Pembroke Bishop Michael Mulhall told the Wojtyla Institute for Teachers that Vatican II is part of the 2,000-year growth of the Church. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Vatican II part of the 2,000 years of growth in the Church

  • August 15, 2013

BARRY’S BAY, ONT. - Soon Catholics will no longer see Vatican II as a break, but will interpret the Council’s teachings in light of the Church’s 2,000 years, says Pembroke Bishop Michael Mulhall.

In a reflection on the Council’s Presbyterorum Ordinis Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests Aug. 9, Mulhall said the past 50 years have been marked by “great turmoil” and suffering as well as “great joy and satisfaction” for priests.

The talk was among a series on various documents at the third annual Wojtyla Institute for Teachers at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy. They followed the theme: “Vatican II and Continuity: Always the Same Spirit.”

There is a sense something happened in 1962 that was not an organic growth, or a representation of a Church that is always young, always renewing herself, always beautiful, Mulhall said. Some have characterized Vatican II as something akin to the 1917 revolution in Russia, a distinct break with the past leading to the Bolshevik takeover. The change seemed to have an abruptness to it, that it created something new out of nothing, he said.

This before-and-after dynamic has some people seeing “before the Council” as good and after the Council as bad, and others who see the reverse, he said.

The Church has been living this tension for the past 50 years.

“The day is going to arrive when no one remembers the days before the Council,” he said. Then it will be perceived as part of the natural growth of the Church.

“It was an age of great difficulty and confusion for some,” he said. The Church faced “a perfect storm” in the societal changes of the 1960s. But soon people will no longer be looking back only 50 years but 2,000 years, especially for those invited to live the life of a priest.

Speaking to about 30 Catholic teachers, Mulhall reflected on the decree’s description of apostolic succession. The Father has sent Christ who then appoints apostles to be sent out, he said. The apostles appoint successors, who in turn appoint successors, making an unbroken line of succession from the Father, to the Son, to the apostles and their successors. The priest becomes a co-worker with the bishop. This succession is not merely a historical connection but “a grace that’s been handed on,” he said.

In sharing the priesthood with the bishop, a priest is “living Christ’s priesthood enabled and given him” through succession. The grace is not merely a bond, but something distinctly different.

“The priest has a sacred power of service to confect the Eucharist in the sacraments so people can give their lives back to the Lord,” he said.

For the Church as self-regenerating, ever new, yet unchanged in substance, priests are ordained to give glory to God through every aspect of his life, including his self-sacrifice and day-to-day suffering for his people, in how he helps them to know God and to offer their lives to God, he said. The document “sheds the misconception” that the priesthood is about function.

A priest may be a teacher, a researcher, a social worker, even an accountant, but all those roles “take second place” to the priest’s service in bringing “the Lord’s people to the sacrifice of the Mass.”

The priest brings the sacred Scripture and the Eucharist together. The fullness of the mystery is not only what he is proclaiming but also what he is celebrating of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. This creates a tension for parishes without sufficient numbers of priests, he said.

Mulhall sees a lot of joy among priests, but maintaining that joy is a struggle and one of the quickest ways to kill that joy is for a priest to see himself in terms of function, in terms of what he must do.

“That’s a recipe for lack of joy,” he said.

“He needs to focus on who he is. The loss of a sense of identity is very dangerous to a priest. To live joyfully is to live the fullness of the gift.”

The life-giving aspect of the Gospel, the life-giving grace, both proclaimed and celebrated in the sacraments, “is so much bigger than the last 50 years,” he said.

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