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A View From the Pews
By Christopher Heffron and Susan Hines-Brigger

Q U I C K S C A N

Jim Arnold
Carol Luebering
Maria Johnson
Karen Katafiasz
Brian Nienaber
Joseph Kallanchira, S.V.D.

 

Jim Arnold

Jim Arnold is a freelance writer from Shorewood, Wisconsin. Before retiring in 1996, he was a journalism professor at Marquette University for 37 years and the movie and television critic for this publication for 39 years.

What are your most vivid memories of the pre-Vatican II Church?
Rigid, a bit medieval and scary; black-and-white uniforms and beloved nuns in grade school; ingenious Saturday night ways to calculate midnight for the Communion fast; the sounds of Latin and Gregorian chant, the smell of incense; stern lectures on authority coming down from God and reaching the layperson last; a definite feeling after World War II that the old ways were not good enough, that a fresh wind was coming.

Was the Council good for the Church?
Is spring good for flowers, or a fresh start good for the spirit?

What was the best thing that Vatican II did?
It appeared to make the Church open to the modern world, to engage it, to improve it, to struggle for justice in the here and now, and not simply to wait for heaven.

What was the worst thing that Vatican II did?
Some clear intentions of the Council were (I believe) subverted gradually over time by those who found reasons to resist, delay and minimize change.

Carol Luebering

Carol Luebering is a retired book and homily editor for St. Anthony Messenger Press and a freelance writer. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, with Jack, her husband of 49 years. They have a “wealth of grandchildren.”

What are your most vivid memories of the pre-Vatican II Church?
The Church had a fortress mentality, on the defense against the modern world and other Christians, deeply suspicious of new ideas and human sexuality. Social justice was far less important than personal morality.

The laity were disenfranchised, expected to “pray, pay and obey.” Reading Scripture was a risky business because one might be tempted to engage one’s brain while doing so.

Was the Council good for the Church?
Absolutely!

What was the best thing that Vatican II did?
Its document, The Church in the Modern World. Others: introducing the vernacular to liturgy, the new Lectionary, awakening people to Scripture and to a sense of community, encouraging action for social justice, empowering laity.

What was the worst thing that Vatican II did?
Failure to rethink celibacy and consider the contributions of women.

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Maria Johnson

Maria Johnson is a former intern at St. Anthony Messenger, and a 2004 graduate of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. She and her husband, Wayne, recently welcomed their newborn son, Patrick.

What have you heard about the Council?
The Second Vatican Council was an ecumenical council, inspired by the Holy Spirit and rooted in the tradition of the Church. Its aim was neither to make fundamental changes to the Church’s structure or purpose, nor to define doctrine, but to help the Church “correspond to the modern expectations and needs” of the world (Pope John XXIII).

Do you think that the Council was good for the Church?
Absolutely! Through the work of the Council, the Church has emphasized full, conscious and active participation of the laity in the Mass. It has emphasized the relational aspect of the human person—that we are made for God and in relation to God and others. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is also a direct result of the Council.

Unfortunately, many ill-guided liturgical and theological “reforms” have sprung from misinterpreting the Council. Abuses of the Mass, questioning doctrines regarding sin, the Resurrection or Mary, or simply not teaching the fullness of the faith, are not how the Church fulfills the calls of Vatican II.

Where should the Church concentrate its energies today?
The Church should focus on proper catechesis of the faithful. Many Catholics don’t believe the host they receive at Mass is the Body and Blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. Many do not follow the moral dictates of the Church regarding contraception. Some deny the authority of the pope. The Catholic Church is always one generation away from extinction and, without passing on the full treasury of the faith, it is dead.

Should the Church convene a Vatican III? If so, what would be the most important issues to discuss?
Before a new council is convened, the Church needs to fully unpack Vatican II. This means instructing the faithful on their role and mission in the Church. It involves actually reading the documents created by the Council and explaining them.

Karen Katafiasz

Karen Katafiasz is director of communications for the Sisters of St. Benedict of Ferdinand, Indiana, and a freelance writer. She has worked in various areas of journalism and communications for 35 years.

What are your most vivid memories of the pre-Vatican II Church?

There are many, but two memories among the most vivid are learning about Catholicism with the Baltimore Catechism in a grade school classroom of 55 and one fully habited sister teaching the class; and feeling distant from what was happening in the sanctuary during Mass.

Mass was a time to read through a prayer book or say the rosary or attempt to follow the parts of the Mass by using a missal. I experienced Mass as something done for those of us in the pews, not something we celebrated together with the priest who was presiding.

Was the Council good for the Church?

Definitely yes! I can’t imagine what the Church would be today without the Council. I believe the Council truly was a movement of the Spirit.

In fact, I can’t imagine my spiritual life without the Council. When the effects of the Council began to emerge, I was on the verge of adulthood—and the timing was ideal. Just as I was about to venture into a wider world, the Church was acknowledging that the culture was a place where we could discover God (and was even using the music of young people for liturgy).

