For Bishop Emeritus John S. Cummins, the jubilee of the Diocese of Oakland is an opportunity to consider its roots. At a symposium he will moderate on Sept. 9, four speakers will discuss Vatican II documents and the role they play in the church today.
My classmates disagree with me on this. The seminary had fired us up for change. Scripture studies were really changing. The role of laity had changed. Religious liberty.
Then there had been big changes in liturgy. The Easter Vigil had been restored, to the evening instead of the one at 7:30 a.m. with 10 people. The fasting from midnight got dropped.
In '58-'59, when John XXIII announced the Council, all these things we had been reading about had real relevance, because this was going to be at the Council.
Bishop Floyd L. Begin
Floyd Begin was absolutely unequivocal was about doing whatever came out of the Council. You couldn't overdo it. He hated Communion in the hand, he went to his grave happy that hadn't gone through. Bishop Begin used to say he did not miss one minute of the Vatican Council. (Historian) Jeff Burns quotes this. A priest went in to see Bishop Begin and quoted a Vatican II document. The bishop said to him, "Don't quote that to me. I wrote those documents."
Changes in parish life
Every parish must have a parish council. We also had a lot of collaboration with the bishop. Most pastors welcomed and were accepting. When I came, half had parish councils.
RCIA came out of the Council. This is quite a change. At Mills College I was chaplain. We had two or three converts every year. I'd have to sit there and instruct them. There was no idea of tying them into a community.
People of God
People of God is embedded. (Rev.) Joe Chinnici has a book on the acceptance of the Vatican Council in America. You have the word equality — baptism — and also the responsibility for the life and health of the church that goes with baptism. There's opportunity and initiative. It was up to the diocese to provide opportunity. These consultative bodies were so important to that. These parish councils, which didn't move too fast, but when the new canon law came out, finance councils were required. You didn't have an option on that.
I couldn't get over the resistance to parish councils. RCIA moved across the diocese. But I asked one priest about his parish council. "The last time I looked, I was fine," he said.
The laity finds its voice
The invitation from the Council was for people to speak their mind to authority. You do it with love and respect. But that really changes things. We grew up under: The laity participate and the apostolate is the hierarchy.
OCO, our sisters, CISCO, St., Mary's Center, Next Step Learning Center, GRIPP, Birthright, , A Friendly Place, Providence House, FACE. All these things took place with initiative.
People of God
We are the church. That is a very common expression. It usually means, "Don't tell us what to do." It really is a confrontational. It's part of the engagement. It's wonderful.
Style of authority
Walter Burgharat said in 1979: The old style of authority and obedience just is not adequate when you're talking about the dignity of the human person and everybody responsible for the church and the Holy Spirit dealing with everybody.
When people know they have stake in this thing. Under that comes holiness of life. Spiritual directors … that's a very common thing for the laity now. Sacrament of penance is built for that. You sit down and talk, you don't just give a laundry list of faults.
Changes in the sacraments
The way we do Confirmation now, with the involvement of the parish, is so different. Anointing of the sick used to be a terror sacrament. Now it's just lovely.
We can talk now about liturgical spirituality. The old way, you had devotional spirituality.
Daily preaching. The cycles of the Scripture. The old days, we'd have St. Matthew on almost every Sunday.
That idea of the world as a sacred place. We never talked about the lay vocation before. We do now.
Mass in the vernacular
Nobody at the Vatican Council thought we'd have three vernaculars in one parish.
The cycles, the opening of scripture. How scripture became basis of prayer, theology. People got interest in scriptural studies. Many scripture people Raymond Brown, Sandra Schneiders, Javk Boyle, Barbara Green.
We're now biblical people and that was not true before the Council.
Change comes to the church
When I came in 1977, every department was run by a priest. That was getting pretty well past the Council years. We reorganized three times. We had a guy in who said,
"You're like the Mississippi River, you're three miles wide and only a foot deep." His point was everybody was reporting to you and you can't do that.
Monday morning, would be show and tell, whatever you're doing. There was one day when there were more laity than priests. And the next day there were more women than men. Everybody noticed, and nobody said anything. That was something.
A pastoral council for the diocese
Pastoral council — priests, laity, religious — that's your primary consultative body. (Rev.) Brian Joyce led this. Two weekends at Holy Names, 400 people. I felt, "This is church." They came up for five directives for the next decade: lay development, young people, social justice — you could not have believed that would have come up third, if you were running around the diocese, that wasn't coming up, there were the Bill O'Donnells … The fourth was education. The inner-city schools were concerns, religious education was too. Fifth was evangelization. Nobody would have predicted that. That set us on a pattern. I always called that the Big Five.
In September 1962, before he went to the Vatican Council, Bishop Begin invited 150 Protestant ministers and their wives to the Claremont Hotel for dinner. Robert McAfee Brown was the featured speaker. He said Boston had no "Cushing Concourse." And there was no "Cardinal Cooke Parkway" in New York. But in so many places in Alameda and Contra Costa counties there was the sign, "Begin Freeway."
Floyd gets up. He never prepared anything, which drove us crazy, He said, "I don't know whey I called you here, but I love you." That was quoted in the 1990s.
He sent me back in 1963 to the National Conference on Religion and Race in Chicago. The host was Albert Meyer, the cardinal, and the first speaker was Abraham Heschel, the rabbi, and the final speaker was Martin Luther King. We all sang, "We Shall Overcome." The instructions were you go home and start a local committee.
Next issue: Vatican Council reconvenes in 1963 — and this time, Bishop Begin takes along his young chancellor, John Cummins.
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