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.