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
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,"
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
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,"
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
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
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!"
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.