“Challenge, Change, Faith: Catholic Australia and the Second Vatican Council”

Last Sunday night Compass featured a film which was mainly made in the Melbourne Archdiocese called “Challenge, Change, Faith: Catholic Australia and the Second Vatican Council”. It was produced for the Burke Family Trust by X-Ray Vision. It features a lot of people we know, and uses some film footage from the Melbourne archives that I have been lucky enough to see in full (you will see Rachel Naughton, our archivist, listed in the credits).

It starts with our own Archbishop celebrating an Extraordinary Form mass at Caulfield (pick the people you know in the congregation!), and then launches into a description of Catholic life in Australia in the 1950’s (predominantly Irish), the election of John XXIII, the Council, the changes to the liturgy, the aftermath of the Council.

It includes a real mixed bag of commentators – everyone from Cardinal Pell to Bishop Robinson to Fr Bob Maguire – but has the virtue of telling the narrative by stringing together excerpts from these interviews: it is “all in their own words”. For this reason, the documentary actually invites deeper study and conversation: you want to say “Yes, that’s exactly right”, or “No, that isn’t the way it was”, or “Yes, but…”. There is no almighty omnipresent invisible narrator who gives the authoritative interpretation – you are aware that you are dealing with impressions and personal stories and interpretations. While the interviewees are perhaps weighted more on the “left” than on the “right”, the producers are careful not play the stories off against one another. Nor are they heavy handed with the message. The archival film footage – both local and from Rome – is really excellent.

If you missed it, you can watch it all here on the Compass Website and find out more about it (or purchase a copy for educational purposes) by visiting this website.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to ““Challenge, Change, Faith: Catholic Australia and the Second Vatican Council”

  1. Matthias

    Sadly Bishop Robinson called the Bible a collection of stories. Humm hear that usually in the UCA rather than the Catholic church

  2. I watched the first few minutes and couldn’t bear to watch more it was so riddled with mistakes.

    Vatican II did not authorize communion in the hand (a much latter indult after the fact). The traditional mass does not date from the 1640s (the missal itself was authorized in 1570 but dates badck liturgically way before then). That wasn’t what a 1950s congregation would have looked like (hats rather than mantillas unless it was all Italian migrants).

    So did it get any better as it went on?

    • I bridled at some of the things that some of the interviewees said too – but then I realised that it wasn’t the producers of the documentary saying these things – they didn’t give an opinion or push a particular barrow or make any statement such as “this or that happened” – it was the individual commentators giving their own take on things. For instance, + George Card. P. had a very different take on things to Mr Costigan. I think the brilliance of allowing the interviewees to tell it as they saw it is that it left room for us to argue with them. At the same time, it is clear that this is how these folk understand and like to retell the story, and we can learn from that too.

      So I can’t say that it “got better”, but rather I realised what kind of a documentary it was, and what the producers were aiming at, and was happy to live with that. I guess working in the area of dialogue, I am used to sitting back and listening to the other person have their say about how they see things. That’s fine: its their story. Then I give my ideas. We move on from there.

      It’s quite different when someone (eg. a documentary maker) takes a particular biased view of some historical subject and ham-fistedly foists it on me. That really annoys me. They don’t give any room for discussion. This often happens with ABC/Compass produced programs. Then I switch it off. But this program was better than that. It will be a useful teaching tool if it is used by a well informed and wise teacher.

    • That wasn’t what a 1950s congregation would have looked like (hats rather than mantillas unless it was all Italian migrants

      And believe it or not, they actually dealt with that fact later in the film! The opening mass was not a re-enactment of a 1950’s mass, it was a real liturgy here in Caulfield celebrated by our Archbishop! I don’t think anyone suggested that it was supposed to be what mass was like back in the 1950’s!

      • Past Elder / Terry Maher

        Wish I’d have seen it. I was at hundreds of Masses in the 1950s, on the altar, in the pew, in the choir loft, you name it.

