The Vatican Council and French Canada
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 21 Jan 1965, p. 173-183

Roy, The Most Reverend Maurice, Speaker
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The impact of the Vatican Council on French Canada. The speaker's feeling that the decisions of the Council will not meet opposition in Quebec, but, on the contrary, will serve to support a process of evolution which has already begun. The ecumenical character of the Council. Promoting Christian unity. Activities planned and undertaken. The attitude of Quebec with respect to the "broad-minded view" of the Council. An exploration of this issue by the speaker, asserting that "French Canada has no difficulty in entering the path proposed by the Church." The place of laymen in the Church. The important role of laymen in Quebec. Allowing the language of the people to be used. Quebec's acceptance of changes decreed by the Council. Pluralism. A meeting on common ground of the French idealism and Anglo-Saxon realism. Having confidence in ourselves; considering exporting our culture, our spiritual resources. Striving together in the spirit of the Ecumenical Council.
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21 Jan 1965
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Full Text
JANUARY 21, 1965
The Vatican Council and French Canada
AN ADDRESS BY The Most Reverend Maurice Roy, O.B.E., D.PH., D.TH., D.D., LL.D. ARCHBISHOP OF QUEBEC
CHAIRMAN, The President, Lt. Col. Robert H. Hilborn


In 1947 the youngest Roman Catholic prelate in Canada was named by the Pope to head its oldest diocese and the Most Reverend Maurice Roy became the eleventh Archbishop of Quebec. He returned to the city of his birth, of his baptism, his confirmation, his ordination and his consecration.

A son of Quebec and French Canada, he belongs to all Canada as in every province of our land are those who served with him and who, regardless of the denomination which claimed them on the army religious census, and including the "O.D.s," remember with affection and respect his piety, his serenity, his total absence of fear and his great genius for friendship. One of the first Canadian priests to volunteer for service overseas in the first weeks of the war, he was named chaplain of the Van Doos and disembarked with them in England in December 1939. As a Lt. Col. he served with 1 Cdn Corps in England and in the Sicilian and Italian campaigns, then as Colonel with First Cdn Army in N.W. Europe. He was mentioned in despatches for "extremely courageous conduct" and awarded the Order of the British Empire. In 1946 he was named Bishop Ordinary to the Canadian Armed Forces. Col. Roy was impressive not only for what he was but also for what he did and said. His actions and his qualities are the fruits and the manifestation of the doctrine he preaches: "the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man."

Archbishop Roy took his B.A. at Laval when only 18. After ordination he studied in Paris and returned to teach at Laval with doctorates in both theology and philosophy, (he has since added two more). He became Laval's Chaplain in 1935-Bishop of Trois Riviere at the age of 41 and Archbishop of Quebec at 42.

With the elevation of the Metropolitan See of Quebec to the Primatial See of Canada by Pope Pius XII in 1956, Archbishop Roy thus became Roman Catholic Primate of Canada.

In addition to his British decorations, the French awarded him the Legion of Honour; the Belgians, the Order of Leopold and, as a mark of the ecumenicity of the man, he had the distinction among Roman Catholic prelates of joining an Orange order, when he accepted from the grateful Dutch, the Order of Orange Nassau.

He has participated in the Vatican Councils in Rome where the ecumenical breakthrough has changed the climate of our times. All of us are caught up in the new Reformation, as all Christian churches apply themselves to the theological task of translating traditional concepts into contemporary accents. As all men of goodwill in English-speaking Canada desire to end the two solitudes that have divided us, we are anxious to know of those factors that will greatly affect our fellow citizens in French Canada. I am privileged to present and we are honoured to receive His Excellency the Most Reverend Maurice Roy, Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, who will speak on, "The Vatican Council and French Canada."


It was with great pleasure that I accepted the honour to speak before the members of the Empire Club. This invitation was made by your former president, the Honourable Roland Michener, who is today Canada's High Commissioner to New Delhi. I came to know Mr. Michener well while he was attending courses in French Literature at Laval University in Quebec City. The invitation to speak to you was also made by your new president, Colonel Hilborn, whom I met when we served together in Italy in the 1st Canadian Corps. How can one say no to such distinguished and faithful friends.

In addition, this visit enables me to meet another good friend, Most Reverend Philip Pocock, Coadjutor Archbishop of Toronto, with whom I was closely associated in the work of the Council. It is, in any case, always a pleasure to come to Toronto; pessimists say that we should hurry to make this trip while Ontario and Quebec are still part of the same country; but I am not a pessimist and the beauty of the city and the warm hospitality which I always find here are for me sufficient reasons for a return visit.

