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 Catechetical  Instruction Must Be Based on
“The Catechism of the Council of Trent”?

 

mAn Infallible Papal Document
of
The Infallible Roman Catholic Pope Saint Pius X
m

m

Pope Saint Pius X
Giuseppe Sarto
[Tuesday, August 4, 1903 - Thursday, August 20, 1914]

 
Encyclical “Acerbo Nimis”
Saturday, April 15, 1905.

On Teaching Christian Doctrine

 
To the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, Bishops and other Ordinaries in  Peace and Communion with the Apostolic See.

Venerable Brethren, Health and the Apostolic Blessing.

At this very troublesome and difficult time, the hidden designs of God have  conducted Our poor strength to the office of Supreme pastor, to rule the  entire flock of Christ. The enemy has, indeed, long been prowling about the  fold and attacking it with such subtle cunning that now, more than ever  before, the prediction of the Apostle to the elders of the Church of  Ephesus seems to be verified: "I know that . . . fierce wolves will get in  among you, and will not spare the flock."[1] Those who still are zealous for  the glory of God are seeking the causes and reasons for this decline in  religion. Coming to a different explanation, each points out, according to  his own view, a different plan for the protection and restoration of the  kingdom of God on earth. But it seems to Us, Venerable Brethren, that while  we should not overlook other considerations, We are forced to agree with  those who hold that the chief cause of the present indifference and, as it  were, infirmity of soul, and the serious evils that result from it, is to  be found above all in ignorance of things divine. This is fully in accord  with what God Himself declared through the Prophet Osee: "And there is no  knowledge of God in the land. Cursing and lying and killing and theft and  adultery have overflowed: and blood hath touched blood. Thereafter shall  the land mourn, and everyone that dwelleth in it shall languish."[2]

2. It is a common complaint, unfortunately too well founded, that there are  large numbers of Christians in our own time who are entirely ignorant of  those truths necessary for salvation. And when we mention Christians, We  refer not only to the masses or to those in the lower walks of life --for  these find some excuse for their ignorance in the fact that the demands of  their harsh employers hardly leave them time to take care of themselves or  of their dear ones--but We refer to those especially who do not lack  culture or talents and, indeed, are possessed of abundant knowledge  regarding things of the world but live rashly and imprudently with regard  to religion. It is hard to find words to describe how profound is the  darkness in which they are engulfed and, what is most deplorable of all,  how tranquilly they repose there. They rarely give thought to God, the  Supreme Author and Ruler of all things, or to the teachings of the faith of  Christ. They know nothing of the Incarnation of the Word of God, nothing of  the perfect restoration of the human race which He accomplished. Grace, the  greatest of the helps for attaining eternal things, the Holy Sacrifice and  the Sacraments by which we obtain grace, are entirely unknown to them. They  have no conception of the malice and baseness of sin; hence they show no  anxiety to avoid sin or to renounce it. And so they arrive at life's end in  such a condition that, lest all hope of salvation be lost, the priest is  obliged to give in the last few moments of life a summary teaching of  religion, a time which should be devoted to stimulating the soul to greater  love for God. And even this as too often happens only when the dying man is  not so sinfully ignorant as to look upon the ministration of the priest as  useless, and then calmly faces the fearful passage to eternity without  making his peace with God. And so Our Predecessor, Benedict XIV, had just  cause to write: "We declare that a great number of those who are condemned  to eternal punishment suffer that everlasting calamity because of ignorance  of those mysteries of faith which must be known and believed in order to be  numbered among the elect."[3]

