BY TERESA PIROLA
I was born the year the Second Vatican Council opened. I guess that makes me “a child of Vatican II”. Or perhaps a kind of “sibling” of Vatican II. The Council and I grew up together. And we are both fifty years old this year. We have seen and done much together in an ongoing ecclesial adventure.
It is interesting to reflect back on that fifty year journey. I have no memory of attending a Latin Mass as a child. But I have early memories of Masses in English, with guitars and upbeat hymns. I even have a memory of a “hippie” priest, complete with long hair, headband and beads.
Today, references to “hippie priests” are usually made in a derogatory tone. But the “hippie priest” I remember was part of a church culture that was powerfully transformative. It was warm, inviting, reverent, inspiring and challenging.
Growing up in the early 1970s in New York, this was the springtime of new ecclesial movements, and “home Masses” with bread baked by my mother from some delicious recipe used only in preparation for Eucharist. People passed the communion plate around the circle. They shared their “feelings”, called upon the Holy Spirit, and spoke openly of their love for one another. They even meant it!
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. My entire high schooling took place during a difficult phase of experimentation. Teachers were trying to negotiate a traditional religious pedagogy on the one hand, and a psychology of the human person on the other.
For a while there the results - at least for some of us - were disastrous. Like being caught up in a clumsy dance between two well-meaning partners, neither of who could find the rhythm.
Yet it was also the Vatican II renewal that brought me through that rough patch. Again, new ecclesial developments intervened powerfully: small scripture-based gatherings, parish renewal strategies, the RCIA, youth evangelisation initiatives, relational and charismatic movements of various forms and intensities, all moving seamlessly in and out of private homes, parish halls, and secular arenas with the conviction that we were “church” wherever we were.
In those days Antioch communities sprouted in parishes almost overnight; a community was considered small if it consisted of thirty youth. Again the guitars worked overtime. An atmosphere of praise and possibility prevailed. It was a joy to be Catholic! We loved it.
There are some who depict those post-conciliar decades as a dark time for the church. That picture does not match my experience. Those decades hold innumerable memories of transformative faith encounters. We witnessed miracles and walked through fire. Whatever the struggles of those years, they are filled with “touchstone” moments that have kept me close to the Lord and the church ever since.
As time moved on I was grateful, too, for other faith experiences: theological studies, new ministries, vocational searchings, contemplative retreats, John Paul II’s “theology of the body”, Jewish studies, Holy Land sojourns, and the discovery of pieties I had missed out on in my childhood such as marian devotions and eucharistic adoration.
I am grateful for all these expressions. They have all shaped my story as part of the blessing and unfolding of Vatican II.
Fifty years after the Council opened, I admit that I don’t always feel as “at home” in my beloved church as I did when I was young. But that too can be a gift of awareness. I understand better the uneasiness of those who, in the 1970s, grieved for the “old” Mass and recalled with fondness the Catholic youth organisations of “their” day.
To my surprise I find myself grieving the Mass translation that we no longer use. Whatever was imperfect about it, those words made sense to me. They spoke to me with great power. It was the liturgy I grew up with.
But, the church I belong to is the church of today. My love for my faith community does not depend upon the state of its liturgical translations, or even how well or badly it is behaving at any given moment.
There will always be strengths to champion and weaknesses that require attention. And there will always be development. We can hang on to an idealised past and resist change. Or we can do our grieving, heal and move on with joy and hope, together, into the next Spirit-led adventure.
Teresa Pirola is a Sydney-based freelance faith-educator and founder/coordinator of the Light of Torah ministry.
Disclaimer: CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources.