Catholics don’t ask why enough.
To some — for instance, those who have the run-of-the-mill dissenter in mind — this might seem to be prima facie false, given that plenty of Catholics seem to question Church teaching. But I’m not talking about questioning Church teaching in the sense of doubting it; yes, dissenters do that aplenty, but what they don’t do is ask “Why?” with sufficient depth, with the goal of truly seeking to understand what the Church teaches on topic X and why she teaches that. In the case of most dissenters I’ve encountered, their “why?” is really “Well, that’s silly, I don’t believe that,” without any substantial engagement with the Church’s teaching, without any grappling with the inner rationale of the doctrine. For the most part, dissenters don’t really ask “why?”.
But they should. And so should the rest of us.
It is official the new translation of the Roman Missal will be released at the beginning of Advent 2011. I wanted to offer some of my thoughts on how the Church should address catechesis of the new Missal, especially catechizing on the Creed.
In many ways the new translation of the Roman Missal is a vast improvement over the current translation, but its implementation will be one of the most challenging catechetical endeavors in recent decades. But in the midst of every challenge is a silver lining and I think the silver lining of this particular challenge will be the opportunity to reintroduce the faithful to the history of the Church, particularly the patristic period. Catechesis on the translation of the Nicene Creed should include a history of this Creed in order to better understand the meaning of the words we recite every Sunday. That being said let us focus on the new translation of the phrase, “consubstantialem Patri”. The current translation reads, “One in Being with the Father”, while the new translation returns to the more literal “consubstantial with the Father.” Naturally, this phrase refers to the relationship between the Father and the Son.
Some preliminary observations to begin with: First, I think one of the key lessons from the controversy surrounding Nicaea and indeed from the entire study of the doctrine of God, is that we must be precise in our terms referencing God. It is amazing that the Fathers of the Church sacrificed so much just for just one word, like homoousios. If so much went into the use of term we should be careful not to throw it out lightly. Secondly, the term “one in being” is an ambiguous phrase. I remember when the US bishops were debating the new translation (unfortunately, I cannot find the transcript) this issue was raised about “one in Being”. Several bishops argued that “one in being” was not specific enough in describing the relationship between Father and Son, since you and I can be one in being in a room, etc. One in being in a time or place is not what the Fathers of the Church had in mind when they used the term homoousios/consubstantialem.
A traditional Anglican priest-theologian observing the internal life of the American Catholic Church from the outside commented that American Catholicism is becoming increasingly just another form of Protestant Christianity. This suggestion gave me pause and in fact, for quite some time, this observation has remained in the forefront of my thoughts.
The Anglican clergyman in question observed that the America, as far as he could ascertain, really had no cultural identity. What does it mean to be an American? What exactly are “American values?” There probably are as many answers to this question as there are American people. “We the people…” have never been monolithic in our way of life.
The American political experiment and social ethos is by and large a Protestant experiment. There was never a point where Protestant Christianity had to establish itself against innumerable generations of Catholic intellectual, spiritual, and moral heritage as was the case in Europe. This is a characteristic that is very unique to America, both for good and for ill. Protestant Christians share with Roman Catholics a great deal, but certain Protestant tendencies, for the lack of a better term, such as an emphasis on freedom, individual conscience, self-determination (versus self-discovery), etc, which sets itself against, historically speaking, the authority of the Church with a sola scriptura mentality has imprinted a certain social individualist ethos on the American experiment. This, of course, inevitably affects Catholics living within the United States.
This Christmas my local parish was something to behold. Midnight Mass began with light only from decorations on the Evergreen trees, the Priest, escorted by the Deacon and members of the local Knights of Columbus, processed through the Pews with an icon of the baby Jesus to be laid in the Manger. The entire Church was silent and it was beautiful.
As is typical of Christmas and to a lesser extent Easter Masses, the Church was full. This is an unusual circumstance for my parish, as on any typical Sunday the Church is probably half empty. In New England, people who don’t usually come to Church come to Church on Christmas. This is a disheartening aspect of Catholic life in America. Is there anything that can or should be done about it?
As we enter into the Holy Triduum, I’d like to invite a reading of Pope Benedict’s catechesis given during yesterday’s general audience, appropriately deemed by Sandro Magister “A Handbook for Holy Week”:
Dear brothers and sisters, Holy Week, which for us Christians is the most important week of the year, offers us the opportunity to be immersed in the central events of Redemption, to relive the Paschal Mystery, the great mystery of the faith. Beginning tomorrow afternoon, with the Mass “In Coena Domini,” the solemn liturgical rites will help us to meditate in a more lively manner on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord in the days of the Holy Paschal Triduum, fulcrum of the entire liturgical year. May divine grace open our hearts to comprehend the inestimable gift that salvation is, obtained for us by Christ’s sacrifice. [Read the rest]
(The homilies of Pope Benedict XVI for Holy Week 2009 will be made available here, on the Vatican website).
Salvete AC readers!
OK, I junked the whole Latin title since I figured it wasn’t coming across that well as to what I wanted to do with this bit. So now I’m calling this particular column ‘News & Notes’ (for now). Here is today’s Top Seven picks in the Catholic world:
1. A great new blog by Pat McNamara about Catholic history titled appropriately enough, McNamara’s Blog. I’ve been thinking of starting something like this for the past three years, but never got around to it. I’m happy to say that McNamara’s Blog has great short stories on famous and little known figures in Catholicism as well as stories on non-Catholics and how they interacted and viewed our beautiful Catholic faith. Here is the link to McNamara’s Blog: http://irishcatholichumanist.blogspot.com/
Cardinal Ratzinger once said in an interview that the Church may have to shrink, but it would be a purer more faithful Church if this were to happen (1). I’ve been reflecting on these words since Election Day, especially in reference to the many Catholics that voted for the most unabashedly pro-choice (pro-abortion) candidate in memory. A vote for Obama by a Catholic says something about the Catholic, meaning they were poorly catechized. Why then are these Catholics still in the Church if they don’t believe even the basic tenets of faith?
Well it’s a complicated issue to tackle and one that I have been muddling through recently. But first I want to make it clear to my readers that I don’t want a smaller Church. Though I do want the majority, if not all, Catholics to love their faith and practice it. Yet we don’t have that in the American Church. Whose responsibility, and/or blame, should this be assigned to? How do we respond to this predicament?
I wish I had the answers and unfortunately I have more questions. Is it our parents that failed to pass along the faith along with the parish priest and school? Or does it reside with the bishop? What I do have is some analysis and commentary, and it isn’t pretty.