3. There is then, Venerable Brethren, no reason for wonder that the  corruption of morals and depravity of life is already so great, and ever  increasingly greater, not only among uncivilized peoples but even in those  very nations that are called Christian. The Apostle Paul, writing to the  Ephesians, repeatedly admonished them in these words: "But immorality and  every uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as  become saints; or obscenity or foolish talk."[4] He also places the  foundation of holiness and sound morals upon a knowledge of divine things-- which holds in check evil desires: "See to it therefore, brethren, that you  walk with care: not as unwise but as wise. . . Therefore, do not become  foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is."[5] And rightly so. For  the will of man retains but little of that divinely implanted love of  virtue and righteousness by which it was, as it were, attracted strongly  toward the real and not merely apparent good. Disordered by the stain of  the first sin, and almost forgetful of God, its Author, it improperly turns  every affection to a love of vanity and deceit. This erring will, blinded  by its own evil desires, has need therefore of a guide to lead it back to  the paths of justice whence it has so unfortunately strayed. The intellect  itself is this guide, which need not be sought elsewhere, but is provided  by nature itself. It is a guide, though, that, if it lack its companion  light, the knowledge of divine things, will be only an instance of the  blind leading the blind so that both will fall into the pit. The holy king  David, praising God for the light of truth with which He had illumined the  intellect, exclaimed: "The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon  us."[6] Then he described the effect of this light by adding: "Thou hast  given gladness in my heart," gladness, that is, which enlarges our heart so  that it runs in the way of God's Commandments.

4. All this becomes evident on a little reflection. Christian teaching  reveals God and His infinite perfection with far greater clarity than is  possible by the human faculties alone. Nor is that all. This same Christian  teaching also commands us to honor God by faith, which is of the mind, by  hope, which is of the will, by love, which is of the heart; and thus the  whole man is subjected to the supreme Maker and Ruler of all things. The  truly remarkable dignity of man as the son of the heavenly Father, in Whose  image he is formed, and with Whom he is destined to live in eternal  happiness, is also revealed only by the doctrine of Jesus Christ. From this  very dignity, and from man's knowledge of it, Christ showed that men should  love one another as brothers, and should live here as become children of  light, "not of revelry and drunkenness, not in debauchery and wantonness,  not in strife and jealousy."[7] He also bids us to place all our anxiety and  care in the hands of God, for He will provide for us; He tells us to help  the poor, to do good to those who hate us, and to prefer the eternal  welfare of the soul to the temporal goods of this life. Without wishing to  touch on every detail, nevertheless is it not true that the proud man is  urged and commanded by the teaching of Christ to strive for humility, the  source of true glory? "Whoever, therefore, humbles himself. . . he is the  greatest in the kingdom of heaven."[8] From that same teaching we learn  prudence of the spirit, and thereby we avoid prudence of the flesh; we  learn justice, by which we give to every man his due; fortitude, which  prepares us to endure all things and with steadfast heart suffer all things  for the sake of God and eternal happiness; and, last of all, temperance  through which we cherish even poverty borne out of love for God, nay, we  even glory in the cross itself, unmindful of its shame. In fine, Christian  teaching not only bestows on the intellect the light by which it attains  truth, but from it our will draws that ardor by which we are raised up to  God and joined with Him in the practice of virtue.

5. We by no means wish to conclude that a perverse will and unbridled  conduct may not be joined with a knowledge of religion. Would to God that  facts did not too abundantly prove the contrary! But We do maintain that  the will cannot be upright nor the conduct good when the mind is shrouded  in the darkness of crass ignorance. A man who walks with open eyes may,  indeed, turn aside from the right path, but a blind man is in much more  imminent danger of wandering away. Furthermore, there is always some hope  for a reform of perverse conduct so long as the light of faith is not  entirely extinguished; but if lack of faith is added to depraved morality  because of ignorance, the evil hardly admits of remedy, and the road to  ruin lies open.

6. How many and how grave are the consequences of ignorance in matters of  religion! And on the other hand, how necessary and how beneficial is  religious instruction! It is indeed vain to expect a fulfillment of the  duties of a Christian by one who does not even know them.

