As a result of the reforms of Vatican II, nuns gained greater independence in the Catholic Church—and were allowed greater freedom in determining their habits, or religious clothing.
Photograph by James L. Stanfield, National Geographic

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  • On September 29, 1963, Pope Paul VI opened the second period of the Second Vatican Council, popularly known as Vatican II. Vatican II began in 1962 and did not officially end until 1968. It was the most ambitious reform and renewal of the Catholic Church since the Counter Reformation 500 years earlier.
    Vatican II expanded the Catholic Church’s reconciliation and public outreach to members of other faiths, including Eastern Orthodox and Protestant denominations. Its teachings allowed Catholics to pray with other Christians and encouraged Catholics to respect and form friendships with people of other faiths. Vatican II also expanded the role of everyday Catholics—the laity, not just priests and bishops—in religious activities.
    Perhaps the most famous outcome of Vatican II was its allowing churches to use local languages in their services. Prior to Vatican II, masses had always been celebrated in Latin. After Vatican II, masses were celebrated in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Zulu, and any other language of a congregation.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    ambitious Adjective

    eager to achieve wealth, power, status, or a specific goal.

    bishop Noun

    leader of a church's diocese.

    Catholic Adjective

    having to do with the Christian denomination with the Pope as its leader.

    Christian Noun

    people and culture focused on the teachings of Jesus and his followers.

    congregation Noun

    group of people who worship at the same church.

    council Noun

    group of people selected to act in an advisory, administrative, or legislative capacity.

    Counter Reformation Noun

    (1545-1648) spiritual, social, and political response of the Catholic Church to the Protestant Reformation.

    denomination Noun

    branch of a church or larger spiritual faith.

    Eastern Orthodox Noun

    loose affiliation of several Christian denominations (including Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, etc.) which follow early church hierarchy.

    encourage Verb

    to inspire or support a person or idea.

    expand Verb

    to grow or get larger.

    laity Noun

    all members of a religious organization that are not members of the clergy, or official leadership.

    language Noun

    set of sounds, gestures, or symbols that allows people to communicate.

    Latin Noun

    language of ancient Rome and the Roman Empire.

    mass Noun

    central act of worship in the Catholic Church.

    outcome Noun


    pope Noun

    leader of the Catholic Church.

    pray Verb

    to offer praise, worship, or other appeal to a spiritual deity.

    priest Noun

    title of religious leader in many faiths.

    prior Adjective

    before or ahead of.

    Protestant Noun

    Christian who is not a follower of Catholic or Orthodox faiths.

    public outreach Noun

    program by an organization to connect its work to other organizations or the general public.

    reconciliation Noun

    process of accepting or no longer being opposed to something.

    reform noun, verb

    change or improvement of a policy or process.

    renew Verb

    to restore or begin again.

    Vatican Noun

    authority and leadership of the pope and the Catholic Church.