June 2013 Editorial
…there has been, in my view, a serious neglect of instruction of the faithful in the fundamentals of the Catholic faith in a systematic way in most of our parishes.
Recently a priest friend asked me, “How can we teach the faith during Sunday homilies?” With that question, he put his finger on a problem that has been troubling me for some time: In the revised liturgy, how can the priest give a systematic, coherent presentation of Catholic teaching on the Creed, the Commandments, and the Sacraments within the course of the three-year cycle of scriptural readings?
You may recall that before Vatican II many bishops gave detailed directions on the subject of the sermon for each Sunday. In this way, the basic tenets of Catholic faith and morals were covered over a period of years. Since Vatican II, this procedure seems to have been abandoned. There may be some bishops who still give such directives, but I have not seen them.
We have reason to rejoice at the revised, much more complete readings that we now have in the Lectionary over a three-year period. When Vatican II put great stress on the role of Scripture in the Mass, and both increased and lengthened the readings, we witnessed a move away from the traditional “sermon” to the “homily.” The sermon tended to concentrate on faith, morals, explaining the Creed, whereas the homily now tends to be an “explanation” of the scriptural readings for the day. The explanation usually is in the form of a rudimentary exegesis, or it moves into biblical theology, that is, a theme from the Bible is developed, suggested by the day’s readings.
Such procedures are good. We needed a return to Scripture, and that is what we have had for the past 40 years. But in the meantime, there has been, in my view, a serious neglect of instruction of the faithful in the fundamentals of the Catholic faith in a systematic way in most of our parishes. Also, there is little or no connection between the homilies from one Sunday to the next. As a result, more and more Catholics simply do not know what their Church teaches on such basic questions as original sin, mortal and venial sin, the Incarnation, the Trinity, heaven, hell, purgatory, the Real Presence, bodily resurrection, and so forth.
Millions of Catholics are confused—and that confusion has led to division. It seems to me that we have been witnessing a steady Protestantization of the Catholic Church, in the sense that each person, on the principles of sola scriptura and private interpretation, decides for himself/herself what the Bible and the Catholic faith mean. There are now about 20,000 different forms of Protestantism; and we now seem to have several different forms of Catholicism, not officially but de facto.
It seems to me that it would be a good idea for the bishops to work out a new, comprehensive program of systematic instruction on the Creed, the Commandments, and the Sacraments that would be keyed to the A, B, and C cycles of scriptural readings, spread out over three years. We have been following such a program in our HPR homilies since 1980. Such a systematic program was recommended by the Synod of Bishops in Rome in 2008, but so far nothing seems to have been done about it. Homilies on Scripture are fine, but the Catholic faithful also need clear instruction on the fundamentals of the Catholic faith.