7. We must now consider upon whom rests the obligation to dissipate this  most pernicious ignorance and to impart in its stead the knowledge that is  wholly indispensable. There can be no doubt, Venerable Brethren, that this  most important duty rests upon all who are pastors of souls. On them, by  command of Christ, rest the obligations of knowing and of feeding the  flocks committed to their care; and to feed implies, first of all, to  teach. "I will give you pastors according to my own heart," God promised  through Jeremias, "and they shall feed you with knowledge and doctrine."[9]  Hence the Apostle Paul said: "Christ did not send me to baptize, but to  preach the gospel,"[10] thereby indicating that the first duty of all those  who are entrusted in any way with the government of the Church is to  instruct the faithful in the things of God.

8. We do not think it necessary to set forth here the praises of such  instruction or to point out how meritorious it is in God's sight. If,  assuredly, the alms with which we relieve the needs of the poor are highly  praised by the Lord, how much more precious in His eyes, then, will be the  zeal and labor expended in teaching and admonishing, by which we provide  not for the passing needs of the body but for the eternal profit of the  soul! Nothing, surely, is more desirable, nothing more acceptable to Jesus  Christ, the Savior of souls, Who testifies of Himself through Isaias: "To  bring good news to the poor he has sent me."[11]

9. Here then it is well to emphasize and insist that for a priest there is  no duty more grave or obligation more binding than this. Who, indeed, will  deny that knowledge should be joined to holiness of life in the priest?  "For the lips of the priest shall keep knowledge."[12] The Church demands  this knowledge of those who are to be ordained to the priesthood. Why?  Because the Christian people expect from them knowledge of the divine law,  and it was for that end that they were sent by God. "And they shall seek  the law at his mouth; because he is the angel of the Lord of hosts."[13] Thus  the bishop speaking to the candidates for the priesthood in the ordination  ceremony says: "Let your teaching be a spiritual remedy for God's people;  may they be worthy fellow-workers of our order; and thus meditating day and  night on His law, they may believe what they read, and teach what they  shall believe."[14]

10. If what We have just said is applicable to all priests, does it not  apply with much greater force to those who possess the title and the  authority of parish priests, and who, by virtue of their rank and in a  sense by virtue of a contract, hold the office of pastors of souls? These  are, to a certain extent, the pastors and teachers appointed by Christ in  order that the faithful might not be as "children, tossed to and fro and  carried about by every wind of doctrine devised in the wickedness of men,"  but that practicing "the truth in love," they may, "grow up in all things  in him who is the head, Christ."[15]

11. For this reason the Council of Trent, treating of the duties of pastors  of souls, decreed that their first and most important work is the  instruction of the faithful.[16] It therefore prescribes that they shall  teach the truths of religion on Sundays and on the more solemn feast days;  moreover during the holy seasons of Advent and Lent they are to give such  instruction every day or at least three times a week. This, however, was  not considered enough. The Council provided for the instruction of youth by  adding that the pastors, either personally or through others, must explain  the truths of religion at least on Sundays and feast days to the children  of the parish, and inculcate obedience to God and to their parents. When  the Sacraments are to be administered, it enjoins upon pastors the duty to  explain their efficacy in plain and simple language.

12. These prescriptions of the Council of Trent have been summarized and  still more clearly defined by Our Predecessor, Benedict XIV, in his  Constitution "Esti minime." "Two chief obligations," he wrote, "have been  imposed by the Council of Trent on those who have the care of souls: first,  that of preaching the things of God to the people on the feast days; and  second, that of teaching the rudiments of faith and of the divine law to  the youth and others who need such instruction." Here the wise Pontiff  rightly distinguishes between these two duties: one is what is commonly  known as the explanation of the Gospel and the other is the teaching of  Christian doctrine. Perhaps there are some who, wishing to lessen their  labors, would believe that the homily on the Gospel can take the place of  catechetical instruction. But for one who reflects a moment, such is  obviously impossible. The sermon on the holy Gospel is addressed to those  who should have already received knowledge of the elements of faith. It is,  so to speak, bread broken for adults. Catechetical instruction, on the  other hand, is that milk which the Apostle Peter wished the faithful to  desire in all simplicity like newborn babes.

