Page 1, 24th March 1972

24th March 1972
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Page 8
Page 1, 24th March 1972 — Time 'not ripe' for revised Catechism

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Time 'not ripe' for revised Catechism


CARDINAL HEENAN said last week in a letter to Catholic teachers that while there was a case for a revised Catechism, the opportune moment to produce such a book (or books) had not yet arrived. The science of catechetics was still in its infancy in this country.

"Experience suggests?' he said, "that we cannot merely import a foreign system of teaching. We have never gone outside these islands in models for secular educatLion. It is doubtless wise to delay publication of official books ('religion books') until the theological atmosphere is clearer."

The Cardinal was discussing the "General Cathechetical Directory," .pub fished last Easter and now printed by the Catholic Truth Society, which he said had to be studied carefully for its full message to be understood. It showed how formal religious teaching could be made really fruitful. and would also dispel prejudice against modern catechetics.

"Those who have begun to fear that teaching religion to children is a hopeless task will gain reassurance from the directory. I hope that those who are at present afraid of giving doctrine classes will take heart from reading it."

From life

The heart of modern catechetics, continued Cardinal Heenan, was teaching from life. "This is hardly a revolutionary notion since it is the method invariably used by Our Lord. Despite Christ's example of teaching by parables, catechetics after the Council of Trent became arid and mechanical.

"Until the nineteen hundreds religious teaching was largely a matter of repeating fixed questions and answers . . . The directory suggests that only Our Lord's methods of religious instruction are sound.

"It is not surprising that after 20 centuries we should rediscover that Christ understood better than anyone the best way to teach religion. He did not begin by reciting principles and propounding definitions. His lessons started with stories taken from life."

It was probable, said the cardinal, that some catechetical methods at present

out of favour would return. But this did not mean that there could ever be a return to the mechanical repetition of Catechism answers as a means of teaching Catholic doctrine to children.

Clear but dry

"No modern teacher would defend the old mechanical use of the Catechism," the Cardinal continued. "it is doubtful if the Catechism by itself ever led people to love their religion. Its language was clear but dry and dispassionate precisely because its purpose was simply to define concepts.

"It would be difficult to imagine a manner of teaching more remote than that of the Sermon on the Mount. This is not to sneer at the Catechism but only to point out that it is not a suitable prime medium for teaching religion.

"A Catechism has its uses in reminding children of what bas been taught. It provides a useful summary. It was not designed to make people love God or to train them in the spiritual life. A Catechism supplements but should never be used to supplant the unction (`charisms) of a devoted teacher."

Although teachers of religion had to use the kind of technique found successful by teachers of secular subjects, religious instruction was essentially different from any other type of teaching. There were two main differences.

In the first place the religious teacher did not merely give instruction but actually provided the means of grace. There was something almost sacramental in the work of a catechist. The Holy Spirit was active in the mind of the learner while the catechist was giving instruction or stimulating discussion.

"The second difference is that the value of a lesson in arithmetic or geography in no way depends on the •moral character or virtue of the teacher. The catechist, on the other hand, however brilliant (continued on page 8)


as a theologian, will be ti poor instrument of God's grace without lively faith and zeal for souls.

"Adolescents are particularly Sensitiveto the spiritual qualities of their teacher. There are now many non-Catholic teachers in our schools who. though not taking doctrine

classes, still exercise a beneficial influence on the religious life of the children.

"Their .presence in Catholic schools is a reminder of what the Vatican Council did. While not needing to tell us to lo‘e our fellow-Christians, the Council took the initiative of urging us to pray together.

"Catholics hitherto had been taught to co-operate with nonCatholics in social work but never to share in public worship. Another change brought about by the Council was an increased reliance on the Bible in Catholic life, liturgy and theology.

"These were real changes. They did not mean that the Church had become I ss stirs" .,1 itseli but that the Coimcil I id delih••tately altered certain Catholic attitudes. It follows that teacheis whose religious lessons ate unchanged as a result of the Council have been deaf to the voice of the Church.


It was true, continued (Ai-din:11 :Heenan. that the I. (tuned had defined no new doctrines and that those tenehing new doctrines were in error. But the Council did decree a different style of preventing Catholic doctrine.

