Tag Archives: Liturgical catechesis

Catechetics in the seminary

Last week, I spent some time at the seminary teaching on catechetics. What a fantastic few days. It was difficult to know how to pitch it, given that I’m used to speaking to adults in the parish without a great deal of theological background. But how refreshing to be able to share some catechetical principles along with concrete examples from our parish, with a wonderful group of seminarians. We discussed different experiences of catechesis – what makes good practice and what makes bad, we explored the pedagogy of God in the GDC and compared methodologies to it, we looked at the goals of catechesis outlined by Mgr FD Kelly as well as his ecclesial method, we looked at liturgical catechesis, particularly how to teach ‘from’ and ‘to’ the rite, we discussed the importance of the four dimensions of Christian life in catechetics, and the ‘symphony’ of the Catholic faith whose main themes are the five foundational truths. It was an enjoyable and inspiring three days, and I was privileged to be able to share ideas with them. For the future of catechesis in the Church, vital to her flourishing, is the solid formation of seminarians in catechetics. These few days showed me the importance of this, and I am increasing my prayers for seminarians in our country. Please increase your prayers, too!

Liturgy and catechesis (again!)

It is wonderful to be in a sauna-like Steubenville. This is my first time to the States and so far all I have seen is a viciously thorough customs in Atlanta, Pittsburgh airport on the brink of a huge summer storm, and Franciscan University, which is an incredible place. Besides the weird outdoor smells (apparently we’re close to coal plants) and the intense humidity, it’s been amazing to experience first-hand how super-friendly Americans are and the real abundance of cookies, bagels and donuts – you can’t get away from them! 🙂

At the moment we are in the lull between the end of one conference and the beginning of the next. The first one, the Amicitia Catechetica (‘catechetical friendship’) has been fascinating and thought-provoking. All three institutions – Steubenville, Maryvale and Notre Dame de Vie – have given their own presentation on liturgy and catechesis, and the content has been so profound and thought-provoking it is going to take a while to digest everything.

However, there has been one principle at the heart of all the papers given. There is a deep theological (not just pastoral) grounding for the relationship between the liturgy and catechesis that needs to be understood and acknowledged in catechesis. Because the liturgy is the very heart of the life of the Church, it needs to be the very fibre of catechesis. Liturgy is catechetical in a most excellent way because it gives what it teaches. Catechesis is a servant of the Liturgy since this is where Christ’s life is given to the Church; catechesis always leads therefore to liturgical participation. This is written into the very structure of the Catechism itself – Part 2 of the Catechism on the Celebration of the Christian Mystery – is what gives our whole faith unity: the other three parts find their fulfilment and deepest meaning in this part because the Liturgy makes possible our real participation in the life of God – the goal of the other parts of the Catechism. This, in a nutshell, is what we have been understanding more deeply.

One final thought: a week ago, I gave some catechesis in another parish on the New Translation of the Missal. I was explaining the deeper meaning of the new, more accurate wording. It was a real joy to be able to share with this group of around 25 people (average age significantly older to the audiences I’m used to in our parish!) some of the riches of the meaning of the Liturgy, since it clearly made sense to most of them and they were hungry to understand more. One lady asked a question at the end: she said that she thought the conversion to the vernacular in the 60s ‘brought the Church closer to the people’ – so was this move moving the Church further away? It is a common misunderstanding I think. I made the point that WE are all the Church and want to believe and pray and so enter into the fullness of the truth, not something that is dumbed down to what we can supposedly ‘grasp’. This conference has made this point clearer for me – when there is a lack of understanding of the Liturgy, there seem to be two different responses: either dumb down the Liturgy, OR elevate the understanding of the people. This second option is clearly the best. The first mutilates and falsifies and diminishes the Liturgy and gives something less than what God wants to give. The second avoids patronising people by telling them what they can and cannot understand. It often results in the exclamation – ‘why has no one ever told us this before?!’ let us not be the ones who fail to hand on what we ourselves have received.

New Translation Catechesis

This is a fantastic video explaining the New Translation for teenagers, which most adults would probably benefit from too:

It is sad that someone writing for a purportedly “Catholic” publication did not watch this video before they claimed that teaching children the Confiteor is tantamount to child abuse. This article which I stumbled across recently has been addressed elsewhere, but to give you the gist of it…

Surely if Catholic children are cajoled by teachers at the behest of the Catholic hierarchy to beat their breasts on regular solemn occasions and pronounce themselves inwardly filthy, we should be shown the psychological impact study they carried out. Or did they not do one?

This is the damage that happens when someone isn’t taught the doctrine of sin: they have a completely warped understanding of what “sin” means so they write it off altogether. Why do we need to go to Mass if we are free from sin, anyway?

Being sorry is part of being human

Valuable, liturgical catechesis can come from the New Translation. Here, in the Confiteor, it is evident: the words “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault”, are a closer translation of the Latin (well explained in the video clip above).

