With the passing of our dear Monsignor Mouton, several people have asked if I would share the paper I wrote after our conversation on Vatican Council II. I have decided to share it in this format. Because this paper is my own work that I created for an assignment in a graduate course, I will not be sharing digital copies. As with any author’s work, this paper is subject to copyright and may not be used or copied without my express permission. To share with others, please link to or direct them to this website rather than copying and pasting anywhere.
The following is a brief summary of an interview of Msgr. Mouton conducted in March 2017. It is not a complete summary due to the length restrictions of the assignment. It includes certain terminology and ideas that are related to my study of Theology. If you have any questions or thoughts, I would love to hear them and would be more than willing to clarify any part of this work. I considered it an honor to be able to interview Msgr. Mouton about this subject so thank you for your interest and love for such a great servant of God.
Documents of Vatican II
March 31, 2017
Your name:_Angela Frugé____________________________________________
Interviewee’s Name:_Monsignor Richard Mouton_________________________
Relationship to you:_Monsignor in residence at our parish and family friend____
Summary of the conversation:
Msgr. Mouton actually attended the Council as a peritus in nomine to Bishop Maurice Schexnayder from the diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana. They attended all, but the second session of the Council. Msgr. Mouton was in his early thirties during the Council and not yet a Monsignor when the majority of the other periti were closer to fifty or older. He recalled that Bishop Schexnayder had originally planned to take another Monsignor from the parish to the Council with him, but he was ordained a bishop so that was out. Msgr. Mouton shared a funny anecdote with me about learning that he would attend the Council. Bishop Schexnayder called him into his office and informed him that he would be traveling with him to the Vatican for the Second Council. Msgr. said he responded with “This is the greatest grace I have received since ordination!” The bishop told him it wasn’t a grace. Msgr. wasn’t going to argue with him, but he insisted that it was indeed a grace!
Msgr. Mouton told of the travel to and from the Council and how they had missed the second session because the bishop didn’t feel up to it health wise. He recalled many of the priests, bishops, and cardinals that he saw or met while attending the Council and was even in the same tribune as Yves Congar and Hans Kung for the conciliar congregations during the third session. As a peritus, he assisted not only his bishop, but others from Louisiana if they wanted to draw up an intervention. He was only called to do so once for Bishop Charles Greco of Alexandria, Louisiana on the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Msgr. Mouton was also able to attend a meeting of the American Bishops where John Courtney Murray, S.J. spoke about Religious Liberty. He recalled how Murray’s ideas on religious liberty were prominent in Dignitatis Humanae.
I asked Msgr. about the feeling people had about the Council and if there were those who made an effort to learn about the documents and what went on there. He said that initially people did not feel one way or the other about the Council. The regular layman in the pew didn’t really know much about it and didn’t really ask about it, either. In perspective, he pointed out that it took a while for the documents themselves to be translated into the vernacular so it was not like the bishops or attendees of the Council could bring the texts back to their dioceses and hand it out to the people. He said that the people were willing to follow the lead of their bishops and pastors as changes began to take place. However, this is where some confusion and diverting from the message of Vatican II occurred. There were many priests or bishops who read into the Council something that was not there and began to interpret the documents and the faith from a viewpoint that was not intended. In many areas of the country, the faithful were being led astray by priests that were adapting or adding elements into the liturgy that were not authorized and could be considered scandalous. The people were now specifically called to active participation in the Mass, but because they did not really know what that meant they were susceptible to abuses that occurred in their parishes. Msgr. Mouton stressed the point that there was to be no change to the letter of the liturgical canon despite the use of vernacular of the renewed/restored view of the Church. I asked Msgr. Mouton about those who feel/felt that the Council was a bad thing and led to many abuses and a lack of faith in the Church. He disagrees with that argument. His feeling is that the Council was a good thing and nothing within the events of the Council or within the documents is wrong. They were in line with what the Church has believed from the beginning of the faith and strived to return many principles back into the lives of the Church and her people. He believes the problem came about due to implementation, or lack thereof. He said there was no real plan for implementation when the Council was over. It took quite a while for additional texts or instruction to come that gave light to how implementation of the documents was to look. Because there was no specific plan for implementation, it left the door open for individual interpretation of the Council which led to some of the “horror” stories we often hear of today. When asked if our area had encountered any of the sorts of abuses that occurred, he stated that we were protected, so to speak, by our Southern and Catholic culture. The South, in general, tends to be very conservative and the clergy and the laity pretty much continued that trend after the Council in the ways that they incorporated Vatican II into their parishes. South Louisiana is also a very Catholic geographical area by nature, where currently over 50% of the population living within the boundaries of the Diocese of Lafayette are Catholic. The Catholic faith is very much ingrained within the culture of the area and continues to be visible in secular society.
I asked Msgr. Mouton to tell me about John XXIII and Paul VI, and asked if they were anything alike. He said they were very much different. He felt that Paul VI was more like Pius XII, and John XXIII turned out to be a surprise. He was older and everyone thought that he would fill in the gap for a short time until the next younger pope came along. It was a surprise when he announced the Council fairly soon after becoming pope. He also recalled what he had learned about John XXIII’s reason for calling for the Council. Msgr. Mouton stated that he was told that John XXIII did indeed want to open the doors of the Church and return to her roots. The pope felt that if the updating was done and the Council expressed anew what the Church had always believed, it would make the Church appear as she really was. He hoped that when the Church was seen as her true self that people would return or join the flock once again and there could be a harmony within the Church and the world. Msgr. could see the value in this idea, but felt like it had not materialized as the Pope had wanted.
I also asked Msgr. Mouton what he felt was the greatest result that came out of the Council. His response was that allowing the vernacular of the liturgy brought about the greatest change – good change. He stated that before the use of the vernacular, the faithful would sit through the whole Mass without speaking a word to anyone and often left the same way. When the vernacular began, a new emphasis of the social aspect of the liturgy came about. People began to see and better understand the communal character of the Church and gained a truer sense of being a community in Christ. He also said the people were better able to see the focus on Christ. This has always been the focus of the Church, but there was once again a stress on Jesus over all else.
Your thoughts about what you heard:
This was a very enlightening conversation for me. Not many people get to speak to someone who was actually at the Council and saw its workings firsthand. It made me appreciate all of the things that I take for granted about the faith, the vernacular in the liturgy, a personal and deep relationship with Christ, active participation in Mass, the sense of communion as the Body of Christ, etc. I can see how the implementation of Vatican II principles was not a strong point initially and how that could have led to some misinterpreting the “spirit” of the Council. I think implementation is still in process even today. It will likely be an ongoing process and as the world around us changes, our implementation may have to be adapted as well. Msgr. Mouton’s words about the vernacular in the liturgy make sense to me. I know some people who say we lost a lot by dropping Latin, but I think what we have gained is of great importance. Understanding ourselves as a community is critical not only to our faith and how we interact with each other as a Church, but also how we interact with those in the world.
It also strikes me how this is not just a story of the Church, but a story of a person. Msgr. Mouton related how Vatican II affected the Church in his time and his place within it. However, Vatican II is the story of each one of us. We are all affected by Vatican II and it has made a difference in all of our lives whether we knew the Church before the Council or not. All of us can credit the developments of the Council to specific areas in our lives if we really stop and think about it. I think our story has to include the efforts to continue what we learned from the Second Vatican Council and strive to live it as faithfully as we can.