Saturday, January 31, 2009

Uh, no.

From the chapter on the Eucharist I'll be teaching tomorrow:
Precepts of the Church. "The Church is our teacher and guide. One way the Church guides us is by giving us precepts, or rules, that state some of our responsibilities. One of the five precepts of the Church says that Catholics are to participate in the Eucharist on Sundays and on holy days of obligation.
For the non-Catholic readership, the "precepts of the Church" are ecclesial requirements that govern the relationship of the Catholic to the Church. One of them is that Catholics must receive the Eucharist at least once a year, during the Easter season; another is that Catholics attend Mass at least every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. These are minima for active ecclesial life: better of course is to attend Mass as often as possible (it's offered daily in nearly every parish in the world) and to receive as often as conscience permits.

But this odd mish-mash of the two precepts ends up with a command to receive the Eucharist as a matter of obligation, regardless of state of grace; a command not only nonsensical but (in Catholic eyes) quite dangerous, as receiving when not in a fit state is a serious matter. It's like an owner's manual that should say "oil machine blades at least once per month" and "cover blades when in use" but instead says "oil machine blades when in use."

And this is actually by far the best of the textbook series our parish's textbook committee (which I got to be on, I presume as the token homeschooler) was allowed to consider. At its worst, this series--RCL's "Faith First"--has some errors (as above) and fairly dumbed-down language, especially for Scripture readings. Others were much, much worse; despite the USCCB's thumbs-up, some had clear agendas at odds with orthodoxy, and many were so riddled with errors you could pick a page at random as a sort of game to see what bizarre mistake would show up.

"Faith First," though, at least takes Scripture seriously, providing large dollops of it throughout, starting each chapter prayer with something that used to be a Bible verse, and generally presenting Scripture as an integral part of Christianity. Imagine! Of course I can't help comparing sometimes Offspring #2's Little Visits With God, which expects tiny tykes to memorize verses like "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof," and "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord," and to look up the verses for themselves when a little older. Still, our CCD textbooks do a much better job than the average, even affirming in the 8th grade book that Catholics ought to read the Bible every day. I just about keeled over when I saw that. Nine years ago, when I put Offspring #1 in her CCD class and started sitting in, I was blown away by the diligence with which CCD seemed determined to bear out the caricature of Catholics as folks who wouldn't know the Bible if it fell on them on their way out of Mass. For all the "post-Vatican 2 Church" fluffiness of the Catholicism-lite textbooks (Eudoxus memorably remarked, upon perusing the CCD book, "It's hard to believe you guys produced Thomas Aquinas."), the openness to Scripture that was supposed to be a great fruit of the Second Vatican Council was nowhere evident.

There's still some unfortunate substance to the caricature. My CCD kids universally come to third grade never having opened a Bible, not knowing the difference between the Old and New Testaments, and utterly unfamiliar with all things Scriptural. I still have to debrief the Offspringen after CCD classes (my favorite Things They Learned in CCD is: Christ used unleavened bread at the Last Supper because yeast hadn't been invented yet), and I take for granted that they will learn Absolutely Nothing about the Bible that I don't teach them myself. And even though our textbook committee looked at the 7th and 8th grade level books for each series we considered (as those are the years preparing for Confirmation in our diocese), I was surprised (silly me) to find that even at that late date, verses and passages from Scripture are adapted--pretty heavily--to make them, I suppose readable by the young and stupid. Expectations are pitched low, way low. And the children, who being children will live up or down to the expectations placed on them, are robbed--of the beauty and truth of Scripture, of the inheritance of the Church, and of the right to be challenged in their understanding.

I leave you with the verse that begins Chapter 2 of my third-graders' textbook, Psalm 104:24:
O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.
No, I beg your pardon. The putative verse cited as "Psalm 104:24" in our textbook is rather this:
Lord! the earth is full of your creatures.
And to prove the claim, now that it has been rendered fit for children, a picture of a dolphin graces the page. Alas. To think that we once produced St. Thomas Aquinas.

UPDATE: Mrs. Darwin Catholic shares her daughter's CCD text's rendering of the 23rd Psalm's "He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake":
You guide me along the right path.
Isn't it interesting how the children's versions so often consist of telling the Almighty things He might not know?


Blogger mrsdarwin said...

The thought of my childrens' CCD textbooks leaves me gibbering and pulling out my hair. And since we haven't reached first communion classes yet, there's not even enough substance in the books for them to be doctrinally incorrect.

The classes are generally harmless, though I was annoyed when my kindergartener reported that in the class before Halloween, the children watched the Peanuts special about the Great Pumpkin. Because there's nothing religious going on around the end of Oct.-beginning of Nov., you know.

9:08 AM  
Blogger said...

I think everyone who reads the Bible and is a member of a church, whether that church is the Catholic Church or any other church, at some point has to face a question of what has greater authority over belief, the Bible or the church? Sooner or later, a person will find a scripture that doesn't seem to match up with what the church he attends is teaching. Then that person must make a choice. Some things of course might be misunderstandings that can be cleared up in a discussion with the pastor. But not everything.

This choice can arise for members of any church regardless of whether the church is a true church or not.

As I point out in my blog, we all need God's help to understand the Bible, and God gives that help to those who are willing to believe Him.

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your mish-mash of precepts reminds me of a funny sign I once saw in a grocery store. "Caution. Rain may cause floor to be slippery when wet."

I agree with you fully; the watering down of scripture in modern Catholic textbooks both puzzles and saddens me. I grew up in a small West Texas town among simple, blue collar folk. My grandparents never graduated from high school, but they had long passages of scripture memorized, all in King James English. I began memorizing scripture as soon as I was able to talk, and I learned all the "difficult" words as naturally as I learned any others.

Recently I've been helping my daughter with a research paper on John Calvin. Speaking of the scriptures he said, "Read Demosthenes or Cicero, read Plato, Aristotle, or any others of that class; I grant that you will be attracted, delighted, moved and enraptured by them in a surprising manner; but if, after reading them, you turn to the perusal of the sacred volume, whether you are willing or unwilling, it will affect you so powerfully, it will so penetrate your heart, and impress itself so strongly on your mind, that, compared with its energetic influence, the beauties of rhetoricians and philosophers will almost entirely disappear..."
I can't help but smiling in a sad way to think of how puzzling this quote this must sound to anyone fed on a steady diet of "The earth is full of your creatures."

8:01 PM  
Anonymous entropy said...

I taught 7th and 8th grades (the fact that any warm body can teach is subject for another post) and they didn't know the difference between old and new testaments, had never been taught how to look up a verse, or even tell me the names of the four gospels. "God loves us" was prettyclose to the extent of their knowledge. Is it a wonder when they run to the nearest evangelical church where they learn about the Bible (and self-interpretation)?

9:31 AM  

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