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Part Two of "Liturgy, Catechesis, and Conversion" | Part One

The same is true for innocent, baptized children who did not prepare for Baptism and did not acknowledge its gift. Both groups of the faithful need to be guided to a life that is in accord with their Baptism. Fr. Liege comments boldly on this:

All catechesis must bring man back to the initial act of his conversion, an act which, in one way, he never gets beyond. In the measure that conversion has not been chronologically distinct from catechesis, as for baptized infants, catechesis will always have a dialectic period of evangelization, without which it would be mere religious instruction. [14]
Currently, many evangelists and catechists are meeting those who have left the Church, and possibly God as well, and are ready to "come home." This is a burgeoning new apostolate focusing on returning souls to Christ and to the Church. For such souls a remedial catechesis in the mysteries must be prepared and applied to specific life situations.

Probably the most difficult area for conversion catechesis in the Church today is among the adult population who have not identified a need for more of Christ or His teachings. Often they simply don’t know that they don’t know. For them the heart of the Church cries out, "Who will preach, who will evangelize, who will teach them?" Pastors, preachers, evangelists, and catechists are needed who will rise to the occasion and storm heaven until a way is made clear for them to go after those so much in danger of perishing for lack of knowledge!

Adult education in the mystery of Christ is the chief form of catechesis according to no. 21 of the General Catechetical Directory of Pope Pius VI. This is because they are "persons who are capable of an adherence that is fully responsible." Among those in the catechetical ministry of the Church this adult conversion and catechesis is a much discussed topic. As yet, only a few are having any significant success with it. Christ is waiting for them. He is surely preparing the way, but "He has no hands but yours," which was the motto of the Lay Apostolate in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s.

The conversion of young children is a topic much discussed, written about and debated among catechists, pastors and liturgists. In fact, the Church recognizes the sanctity and religious potential of children of all ages in her canonization process. Many of the adult saints counted a conversion experience as a young child as pivotal for them.

Children are valuable to the Christian community not only because of their potential as adults, but primarily they are valuable in themselves. They are made in the image and likeness of God. When they are baptized God’s grace is active in them. Their guardian angels are vigilant on their behalf, urging them to come to know their heavenly Father and protecting them as much as possible.

Now they were bringing even infants to Him that He might touch them and when the disciples saw it they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him saying, "Let the children come to Me and do not hinder them for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it" (Luke 18:15-17).

There is something Christ-like in the nature of young children: innocence, purity, love, trusting obedience. If the Gospel is explained to them they "get" it. According to Fr. Jean Mouroux, they are "capable of receiving and nurturing a personal faith and of recognizing an obligation of conscience" [15] at about the age of discretion. Both of these are crucial to authentic conversion for anyone.

The components of a catechesis for conversion are simple: announcement of the apostolic proclamation of the Gospel (the kerygma), and introduction to Jesus Christ in His exact identity and in His glory in sacred history. [16] Fr. Jungmann explains the ramifications of the proclamation of the Gospel as leading to an understanding of "what we are and are called to be." In the light of Easter morning all believers have the grand vocation to "proclaim by a holy life the acts of Him Who has called them from the darkness to His admirable light" (1 Pet..2:9). "They must enter joyfully into the circle of those true adorers, who adore the Father in spirit and in truth" [17] (John 4: 24).

He further constrains the catechist to be sure to "show them the Original which faith will make them resemble" when describing grace to believers. Jesus must be vividly drawn from Scripture narration. Fr. Jungmann concludes:

Let us reveal, especially to the older ones, the great perspectives which are discovered by meditation on the life of grace of Christ at Easter, the Christ of the liturgy. Here the new creation has commenced; here the spiritual temple is being built of living stones; here the priestly people is assembled, from all nations and all centuries, able to offer the worthy sacrifice to God, because Christ the high priest is at its head [18] (1 Pet. 2:5).
Teaching Through the Liturgy

It is true that in the wake of the storm following Vatican Council II many attempts were made to correct the problems of faith and practice in the Church principally by liturgical experimentation (and catechetical reductionism). Atrocities such as "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" themes for Eucharistic liturgies instead of Scripture, "Wonder" bread substitutions for unleavened bread, and free-for-all discussions in place of preaching the Word of God were commonplace. They did not convert folks to Christ or insert them deeper into the mystery of Christ. In fact, the flight from the Church reached staggering proportions during that period. For these reasons it would seem that the recent experimental attempts at liturgical reform were indeed the problem.

