A question for my Catholic friends?

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John Kight | Forum Activity | Posted: Tue, Sep 25 2012 7:23 PM

If I was planning on examining the Roman Catholic Church, what resources are absolutely necessary for me to gain a proper understanding of the Church's stance (i.e. Vatican II, Catechism of the Catholic Church, etc)? Thanks for your help!

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Sep 25 2012 8:05 PM

John Kight:
If I was planning on examining the Roman Catholic Church, what resources are absolutely necessary for me to gain a proper understanding of the Church's stance (i.e. Vatican II, Catechism of the Catholic Church, etc)?

Actually, Catholics are so "lex orandi lex credendi" that the place to start is to attend Mass. Our usual response to an inquirer is "come and see". So first, I would suggest that you read one of the following - which ever looks the most interesting.

  • A Biblical Walk Through the Mass: Understanding What We Say and Do In The Liturgy by Edward Sri
  • The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth by Scott Hahn

I would then suggest a popular catechism such as:

  • Christ Among Us: A Modern Presentation of the Catholic Faith for Adults by Anthony Wilhelm
  • Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Church Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Peter Kreeft

My third step would be two books by Richard Foster - yes, I know he's more Quaker than Catholic but he is the best source I know on prayer and discipline and he closely follows a Catholic understanding.

  • Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster
  • Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home by Richard Foster

Now, I recommend the Catechism of the Catholic Church - read slowly and trust me that the 3 preparatory steps will make it much easier to understand. OR join us in the Logos Year of Faith (Faithlife study group) even though you'd have to do the first 3 steps in parallel with the Catechism.

 

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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fgh | Forum Activity | Replied: Tue, Sep 25 2012 9:25 PM

The Catechism Collection would be a good start, and it just so happens that it's 15% off this week: http://twitter.com/CatholicLogos/statuses/250621433540116481.

Though I should take part of that back. If you just want a quick 'dictionary' to look up what the Church says on this or that, then you've got a good set of authoritative documents in there to start with. But if you really want a "proper understanding" of the Catholic Church, then you should first of all know that Catholicism didn't start and doesn't start with dogma. It starts with the Mass. To really understand Catholicism you first need to understand the Mass and the spirituality, otherwise you're a bit like a man trying to study forestry from the window of an airplane. You might learn 'what', but you won't understand 'why'. A touch of philosophy never hurts either; there's a reason Catholic seminarians have to do a couple of years of philosophy before they even start with theology.

The problem is, you can't really learn to understand the Mass and the spirituality from a book. You can read up a bit beforehand, but that's just theory, and the Mass is anything but theory. A church is a bit like an embassy. It's foreign soil. When you go to Mass you leave the country outside and enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and that's not something you can experience from a book. In fact, strictly speaking, I'd have to say that you can't really begin to understand the Mass in the deepest sense until and unless you become a regular communicant. It's a wedding feast, after all. You can't really know what it's like to be married until you are. But for now you'd have to stick to being a wedding guest.

(OK, I had to take a break in the middle of this, and I see MJ posted in the mean time, but since I've written it down I guess I can just as well post it.)

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Fr Devin Roza | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Sep 26 2012 3:00 AM

I fully concur with MJ Smith and fgh's posts. Just a few more ideas.

Along the lines of what MJ and fgh were speaking about, Bible and the Liturgy by Danielou is excellent. It is a study of how the early Christians lived the Bible in the liturgy, and applies well to how Catholics understand liturgy today.

About the topic of understanding the Bible as a Catholic, Verbum Domini by Pope Benedict XVI is excellent, especially the first half. Ratzinger's talk entitled "Biblical Interpretation in Crisis" is also very good. And of course, Dei Verbum from Vatican II.

For a general brief overview of what Catholics believe and why, YouCat is extremely good. It is written for youth, but don't let that scare you away.

For brief Biblical explanations of Catholic teachings, the Catholic Answers web site is a good starting point. For answers to questions raised more often by the secular world, George Weigel's The Truth of Catholicism is worthwhile.

 

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Dominick Sela | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Sep 26 2012 4:21 AM

I concur on the recommendation of YOUCAT, it is an excellent resource to get started.  At our parish, the adults who are in formation to join the Catholic Church (called RCIA, Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) use a book called The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is in Q&A format, with the answers being short - a sentence or two - so you get the idea very quickly. What is nice though, is that in the margins it notes the paragraphs in the full Catechism that reference the same question, so if you want more detail, footnotes of source documents, etc., you can dive deeper. The full Catechism can be very daunting for someone unfamiliar with the Catholic faith, for someone who initially is trying to get an idea of what the teachings are; that is exactly why the Compendium and YOUCAT were created.

