Catechism V: Lent Part II

We are beginning the 4th week of Lent, and it may be helpful to review briefly some matters of repentance. Last week we listed a few basic items: the precepts (positive laws) of the Church, the Virtues cardinal and theological, and the Works of Mercy, corporal and spiritual

No one likes to be reminded of his sins, least of all me. But that is what Lent is all about. “During the period from Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday , the liturgy speaks … [of] the misery of fallen humanity – the fatal consequences of original sin and actual sin…”. (1962 Daily Missal) During Lent proper, we have the “twofold theme of repentance and baptism … [the faithful] should be advised particularly to approach the sacrament of penance (“confession” – TC) during Lent, in accordance with the law and tradition of the Church, so that they may share in the joys of Easter Sunday with purity of heart.” (Daily Roman Missal, 3rd Edition)

Both the 1962 Missal and the 3rd Ed. Roman Missal present more or less the same material, and all of the material is found in Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) para. 1852-1876. I have, therefore, cribbed from all of these sources. As with last week, this is simply in laundry list format: the point is simply to review, and to get us thinking. Et nunc, amici amicaeque: peccata, crimina et vitia: offenses, faults, crimes, sins.

First, sins vary in their severity. This is common sense. 

Venial sin occurs “when, in a less serious manner, one does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent. … it impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues … it merits temporal punishment. However, it does not break the covenant with God.” As a first approximation, one who dies in a state of venial sin only in all likelihood winds up in purgatory (CCC 1031-1033). This is not to say that venial sins are trivial, they are not. “Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin.” (CCC 1863)

Mortal sin occurs when three conditions are met (CCC 1858-1860). 

  1. Grave matter: the gravity of sins vary, “murder is graver than theft … violence against parents is graver than violence against a stranger”, but all are grave matters. 
  2. Full knowledge and (3) complete consent: “it presupposes knowledge full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act … it implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. (Noto bene:) Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of the sin.” 

Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputability of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man… Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest.”

The bottom line here is this: 

“To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice… Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’” (CCC #1033, 1035)


How are sins categorized? Church tradition has various ways. “Capital Sins are listed by the virtues they oppose. They are called “capital” because they engender other sins and vices.” They are often listed with the “virtue opposed” because working to develop the virtue can help crush the sin. I’ll list them as:

Capital Sin/Virtue Opposed (These are also known as the Seven Deadly Sins):

Envy/Brotherly love

Then there are the Sins against the Holy Spirit. “There are,” the CCC (1864) says, “no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept His mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss … In this sense, the sins against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven.”

Traditionally (e.g. the 1962 Missal), the Sins against the Holy Spirit are listed thusly: 

Presumption upon God’s mercy
Impugning the known truth
Envy of another’s spiritual good
Obstinacy in sin
Final impenitence

Finally, we have the Sins that Cry Out to Heaven for Vengeance:

Willful murder
The sin of Sodom
Oppression of the poor
Defrauding laborers of their wages

None of us, least of all me, is without sin. But it is necessary, in these confused and poisoned times, to point out what should be obvious: that all of us have proclivities, inborn or otherwise, to various types of sins, and that these proclivities can be, sometimes, quite strong. I may have a proclivity to lust. You may have a proclivity to despair. He may have a proclivity to the sin of Sodom. She might want to cheat her employees. These things are, the Church teaches, long term fallout from The Fall. But note very well: proclivities do not in and of themselves make us sinners. Indeed, heroic resistance of these  temptation(s) might make us great saints. It is when we act on the desire that it becomes sin. Temptation, in and of itself, is not sin. This should be a simple distinction to understand, but these days it is often (willfully?) ignored or (deliberately?) distorted.

So, go to Confession. And, when you fall back into sin, go back to Confession.




Catechism IV: Lent Part I

Those righteous guardians of proper thought over at the Washington (“Democracy Dies in Darkness”) Post have gleefully offered up this gem regarding one of the many manifestations of Ireland’s frenetic explosion from the strangling tentacles of the Roman Catholic Church: funerals without God. The Humanist Association of Ireland is at the forefront of helping the poor Irish people blinking in the new sunlight free themselves from those surly ancient bonds, and it is heavily involved in this funeral effort (along with secular marriages, “naming ceremonies” and pretty much everything else, all without God). What, then, do the Humanists believe? They believe this:

“…Humanism is a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion. The world’s major religions claim to be based on revelations fixed for all time, and many seek to impose their world-views on all of humanity. Humanism recognises that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises through a continuing process of observation, evaluation and revision…” 

(Amsterdam Declaration 2002)


That, in a nutshell, is at the heart of secular humanism’s beef with “organized religions”,  all (or most) of which teach that there are immutable truths of one form or another existing outside of ourselves. The various religions do not agree on what those truths are,  but they are at least in agreement that such truths exist. Now, the thing about religions teaching different “absolute truths” is this: they can’t all be right.** They could all be wrong – that is the Humanists’ position – but they can’t all be right. By virtue of adhering to a specific religion, you are by definition rejecting some, or most, or all of the tenets of some other religion.

