Catechesis or Liturgy?

There is a very interesting article published today at Catholic Action UK by Daphne McLeod. She argues that the root of the crisis in the Church is to be found primarily in the widespread religious ignorance of the truths of the faith and not primarily in the loss of the older form of the Mass.

Daphne's article is a valuable contribution to this discussion because she certainly loves the older form of the Mass and attends it regularly. Hers is not an argument that in any way denies the beauty or the value of the usus antiquior. I think that her comments are timely, prompting us to take a closer look at the question of catechesis.

For many years as a student and a priest, I had no great interest in the Classical Roman Rite. I came to know and love it after responding positively to a request for a funeral in the old rite. Having previously considered that the teaching of the faith was the only thing that really mattered (provided that the Liturgy was celebrated reverently, in accord with the liturgical norms), I began to discover the value of the traditional liturgy as an immediate and powerful catalyst for the rediscovery of the faith.

So I believe (and I imagine that Daphne would agree) that both are important. We must continue to promote sound catechesis and to see this as absolutely vital for the life of the Church. The interesting thing is to consider how the traditional liturgy assists in this. Certainly, the doctrine of the real presence, and of the sacrifice of the Mass, as well as the doctrine of original sin and the attributes of God are well supported by a devoutly said traditional Mass; but I think we can go further if we look at the things that surrounded the older form of Mass, particularly as regards the priest.

The prayers of preparation and thanksgiving, the "burden" of the traditional breviary, the expectation of a proper rule of life for priests: all these help the priest to understand the heart of his ministry for the people entrusted to his care. They also help him to cut to the essentials of what he must do in terms of educating people in the faith: and indeed lead him to understand that the simple catechism of basic Catholic truths is fundamental to the life of his people and that he must get this across somehow. Sooner or later, he will return to those simple catechetical summaries of which a shining example is the "Penny Catechism".

We must never allow the Classical Rite of Mass to be left as an enthusiasm of the "cognoscenti". If it is to be the force for renewal in the Church that I believe it can be, it must be allied with solid and sound catechesis. The "test case" for me was the Mass for young children at Lourdes at which I gave some catechesis while Fr Briggs celebrated the Mass. Liturgy and catechesis must go hand in hand. Continuity with the tradition of the Church is essential in both.

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