Thursday, October 8, 2009

Something I Have Learned

For much of Christian history, the Church catechized through the liturgy -- that is through the Mass and the Daily Offices (Matins/Morning Prayer, etc.). Luther describes catechesis in this way with his elaborate preaching system of assigning lessons to particular offices as well as the Mass. In other words people learned and grew in the faith with in a worship setting.

It may have been that this process was moving away from a worship setting to a classroom setting all along -- I do not know -- and there were periods of decline as well as renewal for such things as the Daily Offices. But I do know that after the Reformation a new "paradigm" was born.

When Protestantism got into the mix, this catechesis was formally detached from the worship life in which it was connected and thus things like Bible study and Sunday school were born. Now I have no grudge against these but I wonder about the fruits of detaching of catechesis in the mind and practice of people and the Church. What have we lost because of this?

It is my assumption -- historians out there prove me wrong -- that you do not find much that looks like the modern day parish program of Bible studies (Pastor or lay led), Sunday school, youth catechism classes, and adult instruction classes. It is my assumption -- again I have not researched this) that these things all took place within the praying context of the Daily Offices or within the liturgical context of the Divine Service.

Our parish rents our chapel to a struggling Orthodox mission. Our association began with the personal request of an Army chaplain (Orthodox) who had hosted this small mission on post until he was reassigned from Ft. Campbell. His concern for this mission's continuation led us to let them use our chapel until their future was more certain. After an interim period of time served by priests from throughout the area, they recently received a full-time priest as the mission developer of this parish. Judging from his plans, it may well be that they are not long for our chapel... we will see.

But what I have noticed is that this priest intends to catechize through the Daily Offices and the Divine Liturgy. He expects that catechesis into the Orthodox faith is through liturgical means. So on Saturday evening this small group gathers for Vespers. Then the evening fast begins which will carry them through to the Sunday Divine Liturgy. But before the Divine Liturgy, they sing Matins. And after the Divine Liturgy they gather for a community meal and then for Vespers. And the mission holds to a full schedule of holy days with a similar service schedule for them. It is my assumption that this is what a regular Orthodox congregation does.

Scripture has long been separated from the worshiping community -- this is fact of life in American congregations. Why not return to a more liturgical setting for catechesis and instruction? Certainly it is in our own Lutheran history and tradition. And I think it is a wise course to confront some of the issues and challenges that we face today.

Furthermore it would incorporate the people into the liturgical life of the Church as well as teach and communicate to them the Word of the Lord. If we used a lectionary and followed the calendar with its holy days, feasts, festivals, commemorations, etc. there would be an abundance of Scripture on which to focus and through which to teach the faith. It would be a whole lot more work than I am currently used to -- perhaps a better way of putting it is that it would be different work than I am currently used to -- but it may be a whole lot more fruitful in communicating the faith while at the same time connecting people to the community of faith as that community gathers for what is our most important "business" -- worship...

Well... some random thoughts... meanderings... what do you think?

9 comments:

William Weedon said...

You know I agree 100%. But I'd add that the Catechism itself had a LITURGICAL life in early Lutheranism and can still today. Think of what Treasury does during Lent with the added Catechesis for daily prayer.

christl242 said...

You know I agree 100%. But I'd add that the Catechism itself had a LITURGICAL life in early Lutheranism and can still today.

Indeed. And might explain why, when I was growing up in Germany, I noticed how well my Lutheran grandmother knew her Bible as opposed to my Catholic relatives.

Christine

Dave Lambert said...

I believe you're on to something here.

Janis Williams said...

The former half-baked Baptist agrees, also.

If pastors were freed from being psychologists, counselors, and firemen ('putting out fires'), there might be time for this catechesis.

May I add that many protestants 'know' their Bible, and some can even quote copious amounts of verses. However, this knowledge is often cut loose from the life of the church. Hence the exponential growth in men's studies, ladies' studies, youth studies, specialty Bible translations, 'slick' curricula, and parachurch organizations ad nauseum (my opinion).