We are human beings, we are body and soul, we pray through our bodies as the physical expression of the inner world of our soul. The striking of the breast gesture is richly biblical: the tax collector in Luke 18:13 who beat his breast and prayed from his heart, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” was the one Jesus said went home at rights with God, not the proud Pharisee.

Humble like the tax collector or proud like the Pharisee?

It goes without saying that we have lost consciousness of sin in our culture. But there is something deep inside of us (our conscience) that wants to repent to the Father when we have gone wrong, and our bodily gestures both express our sorrow and help to foster it.

Romano Guardini wrote in Sacred Signs:

It is an honest blow, not an elegant gesture. To strike the breast is to beat against the gates of our inner world in order to shatter them. This is its significance. … “Repent, do penance.” It is the voice of God. Striking the breast is the visible sign that we hear that summons.

To me, it strikes me as a lack of emotional maturity when adults refuse to acknowledge that they sin. And it is sad that they project this lack of maturity onto their children.

For catechesis with adults, this raises the big question: How can adults move away from the certainty that they are sin-free, and come to experience the beauty of being a child of God who can freely repent to God their Father? With most people, this can take years of stubbornness, complaining and whining, but it is possible to see a turnaround. We see it in people in the parish. What is needed, however, are strong, honest and unflinching sermons on common areas of sin and the invitation to repentance. What is needed is faithful, convincing catechesis that presents the beauty of living the freedom of life of Christ. What are needed are Catholic friends who are willing to challenge them, pray for them, and make sacrifices for them. Slowly, but surely, I think we can win people back over for Christ.

Dumbing down the Mass is not Liturgical Catechesis

I recently read an article on parish practice which discussed the importance of liturgical catechesis in First Communion preparation. I am all in favour of liturgical catechesis, as I have written about here. However, the author seemed to present quite a different concept of it from the one I am accustomed to. From what I have studied, liturgical catechesis means teaching people the signs and symbols of the liturgy in order to draw them deeper into the Mystery of what is taking place. Through the visible signs, the invisible reality is made known. Catechesis – because it always leads to the Liturgy, the source of grace – can itself be ‘liturgical’: i.e. using signs, symbols, gestures, Scriptural readings. This links catechesis to the Liturgy.

However, I didn’t recognise what this author was describing as liturgical catechesis. His main point seemed to be that if you use a children’s Mass, and explain what is happening to the children, and ‘include’ them in it (whatever that means), the adults themselves will be catechised on the meaning of the Mass. This seems to me to have two clear problems:

1. Infantalising adults: Surely adults need to understand the Mass on an adult-level, not on a child’s level. Sadly it is the case that many Catholic adults’ understanding of the Faith and spirituality remains at the level of a child. It really is sad that the only way adults can understand the Mass is to be spoken to at the level of a child. This approach seems to favour disregarding external symbols in preference of banal ‘chat’ – in doing so, it obliterates the real meaning of liturgical catechesis: the visible leading to the invisible. Disregarding the visible signs in favour of mini-homilies throughout the Liturgy often means that the truth of the mind-blowing, invisible reality remains completely obscure. The much better solution it seems to me, is to let the Mass be the Mass – the words, liturgy, signs speak volumes if done reverently and beautifully – and give adults the solid, adult catechesis they need on the Mass, outside the Mass.

2. Diminishing the Mass, instead of drawing children up to it: In our parish we have three Presentation Masses through the year for our First Communion children. Each time they are presented at the end of the Mass with a different item: a Missal, a crucifix and a Rosary. Each of these Masses is a solemn high Mass, with a full choir, lots of servers and the Mass setting sung in Latin. The children do the readings (usually brilliantly) and the bidding prayers, but that is it. To me it seems much more important that these Masses are liturgical catechesis for the children, than that they each have ‘a part to play’ which gives them completely the wrong understanding of participation. Early on they are taught that we participate in Mass by praying in our hearts. It strikes me that, when they are sitting at the front of the church watching everything that is taking place reverently before them, taking in the beauty of the singing (one boy whispered as we were singing the Kyrie, “is this Latin or Greek?”), and becoming increasingly engulfed in billowing incense, this is nourishing their spiritual lives far more than standing around the sanctuary holding hands during the Our Father ever could. Instead we emphasise that the sanctuary is the holiest place in the church because this is where Jesus’ Sacrifice happens.

Teaching – implicitly through liturgy, or explicitly through catechesis – that the Mass is the most powerful, life-changing event that happened on earth, shows children that the Mass is bigger than they are, it is a great, magnificent Mystery that we go to be present at, immerse ourselves in, but never pretend we understand fully or dumb down for our own convenience. If liturgical catechesis tries to get across a different message than this, in my view it has missed the mark.