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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Anglican Catechesis - Addressing and Correcting Deficiencies

For the past four years, I have been pursuing a Master's degree in Catechetics at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and in the course of those studies I have learned a lot. However, some of what I have learned has also been disturbing when I look at my own church, which is Anglican - catechesis is undiscovered territory for many Anglican parishes in our tradition, and it is a scary thing when one really thinks about it. I want to briefly deal with this situation here, and share some observations.

If one looks at traditional Anglican catechesis, it is largely confined to about four pages in the back of the Book of Common Prayer (if you are following this, it is on pages 577-583). As a result, there are a lot of faithful attenders in our Masses who are deficient in even basic doctrine, and this may have contributed to the decline as well of the Episcopal Church, the mainline body which many traditional Anglicans trace their roots back to (most to a schism that happened in 1977 in St. Louis, when my own communion, the Anglican Catholic Church, and many others were formed and constituted what is called the "Continuing Anglican" movement). A lack of solid catechesis can be detrimental to a Church, and although many will affirm orthodoxy, many don't know what they are affirming. By contrast, the Roman Catholics have the 1500+ page Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is so thorough and even cross-referenced that it would be impossible not to understand it. The Eastern Churches likewise have extensive catechisms, notably one called The Rudder, and both the Roman and Eastern Churches have strict procedures for training their catechists to teach effectively. A guiding document in the Roman Church for this is what is known as the General Directory for Catechesis, which I have almost had to memorize during my graduate program at Steubenville, and it is a valuable resource. One statement from the General Directory (hereafter called GDC) that is very applicable to the situation of catechesis in our traditional Anglican churches is this - in GDC 2, this paragraph is noted:

The course of catechesis during this same period has been characterized everywhere by generous dedication, worthy initiatives and by positive results for the education and growth in the faith of children, young people and adults. At the same time, however, there have been crises, doctrinal inadequacies, influences from the evolution of global culture and ecclesial questions derived from outside the field of catechesis which have often impoverished its quality.
( - accessed 6/12/2017)

Note the last sentence in that paragraph - doctrinal inadequacies, influences from the evolution of global culture, and ecclesial questions derived from outside the field of catechesis that have impoverished its quality. Secularization and the via moderna have had their influence, even on die-hard traditionalists at times, but what have been some things that have affected the quality of traditional Anglican catechesis in a negative way? I want to note a few of those here:

1. Lack of adequate instructional time - the average parish in one of our dioceses limits Sunday School instruction, Bible study, and catechesis to a mere 30 minutes before or after Mass, and that is insufficient to even cover the material properly.

2. A general indifference on the part of parishioners - many Anglican parishioners are basically good people, and they display a generosity that exemplifies Christian charity beautifully. However, when it comes to commitment to Bible study or catechesis (especially for adults), many of the people who should be there are not, and that can be very discouraging for a priest or a catechist.

3. Influences of Freemasonry and other outside things - an alarming number of Anglicans are involved in Masonic lodges, they consult horoscopes, and many also get faulty theology from sources like the History Channel. Although again I must stress that personally many of these people are basically decent individuals and do these things in ignorance, the point is that if they had proper catechesis to begin with, they wouldn't be allowing these things to influence them. Many of our bishops know the dangers of Freemasonry, and they have a sort of "discourage but tolerate" position, which actually I cannot fault them for - some of this stuff is so deeply embedded in the older generations that it would be impossible to exorcise it, so I believe the bishops in their wisdom are just letting those influences sort of die off. However, we must properly catechize the younger generation.

4. General inconsistency on rubrics, etc. - Traditional Anglicans (especially vestry members, older lay readers, and sacristans) are often sticklers for getting everything "just right" during our Masses, and they can be super-critical and unforgiving to someone "learning the ropes." I have dealt with more than my fair share of those, and honestly, they are a royal pain in the keister! The inconsistency though with many of these same individuals lies in the way they are casual about some things they should be taking seriously, such as correct pronunciation of the names and words in the Epistle readings on Sundays - I cringe every time I hear a lay reader butcher even the simplest of Biblical words, but it happens all too frequently. Part of proper catechesis is educating about reverence for God's Holy Word, which is infallible, inerrant, and the record of the divine kerygma. We should, as lay readers, take pride in our task of reading the Holy Word of God, and do so with reverence and try to read it properly! That is why another important aspect of catechesis is also special classes for lay readers, acolytes, sacristans, and others who participate in the Mass. It would save a lot of problems at the Mass itself.

