"WE INTEND TO LET IN A LITTLE FRESH AIR"
Pope John XXIII started the thaw—and the Roman Catholic Church hasn’t been the same since. Folk-rock masses and the pill, backtalk from the pews, stridently modern architecture—they’re all part of a startling, quick-moving revolution, being led by Canada, that is altering an ageless faith
THAT GLOWINGLY GOOD MAN, Pope John XXIII, once was asked what were his intentions in summoning all the Roman Catholic bishops to meet in Rome for the Second Vatican Council. He crossed the room and threw open a window. “We intend to let in a little fresh air,” he said grinning.
The operative word among Catholics ever since has been openness, and the fresh air sometimes blows up a gale. Roman Catholic renewal, now under way in Canada at a pace that is outdistancing many others of the world’s Catholics, is the most rousing in church history. Key priests are commuting to the Vatican like Yo-Yos, the young are singing a stirring folkrock mass, strong language and impatience color debates on sacred issues. The reforms ultimately will change the world.
“The self-criticism within the Roman Catholic church is the great phenomenon of our time,” says Allen Spraggett, the Toronto Star's astute, respected and enthusiastic religion editor. “The Roman Catholic ferment is more profound and more far-reaching than that of any other denomination. They are keeping the lid on more, but it is the most exciting story in religion today.”
Many Catholics are delighted. At a cocktail party recently a convent-educated housewife, dressed in a shift four inches above her knees, fuchsia pop-art earrings and a hairpiece of lacquered ringlets, exclaimed, “What’s happening to nuns these days! It used to be you trembled to talk to them about anything but the weather, but now they’re . . . well, unshockable.” A father of three small children swirled the ice in his glass and commented idly, “Priests, too. A Jesuit put my wife on the pill.”
Others are aghast. Writing in The Catholic World, Mrs. Elaine Tyhanic recently bemoaned the entire catalogue of changes, from women attending mass with uncovered heads to priests and nuns in freedom marches. “The very things that kept the church one
and universal have disappeared,” she complained. Catholicism was being “watered down to such an extent that it is just another Christian sect.”
Catholicism certainly doesn't look the same. In the few years since Pope John called for fresh air, the newest Catholic chapels and churches have taken on an uncluttered look, with a stark, slender cross hanging in the bare sanctuary, impressionist wood carvings for the Stations of the Cross, a single candle burning. Communion rails and stained-glass windows are disappearing and the lurid, bleeding statues banked with candles are out of style.
A high - church Anglican, consulting a Roman Catholic friend about conversion because he feared his richly ornamented rituals will be scrapped in the concessions to Protestant church union, was advised cheerily, “Better not come to us. We're getting rid of all that stuff.”
And Roman Catholicism certainly doesn't sound the same. The once all-Latin mass chanted cosily by priests and altar boys has been translated in part to what is called the vernacular dialogue mass, using the language of the congregation. Instead of the lulling murmur of the priest’s “Dominus vobiscum” and the boy’s response, “Et cum spiritu tuo,” the priest now addresses the pews with, “The Lord be with you,” and the congregation replies in sturdy unison, “And with your spirit,” or even, if the priest is particularly progressive, “And with you.”
Many Catholics are affronted by the required participation in the dialogue mass and the increased congregational singing (the latter a dud in many parishes). They feel the solitary contemplation of God, which has been a Catholic style of worship for centuries, is being destroyed. Many parish priests share their dismay, moved by the normal human preference for the familiar and a suspicion that some prestige has been lost.
“A lot depends on the priest.” explains Father Bernard Mahoney, a professor of Moral Theology, director of the National Liturgical Office for Eng-
lish-speaking Catholics and a leading architect of liturgical reform in Canada. “If the changes are presented well and explained, then people take to them quite easily. Acceptance, we find, has little to do with chronological age — some older people who read a good deal and keep up with the world have no difficulty in appreciating the vernacular mass, while young people who are less well informed may be resentful.”
Most of the transformation in the look and sound of Catholicism springs from a single phrase in the Vatican II documents: the definition of the church as “the people of God.” “It's by far the most significant thing that has emerged so far,” comments Father Gordon George, secretary (English-speaking section) of the Canadian Catholic Conference, which gradually is becoming an important policy-making body of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada. "It emphasizes that the church isn’t buildings, or bishops, or the Pope. It’s everyone.”
This concept of sharing, of mutual responsibility and partnership between priests and congregation, underlies a host of subtle reforms, of which the dialogue mass is one. The preferred altar in Roman Catholic churches now is an unadorned table in front of the sanctuary, as close to the pews as possible, so that the priest can face the congregation during the preparation of the Eucharist, rather than the somewhat private arrangement which put him at a remote altar up a flight of steps, with his back to his flock.