Part of the experimentation that was carried out during that period involved using the liturgy to teach, as a catechetical tool. The catechetical value of liturgical practice is not the point because most liturgical practice would need considerable, and probably boring, explication to make it didactically utilitarian. The sacred liturgy is not about utility.

Liturgy teaches by forming its participants. The experience of a carefully and reverently done Nuptial Mass speaks to the assembled believers of God’s love for His Church, of the significance of the marriage covenant and even of the meaning of life. The experience of the baptisms at the Easter Vigil stirs up appreciation of one’s own Baptism and of the richness of life as a son of God. Lessons on these topics, no matter how well done, cannot accomplish the realizations that are gained by participating in such liturgies. The example of the disciples on the road to Emmaus reiterates that.

Liturgy teaches by presenting the mystery of Christ concretely. Actual participation always teaches better than theoretical explanation. (Consider John 6:57-59; Rom. 6:3-14; Col. 2:12; Gal. 3:27; 1 Cor. 12:13.) Therefore, the meeting with Christ which is the heart of any liturgy cannot be replaced or duplicated and must not be tampered with. "They recognized Him in the breaking of the bread" cannot be redacted or didactically maneuvered.

Catechism, Profound Union with the Liturgy

The content of catechesis is the deposit of faith which Jesus left to the apostles. This was a rich treasure to them, hence, St. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy (1 Tim. 6:20) to guard it. Since the time of the apostles the Church has faithfully protected this deposit so that it would not be enhanced or reduced, but only carefully explained in increasing depth and clarity. Things hidden there have been discovered by theology and the pious sense of the faithful. Likewise, in catechetical endeavors it is essential that nothing of the deposit be omitted.

For this reason the compendium of the deposit of faith, the catechism, was used from the earliest times to teach the Faith. Historically, the Catholic catechisms, notably that of the Council of Trent, have corresponded to Jesus’ own pattern of teaching, i.e., the Faith and the correlative triple response of the metanoia: conversion of heart and obedience to God, sacramental interaction with Christ Himself, and a spiritual life marked especially by prayer and a relationship with the Father. (This pattern, or rule, is referred to in Rom. 6:17.)

The catechetical renewal which preceded Vatican Council II, known as the kerygmatic movement, attempted to return catechetics to the practice of proclamation of the Word of God and to the context of the narration of Scripture. Sound catechetical technique had, in fact, been lost in favor of an academic approach to passing on the Faith. The catechism had enhanced the academic schemata because it lends itself to rote memorization of facts. The Roman Catechism is anything but a dry compendium of facts, however. It is clearly a prophetic study and definition of Jesus’ teaching in the deposit He left to the Church. The recently released Catechism of the Catholic Church is written in that same vein. Msgr. Kevane explains that, "One must consider that the catechism is simply the Church’s own historic explanation of the Apostles’ Creed and the three basic activities of the Way of Life which responds to the baptismal Creed." [19]

In the catechetical renewal movement there was no intention of discarding a valuable prophetic tool, like the catechism, but there was the attempt to move catechesis back to Christocentrism and the focus on conversion to Christ and participation in the mysteries. With the liberties that were taken immediately after Vatican Council II came more and more aberrations in catechetical practice. Some parts of the kerygmatic renewal were abrogated to the "new methodology" of the ‘60’s and the ‘70’s, others were not. All of the catechism approach was discarded, especially any emphasis on memorization. (None of this was the work of the Church per se.)

The result was chaos in the ministry of catechetics, especially in the western Church, and the focus of catechesis was shifted from Christ and His plan to the individual believer. The cult of the "experts," profane and sacred, became the driving force of catechetics, instead of the Scriptures. The effect of all of this on the worship of Catholics was profound. Today it is unlikely that a young adult Catholic can be readily found who could explain the purpose of the Eucharistic liturgy, or the meaning of the Incarnation or sin and redemption for that matter! Yet they are being lured away by many other specious ideologies. They need answers to life’s most important questions just as much as their ancestors did, maybe more.

