things, the episcopacy is a kind of
coherent body, finding in the Bishop who is the Successor of Blessed Peter not a different,
power, but rather its head and as it were its center. So We are impelled to be especially anxious to
proclaim your rights together with Our own, to rejoice at the increase in them, to defend their
preeminence, and to bring them as well as Our own to perfection.
For this reason, when We acknowledge the full force and effectiveness of the episcopal office, We
growth in the communion of faith, charity, work, and mutual aid around Us. And so when We
acknowledge and extol your authority, We have no fear that Our own will be diminished or
Instead, We feel stronger because of the union of minds that makes us brothers. Again, We
better fitted to rule the universal Church when We know that each of you is working along with
toward the same goal. Finally, We feel more confident of the aid of Jesus Christ when we are all
closely associated with each other in His name, and so We want us to be joined together in the
New uses for episcopal talents
It is not easy to say right now what effects the application of this doctrine will have in practice,
but it is not
difficult to foresee that it will be rich in spiritual insights and produce new canonical structures.
Ecumenical Council will end with the coming fourth session. But a number of post-conciliar
commissions will have to be established to bring its decrees into effect, and obviously the
will have to lend a hand in guiding and directing them.
Again, in handling those matters of general importance that are almost the mark of our times and
constantly arising, We will be prepared to summon some of you who will be chosen, at specified
times, Venerable Brethren, to make use of your advice. Thus, We will not lack the consolation of
your presence, the help of your wisdom and
experience, the support of your counsel, and the voice of your authority. This will also be useful
the Roman Curia, whose reorganization is now undergoing careful study, will be able to make use
of the experience of Shepherds of dioceses. Its functions, which are already being carried out
effectively because of faithful service, may thus be perfected, with the help of the wisdom and
of prelates from various parts of the world.
Difficulties inherent but not insuperable
With respect to carrying this into practice, the increase in the number of those offering opinions
may create a certain amount of difficulty, since there are greater problems when many people are
involved than there are with a few individuals. But if this is more in keeping with the nature of the
Church, which is at one and the same time monarchical and hierarchial, and if Our work will be
lightened because of your aid, then we will overcome with wisdom and charity the difficulties
inherent in a more complex organization of ecclesiastical government.
Clearer image of Church
We like to hope that the doctrine on the mystery of the Church that the Second Vatican Council
out and proclaimed will now bring a great deal of good to the souls of men, and especially of
Catholics. We mean by this that We hope that all the faithful will get a clearer picture of the true
image of the Spouse of Christ; that they will come to see the beauty of their mother and teacher;
they will see the simplicity and majesty of this venerable institution. We hope that they will gaze
this miracle, as it were, of historical faith, of outstanding social life, and of wonderful laws, this
that points to steady progress in which the divine and human are so closely united as to make the
of the Incarnation and the Resurrection abundantly clear in the society of men who believe in
Christ, and, as St. Augustine puts it, to make the whole Christ, our Savior, abundantly clear.
There should be special exultation and joy about this most joyful of spectacles on the part of those
steadfastly profess Christian perfection in a unique way, the men and women Religious who are
finest members, the unselfish defenders, the beloved children of the Church.
And there should also be joy about this spectacle on the part of those of Our Brothers and Sons
who live in
areas where a just and dignified freedom of religion is either completely denied or else so
even now that they must be listed as part of what we have to call the Church of silence or
of tears. They too will be delighted by the magnificent doctrine that sheds light upon the
Church to which they give such splendid testimony by the hardships they undergo and the faith
display. Those who are doing so are achieving supreme glory, like to that of Christ, the victim for
We hope that this doctrine on the Church will be received in a calm and friendly fashion by our
Christ who are now separated from us. How We would like to see this doctrine which is rounded
out by the explanations contained in the schema on Ecumenism which this Council has likewise
approved stir their souls, like a kind of leaven of love, to acknowledge its counsels and its
in such a way that they would be moved more and more toward our communion and, finally,
the gift of God, be our equals in it.
But in the meantime, spurred on by this doctrine, it brings Us the greatest joy to note that the
Church is not
contracting but rather extending the boundaries of her charity when she traces out her profile, and
that she is not repressing the many-sided activity of her catholicity, as it is called. Instead she is
always moving forward, she is always inviting.
At this point We ask that the observers, who are delegates of Churches or Christian confessions
from us, permit Us to offer Our respectful greetings and to express Our gratitude to them for
to the Council meetings. We extend also Our best wishes for their prosperity.
The Church in the world
Finally, We want the sacred teaching on the Church to cast some reflection of her joyful light on
world in which she lives and which surrounds her; for she should show herself to be the sign
among the nations to give safe guidance to all on their way toward truth and life.
The explanations of this doctrine fully comply with the strict methods and terminology of sacred
which puts its approval on them and preaches them. Still, as everyone can see, they are not
of the human race, all of which either makes up the Church or else creates the historical and social
circumstances of time and place in which she carries on her divine mission. The Church was
established for the sake of the human race. The Church claims no other earthly authority for
than that which permits her to serve men and love them.
