It has been said that the Catholic Church in England and Wales has at best been in maintenance mode and at worst has been managing decline for a number of years if not decades. By this I mean that fewer priests and diminishing congregations in Catholic Churches up and down the country have led to amalgamations and even the closure of parishes.
In my home Deanery of Hereford we have been very fortunate that we have a community of Benedictine monks on our doorstep at Belmont Abbey, who have been ready and willing to step in and run our parishes. So perhaps we have felt the impact of decline a little less than others.
It has also been said by some that for the past 50 years, we have catechised people, but failed to evangelise them. In other words, we have told them about the faith, parents have been prepared for the baptism of their child, children and young people have attended classes preparing them for the sacraments first Holy Communion and Confirmation, though adult formation for the most part has been non-existent.
Meanwhile there has been little or no encouragement to evangelise that is, to encourage the faithful to take the Gospel out of the Holy huddle on Sunday mornings and into the world at large. In fact, even catechesis has suffered from a kind of ‘dumbing down’ with such things as the removal of God the Father and God the Son from resources to be replaced simply with God in order to appease those who have issues with gender and an attitude of ‘let’s do the minimum to get it done’ giving in to the temptation to cut out all the prayers and other ‘extras’.
Hence Mass attendance has declined, vocations to the priesthood and religious life have fallen, and the Catholic voice is a whisper in the noisy clamour of the often violent secular world. In fact, we appear to have regressed to the state that the Venerable Bede, a Benedictine monk and Doctor of the Church records in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People in which he states that the Anglo-Saxons were half-hearted Christians still holding onto Pagan practices.
So how refreshing it was to attend a Benedictine Abbey in Devon this last weekend (27 February to 1 March 2015) and embark with eight other enthusiastic Catholics on the newly launched Catechist Foundations Course for the New Evangelisation at the School of the Annunciation. This was a weekend introduction to an 18 month course that will form the Catechists of the 21st century. The course is Christocentric – has Christ at its centre – and based on the ancient principle of Christus totus Latin for the whole Christ: that Christ, comprises both Christ and the Church, head and members, head and body. Christ is us and we are Christ. See Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 795 and St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 5:23.
The second principle that binds this course is that catechesis must be both scriptural and liturgical TOGETHER, that is with the priest acting in persona Christi. In Mass we are fed by the summit – Christ himself in the liturgy of the word and the sacrifice of the Eucharist so that we may go out and be the source of the Good News.
To be a catechist is an awesome responsibility and must not be taken lightly. Ultimately, we are answerable to God on Judgement Day. How on earth can we accomplish this without some form of training?
Many catechists are simply asked by their Parish Priest to take on the role often with little or no training. Catechists should be selected for their faithfulness, properly trained for the role, equipped with the right resources and only then should they undertake the mission.
We have no excuse not to be trained any longer. The School of the Annunciation, with its Benedictine spirituality is embarking on the mission to form Catechists for the New Evangelisation. Armed with scripture and tradition and fortified through prayer we have an opportunity to re-ignite the Catholic faith in England and Wales and beyond.
For details of the course go to: http://www.schooloftheannunciation.com/