Growing up, Claude Langlois remembers listening to Mass in Latin with the priest facing the altar instead of the congregation.
All that changed in 1965 after more than 2,000 bishops from the world met in the Second Vatican Council to make significant changes and reforms in the Catholic Church. The Council met from 1962 to 1965, over the course of four sessions, producing 16 documents.
“I went along with the church,” Langlois said of the changes. “I thought it was a good move because it allowed people to know what was going on in the Mass,” said Langlois, a member of St. Monica Parish in Methuen.
Tomorrow, Catholics around the world will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II.
To mark the anniversary, Pope Benedict XVI will proclaim a “Year of Faith” in an apostolic letter “Porta Fidel” to strengthen the faith of Catholics and draw the world to faith by their example. This is also the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or a summary of principles, which was released in 1992.
The changes brought about by Vatican II include celebrating Mass in native languages instead of Latin, emphasizing the Eucharist as the source of the faith, establishing a relationship with Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindus, and giving the laity a bigger role in the church.
“It opened up what was going on in the church, what their faith was about and what was taking place in the Mass,” Langlois said.
The Rev. Kevin Deeley, pastor of St. Michael Parish in North Andover, remembers serving Mass in Latin during high school.
“It’s a significant renewal of the church specifically in bringing lay participation into the life of the church into the liturgy and into the Mass,” Deeley said. “It really revived the central role of the scripture and appreciation for it because people were not just attending Mass, they were participating in the Mass from singing, reading and helping distribute the Eucharist.”
Rev. Deeley said St. Michael Parish is a product of Vatican II where everyone is welcomed and lay people have significant roles in many facets of the church from the parish council and through its many ministries from visiting the sick and helping the poor.
Rev. Deeley said the Bible study during the “Year of Faith” will help Catholics reflect on their faith.
“It’s an opportunity to look at Vatican II to reflect on what our beliefs and faith are and reflect on our faith through these documents,” said Rev. Deeley, a priest for 38 years. “It will help us go back, read and see how we’re living up to that, although there’s still room to grow.”
The Rev. Timothy Kearney, pastor of All Saints Parish in Haverhill said Vatican II was called to address the problems of the world during the aftermath of World War II.
“It was also a way to strengthen the church to face future problems,” said Kearney, a priest since 1996. “Some of those challenges were unforseen but we were able to respond to them because of what we learned from Vatican II.”
Another aspect of Vatican II was having Catholics return to their roots. The document not only wanted the faithful to focus on the past 300 years, but to study scripture and history from the first 600 years of the church.
“We’re inviting people who have been away to return and those who are in the church to renew their faith; what they actually believe in,” Kearney said.
The Second Vatican Council also called for ensuring dialogue with other religions.
“It’s the charter that we use in the work we do and guides us in the center,” said Joseph Kelley, director of the Center for Christian-Jewish-Muslim Relations at Merrimack College. The center’s goal is to educate students and area citizens and to increase mutual understanding and prevent prejudices against peoples of different beliefs.
“It was religiously and politically controversial and many Arab countries were against it,” Kelley said. The topic was discussed and debated with several drafts written over two years. The final draft was presented in 1964 and approved in 1965.
During that time, Kelley said Pope John XXIII began to change the language of the church which was derogatory to Jews and even led to persecutions.
“During World War II, Pope John XXIII was active in protecting Jews and wanted to strengthen the relationship and asked for a wider discussion in the church with Jewish people,” said Kelley, dean of experimental learning at Merrimack.
“The main issue in interfaith dialogue is that if you enter into a real sustained dialogue with someone of a different faith, you begin to understand your own in a new and deeper way,” he said.
During his papacy John Paul II made great strides in strengthening the relationship with Jews, Kelley said, because he grew up in Poland and was close to the Jewish community there.
Kelley said the dialogue between Christians and Muslims has not been the same since Sept. 11, 2001.
“It’s been complicated. Sept. 11 makes it more imperative to deepen our dialogue with the Islamic community so we can understand the struggles of the religion hijacked by extremists.”
On Oct. 15, the Center for Christian-Jewish-Muslim Relations will host a dinner where participants can talk with heroes of the interfaith world including Rabbi Burton Visotzky of the Jewish Theological Seminary; Jacob Bender, independent documentary filmmaker; Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley; Rev. Diane Kessler, Massachusetts Council of Churches, and Dr. Mohamed Lazzouni, Imam and interfaith leader in New England.