Friday, 27 May 2011

All about catechetical theory

Since we have finished our exams (well, all bar the STB exam Saturday for top-year!), we have, for the past two days, had, in our timetable, 'Pastoral Study Days'. These are opportunities apart from the normal academic programme, to engage with issues and situations in the priestly ministry. I suppose they are the times when we learn priestcraft (that's the aim anyway). 
Yesterday, Dr Farey, until this year, Thomistic philosophy lecturer, led a day on Catechesis for the lower house.
We began our day with the aim of catechesis, which, as Blessed John Paul II reminded us, should look a little like this:
In order that the sacrificial offering of his of her faith should be perfect, the person who becomes a disciple of Christ has the right to receive 'the word of faith' not in mutilated, falsified or diminished form but whole and entire, in all its rigour and vigour. (Catechesi Tradendae, 30)
All persons, including children, have the right to know who they are, and who God is, in order to hand themselves over more fully to God as a sacrificial offering. This is what every soul is made to do, so that Christ may take it to the eternal bliss of heaven. 
For example, all Christians should have been taught the sign of the cross. It is the birthright of every Christian, to take this sign, and cover themselves with it, and through the invocation that accompanies, wrap themselves in the persons of the Blessed Trinity. Not all Catholics, however, are aware of something as simple as the sign of the cross, and its significance. In catechesis, one cannot presume anything, and, for catechists, one cannot pass on what one has not received. 
The life of the early Church demonstrates for us the method of catechesis relevant event today.
They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42)
We can see from this, a four non-optional dimensions for, not only catechetical method, but for living the Christian life:
  1. Teaching of the Apostles
  2. Life in Christ
  3. Sacraments
  4. Prayer
In living this Christian life, Christ, of course, is at the heart, both in his human nature, and as a person of the Blessed Trinity. This is called a Trinitarian-Christocentricity. In catechetical method, this does not mean that you must talk about Christ for, say, 80% of the time, rather, everything is connected, and all leads to Christ (we call this the nexus mysteriorum). These four dimensions of teaching the Christian life are organic, systematic and comprehensive: that it is connected and grows, it is arranged intelligibly, and it leaves nothing out.
We should also look at the law of the Church (Canon law), when thinking about catechesis (Canons 773-80).
There is a whole chapter in the code of canon law all about catechesis, next to the chapter about homiletics: so, catechesis, in the mind of the Church, is just as important as the homily you hear (or give) every Sunday!
The parish priest is bound, before God, to undertake his proper duty to take care of catechesis in the parish, both through doctrinal instruction and example and experience. He is the person, who not only is responsible for organising catechesis, but he himself is the teacher of our first teachers, our parents, and our sacramental sponsors. He exercises this power from the bishop, and no-one can take away this grave responsibility, and he should employ all the resources and helps available to him (remembering that the personhood of Christ is found more in man's personhood than on a screen!).
There is envisaged, in the code, five types of catechesis, in this order:
  1. Catechesis for the celebration of the sacraments: this is for everybody, and it goes on forever. Nobody should be celebrating the sacraments without adequate preparation. Perhaps an example of this is preparing lapsed-people immediately a sacrament such as baptism and marriage. This means, not only what they 'do' to participate, but what they are 'doing' in participating.
  2. Catechesis in preparation for the first reception of the sacraments: this is what, perhaps, most people are referring to when they say 'catechesis'; as we see, sacramental preparation is just a part of what catechesis is. This is for everybody, but happens only once. Our sacramental life is nourished through on-going catechesis.
  3. Catechesis after the first reception of the sacraments: in the early Church, this was called 'mystagogia', and it refers to the on-going catechesis immediately after the sacrament, whether that be baptism (for adults and older children), first communion, or confirmation. The person still needs to be instructed at this time, perhaps even more so than before. Just think of all the grace present from the sacrament just received; it is important to keep that flame burning.
  4. Catechesis for the impaired: sometimes, we are required to instruct people who are impeded in some way by a disability, physical or mental, which necessitates particular care and attention.
  5. Catechesis for the faith of youth and adults: this is for the on-going formation of 'grown ups', in order to strengthen, enlighten and develop their faith in a variety of different ways. Every person has a right to this formation (though, obviously, it ultimately requires them to respond to it!). For those who undertake a particular ministry in a parish, it is particularly important, and they should all have access to at least an annual 'day of recollection' and 'day of formation', whether they be Extra-ordinary ministers of Holy Communion, readers or flower-arrangers: none are more important than the other in what they do for Christ, and, in fact, these are the people most open to formation.
There are many different materials available to parish priests and his catechists, and they should always be inspected for their Trinitarian-Christocentricity. Really, we should ask what these materials are teaching. Are they affected by agendas other than Christ's? Ultimately, we must remember that the Blessed Trinity is the light which illuminates everything else; without it, there is darkness.
Some important resources and links:
Catechism of the Catholic Church (not everyone starts here!)
General Directory for Catechesis
Top Ten Errors in Catechesis Today (a good checklist to see if your resources could be improved!)
RCIA Catechists' Manual (available from various places)
Echoes Course (a wide-ranging learning resource run by Maryvale)
Anchor Course (a really excellent and simple course designed for parents of children on preparation courses, but I think could have a wider use)
Evangelium Course (RCIA-based catechesis, both for preparation and on-going formation, in partnership with the CTS)

Vulneratus caritatis sum ego

Yesterday, Saint Philip's Day, the whole seminary travelled down to the Oratory in Birmingham to assist at High Mass to commemorate their holy Father, St Philip Neri.

