Saturday, February 05, 2011

Thoughts on Catechesis

A cruel thing I am given too is to ask people after Sunday Mass what the Old Testament reading or the Epistle was: most people can't remember. Sometimes the more difficult extracts from the Gospel of John are equally quickly forgotten. I suppose I should ask people to tell me what the homily was about but I don't.

I am old enough to remember a time when most Catholics could remember great chunks of the penny catechism, and when the King James Bible and bits and pieces of the Book of Common Prayer flecked ordinary conversation. We remembered, now there seems too much to remember. 

The Old Rite in its wisdom focused on a restricted number scriptural texts, the Gospel is mainly from Matthew, the Epistles are pretty repetitive focusing on the more memorable parts. You get the impression the readings are their to teach rather than as in the Novus Ordo there simply for the sake of reading the scriptures. I really can't see the point of reading more or less the whole of an impoverished translation of Hebrews or Romans in the "liturgical assembly", when it just goes over peoples heads, better to create a culture where scripture has meaning for people and where they will want to sit, study and meditate. Indeed the old Missal was meant to be memorable, by the priest at least.

It amazes me that in the great days of evangelisation and expansion of the Western Church from the time of the conversion of Briton, Ireland and the rest of Northern Europe, right through to the evangelisation of the Americas and vast parts of Asia, up until the founding of so many of the African Churches, it was the old liturgy, in Latin that formed the background for this work. Indeed it was the Latin liturgy that inspired the great exodus of missionaries from Europe to practically every part of the world in the first part of the twentieth century.

Apart from teaching, by osmosis really, the value of silence and private prayer and the interior life, one of things that the old Rite imposed on missionaries and catechists was the need to be disciplined in the presentation of the Faith, to strip the Catholic Faith to its essentials. I am pleased that a version of the Catechism for young people is being published, it is short, it is simple, it is portable, it is a distillation of the CCC.

I think that a greater part of pre-concilliar catechesis was about doing things, keeping the commandments, going to the sacraments, saying the Rosary, putting up crucifixes and pictures of Our Lady, wearing medals and scapulars, kneeling, genuflecting, fasting, saying prayers, burning candles, celebrating feasts, joining processions, even giving money. Not only did these things supply a portal for catechesis in response to the very simple question of "Why?" or "Why should I?" but they also taught people how to live and die. Now we have replaced all these things by endless talk and endless discussion. I suspect that our real problem in catechesis today is that we teach into a void, we give the answer to questions no one is asking because we fail to stimulate questions.

I have been thinking about what to do for Lent in the parish , whether to use the excellent Evangelium course (God bless Fathers Marcus Holden and Andrew Pinsent from my own diocese) or to put on Stations of the Cross and Exposition and other devotions instead, or find some way of combining the two.


santoeusebio said...

Is not the problem that the majority of the congregation do not use missals and follow the text of the readings therein? I have never understood how anyone could comprehend say the Epistles of St Paul being read out when one does not have the text in front of one. It is also useful to have the text so that during the homily one has it there to follow the references the priest will be making to those readings.

Perhaps having the readings in Latin might encourage people to buy a missal so as to understand them? Just a not very serious thought!

Further I find having a missal is a great counter against distractions. Sometimes when one is making one's thanksgiving after communion I find reading the Communion antiphon is a great help in preventing my mind wandering on to the irrelevant.

Nicolas Bellord

Adulio said...

And to think there are some "over-zealous" priests and bureaucrats in Rome, who want to impose the new lectionary on the old rite!

Mention might be made of how the new lectionary, as a whole, makes less reference to sin, concupiscence, hell, etc.

georgem said...

I haven't seen any post-Vatican 2 catechisms. I still have some of the old ones which also contained the ordinary of the (low) Mass.

There was a comprehensive section on how to examine your conscience before Confession and I formed a great attachment to the question "Have you been froward?" without having a clue what it meant. Now I know, the answer is "Yes".

I do have a problem remembering what the readings were and I generally can't tie in the extract from the OT with the epistle or the gospel.

I usen't to have this selective(?)amnesia. Sometimes I think it's because, on occasion, there are readers who don't seem to understand what they are reading and emphasise in odd places. However, at base is the willingness to be distracted by my thoughts.

Significantly, this doesn't occur at the EF, maybe because the texts were limited and by repetition became like old friends.

The texts had a resonance which was memorable. Compare, for instance, the sentence in the Transfiguration: "His garments became as white as snow" compared with "His clothes became whiter than any earthly bleach [could make them]." Or the power of "Jesus wept" compared with "Jesus burst into tears."

*It would be great if you were to have Stations during Lent. I am biased because I love them in their quietness and simple reverence. Would there be time before the Friday evening Mass, or is that a lot to ask?

georgem said...

I may have misheard the presenter, but I thought she said "demonic".

Shold 31019 appears to believe that a priest's no 1 role is to organise soup runs. No, that's collateral to the love of Christ, the primary role.
And when any bishop flouts his responsibility and his church in such a way it is the cause of grest scandal.
The Catholic Church is not a mish-mash of personal whims. You believe in and follow its precepts or you don't. And if you don't you've no business calling yourself a Catholic, still less a bishop.
And you have substituted reality with shadows on the wall of your personal cave.

Anonymous said...

Stations of the Cross and Exposition. People need to return to these things.

Physiocrat said...

The Old Rite liturgies are themed ie the Proper and the readings form a coherent and memorable whole, presenting a nugget of Christian teaching which we can remember and absorb.

For Lent, how about celebrating one of the weekday Masses in the EF form, and giving a short sermon and the theme of that day's mass?

nickbris said...

Stations of the Cross on Friday is good.

Readings on the reverse of the Newsletter is the best thing of all.

Zephyrinus said...

