Tag Archives: Vatican II

The Jewish-Christian relationship, 50 years after ‘Nostra Aetate’

December 3, 2015

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Rabbi Adam Stock Spilker of Mount Zion Temple, St. Paul, gave the following remarks Dec. 2 at a banquet at the Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel commemorating the 50th Anniversary of “Nostra Aetate,” the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council.

If you stand in front of Notre Dame in Paris and gaze up, you will see below the famous gargoyles and among the many sculptures, two particular figures in prominence, one on the left and one on the right of the main entrance to the cathedral. Synagoga and Ecclesia.

Synagoga representing the Jews is a female figure that is bent, with a broken staff symbolic of a broken covenant. In contrast is Ecclesia, also a female figure, representing Christianity that is upright and triumphant.

I mention this because when I first saw Notre Dame as a kid in 1982 it was in a context of harmony between Catholics and Jews. I never saw those sculptures as anything but history. That is the remarkable legacy of “Nostra Aetate” and the paradigm shift it ushered in for the relationship between Catholics and Jews, and Catholics to Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus and eventually to all interfaith dialogue.

Rabbi Adam Spilker

Rabbi Adam Spilker

In the Jerusalem Talmud we are taught, “Upon three things the world rests: upon justice, upon truth, upon peace. And the three are one, for when justice is done, truth prevails, and peace is established.” In a world sorely in need of all three, it is important to celebrate an area where justice to the Jewish people was done and truth and peace became possible between Catholics and Jews.

No institution is an island and immune to changing times. When an institution as immense as the Catholic Church makes any change, it is done with considerable thought and prayer. Without addressing its many dimensions and manifold perceptions, I stand here tonight to praise the Catholic Church for a decision in 1965 that ushered in a remarkable new era for the Jewish people. For Jews used to taunts of being called “Christ-killers,” the power of this Vatican statement was breathtaking.

In many ways, 1965 captured decades of growing relations. In St. Paul, contributions for the beautiful cathedral that graces our skyline and is now over 100 years old, came from many people outside of the Catholic community including Jews. This parallels the funding of my own congregation, Mount Zion’s third building on Holly and Avon Streets finished in 1903 that came from across Minnesota from Catholic, Protestant and Jew alike. St. Paul with its more Catholic milieu than Minneapolis was in general more accepting of the Jewish community.

Protestant Christian churches did take their cue from the Catholic Church but it took longer. My congregation has a dialogue with a Lutheran Church, Gloria Dei, which is part of the ELCA. The ELCA did not come up with a parallel statement on clarifying history about Jesus’ death and the relationship with the Jewish people until 1994.

I remember celebrating the 25th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate” when I was given the opportunity to teach a partial credit “Jewish-Christian Relations” class at Duke University with my friend Ted Smith who became a Presbyterian minister. As students we were given the ability to design a class to be taught to our peers. When we decided to put together the class, it was at a high point for Christian-Jewish relations in America. There were biennial national conferences attended by hundreds of scholars, clergy and laity which I had the fortune of attending in South Carolina, Oklahoma and Connecticut. Today the interfaith landscape is more diverse and complex but thankfully still strong in some parts of the country including here. One teaching from that class I will never forget from Roman Catholic priest Raimondo Pannikar who says that we will never fully know whether the messiah has come or not, that is we will never fully reconcile theological differences. In the meantime, let’s roll up our sleeves and work for justice and peace in our community together.

Religious pluralism should never be taken for granted. Just listen to what some are saying about our brother and sister Muslims in America and around the world. We have a common covenant through Noah that has never been abrogated and we need to honor God by seeing everyone first and foremost as in the image of that God. Interfaith work takes commitment, persistence and trust. And it is essential in our world sorely in need of religious voices of tolerance and peace.

I am grateful for the efforts of the Archdiocese through Father Erich Rutten whom I have had the pleasure of working with over many years now and the partnership that the Minnesota Rabbinical Association has in the JCRC under the wise leadership of Steve Hunegs.

The Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Relations recently hosted a two day conference at the University of St. Thomas to commemorate this 50th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate.” There I learned from Professor Mary Boys (Union Theological Seminary, New York) about a recently made sculpture that captures the change in Church doctrine. It is in Philadelphia made for the 50th Anniversary of “Nostra Aetate,” Synagoga and Ecclesia are situated side by side, both triumphant, Synagoga with a Torah scroll, Ecccesia with a book of the Word, their equal covenants honored. Pope Francis blessed this sculpture during his recent visit. This is the vision of a world redeemed, ancient faiths in partnership. May our understanding across faiths continue to grow in our own community and may God grant us strength to sustain a world of justice, truth, and peace.

Rabbi Spilker has served Mount Zion Temple for the past 18 years. Mount Zion is the oldest Jewish congregation in the Upper Midwest, founded in 1856, and is situated in its third location on Summit Avenue. Rabbi Spilker works with his wife, Cantor Rachel Stock Spilker, the congregation’s first invested cantor, and Rabbi Esther Adler and Cantor Jennifer Strauss-Klein.

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Breuer and the Benedictines build a church

October 2, 2014

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Here’s the story of how a famous architect and the liturgy-reforming monks of St. John’s Abbey collaborated to create a very special modern church in the middle of Minnesota.

abbey church coverFor more than 50 years, motorists and passengers on I-94 some 60 miles north of the Twin Cities have seen an enormous concrete structure peeking above the treetops to the south as they near the exit for Collegeville and St. John’s University.

The flat trapezoid, the row of bells and the cross in the cutout at the top are a beacon for the modern wonder of a church below.

Now the story of how that massive architectural masterpiece came to be has been captured in a University of Minnesota Press book, “Saint John’s Abbey Church: Marcel Breuer and the Creation of a Modern Sacred Space.”

Victoria M. Young, with access to never-before-seen archives from both the abbey and the architect, tells the story of the development of the history-making worship space. Young is a professor and the chair of the art history department at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.

As she gives the behind-the-scenes details of the planning for and building of the Abbey Church, Young persistently reminds readers why this worship space is architecturally significant.

Several keys to success

Nestled as it is in the middle of the country, far from the architectural centers on either coast, the Abbey Church was:

  • Designed by a famous architect, Marcel Breuer.
  • The architect collaborated with his client — the Benedictine monks at St. John’s Monastery.
  • Their collaboration called for the use modern materials, modern engineering and modern construction methods.
  • Their goal was to create a worship space for the modern Catholic liturgy, the laity-including Mass that the monks themselves had experimented with and championed as leaders in the 20th century liturgical movement.

abbey monks & architects“The collaboration between the Benedictines and Marcel Breuer and his architectural team reveals important themes in mid-century religious architecture,” Young noted.

“Central to the subject is how the building operates as a vessel for the reformed liturgy, reconciling the visions of a modern architect and the traditions of his monastic patrons.”

Liturgical leaders

Beginning in the 1920s, St. John’s had become the American center of the liturgical movement due to the passionate efforts of its monks, notably Father Virgil Michel. The reform liturgy stressed the participation of the laity in the Mass, the use of the vernacular (the language of the people instead of Latin) and the repositioning of the altar so that the priest faced the people as he led them in prayer.

The result was that Breuer designed a worship space with no pillars blocking views and no seat more than 85 feet from the altar.abbey drawing interior

“This building project announced the Benedictines as leaders of liturgical reform within monasticism and confirmed Marcel Breuer’s position as one of the most innovative architects of the mid-century,” Young wrote.

“Their relationship was an architectural collaboration of the highest level. Knowledgeable clients carefully delivered a plan for reinvigorated worship and liturgy to a skillful architect, who sensitively shaped a space to support it.”

With access to letters between Breuer and the monks and to the architect’s handwritten notes on drafts of the design plans, Young is able to answer questions such as why did the monks want Breuer, and why did Breuer want the job.

Ahead of the liturgical curve

With the project first beginning in 1953, construction started in 1958 and completed in 1961, the building of this modern worship space preceded the promulgation of the new liturgy by Pope Paul VI by several years.

