Pope Benedict has asked the whole Church to celebrate this year as a Year of Faith, which began with a Mass on October 11th, 2012, exactly fifty years from the opening ceremony of the Second Vatican Council. In 1962 it felt as if the Church was living in the past, because she had not fully accepted the Modern world and tended to relate to it in a negative way. The Church needed a process of critical self-examination and purification in order to stop living in the past, but during this whole process the Church faced the constant danger of taking on too much of the spirit of Modern life and losing touch with the Gospel of Christ.
The Mass to open the Year of Faith was a clear sign that the Church has closed the process of examination and renovation that followed the Council, because that process was a success. The Mass itself was a wonderful blend of old traditions and new elements that showed that the reform really happened.
The traditional prayer of the Rosary was prayed to quiet the crowd before the Mass, but the mysteries that were used were the “new” Luminous Mysteries. The Rosary was prayed in Latin, and the Mass was celebrated in Latin, and the songs were mostly Latin chant. Latin is no longer an expression of being tied to the past, but a perfect example of how the Church is using a treasure from the past to help unite a Church whose people speak every language on earth. It is standard practice at every Papal Mass to print booklets so that everyone can participate and speak the responses. The musical notes were also printed and the people were encouraged to alternate with the choir in singing the Gloria and the Creed. The intercessions were prayed in five languages, including Chinese, Arabic, and Swahili.
The Second Vatican Council had wanted the Church to become more simple, and Pope Paul VI put away the papal tiara which had been a sign of both political and spiritual power. Continuing this tradition, Pope Benedict used a simple mitre at the Mass just like any other bishop, a sign that the Church has renounced all her old claims to political power. His homily had nothing of the formal “Pontifical We”, but was preached with the simple language of any parish priest.
Although there was no papal tiara, crowns could be found on the heads of the bishops from the Eastern rite Catholic churches, since this is part of their traditional attire for bishops. The Second Vatican Council had emphasized the importance of valuing the variety of legitimate traditions in the Church, and not trying to create an artificial uniformity. The presence of so many bishops showed clearly that the structure of the Church has not been abolished, much less the priesthood itself, which is still composed entirely of men. Nuns and friars of all kinds and color were visible everywhere, because the consecrated life has certainly not been abolished either.
While a lot of the vestments and traditional elements were present, and none of the pillars of the Church have changed, for anyone who compares the Catholic Church of today with 50 years ago, the change that has happened in the Church is simply amazing. Her entire way of speaking, acting, and thinking has changed. No longer concerned about her privileges or fretting about her place in politics, the Church just wants to be given a little freedom to live the Gospel, and a chance to speak so she can beg the world to give up sin and come to know and follow Jesus Christ. She has become much more like the poor and humble prophet that her Master and Lord chose to be.
A clear sign that the time of examination and change is finished is that the Pope and the Bishops have been urging the Church forward, away from looking at her house and the details of her own life, and towards living those details in order to know Christ more deeply and to bring Him to the world. Here is the way Pope Benedict described the urgency of this new phase of the journey,
In the Council’s time it was already possible from a few tragic pages of history to know what a life or a world without God looked like, but now we see it every day around us. This void has spread. But it is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us, men and women. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive. Living faith opens the heart to the grace of God which frees us from pessimism. Today, more than ever, evangelizing means witnessing to the new life, transformed by God, and thus showing the path.
If the Church has gone through radical changes, it was to prepare herself to be a radical witnesses in the most barren wasteland history has ever known: a world without God, a world without truth, a world without right and wrong, a world sinking in pessimism, despair, and selfishness. It is to this world that the Church needs to bring Jesus Christ. We carry Jesus Christ to the world in our own lives, if our lives have been transformed by His grace.
This is our mission for the Year of Faith: to encounter Christ and be transformed by Him into living examples of faith, hope, and sacrificial love, so that the people wandering in the desert of today can encounter Christ in us and be transformed by Him.