Pope John launches the preparatory commissions

On 5 June 1960, Pope John published a Motu Proprio entitled Superno Dei creating ten specialised commissions to work on preparing for the holding of Vatican II under the supervision of a Central Commission.

The proposed commissions were:

a) Theological Commission: To deal with issues relating to the Scriptures, sacred tradition, and the faith;

b) Commission for the Bishops and diocesan Governance

c) Commission on formation of the clergy and the Christian people;

d) Commission on religious principles;

e) Commission on the Sacraments;

f)  Commission on the Liturgy;

g) Commission on studies and seminaries;

h) Commission on the Eastern Churches;

i) Commission on mission;

i) Commission on the Apostolate of the Laity.

This tenth commission on lay apostolate was to deal with all issues relating to “Catholic Action as well as religious and social action.”

The Antepreparatory Commission under Archbishop Tardini had actually proposed six preparatory commissions. Now, however, Pope John had finally fixed the number at ten, including a commission on lay apostolate that the pope had decided upon himself, describing it as a “real innovation.”

Indeed, it was the first time that an Ecumenical Council had specifically addressed the issue of the apostolate of the laity.

According to Commission secretary, Mgr Achille Glorieux, a former JOC chaplain from Lille, France, this decision exercised “a great influence on the whole Council, contributing to highlight the place of lay people in the Church and the importance of their role in the apostolic mission of the Church.”

Did Cardijn himself have any particular influence on the pope in coming to this decision?

Although we have no documentation to clarify this point, it is significant that Cardijn had raised the issue of “the confusion” over lay apostolate issues in his audience with the pope less than three months earlier.

In any event, it is clear that the issue of lay apostolate was also a personal preoccupation of John himself.


Pope John XXIII, Superno Dei (Vatican website)

Technical planning begins

On 17 May 1959, John formally appointed an Antepreparatory Commission to provide initial direction and begin the massive task of technical planning for the Council.

The Commission was charged with the following tasks:

(1) to contact the bishops of the world for their advice and suggestions,

(2) to gather proposals from the dicasteries of the Roman Curia,

(3) to learn the views of the theological and canonical faculties of Catholic universities,

(4) to sketch the general lines of the topics to be discussed at the Council, and

(5) to suggest various bodies (Commissions, Secretariats, etc.) to prepare the Council’s agenda.

The President of the Commission was Secretary of State Cardinal Domenico Tardini, while the Secretary was Msgr. (soon to be archbishop) Pericle Felici, an auditor in the Sacred Rota.

The other ten members who worked in the various Curial Congregations were:

Giuseppe Ferretto, Consistorial
Pietro Sigismondi, Propagation of the Faith
Antonio Samoré, Extraordinary Affairs
Acacio Coussa, Eastern Church
Cesare Zerba, Sacraments
Pietro Palazzini, Council
Arcadio Larraona, Religious
Dino Staffa, Seminaries and Universities
Enrico Dante, Rites
Paul Philippe, Holy Office.

Of these, Cardijn had already been in regular contact for several years with and received assistance from Archbishops Samoré and Pietro Sigismondi and he would soon get to know Cardinal Tardini too.


Cardinal Tardini with John XXIII (Holy Family of Nazareth Foundation)