At the recent Network Study Days One of Us one thing that I heard a number of times was either ‘I have never thought of it like that’ or I had not realised it meant that’. These moments of revelation were often connected with fundamental aspects of rite. They were theological equivalent for not being able to see the wood for the trees. We may have read the Rite through but unless we have grasped some guiding principles or recognise the assumptions that the text is making we may miss the meaning. To give one example I think the rite assumes that parishes are places of life long learning. A surface reading of the rite might assume that mystagogia ends at Pentecost rather than the neophyte is initiated into a community that continues to want know more about the love of God and has opportunities to do so.
One of my favourite phrases in my favourite paragraph (75) is a suitable catechesis… ‘accommodated to the liturgical year’. You could breeze past that without a pause. An interesting aspect of the Rite is that does not contain a syllabus, at first glance there are only rites but I would argue the information is all there. But first a quotation from Pope Benedict:
…in the Church’s ancient tradition the process of Christian formation always had an experiential character. While not neglecting a systematic understanding of the content of the faith, it centred on a vital and convincing encounter with Christ,as proclaimed by authentic witnesses. Sacramentum Caritatis 64
This echoes the General Directory for Catechesis that the object of catechesis is to promote communion with Christ. (GDC 30)
Back to my favourite phrase. What is the purpose of the liturgical year — ‘to unfold the entire mystery of Christ’ (GNLYC 1). I would suggest that within the simple phrase ‘accommodated to the liturgical year’ is a the foundation of the catechetical content of the catechumenate — to know the life, mission, teaching, passion, death and resurrection of Christ as unfolded through the liturgical year. We hear this story unfolding but it is not enough to know the story that would be seeing only wood. The story has meaning and challenges to how we live our lives.
In a review of the recent book by Karen Armstrong The Case for God the reviewer Paul Vallely summarised part of Armstrong’s argument about the differences between earlier centuries understanding of belief and current perceptions:
We see a number of revealing shifts in meaning ‘I believe’ has become scientised to mean ‘I assert these propositions to be empirically correct.’ What it originally meant was ‘I pledge my heart and my loyalty’. Jesus was asking for commitment not credulity. Similarly the word dogma now means a ruling laid down by authority. But originally it meant a teaching that cannot be expressed verbally but which is intuited through the liturgy.
…a vital and convincing encounter with Christ,as proclaimed by authentic witnesses…
A final reminder as to why the life of Jesus is not only foundational but necessary is the results of the Biblical Literacy survey. It is an area rich in anecdotes which we who are familiar can find amusing or astonishing, or perhaps should remind us that we can take these things for granted. As in one of a group of art students going round the National Gallery after seeing numerous Nativity scenes and asking why is it always a boy?