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CATHOLIC IDENTITY: VATICAN II’s IMPACT ON THE LAITY

Bruce Carlson

I have no pre-Vatican II experience. I chose to join the Catholic Church during the time that the changes from Vatican II were beginning to be implemented. I remember well how excited and energized the members of the church were for the new Christian Catholic Identity they were embarking upon. I felt like this renewed Catholic Church seemed so much like the Lutheran Church that I grew up in, that I felt comfortable joining it in order for my wife and myself to be of the same faith. I have learned this past year in studying the Vatican II documents the many impacts it had on
the laity and their Catholic Identity

Vatican II made it clear that the laity along with the clergy bears the responsibility for the work of the church, its renewal and its future. The laity is entrusted with the important job of ordering the world’s goods so that all people are cared for and no one is overlooked. It is up to the lay people to oversee the customs and conditions of the world. Let them order these according to the norms of justice, peace and the dignity of all. It is the responsibility of laypeople to maintain the delicate balance between Church and society.

There are even times when laypeople have a serious obligation to express their opinions and insights about the Church. Their wisdom and knowledge often arise from valuable life experiences. Such wisdom is to be prized by church leaders.

The Vatican II Decree on the Bishops recommends that the Curia listen more closely to lay people who have a share in church affairs.

The impact of Vatican II on the laity was profound. The role of the lay people in the church is shaped in almost all of the documents. A call to move from threats to persuasion, from coercion to conscience, from monologue to dialog, from vertical to horizontal, from exclusion to inclusion, from static to on-going, and from prescriptive to principles- that was opening the windows and bringing in fresh air.

Some years ago I was ushering at Sunday Mass and at communion time a gentleman came from the far side of the church to receive communion from the priest. After Mass the pastor asked all to be seated. He introduced that person as his good friend, a minister of a local Lutheran church. I was thrilled. Contrast that to a couple of years ago when my 90 yr old mother (a Lutheran) attended mass at an assisted living home where she resided. After Mass a woman told her that she knew she wasn’t Catholic, and that she had told the priest not to give her communion any more. My mother never attended again because they moved the Mass from the general assembly room to the woman’s room and she was not invited. My mother felt terrible about the entire situation.

I believe that we need to have full implementation of the spirit of Vatican II. That is what I felt was happening when I joined the Catholic Church many
years ago, but I feel it has since wavered in its fulfillment. My hope is with much prayer and study on the part of the laity we can have a vibrant, inclusive and renewed Catholic Church that reflects the Spirit of Vatican II.

Resources

Bill Huebsch, Vatican II in Plain English, Volumes 1,2,3

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