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  • Nov
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Exciting to live during Vatican II

Posted By November 22, 2013 | 11:18 am | Featured Article #2
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I met Father Robert A. Grattaroti at his parish,  St. Joseph’s in Charlton. The 12-year-old complex sits on 35 acres of beautiful New England fields and woods. One sprawling building houses a church, chapel, rectory, hall and education complex. It is very monastic in style with stone flying buttresses, floating arches and enough corridors and doors to keep a religious community constantly turning around to close doors. It’s worth a visit.
I entered a door signed “Parish Office” with St. Agnes printed on the lintel above. Behind the desk was a full-habited Sister Agnes Patricia Guzzi of the Carmelites of the Eucharist, so I said I must have misread St. Agnes. “Oh, no,” she said, “they call me that, too!”
Father Grattaroti was in his living room, where he soon became very animated and excited as he talked about his priesthood since Vatican II and the calling of the Second Vatican Council. He was a seminary student at the North American College in Rome from 1959 to 1963: the very years of the calling and the preparatory work of the council.
He remembers well that opening day as one of great ceremony.
“I was there – it was spectacular. (Oct. 11, 1962 the feast of the maternity of Mary) At night there was a candlelight ceremony in a packed St. Peter’s Square where John XXIII gave the talk. They called it the ‘moon talk’ because there was a full moon. ‘Even the moon is beckoning us!’ said the Pope. ‘Go home,’ said the Pope and wipe the tears of someone who is sad and tell them ‘the Holy Father loves you,’” the priest remembers him saying.
And so the council opened.
“Not much got done that first session and I was preparing for ordination and my return home,” said Father Grattaroti.
“A precious memory concerns the presence of Bishop Flanagan, Worcester’s bishop at the time, who was in Rome for the council. He consecrated my chalice at the council,” the then-deacon said.
The council had been called on Jan. 25, 1959 in a chapel at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls where Pope John XXIII had gone to celebrate the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The Pope’s action in calling a council surprised his entourage very much. Father Grattaroti remembers that cardinals representing the Roman Curia, as well as leading progressives from their dioceses, informed the Pope that it would take five years to do the preparatory work.  He remembered that Pope John responded, “October 11, 1962 is the opening – ready or not!”
When asked if the 83-year-old Pope John had been diagnosed with stomach cancer by that time, Father Grattaroti said he wasn’t sure. But the Pope was in a hurry, he said. (Pope John XXIII died in June after the first session ended.)
When the plans for the great construction that was required for the almost 3,000 bishops to be presented to the Holy Father, he asked, “Are they angels? Where are the bathrooms?” said Father Grattaroti, laughing.
Father Grattaroti praised the spirituality and gentleness of Pope John XXIII. He compares him to Pope Francis and sees many similarities between the two men.
“Observe everything, correct a little and overlook a lot,” was a phrase he remembers from Pope John. Yet Pope Francis could have said it also. And may yet!
On the day before the conclave that elected Pope Francis, a priest friend of Father Gratarroti’s told him that he went to the tomb of Pope John XXIII and prayed that the Lord would send a holy, simple man to be our pope. On the day after the election he returned to the tomb of John XXIII to offer thanks and found a single flesh-colored rose on the tomb. “I heard you,” was his interpretation, Father Grattaroti said.
Father Grattaroti points out that Pope Francis is his  age, late-70s, and so his take on the council will be as any priest who received the results of the council rather than participated in it. Pope Francis will have an attitude toward the council that is shared and experienced by many of the priests around his own age who are still in the ministry.
Father Grattaroti is critical of what he calls the backward steps taken by the past two popes, especially Pope Benedict. While parts of the translation of the New Roman Missal are beautiful, the collects are awkward, he says. “So why do translations have to be as close as possible to the Latin,” he asks without answering.
“It was an exciting privilege to have lived Vatican II from the beginning of my priesthood until now,” Father Grattaroti said.
– Father Tougas is a retired priest of the Diocese of Worcester.