It has been almost 40
years since Pope John XX111 announced his intention of holding a congress known as Vatican
Council II. We know the Catholic Church has undergone major changes throughout the 20th
century but there has been no event more carefully examined, publicized or written about
than the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II represents perhaps the greatest religious
occurrence in the history of the Church. These changes brought on by the Council caused a
strong division among the faithful. The upheavals and destruction which followed made the
laity feel insecure and in turn wonder if this were just the beginning of acknowledgement
that there were perhaps other things which needed to be modified. There
Father David is a Roman Catholic Priest and Pastor at St. Frances of Rome Church in Azusa, California. A native Californian born in East Los Angeles, he attended St. Alphonsus School, St. Catherines Military School, and Bell Gardens High School. He graduated from St. Johns Seminary College and St. Johns Seminary Graduate School of Theology, earning a B.A. degree in Liberal Arts in 1977, a Master of Arts Degree in 1980 in Religious Studies and a Master of Divinity Degree in 1981. Father David was ordained for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1981. He is a chaplain for the LA County Sheriffs Department as well as the United States Air Force Reserves where he holds the rank of Major.
CatholicView: Fr David, how do you think Catholics today view the changes brought on by the Second Vatican Council?
Fr David: I am assuming that many Catholics have not read the documents of the Second Vatican Council therefore I do believe that there is not a real appreciation of its teachings. Second Vatican Council II changed kind of a whole view of how we saw ourselves as a Church. The Church is much more than a hierarchy; it emphasizes the Church as the people of God. Seeing the Church as literally the Bride of Christ as described in the Book of Revelation Chapter 21. In Revelation Chapter 21, there is a description of the Heavenly Jerusalem meeting Her Groom, Jesus, that final unification between Church and Jesus that is predicted for the end. And so, the Second Vatican Council and all its documents strove to look at the role of the Church as a whole. All members of the church, not just clergy but clergy and laity together filling up the Body of Christ in the world.
CatholicView: There are many positives that came out of Council II. What do you feel is the biggest and most important single factor that originated from this?
Fr David: The call of the laity to take their responsibility within the Church itself. But we are all responsible to the Lord for our own gifts and talents and responsible for spreading the message of the Lord Jesus to the ends of the earth. This can be done through various different factors, not only through missionary work, not only through word or writings, but also through actions. Now people have been called by the Church to put their faith into action in every aspect of their lives whether it be at the home or in the workplace, or even in their respective nations, taking a voice of being the conscience of their nations. And so, the biggest and most single factor that originated from The Second Vatican Council II is the appreciation of the peoples gifts that God has given them to use for the salvation of the world.
CatholicView: Before 1965, it was felt that Mass was pretty much a solitary affair and primarily for the priests. Parishioners had only a minute role which allowed them a two or three word response. In what way has this changed?
Fr David: I would say that parishioners always had a role in the liturgy itself. It was after the 16th Century and after the Council of Trent, when the liturgy was revised and modernized for that time. There was a move even then to have people respond and take part in the liturgy. Before 1963, actually, even though Latin was the language of the Mass people would participate. They would have their prayer books in which they followed the Mass and the altar boys or altar servers and ministers at the altar responded to the priest in which we call the liturgical dialogue. For example, when they say "The Lord be with you" and "also with you", "lift up your hearts"; all those prayers that we say today in our own vernacular languages were said in Latin by the ministers at the altar. So there was already a place for participation in the prayer. But, as you would say, it was a solitary affair. Many people were in their own private spiritual world instead of seeing the Mass as a communal worship of God the Father, and participating in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord in the Mass, and people used this particular time to be alone in prayer. Now the Church has seen that the masses have not emphasized the communal aspect of the Mass. We recognize what Jesus said in the Gospels "where they are two or three gathered in My name there I am in the midst of them", it is a time for communal prayer. Where there are two or three gathered in the name of the Lord Jesus to pray for the Church, the Mass then is that opportunity for the Church to gather around the altar of the Lord as the community of faith. But Jesus also says in the Gospel that "when you pray, close the door, talk to My Father in secret and My Father who sees everything in secret will respond". The Mass is not a time for personal private prayer, on the contrary, it is a time for community prayer where two or three are gathered in 'My Name'. The time for personal prayer is at home when we close the door and share the secrets that we have with Our Father in Heaven. The time and place for all things. And so, even though the communal aspect of the Mass was always part of the teaching in the Church, it has at this time made a point of importance in which as a community of faith we gather around the altar to participate in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord and through our participation in the Mass become literally missionaries to the world.
CatholicView: Fr David, some parishioners prefer the mystery in Mass that was taken away with the onset of the Second Vatican Council. There are those who choose to be left in awe and ignorance, free to pray quietly and reflect on the mystery of God. Do you feel this to be true?
