When it opened there were 2860 men that attended the event. Four hundred and four were from North America, and today only seven of the North American participants are still around to tell the stories. No, I am not talking about the end of World War II, the building of the Berlin Wall or the launching of Sputnik; I am making reference to the surviving American bishops that attended Vatican II. There are really six Americans still alive. They are Phillip Hannan, Charles Buswell, Raymond Hunthausen, Frances Zayek, John Ward and Loras Watters. The seventh man is John McNabb, an American Augustinian that attended Vatican II, but was a bishop from Peru.

December 8, 2007 will mark the forty-second anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. The particular anniversary is not especially meant to have any great significance. However the intentions of the Fathers of Vatican II are still being widely debated, discussed and modified. Since the conclusion of the Council we have had three additional popes, two thirds of the men elected to the See of Peter since 1965 have been non-Italians. Almost thirty of the years that have passed since the ecumenical council (with the exception of John Paul I for a brief pontificate) a non-Italian Pope have guided the Catholic Church. That fact when actually considered is really quite astounding.

A few weeks ago the Holy Father, Benedict XVI announced that after an extended hiatus the Mass of Pius V, now known as the Mass of Blessed John XXIII is permitted to once again be publically celebrated. While thinking of the consequences of this papal prerogative the fact struck me that most of the American Catholics that call the Catholic Church their faith were most likely not alive or were in grade school when Vatican II convened. This author as well in 1965 was in kindergarten. Lyndon B. Johnson was President of the United States, “The Sound of Music” with Julie Andrews was a first run movie and Winston S. Churchill had died.

The bishops and archbishops mentioned as the surviving American participants of Vatican II were all active bishops of various dioceses in the United States and Peru.

There have been a lot of changes since 1965. It is time that the teachings and declarations of Vatican II be reexamined and studied by a 21st century church and applied accordingly. In the secular press as well as the Catholic press there has been quite a bit made of the restoration of the Tridentine Rite. In terms of the Novus Ordo of Paul VI the, “New Mass” is still a toddler. We are still living in the tides of Vatican II that changed the Catholic Church in the 1960’s in the same way that Americans of the early 19th century still felt the reverberations of the American Revolution of the previous century. For the United States there was developmental appreciation of many things, such as states rights, slavery, the role of the federal government, and so on. From the Church’s perspective these 42 years are really just a small span of time since the doors of Vatican II were closed. After all, it was John-Paul II that was responsible for the redemption of Copernicus and Galileo in the 20th century, just a couple of hundred years after their deaths. The Church does not usually act in haste. Benedict XVI is really even 40 plus years later a Vatican II reactionary and working to modify the council’s decrees to the Church in an increasingly modern world.

The modern Church utilizes technologies that would have made the Fathers of Vatican II stagger with technological awe. The Vatican’s web site houses almost as much information as the Vatican library. Papal appointments are bounced around the world in a matter of minutes via e-mail and the world wide web. Forty years ago, Papal Bulls of Episcopal appointments still travelled the old fashioned way, usually by way of an ocean going vessel! The visit of Paul VI in 1965 to New York City was really the equivalent of Lindberg crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Paris in the early 20th century. Today the papal perambulations encompass the globe and the trip is made in 1/3 of the time.

My message really is simple, just because Benedict XVI has allowed the reintroduction of a liturgical form that was changed over 40 years ago really doesn’t give Catholics a need to panic. While the days before Vatican II saw a Catholic Church that was wrapped in mystery and liturgical Latin, it was really still contemplating the results of the Protestant Reformation. Besides the Council of Trent, Vatican II manifested a logical progression of direction after Trent. The post-Vatican II climate in which we are still participating shows the truly complex nature of our Catholic faith’s life and liturgy. The permission to celebrate the former liturgical rite is really quite in keeping with the reformative nature and aspects of Vatican II. Simply, the motu proprio is providing another option, made available to the world’s Catholic faithful. One of the greatest accomplishments of Vatican II is perhaps the development of the availability of liturgical options. For example, prior to Vatican II there was one Roman Canon, today there are more than a dozen alternative forms offered for the Old Roman Canon, now called Eucharistic Prayer 1.

As a result there has been an increased flexibility of expression that has emerged in the Catholic Church. Not only has this freedom of expression and ritual flexibility permitted the Church to evolve in the modern world, it is fulfilling the declarations of Gaudium et Spes.

The disunity and theological division that occurred after Vatican II among Catholics continues to this day. Benedict XVI and his declaration is simply trying to fulfill the words of Jesus in St. John’s Gospel, “That they may be one!” The reinstitution of the Tridentine form is not a move that will transform the Catholic Church into an archaic monument to the stagnancy of the Council of Trent. Rather his declaration is a 21st century testimony to the skillful and insightful proclamations of the Second Vatican Council. Benedict’s actions show that we are truly a, “Pilgrim Church,” embarked on a theological and mystical journey. We just need to accept as a Church that there are various ways that we as Catholics are capable of expressing our faith. The surviving American Fathers of Vatican II would most likely offer great praise and admiration for Benedict XVI’s recent pronouncement. Not because it reflects a theological retreat from the direction of Vatican II, but because it encapsulates the visions and expectations the Fathers of Vatican II foresaw for the Church in the 21st century, and the Church in the modern world.

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