In Washington, DC, the Humanists there used to buy anti-Christmas advertising on the side of the Metrobusses at Christmastime: “No need for Christianity,” the posters declared, “Just do good, for goodness sake”. I used to see them while standing and waiting for my transfer bus, and wonder: what is good? Who decides? Insofar as the Humanists base the ethics of their religion (and it is a religion, their protestations notwithstanding) on the shifting sands of “the continual process of observation, evaluation, and revision”, they are simply unable to answer this question: Was Hitler wrong? After all, Hitler, relative to his time and place, thought he was doing right. Had he won the war, perhaps the continual process of observation, evaluation, and revision might have come to different conclusions regarding his activities from those we now hold. I’m not going to go down this rabbit hole any further, suffice it to say that we - all of us, even the Humanists - need to address the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate’s fundamental question: Quid est veritas – what is truth?

We might decide the question is unanswerable and/or unimportant, and blow it off. Or, we might try to tackle it. In choosing the latter, we must begin somewhere. The Humanists’ continual process of observation, evaluation and reflection is a bit vague, so I’ll have something a bit more concrete. How convenient that the first reading for the Third Sunday in Lent in the Ordinary Form (year B), which happens to have been this Sunday just past, is taken from the Book of Exodus, Chapter 20. It goes like this: 

“And the Lord spoke all these words: I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of bondage. Thou shalt have no strange gods before me. Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth, Thou shalt not adore them, nor serve them. I am the Lord thy God, mighty and jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and shewing mercy unto thousands to them that love me, and keep my commandments…

“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain … remember that thou keep holy the sabbath day … Honour thy father and thy mother, that thou mayest be long-lived upon the land which the Lord thy God will give thee. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Thou shalt not covet they neighbour’s wife, nor his servant, nor his handmaid,  nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is his.”

                             Douay-Rheims version.

Well, that’s a start. What follow is a brief primer (or, if you prefer, a laundry list) of the way the Church fleshes out these Commandments to form a framework for how we discern, as we go through our complex and often confusing lives, what is good, and what is true. This week we’ll hit on some Church basics – the Church in a nutshell. Next week we’ll spend a few moments on sin and confession. The purpose is to get us thinking, not to present some sort of comprehensive treatise. So, let’s get on with it. 

First, the precepts (positive laws) of the Church:

  1. To hear Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.
  2. To confess sins at least once a year.
  3. To receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.
  4. To observe the days of fasting and abstinence as established by the Church.
  5. To help provide for the material needs of the Church.

These five can be found in the CCC, 2041-2043. There is also a 6th precept listed in older catechisms (but not that old, it’s in the 1962 Missal) regarding prohibition of marriage at forbidden times or secretly or with forbidden degrees of kindred, or “otherwise prohibited by the Church. This precept does not appear in the current Catechism.

The virtues (CCC 1803-1832): “A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good… ‘The goal of the virtuous life is to become like God.’”

“Four virtues,” the Catechism continues, “play a pivotal role and accordingly are called ‘cardinal’ (cardo=hinge- TC); all the others are grouped around them,’ Paraphrasing the CCC, they are:

(1) Prudence, which disposes the practical reason to discern in every circumstance one’s true good and to choose the right means for achieving it… With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.

(2) Justice, which consists in the firm and constant will to give God and neighbor their due.

(3) Fortitude, which ensure firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good.

(4) Temperence, which moderates the attraction of the pleasures of the senses and provides balance in the use of created goods.

The theological virtues relate directly to God. They dispose Christians to live in a close relationship with the Holy Trinity. They are three:

(1) Faith, by which we believe in God and believe all that He has said and revealed to us and tha Holy Church proposes for our belief…

(2) Hope, by which we desire the kingdom of heaven … placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the strength of the Holy Spirit … Hope is also a weapon that protects us in the struggle of salvation… and

(3) Charity, by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbors as ourselves for the love of God.