The Vatican, in the same spirit, is also sharing authority and moving out a measure of self-government to bishops’ conferences. In some dioceses, bishops have established advisory councils that include laymen, following the example of Pope John in his unprecedented inclusion of laymen in Vatican II. Young priests in many dioceses are encouraged to meet and present grievances, providing them with an opportunity for dissent, which hitherto has been almost unknown in Catholicism, /continued on pape 34
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Action call: “It’s a different world —let’s move with it”
When the Canadian Religious Conference, a grouping of all the superiors in the various orders of priests and nuns, held a regional conference in Ontario last May, the talk had the authentic ring of a New Left cell meeting in a coffee house. A Jesuit, Father J. Elliot MacGuigan, declared that constitutions and rules of religious orders should be “written in pencil”: that superiors should keep fewer secrets, that there should be more policy-making committees, that everyone down to postulants should be urged to send in unsigned proposals. "Authority,” he said, “breeds sheep or rebels.”
A Basilian, Father F. Orsini, thought the title “superior” might be abandoned. along with other symptoms of the pecking order such as special places at table. “It's a different world and let’s move with it,” said Father Angus MacDougall, the Jesuit superior in Ontario. Another Jesuit, Father J. English, head of the novitiate at Guelph, remarked approvingly, “For the young, nothing is ‘sacred.’ They question everything — God, religious vows, prayer, faith. They’re in the spirit of Vatican 11.”
Among the world’s Roman Catholics. few are more daring than the Canadians. For instance. Rome in 1962 granted bishops' conferences the right to establish local rules about da>s of fasting and abstinence. (Fasting consists of eating smaller portions of food, according to conscience: a black fast is bread and water. Abstinence means no meat.)
Fasting, Canadian style
Canadian bishops instantly exercised their new prerogative by overhauling the Lenten laws, which had required fasting six days a week for six weeks. They reduced the days of fasting to only two. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Bishops in the United States, by comparison, decided to stand pat with the old rules. This spring, four years later, Rome made the Canadian variation of Lenten fasting applicable to Catholics everywhere.
Similarly, Canadian Catholics have been among the noisiest in advocating that the Vatican change its condemnation of contraceptives. A petition to this effect, signed by 500 Catholic intellectuals from all over the world, included 150 Canadian names, a disproportionate 30 percent. Father Gregory Baum, of St. Michael’s College University in Toronto, an Augustinian priest with a worldwide reputation as an ecumenist and theological adviser at the four sessions of the Vatican Council, has been even bolder. He argues that birth control doesn't come within the infallible teaching authority of the church and, therefore, in view of all the diversity of opinion on the issue. Catholics are free to use the Pope’s pronouncements about birth control as a guide, rather than an order.
His views set off a series of letters, pro and con, which the Toronto Globe and Mail published on its editorial page over a period of several weeks this spring, providing a unique and fascinating public forum for one of
the touchiest issues in the world. The debate was upheld on both sides by Catholics who were learned, reasoning and clearly devout. A judge would have to call it a draw, unless swayed emotionally by the woman who pointed out that present failure to use contraceptives would lead to her becoming pregnant again, perhaps to be advised just as she was getting into her maternity clothes that the Pope had decided in favor of contraceptives after all.
A few Catholics found the dialogue enchantingly baroque, like a serious discussion of whether a night in the stocks will cure pyromania. Roman Catholics arc well represented among the some seven million North American women who use the steroid contraceptive pills, developed by a dedicated Roman Catholic, Dr. John Rock, of Boston. A Catholic layman, in close touch with hundreds of priests in his job with the church, reports that “a vast majority” of married Catholics in Canada are confessing the "sins of contraception."
The most striking example of the aroused vitality in the Catholic renewal is not found in the rebellious use of contraceptives, but in a beautiful children's book. Come To The Father, which is being introduced to English-speaking sixand seven-yearolds this autumn. Richly illustrated with sensitive and charming full-page pastels of children, animals and Jesus, it will be the new grade-one catechism, the first in a line of revised catechisms that will extend to high-school graduation. It springs from the brilliant Quebec-developed Viens Vers le Père, which was tested in 1964 and is now the established text for French-speaking grade-one children.
Its theme, in part, is a reflection of the findings of a survey made in 1961, showing some 60 percent of preschool Catholic tots think of God as a judge; only 30 percent regard Him as a father figure. The new catechism., therefore, starts off without any negatives — no expulsion from the Garden of Eden, no dark punishments.
This new Canadian catechism, the
polished product of the latest insights in psychology, sociology and education as well as existentialist theology, has been hailed internationally as being 10 years ahead of every other catechism. It involves parents actively in the religious education of their children, which some regard as its masterstroke, and is filled with such cerebral and advanced techniques for educating children that it demands superb teaching. Since teacher briefings will be experimental and limited this summer, Come To The Father can reach only 25,000 of the approximately 45,000 children in English Catholic homes who are ready for it. At that, its printer says the initial run of the new catechism puts it in the runaway best-seller class in Canada.
What others believe
Its publisher, Paul ist Press, also has scored another achievement for Canadian Catholics, an ecumenical scries written by clergymen of other faiths to explain their religions to Catholics. Already in print arc books about the United Church of Canada, the Anglicans and Episcopalians, the Presbyterians, the Methodists and Judaism.
