At the root of the catechetical crisis:
a hesitant Magisterium
In our last editorial we discussed how the proliferation of the heterodox or inconsistent catechesis was due to the fact that the authority had never taken the means to fight it. There’s worst: just as the magisterial organs have hesitated in regards to certain conciliatory commitments, also in regards to catechetical matters, the ecclesial authority has appeared to doubt the message they were to pass on. We will take as an example the propitiatory character of the mass and what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on this subject.
Missing from the definition of the mass in the 1st edition of the CCC: Propitiation
The mass is a sacrifice reiterating the sacrifice of the Cross, offered for the reparation of the sins. As we know, the disappearance of this affirmation unfortunately translated into the new liturgy: elements of a reproachable milder tone, this missing affirmation is certainly the most impressive of all. A milder tone and even an oversight in the first edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church published in 1992[i], corrected in the second edition published in 1997[ii].
To understand the mild tone being employed, one must go back to one of the definitions of the most famous Council of Trent, chapter II of the decree on the sacrifice of the mass, 22nd session of the council (Dz 1743): “And since in this divine sacrifice, which is celebrated in the Mass, that same Christ is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner, who on the altar of the Cross once offered Himself in a bloody manner, the holy Synod teaches that this is truly propitiatory, and that through him it happens that, it we approach God with a sincere heart and a righteous faith, with fear and respect, contrite and penitent, we obtain mercy and find grace in seasonable aid (He 4,16). For, appeased by this oblation, the Lord, granting the grace and gift of penitence, pardons crimes and even great sins. For, it is one and the same Victim, the same one now offering by the ministry of the priests as He who then offered Himself on the Cross, the manner of offering alone being different. The fruits of that oblation (bloody, that is) are received most abundantly through this unbloody one; so far is the latter from being derogatory in any way to Him [can. 4]. Therefore, it is offered rightly according to the tradition of the apostles [can. 3], not only for the sins of the faithful living, for their punishments and other necessities, but also for the dead in Christ not yet fully purged.”
In its first edition, the one of 1992, the CCC, paragraph 1367, stated: “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “This victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.” “In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the Cross, is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner”.” It referred to the definition of the Council of Trent, but the quote divided the quoted sentence in omitting what gave it the character of a conclusion (“And since,…”) and especially, it omitted the final assertion: “… this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.”
The correction of the 2nd edition of the CCC
There were other similar issues, just like this one, which troubled a few theologians who decided to bring their critics to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who took into account these critics in the preparation of a second edition.
Paragraph 1367 of the 1997 edition (1998 for the French edition) now states: “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “This victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.” “And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the Cross, is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner, this sacrifice is truly propitiatory”.” A reference to the Council of Trent (Dz 1743) now totally justified since the CCC takes the essential of the definition.
Definitely, other catechism who were published after the Council of Trent are much more precise than the CCC. For example, the Catechism of the Council of Trent says: “This being the case, it must be taught without any hesitation that, as the holy Council (of Trent) has also) explained, the sacred and holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not a Sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving only, or a mere commemoration of the Sacrifice performed on the cross, but also truly a propitiatory Sacrifice, by which God is appeased and rendered propitious to us. If, therefore, with a pure heart, a lively faith, and affected with an inward sorrow for our transgressions, we immolate and offer this most holy victim, we shall, without doubt, obtain mercy from the Lord, and grace in time of need; for SO delighted is the Lord with the door of this victim that, bestowing on us the gift of grace and repentance, He pardons our sins. Hence this usual prayer of the Church: As often as the commemoration of this victim is celebrated, so often is the work of our salvation being done; that is to say, through this unbloody Sacrifice flow to us the most plenteous fruits of that bloody victim.”[iii]
Likewise, the catechism of Saint Pius X: “For what end is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered? The Sacrifice of the Mass is offered to God for four ends: […] (3) To appease Him, make Him due satisfaction for our sins, and to help the souls in Purgatory, and hence it is called Propitiatory.”[iv]
Maybe, it would not have been unnecessary for the CCC to mention the last magisterial clarification concerning the essence of the eucharistic sacrifice, “true and proper act of sacrifice”, in the 1947 encyclical of Pius XII, Mediator Dei: “The august sacrifice of the altar, then, is no mere empty commemoration of the passion and death of Jesus Christ, but a true and proper act of sacrifice, whereby the High Priest by an unbloody immolation offers Himself a most acceptable victim to the Eternal Father, as He did upon the cross offering Himself to the eternal Father as a victim very agreeable. […] For by the « transubstantiation » of bread into the body of Christ and of wine into His blood, His body and blood are both really present: now the eucharistic species under which He is present symbolize the actual separation of His body and blood. Thus the commemorative representation of His death, which actually took place on Calvary, is repeated in every sacrifice of the altar, seeing that Jesus Christ is symbolically shown by separate symbols to be in a state of victimhood.”[v]
Ordinary/Extraordinary catechetical doctrine
In this way, after almost twenty years of vacatio of the Roman catechetical teaching following the Vatican II council, in 1992 the first edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church came to fill the void that existed, but without giving the new catechism the full status and the authority of previous catechisms, since five years later, the 1997 edition (1998 for the French), among other things, appropriately amended the previous editions and the oversight we are discussing here.
