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Exploring the Council's Depths  
Mary G. Fox  

At St. James Cathedral, in Seattle, a shrine honoring Blessed John XXIII was dedicated. At a prayer service at St. Ambrose University, in Davenport, a high school junior learned how the Second Vatican Council affected the life of the Church. At St. Clement Church, in Chicago, parishioners participated in a liturgical musical revue, listening to music from the years leading up to and after the Second Vatican Council.

In parish, diocesan, and university events celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, those who remember the Council and those who regard it as history have gained perspective and an appreciation for its significance.

In September 2012, just before the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, a shrine with a newly commissioned sculpture of Pope John XXIII was blessed at St. James Cathedral, Seattle. The blessing of the shrine was a climax to several months of events observing the Council that included a Lenten series exploring the Council and a speaker series covering the major documents of the Council. Though Pastoral Assistant for Liturgy Corinna Laughlin found that the only speaker who attracted young people was John O'Malley, SJ, author of What Happened at Vatican II, the younger group were reached through bulletin inserts on the Council.

Laughlin discovered that the focus on Vatican II had quite an impact. "Many remarked that they realized that they had never quite understood what the Council was and why it mattered," she said.

The staff at St. James, Laughlin said, wants that the significance of the Council be understood. "We do feel that it's important, in fact, essential for the teachings of the Council to be better known," she said. "Oftentimes we hear 'Vatican II' as if it was one thing, and means one thing. But the teachings are so rich, so complex, and so wide-ranging, that it's important for Catholics to realize how much is meant when we talk about Vatican II. Especially when it comes to the liturgy, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy is essential for understanding not only how, but why we worship the way we do. It provides such a profound theology of the liturgy, and such clear priorities for the celebration of the liturgy, that it's the perfect starting place for the 'mystagogical catechesis' encouraged by Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI."

The depth that can be gained from an event celebrating the Council cannot be underestimated. After a program on the Second Vatican Council at St. Ambrose University, in the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, a high school junior told his substitute religion teacher of his new understanding of the Council.

Deacon Francis Agnoli recalled, "One of my high school religion students came up to me afterwards and made it a point to tell me that he had a much better idea as to why this was so important, and not only Vatican II, but the other Councils we were studying in church history."

The program at the university took the form of a prayer service in which a Lutheran pastor, a rabbi, the diocesan bishop, a nun, and Agnoli, the director of liturgy for the diocese, each spoke on a designated topic for five minutes. Holy Orders, the liturgy, the laity, religious life, ecumenical dialogue, and interreligious dialogue were among the topics covered. The diocese also has released a CD with the late Bishop Gerald O'Keefe's remembrances of the Council, and religious communities in Davenport and the nearby Diocese of Dubuque have sponsored the following talks: Richard Gaillardetz, "What Happened at Vatican II? Keys to Understanding the Council"; Zeni Fox, "The Laity after Vatican II: Collaboration in Ministry"; Massimo Faggioli: "Liturgical Reform: The Crucial Impact and Legacy of Vatican II"; and Sr. Marlene Weisenback and Bishop Daniel Turley, "The Church in the Modern World: Vatican II's Challenge for Our Time."

It is important, Agnoli said, that Catholics revisit the Council fifty years later because "an institutional amnesia" can develop. "Not that we should dwell or stay stuck in the past, but it ought to inform who we are today. If we forget Nicaea and Chalcedon and all the other Councils that helped define who we are (because they helped define what we believe) we fall into the same trap."

The liturgical music revue, "The Way We Pray: Our Call to Full, Conscious and Active Participation at Mass," was part of the annual Prayer Day at St. Clement Parish. The day allowed parishioners to look decades back, as well as to be grounded in the liturgy. Some of the older parishioners arrived at the event eager to hear their favorite music after the Council and others to explore the relationship of the liturgy to their lives. Besides presentations on active participation and conscious prayer, attendees had the opportunity to learn the reasoning behind the renovations in the church and more about liturgical books, vessels, and furniture. "These things are a mystery to a lot of people," said Director of Liturgy Gabe Mayhugh.

