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Father Muench Says...
The journey begins

Sept. 5, 2012

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

I want to tell you about myself and my journey as a priest.  I was ordained a Catholic priest for the Diocese of Ogdensburg in 1959, three years before the opening of the Second Vatican Council, which opened 50 years ago this October.  I mention this because the Council had a profound influence on me and my life as a priest.

It all began with Pope John XXIII who was elected Holy Father while I was still in the seminary.  Pope Pius XII - who he had been pope since I was a child – had died, so a new pope was going to be quite a change for me.
I remember the day that Pope John was elected. We seminarians had been following the conclave and knew the name of the various cardinals who could be chosen pope.  We each had our favorites! The announcement came one morning over the radio, (It was 1959, no TV). The message came that Cardinal Giuseppe Roncalli had been chosen and none of us knew anything about him. We would soon find out all about him and he was to become my favorite saint – Pope John XXIII.

Then – only a short time later – Pope John announced a Council. The last Council of the Catholic Church – Vatican Council I – had taken place in 1850. That Council had ended abruptly and Vatican II was called to complete the unfinished agenda of Vatican I.  The questions were many: what would they discuss? would they change anything? would a new Council really matter?

Our first reaction to a Council was questions; we were going to discover that this Council was to matter a great deal. The Second Vatican Council changed my life and my priesthood in a most wonderful way.  I became a different priest – a better priest – a more effective priest because of the Council.  The Second Vatican Council demonstrated the greatness of the Catholic Church for my future.

So, I have a couple of questions for you: Do you remember the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church? 
What do you remember about what this Council said, what it changed? And, for you younger people, what have you discovered about how meaningful the Second Vatican Council was? For us, older folks, the immediate changes were to the liturgy. The Mass was now in the vernacular, in English, and you younger folks may not realize how spectacular that change was. Suddenly, the people in the pews could understand all the words the priest celebrant prayed at the altar, the very words of consecration. It was a very special and continues to be very special. 

In another major change, the priest celebrant now faced the congregation during the Mass. I can remember those first Masses – after the changes – what a wonderful moment that was. I found a new and wonderful connection and union with the people of the parish; we truly joined together in the Eucharistic celebration.
When Pope John XXIII introduced the Council to the world, he began with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, praying that the Holy Spirit would infuse new life into the Church.

Pope John spoke of throwing open the windows of the Church to the Holy Spirit.  He called the Council a new Pentecost.  Before the First Pentecost the apostles were frightened. Jesus had been crucified and they were now trying to understand the Resurrection. They were afraid to go out on their own. Then,  they were empowered by the Holy Spirit and began teaching and speaking in public of the message of Jesus to all who would listen – unafraid despite the problems and challenges.

Now, Pope John XIII said, we have a new Pentecost. Would this Council truly bring a new Spirit to the Church, a new excitement, a new enthusiasm to the Catholic Church? 

I want to share with you that indeed there was a new excitement and a new enthusiasm.  The Council truly became a new Pentecost to the Church and to me. 


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