In the ministry of catechetics the need is very great for a return to the reality of sacred history as the mystery of Christ. The focus must be on God and His plan, His interactions with man and His Way of Life. The narrative approach to Biblical catechesis must be relearned. Fr. Vagaggini points out that if these things are done the "catechism will thereby discover its profound union with the liturgy." [20] It will be the preparation to liturgical life just as Christ’s exposition of the Scriptures was for the Emmaus disciples.

The liturgical life will appear as the sacral concretization, (under the veil of the sensible and efficacious signs of the sanctification and the worship of the Church,) of the world of the catechism; and the world of the catechism will be lived sacrally in its most important act. [21]
The baptized child, the adult catechumen, the young people seldom in the pews, and the family struggling against the onslaughts of secularism have a right to the truth which sets them free. They have the right to be catechized, to be led to the altar singing for joy, to know their Father, to participate in the very mystery of Christ. Therefore, let us "pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Matt. 9:37).

(This article originally appeared in the January/February 1997 issue of The Catholic Faith magazine.)

End Notes:

[1] Hofinger, Johannes, S.J. and Francis J. Buckley, S.J., The Good News and Its Proclamation, p. 26.
[2] Kevane, Msgr. Kevane, "Toward Research in Fundamental Catechetics," Angelicum, p. 372.
[3] Pope Paul VI in L’Osservatore Romano, English Edition, Jan. 27, 1972, p. 1.
[4] Kevane, p. 372.
[5] Ghesquiere, Dom Theodore, O.S.B., "Bible-Reading and Liturgical Life," Lumen Vitae, p. 173.
[6] Ghesquiere, Dom Theodore, O.S.B., "Bible-Reading and Liturgical Life," Lumen Vitae, p. 175.
[7] Hofinger and Buckley, p. 57, 76.
[8] Oster, Fr. Henri, "God’s Plan," Lumen Vitae, p. 50.
[9] Oster, p. 49. Fr. Oster’s extensive footnote regarding astonishment or admiration are paraphrased in the following text.
[10] Von Hildebrand, Dietrich, Liturgy and Personality, pp. 7-8.
[11] Ibid., p. 8, Dr. von Hildebrand points out later that the liturgy must become a "way of following Christ into transformation into Him," p. 9.
[12] Hofinger and Buckley, p. 32.
[13] Ibid, p. 35. These are the folks in the pews. Many have never really been catechized and virtually all have never been evangelized.
[14] Liege, Andre, O.P., "The Ministry of the Word: from Kerygma to Catechesis," Lumen Vitae., pp. 33-34.
[15] Mouroux, Fr. Jean, From Baptism to the Act of Faith, p. 35. This book is an invaluable aid to understanding faith and moral development in children up to the age of discretion. It could be especially helpful to parents and to catechists of children at about the age of discretion.
[16] Liege, p. 33.
[17] Jungmann, Joseph-Andre, S.J., "Liturgy and the History of Salvation," Lumen Vitae, 1955, p. 268.
[18] Ibid., p.267. My own experience as a catechist is that when the Easter Vigil liturgy was restored and assumed its glorious place as queen of liturgical celebrations, without exception my students, (of various ages), "saw" the liturgy, the Eucharist and Baptism in a whole new light. They loved it as they never had previously. See also 2 Tim. 1:12 and 2 Cor. 5:20.
[19] Kevane, p. 367.
[20] Vagaggini, Cyrian, O.S.B., Theological Dimensions of the Liturgy, p. 891.
[21] Ibid., p. 891.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:

The Liturgy Lived: The Divinization of Man | Jean Corbon, OP
Understanding The Hierarchy of Truths | Douglas Bushman, STL
The Eucharist: Source and Summit of Christian Spirituality | Mark Brumley
Eucharistic Adoration: Reviving An Ancient Tradition | Valerie Schmalz

Barbara Morgan is Director of Catechetics and RCIA at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She holds a Master’s degree in catechetics from the Notre Dame Institute as well as the Pontifical Diploma in Catechetics. She has over forty years experience in teaching the Faith. She and her husband have five children and forty grandchildren.

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