I thought that it would be interesting for you to hear about the impact of the Vatican Council on French Canada. In fact, at first glance, we can observe a certain opposition between the aims of the Council and those of Quebec. French Canada has the reputation of being Catholic in a rather aggressive way and of being attached to authoritarian and traditional methods. The Council reveals itself as not exactly Protestant but at least open to broad and ecumenical ideas; it favours a new and more democratic way of living in the Church. What do the people of Quebec think of all this?

I believe I can answer without hesitation: If we judge Quebec, not as we have sometimes imagined it, but according to reality, we can be certain that the decisions of the Council will not meet opposition, but, on the contrary, will serve to support a process of evolution which has already begun.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Council is its ecumenical character. The observers designated by the different Christian churches occupy a place of honour close to the main altar of St. Peter's Basilica; we meet them every morning at their posts, they follow the same time-table as we, with a concentration full of piety which we find edifying; the celebration of Mass and the day itself begin with a spiritual accord which is very moving.

The observers have in their hands all the documents which are submitted to the Fathers of the Council; they listen to everything that is said by those who speak in the Council hall; their impressions and their suggestions are received with the most respectful attention by the Commissions which prepare the schemes for submissions to the general assembly.

Among the observers we were happy to see, at the last session, Dr. Fairweather of Toronto. I personally had the great advantage of receiving many of these gentlemen for dinner; on that occasion, as well as at many other gatherings, much fruiful work was accomplished. There were many exchanges of points of view; questions were clarified, souls met, valuable friendships were formed.

All this has already led to the decree on Ecumenism, adopted by the Council nearly unanimously in 1964. This solemn document opens new paths towards the unity which all desire; it speaks with affection and respect of all the Christian churches and communities separated from the. Roman Catholic Church. It calls for prayers and studies to be made in common which can aid Christians to know each other better and to align themselves according to the ideals proposed by Christ.

I would now like to quote from this document:. "The term "ecumenical movement" indicates the initiatives and activities planned and undertaken, according to the various needs of the Church and as opportunities offer, to promote Christian unity. These are: first, every effort to avoid expressions, judgments and actions which do not represent the condition of our separated brethren with truth and fairness and so make mutual relations with them more difficult; then, "dialogue" between competent experts from different Churches and Communities. At these meetings, which are organized in a religious spirit, each explains the teaching of his Communion in greater depth and brings out clearly its distinctive features. In such dialogue, everyone gains a truer knowledge and more just appreciation of the teaching and religious life of both Communions. In addition, the way is prepared for co-operation between them in the duties for the common good of humanity which are demanded by every Christian conscience; and, wherever this is allowed, there is prayer in common. Finally, all are led to examine their own faithfulness to Christ's will for the Church and accordingly to undertake with vigour the task of renewal and reform."

What is the attitude of Quebec with respect to this broad-minded view of the Council? I can say without fear of contradiction that French Canada has no difficulty in entering the path proposed by the Church. There were in the past, and there still are delicate political problems between English-speaking and French-speaking Canadians; but throughout Quebec the relations between Protestants and Catholics have almost always been easy and even cordial.

Our school system allows non-catholics the right to have their own schools for their children even where they are a tiny minority, and these schools enjoy the same financial and other advantages as those of the majority. We have long been accustomed in the secular sphere to seeing persons of different religions enjoying the same rights under a common government. These friendly social relations are accompanied by a feeling of respect for religious convictions which are not our own.

As for myself, I began my classical studies long before the Council, exactly 50 years ago, in the old Seminary of Quebec, where the attachment to the Catholic faith is as obvious as it is long-standing. During the course of my studies I cannot remember one of my professors who ever said anything unkind about our separated brethren. I think this feeling is general in Quebec. There is also no difficulty in entering into the ecumenical movement. The week of prayer for unity, in which we now find ourselves, is celebrated yearly with growing fervour.

In Quebec City itself, there is each day this week an ecumenical meeting in a different church: Anglican, Presbyterian or Catholic, and Christians of different Churches listen to readings from the Bible and offer prayers for unity; this meeting will take place tomorrow night in my cathedral. It should also be noted that the project of constructing a single religious pavilion which is to be a Christian and ecumenical pavilion, for the universal exposition of 1967, a project approved by the Canadian episcopate, was prepared in Montreal thanks to the collaboration of the representatives of all Churches under the presidency of Cardinal Leger. With the Council the Church is thus well embarked on the broad highway of ecumenism.