The Works of Mercy are actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor’s spiritual and bodily necessities. They are:

Corporal Works of Mercy: Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned burying the dead.

Spiritual Works of Mercy: Counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, admonishing the sinner, comforting the afflicted, forgiving offenses, bearing wrongs patiently, praying for the living and the dead.



* NOS= “Not Otherwise Specified”

** This, by the way, includes Roman Catholicism and Protestant Christianity, although it is currently fashionable to try to paper over the deep and fundamental differences.

Catechism III: What is Scandal?

“Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.”

                                       Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), 2284


The section on Scandal is in the Catechism, Part III (“Life in Christ”), Section II., “Respect for the Dignity of Persons”. The lead line into the topic is this: “Respect for the souls of others: scandal.”

The Catechism goes on,

Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it … Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate…Anyone who used the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil he has directly or indirectly encouraged…” 

                        CCC, 2285-87 (my emphasis)

“Grave offense,” or, sometimes, “grave matter” is a term with specific meaning: 

Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments … The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft…”

                        CCC, 1858


…Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”

                        CCC, 1857


The full discussion in the Catechism on sins mortal and venial is found in paragraphs 1854-1864. 

We now have under our belts an introduction into the topic of scandal. Any of us can cause scandal, but the scandal is all the more serious if perpetrated by one with power and authority: bishop, priest, teacher, politician. We will look at a recent example of scandal. But first, a little background.

Abortion, according to the catechism, is the “deliberate termination of pregnancy by killing the unborn child. Such direct abortion, either as a means or as an end, is gravely contrary to moral law…” (CCC, Glossary). 

Where does abortion data come from? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have reported data on abortion since 1969; the most recent data (2014) was published here in November, 2017. The CDC tends to underestimate numbers (see “Limitations” section) because reporting is voluntary, there are variations in how states report, and because not every state reports every year. In 2014, for example, California, Maryland and New Hampshire did not report at all. The CDC’s numbers, by their own estimates, are consistently about 71% of the numbers reported by Guttmacher Institute, a large, very powerful and very well funded pro-abortion think tank with a robust research and data collection arm. That said, the CDC is a good starting point to frame the numbers for any abortion discussion, recognizing that their numbers may be somewhat lower (but probably not a lot lower) than reality.

So, in 2014 there were 652,639 abortions nationwide reported to the CDC. Guttmacher reports 926,200 for 2014. This includes medical abortions. Of these, 91.5% were performed before 13 weeks’ gestation; 7.2% at 14-20 weeks, and 1.3% at over 21 weeks gestation. (CDC and Guttmacher report the same percentage breakdowns). 1.3% of 653,000 is 8500, 1.3% of 926,000 is 12,000. Thus, the absolute numbers of post 20 week abortions in 2014 were 8500-12,000. The term “late term” abortion is a little fuzzy, some consider 16+ weeks as late term, others 20+, others consider 24+ weeks late term, some only use the term with respect to “partial birth abortions”. I just stick to the gestational ages in looking at abortion statistics.

Maine, by the way, reported 2,021 abortions in 2014, of which 0.6%, or 13, were >21 weeks. That is an abortion rate not too far from national rates. (The summary table from the CDC report is here.)  

So. There is no Federal gestational age limit on abortion, making the United States one of seven countries in the world which permit elective abortion (meaning no medical resaon necessary) after 20 weeks’ gestation. (Some states place gestational age restrictions on abortions, data sheet here, Maine is not one of those states). Thus, the US is an outlier among nations, being numbered among those nations with the most permissive abortion laws on the planet. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, introduced last year, was intended to restrict abortions after 20 weeks. Although passed by the House in the fall of 2017, on 29 January 2017 the Senate failed to pass the Act by a vote of 51-46. Our own senators, Angus King and Susan Collins (no relation), voted with the Democratic majority to oppose the bill. I know nothing regarding the religious proclivities, if any, of Angus King. However, I do know that Susan Collins is routinely identified as Catholic.

