Sept. 26, 2012
By Father William Muench
Again, this week, I would like to continue sharing with you the profound influence the Second Vatican Council had on my priesthood as a young priest.
The very first document promulgated by the Council was The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy which opened the way to the revision of the Catholic Church’s Sacred Liturgy. The Council Fathers wrote this in this document: “Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy, and to which the Christian people, ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people’ have the right and obligation by reason of their baptism.” (14) Many characteristics of our Catholic liturgy today – characteristics that we now take for granted – were the result of the deliberations of the Second Vatican Council.
When I was ordained a priest, the prayers of the Mass were in Latin and such it had been for over 400 years. I remember well all the discussions and debates in my seminary days about the possible use of the vernacular at Mass – the language of the people. However, it really didn’t seem possible then. As a young priest, I can remember trying to figure out ways of helping the people understand the Mass prayers that were all in Latin so that they would be more involved in the Mass. The Latin definitely separated the people from the Eucharistic action.
So, I did rejoice when the vernacular was approved for the Mass. As I spoke those prayers in English, I knew the people were right with me. Even now – each time I offer Mass and speak those prayers in English (especially those sacred words of consecration, the very words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper) – I know the people are with me. They understand me and we are linked in Spirit with the Lord really present in our Eucharist.
The miracle of the Eucharist is truly clear to us all – to me and to the people. Personally, as a priest, the use of the vernacular at Mass – especially at the Eucharistic Prayer – makes each Mass a wonderful spiritual meditation. When we prayed in Latin, the words seemed to become more of a ritual. I remember being so careful that I was saying the words properly. Now, I understand what I am saying and the words lead me into a meditation on just what I am doing. I am recognizing what is happening, who I am and what I need to be as I speak the words of my Lord and Savior.
In this Eucharistic moment something wonderful happens. We are all part of a spiritual event: an event that happened so long ago as my Lord gave himself for me on the cross of Calvary, an event that is repeated at each Eucharistic liturgy, an event that changes my life completely at each and every Eucharist. This message comes through to me, as a priest, as I say those words at each liturgy.
This 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council continues to bring back so many wonderful memories of a time of change. It is difficult to put into words the sheer excitement of those days and the truly wonderful moments of each new opportunity. I have so many more memories to share with you.