Msgr. John Hamilton

Msgr. John Hamilton

November 14, 2011

SHERWOOD PARK – Prior to Vatican II, the Catholic Church celebrated every Mass in Latin. There was much pomp and ceremony, the rules were rigid. The Church was seen as the kingdom of God and everything outside was deemed evil.

"The Church was very authoritarian and prohibitive. You were not allowed to attend services in another Church," said Msgr. John Hamilton, presenting a brief overview of recent Church history.

"If someone within your own family opted to marry a Protestant in a Protestant church, you were not allowed to attend the ceremony."

John XXIII, who was pope from 1957 to 1963, recognized that the Church needed an overhaul. He called an ecumenical council to "throw open the windows and let fresh air into the Church," explained Hamilton, who was ordained in 1962, the same year the Second Vatican Council began.

From Vatican II came changes that reshaped the face of Catholicism, with revised liturgy, stronger emphasis on ecumenism and a new approach to the world.

"Those of you born after 1950 will have no effective memory of Vatican II. You were too young or you weren't even around yet," said Hamilton. "The Church that I grew up in is absolutely changed from the Church that we know now."

Hamilton led the first session of the ongoing faith formation ministry in Sherwood Park's Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish. He is the parish's pastor as well as being vicar-general of the Edmonton Archdiocese. On Nov. 2 he spoke on The Church Through the Lens of the Pastor's Eye.

The ongoing faith formation is for people in RCIA, as well as for Catholics looking to renew their faith.


Vatican II was a traumatic time for many priests and laity, especially older people, who were accustomed to doing things in the same way for years, Hamilton said.

Some older priests viewed the Church as perfect, and not in need of renewal or reform. Instead of a Church based on "pay, pray and obey," the new principles changed the face of the Church.

"There is always a tension between tradition and progress, and the Church always swayed on the side of tradition. By its very nature, the Church was opposed to modernity, democracy, freedom, new ideas, and opposed in many ways to science and technology," said Hamilton.

Pope John XXIII strived to liberate the Church from its "mental imprisonment," he said.

A main principle of Vatican II is that the Church is a mystery incorporating the presence of God, the presence of Jesus Christ in a unity sustained by the Holy Spirit. It is not just an institution, an organization to which we belong.

Another important principle is that the Church is the whole people of God. The gifts and charisms are available to all, not just a select few.


"It is all of us that make up the Church. Our community is marked by a rich diversity of gender, class, education, social status, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and culture. It includes saints and sinners alike," said Hamilton.

The Church was not a museum of saints, as some people believed, but mostly people trying to achieve sainthood. Today, the Church remains an imperfect instrument, but is called for a lofty purpose, to proclaim the kingdom of God for all.

"There is plenty of room for improvement, absolutely. The Church is not perfect because the people in the Church are not perfect," he said. We do the best we can and, under the guidance and influence of the Holy Spirit, are probably on the right track.


Hamilton is not a theologian but said theologians get a bad rap in the Church. They tend to be forward thinkers, fluid in their approach to new ideas and consider initiatives outside the box, whereas the Church is often staid and reluctant to accept new ideas.

"The Church is 2,000 years old. It moves like an iceberg. It takes forever to do anything in the Church."