13. The task of the catechist is to take up one or other of the truths of  faith or of Christian morality and then explain it in all its parts; and  since amendment of life is the chief aim of his instruction, the catechist  must needs make a comparison between what God commands us to do and what is  our actual conduct. After this, he will use examples appropriately taken  from the Holy Scriptures, Church history, and the lives of the saints--thus  moving his hearers and clearly pointing out to them how they are to  regulate their own conduct. He should, in conclusion, earnestly exhort all  present to dread and avoid vice and to practice virtue.

14. We are indeed aware that the work of teaching the Catechism is  unpopular with many because as a rule it is deemed of little account and  for the reason that it does not lend itself easily to the winning of public  praise. But this in Our opinion is a judgment based on vanity and devoid of  truth. We do not disapprove of those pulpit orators who, out of genuine  zeal for the glory of God, devote themselves to defense of the faith and to  its spread, or who eulogize the saints of God. But their labor presupposes  labor of another kind, that of the catechist. And so if this be lacking,  then the foundation is wanting; and they labor in vain who build the house.  Too often it happens that ornate sermons which receive the applause of  crowded congregations serve but to tickle the ears and fail utterly to  touch the hearts of the hearers. Catechetical instruction, on the other  hand, plain and simple though it be, is the word of which God Himself  speaks through the lips of the prophet Isaias: "And as the rain and the  snow come down from heaven, and return no more thither, but soak the earth  and water it, and make it to spring and give seed to the sower and bread to  the eater: so shall my word be, which shall go forth from my mouth. It  shall not return to me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please and shall  prosper in the things for which I sent it."[17] We believe the same may be  said of those priests who work hard to produce books which explain the  truths of religion. They are surely to be commended for their zeal, but how  many are there who read these works and take from them a fruit commensurate  with the labor and intention of the writers? The teaching of the Catechism,  on the other hand, when rightly done, never fails to profit those who  listen to it

15. In order to enkindle the zeal of the ministers of God, We again insist  on the need to reach the ever-increasing numbers of those who know nothing  at all of religion, or who possess at most only such knowledge of God and  Christian truths as befits idolaters. How many there are, alas, not only  among the young, but among adults and those advanced in years, who know  nothing of the chief mysteries of faith; who on hearing the name of Christ  can only ask? "Who is he. . . that I may believe in him?"[18] In consequence  of this ignorance, they do not consider it a crime to excite and nourish  hatred against their neighbor, to enter into most unjust contracts, to do  business in dishonest fashion, to hold the funds of others at an exorbitant  interest rate, and to commit other iniquities no less reprehensible. They  are, moreover, ignorant of the law of Christ which not only condemns  immoral actions but also forbids deliberate immoral thoughts and desires.  Even when for some reason or other they avoid sensual pleasures, they  nevertheless entertain evil thoughts without the least scruple, thereby  multiplying their sins above the number of the hairs of the head. These  persons are found, we deem it necessary to repeat, not merely among the  poorer classes of the people or in sparsely settled districts, but also  among those in the higher walks of life, even, indeed, among those puffed  up with learning, who, relying upon a vain erudition, feel free to ridicule  religion and to "deride whatever they do not know."[19]