I for one have 'found' the Liturgy and Divine Service(been shown it through God's grace), and have no desire to enter into any Bible studies disengaged from it.

Past Elder said...

That's exactly why the former synagogue service was called the mass of the catechumens -- what is it if not for catechesis open to everyone, why read Torah through in a year, giving way to the life of Christ in a year, with supporting readings and preaching?

Then too, there's a reason the former pashcal seder was called the mass of the faithful -- it's for those who, while of course not exempt from lifelong catechesis, have professed their faith.

Still, this would not remove the benefit of various classes, rather, it would integrate what is learned there into the life of the congregation and the people in it.

Speaking of Orthodox, I've always thought their placement of confession and absolution makes more sense than ours. A catechumen or someone in the part open to everyone may or may not believe in the god to whom we confess and by whom we are absolved, yet that is where our confiteor is, whereas the EO rite puts it at the start of the mass of the faithful, who have professed belief in the true god.

Chris said...

Past Elder,

I am curious by what you mean precisely when you wrote: "Speaking of Orthodox, I've always thought their placement of confession and absolution makes more sense than ours. A catechumen or someone in the part open to everyone may or may not believe in the god to whom we confess and by whom we are absolved, yet that is where our confiteor is, whereas the EO rite puts it at the start of the mass of the faithful, who have professed belief in the true god."

There is no order of common confession and absolution in the Eastern Rite. Confession and absolution is always private and is usually given on Saturday evenings (or by appointment) before or after Great Vespers. I'm not sure I'm clear as to what you are referring.

As far as catechsis is concerned, one thing that should NOT be done, imho, is to make catechesis part of the Liturgy. I remember when I was young, the pastors of my church were constantly asked why we do things in the Liturgy and so what they did was on a Sunday, the Liturgy was celebrated with one of the pastors giving explanation before and after every part of the celebration. Not only did this detract from the worship of the Lord, but I seriously doubt people took the time to listen.

You can't expect to catechize people in teh faith simply through the Liturgy. My own priest says that if people want to really understand their faith, they would come to Orthros (Matins) before Divine Liturgy, the hymnography of which is so moving and really hashes out EO theology. Instead of catechizing during the DIvine LIturgy, or augmenting it by putting things in there that would hope to educate the laity, why not, instead, encourage and exhort them to come to Great Vespers or Matins before the Liturgy? Don't have them? Maybe it's a good time to start. I learned so much more through going through the cycle of services than I did sitting for four hours in catechism class.

Past Elder said...

Well gee, Chris, I must be more careful when trying to compliment the EO on something I think they have better than we do in the West.

Yes there is no Confiteor, in the Divine Liturgy of the EO. And as you know even the Western Confiteor does not replace individual confession and absolution, in theory if not in practice unfortunately for many. Luther once wrote that if we understood the great blessing of individual confession and absolution we would run 100 miles to get it, but nobody shows up at the church door out of breath.

What I meant was, the absence of shall we say something like a confession of sin in the earlier part, before the dismissal of the catechumens, and then the penitential language found in, for example, the Prayer of the Faithdul and the Great Entrance of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. I've always the placement of penitential language more appropriate in the part of the liturgy specifically for believers, since only one who has come to believe can be truly penitent before the God in whom he has come to believe.

Past Elder said...

The last sentence should have started "I've always found the placement ..." Sorry, been bouncing back and forth between blogging and word-fest shoot-out on FB.

Jeff Samelson said...

Thanks for this.

A follow-up discussion I'd love to see: how does this catechetical preaching work together (or not?) with the lectionary, one-year or three-year, particularly when even your "best" members will only be in church once a week? (My understanding -- and someone please correct me if I'm wrong -- was that most of Luther's (and others') catechism preaching was not done in the regular Sunday services.) On the one hand, we want to give the people the catechetical basics, on the other hand, we want to expand their knowledge of Scripture as much as we can. I'm still sorting some of this out.