Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Alright, this morning I am mad at my Church. My anger has nothing to do with improper (or worse) sexual behavior, nor with bishops who cover it up. It has nothing to do with a Pope who might have handled these things differently.

No, I am mad because my Church (at least in the parishes I have attended in Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia) does not appear to know or care about what distinguishes it from other Christian communities, other than “the Pope.” Now, having "the Pope" is a good thing, to be sure, but if that's the only real difference between Catholicism and other faiths, I'm going to go join one that stops bugging me in the bedroom.

I confess to having attended very few Protestant services of any type, but the ones I have attended do seem to me superficially very similar to their Catholic equivalents. But there are things going on in the Mass that just aren’t happening at the Protestant equivalent, as an honest Protestant will admit. (Though that same honest Protestant may feel compelled to throw in the word “superstition” depending on his brand.)

The problem is, most Catholics and some priests are hopelessly ignorant of just what these things are. We go to Church, we mumble through some half-memorized prayers, we stand in line and get the wafer, and we duck out as quickly afterwards as possible.

This is not just the fault of the laity, though. We’ve never been told any better. Raise your hand if you can explain what happens when the priest prays over the bread without using any words longer than 3 syllables. (Those of you dialing in from Steubenville—you know who you are—put your hands down.) If you do in fact know, only keep your hand up if you’ve ever had it explained in a homily, or in a special lecture at your church; grad students in theology don’t count.

I think one reason Evangelical converts remain so evangelical even within the Church is they knew the Catholic faith better from the outside than most of us cradle Catholics do from the inside. They heard from their pastors about all the errors that Rome teaches; having now acknowledged the Truth of popish teachings, they want to share that knowledge.

This is sadly not true of most of the priests I have known—even the very good ones. Fr. Jim has made an attempt, by explaining the vestments on his blog, and I hope he will do the same with the structure of the liturgy (or, more properly, liturgies) but that is insufficient. CCD when I attended it was a sad pathetic joke, dealing mostly with “Children’s Bible” stories and lame attempts at forced memorization of prayers, without any real explanation of them. I never laid eyes on a catechism until my mother pulled out her childhood copy of the old Baltimore version.

I’m not suggesting reimplementing the old, memorized question and answer method. I don’t think that’s too much better, though at least it does give you some pat answers to give heretics now and again. But you shouldn’t have to enroll in Franciscan U’s graduate theology program to learn this stuff either. The Church should be teaching this as a matter of course to her corpus.

Here are a few concrete suggestions, for you to take to your Pastor or DRE (if you have a non-radical-lesbian or “Voice of the Feckless” DRE):

1) Invite students in the “Mass Class” at the local seminary to come and do their class in your parish hall some evening, or after noon Mass some time.
2) Ask for homilies explaining the Faith. Yes, I know homilies ought to relate to the readings, but this is important, and surely better than another tape of the Cardinal rattling the collection plate for the Annual Appeal.
3) Help develop a monthly “Catechism for Adults” class. Model it on the RCIA program.
4) “Theology on Tap.” My former parish had this occasional program where some of the guys would go out for beer and theological discussions. Why not make it more directed?
5) Start a book club dedicated to reading some good, lively and accessible works on the basics of the faith.

Those of us in our 20s, 30s, and 40s, have been, on the whole, very poorly served by the generations before us. They replaced a hard, unfeeling style with felt banners and guitars, but forgot to hang onto the substance. If we are going to raise children of real faith (my wife and I both work in high schools, and faithful Catholic children are increasingly rare) we have to know it ourselves. If you want to make a constructive demand of your church in this time of difficulty, demand that your parish teach what the Roman Catholic faith actually means.

If Voice of the Faithful wants a motto, how about “Teach the Faith; Change the Church!” A syllogism is so much more Catholic than a slogan, isn’t it?


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