16. Now, if we cannot expect to reap a harvest when no seed has been  planted, how can we hope to have a people with sound morals if Christian  doctrine has not been imparted to them in due time? It follows, too, that  if faith languishes in our days, if among large numbers it has almost  vanished, the reason is that the duty of catechetical teaching is either  fulfilled very superficially or altogether neglected. It will not do to  say, in excuse, that faith is a free gift of God bestowed upon each one at  Baptism. True enough, when we are baptized in Christ, the habit of faith is  given, but this most divine seed, if left entirely to itself, by its own  power, so to speak, is not like the mustard seed which "grows up. . . and  puts out great branches."[20] Man has the faculty of understanding at his  birth, but he also has need of his mother's word to awaken it, as it were,  and to make it active. So too, the Christian, born again of water and the  Holy Spirit, has faith within him, but he requires the word of the teaching  Church to nourish and develop it and to make it bear fruit. Thus wrote the  Apostle: "Faith then depends on hearing, and hearing on the word of  Christ";[21] and to show the necessity of instruction, he added, "How are  they to hear, if no one preaches?"[22]

17. What We have said so far demonstrates the supreme importance of  religious instruction. We ought, therefore, to do all that lies in our  power to maintain the teaching of Christian doctrine with full vigor, and  where such is neglected, to restore it; for in the words of Our  Predecessor, Benedict XIV, "There is nothing more effective than  catechetical instruction to spread the glory of God and to secure the  salvation of souls."[23]

18. We, therefore, Venerable Brethren, desirous of fulfilling this most important obligation of Our Teaching Office, and likewise wishing to introduce uniformity everywhere in so weighty a matter, do by Our Supreme Authority enact the following regulations and strictly command that they be observed and carried out in all dioceses of the world.

19. I. On every Sunday and holy day, with no exception, throughout the  year, all parish priests and in general all those having the care of souls,  shall instruct the boys and girls, for the space of an hour from the text  of the Catechism on those things they must believe and do in order to  attain salvation.

20. II. At certain times throughout the year, they shall prepare boys and  girls to receive properly the Sacraments of Penance and Confirmation, by a  continued instruction over a period of days.

21. III. With a very special zeal, on every day in Lent and, if necessary,  on the days following Easter, they shall instruct with the use of apt  illustrations and exhortations the youth of both sexes to receive their  first Communion in a holy manner.

22. IV. In each and every parish the society known as the Confraternity of  Christian Doctrine is to be canonically established. Through this  Confraternity, the pastors, especially in places where there is a scarcity  of priests, will have lay helpers in the teaching of the Catechism, who  will take up the work of imparting knowledge both from a zeal for the glory  of God and in order to gain the numerous Indulgences granted by the  Sovereign Pontiffs.

23. V. In the larger cities, and especially where universities, colleges  and secondary schools are located, let classes in religion be organized to  instruct in the truths of faith and in the practice of Christian life the  youths who attend the public schools from which all religious teaching is  banned.

24. VI. Since it is a fact that in these days adults need instruction no  less than the young, all pastors and those having the care of souls shall  explain the Catechism to the people in a plain and simple style adapted to  the intelligence of their hearers. This shall be carried out on all holy days of obligation, at such time as is most convenient for the people, but  not during the same hour when the children are instructed, and this  instruction must be in addition to the usual homily on the Gospel which is delivered at the parochial Mass on Sundays and holy days. The catechetical  instruction shall be based on The Catechism of the Council of Trent; and  the matter is to be divided in such a way that in the space of four or five  years, treatment will be given to the Apostles' Creed, the Sacraments, the  Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer and the Precepts of the Church.

25. Venerable Brethren, We decree and command this by virtue of Our  Apostolic Authority. It now rests with you to put it into prompt and  complete execution in your respective dioceses, and by the power of your  authority to see to it that these prescriptions of Ours be not neglected  or, what amounts to the same thing, that they be not carried out carelessly  or superficially. That this may be avoided, you must exhort and urge your  pastors not to impart these instructions without having first prepared  themselves in the work. Then they will not merely speak words of human  wisdom, but "in simplicity and godly sincerity,"[24] imitating the example of  Jesus Christ, Who, though He revealed "things hidden since the foundation  of the world,"[25] yet spoke "all . . . things to the crowds in parables, and  without parables . . . did not speak to them."[26] We know that the Apostles,  who were taught by the Lord, did the same; for of them Pope Saint Gregory  wrote: "They took supreme care to preach to the uninstructed simple truths  easy to understand, not things deep and difficult."[27] In matters of  religion, the majority of men in our times must be considered uninstructed.

