Somewhere along the timeline between my being a R.C. Christian and a Cultural Christian is the great Church council of Vatican II.
I was aware of the big event in the background noise of my young life. Talk and printed articles and of course that new fangled thing Television brought ceremonies in Rome into the living rooms of us mere mortals.
For what it was to accomplish or what my part was in it, let us reduce the macro down into the micro of my day to day life as a grade school student and an altar boy in the local church.
Something somehow almost poetic got said and I don’t know how it was exactly said but John XXIII “threw opened the windows and wanted to let some fresh air into the Church.”.
The Church was a stuffy place. Pharisee like ritual choked the arteries of an institution that had been on the defensive for four and half centuries since the German cleric nailed up his 95 points of grievance against the then establishment of a Full European Catholic Institution.
Anyway, back to earth. It is lunch time and we altar boys are in the chapel of the church with the nun in charge of altar boys. She is flustered. She is reading the latest marching orders from the local bishop regarding changes in the old Latin mass. There was a time there when the mass was divided up into A, B, C, and D. That one month A and C got put into experimental English, the local vernacular. Then the next month A and C went back to Latin while B and D got a new spin in the vernacular.
Of course, there used to be a lot of ceremonial movements and rituals like genuflection and the ringing of bells at the right moment. On that particular lunch hour with the other altar boys I got my chance to perform the recently revised stage directions. I was confused. I started the practice run and was motioning to genuflect in the old Latin style. From the back of the chapel came the very angry voice of Sister Sponsa Regis and the very real threat of “Bend that knee boy and I’ll break it!”
There was no way then to express what I felt at that moment. Over the years I have played and replayed the video tape of that incident in my mind. What I should have said to her was something in street talk about “Screw this!” or something similar. Hello public school! The other accent of the feeling of that moment was I think subconscious. It had to do with a paradigm shift and realization about how a perfect God that only spoke Latin had somehow changed.
Many lapsed Catholics have said over time that the Church left them and not vice versa. I know where they are coming from. In an attempt to catch up to Luther’s very real and very pragmatic suggestion to put the mass or common service into the vernacular took a lot of getting used to after Vatican II.
I remember the words of a commentator in the local catholic paper and his sneering almost cynical “best wishes” to the Protestants on the four hundredth and fiftieth anniversary of the Protestant reformation in 1967.
We went through the changes in the mass to English. I am not so certain that everyone survived them.
In retrospect, the old Latin mass had been quite a calming almost meditative sort of thing. Your mind could drift off during the dead language and you could half pray and half mediate or day dream at the same time. Only the bells would bring you back into focus. That and the old ladies doing their own sort of prayful meditative thing as they rattled their glass rosary beads against the pews.
In retrospect I give Angelo Roncalli points for trying and for starting the process of the long term rebirth of Christianity. This stellar fisherman did open windows and get some fresh air into the Vatican. I look at that as a painful start to a whole new possible future of Christianity in the global culture.
I look at that symbolic window opening and address the matter in terms of eastern mysticism or philosophy if you wish. I see Vatican II as a change in the coming flow of energy from the Holy Spirit to all the people of God.