When the Holy Church strives to improve her way of thinking and her structure, she is not
from the customs and ways of the men among whom she lives. Instead she is striving to
them better, to share in their hardships and their legitimate desires, to support their efforts to
achieve prosperity, liberty, and peace.
The dialogue and exchange that has been undertaken will be continued during the closing part of
The schema "On Religious Liberty," which could not be dealt with at the end of this session
because of a lack of time, and the schema "On the Church in the Modern World,"
which sets a kind of crown on the
Council's work and which was taken up briefly during this session, are to be completely worked
out in the coming final session.
OF THE CHURCH
And now, before We bring our words to a close, another intention comes to mind. We cannot
Our thoughts in the sincere and grateful spirit befitting sons to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, to
her whom We gladly regard as a protectress of this Council, a witness of our labors, a most loving
counselor. From the beginning, the Council sessions were entrusted to her patronage and to that
In this same spirit we paid tribute together last year to the Dear Mother of God when We
gathered in the
Liberian Basilica to venerate the picture that bears the glorious name of Salus Populi
crowning the Constitution
This year the Council wants to show her an honor that is much more magnificent and meaningful.
promulgation of this Constitution on the Church with a whole chapter on the Blessed Virgin Mary
as its crowning point we can rightly assert that this session has ended with an incomparable hymn
praise of the Virgin Mother of God. For this is the first time and it moves Us deeply to say
this that any ecumenical council has taken the Catholic doctrine on the place that should be
accorded to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the mystery of Christ and of the Church, and has brought
all together in a single very extensive body of doctrine.
This is fully in keeping with the aims of this Council, since it is striving to show the true visage of
Church, to which the Mother of God is so closely joined and of which she is, as has been said so
"the greatest portion, the best portion, the main portion, the most chosen portion.''6
Mary's links to Church
For the Church is not constituted just by her hierarchical order, her sacred liturgy, her sacraments,
institutional structure. Her inner vitality and peculiar nature, the main source of her effectiveness
sanctifying men, is to be found in her mystical union with Christ. We cannot conceive of this
apart from she who is the Mother of the Incarnate Word, and whom Christ so intimately
with Himself in bringing about our salvation.
And so when we examine the Church, we ought to contemplate with a loving spirit the wonderful
God has done in His Holy Mother. Knowledge of true Catholic doctrine on the Blessed Virgin
will always be an effective aid to proper understanding of the mystery of Christ and the Church.
A title of honor chosen
Our consideration of the close connections that exist between
Mary and the Church, and that have been so clearly explained in this conciliar Constitution, leads
to feel that this solemn moment is the most opportune time for Us to fulfill a wish that We
at the end of the last session. Many Fathers have since taken it up in the form of requests that the
maternal role that the Blessed Virgin Mary fulfills with regard to the Christian people be
at this Council in explicit terms. For this reason, it seems good to Us to introduce with due
at this public gathering a title honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary, a title that has been requested by
various parts of the Catholic world and one that is particularly acceptable and pleasing to Us.
wonderful brevity, it expresses the lofty place in the Church which this Council has acknowledged
as proper to the Mother of God.
And so, for the glory of the Blessed Virgin and our own consolation, We declare Mary Most Holy
to be the
Mother of the Church, that is of the whole Christian people, both the faithful and the bishops,
call her a most loving Mother. We decree that from now on the whole of the Christian people
use this sweetest of names to pay more honor to the Mother of God and to pour out their prayers
It is a name that is not unusual as far as Christian devotion is concerned, Venerable Brethren. As a
fact, it is under this name of Mother in particular that the faithful and the whole Church prefers to
upon Mary. This name goes with a genuine understanding of devotion to Mary, since it is firmly
on the dignity Mary has as Mother of the Incarnate Word of God.
Mother of Christ, hence of the Church
For just as the divine Maternity is the cause of Mary's singular relationships with Christ and the
reason for her
being involved in Christ's work of the salvation of mankind, so too the divine Maternity is the
of those relationships that exist between Mary and the Church; since Mary is the Mother of
who, as soon as He took on a human nature in her virginal womb, united to Himself as its Head
Mystical Body which is the Church. And so Mary, as the Mother of Christ, must be regarded as
Mother of all the faithful and the bishops, which means of the Church.
This is the reason why we turn to her eyes that are unworthy and weak and yet burning with
with filial love. She who once gave Us Jesus, the font of heavenly grace, cannot fail to lend her
maternal aid to the Church, especially now when the Spouse of Christ is striving to carry out her
salvific mission with renewed zeal.
Daughter of Adam, but mirror of all virtues
The close bonds that exist between our heavenly Mother and the human race incline Us even more
fostering and strengthening
this trust. For, despite the extensive and wonderful gifts that God has heaped upon her to make
a worthy Mother of the Incarnate Word, Mary is still close to us. Like us, she is a daughter of
and hence our sister too, because of the human nature We have in common. True, she was
free from original sin because of the future merits of Christ, but she added the example of her own
perfect faith to the gifts received from God, so as to merit the Gospel encomium: "Blessed art
for having believed."
