Council focus was on liturgy as central to Christian life

Catholic News Service

Citing the words of Blessed John XXIII at the opening of the Second Vatican Council — "Mother Church rejoices" — speakers at the Third Annual Newman Convocation at St. Francis Xavier (College) Church Oct. 11 celebrated the 50th anniversary of the council.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson began the program reciting the same prayer used at the opening of the council, 50 years ago to the day. The program was co-sponsored by Aquinas Institute of Theology, Fontbonne University, Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, the Department of Theological Studies and Deparment of Mission and Ministry at St. Louis University and The Marchetti Jesuit Endowment at St. Louis University.

Speakers and respondents addressed the first document promulgated at the council, "Sacrosanctum Concilium (the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy)."

Sister Catherine Vincie, RSHM, of Aquinas Institute gave a detailed report on the work of the council document. She noted that the landslide vote in favor of the document was a surprise to many. The liturgical movement had its roots in the late 19th century, she said, benefiting from the discovery of liturgical tests of the early centuries and the role played by monasteries. It led to the active participation of the faithful and greater understanding of the rites, Sister Catherine said.

Father Jason Schumer, assistant professor of sacramental and liturgical theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, said that the joy of the liturgical movement that spilled over into the Second Vatican Council was rooted in the desire to bring the liturgy back to the center of Christian life. Citing the council document, Pope Pius XII's "Mediator Dei" and statements by Pope Benedict XVI, he said that "the sacred liturgy must touch the heart so as to affect the manner in which the faithful live their lives."

Father Schumer also pointed to the influence of the Benedictine monasteries of central Europe. "For these monks, the sacred liturgy was not merely an external ritual, observed only to fulfill an obligation. No, their life of holiness — their piety — arose from the liturgical action. Liturgical prayer was a deep encounter with the living God."

One of those influenced by the monks was Msgr. Martin J. Hellriegel, chaplain of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood in O'Fallon and later pastor of Holy Cross Parish in the Baden neighborhood of north St. Louis. He showed how an American parish could come alive with liturgical piety as the heart of the parish experience, Father Schumer said.

Central to Msgr. Hellriegel's accomplishments was fostering an active participation by every member of the parish in the prayers and chants of the Church. "At Holy Cross in Baden, the liturgy was not merely something they did, it was prayed and lived in the deepest sense of the word."

Jesuit Father John W. Padberg of the Institute of Jesuit Sources gave several examples of the impact of the first days of the Council. It was the single greatest assembly in the history of the Christian Church, he said, witnessed worldwide on TV and covered by more than 1,000 journalists. At a candlelight prayer service in St. Peter's Square, Blessed John XXIII talked about God's love for all mankind, expressed especially in and through Jesus Christ. He asked any parents there to give their children a big, warm hug and tell them that they love them and the pope loves them too.

The annual convocation began as an effort to bring together the theology faculties of four institutions in the archdiocese while offering an in-depth program of interest to the public. Last year's program was the start of a multi-year focus on the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.

The four academic institutions first came together to offer an academic convocation celebrating the beatification of Blessed John Henry Newman. The convocation has been called an opportunity for the archdiocese to celebrate the good work Catholic higher education does in the archdiocese. 

Learn more about it

Two courses from the Paul VI Pontifical Institute of Catechetical and Pastoral Studies will explore more in depth about the Second Vatican Council.

• "Key Documents of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council" will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, at the Cardinal Rigali Center in Shrewsbury. The presenter will be Sister Mary Kathleen Ronan, RSM, Paul VI Institute coordinator of the Lay Formation Program.

• "Vatican II, John Paul II and Benedict XVI," from 1-6 p.m. Saturdays, Feb. 2, March 23, April 20 and May 18 at the Cardinal Rigali Center in Shrewsbury. Presenter will be Douglas Bushman, director of the Institute for Pastoral Theology at Ave Maria University.

Registration is required. Email umpfaff@archstl.org or call (314) 792-7450. 

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