“Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon . . .
terrible as an army with banners?”
—Song of Songs 6:10
“Si direbbe che persino la luna si è affrettata stasera—osservatelo in alto—a guardare a questo spettacolo.” (“One might almost think that the moon—just look at him up there—hurried up tonight to see this spectacle.”) These were words that Pope John XXIII extemporaneously addressed to the crowd gathered in Piazza San Pietro on the moonlit evening of October 11, 1962, the opening day of the Second Vatican Council. The blessed pontiff spoke warmly of his expectation that the council would conclude “prima di Natale,” which being interpreted is “before Christmas.” On this point at least, “Good Pope John” was not a prophet. But how could he have thought otherwise? Everything had been meticulously prepared; the documents were all ready, expounding the Faith and refuting modern errors with vigor and copious footnotes. Well, no, as the saying goes, “the Rhine flowed into the Tiber,” and by Christmas the carefully worded schemata were practically all gone (except the “easy” one on liturgy: another less-than-prophetic but, in this case, collegial, not papal, surmise), and the...