Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Vatican II

Pope Saint John XXIII
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Papal Conclave popularly termed Vatican II.  Actually the Council was called by recently canonized Pope John XXIII in 1963 and termed complete by his successor, Pope Paul VI in 1965.  At that time I was serving as a Navy Dentist, stationed in the Philippine Islands with Mary.  We were recently married and thoroughly enjoying our extended honeymoon in the tropics.

We made several new friends during the tour, among whom was a young Navy Chaplain who, it turned out, was in Rome when the council was convened.  Over dinner one night he told us of having met my uncle, a Bishop at the time, in Rome and being impressed by his understanding of Catholic issues in the United States and his candor at what approaches might be made to improve congregational involvement.

RADM John McNamara
His description of the man was pleasantly surprising to me, since I had grown up relatively close to my uncle, serving him at Mass with my cousin, often in one of the family member’s homes.  We thought him to be stuffy at best, and a strict disciplinarian, not that much different from my father.  To think of him as one of the more progressive Bishops at the conclave was a stretch, but it did personalize the Council for me.  That young chaplain went on to become the Chief Chaplain of the Navy, Father John McNamara.

One of the most evident changes to come out of the Council was the saying of Mass in the vernacular.  Mary and I were regular attendees at the Mass, and were impressed at the universality of the service, with the Mass in Latin wherever in the world we attended.  Only the homily or sermon as we termed them at the time, was in the local dialect.  We continue to attend Mass as we travel and have only had one weekend where this was impossible.  That was in Beijing, many years after the Conclave when the country was just beginning to loosen Communist restrictions on religion.  As we asked unsuccessfully where we might find a church, I was reminded of the joke where a Jewish traveler was similarly looking for a Seder.  The hotel clerk told him of a devout Jewish man who probably would be having a family gathering and gave him instructions.  When he knocked on the door and told of his intentions, the home owner said, “Funny, you don’t look Jewish.”

Mary and I travel most often in the U.S. now so mostly our Masses are in English.  Occasionally we find ourselves at a Spanish service and sometimes in San Francisco or the Chicago area the church we choose has a service is French, in deference to the ethnicity of the parish.

The other major changes made in Rome 50 years ago now seem routine: the priest facing the congregation, the host being separate from the main altar, the seasonality of the liturgy, the modern music and probably the most important, the ecumenism with other faiths.

It is interesting to note that Pope Francis is marking the celebration with a trip to the Middle East and a reprise of Pope Paul VI’s ecumenical visit to Jerusalem when he closed the Council.  It is comforting to note that fifty years has seen a continuation of at least the Christian and Jewish faiths finding common bonds.  Perhaps there is hope that Muslim, Hindu and other faiths will follow.

In my next post I’ll introduce those of you unfamiliar with the term, to what is a Warrant Canary and why is it now in the news.  Stop on by.

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