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Improving Catholic Schools — Archdiocese of Vancouver

Passing on the Catholic faith is not limited to religion class, but involves the entire curriculum and the entire school community.  A recently prepared study paper from the Vancouver Archdiocese made six recommendations to help Catholic schools in this most important task .  The recommendations below are excerpted from that study paper.

1) Affirm the central role of sacred liturgy in the teaching ministry of the Church

No Christian community is built up which does not grow from and hinge on the celebration of the most Holy Eucharist. From this all education for community spirit must begin. (Vatican II, The Ministry and Life of Priests, 6.)

The Mass, being the very core of Catholic liturgy, is the supreme expression of the Church’s faith. While proper liturgical expression and practice inevitably build up the faith, a concept of the Mass that fails to do justice to its essence will in due time harm the piety of believers, undermine the faith of communicants, and destroy the unity of the Church.  A clear understanding of the content and high meaning of the Church’s liturgy is, therefore, a fundamental goal of all catechetical programs. If our catechesis is successful in fostering the reverence, wonder, and contemplation necessary to be most edified and transformed by the liturgy, we will have opened the vast storehouse of the Church’s treasury to the souls of our Catholics in formation.

To do this, we must teach our students the deep meaning and sacred significance of the form and substance of the Holy Mass, reinforcing the understanding of the Mass as a sacrificial meal that both commemorates and offers salvation. Students should be led to appreciate the Mass as prayer — “the source and summit of the Christian life” — and instructed in how to approach the Mass with reverence.

We should also re-emphasize, and in some cases restore in our schools, the time-honored traditional liturgical celebrations such as: weekly school Mass, Benediction, Adoration, Marian devotions, and a general recognition and celebration of the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year. Such celebrations should be simple — though never trivial — beautiful, inspiring, and consistent with the traditions of the Church.

2) Promote the Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty

The fine arts, but above all sacred art, of their nature are directed toward expressing in some way the infinite beauty of God in works made by human hands. Their dedication to the increase of God’s praise and of his glory is more complete, the more exclusively they are devoted to turning men’s minds devoutly towards God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2513).

Jesus Christ, Beauty Incarnate Himself, the all-good Truth who is our life and our way, leads us through the visible — by creation and the sacred liturgy — to the invisible, to the beauty of holiness, indeed to Beauty Himself, the all-Holy One.  Genuine sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer and to the love of God, Creator and Savior, the Holy One and Sanctifier. For this reason, bishops (personally or through delegates), should see to the promotion of sacred art, old and new, in all its forms and, with the same religious care, remove from the liturgy and from places of worship everything which is not in conformity with the truth of faith and the authentic beauty of sacred art (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2502-3).

Likewise, we need to promote authentic expressions of sacred music in liturgy.  Music echoes the praise of Christ and is a most powerful element in catechesis. An integral part of liturgy, music is more than something which “assists” worship — it is worship. More than a help to prayer — it is prayer. The music chosen for sacred liturgy, therefore, must embody those characteristics proper to its sacred function; its end must be that of raising the mind and heart to God.

3) Provide a school of virtues.

Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1804).

In the centuries leading up to the twentieth, it was widely understood and generally accepted that the cultivation of personal “virtue” — such as justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude — was the necessary foundation for living a responsible, productive, and happy life.  The replacement of this rich “virtues” understanding and language with the ambiguous idea of “values” has contributed significantly to the moral illiteracy and moral confusion that is today so much in evidence in Canadian and American society. The task before us then is one of re-introducing, using contemporary language and modern methodologies, the classical understanding of the virtues as embodied in the Catholic tradition.

The family — which is the first school of the virtues — needs to be deeply informed by this understanding.  We must assist parents in their role as the primary educators of their children by obtaining and promoting the use ofparenting guidelines and parenting programs that are consistent with the Church’s virtue-based understanding.

We should also establish guidelines to help teachers and parents choose reading material which nourishes virtue in the hearts and minds of their children. Our efforts to educate our children in virtue will be compromised, and we will find ourselves at cross-purposes, if we employ books which, while stimulating a superficial interest in reading, end up undermining our primary goal of communicating high ideals, virtue, and a faith-based perspective to our children. Literature should convey the great adventure, the majesty and mystery of the moral cosmos.

Finally, we need to ensure that programs offered in our schools which touch on the moral life and development of the child are all deeply rooted in the Church’s understanding of the human person and the moral virtues. Programs founded on a shallow understanding of personal autonomy, self-esteem, or a moral relativism model — as well as all those paying only superficial lip service to the virtues — must be carefully avoided.