Part 3 A new church for a new world 1961-2011
‘The joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor and afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community of people united in Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit in their pilgrimage of salvation for all humanity. That is why they cherish a feeling of deep solidarity with the human race and its history.’
These now famous words are the opening of the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes. Revisited in the context of reflections on 100 years of Catholic life in one small parish in Australia, the words have a prophetic ring. They can be seen as a transforming power that is only slowly being revealed.
The pain and suffering of economic depression, world war and a massive displacement of population had moved to the centre of the Catholic Church’s preoccupations with the opening of the Second Vatican Council in Rome in October 1962. Nearly two and a half thousand bishops and churchmen gathered from all over the world for a Council that would be an aggiornamento, a ‘bringing up to date’ of this ancient, world-wide institution. The parish archives offer little about the impact of the first changes, most notably the change from Latin to English for the language of worship. The priest turned to face the people, spoke to them in their own tongue and they responded – a dialogue foreshadowed by Fr Harman’s introduction of (Latin) dialogue Mass in the 1940s.
The changes to worship heralded and expressed changes of attitude and understanding. There was a new emphasis pointing to the many ways Christ is present in the church and in the world. The consciousness of the power of the Holy Spirit in each believer brought new responsibilities: for sensitivity to an informed personal conscience, for compassion for all, for a spirituality summed up in the metaphor of being the people of God on a journey. Some of this is reflected in new movements in the parish: the Nell’s Cottage Centre for adult learning and support, especially for women; awareness of the presence and heritage of indigenous people; social justice groups; the global spirit fostered by papal visits and world Youth Day; the local identity fostered by neighbourhood groups and family groups; the new life for longstanding charitable organisations such as the St Vincent de Paul Society.
The full story of the profound reform and renewal initiated by Vatican Two remains to be written. It is a work in progress to be celebrated, perhaps, after another 50 years.
The commemorative book published for the centenary in 2011:
Witness to the Light includes a selection of stories from parish magazines over the years and is available from the parish office.