This Thursday, October 11, marks the 50th Anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council (VCII). The Council, set in motion by Blessed Pope John XXIII, was concluded by Pope Paul VI. It was an important and historic event in the life of the Church. It brought over 2,500 bishops together from all over the world, over a period of three years, that resulted in renewed faith and energy in the Church. Why do we celebrate Mass in the vernacular? Why do we no longer have “extreme unction?” Why does the priest face the congregation during Mass? Why do Catholics read their Bibles and now know the Bible almost as well as many Protestants? Why are there girl altar servers? Why do we now pray with, rather than against, other Christians? Why are there permanent deacons, lectors, lay Eucharistic ministers, etc? All this, and much more, because of Blessed Pope John XXIII’s vision to reach out to the world, to open the windows and let fresh air into the Church. All this because of VCII. So for the next three years we will be observing this wonderful anniversary.
This anniversary is also the occasion for Pope Benedict XVI to proclaim a “Year Of Faith.” Local observance of this begins with a prayer service at St. Mary’s Cathedral on the evening of October 10, and will continue through November 24, 2013, the feast of Christ the King. It is a little longer than a calendar year, just for good measure. The Year of Faith, according to our Diocesan website, “will provide Catholics locally and throughout the world a precious opportunity to celebrate.” So the 50th Anniversary of VCII is not just a time for remembering, nostalgia or looking backwards, but a time to recommit ourselves to the vision of VCII, and implement it more deeply, thoroughly and effectively in our own lives; for all Catholics “to celebrate, deepen and share the spiritual richness of their Catholic faith.”
I was in sixth grade at Our Lady of Sorrows School in St. Louis, Missouri, when VCII began. It was all beyond me. As a child I did not pay much attention to the changes in church, but I knew something was going on, as my Dad went to many meetings trying to explain the changes, and I heard the adults talking about it. Later, in high school and then college, as the liturgical changes began taking place, I loved the guitars, bongos, tambourines and the insidious melodies that stuck in your brain for weeks, the clapping, hugging and the enthusiastic signs of peace that went on for ten minutes. There were felt banners everywhere, all with too many words. Recently, cleaning out some stuff from Frs. Bob Scott and Bob Michele in our rectory, I came across some old stoles that were obviously hand-made, tie-dyed, or with yarn peace symbols on them, horribly garish colors, knit and stitched. They brought back memories of those exciting days. It was a fun time to be in the Church. Since then, of course, my priesthood has been profoundly shaped by the results of VCII. I consider myself so blessed and fortunate to be a priest at such an exciting and challenging time.
We will be doing some special things this year here at St. Austin to properly observe this important anniversary, so watch the bulletin and our parish website for info. For more about the Year of Faith, go to the diocesan website, www.austindiocese.org and click on the red and white Year of Faith logo in the bottom right corner of the page. We have come through a great deal since the opening of VCII, and we have pretty much survived and even prospered. So Happy Anniversary Church!