In the Light of the Law is an excellent blog by Dr. Edward Peters. Dr. Peters is a lawyer (JD) and canon lawyer (JCD) at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and, among his many other projects, runs the website (“the internet’s largest canon law resource”) as well as the above mentioned blog, and reading Dr. Peters can really help guide you through some of the messes out there in the Church today. Which bring us to the “Bloody 14”, the 14 Catholic Senators (including our own Sen. Collins) who voted to support the gruesome business of post 20 week abortions (and it is a gruesome business). Make no mistake, voting to oppose a law banning a procedure is supporting the procedure. The upshot of Dr. Peter’s post is that (1) voting in favor of abortion “rights” (of any flavor) is not the same as procuring an abortion, “so no excommunication for procuring abortion applies in response to voting for it.” This is not to lessen the gravity of the sin in the vote – for such a vote is gravely sinful – but to parse the correct applications of Canon law regarding the crime of actually doing an abortion (my sincere apologies to Dr. Peters if I am presenting this incorrectly, but I don’t think I am). However, “obstinate perseverance in manifest grave sin” may legitimately invoke the duty of Catholic ministers to withhold Holy Communion (the famous “Canon 915”). There are many elements here, and I am not going to pretend to be able to unpack it properly; I leave that to Dr. Peters and I urge you to read him and his many references on this. Further, I have no idea as to whether this is a one-time event for Senator Collins, or if it is one of a string of similar votes. My point is this:

Susan Collins is a United States Senator with enormous wealth, power and authority both in this State and in the Senate. Senator Collins is also publicly (and, presumably, willingly) identified as  Catholic. Senator Collins voted to kill a bill which would put restrictions on abortions. The bill was killed, with her help. This next point is important: THE LAW TEACHES. When Senator Collins votes in favor of laws that permit or uphold abortion (or, as in the case here, vote against laws that would restrict abortions), she is using her power and influence to teach a moral lesson to her constituents here in Maine, as well as to the nation. The lesson is that abortion is OK. Thus, to my mind, Senator Collins has fulfilled all the elements of scandal laid out in CCC 2284-2287.

Senator Collins is a public figure, and is publicly teaching, by her voting record, that the grave evil of abortion is acceptable. She is, to repeat, a source of scandal as defined by the Catechism. Does an individual Catholic have any obligation regarding this? In my opinion, yes. Catholics vote. Although a discussion on degrees of participation is evil is well beyond the confines of this little post, suffice it to say that when one votes for one who is acting contrary to settled Catholic moral principles, one is - to at least some degree - participating in the evil. 

Do the clergy, does the Diocese, have any obligation to address this? Many clergy, and most Diocese, argue that they do not have any obligation to confront such teaching by powerful and wealthy Catholics in their Diocese. They either argue this explicitly (rare) or, far more commonly, argue it by their silence. And yet, clergy are bound to teach. Indeed, it is arguably one of their primary functions. And when the episcopacy ignores teaching from prominent Catholics that is floridly contrary to simple and defined teaching of the Church, such as the case here with abortion, the episcopacy is teaching that difficult issues, such as abortion, are best left alone, especially when dealing with powerful and wealthy Senators or the media. 

What should the Diocese of Portland, Maine do? Well, I refer you back to Dr. Peters for more discussion on this. It depends on several factors and to me there is a broad range of appropriate responses. I cannot prescribe exactly what the Diocese should do. It is clear to me, however, that the Diocese should not simply let this go by unchallenged, for the sake of the souls involved: Senator Collins’, as well as those who would be influenced by her behavior. As Dr. Peters ended his post on this topic,

“The repeated, though for now misguided, calls for excommunication in these cases, and the repeated, but worth-considering, calls for withholding holy Communion in these cases share this: they spring almost completely from Catholic laity and are almost completely ignored by ecclesiastical leadership. This almost total, multi-decade disconnect between people and pastors is a source of serious tension in the Church. (My emphasis.) Pray that such tension is relieved before it erupts into even more serious problems.”

Curate, ut valeatis!

PS: Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s list of the 14 Catholic Senators who voted against the post 20 week abortion ban is here.

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Catechism II: What happens after we die?

Man’s destiny is to die once for all; nothing remains after that but the judgment…
— Hebrews 9:7 (The Knox Bible)

Once upon a time, Halloween was known as All Hallow’s Eve. It was the evening before All Saint’s Day, November First, sort of like Christmas Eve comes before Christmas Day, and so forth. I’m not going to websearch the transmogrification of the Eve Before All Saint’s Day into its current iteration; you can do that as well as I. Suffice it to say that it has become what it has become and that’s that.

