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Doctrine, Please Print E-mail
By Todd Hartch   
Thursday, 14 April 2011

Pope Pius X is often criticized because in 1910 he demanded that all priests take an anti-modernist oath. It’s hardly known that in 1905 he ordered all priests around the world to do something else, perhaps even more challenging.  Did he call for greater commitment to the glory of Eucharist? Did he demand more emphasis on missions? Or did he rebuke them for their lack of holiness? Although he could have done any of these things, what he actually did was to call them to focus their attention on one simple task: he ordered them to spend an hour every Sunday catechizing the children of their parishes.

He also asked them to offer at least an hour of catechesis for adults on every holy day of obligation and during Lent. Over the course of four or five years they should cover the Apostles’ Creed, the Sacraments, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Precepts of the Church.

“If faith languishes in our days,” he said, “if among large numbers it has almost vanished, the reason is that the duty of catechetical teaching is either fulfilled very superficially or altogether neglected.” The great task for priests, therefore, was not complex sermons or new academic books. It was solid teaching of the basic truths of the faith. Children – all Catholics, in fact – needed, and still need, to learn the simple but essential aspects of faith and morals so that they can live Christian lives.


         Pius X: “Faith languishes” if catehcesis is neglected.
 

If they didn’t learn what was right and true there was almost no possibility that they could live as they should. Christian doctrine, Pius stated, “reveals God and His infinite perfection with far greater clarity than is possible by the human faculties alone.” In other words, human beings might imagine that they could figure out what God was like and how they should live simply by thinking or by some sort of intellectual osmosis. But the fact was that they needed to be taught.

Good Christian doctrine was about the best thing a priest could give to his people because, “there is always some hope for a reform of perverse conduct so long as the light of faith is not entirely extinguished; but if lack of faith is added to a depraved morality because of ignorance, the evil hardly admits of remedy, and the road to ruin lies open.” Priests who would rather write books and deliver lectures to intellectual audiences than teach the basic truths of the faith had their priorities backwards. It was more worthwhile and more difficult to bring Christian doctrine to the young and uneducated than to the wise and knowledgeable; it took more preparation and more subtlety.

Priests also might be tempted to think that, busy as they were, someone else should take on the duty of catechesis. The Holy Father seems to have envisioned some aid by lay teachers, but he could not have been more clear about who had the main responsibility: “There can be no doubt that this most important duty rests upon all who are pastors of souls.” In fact, “For a priest there is no duty more grave or obligation more binding than this.”


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Obviously, priests are no longer spending an hour every Sunday catechizing the children of their parishes and they are not devoting time on every holy day to adult catechesis. With the priest shortage, they are preaching homilies and celebrating the Mass, often several times, and hearing confessions. It’s not as if they’re sitting around watching television all day. My pastor, for instance, celebrates Mass five times in three different churches between Saturday evening and Sunday evening. It probably never occurs to him or to most of his brother priests around the world that adding a children’s class to this kind of schedule would be a good use of time. Throw in the abuse crisis, which makes priests wary about spending time with children, and the contemporary understanding of the priest’s role could hardly be farther from that envisaged by Pius X.

Now, Pius’s command to catechize was a matter of discipline that is no longer operative and priests are no longer obliged to teach doctrine every Sunday. The doctrinal part of his encyclical is still applicable, however. At the heart of the priesthood is teaching and preaching. As Vatican II says, priests are “strenuous assertors of the truth, lest the faithful be carried about by every wind of doctrine.” Priests today face a difficult and demanding situation, with many worthy claims on their time. Still, Pius X makes clear that the bottom line is this: “It is indeed vain to expect a fulfillment of the duties of a Christian by one who does not even know them.” Catholics today, even more than in the day of Pius X, need priests to teach them doctrine.

Finally, some will complain that teaching doctrine, especially to children, would be a waste of time for a priest faced by a world full of poverty and brokenness, but the pope anticipates this objection: “If, assuredly, the alms with which we relieve the needs of the poor are highly praised by the Lord, how much more precious in His eyes, then, will be the zeal and labor expended in teaching and admonishing, by which we provide not for the passing needs of the body but for the eternal profit of the soul! Nothing, surely is more desirable, nothing more acceptable to Jesus Christ, the Saviour of souls, Who testifies of Himself through Isaias: ‘To bring good news to the poor he has sent me.’”