“The Benedictines were looking beyond their history as they planned their church,” Young told The Catholic Spirit. “Both the monks and Breuer took a leap of faith.”

Although he was a well-regarded architect, Breuer had never designed a church, she said.

“Architects want to explore different things, different building types,” Young added. “Designing a church was really interesting to him.”

Breuer also liked the project because the commission was for a campus master plan. “He liked the scale of the project,” Young said.

And the monk’s desire for a modern church allowed for the use of modern materials, specifically concrete, just coming into fashion for architectural design after World War II.

“Breuer loved the ability to shape and create space,” Young said, “and concrete gave him the ability to do that.”

Building the Abbey Church also put St. Paul construction company McGough on the map. “Larry McGough told me that it changed their company,” Young said. The experience that McGough’s team derived from developing new ways to build and the notoriety from having built the Abbey Church set McGough on a trajectory to do other large projects.

An architect who listened

The author repeatedly pulls readers back to one point, that it was the collaboration between the Benedictines and Breuer that was crucial to the outcome.

Breuer was one of five architects with great reputations who the monks invited to Collegeville to discuss their vision for the church they wanted to build. It was April 17, 1953.

“A powerful moment occurs when Breuer comes to St. John’s and he doesn’t speak much the whole first day,” Young said.

Instead, Breuer asked questions and listened to the Benedictines about their vision for their church. That was the kind of collaborative relationship the monks sought.

“They wanted to engage a designer of great character,” Young wrote, “someone who would listen as well as inform, a designer with whom they could collaborate to create significant monastic and liturgical space that would serve their order for the coming century.”

As a result, during the three-year construction period many modifications in Breuer’s design were made because of input from the monks.

“Shaping space around the new liturgy was, for the Benedictines, central to their role in the Catholic world, and their church needed to uphold this mission,” Young noted.

The full story

“Saint John’s Abbey Church,” while underscoring the compatibility of Breuer and the Benedictines, includes no small amount of space to the tensions that rose as the project went on.

There’s significant coverage of the disagreement about who should design the most significant work of art in the building, the huge stained glass window that makes up almost the entirety of the north wall. Breuer wanted Bauhaus artist Josef Albers; the monks chose Bronislaw Bak, a
St. John’s faculty member.

abbey window“Even today,” Young pointed out, “Bak’s window is still a source of debate for the monks and scholars. “Many at Collegeville wonder how Albers’ window would have changed the space and feeling of the church.”

Nor does the book ignore that fact that not everyone likes the Abbey Church.

“Not all were ready for such a brazen statement within religious architecture,” Young pointed out.

“For many, modernism was not an appropriate building style for the Catholic faith.”

Critics used terms to describe the Abbey Church such as “devoid of beauty,” “utilitarian” and an “ecclesiastical garage.”

abbey photo of interiorOthers, however, admired it, calling the Abbey Church “the most exciting thing in church architecture since Michelangelo’s great dome,” “one of the great sacred buildings of our time” and “a milestone in the evolution of the architecture of the Catholic Church in this country.”

Young, a member of Our Lady of Angels parish in Minneapolis and a Minnesota native who grew up in Comfrey in the southwestern part of the state, said that although she specializes in modern architectural history, she appreciates more traditional church designs as well.

Church architecture typically reflects the vision of “a group of people trying to figure out what would be good for that moment,” she said. “There’s a reason why it exists.

“When people say, ‘This is not a vessel for the liturgy,’ I say, ‘Have you been there?’ ”

Related events:

  • VictoriaYoungFriday, Oct. 24, 7 p.m.: Evening Prayer in the Abbey and University Church in Collegeville, followed at 7:45 p.m. by a talk by author Victoria M. Young, “Breuer and the Benedictines: A Modern Collaboration,” in the Abbey Chapter House. Book signing and reception afterward.
  • Saturday, Oct. 25, 10 a.m.: Tour of the Abbey and University Church by Victoria M. Young. 11:15 to noon: Book signing in the St. John’s University bookstore.
  • Sunday, Nov. 16, 2 p.m.: Reading, reception and book signing in the sanctuary of Christ Church Lutheran, 3244 34th Ave. S., Minneapolis.
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Time for your Catholic parish to change?