But, what has Halloween become? I’ll grant you, Halloween can be fun, especially if you have small children. Pumpkins: carving pumpkins, picking pumpkins, stacking pumpkins, (hopefully not) smashing pumpkins. Pumpkin bread. Pumpkin cookies. Pumpkin brownies. Pumpkin spice coffee. Costumes. Doing the rounds of the neighborhoods, going to the trunk or treat events, even, yes, even haunted houses (or forts, as the case may be). Halloween can be . However, it also is, or can be, a celebration of the corruption and decay that attends bodily death. On the trick or treat circuit along with Barney, Dory the Fish, and Tigger one finds remarkably unnerving depictions of death and decay, skeletons climbing out of graves on the lawn, and inhuman, nightmarish creatures casually referred to as “ghouls and goblins”. The quasi-holiday of Halloween is obsessed with death, and the notions of what may come after can range from benign to perverse, perverted, and downright weird. Further, much of the increasingly florid excesses of Halloween are part of a larger fascination, by no means healthy and especially among so-called “millennials”, with the occult. This fascination with the moribund has been a part of the human condition forever, but in the age of instant imaging it is certainly more noticeable.

The Church, of course, has been said (in both generous and ungenerous terms) to be obsessed with death. The Gospels talk about it a quit a lot. The Church throughout her history has talked about it quite a lot, albeit recently, maybe, not so much. But death, and what comes after, is a significant part of Church teaching, perhaps, in some ways, the most important part of Church teaching. So, what does the Church have to say? 

“Death,’ says the The Catechism of the Catholic Church  (hereafter referred to as CCC; the #number format refers to the paragraph number), “puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace manifested in Christ.” (#1021). Death comes to each of us only once, as Hebrews 9:27 (among other citations) makes clear: there’s no reincarnation or recycling of ourselves until we finally get right. “Each man,” the CCC continues, “receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment (my emphasis) that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven – through a purification or immediately, - or immediate and everlasting damnation.” (#1022) The Roman Catechism puts it this way: “The first (judgment) takes place when each one of us departs this life; for then he is instantly placed before the judgment seat of God, where all that he has ever done or spoken or thought during life shall be subject to the most rigid scrutiny. This is called the particular judgment.” (p. 81) (A very brief primer on different catechisms is here.)

So, after the particular judgment we shuffle off to either heaven, purgatory, or hell, where we await the General Judgment.

Heaven: “Those who die in God’s grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live for ever with Christ. They are like God forever, for they ‘see him as he is,’ face to face.” (CCC #1023)

“...Christ our Redeemer will pronounce sentence … in these words: Come ye blessed of my Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning...” (emphasis in the original) … the just are invited from labor to rest, from the vale of tears to supreme joy, from misery to eternal happiness, the reward of their words of charity.” (Roman Catechism, p. 85)

Purgatory: “… is entirely different from the punishment of the damned… All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The tradition of the Church … speaks of a cleansing fire.” (CCC #1031,1030)

Hell: “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice… Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’” (CCC #1033, 1035)

Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire... (Jesus’) words, depart from me, express the heaviest punishment … eternal banishment from the sight of God, unrelieved by one consolatory hope of ever recovering so great a good. This punishment is called by theologians the pain of loss...The next words, into everlasting fire, express another sort of punishment, which is called by theologians the pain of sense...” (Roman Catechism, p. 85-85)

The General Judgment (or, the Last Judgment) is preceded by the resurrection of all the dead. “The Last Judgment will reveal even to its furthest consequences the good each person has done or failed to do during his earthly life … The Last Judgment will come when Christ returns in glory … We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which his Providence led everything towards its final end...” (CCC #1039,1040) 

“The second (judgment) occurs when on the same day and in the same place all men shall stand together before the tribunal of their Judge, that in the presence and hearing of all human beings of all times each may know his final doom and sentence… This is called the General Judgment.” (Roman Catechism p.81)

“At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come into its fullness. After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign forever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed...” (CCC #1042)

Thus we have the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven and hell. Further, Jesus Christ, as God and as man, is the Judge (Roman Catechism, p.81). And that, my friends, is what the Church teaches about what happens after we die.


Post scriptum: In case you were wondering, here’s how they do the All Souls Requiem Mass in the EF over in the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin.





Write her“Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire... (Jesus’) words, depart from me, express the heaviest punishment … eternal banishment from the sight of God, unrelieved by one consolatory hope of ever recovering so great a good. This punishment is called by theologians the pain of loss...The next words, into everlasting fire, express another sort of punishment, which is called by theologians the pain of sense...”e...