Another important question studied in Rome was that of the place of laymen in the Church. We know that the Vatican Council was not content to clarify the power of the Bishops in the Church. It also insisted, with a precision which had not been so evident in the past, upon the rights and responsibilities of laymen.

Many must have been surprised to hear the Vatican Council give the following directive in the Constitution on the Church: "Let the Reverend Pastors recognize and hold up the dignity of the laity and their responsibility in the Church; they should willingly use their prudent advice, and trustingly assign to them duties in service to the Church, allowing them freedom and room for action, even encouraging them in such a way that they will undertake tasks on their own initiative. In the spirit of fatherly love, let them give careful consideration to the projects, the wishes and desires sugested by the laity. Let them also respectfully recognize that just freedom, to which everyone in the earthly city is entitled.

"From this kind of familiar exchange between the laity and their Pastors a great many goods are to be expected for the Church; by it the layman's sense of personal responsibi lity is strengthened, his eagerness encouraged, and his abilities more readily applied to the Pastor's work. And the latter, aided by the experience of laymen, can more clearly and properly decide upon matters spiritual as well as temporal, so that the whole Church, reinforced in all its members, may more efficaciously accomplish its mission for the life of the world."

We might, perhaps, be led to believe that a "priest ridden province" like Quebec could not conform to this directive of the Council without imposing upon itself a kind of revolution. I do not believe this. In fact, precisely in the affairs of the Church, laymen have always played a very important role in Quebec.

Our system of parish administration even gives them a larger responsibility than they have in other places. The old system of parish administration by council, which formerly existed in the Church, has disappeared almost everywhere, in Europe and in North America, but it has remained in Quebec. Our church wardens are not simply councillors; they are, by virtue of civil and ecclesiastical law, the real administrators of all the goods of the parish, under the presidency of the parish priest. They are elected by the parishioners for life. Each parish council is made up from 15 to 20 wardens and the parish priest can make no important financial commitment without them. Furthermore, in certain cases, when it is a question of contracting a debt, for example, a vote of all the heads of families in the parish is required.

This institution of the parish council has existed for three centuries and it functions in every parish in Quebec. It trains laymen to share administrative responsibilities with the clergy in the Church and provides the valuable experience of free discussion with the clergy. Each parish keeps a special register where the minutes of the meetings of the parish priest with his wardens are recorded. Historians can find therein an account of discussions, animated and sometimes stormy, during which the lay administrators convincingly demonstrated that they were well aware of the right they have, to say no as well as yes.

We should also point out the role played by laymen, in many dioceses, in the distribution of church-sponsored public assistance, which they deal with very often without any intervention from church authorities. Laymen have also performed important functions in education, in diocesan commissions on the liturgy, in missionary work, finances, etc.

The Council obviously wishes to encourage even greater lay participation in all church activities at every level. It is interesting to note that our faithful are already well prepared and that the greater responsibilities will be willingly granted by the bishops and parish priests and just as willingly assumed by laymen.

Finally, one of the important decisions of the Council was to allow the language of the people to be used, instead of Latin for a great part of the liturgical prayers. The Coun cil has decided to let the bishops of each particular country decide which prayers are to be said in the native language. Here in Canada the bishops have used the powers given to them by the Council in a liberal fashion and they have replaced most of the Latin texts with prayers in English or in French. We should point out that this sweeping change was brought about by a unanimous vote of all the bishops of Canada, something which many thought impossible, short of a miracle.

Those who were convinced that Quebec was blindly attached to tradition may think that these changes were received with regret or at least with uneasiness. Such is not the case. The faithful have been accustomed, since time immemorial, to hearing the Gospels read in their native language at Sunday Mass. The fact that, henceforth, the use of their language will be extended much further in the celebration of the Mass and all the sacraments was received as good news. The new liturgical directions were scheduled to begin on January 1st; the Canadian Episcopate Law has decided on another date, namely March 7, because the printers could not deliver the new liturgical books on time. The faithful do not ask:: "Why have you changed liturgical usage?" but, rather "When are you going to decide to begin?"

Obviously when it comes to the French language, Quebec is always ready to speak it and on occasion to fight for it. But if we want to look at the problem from a higher perspective, I believe we must recognize that there is something greater involved than a patriotic reaction or a political tradition. There is the acceptance of a fact, of an obvious characteristic of modern society, and particularly of Canadian society.

