Year of Faith an opportunity to revisit Vatican II—and the catechism
By James Cavanagh
Last October Pope Benedict announced a Year of Faith to begin this Oct. 11. He described it as “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world.”
The reason for calling for a Year of Faith is simple. Faith, at least in Europe and some parts of America, is dying. In the past, faith in God, the contents of the Gospel and the values inspired by it were part of the cultural matrix that families could rely on to help them transmit the faith to their children. Not anymore. “This presupposition” the pope said, “can no longer be taken for granted, but is often openly denied.”
The Oct. 11 date is significant. It marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. On that date, Archbishop Samuel Aquila will open the Year of Faith with a 5:30 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception at Colfax and Logan streets in downtown Denver. He hopes you will join him for that great event.
Important milestones like this prompt us to look back and evaluate what we’ve done, and what we’ve failed to do. When a man turns 50 it’s only natural that he pause and reflect on his life, appreciate his accomplishments and, yes, think about his failures. It also encourages him to look ahead to the future, to get a fresh start, establish new goals and make necessary changes. This is what we’re being asked to do during the Year of Faith.
For most Catholics Vatican II is a distant memory or a relic from the past that has no relevance to us. But Vatican II was the most important religious event of the 20th century. Many of the things we take for granted such as Mass in English, the priest facing the congregation and participation by the laity came about after Vatican II. What many people don’t know is that Vatican II never mandated exclusive use of the vernacular at Mass (although it did allow for some use). And it never said anything about which direction the priest should face. That came later.
The point is that most Catholics don’t know what Vatican actually said about a whole host of issues. The Year of Faith therefore is an invitation to take another look, or look for the first time, at the beautiful and inspiring things Vatican II said.
The Year of Faith also commemorates the 20th anniversary of the publication of the catechism, which is one of the principal fruits of Vatican II. It distills the teachings of the council, along with numerous other sources including the Bible, in a single, comprehensive compendium. Blessed John Paul II called the catechism a “harmonious symphony” of the faith. The catechism describes itself as “an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine.” There are no less than 817 references to Vatican II in it!
Ask yourself, “How well have I assimilated the teachings of Vatican II? How well do I even know the teachings?” This is also a time to learn about the catechism if you haven’t done so already. Even though it’s been two decades since the catechism was published, many Catholics have never opened it.
The Year of Faith is important for another reason. Ideological secularism is threatening to drown us in what Pope Benedict has called “a dictatorship of relativism.” Pope Benedict believes that relativism, especially moral relativism, is the greatest threat to civilization in the 21st century. And the only antidote to the “dictatorship of relativism” is a renewal of faith.
Find out more
There will be many opportunities over the next year to renew your faith and learn more about Vatican II and the catechism. Some things will happen at the archdiocesan level, but most things will happen in parishes. Find out what’s happening in your parish. Talk to the director of religious education or your pastor.
To start the Year of Faith the Archdiocese of Denver is sponsoring a symposium on Catechism Saturday, Oct. 13 at the John Paul II Center, 1300 S. Steele St. in Denver. This symposium will give participants a comprehensive introduction to the catechism in just one day. Call 303-715-3260 for more information and to register.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for metro-area parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. He is also the author of the Denver Catholic Register’s weekly Scripture reflection, Breaking Open the Word.
Year of Faith Upcoming Events
Oct. 11: 5:30 p.m. Year of Faith inaugural Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, 1530 Logan St. in Denver
Oct. 13: Symposium on the Catechism of the Catholic Church at the John Paul II Center, 1300 S. Steele St., Denver
For more information on both events, call 303-715-3260