50th anniversary of Vatican II a faith-filled time

aymond    Pope Benedict is preparing to launch the Year of Faith on Oct. 11. Can you explain why he chose that date to begin the yearlong celebration?
    Oct. 11, 2012, is the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, which was a watershed moment in church history. The Council fathers were truly enlightened by the Holy Spirit. The future pope – Father Joseph Ratzinger – attended Vatican II as a prominent theological advisor to Cardinal Joseph Frings, the archbishop of Cologne. I was nearly 13 years old when Vatican II started, and I was serving as an altar boy at St. James Major Church on Gentilly Boulevard before going on to study at Cor Jesu High School. One of the most noticeable changes brought about by Vatican II was celebrating Mass in the vernacular, with the priest facing the congregation. So, I’m old enough to remember the celebration of the Latin Mass and all the changes that occurred when the Mass began to be celebrated in English, along with all that meant in terms of the “full, conscious and active participation” in the Mass by the people. This change in the Mass was a most welcomed one by Catholics. Vatican II was much more than simply that, of course, but celebrating Mass in the vernacular is the thing that stands out for most Catholics of “a certain age.” The fathers of the Council wrote profound documents that speak of every dimension of our faith life. They are as relevant today as they were in the 1960s. We need to keep them before us. The year 2012 also is the 20th anniversary of the publication of “The Catechism of the Catholic Church,” so it’s an important time for all Catholics to examine the rich dimensions of their faith. We are being asked to do that by examining the many documents of Vatican II and the catechism.
    When will the Year of Faith conclude?
    That will be Nov. 24, 2013, the final Sunday before the First Sunday of Advent in 2013. The first Sunday of Advent always is the beginning of the new church year. In the Archdiocese of New Orleans, we will call it a “Year of Family and Faith,” reminding us to be faith-filled and holy families.
     What’s the history of popes declaring a theme for a particular year?
    That’s been done throughout the history of the church to encourage Catholics to enhance their awareness of certain aspects of their faith. The last time we had a Year of Faith was in 1967, when Pope Paul VI called for the yearlong celebration to commemorate the 19th centenary of the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul. Pope Benedict has called us to what he calls “an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the One Savior of the world.” He is asking that we experience a true conversion – returning to Jesus and entering into a deeper relationship with him. He uses the metaphor of opening “the door of faith” (from Acts 14:27), which first opens at our baptism. We are called now to open that door once more and walk through it into a deeper relationship with Christ and the Church.
    The Year of Faith will begin with a Synod on the New Evangelization Oct. 7-28. Can you explain what a synod is?
    It’s a gathering of bishops from across the world. They meet with the pope to entertain and delve into questions about how the Church is actively moving in the world. The gathering also is an attempt to enhance unity between the bishops and the pope, and the pope receives a lot of effective counsel.
    Are the synod and the Year of Faith connected?
    Yes. The New Evangelization calls each Catholic to deepen his or her own faith, to trust in the Gospel and then to develop a fervor to share it. The New Evangelization is personal because it is a personal encounter with Christ, and it’s also an opportunity to deepen that personal relationship. The Year of Faith also calls Catholics to conversion in order to deepen their relationship with Christ and to share it with others.
    How does the Year of Faith affect the average Catholic?
    As baptized Catholics, we are called to be witnesses. People are much more likely to listen to witnesses than they are to teachers, because witnesses display their faith through action. These actions often are the stuff of what we would consider ordinary life – maintaining our patience when someone is rude to us behind the counter of a fast-food restaurant or when someone cuts us off in traffic, offering to listen to the same story from a troubled coworker for the hundredth time, or doing what’s right when no one is watching because it’s the right thing to do. These are opportunities for us to renew and live out our baptismal call. The Church also offers strength through the grace of the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) and weekly Mass. In fact, the archdiocese will once again offer reconciliation in every church on the evening of Wednesday, Sept. 12.
    How can Catholics learn more about the Year of Faith?
    The website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (usccb.org) is a great starting point for Catholics who want to enrich their faith. I also would encourage Catholics to study in depth the documents of Vatican II and the catechism. “The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults” shares church teachings by highlighting American Catholic saints and other role models. I would urge all Catholics to enter into daily prayer, Scripture study and weekly Mass.
    What, to you, were some of the important effects of Vatican II?
    I think it comes down to, as Pope Benedict said, of “the need to bring the light of the Word of God, the light of God’s love, to the world and give a new joy to this proclamation.” This begins in the family. We need to communicate the good and give it to others. That is why the New Evangelization is so important. We cannot give the love of Christ if we do not possess it in a way in which it has fundamentally changed our lives.
    Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to clarionherald@clarionherald.org.

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