On The Catechism – Part I

Guarding the Deposit of Faith is the Mission which the Lord entrusted to His Church.
— St. John Paul II

 "In 1986, I entrusted a commission of twelve Cardinals and Bishops, chaired by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, with the task of preparing a draft of the catechism..." Thus begins a short exposition by Pope St. John Paul II on the development of the The Catechism of the Catholic Church in his opening letter (Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, 1.) This commission oversaw a cast of hundreds, probably thousands if you include the innumerable committees and collaborations which went on across the globe. In the end, it took 6 years, nine drafts, and two editions to get to the current Catechism, published in 1992. Before going any further, however, let us have a few words about catechisms in general.

The Catechism defines catechism this way: "A popular summary or compendium of Catholic doctrine about faith and morals and designed for use in catechesis (educating people of the faith)."  Prior to the Catechism, probably the best known catechisms were the Catechism of the Council of Trent  (also known as the Roman Catechism) and the Baltimore Catechism. The English translation of the Roman Catechism by John A. McHugh, O.P. and Charles J. Callan, O.P. (originally published in 1923) has as an Introduction a detailed history of catechisms in the Church.

"From the days of the Apostles and during the the first centuries very careful attention was given to Christian doctrine...". So goes Frs. Mchugh and Callans' Introduction to their translation, supporting their assertion with examples from a who's who of early Church luminaries: Justin Martyr, St. Augustine, Origen, Pope Leo the great, Pope St. Gregory the Great; the list goes on and on. "...but in the Middle Ages, we are told, the zealous practices of early times were relaxed, instruction was given up, and ignorance of the things of faith prevailed generally among the common people." This was, at least, the picture the Protestants painted of the Church in the Middle Ages (seventh to sixteenth centuries). The good Fathers, however, refute this with an extensive survey of catechesis, catechisms, and schools throughout the period, as well as a brief section on some of the causes of the "Protestant rebellion" including the breakdown in general instruction in the faith.

The multiyear, multisession Council of Trent (1545-1564) was, in effect, the "counter-Reformation" and it produced, among other things, the Roman Catechism. Like the current Catechism, the Roman Catechism was the product of numerous committees, revisions, editions, and rewrites, predominantly (but not exclusively) under the purview of St. Charles Borromeo. Promulgated by Pope Pius V in 1566, it was, and is, an "extensive and thorough work to be used by parish priests in their instruction of the faithful." The Roman Catechism was unlike those which had come before insofar as, besides being used by priests as a source for preaching and teaching, (1) it was produced at the express command of an Ecumenical Council – Trent, (2) it was translated at the command of that same Council into the vernacular languages of many nations, (3) it was directed to be used as the standard source for the many "local catechisms" used in the nations (id est, it was a universal catechism), and (4) it continued to receive the unqualified praise and support of subsequent Pontiffs.

Subsequent to the close of the Second Vatican Council, use of the Roman Catechism as well the robust “local catechisms” spawned by the Roman Catechism (such as the Baltimore Catechism) fell out of favor. In their places rose other catechisms, the most widely published one being the 1966 Dutch Catechism (officially known as the “New Catechism”). The Dutch Catechism was so problematic that Pope Paul VI convened a commission of Cardinals to evaluate it. While the overall assessment of the commission was rather vague, they did point out a number of serious problems. Meanwhile, in the 70’s and 80’s, general catechesis fell into a state of confusion and ennui, although there were some bright spots.  This is The Faith by Canon Francis Ripley was originally published in 1951, but made a comeback in the 1980’s and ‘90s, because it is complete, very readable, and orthodox. In 1971, the General Catechetical Directory was published by Paul VI, but it offered guidelines only; it was not a universal catechism. That task was given by Paul VI to Fr. John Hardon, S.J., of the Jesuit School of Theology in Chicago, and he produced in 1975 The Catholic Catechism, which was (and is) an excellent, extensive, very readable and still very useful compendium. It was a sort of precursor to the current Catechism. Today, 25 years after the publication of the 2nd edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church there are probably more catechetical materials, more easily obtainable, than ever before. Peruse here and here just two of the many sites and sources out there.

Why am I going into all this? Because I believe that the recovery of the Church will involve two necessary initial steps: return to reverent worship, and return to basic, orthodox catechesis. I have been accused of proposing that if we only had the Latin Mass everything would magically be swell (or words to that effect). I do not think that, not by a long shot. But I do believe that both of these two “first steps” are necessary.

There is much confusion out there about definitions, it comes from every direction, and is growing daily. Occasionally I will post a review of small sections from the Catechism, just to sort of jog my brain cells into thinking about things defined.  Good enough reason to return to basics from time to time.