Fr David: The mystery of the Mass I think was the fact that some of it was unknown. There seemed to be this mystical show that happened on a stage that we call a sanctuary and people used that time for personal private prayer which has its place not during the mass but at home in the quietness of your room behind a closed door. And so, yes, there were those people who would come and find the music mysterious, and even the words of the priest mysterious but the mystery of the Mass has not been taken away, on the contrary, there is a certain sense of awe in realizing that I am now participating in the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord. I am caught up in the love of Christ which overcomes all things and there is the mysticism and the awesome aspect of being caught up in the love of Christ which I now understand, which I partake in my own language in the way I can express with my fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. Together we will spend eternity, mind you, for you know Heaven is not just me and God; Heaven is God and His bride the Church. Jesus and His bride the Church, and the Church which is the body of Christ. We as members of that Church will be together in Heaven, not just me. And therefore this is part of the mysticism of the Mass. This is what Vatican Council II did in its Constitution of the liturgy which is basically reaffirming the teaching that we always had. It is just emphasizing the communal aspect that during the Mass it is literally a reflection of our destiny that we will be at the banquet of the Lord at the end of time. That the banquet of the Lord of what we will feast on is Jesus love. Jesus Himself. The Mass then, is a prediction of our future and our destiny and so, in that sense, the mystery of what is unknown is replaced by the mystery of what will come to be.
CatholicView: One of the changes that the Vatican Council II brought about is that salvation is no longer seen as the exclusive possession of the Catholic Church but extends to everyone who is a Christian regardless of choice of faith. Fr David, would you then say that the Church is finally beginning to acknowledge that it is not infallible but is admirably subject to growth?
Fr David: I would like to clarify some aspects of that question. Salvation is our primary responsibility as a Church. It is our responsibility as a Catholic Church to keep the faith pure, to make it clear and understandable to the world. We gave this world the Bible itself, we safeguarded it through centuries of monks copying every word. If it wasnt for the Catholic Church we would not have the scriptures today. Through councils in the past we have clarified what was part of the Canon or what we call accepted books that should be placed in the Scriptures. It is then our responsibility, as the Catholic Church, to literally carry very seriously the business of salvation and the business of making sure that the word of God and the traditions of our faith are passed down without corruption. So, I would say then, that even though Christians of other faiths sure, anyone who believes in Jesus, has salvation.
However, for an example, I like apple pie. As a Catholic I feel the Catholic Church gives me the whole apple pie. I would say the Catholic Church is the whole apple pie with the Scriptures and traditions of our faith. It has also the Sacraments in which we meet the Lord in a very special way. For example, through the Sacraments we are given the specific relationship with the Lord. In the Sacrament of Baptism we become His sons and daughters. In Confirmation we become His prophets, which means we speak in the name of the Lord. Through Holy Communion we have a relationship with Jesus as food for our souls. Through the Sacrament of Penance (confession), we have a relationship with Jesus as Forgiver and Healer. Through the Sacrament of Marriage we have a relationship to God as the one who loves us and who fulfills our every need, for marriage itself is a reflection of our future that represents the marriage between Christ and His Church. In the Sacrament of Holy Orders is the sign that the Lord is with us always, that He will never leave us alone, that we will always have shepherds. In the anointing of the sick, we meet Jesus as Healer. It is the reason that I am Catholic. I am Catholic because I want it all; the whole apple pie which only the Catholic Church can give me. I want every aspect to help me on my way to salvation. And so, for the Church then, our wish is that there will be one Lord, one faith, one baptism. That is our goal for that is what will happen at the end. At the end there wont be denominations. At the end there will only be one bride of Christ and that is the Church.
CatholicView: Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated recently that the change to Mass facing the people was a mistake. How do you feel about this?
Fr David: In Cardinal Ratzinger s musings and remembrances of the past, for him mystery is synonymous to distance, and I would say that for me mystery and awesomeness is synonymous to accessibility. Now I have access to God. Ratzinger was actually challenging us as a Church not to abuse the liturgy in such a way that the liturgy becomes a show, entertaining the masses to music and drama and show but instead celebrating the Mass as a communal experience that brings people to our union with the Lord, not through entertainment but through true faith.
CatholicView: Prior to 1964, membership to the Church was defined clearly and in a legalistic manner. What is your view on this?
Fr David: We grow as a Church. We grow and respond to the times that we are in. Remember that the mission of the Church is to bring salvation to the world. To bring the Word of God to the world. And so this has different ways of presenting itself to time. How many people ask me "Well, Father, is this right? Can I get away with this if this happens? People still think in a more or less a legalistic manner you know and now, the Church has challenged us to get beyond the minimum and look at the big picture. Instead of asking "Is this okay, can I do this, how far can I get without it being a sin?", emphasize "what would Jesus do"? And so, in a sense the emphasis of my relationship with the Lord is changed from minimalism which is "Just tell me what is the minimum of being a Christian?" and changing to the ultimate challenge which is kind of fuzzy because there are always some people who say, "Just tell me whether it is right or wrong." and I always say, "Well, what would Jesus do? How would you discern that?" You know, if you cannot discern what is right or wrong, then I suggest you close the door, sit down, pray to the Lord in private, read the Scriptures, read what the Church has taught in the centuries weve been around, and find out for yourself, you know, how you would express your relationship with the Lord in your daily life. And so, instead of giving rules that really take away my personal responsibility for my relationship, the Church just says "stop looking at the rules, look at how you live your life in the Lord and take responsibility for it and help others to understand their lives for the Lord".