Birmingham Oratory, decorated for St Philip's day, 2011

Father Rector preached on St Philip, particularly, how he can be used as a model for evangelisation today. He also highlighted the significance and importance of the Bishops' recent decision to restore the compulsory Friday penance of abstention from meat.

The Vision of St Philip, by Reni
There were many holy people around in the Church during the sixteenth century, and St Philip was perhaps as popular then as he is now. The 'Apostle of Rome' was a key figure in missionary activity to the 'down and outs' of Rome, as well as inspiring many in the work of the re-evanglisation of Europe after the Reformation. He was a man of extraordinary spirituality and love of God, which poured out through his personality; he is well-known for his jollity and vivacity! In fact, Father Mark mentioned the importance of this aspect of a priest's life, and, indeed, the life of all Christians, in spreading the Good News.

Back to yesterday. It was the first time in anybody's memory, that Oscotians had joined the Oratorians en masse. The Fathers had previously joined us for lunch at the seminary after the Papal visit, but it was a joy to celebrate the feast of their founder with them, in their beautiful church in Edgbaston. There have been many personal links between the two houses, and it was great to see our long relationship solemnised in this way.

Father Provost, Richard Duffield, gave us a brief tour, and showed us some of Blessed John Henry's items, including his writing desk, violin and original letters (as well as an original facsimile of Elgar's setting of his poem, The Dream of Gerontius), and we said prayers before his shrine. After Mass, which was accompanied by the music of Father Tomas Luis de Victoria, one of my favourites, whose quadricentenntial anniversary falls this year, we were treated with champagne and chocolates with the community in the Newman exhibition. It was great to see champagne corks being fired across a room filled with important artifacts and glass cabinets!

Even Pushkin, the Oratory cat, joined us.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Live life to the full

Today is Vocations Sunday, and many Oscotians have gone out to parishes - some close, some far away! - to speak to their congregations about vocations, specifically, to the priesthood.

Needless to say, the house is significantly depleted. The remnant shall be assisting and serving Mass at St Chad's Cathedral this morning.

St Chad's Basilica in Birmingham

On May bank holiday, several of the seminarians were able to travel to Walsingham for the diocesan pilgrimage, on the translated solemnity of St George. It was our Easter holiday, so we travelled with our parishes or families. 

Bishop Michael's latest published update reads:

Our Diocesan Theme for this year has been not only, ‘Proclaim the Good News’, but also ‘Make Disciples of All Nations’. To do so requires real courage, especially when, like the first Christians at Pentecost, we have to leave our own ‘Upper Room’ and go out into the market place, well beyond our comfort zone.
We can only do this effectively if we stay close to Christ like the vine and the branches which was the Gospel passage at the Pilgrimage. We were also reminded in the book of Revelation that day, that Victory and Empire belong to Christ alone, and that only he can give us the strength and courage that we need.
We hear him say personally to each of us; ‘Courage, do not be afraid, I am with you always, to the end of time.’

We need to pray for courage in all the things we do and decisions we make in life, and in bearing the crosses we are given to bear, as Christ left us an example, that we should follow in his steps. 

On this Vocations Sunday, we should ask, out of love, what the Lord wants us to do, and ask for the strength and courage to do it.

The Good Shepherd

Friday, 6 May 2011

Pugin's Rocket

Now that I have worked out how to use my mobile camera telephone, I've uploaded some of my photographs to my computer. Here is a couple of our chapel for Easter this year (being in Ushaw for the Sacred Triduum, this is the first time we've been in college for the season this year). Some astute readers may notice a slight sanctuary re-ordering, which occurred at the start of Lent, with the use of some newly acquired benches for concelebrants (who previously sat in the quire). The Minton tiles have been washed and re-sealed, so the floor looks like glass!

And here's a close-up of our famous 'Rocket', one of the few of Pugin's original features. It hasn't been seen since 2009, because we did not have a Paschal candle last year. Pity the poor wax sacristan, who has to climb the stairs every day to light it!

It is an Oscott custom for the Paschal candle to be decorated by one of the students, and Henry obliged us this year, and very elaborately too! For Royal Wedding buffs, you may have noticed the similarity between our sanctuary frescos and the Archbishop of Canterbury's cope fabric: both were the same Pugin design!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

New term


We forgot to post anything for the past 3 weeks!

The third and final term of our year starts today. I have just returned to Oscott, having popped into the Polling Station at home before I set off to vote in the referendum and local council election. It is very important to exercise our civic responsibility, even if we don't think it is really important. It is a great privilege to be able to vote in elections, from conclaves to councils!

Most of us are preparing to move rooms now, to make room for the workmen who are going to complete the renovations to accommodate all the new students we are going to get in September. We also have exams to revise for, so it is going to be a busy few days!

Now, where is my Greek textbook...