By CANON F. H. DRINKWATER THE new Catechetics has now produced such a formidable literature in so
many languages, some of it (let us admit) making the subject seem so learned and complicated, that the honest enquirer may feel rather daunted. "Life's too short to read all these books", he may well say as he wanders round some conference bookstall or studies the bibliography in the latest handbook for catechists, "Isn't there anything that puts it all into a nutshell, for an ordinary educated religion-teacher like me'?"
Nutshells are not very edible, and can even be dangerous no doubt, but I feel much sympathy with the request myself, and am willing to risk an answer. If you want it all in a nutshell get the new Australian Catechism, which I understand is now fully available, all four volumes of it, at its English agents for distribution, Burns Oates.
It will cost you quite a lot; the four volumes are Catechism Book I (for ten to twelves) 10s. 6d., with Teacher's Book I6s.: and Catechism Book II (say for twelves to fourteens) 15s., with corresponding Teachers Book 35s. And don't imagine you can do without the Teacher's Books: they are by far the chief dishes of this nutty repast.
But if you possess this tiny library, and really digest its contents (and I will even let you off the last 100 pages of the second Teacher's Book as being purely pedagogical) you will know all that anybody that isn't a professor need know about the Catechetical Movement. No claims are made here to have studied every line of these four books with a microscope and surely there are lots of points in them that I would like to start an argument about.
But without assertions of ultimate perfection we can be sure that this Australian Catechism is the finest practical fruit so far of the whole Catechetical Movement. And let us he happy to add that Ireland can claim some percentage of the credit, judging by the name of the chief author, who is Fr. John F. Kelly, a priest of the Melbourne diocese.
Readers blessed with a good memory may recall that Australian Catechism Book I was described in this column earlier this year. and was praised especially for avoiding theological jargon. In Book II. as we should expect. more technical terms are admitted (e.g. infinite redemption) but are kept to a minimum especially in the 180 summarising questions and answers.
For the rest, a fuller review or description of Book 11 will be found in the Furrow of August. In this column we should prefer to concentrate on the corresponding Teacher's Book, a large volume of nearly 400 pages. (If you think this is a lot. remember the four weighty official volumes of 'Teacher's aid-books to go with the German Catechism.)
The first 80 pages of it have little to do with the Catechism itself, They form a most admirable nutshell of the "General Principle" of Catechetics in 14 short chapters. The list of chapter-headings will serve to indicate how comprehensively the ground is covered: Christ the Word (bringer of God's Message); The Catholic Teacher; Our Pupil's Development: What is our Message?: The Bible: The Liturgy; Prayer; How We Teach; Teaching Aids: The Words Wc Use: Pupil Activity; The Use of Hymns: Paraliturgy: Parents (Poor parents. they always come last! But it's a sensible little chapter).
Then we come to the second part, (pp, 85 to 256) which is the real Teacher's Book. containing chapter-by-chapter doctrinal and pedagogical advice on the 127 chapters of Catechism Book II. It is useless trying to convey the real experience. the psychology, the sound judgment, the unusual frankness. the continual helpfulness of this commentary. Suffice it to say that all these qualities are here (as they were in the Teacher's Book I) in quite unprecedented force.
The Australian Catechism takes the form (regrettably if you like) of a school-pupils' text-book. But given that it must be so, then everyone will admit that it achieves just the right balance between pupil's book and teacher's. The Pupil's Book is a real book of short chapters. complete in itself, while the Teacher's Book is much larger making aims and methods perfectly clear. providing background information, deepening the ideas, warning about awkward points, re-educating the teacher when necessary, and all this in a brief, lively and informal fashion that both creates interest and saves time. A real model to all text-book writers.
One thing the present writer likes about these two Teacher's Books is that they give full place to what must be called the negative element in the Catechetical renewal. Naturally we all like to be positive rather than negative, especially in our teaching of religion. In the long run (we may reflect for our comfort) that will take care of itself. since the Church's teaching cannot fail to survive and get through somehow.
Somehow or other, despite all our human obstacles and incompetence, the tremendous Message -that mankind is not just expendable, that God loves every single human being and invites all to eternal joy, that His Son has come and died and risen to bring us there, that He lives on in His Spirit-charged Church to carry the thing through — will always be coming through.
Nevertheless the channels are always getting choked, and at any given moment, certainly at the present given moment, one urgent part of the task is negative. Obstacles need removing. Cluttered misconceptions want untcaching. We need to stop doing this, to stop saying that.
During all our life-time, for instance, I believe that a first priority in catechetical reform has been the negative job of doing away with the catechism-parrot system; a system which (along with the compulsion-mentality it presupposes) made it more and more difficult for the Message to trickle through.
The parrot-system now seems doomed, though still working at full blast in a hundred thousand class-rooms, not through fault of teachers on the whole. It is doomed because genuine expert opinion everywhere has turned dead against it, so much so that one may wonder whether in the classrooms of the next generation the problem could change to one M under-formulation instead of over-formulation.
As Pope John told the Council at its first meeting, the Faith does not change in substance but its formulations often need to vary. sometimes it is some quite minor formulation or some.fixed popular phrase which ends by giving a throng emphasis and which needs some negative attending to. Take for instance, ways of referring to Purgatory. "The holy souls" we call them, very appropriately and helpfully. I never heard of anybody being Pitt off by it, unless it was a parish football-team who might have felt embarrassed at being officially called the "Holy Souls", but I expect they were rather proud of it. But take the corresponding German expression, the "poor souls", which is so fixed that it has to be used even in the German Catechism. What a dismal sound it gives to this consoling doctrine! What pictures perhaps of tossing flames and uplifted arms, taking one straight back in a moment to friar Tetzel and the building-fund for St. Peter's! The "poor souls" --surely a "formulation" ripe for renewal.
Or to come nearer home, what about our own stock phrase "holy purity", with its strong suggestion that only one virtue and one Com
mandment really matters, the rest being regarded as "also sans". Both these instances arc mentioned in the Teacher's Book, and many other such points trivial in themselves but influential in the quality of religion.
One point not so trivial where considerable "unteaching" is needed is the undiscriminating way in which the expression "mortal sin" has come to be used amongst Catholics. Anyone who has tried to get their theologian friends to face this question fairly and squarely will know what resistances to any such mental activity are encountered.
Catechists just have to cultivate
the value do-it-yourself -li te of t h oiii -y ot rsseulLf spi ritt:oa la a nddichen hence
the following (Teacher's Book, p. 196): "In all our instruc
tion on Confession it is important never to imply mortal sins as a matter of course. 'Tell your mortal sins first', and such statements, are most unhelpful . . . Never suggest that bad Confessions are common or even likely to occur". Though the author adds that they can occur in schools through regimentation, or concealments through sheer fear.
Valuable as such negative advice
may be, however, they are only incidental to the positive presentation of the central Message. As for instance, in another place on the same subject: "We eish to teach what a terrible evil mortal sin is. If we have taught God the Creator. the Lord of all, We Can show that mortal sin is a grave injustice done to God.
"If we have taught God the loving Father, mortal sin is seen as the son's complete rejection of his Father . . . If se have convinced our pupils that they share the life of the Trinity, then they will understand that mortal sin is self-inflicted death ... Our aim is ' . to make them firmly determined not to commit it, for God's sake, first of all, before we even mention hell."
And all this (the reader may
add) necessarily goes along with a credible account of what is and what is not to be called a "mortal sin-, for here sve are building up not merely a sort of convenient
tariff of conduct, but e hat amounts to a portrait of God Himself. and a whole attitude towards Him. In this main effort these Australian aid-books are a genuine help.