On Oct. 11, 1962, Blessed John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council with that famous allocution. This year his successor will return to the Vatican basilica to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the council.
It is not only about looking backward, though, for Pope Benedict XVI will simultaneously open the Year of Faith, in which the whole Church will be asked to discover anew her faith in Jesus Christ.
Ten years ago on Oct. 11, I was at St. Peter's, and had the privilege with some of my classmates to say Mass at the altar over the tomb of Blessed John XXIII himself. The principal celebrant that day was Archbishop Timothy Dolan, then the archbishop of Milwaukee, who had been the rector of the Pontifical North American College when I and my classmates were students there.
Msgr. Kevin McCoy, then the rector, joined us, as did friends of Archbishop Dolan. The day was especially memorable for me as my parents were present.
Oct. 11, 1962, then 40 years ago, and now 50, manifestly marked out a new path for the Church in our time. That path has not been without twists and turns, successes and disappointments, which mark the Church's pilgrimage toward the Lord of history.
Most fundamentally, the council remains what it was from the beginning, a summons to proclaim the Gospel in our time with new missionary fervour.
"'Gaudet, Mater Ecclesia,' captured the spirit of the Council and the spirit of the Pope who convoked it," the preacher, a newly ordained priest, said that morning 10 years ago at the tomb of that very same Pope. "Those resonant words are an answer to the question, what does the Church do?"
"The Church rejoices. It is her mission. It is what she exists in the world for: to rejoice. She rejoices because she knows, as St. Paul teaches us, 'that through Christ Jesus the blessing bestowed on Abraham might descend on the Gentiles in Christ Jesus.'
"She rejoices because the promise made to Abraham is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, her Bridegroom, her Saviour, her Redeemer, her Lord. The Church rejoices because of the 'wondrous deeds' of the Lord. 'Great are the works of the Lord, exquisite in all their delights,' sings the psalmist."
"Pope John XXIII chose this date to open the council because it was the feast of the divine maternity of Mary," the homilist noted.
"When that feast was moved to Jan. 1, Oct. 11 became free and was given to Blessed John XXIII, in memory of his most memorable words, spoken here in this basilica, only a few feet from where we are this morning: 'Gaudet, Mater Ecclesia!' His feast and this anniversary are truly an exquisite delight from the Lord."
"In that landmark address of Oct. 11, Pope John gave us several memorable phrases, warning us against 'prophets of gloom' and inviting the Church to show the 'medicine of mercy.' Yet there is one passage that speaks to the heart of the council's message and heart of Angelo Roncalli's life, words that echo today's Gospel: the great problem confronting the world after almost 2,000 years remains unchanged.
"Christ is ever resplendent as the centre of history and of life. Men are either with Him and His Church, and then they enjoy light, goodness, order, and peace; or else they are without Him, or against Him, and deliberately opposed to His Church, and that gives rise to confusion, to bitterness in human relations, and to the constant danger of fratricidal wars."
The joy which Blessed John XXIII proclaimed 50 years ago was not about pasting a smiley face on the Church so as to make her more popular. The Church rejoices because Jesus Christ has triumphed, and because His love is stronger than all the principalities and powers of the world arrayed against Him.
Today there are even more - likely a majority in Canada now - who are without Jesus, against Jesus, or even deliberately opposed to His Church. The damage they wreak is great. Their decisions have grave consequences in this world and the next.
There are so many apart from Christ who bring to our common life so much sadness and wickedness, and even a metaphysical boredom that can be worse. Precisely for this reason does the Church need to bring the world joy: 50 years after the council, 50 years from now, and forever after that.
Gaudet, Mater Ecclesia!
Father Raymond J. de Souza is pastor of a parish and chaplain at Newman House at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.