Todd Hartch
 teaches Latin American history at Eastern Kentucky University.  He specializes in World Christianity, missions, and the religious history of Mexico.

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Comments (16)Add Comment
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written by Lee Gilbert, April 13, 2011
Think of the excitements-and they are many- that roll through the Catholic blogsphere. Recently it was Father Corapi. At each of these disturbances bloggers will blog and commenters will comment. Think of it, confirmed members of the Catholic chattering class, often well-educated and well informed, furiously searching the net to bring themselves up to speed, then composing and re-composing their opinions, finally lodging their thoughts with the Church militant by pressing the send button. Of course we have a right to do this, and it is not all bad by any means.

On the other hand, while we occupy ourselves with these very adult concerns- and they are legion- all around us children are growing up uncatechised. I can't help thinking that if we were to spend as much time catechizing our young as we do preaching to the choir-and for the most part the Catholic blogsphere is "the choir"- many of the problems about which we are so concerned would take care of themselves. The so-called vocations crisis is a case in point.

We have left our children to fend for themselves, and they are faring very badly.

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written by Christopher, April 14, 2011
I think this is a great idea. One might consider, too, the idea of instituting lay lectors to offer catechism. This seems to be what Pope Paul VI had in mind when he opened the lectorate to qualified lay men.
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written by Joe, April 14, 2011
FYI -- the Catechism link indicates that it is not available for purchase through the Catholic thing but it is through the amazon store. UNFORTUNATELY it is NOT avaiable in Kindle format. :(
Ed. note: This was news to us. We've changed the image and the linking.
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written by Bill, April 14, 2011
An excellent and overdue essay, Mr. Hartch, but it has one serious omission: Pius X was CANONIZED in the 1950s. The Church has produced two catechisms: The Roman Catechism after the Council of Trent, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992. In both cases,they were required so that Catholics, especially the Hierarchy (Cdl Law requested the CCC),knew what the Church teaches. Another pope, who only contributed to the confusion St. Pius X condemned, with Assisi I and II, "May St. John the Baptist bless Islam", failure to investigate charges of priest abuse of CHILDREN, is going to be beatified (the final step before sainthood) on May 1st. Saint Pius X pray for us!
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written by Dave, April 14, 2011
While I am all in favor of lay catechesis -- I'm lay myself, and I catechize when asked to -- laity undertaking this role have to be seriously instructed in the truths of the Faith so that they can conduct the apologetic role that is really at the heart of catechesis, the point of which is not to impart knowledged of objective truth but to win the assent of the catechized. More than that, though, all catechists, whether priests, religious, or lay, need to be people of strong and deep interior life. In this manner the catechized not only hear the truths of the Faith, they see them lived convincingly and winningly right before their eyes.

A second point relates to the diaconate. The order of deacons was created, in the Apostolic Age, so as to free the Apostles for preaching and teaching and to unburden them of the administrative tasks that were getting in their way. The promise of the revived diaconate has yet to be realized. Deacons too need to be deeply formed in prayer and doctrine, and they need to be available for the administrative tasks that consume so much of priests' time. Otherwise what was the point of reviving the permanent diaconate?
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written by Dave, April 14, 2011
Bill, if the Holy Catholic Church finds it fitting to beatify JPII, you might want to rethink what side of thet decision you are on. Maybe not all of his decisions were perfect, though I doubt any of us are in a really good position to judge. Perhaps you should try rejoicing in JPII's goodness and the goodness of for God for sending him... afterall that's what Holy Mother Church is doing.
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written by Dan Deeny, April 14, 2011
Excellent information. One of the reasons for brokenness is the lack of good Christian teaching in the Catholic Church. I agree with Lee Gilbert.
What exactly is good catechetical teaching?
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written by Mike, April 14, 2011
I read this papal document a few years ago. There are others that reiterate that the problem is lack of religious education. The forward to the Roman Catechism says this as well.

Public schools in our state have a standardized test kids have to pass to graduate. And the schools are also evaluated by how well their kids do. Why not have a standardized religion test in Catholic Schools, based on the magesterium: catechism, church fathers, doctors, papal teachings. I wonder how many catholic school kids would pass? (Or how well their teachers would do?)
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written by Lee Gilbert, April 14, 2011
Mike is spot on.

