[Note: This could probably be considered a Catholic “political insider” sort of post and not of much interest to non-Catholics. I get that. However, it also contains some of the most basic beliefs of the Catholic faith and things often misunderstood, misquoted or simply dismissed by those of a more anti-Catholic nature. Therefore if you are slightly interested in informing yourself this would be a good piece to glance over. Keep in mind St. Vianney uses a more direct form of 19th century speech that our 21st century ears may blanche at, but to be honest I prefer a more direct speech than trying to soften the issue when it comes to my soul and the souls of those I love and for whom I am responsible.]
Yesterday I touched upon my opinion and desire for more “meat” in the homilies I hear at Mass. You can read it here. Today I’m going to give an example of what I mean, using a sermon I found by St. Vianney in the book The Sermons of the Curé of Ars. For the purposes of this post I’m going to focus on his answer to the second question he posed in his sermon outline on the principal reasons why a priest may withhold Absolution during Confession. As I was reading this a week ago I realized that within his text he had laid out some of the most very basic tenets of our faith. They may seem so basic as to be boring and met with a roll of the eyes, yet I found myself wondering: If you were to quiz the average pew-sitter at a Sunday Mass would they know these basics? And why shouldn’t there be refresher sermons on the basics of Catholicism? I’m willing to bet more Mass-goers know the Nebraska Cornhusker football team’s schedule and depth chart than they do about what is contained in the sermon below. I love the Huskers as much as the next Nebraskan, but they are not responsible for the eternal salvation of my soul even if they break the drought and finally win a conference championship.
So I’m going to keep his text without changes, but arrange the sentences as an outline in parts to better illustrate just how much meat Vianney was able to get into a sermon. Also, any italics or boldface were added by me, and comments made by me are in red boldface.
THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
“Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” – John 20:23.
SYNOPSIS—The sacrifice of our Lord on the Cross made these words efficacious. The priest the dispenser of graces by giving Absolution. He is bound by laws, and must give or withhold Absolution according to these laws. The confessor’s position one of greatest responsibility. He must, therefore, proceed with the greatest care.
Among the reasons which oblige the priest sometimes to refuse or postpone absolution are, for instance
- insufficient preparation,
- absence of true contrition,
- refusal to make restitution, etc.
But there is another reason which I will make the chief object of our meditation today, and that is a neglect of the Christian to inform himself of the essential truths of his Holy Religion. [personal responsibility to educate oneself about your faith.]
St. Charles Borromeo tells us explicitly that “absolution cannot be given to persons who do not know the principal fats of the Christian Religion, and the duties of their state of life; particularly when their ignorance arises from their indifference concerning their salvation.” The laws of the Church in this connection also forbid absolution to be given to fathers or mothers who do not teach their children or have them taught, in everything that is necessary for their salvation. [It’s on you, mom and dad.]
What, then, are the essentials of our holy Religion? Listen and I will tell you what every Catholic must necessarily know.
A Christian should know
- the Our Father,
- the Hail Mary,
- the Creed,
- the Confiteor,
- the three acts of Faith, Hope and Charity,
- the commandments of God and the Church and an act of contrition.
By this, I do not mean that you must know the words only, but you must be able to give an explanation of each article in particular and say what they mean. This is what is expected of you and not simply to know the words.
You must know that
- the Our Father was composed by God Himself;
- that the Hail Mary was composted partly by the angel who came to announce the Mystery of the Incarnation to the Blessed Virgin, and partly by the Church;
- you must know that the creed was composed by the apostles after the descent of the Holy Ghost, before they went out into the world; so that since the first beginning, the same Religion and the same Mysteries are taught in all parts of the world.
- The creed contains the sum and substance of our entire Holy Religion, the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, which is one God in three Persons, namely,
- God the Father, who created us,
- God the Son who redeemed us by His death and passion,
- and God the Holy Ghost, who sanctified us in Baptism.
When you say:
- I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator, etc.,
- you must mean, I believe, that the eternal Father created everything, our bodies and our souls, that the world was not always in existence, that it will not always be, that it will one day be destroyed.
- I believe in Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, became man, that He suffered and died to redeem us, to merit heaven for us, of which we were deprived by the sin of Adam.
- I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church,
- means: I believe that there is one Church, which is the one that Jesus Christ Himself founded, that in her He has deposited all His graces, and that this Church will endure until the end of the world.
- When you say: I believe in the Communion of Saints,
- you must mean: I believe that all Christians take part in one another’s prayers and good works, I believe that the Saints, who are in heaven, pray to God for us, and that we can pray for those who are in purgatory.
