There is a common notion that it has only been in the last 50 years that we’ve moved from a religion of the book to a religion of encounter (a faith that is encountered not just learned/memorized). However, the first 1400 years of the Church’s life was filled with the fostering of a faith where children and adults encountered Christ in every facet of life – the hearing and acting out of Scripture, the smells and bells taken in through the liturgy, the daily devotional practices happening in their families and in their communities and later through the architecture and stained glass windows of cathedrals. Faith, Gospel truths, & God’s presence were everywhere.
It was only in the sixteenth century, beginning with the Protestant Reformation, that the faith became focused more on a memorization of doctrine. This was due to Martin Luther writing two Catechisms and writing against what he saw as empty devotional practices. The faith and message of salvation became focused and centered on formulas/propositions of the faith, while extremely important they became more important in the formational process than did an encounter with Christ through the liturgy or devotional practices.
Today we often have the opposite reality – kids and adults don’t know the 10 commandments, what the Sacraments of Initiation are and why that is important to our faith. They don’t know, for example, the two kinds of sin – venial and mortal and why that is important. This is just naming a couple examples that in ages past people would have known. While at times they did not know the why of these things but in other instances they did. There has been countless blessings today as a result of the Church getting away from the primacy of a “religion of the book” (memorized formulas and didactic teaching of doctrine), however there exists a need to catechize for both understanding and encounter. Both work together to foster greater formation of the faith and the living of the Christian life. For example, when we catechize about the sacraments of Initiation we communicate and illustrate that they are those gifts of God’s abundant grace that bring us into the Christian life and communion with Jesus Christ. Or when we catechize regarding sin and how sin is that which leads us away from God and negatively effects our relationship with Him. Catechesis on the difference between venial sin (that which wounds our relationship with God) and mortal sin (that which severs our relationship with Him where we lose the life of grace given to us at Baptism) is needed.
Catechesis today has made significant strides at fostering greater intimacy with God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is communicated as the glad tidings of Jesus Christ. For these things we can all rejoice and be encouraged! However, there is a need to help people know and understand the truths of our faith. While in once sense we do have a “religion of the Book” (The Bible and Catechism) in another sense the focus on the memorization of “the book” at the expense of an encounter with God has had significant effects on people living and being engaged in the Christian life.
We are in an exciting time in the Church where we have a greater awareness of the need for both. Come Holy Spirit, assist us and guide us to bring Christ and His teachings to the People of God!!!