Church celebrates fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II

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Newman Convocation assembles St. Louis’ theologians and scholars

Adnan Syed/ Religion Editor
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, left, and President Lawerence Biondi S.J., right, listen during the Vatican II 50th anniversary.


After exactly 50 years of the Second Vatican Council, the Newman Convocation brought back memories for some attendees.

The annual Newman Convocation was an event organized by Saint Louis University’s Department of Theological Studies, in honor of John Henry Newman. Theologians from all over the St. Louis area gathered this year to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and reflect on its first document, “Sacrosanctum Conciliarum.” Participants included theology students, faculty and administration from Fontbonne University, Aquinas Institute of Theology, Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and Saint Louis University, as well as members from local faith communities.

Archbishop Robert Carlson opened the event with a prayer asking God for courage and faith and for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our “search for justice.” This prayer was first used at the opening of the Council exactly 50 years ago, on Oct. 11, 1962. A scripture reading from the prologue of the Gospel of John and a brief ceremony followed.

This year, the convocation was a chance to reflect on the Church and the liturgy 50 years after Vatican II, a liturgy that students have inherited from the Council and the only one they’ve ever known. Their parents’ generation would have been the very last to experience the Latin liturgy before the results of the Council were enacted throughout the universal Church.

The liturgical aspects of the convocation gave way to the speakers. Opening remarks were given by  John Padberg, S.J. His talk was a series of vignettes that highlighted the setting and spirit of the Council in its first few days. Padberg called Vatican II “the greatest assembly in the whole Church,” where over 2,500 bishops from around the world gathered in Rome to take part in the Council. It was an event, according to Padberg, that could be summed up in three words said by Pope John XXIII: “Gaudet Mater Ecclesia!” (“Mother Church rejoices!”)

Next up was the keynote speaker from the nearby Aquinas Institute of Theology, Sr. Catherine Vincie, RSHM. Her speech was an academic and extremely detailed summary of the events of Vatican II pertaining to the development of the document “Sacrosanctum Conciliarum,” also called “The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.” This document was the result of a liturgical renewal movement in the 19th century, highly influenced by developments and discoveries in monasteries. Although the development of “Sacrosanctum Conciliarum” was often complicated, and the debate over it was controversial and fierce, in the end, it was passed by a landslide approval from the council committees and the bishops.

Respondent Jason Schumer, liturgical professor at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and pastor of St. Ambrose Parish in the Hill, offered a second reflection on the evolution of the liturgy in the life of the Church. He told the story of St. Louis’ participation in the liturgical renewal movement with Martin J. Hellriegel, chaplain of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood in St. Charles and later the pastor of Holy Cross Parish, located in North St. Louis.

Schumer emphasized the importance of not only the physical participation of the laity in the Mass, but also their spiritual involvement.

Interior participation, he argued, is the most important thing to consider when evaluating the genuine involvement of the people in the liturgy.

Daniel Finucane, a SLU professor with a doctorate in theology, gave his own reflection near the end of the event about how learning about the new liturgy in high school as an altar boy influenced his faith and appreciation for the changes brought by Vatican II.

Some of the changes to the liturgy, called the Novus Ordo or the New Rite, as a result of “Sacrosanctum Conciliarum” include: the use of vernacular instead of Latin, the priest facing the congregation instead of saying Mass ad orientum with his back to the people, and the removal of the communion rail, where Catholics typically knelt to receive the Eucharist on the tongue during communion.

For students, the impact of the event was less visible to discern. Sophomore Mitch McCurren said that the speakers “failed to capture the interest of the students.”

Many of those who did not have a deep or detailed knowledge of Vatican II were not able to follow through the detailed analysis of the featured speaker.

“The speakers were not speaking the vernacular,” said McCurren.