CatholicView: Do you think the Council changes has brought our Catholic youth spiritually closer to the Church?
Fr David: I believe that the emphasis the Church is teaching at this time in the United States has brought our youth closer to the Church in various different ways. Once again, accessibility. How accessible is our Church to our young people. Our young people, and of course all of us, I think, need to be touched and to touch and now that the teaching of the Church has brought the Mass into a communal nature, you know our youth today are finding support amongst fellow youth and they gather around the altar of the Lord. Accessibility is very important to our Catholic youth. If our church doors are not open, they will go somewhere else to find doors open.
CatholicView: We are hearing lately that the Church has become involved in not only speaking to the Christian world outside itself but is also listening to it with sensitivity. Some see a gradual understanding between the Church and those of the Jewish faith. Fr David, is the Church also working toward unification with out Protestant brothers and sisters as well?
Fr David: I think we as a Church at this moment are working with other Christian Churches. That in itself is a unification of effort and resources. By working together despite our differences, by working together we are able to show the world that no matter what our difference is, Jesus is our common Lord and Saviour. As regards to doctrine, that is a whole other issue, and through our constant dialogue the more we talk the more we understand and the more we understand we realize how much we are alike as versus our differences.
CatholicView: Do you feel the changes the since Vatican II signify a major departure from the Churchs absolute and anti-democratic actions of the past?
Fr David: We are not a democratic institution. I want to make that very clear. This is a major mistake that many Catholics of the American Church has placed upon the Universal Church. Truth is not a democratic issue. Truth is truth whether you like it or not. So, once again, I must remind you that the Churchs responsibility is to maintain the truth as we have received it from the Apostles. We are not in the business of consulting; we are presenting the truth as we have received it. So, the Church will never be democratic, but the Church throughout the world is consulting on how to present the truth and how to present the message of salvation and so therefore in another way Vatican II Council Documents have asked for the increased involvement of the laity in regards to Church leadership, Church leadership decisions, and consulting of the people of God on how to present the truth and having the people of the Church, especially the laity, take more responsibility in spreading the message of the Lord.
CatholicView: Of the 16 documents produced by the more than 2,500 Church leaders in 1965, which do you think was most profound?
Fr David: The Constitution of the Church is probably the most profound of them all. It is there in that Constitution of the Church which describes and clarifies the meaning of the Church today. The Church today as the Body of Christ. The Church as the unified group of members who are responsible for the salvation of the world. And to bring that salvation to every aspect of their lives that we as a Church are the bride of Christ and our destiny is to one day be re-united with all through Jesus Christ. And so, the Constitution of the Church is the one that guides us and has made the most profound effect. And also, so many other documents have made an impact whether it be liturgy, whether it be our relationship with the Eastern Orthodox Churches as well as other issues. So many. Each document had a profound influence but I think the Constitution of the Church clarified the expectations of the Vatican Council in regards to the Church of the future.
CatholicView: In summary, Fr David, what additional changes, if any do you think would be most useful in our Church today?
Fr David: The Lord is doing something. All I have to do is look at what the spirit is doing to us. For some reason, as the lack of ordained priests is now becoming more acute, the Spirit here is forcing the Church to really rethink how we see Church leadership. The job of spreading the message of the Lord, sharing the riches of the Catholic faith, does not rely solely on your ordained clergy whether it be deacon, priest or bishop but on the contrary, all of us must take responsibility of spreading the faith to the ends of the earth. And so, the void is forcing literally the involvement of all people in the faith so that instead of Catholics sitting and watching, we become Catholics who live out our faith. If there are any additional changes, I think they are being made by the Lord Himself. The Lord will do the changes that are necessary despite the human element of the Church. And so, whether we like it or not, the Lord has a plan. He is going to accomplish it. We should be open. The most major change that we should do is that all of us in the Church need to have an open heart and an open mind to what the Lord has in mind for all of us. We have been around for 2,000 years and we are going to be around for another 2,000 years. We look to the Lord for changes of structure, changes of how we do things, the only thing which will not change will be truth itself. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and we can also say truth is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow so the one thing that will not change is truth. What will change is how that truth will be proclaimed.
CatholicView: Thank you, Fr David, for the generous time you have spent with CatholicView. I am sure our readers will benefit greatly from the wisdom and knowledge you have shared with us in this interview.
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