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Father Muench Says...

‘And my life as a priest changed’

February 3, 2021

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Recently, my nephew, Paul, mentioned to me a class activity that he used in his AP American History Class. He asked his students to consider an important historical event in their lifetime that influenced their life and the challenges in life.

Paul said to me that he knew exactly what I would choose. Actually, I hesitated. I really wasn’t certain what he thought I would choose, so I simply asked him what he was so certain I would choose. He said the Second Vatican Council. He was obviously correct.

Let me share with you how the Second Vatican Council influenced my priesthood and the profound effect it had on who I was as a Catholic priest. I studied for several years in a Catholic seminary preparing to be a Catholic priest before the Council took place. I was ordained a priest and exercised my priesthood for several years before the Council. Then, during the 1960s, the Vatican Council convened, all the bishops of the world met with our Holy Father, Pope John XXIII at that time, and truly my goals and my life as a priest changed.

As a priest, the celebration of the Church’s sacraments, and especially the Mass, is central to our ministry and personal spirituality. The Council changed the way in which we, priests, celebrate Mass. The Council opened for us the opportunity to celebrate Mass in the vernacular – for us in English. This truly influenced me and my understanding of exactly who I was and what I was doing as I said the words of the Mass at the altar – the words of the Lord – as I stood at the altar. The words of the Mass were more meaningful.

The Council encouraged us, priests, to celebrate Mass facing the congregation. This also had a profound effect on my personal spirituality. I recognized my relationship not only with God as I offered Mass but also with all those that were praying with me.

The Second Vatican Council urged a new development of the ritual of the services of Holy Week, allowing all Catholics to become more involved in the events that we celebrate, allowing all Catholics to walk with the Savior in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord as we prayed and called to mind all that Jesus suffered and did during his Passion. I believe that the Holy Week Services now bring the community of a parish into a deeper understanding of the Paschal Mystery.

The Second Vatican Council challenged me and all priests to a deeper understanding and study of Sacred Scripture – reading and meditating on the Bible. In fact, the Council urged priests to use a homily when they preach at Mass – that is using the message in the Scriptures read at the Mass as the basis of their message. In addition, the Council urged the study of Sacred Scripture in parish study groups.

There is so much more that the Second Vatican Council accomplished. Personally, the Council presented new and challenging goals for me to recognize in my ministry as a priest. As I look back, I really do recognize how powerfully my life changed because of the Second Vatican Council. I believe that God touched my life, and my priesthood found new life in the Lord. The Lord showed me what I needed to do and what I needed to accomplish.

It was a good time to be alive and to be Catholic. The Council’s successes were numerous. It also led to a new relationship with other Christian churches and with other religions, a recognition that salvation was possible outside the Catholic Church, as well as a new emphasis on scripture. The Roman Catholic Church now believes, sincerely, in human rights, in democracy, in freedom of religion.

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