Just as I was going out on my own and assuming adult responsibilities, the Church was inviting us to be adult participants and to share in decision-making. Just as I was looking for nuance and appreciating complexity in theology, there seemed to be an explosion of research, books and lectures meant for a lay audience. Lay religious education and lay spirituality were being taken seriously.

What was the best thing that it did?

There were so many “best” things that the Council brought about, among them:

  • Liturgical changes that brought the Mass alive and made us active participants.
  • The concept that we shouldn’t shun the world but instead embrace its goodness; that we shouldn’t fear popular culture but instead actively engage with it and seek out experiences of God within it.
  • The renewal of religious life.
  • Affirming the value of the laity and lay spirituality, so that there was a sense that we are the Church, all of us—lay, religious, clergy—together.
  • A new appreciation of tradition by looking back to early Christianity.
  • Reaching out with respect to those of other faiths and appreciating the richness of their beliefs.
  • Asense of youthfulness, vitality and hope within the Church; a wonderful breath of fresh air through the windows that Pope John XXIII threw open.

What was the worst thing that it did?

The “worst” things weren’t really what the Council did, but rather some shortcomings in the ways that changes were implemented. For example, in the wake of the Council, some religious education for children and youth wasn’t always solid, I’ve come to realize.

As a result, some kids didn’t have the kind of religious foundation they needed as they matured.

Also, some people felt they were losing a good part of a tradition they loved and they didn’t always have adequate explanations for the changes that were being implemented. Sadly, they didn’t experience exhilaration after the Council, but only discomfort and sense of loss.

As a person who prefers “both/and” to “either/or,” I regret that some meaningful and beautiful parts of our tradition such as Gregorian chants were largely abandoned instead of retained with the new. It’s heartening to see a resurgence of some of these traditions.

Brian Nienaber

Brian Nienaber is a 31-year-old father of two. He and his wife, Kelli, live in Arlington, Virginia.

What have you heard about the Council?
Most of what I have heard has come from my parents and from my teachers. I was born well after the Council concluded, so I had little awareness of what the Church was like before the Council. For example, although I have been an active, practicing Catholic since birth, I have never attended a Latin Mass.

Do you think that the Council was good for the Church?
Yes, I think the Council was a positive force in the Church. My parents describe the post-Vatican II Church as a much more open and welcoming place.

However, I do think that the American Church may have moved too far away from basing Catholic education on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In the last few years, I have taken a greater interest in educating myself about the Church—attending RCIA classes as a sponsor and teaching CCD.

These experiences have shown me that I could have had a much stronger foundation of basic catechism education in my religious education experiences. And I attended Catholic schools for 12 years!

Where should the Church concentrate its energies today?
The Church would be best served by concentrating its energies on nurturing the faith of its current members. For example, my parish places a premium on receiving the Sacrament of Penance. Penance is offered at various times every single day. This commitment has ensured that many of our parishioners and fellow Catholics in the area enjoy the saving grace of this sacrament on a regular basis. I think many Catholics would welcome this opportunity to enhance their spiritual lives.

A Church filled with dedicated members who are fully committed to their faith would be such a welcome refuge for the spiritually adrift.

Should the Church convene a Vatican III? If so, what would be the most important issues to discuss?
Unless a major crisis arises, I do not think a Vatican III is necessary.

Joseph Kallanchira, S.V.D.

Joseph Kallanchira, S.V.D., has been a member of the Society of the Divine Word since 1980 and was ordained a priest in 1987. He was born in 1959 in Madappally, Kerala, India, and earned a master’s degree in journalism from Marquette University in Milwaukee in 1998. He has worked as a missionary in West Africa and in June 2005 was elected regional superior of the S.V.D. in Benin-Togo.

What are your most vivid memories of the pre-Vatican II Church?
I can still hear at the back of my head the Mass being said and sung in my parish church in Syriac, the ancient language in which the Syro-Malabar-rite Eucharist was celebrated in my home state of Kerala, south India. I am still able to sing the Kyrie in Syriac from what I retained in the early 1960s as a child growing up then.

Was the Council good for the Church?
Indeed it was. It opened up the windows and souls of the Church to appreciate God’s loving presence in all cultures and peoples.

What was the best thing that Vatican II did?
It made the Church to celebrate life in its sacraments and provide easy access to the Word of God—all in a language closer to the heart of people. Today I am able to sing the Gloria in Malayalam, my mother tongue!

What was the worst thing that Vatican II did?
Did it do anything that bad at all?


Christopher Heffron is an assistant editor of this publication. Being only 30 years of age, he’s happy to have never learned Latin for Sunday Mass.

Susan Hines-Brigger is an assistant editor of this magazine. Born in 1972, she admits to a very limited understanding of Vatican II.

 


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