26. We do not, however, wish to give the impression that this studied  simplicity in imparting instruction does not require labor and meditation-- on the contrary, it demands both more than any other kind of preaching. It  is much easier to find a preacher capable of delivering an eloquent and  elaborate discourse than a catechist who can impart a catechetical  instruction which is praiseworthy in every detail. No matter what natural  facility a person may have in ideas and language, let him always remember  that he will never be able to teach Christian doctrine to children or to  adults without first giving himself to very careful study and preparation.  They are mistaken who think that because of inexperience and lack of  training of the people the work of catechizing can be performed in a  slipshod fashion. On the contrary, the less educated the hearers, the more  zeal and diligence must be used to adapt the sublime truths to their  untrained minds; these truths, indeed, far surpass the natural  understanding of the people, yet must be known by all--the uneducated and  the cultured-- in order that they may arrive at eternal happiness.

27. And now, Venerable Brethren, permit Us to close this letter by  addressing to you these words of Moses: "If any man be on the Lord's side,  let him join with me."[28] We pray and entreat you to reflect on the great  loss of souls due solely to ignorance of divine things. You have doubtless  accomplished many useful and most praiseworthy works in your respective  dioceses for the good of the flock entrusted to your care, but before all  else, and with all possible zeal and diligence and care, see to it and urge  on others that the knowledge of Christian doctrine pervades and imbues  fully and deeply the minds of all. Here, using the words of the Apostle  Peter, We say, "According to the gift that each has received, administer it  to one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God."[29]

28. Through the intercession of the Most Blessed Immaculate Virgin, may  your diligent efforts be made fruitful by the Apostolic Blessing which, in  token of Our affection and as a pledge of heavenly favors, We  wholeheartedly impart to you and to your clergy and people.

29. Given at Rome, at Saint Peter's, on the fifteenth day of April, 1905,  in the second year of Our Pontificate.

REFERENCES:

1. Acts 20:29.
2. Osee 4:1-3.
3. Instit., 27:18.
4. Eph. 5:34.
5. Eph. 5:15-16.
6. Ps.4:7.
7. Rom. 13:13.
8. Matt. 18:4.
9. Jer. 3: 15.
10. I Cor. 1:17.
11. Luke 4:18.
12. Mal. 2:7.
13. Ibid.
14. Roman Pontifical.
15. Eph. 4:14, IS.
16. Sess. V, cap. 2, De Reform.; Sess. XXII, cap. 8; Sess. XXIV, cap. 4 &
7, De Reform.
17. Is.SS:10-11.
18. John 9:36.
19. Jude 10.
20. Mark 4:32.
21. Rom. 10:17.
22. Ibid., 14.
23. Constitution, "Etsi minime," 13.
24. II Cor.1:12.
25. Matt. 13:35.
26. Ibid., 34.
27. Morals, I, 17, cap. 26.
28. Ex. 32:26.
29. I Pet. 4:10.
 

The Blessing
V. Sit + Nomen Domini benedictum.
R. Ex hoc nunc, et usque in saeculum.
V. Adjutorium nostrum in
Nomine Domini.
R. Qui fecit cślum et terram.
V. Benedicat vos, Omnipotens Deus:
V. Pa + ter, et Fi + lius, et Spiritus + Sanctus, descendat super vos, et maneat semper.
R. Amen.
V. Blessed + be the Name of the Lord.
R. Now and for ever more.x
V. Our help is in the Name of the Lord.
mm
R. Who made Heaven and earth.
V. May Almighty God Bless thee:x
V. The Fa + ther, the + Son, and the Holy + Ghost, descend upon thee, and always remain with thee.
R. Amen.

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