"A cruel thing I am given to is to ask people after Sunday Mass what the Old Testament reading or the Epistle was:"

Over the years, Fr, I have often asked people (out of pure curiosity) what the sermon was the PREVIOUS week at Mass.

To date, not one person has got it correct.

Reference the Evangelium Course or Stations of the Cross and other appropriate devotions question, may I, respectfully, suggest BOTH ?

Bryan said...


If the people do not remember the previous week's sermon perhaps the sermonizer did not give them a thought to take away.

If preachers set out to preach on one theme and clearly speak about that one theme or idea I do not doubt that that would be remembered by some.

It's perhaps like the advice given on giving clear instructions to staff - tell what you are going to say to them, then tell them what you want them to do, say it again (and repeat) and make it clear what you want them to do and then ask them to explain to you what you want them to do.

Too often preachers want to show how well-read or interesting their ideas on various themes are. They delight in their interpretations of the readings.

How rarely one hears quotations from the Fathers or the Popes in preaching.

It's often a matter of private interpretation and speculative flourishes that one hears. Perhaps this is why no-one remembers...

Mike said...

Bryan said:

”If the people do not remember the previous week's sermon perhaps the sermonizer did not give them a thought to take away.” (And he had some very good advice.)

As a retired teacher, I have to say that if pupils could not remember what they had been taught during any of my lessons then that was mainly my fault. If it happens then you have to think very carefully about how you can teach the lesson differently so the pupils do remember. Now there is the famous saying about "What I hear I forget, what I see I remember, what I do I understand." But that isn’t, perhaps, very useful advice for a homily. Perhaps more useful is the advice that you have to say something at least three times for people to remember it.

I wonder what training priests are given in delivering homilies. Are they given lessons in communication as well as theology?

Sometimes I hear a priest deliver a very thoughtful homily and say, “That’s a very interesting thought” to myself but then the priest goes on to something else and I forget the interesting thought.

So, perhaps priests should decide what is the main point that they want people to take away from their homily and bang on about that point several times and then repeat it at the end of the homily. Perhaps they could even put it into the Parish Bulletin (or equivalent) as a reminder to people once they go home.

Finally, if the main thought involved some action on our part then, perhaps, it might be easier to remember it than if is just a general exposition of what the Gospel reading means.

Sharon said...

when the King James Bible and bits and pieces of the Book of Common Prayer flecked ordinary conversation.

I listen to readings from books written in the early years of the 20th century and have read Dorothy Sayers’ detective stories and you are correct; the characters quite often quote scripture or the classics in their ordinary conversation.

as in the Novus Ordo there simply for the sake of reading the scriptures.

On what do you base that comment father?

I for one, like it that we have a greater richness of Scripture in the Ordinary Form of the Mass.

when it just goes over peoples heads

The Ethiopian Eunuch had the same problem until Philip explained the text to him. Surely it is the duty of the priest in the homily to unpack the scriptures and apply them to the lives of the people.

If the people do not remember the previous week's sermon perhaps the sermonizer did not give them a thought to take away.

I think you are correct Bryan.

Sed nomini tuo da gloriam said...

Yes, definitely stations and Adoration.
Yes, some teaching of the faith.
And, something like a simple soup dinner supper, perhaps before stations.
Some additional comments from a simple person:
Instead of a packaged program, as good as it probably is, people will instead be more interested in you or another priest who is an engaging speaker giving a talk on a topic of current interest in the faith - even just a couple times. ("'Bells and smells' and why we do them", for instance, is a topic that Catholics enjoy, etc., Father.
Regarding Scripture and people forgetting: perhaps the verses are integrated and have become a part of who we are. Maybe for most people it is not necessary to articulate and still believe and understand on a deeper level. That said, i find that i remember homilies where the priest approached the subject in a way that it 'spoke' to me. Think of yourself out in the pew and what you and they are hungry to hear. There are homilies that we can all say we will never forget and have affected our lives forever.

epsilon said...

Along with The Stations and Exposition, you might like to recommend people get this £6 pack (£15 for leader's pack) from the Dominican sisters at Sway - beautifully thought through, beautifully presented and going like hot cakes to all corners of the globe:

Sr Hyacinthe and team evidently presented it at Ealing Abbey recently among other places to great acclaim.

You can read more here:

Sixupman said...

I remember last weeks sermon at my Catholic [copy CofE] church, it was by a [lay (do not shout at me, you know what I mean)] Deacon - it was all about himself.

I also remember a sermon whilst visiting a church in Leyland, because it was real Catholic in content. I also remember a sermon at Glastonbury preached by a Deacon [final year seminarian]where he raised the tendency to usurp of the ordained clergy by the laity.

I remember a short aside by the late Canon Austin Moran [St. Francis, Morley, 1985] at a mid-day Mass regretting that children would never have heard of the saint of the Mass for the day.

Dramatically, in 1960 at Redhill, I heard a sermon, by the PP, foretelling the demise of the Mass as we then knew it - and he was none too happy.

I remember a Mission given by Fr. Agnellus Andrew and his commentary on a Mass being broadcast on BBC Home Service.

I remember a Scotish Catholic bishop preaching against the ordained priesthood, and my PP casrigating both Pope and Magisterium.

The common denominator, of the former batch they all preached Catolicism, whilst the latter example were memorable for their lack of Catholicism.

georgem said...

Apologies, Father. My "demonic" comment should have been targeted at your previous post.
I'll try to put it where it should be so could you delete "demonic" from this list. Thanks.

Bryan said...

Dear Mike,

I quite agree. The sermon I heard this morning started on Our Lady of Lourdes then the need for prayer then moved to sensible penances and ended up with a flourish about predestination. And I think I missed some other bits he added in.

Nothing about the sower of the Tares though and that was the Gospel of the Day.

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

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