Monday, October 8, 2012

September to October 1962 – Fifty Years Later


               For several years, the commission “Fabbrica di S. Pietro” – the group responsible for the building and administering of St. Peter’s Basilica – had been planning the physical location of the aula or “Council Hall.”

               Room was needed for the historic gathering and deliberations of the world’s nearly 2,500 Bishops.

               Inside the Basilica, the huge central nave of St. Peter’s measures 96 meters x 22 meters (351 ft. long and 72 ft. wide) and was to be arranged for both “practicality and comfort”, not only for the Council’s daily sessions but also for sacred ceremonies, including daily Mass.  At the same time, the art and architecture of the Basilica had to be retained.  Pope John insisted that the entrance to Peter’s tomb remain open and also that a dignified area be found where the Book of the Gospels would be enthroned daily – both visible signs of the Biblical and historical roots of the Church.

               Through the summer and fall of 1962, from May 15 to October 10 (the day prior to the Solemn Opening of the Council), the workers of the Fabbrica erected lengthy tiers on both sides of the main nave – long rows of seating and tables on risers to accommodate more than 1,200 Bishops on each side.

The workers installed an additional 42 floodlights for better visibility; 37 microphones in various locations to facilitate the Bishops’ discussions; 4 tape recorders for the Council’s archives (and for the young priest-assistants who would daily transcribe the exact words of the Council deliberations); closed circuit television (so the Pope could follow the proceedings from the papal apartment); a temporary studio for Vatican Radio; telephone lines for communication among the rotating Council “Presidents”; and even data processing equipment – to be used for tabulating the Bishops’ various ballots.

               Sanitary and first aid needs had to be met.  Additionally, places were erected in the Basilica for days when the Council was “in session”, where the Bishops could gather and converse informally at two stations in the aula for coffee and pastries.  Before long, the Bishops gave the “coffee-bars” clever names based on two Gospel figures: the Bar-Jonah (from the Hebrew name for St. Peter) and the Bar-Abbas.   

               As the “opening day” approached, all plans were for a Council lasting three months – a single session with meetings from October to December 1962. 

In the end, the Council would last four sessions, spread over – not three months – but more than three years. 
--    Monsignor John T. Myler

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