Mayhugh said that people described the day as "informative, inspiring, entertaining, and prayerful." Parishioners, he said, were made "more aware of how we worship, the words we use, and the words we sing." Though part of the parish's efforts for the Year of Faith and the archdiocesan Year of Sunday Mass, the prayer day also was also something parishioners had requested.

"The parish has often asked for more roots in spirituality—how their spirituality relates to the liturgy and vice versa," Mayhugh said.

The Prayer Day, along with other events at St. Clement's, aimed at exploring the meaning of the Council and its relevancy to Catholics' lives and faith. Among the events will be a panel discussion in the fall that will include the former directors of the Office of Divine Worship of the archdiocese.

At Ascension Parish, Oak Park, Illinois, the 2013 Lenten mission, "Vatican II: What We Learned, What We're Still Learning," attracted people from varied age groups. Ascension pastoral associate Vicky Tufano said that attendees responded well to the presenter, the Rev. Ronald Lewinski, a pastor and former director of the Office for Divine Worship for the Archdiocese of Chicago. "They got a deeper appreciation of what the Council was about and how it fit the times and what led to it," Tufano said.

Lewinski said that his presentation was the first time some of the young people had come to an understanding of the Second Vatican Council. One young woman, he said, was excitedly making connections to the Council.

During the two-day mission, Lewinski's organic portrayal of the Council was appreciated. "A number of people were encouraged by the longer view," he said.

Such catechesis that grounds people in their traditions and the teachings of their faith needs to be continued, Lewinski noted. "What we have to do is teach the inner dynamics: how is God's grace made effective through the liturgy? How does putting someone in water make that person a son or daughter of God?"

What is in the documents needs to be cherished, he said. "We've got to go back to the original texts and reread them. There are a lot of gems that shouldn't be lost."

The mission was designed, Tufano said, to contextualize the Council, an event that occurred while Europe was still trying to rebuild after World War II. Though the outlook of the times was bleak, she pointed out, Pope John XXIII still talked of joy and hope.

Tufano noted the importance of keeping the Council alive to parishioners. "It quickly becomes ancient history," she said. "Now people in their forties have no idea about the event or what the Church was like before Vatican II was called."

She continued, "It's the underpinning of everything that we do and people do not know."

Tufano would like people to understand that the Second Vatican Council is not an event of the past. "I think it set the trajectory for the future of the Church, and we're not done with the reforms of Vatican II." She added, "You don't know your own place in Church history if you're not familiar with the documents and the whole event."

Not only Catholics continue to learn of the riches brought forth from the Second Vatican Council. After the Rev. Richard Rutherford spoke on the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy at the University of Portland, a non-Roman Catholic faculty member who has served as a musician in Catholic parishes thanked him for explaining the underlying principles in the liturgy.

For Rutherford, there is no question that the faithful need to continue to seek to understand the Council. "Vatican Council II," he said, "was the single most seminal event in the history of modern Christianity—not just Roman Catholicism!"

He continued, "The reform of Catholic Christianity as the means to achieving a deeper Catholic faith life and outreach to reunion of all Christians, as stated in the opening paragraph of Sacrosanctum Concilium, is the beacon pointing to the future. That's why Catholics need to learn about the Council! Look first to the Council documents for the highest authority promoting reform at all levels. Let the Council itself be the criteria for 'discerning the spirits' of ancillary movements and their reform agenda. As for Sacrosanctum Concilium, there is still much to be achieved for a renewed Catholic liturgical spirituality—the Council's first goal—by means of the principles articulated there and now, too, much to be retrieved from the injudicious, albeit good will, efforts of the first fifty years."

The work of the Holy Spirit at the Council cannot be overlooked, Rutherford said. "Movements to the contrary cannot ultimately prevail against the working of the Holy Spirit among those shepherds gathered with the chief shepherd, Bishop of Rome, in ecumenical council. Learning about that Council today is learning about the reform provided for us by those who could say confidently with the author of Acts, 'it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us' (15:28) as Pope Paul VI promulgated the extraordinary fruit of four conciliar sessions. Fifty years have seen but the beginning of that reform. May the next fifty years see it bear an abundant harvest!"

Mary G. Fox
is the editor of Pastoral Liturgy® published by Liturgy Training Publications. Her MA in religious studies is from Mendelein College and her BA in journalism is from Duquesne University.
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