        • I will try and watch some more (its available online Past Elder) but my point was not about different opinions – that’s to be expected and fair enough, it is about factual errors.

          My problem is that if they can’t choose ‘theologians’ who actually know something about the topic, and give misleading voiceovers right from the very beginning, the whole program is likely to be misleading at best, downright deceptive at worst.

          • Past Elder / Terry Maher

            I think David is saying it was a recent EF, not a vintage clip. At any rate, an Extraordinary Form is absolutely nothing whatever like a preconciliar Mass other than most of the externals — before the Revolution, one did not have to acknowledge the validity of some other rite in order to celebrate it, this WAS the Roman rite, and there was nothing extraordinary about it in the sense now meant. To attend such a show now and think you have something of the Roman rite is like going to the zoo and think you know the jungle.

            • Well, certainly the EF today would be a different experience from the regular Sunday Mass of yesteryear. Partly because absolutely every soul there present would be a devout Catholic and intently serious about what they are doing. In addition, generally EF mass-goers today make a real effort to educate themselves so that they can follow the Latin text, and the priests who are doing it are real devotees of this form of the Roman Rite, and have a genuine love for it, so the quality of the “ars celebrandi” on display is bound to be one heck of a lot better than it ever was at your average parish mass pre 1969. And on top of that, they also make a real effort in terms of music. So, ironically PE, the “revolution” as you like to call it, has actually resulted in the traditional form of the mass being conducted much better than it ever was before there was another way of doing it.

            • Past Elder / Terry Maher

              Congratulations. That is one of the finest pieces of postconciliar bullroar I have heard. It takes its place with the rationalisation of the novus ordo as what the Pius V Mass intended to be, but due to the limitations of sources and scholarship at the time, could not be, therefore it is better by the standards of the old Mass itself.

              So now, all that stuff that is excused as wheat and tares, part of the incarnational reality of the church, the church as a hospital for sinners not a resort for the righteous, the human and divine nature of his body as of him himself, all that stuff which is a GOOD thing or at least a vibrant thing about the Brave New Church and certainly not an objection, is all of a sudden just the opposite, and having only devout and intently serious Catholics present, who can follow the Latin, priests who genuinely love it and make an effort musically, is a GOOD thing and proof that the Brave New Church even does the “old” Mass better now that a generation later it is allowed as long as you do not deny the new Imperial religion.

              Sorry David, not-so-devout and not-so-intently serious Catholics, people who don’t know Latin as I do, priests who are less than the best or maybe just having a bad day as humans tend to have, and ho-hum musical effort is part of the deal — it will be in the Divine Service I will attend later, it was in the preconciliar church, and it is in the new church to which you belong.

              What is not is to haul out ideal parish conditions, a perfection more characteristic of the eternal table of the Lamb than those now, as a calling point, especially as regards something that the vast majority of the world’s nominal Catholics will never see, let alone the rareified circumstances in which those who do delude themselves into thinking they have any experience at all of it.

              Get out of the Roman rubber room before it kills you.

          • What it ISN’T misleading about is the popular perceptions of what Vatican II was and meant. It is a very accurate portrayal of THAT!

  3. I’ve been interested in the Australian experience of Vatican II for some time now, and so I checked out this programme’s website last week (the Compass website didn’t have a transcript). I suspected that the website’s “Talent profiles” page told me all I needed to know about its agenda: Not one of the priests interviewed could be bothered wearing conspicuously clerical attire, and the rest of the interviewees seemed pretty ‘Spirit of Vatican II’. If I understand correctly, did they not interview anyone who opposed the illicit marriage of Revelation and Revolution and the bastard rites which issued therefrom? Didn’t the producers think to visit an S.S.P.X. chapel and interview one of the older members of the congregation? They had a token Aborigine (despite the fact that, by the look of her, she wasn’t even old enough to remember the early post-Vatican-II period, though corrrect me if I’m wrong), but they couldn’t find a token Traditionalist? I suppose that that wouldn’t have ‘woven seamlessly’ into their ‘narrative’.