In this mortal life, she showed herself the perfect image of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
the mirror of all virtues and she took the beatitudes that were preached by Christ Jesus and
reproduced them to the full in her own life. As a result, the universal Church, in developing the
sides of its life and activity, finds the definitive model for perfect imitation of Christ in the Virgin
Mother of God.
Inspiring new devotion and charity
And so after due promulgation of the Constitution on the Church, upon which We have set a kind
by declaring Mary to be Mother of all the faithful and of the bishops, that is, of the Church, We
that the Christian people will be sure to call upon the Most Blessed Virgin with greater confidence
and more fervent devotion, and will show her the honor and devotion that is due her.
As for ourselves, just as we answered the invitation of Our predecessor, John XXIII and first
Council hall together "with Mary, the Mother of Jesus," let us set forth too in the most holy and
sweet name of Mary, the Mother of the Church.
As testimony to your gratitude for Mary's maternal help so kindly bestowed upon us in the course
session, Venerable Brothers, let each of you strive to extol the name and the honor of Mary all the
more among the Christian people, and propose her as an example to be imitated in faith, in
compliance with every impulse of heavenly grace, and finally in conforming one's life completely
the precepts of Christ and the inspiration of charity. All the faithful, united by the name of the
they have in common, may thus feel ever more firmly rooted in the faith and in following Christ
and may be enflamed with a more ardent charity toward their brethren, fostering love of the poor,
for justice, and the safeguarding of peace. As the great St. Ambrose so well advised, "let the soul
Mary be in each individual to magnify the Lord; let the spirit of Mary be in each individual to
in God." 7
Clear explanation essential
We especially want it brought out clearly that Mary, the humble handmaiden of the Lord, is
ordained toward God and toward Christ Jesus, our one Mediator and Redeemer. We also want a
explanation given of the true nature and the purpose and direction of proper devotion to the
Virgin Mary. This is especially important in those regions where there are many people who are
separated from us, Brethren, so that all those who are living outside the bosom of the Catholic
Church will fully understand that devotion to the Virgin Mother of God does not stop with her,
has to be regarded as a help which of its very nature leads men to Christ and joins them with the
Eternal Father of the heavens in the bond of the charity of the Holy Spirit.
Golden Rose to Fatima
As We turn in ardent prayer to ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to pray for the Ecumenical Council
and for the
Holy Church, and to hasten the longed-for time when all followers of Christ will again be united
each other, Our eyes turn to the whole world and reach out to its vast stretches the world to
this Ecumenical Council intends to devote great and loving consideration and care, the very world
which Our predecessor, Pius XII, not without heavenly inspiration, solemnly dedicated to the
Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary. We have decided that it is only right for Us to
this very holy act of devotion in a special way here today. And so, with this in mind, We have
to send a special mission in the near future to bring the Golden Rose to the church at Fatima, so
dear to the people of the noble Portuguese nation whom We have always loved, and love
especially today but also known and venerated by all the faithful of the Catholic family. In this
We commit the human race, its difficulties and anxieties, its just aspirations and ardent hopes, to
protection of our heavenly Mother.
Petitions to Mary
O Virgin Mother of God, most august Mother of the Church, We commend the whole Church
Ecumenical Council to thee.
Thou who cost bear the sweet name of "Help of Bishops," keep the bishops in thy care and be at
and at the side of the priests, religious, and laity who offer them help in sustaining the difficult
of the pastoral office.
Thou whom the Divine Savior thy Son, gave from the Cross as a most loving Mother to the
He loved, remember the Christian people who commit themselves to thee.
Be mindful of all thy children; join to their prayers thy special power and authority with God; keep
whole and lasting, strengthen their hope, enkindle their charity.
Be mindful of those who find themselves in hardship, in need, in danger, and especially of those
suffering persecution and are being kept in chains because of their Christian faith. Ask for strength
of soul for them, Virgin Mother, and hasten the longed-for day of their rightful liberation.
Turn thine eyes of mercy toward our separated brethren, and may it please thee that one day we
together once again thou who didst give birth to Christ, the bridge and the artisan of unity
God and men.
O temple of spotless and never-fading light, beseech thy Only-Begotten Son, through whom we
been reconciled with the Father,8 to be merciful when we go astray, to do away with discord of
kinds, to bring our minds the joy of loving brethren.
We commend the whole human race to thy Immaculate Heart, O Virgin Mother of God. Lead it
acknowledge Christ Jesus, the one true Savior. Drive from it all the calamities provoked by sin.
it peace, which consists in truth, justice, liberty, and love.
Finally, grant the universal Church that, in celebrating this great Ecumenical Council, it may
raising up a solemn hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God, a hymn of joy and exultation, for He
is mighty has done great things for thee, O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
November 22, 1964. Latin text. Translation prepared for
The Pope Speaks
by Very Rev. Austin Vaughan.
Reprinted with the permission of Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 (http://www.osv.com)
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