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EARLY 1970s - A Vatican II Story With Father Heller

EARLY 1970s - A Vatican II Story With Father Heller

Pope John XXIII announced the Second Vatican Council in 1959 and the convocations began in 1962.  The first Council document, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, was published the following year, and many documents later the Council ended in 1965.

The changes in how we celebrate Mass and the other sacraments began to appear at St. James.  The altar was moved forward and the priest no longer stood with his back to the people:  More English, less Latin.  Lay readers.  Communion in the hand.  And anxiety and opposition arose, along with rejoicing.

A parish meeting was convened.  Father Heller listened to everyone who had something to say.  At the end of the meeting, he stood and here is how one parishioner remembers his words:

“Father Heller said, ‘I have been a priest for more than 30 years, a happy priest.  I have been your pastor since 1953.  I love St. James.  St. James is a wonderful parish.  I have thought and prayed about these changes that are taking place.  I do not want to end my priesthood a sour and bitter man.  So I am going to embrace what my Church is asking of me, and I am hoping you will come along with me.’  And most of us did.”

In this photo, Msgr. Heller is celebrating a First Holy Communion Mass before changes in the Liturgy resulting from the Second Vatican Council. The sanctuary was enclosed by the marble altar rail with a closed brass gate in the center. The gate was removed.  The priest faced the crucifix during the celebration of Holy Mass. The tabernacle was on the altar. Baptisms took place in the Baptistry located in the vestibule at the front entrance of the church. Today the Baptistry is the St. Anthony Chapel and the Baptismal font is in the sanctuary. The wooden reredos (an ornamental wall behind an altar) was a few feet forward; today it is against the wall. The priest would enter and leave the sanctuary from behind the reredos.  A door behind the reredos led to the sacristy.  Though not a change of Vatican II, the decorative wooden pinnacle atop the reredos was reduced in height to give more visibility to the rose window.  The lower half of the pinnacle which was removed is now the stand on which the Advent Wreath is placed in the sanctuary each Advent.

The rose window had sentimental significance to the parishioners when it was installed during the 1951-52 enlargement of the church.   It was dedicated in memory of Sister M. Callista, IHM (1912-1951) who taught first grade in the 1940s.