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New Book on Christian Initiation Maps Out Where Liturgy, Catechism and Personal Conversion Meet

An Intersection on the Road to Emmaus

Liturgical Catechesis in the 21st Century: A School of Discipleship by James C. Pauley. Chicago: Liturgical Training Publications, 2017. 256 pp. ISBN: 978-1-61671-360-7. $28.95 paperback; $23.95 eBook.

In the original edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a visual work of art wordlessly introduces each of the four pillars. The intention is to present the material of the particular section of the Catechism in the context of the illustration. The same is true for the reproduction of the Garcia painting found on the cover of James Pauley’s Liturgical Catechesis in the 21st Century: A School of Discipleship. This illustration of Christ’s breaking bread with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus provides the hermeneutical key for understanding the book’s major thesis. This picture is not a surprising reference since catechists have looked to the Emmaus story for inspiration since it was recorded. Historically, complete series of very successful catechetical texts based on the dynamics of the Emmaus story have been published which have profoundly influenced the development of catechetical ministry.

Pauley asserts that a revitalized liturgical catechesis has a transformative effect in the lives of the persons involved in the liturgical/catechetical encounter. In the Preface he describes what he means by a revitalized liturgical catechesis. He states, “It is my deepest conviction that the more catechesis and liturgy are harmonized with one another in how they are conducted today, the more transformative they both will be to the great good of the Church and the world.”

He divides his argument into three parts: the relationship of liturgy and catechesis, the purpose of liturgical catechesis, and emerging practices of liturgical catechesis.

Today by Yesterday

The first part describes the dismal situation of attrition in the Church today. Fewer and fewer people are participating in the liturgy. Nevertheless, the impulse of the Church in every age is to find a way to lead people toward an encounter with God. In the post-conciliar Church, this way involves an evangelizing catechesis, a catechesis that aims, as St. John Paul II wrote in Catechesi Tradendae, “to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy with Jesus Christ” (§5). Thus, an evangelizing catechesis comprises much more than doctrinal exposition and explanation.

Pauley ably traces the development of this understanding through the liturgical movement, the catechetical movement, and especially in the light of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Leaders in both these movements recognized that Catholics had lost their sense of the supernatural. Both liturgists and catechists advised recovering a sense of the sacred by drawing closer to the source of divine grace in the liturgy. And the Council Fathers endorsed this direction by their insistence that liturgy and catechesis have respective but interdependent roles within the Church’s pastoral mission.

Centuries earlier, the Fathers of the Church arrived at this insight, expressed especially in the catechetical writings of Augustine in which the formal instruction of the newly-baptized largely followed their reception of the sacrament. And even earlier, in the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke reports that the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized after only one period of Philip’s instruction, and Lydia, the dealer in purple cloth, and her whole household were baptized after only one of Paul’s lessons. In the first century, at least, there seems to have been a certain harmony between liturgy and catechesis, a harmony that actually had a transformative effect on those in which the fruits of that harmony unfolded.

Pauley rightly recognizes that this harmony seems most naturally evident in the apprenticeship model. It is potentially a particularly effective setting for the integration of liturgy and catechesis. Once again, the Fathers recognized this intersection of prayer and learning—and even more importantly—so did Jesus. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were transformed by their catechetical encounter and their subsequent literal communion with Jesus in the breaking of the bread. They reversed their fearful journey away from the site of Christ’s Passion and death and immediately returned to Jerusalem to take up the preaching of that very cross.

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults also proposes the same model as a training period for neophytes as does Pope Francis as he develops the paradigm of personal accompaniment in his papacy. Within a personal relationship such as an apprenticeship, one does not merely learn the skills of the art, but the life of the artisan. A catechesis of apprenticeship is training for living the Christian life and for celebrating the Christian faith in the liturgy and sacraments. The hope is that the apprentice begins to sense that the master in the relationship is really the Master himself, not the catechist. The apprentice has been put not just in touch, but in communion with Jesus. This is a sacramental experience, an experience of divine encounter, the harmonious integration of liturgy and catechesis.