Catholics, in fact, are showing enterprise after a late start in ecumenism, a startling departure from their ancient position which maintained that all non-Catholic Christians were heretics. At the University of Toronto, for example, the Roman Catholic faculty of theology has joined with the Toronto Graduate School of Theological Studies, putting Catholics in the same lecture hall, writing the same exams, as such disparate theologians as Pentacostalists and Baptists.
Next year, Roman Catholic, Anglican and United Church supporters will be building a single church in Matagami, Quebec, to be shared by all. Last spring an Anglican bishop preached in a Roman Catholic cathedral in Whitehorse, Yukon, and the congregation appropriately sang One Church, One Foundation. A chapter of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Bramalea, Ontario, meets in a United
Church basement; small wonder, since half its members are Protestants. A Basilian priest in Toronto is organizing a miniature Ecumenical Council for next year. Its title: Theologo ’67.
The country’s champion ecumenist, however, is a University of Toronto professor of anatomy, George Lewis, a lifelong Anglican who has joined the Roman Catholic church without severing his Anglican membership. This action, he says, has placed him in a-limbo between two sets of canon law.
But the Roman Catholic church is still far from being everyone’s darling. It was a Jesuit who claimed that Vatican II moved the church forward two centuries, “from the 16th to the 18th.” and some old wounds still gape. Few Jews are satisfied at the wording of the Vatican document on non-Christian religions, which failed to formally condemn antisemitism. Few Protestants are not irritated by the Catholic church’s attitude toward mixed marriages and the religion of children resulting from such marriages. And tempers really rise when Catholics send letters to legislators in New York State, urging them to vote against divorce reform, or when the Catholic Women's League in Toronto unanimously and without discussion requests its National Council to send a missive to the federal government requesting it to resist all efforts to reform abortion for all Canadians.
Advised of this latter action last May. a Catholic information officer groaned and said, “Read the Vatican documents on religious freedom.” The documents restate several times that no one is “to be restrained from acting in accordance with his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly.”
The Catholics tend to call their updating “rethinking.” They arc rethinking Mary, whose emphasis , is out of keeping with the ecumenical movement. “On The Way Out?" asks an article in the devout periodical Life In Christ And In The Church, sold by nuns — instantly replying to its own question: certainly not. They are rethinking divorce, with a possible revival—suggested by a few—of the sixth-century device for dissolving marriages by declaring them spiritually dead.
Some Catholics detect a slow atrophying of such concepts as guardian angels for every child, the power of prayer and life after death. The desertions of priests and nuns by the thousands, together with declines in postulants, indicate that the rules of celibacy may go — “in 20 years, maybe 10 if we get mass conversions of married Anglican priests who won’t go in with United Church union,” said one thoughtful Catholic layman.
There is a possibility that meatless Fridays will be re-interpreted and maybe eliminated. The rules already have been waived for Catholics traveling on trains and planes. It seems likely, too, that the rigid requirements for Catholics to attend the parish church designated for them, rather than a church of their own choosing, will be discarded. It may even be that church-going itself will not be compulsory in the future. “After all, you can't legislate holiness,” comments a layman active in church public relations.
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For youth: a message of faith with folk-music background
The ancient tradition of confession is also undergoing scrutiny. Some priests are concerned that small children are obliged to make confessions of their sins, a circumstance that sometimes induces an unnatural preoccupation with guilt. There are proponents for delaying the first confession until puberty, a scheme that has some parallels with the Jewish Bar Mitzvah. There is even talk that Catholics in the future will confess more commonly to the people they have wronged, their families and neighbors, rather than to priests.
Some of the effervescence that accompanies the Catholic renewal is coming from young people, a circumstance that is hardly news in the discussion of almost any Canadian institution these days. Catholic teenagers last spring responded joyfully to the radio show. Ballad Of The Word, prepared with a folk-music background. The narrator was disconcertingly laconic. Sample (when Mary is informed that she will hear Jesus): “‘Who, me?’ said she. ‘How can this be? It isn’t in my plans.'”
For contagious fervor, vitality and inspiration, however, there has been nothing, outside of the freedom songs of the civil - rights movement, to compare with the jazz, hootenanny or folk mass, of which Canadian Catholics have several variations — one with authentic African drums in the background. The most popular one seems to be The Canticle Of The Gift, written by Catholic students at the University of Toronto and now available on LP records under the Capitol label.
With a guitar beat like the pulse
of a strong heart, it is exultantly revivalist in tone. It climaxes with a jubilant
Bless the Lord All ye works of the Lord Praise Him. exalt Him For ever.
Sidewalks and traffic lights. Expressways and suhway cars.
All you city dwellers,
Bless the Lord . . .
Coffee shops and lecture halls. Long talks and paper bags. Lonely walks and crowded dances.
Bless the Lord . . .
© Copyright 1966 BMI Canada Limited
The new general secretary of the
World Council of Churches, Presbyterian Eugene Carson Blake, has described the Roman Catholic renewal as “amazing and miraculous.” And it's only beginning. ★