PODCAzT 151: Pius X’s encyclical On Teaching Christian Doctrine

pius xToday we are going to hear St. Pope Pius X’s encyclical letter of 1905 on Catechetics, On Teaching Christian Doctrine, Acerbo nimis.  This could have been offered to us today.

As you listen, tune your ear for how Pius talks about the wretched state of souls of both the simple and the cultured and the grave spiritual danger they in. Their danger comes from ignorance of religion. The woes of society stem principally from ignorance of religion. Therefore religious instruction is important not only for the church bur all of society.

Listen to how he described the special role of catechists. Fancy and erudite sermons are one thing, but the simple consistent explanation of faith and morals is even more fundamental. Catechetics are like food for children, whereas refined sermons are like food for adults: you have to have the one before the other. Pius places a great deal of importance on the preparation of the priest for teaching and preaching.

Given the fact that today we are in far sorrier shape than things were in the pontificate of Pius X, the saintly Pope’s admonishments and solutions provide great wisdom as we look to our present duties and the care of souls.

I’ll give you some historical context so you can get into the swing of things.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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4 Responses to PODCAzT 151: Pius X’s encyclical On Teaching Christian Doctrine

  1. jameeka says:

    Thank you, Father Z.
    “We need GOOD catechists.”
    Amen.
    (Therefore, bishops who will also be good catechists, and back up the men and women they so delegate.)

  2. Volanges says:

    I was having a conversation with our new Administrator yesterday and the topic of catechesis came up. I’m in Newfoundland and Labrador, a province that had only a denominational school system until 1998 (the schools were either Catholic, Integrated (Anglican, United, etc.) or Pentecostal. The population voted to dismantle the denominational system in 1995 and by 1998, after a few challenges in court, the province started a language based school system with 4 English & 1 French school boards, since reduced to 1 English & 1 French school boards.

    After the dismantling, three private Catholic schools opened in the two major cities and a coastal community that didn’t want to see its kids bused 90 minutes away for school. It proved to be too much for the small community but the two city schools are still going strong. One’s tuition is $8400/year for each of the first 2 children, $4200 for each of the next 2 and then free the 5th and subsequent children attending at the same time. For you in the US that may not seem like much but for we Catholics, who in most provinces have had free Catholic education paid for by our taxes for more than a century, you may see how it is something of which not that many are availing. It also doesn’t serve the predominantly Catholic Francophone population who wish to be educated in their own language.

    In our parish since 1998 we have had no catechesis beyond an 8 session preparation for First Communion (and Confirmation in the same celebration for at least 8 years). We tried to implement a home catechesis program but parents, used to not having to think about catechism because it was taught in school, refused to have anything to do with it.

    The result is a generation of kids, now young adults, who have had no catechesis since they were 7. They are not attending Mass, except perhaps at Christmas, Easter not being on their radar save for bunnies and chocolate, and they are now presenting their children for Baptism – mostly to get grandma off their backs (I teach baptismal preparation and “Mom would kill me if I didn’t have her/him baptized” is often the answer to “Why are you asking for Baptism?”)

    The diocese is implementing a new catechetical program and policy which you can read here — http://rcchurch.com/uploads/Guidelines%20for%20Catechetical%20Formation.pdf
    There was a backlash at the 2 years of catechesis before First Communion (probably because the catechists know parents will never follow through) but the Bishop was adamant.

    I think it will be quite the challenge for our new priest administrator. Part of the problem is that our catechists aren’t trained. Anyone who can pass the court/police/vulnerable sector check and says “Sure, I’ll teach this” can be let loose on a classroom. I know, I used to be one. Many have had no catechesis since their grade school years and most have no “teaching” qualifications, the exception being the two professional teachers who volunteered over the years. From the conversation I had with him yesterday I think that he’s up to the task, but it’s going to be quite the challenge for him.

    By the way, I thanked him for mentioning the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and was treated to 20 minutes of catechesis on how it’s such a wonderful gift from God and how we should avail of it often and the graces it imparts, etc. Yeah, I think we’ve got a winner!

  3. jameeka says:

    This focus on Catechesis also reminds me of Monsignor James Bartylla’s vocation story-in a public vocation video he tells of going to Mass in NYC, in which Cardinal O Connor’s sermon was on the Catechism (which had just come out in 1992). In the video Bartylla said to himself, “There is more truth in one sentence of Cardinal O’Connor than in a whole semester of law school. It had just rung true, what I had unknowingly been searching for”. So he decided to go to confession the following week, after a long period away, and the rest is history!

    It is so cool, setting the time period in which these encyclicals are written, Father Z! Great teaching.

  4. The Masked Chicken says:

    “I think it will be quite the challenge for our new priest administrator. Part of the problem is that our catechists aren’t trained. Anyone who can pass the court/police/vulnerable sector check and says “Sure, I’ll teach this” can be let loose on a classroom. I know, I used to be one. Many have had no catechesis since their grade school years and most have no “teaching” qualifications, the exception being the two professional teachers who volunteered over the years. From the conversation I had with him yesterday I think that he’s up to the task, but it’s going to be quite the challenge for him.”

    There are two aspects to teaching – having the domain-specific knowledge and having the skill to present it in a complete, clear, concise, and engaging fashion. Many college professors have the first part; few have the second part. As far as the knowledge of the Faith, many, many good resources are freely available, online and from books that are classics and not to expensive. As for the second part, this is a skill. Some will be naturally better than others, but most people can be trained to some extent. It takes practice in front of an audience. Just a writers attend workshops where their writing is torn to shreds by other writers, those wishing to develop teaching skills should practice in front of other teachers. This should not be done for a single day, but weekly workshops should be held until one learns enough about ones tendencies to become self-critical.

    Doing good catechetics takes time and practice.

    The Chicken