One way that our present Catholic educators indicate that religion is a second rate subject is by having having standarized tests for everything but religion. Math and language skills are serious business, and both parents, teachers and administration know how their students are faring in these disciplines.

As for the faith, it is enough if the school has a "Catholic atmosphere"- weekly Mass, statues in the corridors, dressing up as saints for All Saints Day. Knowing the faith is not a priority.

My wife is a substitute teacher in a Catholic school. One morning a student informed her that ordinarily Miss X (for whom my wife was substituting) ordinarily does the important subjects first, and if she has time at the end of the day will do some religion.

One way the nuns fifty years ago indicated that religion was THE most important subject was by making it the first subject of the day, ordinarily just after our recitation of the Acts of Faith, Hope and Charity.

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written by Bill, April 14, 2011
To Dave: Thank you for comments. You may want to look up the writings of Father Brian Harrison, Christopher Ferrara, Esq. as well as :Crossing the Threshold of Confusion by Andrew McCauley. The Church is not in Its present condition by accident. Very brilliant enemies brought It to this present state. My one reservation is that the laity which was shouting "Santo Subito" will not be able to deal with the facts as they increasingly become known, cf. The Legionaries of Christ whose founder, a favorite of John Paul, fathered children by three mistresses, abused them all, rarely said Mass and rarely read his breviary.
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written by TeaPot562, April 14, 2011
In a parish school, the pastor should set aside time over the course of a month to visit each class, introduce himself and answer questions. Over the course of a year, he would visit each class 8 or 9 times. A parish with more than one priest should have each priest doing this. A bit of catechising, some knowledge of what a priest does, maybe even spark a vocation or two. If 1 p.m is the most convenient time for this monthly visit, schedule each class's Religion period as 1 p.m. That way the priest's visit fits the regular schedule.
Just a suggestion.
TeaPot562
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written by Blake Helgoth, April 14, 2011
Priests claim to be way to busy for all of this, but they want parents of young children, who are just as busy or busier than they are, to do this. Pastors of souls need to get their priorities straight, give up all the bureaucractic meetings and spend time with their flock!
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written by Thomas C. coleman, Jr., April 14, 2011
Perhaps as a companion publication to this Catechism the Congregaation for the Doctrine of the Faith could publish a Syllabus of Downright Nonsense denouncing the many common errors and heresies that those of us who live in some corners of Vatican Three Land hear from the pulpit. Just two of my favorties here: Our Savior did not institute the Sacrament of Penance; and, The Council of Jeruselem freed Christians from Heberew dietary laws AND Jewish laws regarding sexual purity (Any doubt what the intendt of THAT was?). I know I am not the only father who has had to answer questions from children on the ride home about what "Father said." Even some of my KofC brothers shun such questioing, pointing to the "In Solidarity with Our Priests and Bishops" buttons. Back to the Baltmore Catcechism, I say. My Irish imiigrant grandmother with her sixth grade education knew more about what the Church teaches than granduates of some Catholic colleges
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written by Jeannine, April 14, 2011
Some years ago, we had an assistant pastor who set out to review all the fundamental doctrines of the faith over the course of a year's homilies. I never heard better homilies, before or since.
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written by Nancy D., April 15, 2011
If it is true that Pope John Paul II asked for a blessing rather than a conversion, my gut tells me he must have either failed to adequately explain that by "blessing" he meant that they be converted, OR, he was under some man-made spell.
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written by Graham Combs, April 16, 2011
Although no one seems to have noted it, this is a fine follow up to Brad Miner's piece a few days ago. My own RCIA instruction was excellent in many ways, but we did not spend a single session, for example, on the Mass, including what is done during the mass and why it is done. I did ask about the new upcoming Roman Missal (this was in 2009) but received no response. I would later read Scott Hahn's excellent books on Catholic practices. I guess this why we have Catholic Answers. Nor did we reference the Church Fathers or hear much about the Apostles or the saints. The Holy Father's second volume of JESUS OF NAZARETH has been a national bestseller which raises another source of learning -- Pope Benedict XVI himself. His writings are thoughtful, clear, and, I think, accessible. Certainly they should be on any catechetical syllabus.

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