- When you say: I believe in the forgiveness of sins,
- you mean, I believe that in the Church of Jesus Christ there are Sacraments which remit all sin, and that there are no sins which the Church of Jesus Christ cannot remit.
- If we say: The resurrection of the body,
- that means that the very same bodies which we now have, will one day rise again, that our souls will return to them to accompany them to heaven, or to hell, as we shall have deserved.
- When we say, I believe in the life everlasting,
- that means: I believe that the next life will have no end, that our souls will last as long as God Himself, who is without end.
- When you say, from whence He shall come to judge both the living and the dead,
- means, I believe, that Jesus Christ is in heaven, body and soul, and that He Himself will come to judge us, and to reward those who have been good, and to punish those who have been bad.
We must know, furthermore, that the Commandments of God were given to Adam at his creation; that is to say, that God wrote them in his heart, and that afterwards, God gave them to Moses written upon tablets of stone, upon Mount Sinai. They are the same which our Lord renewed when He came down upon earth to save us.
I say that you must know the acts of Faith, Hope and Charity. I repeat, not the words only, but the meaning of them.
- Faith enables us to believe all that the Church teaches. Although we may not be able to comprehend some of the mysteries, it teaches us to believe that God sees us, and that He watches over us; that He will either reward or punish us according to our acts of good or evil; that there is a heaven for the good, and a hell for the wicked; that our Lord suffered and died for us.
- Hope teaches us to do all our actions with the intention of pleasing God, and that they will be rewarded through all eternity.
- In this world the Love of God consists in our loving God above all created things, and preferring Him above all things, even our own life.
This, my dear brethren, is what is meant when we say that you must know the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Creed, the Confiteor, the one only God, and your three acts. If you do not know this, then you know nothing that is necessary for you to be saved; you should be able when you asked about these things to explain them:
But this is not all:
- you should also know what the mystery of the Incarnation is, and
- what the word Incarnation means.
You must know that this Mystery means, that the second Person of the Blessed Trinity took upon Himself a body like ours, in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by the operation of the Holy Ghost. We celebrate this mystery upon the 25th of March, the feast of the Annunciation; for on this day the Son of God united His divinity with our humanity; He took a body like ours, but without sin, and He took all our sins upon Himself, to satisfy His Father’s justice. You must know that Jesus Christ died, that He died as man, and not as God, because as God He could not die;–that He rose again upon Easter day, when He united His soul again to His body, and that after remaining upon earth for forty days, He ascended into Heaven upon Ascension day. That the Holy Ghost descended upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost.
You should be able to tell the Sacraments. If you are asked by whom they were instituted you must answer that they could only be instituted by Jesus Christ, not the Blessed Virgin or the Apostles. You should know what are the effects of each Sacrament, and what is the disposition which we must have to receive them properly; you should know
- that Baptism wipes out original sin, which was the sin of Adam, and which we all have when we come into the world;
- that the Sacrament of Confirmation is conferred upon us by the Bishop, and that by it we receive the Holy Ghost with the abundance of His graces;
- that we partake of the Sacrament of Penance when we confess our sins to the priest, and that if we confess them properly, all our sins are effaced by the absolution of the priest. [Confession]
- In the Holy Eucharist we believe that there is really and truly present the adorable body and the most precious blood of Jesus Christ. [Holy Communion]
- The Sacrament of Extreme Unction helps us to die well, and it was instituted to cleanse us from the sins which we have committed by all the different senses. [Anointing of the Sick]
- Holy Orders confer upon man the power which Jesus Christ gave to His Apostles.
- The Sacrament of Matrimony sanctifies the union of husband and wife if they are united according to the laws of the Church.
Now, my dear brethren, if I had asked you about these things, would you have been able to answer all these questions rightly?
So…how would any of us do in answering those questions? Could this sermon be given today? Why not?
It looks overwhelming because of how I changed it into an outline form versus St. Vianney’s original paragraph structure. It may also be overwhelming because you’re used to sitting back and nodding off during Father’s latest story. That’s on us as much as it is on Father, and I’m not happy to admit that more times than not that is what I find myself doing. So maybe it is just me. Or maybe I’ve grown conditioned. All I know is all of these evangelization programs being created, published and sold all emphasize that we evangelize, and that to do this we must know our faith. “Go forth, the Mass is ended.”
“Go out into the world, two by two…”
Would it hurt to talk about the basics of our faith at Mass before we “go forth”?
We need a boot camp. We need basic training.
I’ll say it again: Fathers, feed your sheep.