February 12, 2014

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HolinessCultureDoes your parish have lackluster Sunday Masses where people mumble the responses, where only a third of the people sing and where almost everyone skips past the cup at Communion time?

Is the culture of your parish one that allows its members to come and go, live and die, without really being engaged in their faith?

If you’d like to get started helping to reinvigorate your parish so its members have the kind of encounter with Christ which leads to conversion, a richer community life and action that serves others — one that draws others to it because it is so attractive a lifestyle — then Bill Huebsch has a book for you.

“A Culture of Holiness for the Parish” (Acta Publications) is a mere 82 pages in the size of paperback that easily fits into a pocket or purse, but it’s filled with wisdom about the Catholic faith. Huebsch, who is director of pastoral planning, com and its online Vatican II Center, has grasped the meat of what the Second Vatican Council expects of Catholics, and his well-structured process to help Catholic parishes meet those expectations are presented in language others can grasp, too.

Pastors, parish ministers and core leaders of parish ministries and organizations show the way by sharing their own personal stories of seeing God active in their lives. As parishioners feel comfortable telling others about the holiness they feel and see, about the times they’ve been touched by an event or times they’ve felt God in their lives, “home lives are imbued with hospitality, forgiveness and love,” Huebsch writes, and “a new orientation of self-giving love seeps into parish life and reaches out in action to the wider community.”

Through “A Culture of Holiness for the Parish,” any parish can plan, launch and sustain a Catholic community which others will notice for the way its members love God and love their neighbor. Worth a try?

 

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Ease into the changes that are coming to Catholic Mass

March 1, 2011

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The changes in the Mass that Catholics saw following the Second Vatican Council were fought by a few, loved by some and endured and eventually accepted by many.  Now that a new English translation of the Mass is coming our way in Advent 2011, publishers are cranking out explanations to help smooth the transition from words many have said and heard for 40 years to words we’ll say and hear come November.

I read one awful one — I won’t name it lest it get any undue publicity at all — but it was attack-dog like in blasting anything that has happened in Catholic life since 1962 as the reason Rome had to “correct” the Mass.

On the other side of the ledger is “Understanding the Revised Mass Texts,” a product of Liturgy Training Publications in Chicago. Written by Father Paul Turner, a priest of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, MO, this simple, 50-page booklet is a pastorally sensitive work that is well worth the $1.25 per copy. And there are discounts for parishes that purchase in bulk.

Explaining first why and how the Mass text have been revised, the booklet takes a factual yet positive approach to the changes, but it does so with the sensitivity of an understanding and compassionate pastor who knows his flock. Take for example:

“The new translation employs a more formal style than we use in ordinary conversation. Many sentences are longer. The vocabulary is broader. As with all change, there will be challenges. The adjustments will take some effort, but the results should be worth that effort.”

And then there’s this:

“By turning attention to the original Latin texts, the Church has raised some unintended fears. Many Catholics who lived through the era of the Second Vatican Council want reassurance that its reforms will remain. They hope that the recent compassionate outreach to those who prefer the 1962 Mass in Latin does not foreshadow a wholesale withdrawal of the vernacular. It does not. English is here to stay. It will be enriched through a reexamination of the original texts in Latin.”

Father Turner points to differences in attitude and rhythm that some may notice, and, as he walks readers through the various places in the Mass where words have been changed, consistently reinforces that the aim was to enrich our prayer by bringing the language closer to the original, often highlighting echoes of passages from Scripture.

He notes where changes are small and minor and when they are major, as in the words of the Gloria and the Creed. The previous translation and the new translation are printed side by side so the changes can be absorbed visually, too.

The changes are pointed out, the differences explained, and the purpose for the change named: Here’s what the translators were trying to achieve. Again, it’s a very positive analysis, one that seems intended to help Catholics appreciate the benefit that the translators were aiming for.

Yet this work isn’t afraid to point out that the word “consubstantial” that we’ll be reciting in the new translation of the Creed is, in the author’s words, “a mouthful” and “a very unusual word.”

