Catholics recall how life has changed since Vatican II
Nuns shed their habits. Mass was conducted in languages other than Latin. Parishioners began visiting the houses of worship of other faiths. And Jews were no longer discredited as the people who killed Jesus.
These were just some of the radical changes approved by Pope John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council, also known as Vatican II, 50 years ago this month. Many Catholics reveled in these developments, believing they would have an enormous effect on the church’s position in the modern world.
The changes spurred Janice Feaman, of Boca Raton, to convert from the Episcopal Church in 1982.
“Before Vatican II, I wouldn’t have converted,” said Feaman, 59, a book editor. “The church was opening itself up for questioning and listening to other points of view. There was an emphasis on ecumenical outreach and inclusivity. It took a while to filter down, but by the 1980s, it was what everyone in America was talking about.”
Pope Benedict XVI has launched a “Year of Faith” for Catholics around the world to commemorate Vatican II and remind them that the council was not a break from the past but a faith that should remain steady in a changing world.
As sex-abuse scandals, debates over priestly celibacy and a Vatican investigation of American nuns occupy the headlines, the Year of Faith is a “call for the church to renew itself in faith, to express it with more conviction and greater coherency,” said Archbishop Thomas Wenski, of the Archdiocese of Miami.
Sister Frances Madigan, of Boca Raton, had been a nun for 15 years when Vatican II changes began to be implemented. Her order, the Adrian Dominican Sisters, decided to modernize their habits. She remembers the stares she got from parishioners when she began wearing a simple veil and dresses that showed more of her legs.
“It was a breath of fresh air to talk to people who were dressed the same way we were,” said Madigan, who has retired but volunteers as a literacy coach at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Boca Raton. “We realized we were part of a larger cosmic global reality.”
Madigan, who lived in Chicago at the time, said she felt drawn to social justice work and helped build a food pantry and bereavement program at her parish.
“The changes challenged us to do things like that,” she said. “It was exhilarating to invite people to join us.”
The Rev. Thomas Foudy, of St. Coleman Catholic Church in Pompano Beach, said he felt the same way. He was a young seminarian in his native Ireland at the time.
“The laity were no longer looked upon as passengers,” Foudy said. “We started dialoguing with non-Catholics. There were new ideas coming out every day.”
Dan Lonteen, co-chair of the theology department at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Fort Lauderdale, said he remembers pre-Vatican II days when priests kept their backs to parishioners at Mass. He said he tries to share the sense of inspiration Catholics felt in the ’60s and ’70s with his students today. [More]