YOUCAT has an excellent website with more information, you may want to check it out.

You may also find that your local Catholic parish has materials that they have developed to aid the formation process, you could ask for whoever runs the RCIA program.

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David Ames | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Sep 26 2012 4:42 AM

Two books that have been recommended over and over again.
Two books that Logos is / has been working on adding to Logos
But no word (yet)

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Sleiman | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Sep 26 2012 8:12 AM

 

Wow, great recommendations so far.

I cannot agree more with the suggestion to attend Mass along with reading the Catechism (either the catechism itself, the compendium, YouCAT or the explanatory books MJSmith suggested). Perhaps you can follow along with the Faithlife 'year of faith' group. If so, make sure you have a copy of the full Catechism.

May I also suggest Catholicism for Dummies (by John Trigilio and Kenneth Brighenti)

 

Regarding the Mass: just a word of advise. If you will be attending for the first time, please do not go there tired or when you have nothing better to do; instead approach it with a sober and an open mind - and heart - attitude. Also you might want to check: http://grigaitis.net/mass/guide/ to get a feel of what to expect. 

I would recommend you go with the intention to participate as much as you could. For this end, you might want to fight the temptation to sit at the back of the church where hearing and seeing may not be as good. I suggest a few benches from the front where you can see enough parishioners to be able to get a cue on when to stand/sit/kneel, etc. It goes without saying that you should refrain from participating in Communion until you're convinced that you agree with what the church teaches.

Having said that, if you currently have contrary convictions and feel uneasy to be 'actively' participating at Mass then by all means, sit back, but never fail to pay attention to what's going on, and please do not fall into the trap of judging what the the church really teaches by the behavior of some parishioners.

In both cases, if you're comfortable with your bible, or familiar enough with the old and new testaments, then dare I suggest you go without prior reading. Try to guess and connect the bible verses in your mind that form the basis of what's going on. Take a tablet or phone with Logos on it and do searches if you will. The more you learn during Mass and outside about it the more you get a sense of what the Catholic faith is about.

Whatever you decide to do, enjoy the learning Smile

 

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Randy W. Sims | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Sep 26 2012 8:34 AM

As a preliminary step (and I know it's a far removed step), would you recommend the viewing of any of the videos on YouTube of the Mass?

http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=catholic+mass%2C+long&lclk=long/a

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fgh | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Sep 26 2012 9:03 AM

Randy W. Sims (Shayne):
As a preliminary step (and I know it's a far removed step), would you recommend the viewing of any of the videos on YouTube of the Mass?

Not that I've looked at any of them, but if you've never been to Mass, I would rather recommend avoiding them.

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tom | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Sep 26 2012 10:34 AM

fgh:
Not that I've looked at any of them, but if you've never been to Mass, I would rather recommend avoiding them.
Yes

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Eric Weiss | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Sep 26 2012 10:37 AM

Go to a Byzantine/Uniate Catholic Church - that way you'll get the best of both worlds in your Mass/Eucharist, Western and Eastern. :)

Optimistically Egalitarian (Galatians 3:28)

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fgh | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Sep 26 2012 11:21 AM

Maybe this is partly a Swedish vs American mentality thing, but I've got to disagree with the recommendation for Q&A type resources. Generations of people forced to memorize Luther's Small Catechism with corresponding Swedish 'catechism explanations' -- and being questioned on them at least once a year -- have made that kind of resource essentially dead over here. In our collective memory it stands for the horror of all horrors, the beacon of everything that's bad with religion.

But at least Lutheran theology is somewhat suitable for that didactical method. To force Catholicism into a similar straitjacket of simple questions and simple answers seems to me borderline criminal. It's like giving people a book about the technical properties of carbon instead of showing them a diamond. Like giving them a black and white photo instead of a multicolour multidimensional reality.

The whole idea with Catholicism is that it's catholic. It includes the whole. As soon as you start to reduce it, it gets less Catholic. And if, on top of that, your reduction leads to overemphasizing some aspects over others -- as almost inevitably happens -- then you've already taken the first step towards heresy. 

To understand Catholicism, don't think 'road', think 'seed'. You can't really get there by taking one step at a time, studying one issue at a time. They're far too interrelated. You need to get 'inside the seed' and see the whole picture at once, even if it overwhelms you at first. And then you need to follow the seed as it grows, increasing your understanding of the whole in parallel with your understanding of the details. Hence the recommendations to start with Mass. Think of it a bit like looking at the night sky. First you may believe it's nothing but a dark bowl with some yellow dots on it, but the more you study it, the more vast, and the more complex, it turns out to be.