“In the entire revised translation of the Mass, this is probably the one word that will raise the most eyebrows,” the booklet notes. It certainly did for this writer, and I’m not convince it isn’t a mistake. The meaning and use are explained, though, as describing a very unusual thing — the nature of Jesus Christ — and Jesus is not like anything else.

I’m still not sure that isn’t simply rationalizing, but I’m going to take heart in Father Turner’s reminder that after a time and so many uses Catholics will get use to the new language.

Others won’t think so, of course, and their proof may be in those who haven’t gotten over those Mass changes from the 1960s. I’m hoping, though, that these changes are going to have a side benefit that will outweigh whatever negative emotions linger from these new revisions of the liturgy: Helping Catholics better understand and appreciate the Mass. As the changes are explained, booklets like “Understanding the Revised Mass Texts” take each part of the liturgy and help readers see its purpose, why it’s part of the Catholic tradition, how we are brought closer to God and to one another through our prayer together. That’s a good thing. — bz

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Conflict boils over in novel about post-Vatican II parish life

June 16, 2008

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“Waiting for Mozart,”
by Charles Pilon


A page-turning novel because of the drama in the conflict, yet not exactly bestseller quality?

Interesting characters, but sometimes quasi-believable stereotypes?

Spot-on lessons for life, yet propaganda-filled?

The questions were the aftertaste from furiously reading Chuck Pilon’s “Waiting for Mozart.”

It’s a good novel, if you judge by the fact that you just have to keep reading to find out how the conflict is going to end between the pastor and the parish council at fictional St. Mary Parish in fictional Mapleton, Minn.

But the getting there isn’t smooth.

I’m certain there is a parish somewhere where disagreements are unknown, but I’ll bet everyone who has ever been involved with a parish council – or run up against seemingly unreasonable leadership in any setting – will both recognize and empathize with the people caught up in St. Mary’s tempest.

Pilon’s captured the flavor of some of that in the post-Vatican Council II church. Since he formerly served as a priest, I’m sure that he’s writing in part from real-life experiences.

Yet the jagged edges of the writing, the dialogue that just doesn’t sound like any real person speaks, are distracting, from a literary critique point of view. I’d have loved to have read this book after a tougher editor got a hold of the text.

For contrast, think of the crisp repartee in the play “Mass Appeal,” for example, superb writing on a similar subject matter.

As delicately as it is worded, there’s propaganda on these pages, and maybe enough to anger Catholics on several sides of the celibate male priesthood concept. Pilon has an archbishop character predict that, “When the time is right, the Holy Father will make the change in a way that will re-introduce the idea and the practice of having a married clergy. Eventually that will include women.”

That kind of statement would surely earn the darts of one segment of the church, but then the character quickly adds, “That’s my opinion. I think it’s coming, but the Church isn’t ready for it. The people aren’t ready.” And that will just as surely tick off another segment. The permanent diaconate takes a shot as well.

But this is a novel, after all, and it deserves to be read as a novel. The propaganda isn’t hidden, it’s right out there in the open.

And the lessons Pilon shares are worth absorbing, such as:

  • “Sometimes the wrapping is as important as what’s in the package….Commitment and being right aren’t the only important things. You’ve got to reach the listener. It’s possible to always be right and never be heard.”
  • “We’ve got to keep in mind that the really crucial issues, even in today’s church, are few in number. Not many that a guy would want to die for. I don’t have to have an answer for everything.”
  • “The only day worth living is the day I do something to bring people together.”
  • “Be hard on the problem, go easy on the people involved.”
  • “When you’re in the heat of things, it’s hard to remember that war almost never brings peace. You forget that you can’t be a reformer if you think in terms of them and us. That way, everyone loses; nobody finds the Grail. You get fixed on final, forever-like answers. You write the last chapters when the story is still unfolding.”

So, despite it’s lack of perfection, “Waiting for Mozart” is worthy of print and worthy of reading both by the leaders of the church and the People of God, if only so that some of the novel’s lessons enter into those contentious times in church life. — bz

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