Close Encounter

The second part of the book proposes liturgical catechesis as a way to encounter God. Here Pauley retrieves the seminal work of Cyprian Vagaggini, OSB, and Sofia Cavalletti on the notion of liturgy as the “privileged place of encounter of man with God.” These writers are both scholars and practitioners of what they profess, and their perspective on the possible transformative impact of a revived liturgical catechesis on the person is critical to the project of this book. In light of what the author terms “liturgical boredom,” he asserts that “the more we become convinced that the sacraments are transformative encounters with God—real exchanges of love with the One in whom all true love originates—and these encounters have supernatural effects, the more interesting they will become for people today.”

So, the catechetical plan must be to convince Catholics that the sacraments are transformative encounters with God. In other words, the catechetical plan is to allow the rites to instruct, the liturgy to facilitate man’s encounter with God, and the sacraments to give grace. The attempt to formulate such a catechetical plan is a formidable challenge, but I think the right one—or at least a hopeful one.

The book does not leave the reader—or the catechist for that matter—adrift beneath the weight of this challenge, but offers some helpful suggestions adapted from the experience of being in spiritual direction. First of all, a revitalized liturgical catechesis develops the skill of attuning ourselves to God, learning to become present to God and becoming comfortable in his presence. This can gradually emerge through cultivating stillness, focusing attention on the liturgical signs, creating prayerful moments and practicing attentiveness.

Second, such catechesis develops the art of uniting ourselves to God. Carefully listening to the words of the liturgical rites, allowing the sacred signs to penetrate our consciousness and noticing the significance of even the simplest of gestures within the liturgical action can lead us into the center of ourselves where God awaits.

Third, revitalized liturgical catechesis develops the ability to cooperate with the grace of God. Sacraments give grace; they bring about what their respective signs reveal. Knowing that the effects of the sacraments are life-changing, being open to receiving those effects and bearing witness to the changes brought about by that sacramental grace draws forth from us a certain docility to the action of God in our lives.

Pauley summarizes it well when he writes, “These three skills, learned in liturgical catechesis, can deeply influence the quality of our liturgical experience. The skill of preparing ourselves helps us to be attuned to the presence and action of God. The art of uniting ourselves to the words and signs of the liturgy enables us to offer true worship to God and to be sanctified through his gift of divine grace. And, finally, that ability to identify and cooperate with the supernatural effects of the sacraments empowers us to grow in holiness and to reach out to others in acts of evangelization and loving service.”

Parish Praxis

The final part of the book consists of four emerging practices of parish catechesis that “envision in concrete terms how liturgical catechesis can be a school of transformative discipleship for people of different ages.” Two emerging practices are presented for use with young children; one for youth discipleship; and one for the RCIA. Each one is impressive on its own, imaginative, courageous, even daring. All attempt to harmonize liturgy and catechesis in the prudent hope that such a revitalized liturgical catechesis will make a difference in the lives of both catechists and those catechized. Each of these emerging practices heavily depends for success on agents—animators, partners, catechists, mentors, masters—of extraordinary faith and competence.

The author has nobly and persuasively argued for his fundamental assertion that a revitalized catechesis has a transformative effect within the faithful person. Pauley has retrieved some of the most precious treasures from the Church’s catechetical and liturgical storehouse to shore up his assertion. In fact, he has called the Church back to her basic kerygma, to her apostolic preaching, to a time when liturgy and catechesis were inseparable. He has called the Church back to the road to Emmaus. If he has not proven his premise entirely, in my view he has proven a rather more modest one—that a revitalized liturgical catechesis can create the conditions for the possibility of personal transformation. The rest must be left to the Holy Spirit.

Msgr. John E. Pollard

Msgr. John E. Pollard

Monsignor John E. Pollard, STL, is a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, currently serving as Pastor of Queen of All Saints Basilica. Monsignor Pollard served as the founding Director of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for the Catechism (1992–1999) and was appointed by Cardinal George as the founding Director of the Office of Education, and subsequently as the founding Director for the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Chicago. In addition to several books and dozens of journal articles, Monsignor Pollard wrote the general introductory essay for Liturgy Training Publications’ The Catechetical Documents (2007).