quod pro nobis traditum est

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

More on Catechesis and Liturgy

Yesterday I wrote that the focus of the Mass is not catechesis. This may be obvious, yet in a sense catechesis does happen in the liturgy and in the Mass, maybe not always consciously. In other words, the liturgy and Mass catechize in the sense that they pass on the things of God to His people who are gathered in His Church for prayer. The catechesis that takes place in the liturgy and Mass is not how we are to learn to follow that same liturgy or Mass. This "how to " learning takes place in the regular practice of the Holy Mass; the "hands on" of praying the faith regularly with the Church. The real catechesis we receive in the liturgy and Mass is Christ Himself. The intangible things we are learning on the way to Christ in the liturgy and in the Mass is the faith. So while the focus of the liturgy and Mass is not catechesis (ie, knowledge or even faith), we receive that and so much more in receiving Christ Himself.


William Weedon said...

I think we have to recognize that the first half of the mass - sometimes called the Mass of the Catechumens - is essentially catechetical in nature. Its focus is teaching. One thinks of the liturgy in North Africa where St. Augustine would walk in, give a blessing, and the reading of Scripture and its exposition would proceed. What the East retains with its totally ignored "Let all learners depart; let only the faithful remain" is the sense that the Eucharist proper is not the place or time for catechesis. Some Roman parishes that use RCIA actually DO dismiss the catechumens prior to the Eucharistic portion of the liturgy - to go to catechumenal sessions to learn and ponder more about the word they heard proclaimed in the Liturgy of the Word. Not a bad practice, I dare say.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Weedon,

I am not sure that I should agree that the first half of the Mass is essentially catechetical in nature. Don't read too much into the ascription "Mass of the Catechumens"; that refers only to the fact that catechumens were permitted to attend that part of the Mass, and were dismissed at its conclusion. That does not mean that the catechumens were the main focus of that part of the liturgy, nor that "catechesis" was the main activity.

There is a useful distinction to be drawn between the Church's kerygma (the liturgical proclamation of the Word) and catechesis properly so called. The liturgical ministry of the Word is part of God's service to us (Gottesdienst), a covenanted means of grace. It is formal, liturgical, and addressed to the community as a whole. Catechesis is informal, individualized, and interactive in a way that the liturgical ministry of the Word is not.

The Roman practice you refer to, of actually dismissing the catechumens to catechism sessions (which some Orthodox congregations now do, as well) is indeed a good one; and it illustrates the difference I am trying to get at. The "catechism classes" that they go to are not the same as the formal liturgy of the Word that they have come from. It's not just more Scripture readings and sermon; it's a class where teaching takes place, with lecture, questions from the students, class discussion -- the whole nine yards. Things happen in catechesis which would never happen (should never happen) in the ecclesial liturgy of the Word.

The essential nature of the first half of the Mass is not catechetical, but kerygmatic. It is the formal, liturgical proclamation of the Word of God as an objective, covenanted means of grace. It is not unrelated to catechesis, but it's not the same thing.

William Weedon said...


I don't disagree at all. I think you said it better than I did. But when I use "catechumenal in nature" I meant it merely in the broad sense: the presentation of the Word of God and its preaching, through which faith is formed. Kerygmatic indeed.

Rev. Timothy May, M.Div., S.S.P. said...

In sum then - kerygmatic, catechetical - not in the sense of focusing on the Catechumens but in the sense of giving and receiving the Word - and God's service to us, hopefully preparing the faithful for the Eucharist and preparing the Catechumens to look forward to the day when they too will partake of the Eucharist. Thank you for these comments.