The Second Vatican Council--better known as Vatican II (1962-65)--was a watershed event for the Catholic Church, and fifty years later many of its conclusions are still being analyzed and hotly debated. Orbis Publisher Robert Ellsberg says that prior to Vatican II, the church tended to “address the modern world in tones of judgment and even contempt,” but that Vatican II ushered in “a spirit of openness, an appreciation for the presence of the Spirit in history, in other cultures and religious traditions, and in the effort to promote a more just and humane world.” The 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Council brings books that explore the myriad layers of Vatican II; its teachings, controversies, and interpretations; and how it continues to influence the faithful.

Vatican II: 50 Personal Stories. Editors: William Madges and Michael J. Daley (Orbis Books, Aug.): Fifty distinguished theologians, authors, journalists, and pastors share the meaning of Vatican II and its historic documents from a personal perspective. Catholic and non-Catholic contributors include John O’Malley, Lisa Sowle Cahill, Francis Murphy, and Martin E. Marty.

Vatican II: The Essential Texts by Pope Benedict XVI and James Carroll (Image, Sept.). The conservative/progressive split in the Catholic Church is explored through the controversial legacies of Vatican II with essays from Pope Benedict XVI, a conservative, and James Carroll (Practicing Catholic), a progressive.

The Good Pope: The Making of a Saint and the Remaking of the Church—The Story of John XXIII and Vatican II by Greg Tobin (HarperOne Oct.). Tobin (The Wisdom of St. Patrick) profiles the legendary Pope who helped guide Catholics through Communism, the Cold War, and Vatican II.

After Vatican II: Trajectories and Hermeneutics. Editors: James L. Heft with John O’Malley (Eerdmans, Aug.). Heft (Learned Ignorance: Intellectual Humility Among Jews, Christians and Muslims) explores the meaning of the Vatican II documents and the varying opinions and debates they continue to inspire.

Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelism by Ralph Martin (Eerdmans Aug.). Martin (The Fulfillment of Desire: A Guidebook for the Journey to God Based on the Wisdom of the Saints) observes key texts in the Vatican II documents that directly address the issue of salvation and their grounding in scripture.

Reaping the Harvest: Fifty Years After Vatican II. Editor: Suzanne Mulligan (Dufour, Dec.). Essays introduce readers to the achievements of Vatican II, its implications fifty years ago and today, and the continued importance of its teachings.

50 Years Receiving Vatican II: A Personal Odyssey by Kevin Kelly (Dufour, Nov.). Kelly, a retired Catholic priest and co-founder of the Association of Teachers of Moral Authority, recalls his struggle to be faithful to the spirit of Vatican II and apply its teachings to everyday life.

Vatican II: A Universal Call to Holiness. Editors Anthony Ciorra and Michael W. Higgins (Paulist Press, Oct.). This book is based on a 2012 conference at which a group of scholars discussed the seven speeches about the future of the Catholic Church given by cardinals at the conclusion of Vatican II on December 8, 1965.

Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning by Massimo Faggioli (Paulist, Mar.). Faggioli presents the Council’s key issues along with interpretations by theologians and historians working in Catholicism around the world.