For the average Catholic, the Year of Faith may not mean much beyond some references from the priest in the pulpit and inserts in the weekly bulletins.
"I think they may be missing something," said Jean Thompson, who works in the Christian Initiation program for the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. They have so many other things going on in their lives that claim their attention, that they could be missing its significance, she said.
Pope Benedict XVI called for the Year of Faith in October 2011 in his "Porta Fidei,'' proclaiming the year would be held from Oct. 11, 2012, to Nov. 24, 2013. It marks the 50th anniversary of Vatican II and the 20th anniversary of the publication of "The Catechism of the Catholic Church,'' according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
(Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich) Marita Forr receives Holy Communion from Father John Slovikovski during a recent noon Mass at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. Catholics are observing the Year of Faith in tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council as well as the 20th anniversary of the publication of “The Catechism of the Catholic Church.’’ After Vatican II, the Mass was celebrated in English in America and the parishioners were encouraged to have a more active role in the church.
The latter is a collection of the church's beliefs which has been revised over the years.
The last time the Catholic Church celebrated a Year of Faith was more than 50 years ago, when Pope Paul VI called for one to mark the 19th centenary of the martyrdom of SS. Peter and Paul. Its purpose was to honor the two saints 1,900 years after they died for their faith.
Vatican II, which began its first session on Oct. 11, 1962, was a milestone in the church's history. It made sweeping changes in the church, including the way the Mass was conducted. In the United States, the language changed from Latin to English, altars were turned from back to front and people could suddenly see what the priest was doing during the Mass.
Thompson, who grew up in Fall River, Mass., near the Canadian border, said before Vatican II, she heard the priest speak in French when they went to the French-speaking church and other times she heard the priest speaking Latin when the family went to another nearby Catholic church.
But she definitely remembers the Mass changing when she was about 8 years old.
"I was amazed. I understood, and I was glad,'' she said. "Until then my brother, sisters and I read along from our picture missals.''
Thompson assists people who want to join the Catholic Church by preparing them to be baptized, confirmed and receive Holy Eucharist as adults, which she said is done according to decrees that came out of Vatican II.
"The church decided that adults who wanted to be baptized should not be treated as babies," she said.
That's just one of the many changes.
"There was so much that was introduced so quickly,'' she said. "Twenty-five years later the dust was still settling but in the 25 years after that, I think we've become more accepting of the changes.''
Vatican II also had a profound effect on priests. Father Clement Gardner, who is pastor of St. Michael's Church in Hollidaysburg, compared the iconic event to one that ebbs and flows.
"It goes back and forth like a tsunami,'' said Gardner, who added that parishioners have a relationship with the church that either "is in the process of thriving or in the process of declining.''
The changes brought by Vatican II "opened the windows'' in the church that hadn't seen such change since the Protestant Reformation, Gardner said. They included increasing the roles of the laity, especially women and children.
The council also fostered the concept of the church as a community which led to the formation of parish councils, encouraging people to take a greater part in the operation of their parishes, Gardner said.
People were led to participate in the Mass as well, including children. Roles of liturgical ministers, such as readers and cantors, were expanded.
"It used to be the only thing for people to do was pray, pay and obey,'' he said. "I never dreamed I'd see lay people giving out [Holy] Communion.''
Monsignor Michael Becker, who is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Lakemont, said he saw the changes from Vatican II while he was in seminary. He took part in an inter-seminary program, allowing him to take courses at Lutheran and Methodist institutions. This was something hardly ever done before Vatican II, he said.
"But we began to realize that there was certain overlapping, especially in the particular area of Scripture,'' Becker said. "We found out we were looking at the same book.''
That feeling of common ground is seen in another outgrowth of Vatican II. Groups like the Ecumenical Conference of Greater Altoona, which brings together ministers of different Christian traditions to promote fellowship and greater understanding, are a direct result of the council, he said.
Becker believes it's important to reflect on the actions of the council.
"The Year of Faith invites us to tap into and study the documents of Vatican II, revive that spirit of the council that was an opening of the doors to help deepen our own faith,'' he said.
Bishop Mark Bartchak has made it a point to reach out to young people as part of his celebration, said diocesan spokesman Tony DeGol.
In October, the bishop held a social at the Calvin House in Duncansville for ages 18 to 39 from parishes across the diocese. DeGol said the bishop is planning other activities geared to the young adults.
Father John Slovikovski, a priest in residence at the Cathedral, likened the Year of Faith, to a marriage that has lasted for many years.
After being together for several years, a husband and wife tend to get comfortable and may take one another for granted, maybe not listening as well as they should even though they have a loving relationship.
The same is true of the relationship between man and God, and the Year of Faith is a time of renewal for people to reassess their faith relationship with God, Slovikovski said.
He is spearheading activities for the observance.
Activities include a pilgrimage to Rome led by the bishop this summer, a special Eucharistic Adoration the bishop presided at to start the year in October, weekly educational bulletin inserts for all diocesan churches written by Slovikovski and public educational courses.
In his apostolic letter, Benedict said Catholics are called to "an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world.'' He said they should view this conversion as opening the "door of faith.''
That's why Catholics should get involved with the Year of Faith, Slovikovski said. It's a chance to refresh their walk with God, sort of recharge their spiritual batteries, he said.
"I think the [Catholic] Church is concerned that secularism is creeping into our lives,'' Slovikovski said. "This is a call to come back to a renewed faith. It's an opportunity to recognize that the most important person in your life is Jesus Christ.''