"The Council did not deal directlY whir the subject of cateehelics. lire lines on which the subject was to develop had been outlined early in the century by Continental theologians ...

"As a result of the antimodernist crusade of Pope Pius x such emphasis was laid on the divinit y el Christ that his manhood was made to appear relatively unimportant.

"In an honest attempt to redress the balance, minor theologians now tend 'to play down the Soo of Cod in order to stress thai he is also the Son of man. Niglio.' go So far as to say that 110 prayer ought to be

directed to Jesus Christ still less to Mary or the other saints.

"Almighty God, it is suggested. means God the Father. Jesus must bc thought of as man's brother more than as God's Son. It is important to k POW that this is a fairly recent development in theology and hence in catecheties."

It was almost by chance. the

(ardint f said, that the OFFICERS' WHITE SHIRTS New Genuine Govt. Release Catechism came to be so sharply debated last autumn. The discussion WaS not about its place in modern catechetics; the dispute arose from the "very prosaic fact that Catechism stocks were low.

"The C :mitotic Truth Society therefore had to reprint it or allow the Catechism to go out of circulation. The choice was not 'between the old (and admittedly unsatisfactory) Catechism and an up-to-date version. It was between the existing Catechism and none at all.

"There was, in other words, no real alternative but to allow the Catechism to be reprinted. In the new edition obvious errors had to be corrected, e.g., questions relating to fasting, Libstinence, and the Eucharistic fast.

"In view of these minor emendations the republished Catechism was described as a revised edition. Hence the misunderstanding and ensuing controversy.''

The first (and, as it happened. the last) version of the Revised Catechism of Christian Doctrine had been published, for private circulation, in the auilimn Of 1958, and was used in seigCted secondary modern, grionnlar and public schools in various parts of England.

The committee of three bishops appointed by the hierarchy to revise the Cathechism in consultation with priests and teachers awaited preliminary reports before deciding to ask the hierarchy to tiuthorise its wider use. In the fight of criticisms it had been hoped to produce a second experimental edition.

"Teachers who had not been directly involved in the experiment received the new

version with something less than enthusiasm.said the Cardinal. "If any kind of Cathechism was to be retained, they scented to feel, it would be better to keep the version they knew . . .

"You must understand that catechists have always faced hostility for the very understandable reaon that their task the same in every generation is to introduce up-to-date educational methods into religious teaching ...


"After consultation with Archbishop Beck and Bishop Rudderham, my colleagues on the committee. the experimental Catechism was, as they say in the House of Lords, by leave ithdrawn. It is unlikely that Oily similar revision will ever again be undertaken.

experimental C:atechism was withdrawn but we had not made much progress toward producing an official substitute for the old Catechism. I grew more and more convinced as I talked to parents, priests and teachers that a different style of book was needed."

Since the Vatican Council, Cardinal Heenan's letter continued, the Ca thol ie corniluhltity had been offered an abundance of popular theology which almost by definition was ephemeral. Skilled publishers recognised a seller's market. They were equally quick to see when a commodity was no longer in demand.

"The public was given a surfeit of superficial theology. It flooded the bookshops and drowned sonic of their proprietors. Only quality religious writing wild now attract

publishers. That is why popular theology no longer tills the book shops.

"With the return of serious theological works the time will collie for publishing official Catechism texts."


It was only fair, the Cardinal continued, to say a word for the much-criticised "Penny Catechism," which had served its turn. "It is impious to sneer at the teachers of the early years of this century who taught religion by rote.

"That. we must remember, is how every subject was taught in those days_ Of course it wilt not do now bin even today it would be as foolish in religion as in any other subjects to dispense with all by-heart work . . . The old definitions learned at school have been a source of strength and consolation to many a Catholic.

"Certain definitions of doctrine are put so neatly anti rhythmically in the Cathechism that only those who discard their religion will entirely forget them. It must be stress ed, however. that the Catechism is not a primary source but only a reserve."

Cardinal Heenan added: "I am writing this letter because I want you to be a really keen catechist. Condemnation of all catechists because of the errors of a few is foolish and unwarranted . . .

"Thousand of Catholics never have the chance of attending Catholic schools. The task before catechists is immense. The most able catechists are people like you who have received training as teachers."

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