We think about the similar adventure, so to speak, in regards to the definition of the mass in the Institutio generalis, the general presentation of the missal of Paul VI, dated 3 April 1969:
- n.7, chapter 2 (De generalis structure missæ) of the Institutio, stated in the version presented to the Vatican Press Office, on 2 May 1969: “The Lord’s Supper, also called the Mass, is the holy assembly where the People of God is called together, with a priest presiding in order to celebrate the memorial of the Lord. For this reason Christ’s promise applies in an outstanding way to such a local gathering of the holy Church: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst” (Mt 18:20).”
- After the text was amended, n.7, chapter II, as it appeared in the typical edition of 26 March 1970 (which became n.27 in the 2002 typical edition) reads (the modified text is italicized): “At Mass, that is, the Lord’s Supper, the People of God is called together, with a priest presiding and acting in the person of Christ, to celebrate the memorial of the Lord, the Eucharistic Sacrifice. For this reason Christ’s promise applies in an outstanding way to such a local gathering of the holy Church: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst” (Mt 18:20).” For in the celebration of Mass, in which the Sacrifice of the Cross is perpetuated, Christ is really present in the very liturgical assembly gathered in his name, in the person of the minister, in his word, and indeed substantially and continuously under the Eucharistic species.”
In the case of the CCC or the Institutio generalis, we can only but rejoice these doctrinal issues have been corrected, though we should notice that these uncertainties remove all magisterial pretense for these definitions. For, at the same time, an other part of the catechism was amended but this time in a more liberal way, the paragraph concerning the death penalty.[vi]
It is obvious, though, that the catechism formerly published by the Roman authority, and a fortiori the Council of Trent itself, remain still totally valid. Therefore, we can say that, like the “extraordinary form[vii]” of the Roman rite coexists with the “ordinary form”, the rigorous definitions of the Catechism of the Council of Trent, never abolished, coexist with the more hesitant wording of the new catechism. Thus, there is an “extraordinary catechetic doctrine”, never abolished, ad an “ordinary catechetic doctrine” open to variations, sometimes in a more rigorous tone, sometimes to the contrary, in a more liberal expansion.
Fr. Claude Barthe
[i] French edition, Plon/Mame/Librairie Editrice Vaticane, translation on the typical Latin text, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1992.
[ii] French edition, Centurion/Cerf/Fleurus-Mame/Librairie Editrice Vaticane, 1998, translated from the typical Latin text, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997. Our thoughts are based on a long note written by Fr. Grégoire Célier in Lettre à nos frères prêtres (Letter to our brothers priests), June 2010, “Retour sur la propitiation”, pp. 3-4
[iii] Chapter 20, § 8.
[iv] Chapter 5, § 1.
[v] Dz 3847-3848.
[vi] Paragraph 2266 considered it a legitimate punishment “in cases extreme gravity.” The new n.2267 states: “The Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that the death penalty is inadmissible.
[vii] Name given to the Tridentine liturgy in the Motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.