This characteristic, we call pluralism; it derives from certain diversities of race and culture which must be respected. We have here something more than the attitude of one ethnic group toward another in the bosom of this country; it is a universal problem. The Catholic Church has been aware of it for a long time; established as it is in every country of the world, it learned to respect all races, to speak all languages, and to adopt itself to all political regimes.

Nevertheless it cannot be denied that, with the Council, She has taken a further step on this road! She had asked, up to now, that most of her children use a single language, Latin, for the principal texts of the liturgy. Henceforth she opens the door wide to every language in the world. And it is certain that it is felt more clearly than before as a result of this change the genuine respect which she has always had for every nation.

This new policy destroys the suspicions of colonialism, it prevents many jealousies, and above all it underlines the fact that, if we really want to help men to become better, we must learn to take them as they are.

I believe that it is here that French idealism and AngloSaxon realism can meet on common ground. Pluralism is staring us in the face all over the world; it must not frighten us in our own country. It is not up to me to go into details which, particularly at this time, would have too narrow a political reference. But I think I may say this: We have seen that, when we recognize more clearly than before the value of each national culture and the sincerity of men who do not have the same religion as we ourselves, there is no accentuation of already existing differences, but rather a relaxing of the spirit and a greater desire for understanding and unity. What is true of the world as a whole should not be false within the confines of Canada.

The pioneers who established themselves in Canada found incomparable natural wealth. They cultivated the soil, exploited the forests and the mines, and thanks to their initiative and their hard work, they produced riches and goods which their country exports all over the world. Though we can in a few years, harvest wheat and mine copper from the earth, we cannot improvise a culture, a civilization. It is from Europe, Great Britain and France that we brought the language we speak and the social institutions which make us a civilized people. And we have not been content with what the pioneers brought with them in the way of secular and religious knowledge and social habits. We have realized that we must continue to borrow from Europe the means to maintain and develop our civilization. We have brought in from England and France, books, technicians and professors to stimulate our intellectual activity; we have, in a word, long remained, in the field of culture, an importing nation.

It was not easy, in a country such as ours, where the inhabited section is a thin ribbon which runs from the Atlantic to the Pacific to arrange for intellectual and econo mic exchanges which would assure the development of a civilization. Nevertheless we have succeeded and we now possess great intellectual centres; among these Toronto is certainly one of the most important.

Now that we have great universities, an intense economic life, great social institutions, we should feel able to look about, not only inside Canada, but also outside, and realize that our two cultures enable us better than others to face up to the pluralism of the modern world. We have too long regarded our cultural duality simply as a problem; it is time to look at it as a natural resource. We are a great Christian nation and Christianity was not made for any particular race but for all men. Although the Council is primarily speaking to the Catholic Church at the same time, it gives voice to the feelings which are in the heart of every generous man willing to put himself at the service of his fellow man.

It is time that we have enough confidence in ourselves to consider our culture, our spiritual resources as objects to be exported, and after having put our own affairs in order, we should offer the underdeveloped nations a little of the peace and prosperity which we have enjoyed for so long. We have obligations towards our brothers all over the world. Canada should leave herself open to a larger extent to great ideas and prepare herself for noble deeds. Quebec which has already given thousands of missionaries to foreign lands and is preparing to adopt a system of education which will be one of the most modern in the world, is ready to march in this direction with the other Canadian provinces. I believe that with such a broad vision we shall be in a better position to settle our internal problems.

Whatever solution the statesmen arrive at, I am certain that it will be a happier and more honourable one if we strive for it together, in the spirit of the Ecumenical Council, with initiative, mutual respect and true brotherly love.


Thanks of this meeting were expressed by the Rt. Rev. E. M. Howse, a Director of the Empire Club.

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The Vatican Council and French Canada

The impact of the Vatican Council on French Canada. The speaker's feeling that the decisions of the Council will not meet opposition in Quebec, but, on the contrary, will serve to support a process of evolution which has already begun. The ecumenical character of the Council. Promoting Christian unity. Activities planned and undertaken. The attitude of Quebec with respect to the "broad-minded view" of the Council. An exploration of this issue by the speaker, asserting that "French Canada has no difficulty in entering the path proposed by the Church." The place of laymen in the Church. The important role of laymen in Quebec. Allowing the language of the people to be used. Quebec's acceptance of changes decreed by the Council. Pluralism. A meeting on common ground of the French idealism and Anglo-Saxon realism. Having confidence in ourselves; considering exporting our culture, our spiritual resources. Striving together in the spirit of the Ecumenical Council.