Maybe I'm just prejudiced, and maybe those books are indeed good enough to be used in a youth group or an RCIA program -- though even then I can't help feeling that you'd need a very good teacher not to end up with the kind of Catholics who can quote all the 'right' answers but don't really understand Catholicism -- but personally I'd never recommend a Q&A book to someone studying Catholicism on his own. Not if he expressed a wish to understand.

"The Christian way of life isn't so much an assignment to be performed, as a gift to be received."  Wilfrid Stinissen

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fgh | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Sep 26 2012 11:57 AM

Sleiman:
Take a tablet or phone with Logos on it and do searches if you will.

Can you do that in a Catholic church in the US? I can almost promise that in a church here -- Catholic or Lutheran -- people would find that extremely weird. And many, perhaps most, would be offended and see it as borderline sacrilegious. In fact, I would, unless he was sitting somewhere where at least he didn't disturb anyone else. Then I might grudgingly accept it for a seeker, but certainly not for a regular attendant.

There are some good resource suggestions in this thread. They need to go to the Suggestions forum.

"The Christian way of life isn't so much an assignment to be performed, as a gift to be received."  Wilfrid Stinissen

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Sleiman | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Sep 26 2012 1:28 PM

fgh:
Can you do that in a Catholic church in the US? I can almost promise that in a church here -- Catholic or Lutheran -- people would find that extremely weird. And many, perhaps most, would be offended and see it as borderline sacrilegious.

Good point. I should have qualified my statement regarding my not-so-smart 'Logos in the pews' advise: fiddling with an iphone (or anything other than a missal for that manner) in a Catholic church is strongly not recommended unless you're discrete enough to be unnoticed. The parish I go to (in Canada by the way) has some pews in the upper 'choir' mezzanine in the back of the church that no one will even notice that you're there.

With that, please let me re-emphasize my initial recommendation:

Sleiman:
go with the intention to participate as much as you could. For this end, you might want to fight the temptation to sit at the back of the church where hearing and seeing may not be as good. I suggest a few benches from the front
etc

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Sep 26 2012 1:36 PM

Eric Weiss:
Go to a Byzantine/Uniate Catholic Church

YesBig Smile

I admit to being Latin rite but the Byzantine is soooo beautiful

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Sep 26 2012 1:44 PM

fgh:
I've got to disagree with the recommendation for Q&A type resources

They can be used well but I would join you in discouraging them.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Sleiman | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Sep 26 2012 2:04 PM

MJ. Smith:

fgh:
I've got to disagree with the recommendation for Q&A type resources

They can be used well but I would join you in discouraging them.

While I see when Q&A resources can be counterproductive, I still think they have great potential to being extremely helpful. It of course depends on the mode of learning. For example, a year before I got married, I found one such resource indispensable when my fiancee and I wanted to learn - in a nutshell - more about what the church teaches about sexual morality. We were then looking for quick answers to questions which sometimes were better articulated by more learned and experienced authors. Eventually of course, when I wanted to understand deeper the theology behind it, I ended up reading humanae vitae and theology of the body etc. But it was that particular book by Christopher West in a Q&A format that helped me the most at that particular time.

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Sep 26 2012 2:18 PM

Sleiman:
While I see when Q&A resources can be counterproductive, I still think they have great potential to being extremely helpful.

I agree with both parts - the right Q&A resource in the right hands can be very useful - the case you cite is a perfect example. However, they can also be counterproductive making it appear that peripheral teachings are dogmatic when they are not - they're open to multiple views and lively debate.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Butters | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Sep 26 2012 2:34 PM

I have many friends who have crossed the Tiber after reading G.K. Chesterton.  You simply cannot read him without becoming a merrier person in love with God and the Church.  

Heretics

Orthodoxy

The Everlasting Man

his Autobiography

His small masterpiece on Aquinas - as well, his little book on Assisi

And virtually everything else he wrote.....lol.  Just thinking about the way he writes and thinks makes me happy :) 

----

If you like fiction, read anything by Flannery O'Connor

If you like philosophy, Professor Peter Kreeft is a philosopher at Boston College and is truly superb:  http://www.peterkreeft.com/audio.htm

And you can't go wrong by reading John Henry Newman who struggled for a long time.  

Father Robert Barron has an excellent DVD series (called, appropriately enough, "Catholicism") that is really worth spending time with.  See his www.wordonfire.org

Time with St. Thomas Aquinas is never, ever wasted.  

 

“To love means loving the unlovable.  To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable.  Faith means believing the unbelievable.  Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” ~Chesterton

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Butters | Forum Activity | Replied: Wed, Sep 26 2012 2:36 PM

Speaking of which and by the way, I'm new around here - is there a Catholic discussion group/thread, et?  

“To love means loving the unlovable.  To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable.  Faith means believing the unbelievable.  Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” ~Chesterton

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