Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Year of Faith--Vatican II after 50 Years

Bishops gathering at Vatican II
  Fifty years ago today the Second Vatican Council, convened by Blessed Pope John XXIII, began in Rome.  Our current Pope, Benedict XVI, has called the Church to a Year of Faith to mark this important anniversary.  In my next few blog entries I would like to reflect on the core ideas and actions presented by that council and its impact on the Church and the world.  With this blog posting though I simply wish to share my own experience of the council and its aftermath.

  On October 11, 1962 I was a college freshman at Immaculate Conception Seminary in Troy, NY. While I do remember that we had a special Mass of the Holy Spirit to pray for the success of this council  I don't remember having any sense of what the council would do or was supposed to do.  That would change quickly.  I would add that the world was at the brink of nuclear war due to the Cuban missile crisis and that there was a prayer vigil for peace in Rome the night before the council began.  Could that be part of the reason the crisis was averted?

   My early days in formation were not affected by the council, though we did hear reports that the use of the vernacular at Mass might be allowed.  We prayed in Latin and were taught in the traditional way which reinforced that sense of Church that I had grown up with, but then things changed. In Advent of 1964 a limited use of English was allowed at Mass. By Advent of 1969 everything was in English and a new rite for Mass was put forth.  The rituals of all the Sacraments changed.  Over a period of about ten years the changes proposed by the council were put into effect.  The Anointing of the Sick was not limited to the time of death. Extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist were allowed. There were permanent deacons. Lay people were used as lectors.

   These were the external changes.  They were wonderful and beautiful to me and many others.  It was a time of excitement and renewal in the Church. There was also, however, a good deal of turmoil.  Large numbers of priests and religious left and married.  There was experimentation with the liturgy that at times was "over the edge" and I must admit at least a small amount of guilt with that.  There was also an encouragement to read and study Scripture and liturgical rites became more scriptural.  This went hand in hand with the promotion of ecumenism.  In my own experience I have been able to participate in ecumenical prayer services and most recently to sing in an ecumenical choir in Eagle River, WI.

   In the western world at least the council also happened at a time of social upheaval. There was the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war protests.  Priests and nuns were participating in many of the civil rights marches and war protests.  This was a good thing and was inspired, I believe by the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern Word, or Gaudium et Spes, put forth by the council. I myself was in a few of those marches  At the same time the healthy spirit of change promoted by the council became in many cases an iconoclastic and rebellious unleashing of angers long held in check since prior to the council itself.

  As Franciscans we reflected on Perfectae Caritatis, the document on religious life.  This encouraged us to return to the spirit of our founder, Francis of Assisi.  We, and members of many other orders as well, realized how we had strayed from that spirit.  Of course the more legalistic and formal way of living religious life still produced many fine and holy people, but that in spite of structurally moving away from our early ideas.  The most visible way that our life has changed has been in having the brother,the non-clerical members of our community, become treated equally with the priest, though we are still disputing with authorities over what levels of leadership they can participate in.  Likewise we have moved away from being a sort of semi-monastic order which we were never meant to be.

   Four years after ordination I made a Marriage Encounter and became involved in that movement as a team priest.  Along with the Cursillo and the Charismatic Renewal many lay people as well as priests and religious grew into the more personal relationship with God, with Jesus, that the council was trying to promote.  I could write many wonderful thins about Marriage Encounter and how it made me a better friar and priest, but in relationship to the council it was a wonderful experience of ministering with lay people as equal partners in ministry, something now promoted by my Franciscan province.

  In recent years I have heard people say that the Vatican is trying to roll back the council.  While there may be some truth to this it really can't happen because Vatican II, like any council, is part of the Church's magisterium, or teaching authority.  I have a great respect for our ancient traditions and am glad that I was steeped in them at a younger age.  There are some today however who want to go back to an age that never really existed because it is a nostalgic notion of what it was like back then.  Have there been excesses that need to be curtailed?  Yes.  Go backwards?  No.  Let us be guided by these words of Pope Benedict XVI in this mornings opening of the Year of Faith.

"The Council did not formulate anything new in matters of faith, nor did it wish to replace what was ancient. Rather, it concerned itself with seeing that the same faith might continue to be lived in the present day, that it might remain a living faith in a world of change."
--Benedict XVI, Rome, October 11, 2012

1 comment:

  1. Great article, Fr. John! But it seems that "curtailing excesses" and "going backwards" have different meanings for different people, particularly across the different generations. How would you suggest reconciling those differences?