It is also worth noting that as Anglicans, we are not exclusive - we are first Catholic rather than merely "Anglican," and our liturgy, theology, and spirituality need to be defined in the context of the wider Church as a whole. The late Fr. Louis Tarsitano, in his pioneering catechetical text An Outline of the Anglican Life (Houston: Classical Anglican Press, 1994) states "Anglicanism is not a pastiche of private or borrowed customs," and "The Anglican Church does not own the middle way (Via Media - my add) to Christ; but we maintain it for his honor and for the sake of salvation." (Tarsitano, p. 1). Our own Archbishop Haverland likewise says that "Anglican Catholics, I think, are right not to explain the unity of the Church in a manner that excludes either the Romans or Easterners. How the essential unity of the Church is maintained despite apparent disunity is a mystery and mercy of God." (Mark Haverland, Anglican Catholic Faith and Practice. Athens, GA: Anglican Parishes Association, 2011. p. 140). Actually Aquinas explained this "unity in disunity" perfectly when he emphasizes the reality of supernatural grace in the Summa and other texts. In essence, I would personally agree with the Roman Catholic Cardinal Christophe Schonborn, whose notable phrase "Finis ominum Ecclesia (The Church is the goal of all things)," sums up the role of the Church (the subject of a future article, and also one of my comprehensive exam questions for my Master's program!) - within the Church is the fullness of salvation, and since the Church is the custodian of that precious gift, it's custodians must take that mandate seriously in both evangelization and catechesis (which do go hand-in-hand). In Cardinal Schonborn's book, Loving the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1998), he makes the case for this very thing when he expounds upon the kerygma as being culminated in the Church (more on that in another article as well) but also specifically in the person of Christ. He describes the Church specifically as the "inner ground" of God's plan of creation (Schonborn, p. 21). This mystical communion encompasses all who are part of the Church, and that includes the Anglican Catholic tradition - we are part, but not all, in other words. The same applies to our Roman and Eastern brethren, as well in varying degrees to devout and faithful Protestants who are part of and participants in the whole Church by embracing orthodoxy. This higher but also inclusive view of the Church is the heart of Anglican understanding of ecclesiology. That being said, our catechesis needs to reflect that, and we can benefit greatly from the collective wisdom of the whole Church, which is one reason why I reference the GDC, a Roman Catholic document, here. There are three things of note that the GDC says therefore which should be the goal of catechesis, and this is where our discussion continues.

In GDC 27, the internal life of the Church and its dependence upon sound catechesis is discussed at length, and what it says is that certain enrichments will be evident, including the following:

1. Liturgical life properly and profoundly understood as the source and summit of ecclesial life.

2. A universal call to holiness and a greater commitment to mutual service and charity (meaning catholicity).

3. Sacred Scripture is savoured, reverenced, and meditated upon more intensely - especially by lay and clerical leaders!

4. The resulting spiritual renewal will intensify the evangelistic mission of the Church.

Aha! #4 affirms that proper catechesis will bear evangelistic fruit! They are intimately connected, in other words. This is integral to the life of the Church, as it is her means of procreation. That being said, we often lack at times in our Anglican parishes because while we have a commendable (albeit misguided!) commitment to doing things "the way we have always done them," at the same time there are some things that need to go - not liturgically or theologically, but rather attitude. The complacency of so many of our laity regarding discipleship - their Bibles gather dust while the coffeepots in the parish hall are always perculating....hmmm, better stop before a sacred cow becomes a casualty, right?? - is a scandal. We do so many other things so well - as mentioned, one of the strengths of our local parishes is generosity - Anglicans help each other when one experiences difficulty, and on that aspect of charity our people are the best. My wife and I owe much to the kindness and generosity of many of our faithful fellow parishioners, who have indeed been a tremendous blessing to us. Now, imagine if that charitable aspect of our faith were augmented with an equal love of Scripture and a hunger for learning the faith and also reaching out to others in evangelization - we would be truly the Church God intended. That is where proper catechesis needs to be taken more seriously. Another aspect of this as well is knowing why we pray and say things in our liturgy, as catechesis is based primarily on "Four Pillars," which are all incorporated into our traditional Anglican Mass - the Lord's Prayer, the Decalogue, the Creeds of the Church, and the Sacraments themselves. Ultimately, all four of those are what are called Christocentric - all of them point us to Jesus ultimately. A true catechetical program would be centered first and foremost around those four things, and every other aspect of study would incorporate those and point us back to their Source, which is Jesus Christ Himself. Thanks be to God for great instructors at Franciscan University who taught me the importance of this, and now it is time our Anglican tradition embraces them as well, as our whole reason for existence falls upon them, and ultimately Jesus Christ Himself.

The bottom line of an effective catechesis is to make our people come to love Jesus and know Him, and too many of our people don't - they "go through motions" and know all the correct rubrics, etc., but they don't know Him. A necessity for re-evangelization of our people is vital to our survival as a Church, and it starts with encouraging proper catechesis. Until we do, we face a crisis of faith - many will proclaim it, but many also won't truly have it within themselves. Religion and relationship are both integral to the Christian life, and in order to have them the mysteries of faith must be taught and also encouraged to be lived out. If we start doing that, we will be a force to be reckoned with as a communion. God bless until next time.