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The Handbook for Confused Catholics

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Editor’s note: adults can sign up for the summer adult Credo Catechism course at the Avila Institute. The high school program starts again next spring semester. -TSF

Catholics of a certain age know things about their religion that many — if not most — Catholics today have never been taught. We now have a resource, however, that points today’s Catholics toward a more rich and fulfilling experience of their religion.

This is Bishop Athanasius Schneider latest book, Credo: Compendium of the Catholic Faith.

Since it’s release late last year, most reviews that I have read regard the book as a catechism for our present circumstances. Indeed, Part I is about faith (Lex credendi, the law of belief) and Part II is about morals (Lex vivendi, the law of living). But Part III is about worship and acts of worship (Lex orandi, the law of prayer). This Part of the book can be a significant source of enlightenment and enrichment for Catholics who were born after 1970, when ritual began to be systematically restrained.

Any religion can have things to believe and rules to live by, but Catholicism stands out because of its liturgy.

III:750.  What is the liturgy?

The term is used for the many official rites and ceremonies of the Church’s public worship, through which she glorifies God and sanctifies man.

Any religion can have preaching, but is that worship?

III:2.  What is worship?

In its broadest sense, worship is the act by which reverence is given to God on account of His excellence…

So when we attend one of the many rites and ceremonies of the Catholic Church, we are glorifying God on account of His excellence. Preaching is for us; liturgy is for God (III:55). 

The essential worship of the Catholic Church is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

III:415.  What is the Sacrifice of the Mass?

It is the very sacrifice of the Cross, now really and truly re-presented and offered to God in an unbloody manner, under the external appearances of bread and wine.

The Church was established to offer right worship. It continues the priestly mission of Jesus Christ mainly by means of the sacred liturgy (III:756). Rubrics regulate the precise actions for conducting each rite in itself (III:752). They instruct the celebrant to perform the liturgy properly (III:753).  The prayers and ceremonies of Holy Mass are contained in the Missal (III:780).

The words and actions of the priest celebrating Mass are directed by the Missal. Everything else about the Mass has meaning and has been pre-established as well. 

Take, for instance, the priest’s vestments. Did you ever give any thought to why the priest at Mass is dressed that way? The priest wears certain sacred vestments, corresponding to the ministerial function in divine worship that he is celebrating (III:872).

For Mass, the vestments include the amice, alb, cincture, maniple, stole and chasuble (III:873). Each vestment has meaning. The amice, for instance, is a sign of supernatural protection, the “helmet of salvation” (III:874). The vestments are depicted in an appendix.

Many other liturgical objects (III:819) are covered in the book, including altars, vessels, linens and substances, such as incense. These, too, are depicted in an appendix. Everything is purposeful; nothing is optional. The altar, for instance, must be a consecrated stone (III:821), covered by three cloths, made of hemp or linen, to honor the Blessed Trinity and to symbolize the burial cloths of Christ (III:830, 831).

All of these things: the rubrics, the Missal, the vestments and the liturgical objects, are in service of the liturgy, by which the Church worships God. A religion that does not have liturgy does not have worship. A person who sits on a mountaintop and marvels at the grandeur of God’s creation is not worshipping God.

Someone may be drawn to — or revert to — Catholicism because its doctrines (13) and dogmas (56) are authentic. Assenting to these doctrines and dogmas leads — compels — the human soul to glorify God through true, formal worship. This part of the Catholic religion has been diminished for the past 70 years as being a hindrance to ecumenism. Yet Bishop Schneider’s Compendium shows that the lex orandi is every bit as important to Catholicism as the lex credendi and the lex vivendi.

Formal worship has been diminished but has not gone away. Neither have things like sacramentals (III:727) liturgical seasons and feast days (III:888-963). These, along with liturgy, are the distinctive attributes of the lex orandi that enrich the experience of the Catholic religion. Yet these are the features of worship of which many current Catholics may be unaware.

Credo reemphasizes the aspects of worship and acts of worship that distinguish Catholicism as the only means of salvation (I:544-557). Credo is a handbook for practicing our faith in this new synodal era.

Photo by Gülfer ERGİN on Unsplash

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