Saturday, October 13, 2012

Vatican II

I read it is 50 years since the Vatican II council opened.  I do not write much about the Roman Catholic church as I have a number of Catholic friends both online and in real life who I greatly admire and I respect their faith.

Growing up in the late 40's and 50's Catholics and Protestants mixed very little.  I played with Catholic children in the street but they went to different schools and church so were seen as being different, our parents were friendly to each other but generally did not socialise together and as we grew older and went to our respective high schools we had little in common.
At University there was more mixing and I got to know some Catholic brothers in teacher training and remember being invited to an all male production of "HMS Pinafore" at the monastery which I found highly amusing. 

My family was a bit different as my grandfather's second wife was Catholic. They were apparently married behind the altar in the Catholic cathedral and he remained a strict Methodist.  My sister finally married a Catholic after 8 years of 'going out' as she insisted on being married in an Anglican church.  It however has always been a problem, they decided children would cause strife and he will only enter a protestant church for weddings and funerals.  He is still very much of a pre Vatican II mindset.

Two things I remember about Vatican II.  I drove a fellow teacher to work each day and she was excited about hearing the mass in English and singing some of the more familiar (to me) hymns.
The second was more important.  My Anglican church, where I was youth leader,  was across the road from the Roman Catholic church but 'never the twain would meet'.  I am not certain, but think the initiative was from my Rector.  I received a visit from the assistant parish priest one Saturday morning when I was still in bed and we arranged a combined Fellowship Tea.  It was decided the speaker should be from Alcoholics Anonymous to avoid any difficulties and the only prayer would be the Lord's Prayer which they of course called the "Our Father".
I think the priest said grace.  Naturally we went off to our own churches afterwards. I do not think it was ever repeated, certainly not in my time there.

Many years later I took a teaching position in a senior Catholic Boys High School and taught there for 15 years.  I became friends with and came to respect many of the brothers. It was a time in which, due to State aid, many more lay teachers were being employed. Quite a few were ex brothers who had married.  In the later years I was completely "out" and actually was helped by some of the religious while I think others would have preferred I went away to solve problems.  As I was experiencing complete exclusion from the evangelical Anglican parishes, I began attending Catholic masses.

I took communion after a Jesuit priest told me I was welcome as I was a member of the community and in fact he chose me to distribute the host on one occasion.  I am sure other priests would not have been so welcoming but I worked on the principle of what they did not know would not hurt them.  The bishop of Dunedin,  in my previous post about his pilgrimage on the Camino,  mentions regularly attending Mass on the journey but not partaking.  This makes me sad and I am proud that the Anglican church welcomes all Baptised to communion.  There have been news items about Catholic priests refusing the sacraments to LGBT people and I have known Catholic friends who have been excommunicated due to divorce and remarriage.  They naturally left the church. My brother-in-law seems to regard his marriage in a protestant church as having condemned him. He only attends church now at Easter and Christmas yet does not want to compound the problem by attending a protestant service unless necessary due to family obligations.

I believe the participation in the Eucharist is between the communicant and God and no one else. This and a few other reasons meant I did not pursue some thoughts of converting to Catholicism.  My evangelical upbringing made the devotion to Mary a problem but I would find that less so today.  Transubstantiation was no big deal. I have always regarded the Eucharist as more than just the memorial service I was taught to believe. My view is probably closest to the Lutheran belief of sacramental union.  However this post will be far too long if I go into that matter.

After 4 years away from Catholic schools as I studied to be a librarian, I returned to work in a junior Catholic high school where all the staff were lay. There were a number of Protestants teaching and we were encouraged, even obliged, to take part in the religious programs.  At staff retreats the sacrament was often offered in both kinds and I was amused to see it was usually only the protestants who took the wine.  I actually taught Religious Education one year but, as the course only involved Old Testament studies, mainly 1 and 2 Samuel to 12 year olds, it presented no problems.  I taught there for 8 years and much of my casual teaching for the next 8 years was also in Catholic schools. My main source of income today is from the Australian Catholic Superannuation Fund.

My greatest objection was to the role of the Pope. That is also why I am strongly against the Anglican Covenant.  While I am willing to listen to and consider wise guidance from bishops and vicars, I consider my beliefs to be between me and my God. While in Sydney I found acceptance from Catholic Laypeople and Religious and knew they privately disagreed with many of the official decrees of the church, yet publicly they had to toe the line.  In the Anglican church there can be public disagreements with the bishop even by rectors in the Sydney diocese although it is not good for their future advancement. And one can always move to more agreeable dioceses. Heaven forbid that we should all have to follow the line of one Archbishop of Canterbury or even a committee of World Primates.

It is sad to see that so many of the changes brought by Vatican II have either stalled or been reversed. I read in an interesting article that was largely due to the death of Pope John XXIII and the fact that while Paul VI was supportive, he was less willing to stand up to the reactionary forces in the Vatican.  Thankfully despite the sometimes distressing news of conflict within the Anglican Communion we are not dependent on the views or personalities of one man (or woman).

As for the Catholic church. The above article states:
The Vatican II vision is still ''out there''. Catholics have grasped the possibility of the church as a local community based on Jesus' message of love, co-operation, tolerance and service to others.
I will pray this vison might one day prevail. 


Fran said...

I appreciate your thoughtful tone and point of view Brian. Thanks for this post, which is part of your history and how things were then - part of the history of that time.

People often think that it is women priests (lack thereof!) that is most challenging for me. That is not it. My greatest challenge in my own Roman Catholic faith is the treatment of LGBT persons and also, how the Eucharist is used as a barrier.

I have some different thoughts about Eucharist and that it is about all of us. Now I am saying that and to really explain myself, I would need more time and space. That said, this is not said to challenge what you believe, but to simply add my own thoughts.

As a backdrop, I think of us walking around downtown Albany and visiting that Episcopal church, which is such a conservative place here, and then heading over to the Catholic Cathdral. It was under renovation, you may recall, and we could not go in. Pity, it is so lovely in there and hardly the most conservative place in town.

Anyway, as always, I love your posts - on all topics.

And right now I have the Australian mini-series Brides of Christ on Netflix. I saw it years ago, but this seemed to be a good time to re-watch it.

P.S. - interesting to hear about your brother in law!

Anonymous said...

We should have a conversation some time about working in Catholic schools - I spent 8 years teaching in such an institution myself, Brian