Two lungs breathe as one as Ukrainian Catholic catechism launched in Sydney

Reading Time: 6 minutes
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and Bishop Peter Stasiuk CSsR, eparch of the Ukrainian Catholic eparchy of St Peter and St Paul in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania, at the launch of the new Ukranian Catholic catechism, Christ Our Pascha. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP and Bishop Peter Stasiuk CSsR, eparch of the Ukrainian Catholic eparchy of St Peter and St Paul in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania, at the launch of the new Ukranian Catholic catechism, Christ Our Pascha. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP joined the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Australia, Bishop Peter Stasiuk CSsR for a momentous event on 5 October: the launch of the English edition of Christ our Pascha, the first Ukrainian Catholic catechism in 400 years.

This is an edited copy of his remarks to a small but enthusiastic crowd at the Mustard Seed Bookshop in Lidcombe who were there to witness it:

IT IS A GREAT PLEASURE to be asked to speak a few words at the launch of the English translation of the Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, produced by the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, following upon the legacy of the late pope St John Paul II’s Catechism of the Catholic Church.

It’s fortuitous that a Dominican bishop has been given that task as Dominicans have a long history with catechisms: many of those in the 13th and 14th centuries that preceded the famous Roman Catechism were Dominican commentaries on the catechetical instructions of St Thomas Aquinas; the famous Roman catechism or Catechism of the Council of Trent was in turn commissioned by the Dominican pope-saint Pius V; many other catechisms were prepared by the friars in the centuries between Trent and the Second Vatican Council; the famous or infamous Dutch Catechism of 1966 was largely written by the influential Dominican theologian Edward Schillebeeckx; Herbert McCabe and other great Dominican theologians also produced post-Conciliar catechisms; and the current Catechism of the Catholic Church was edited by the Dominican theologian and archbishop, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn.

Of course, the history of catechesis goes back long before the Dominican friars were invented.

The word ‘catechism’ comes from the Greek word κατηχέω, meaning ‘to teach by word of mouth’, or more generally to ‘instruct’.

In the New Testament it is used by St Luke the Evangelist and the Holy Apostle Paul specifically to refer to religious instruction (cf. 1 Cor 14:19; Lk 1:4; Acts 18:25), an association it maintained with the catechetical lectures of St Cyril of Jerusalem, St Augustine of Hippo and many other Church Fathers of both East and West, often aimed at newcomers to the Church.

By the Middle Ages in the West, the word catechesis had come to mean oral commentary on the symbol of faith (the Apostle’s Creed), on the great prayers especially the Pater Noster and the Ave Maria, and on the Sacraments, and aimed at a mixed but largely adult, already-Christian audience.

Some of these commentaries sought to be comprehensive and systematic. One was published in 1281 at the direction of Archbishop John Peckham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who for his sins was a Franciscan rather than a Dominican.

In the period leading up to the Reformation and thereafter, the word catechism came to be used for an authoritative summary of the faith positions of Catholics, Lutherans or others, and these were aimed at a general readership and sometimes simple enough to be learnt by rote by the illiterate and children.

During the period of catechetical confusion, even chaos, of the 1960s to 1980s, some new catechisms were devised but the very idea of an authoritative summary of the faith to aid schoolteachers or those instructing newcomers to the Church became unfashionable in some circles.

Catechisms were often dismissed as too simplistic or inflexible, as a block to creativity in language and forms, or as too authoritative, even authoritarian.

Following the work of Paul VI and John Paul II on the new evangelisation and their efforts to help the clergy and faithful recover their confidence in the ability to grasp and communicate the Catholic faith in today’s world, the bishops of the world gathered in Synod requested and the Church prepared and promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992.

This was intended to be a comprehensive and systematic synthesis of the Church’s teachings on faith and morals up to that time, and especially as restated in the great documents of the Second Vatican Council, a resource to which clergy, catechists and laity could turn for instruction on very many matters.

Having received this document and, in due course, the summary known as the Compendium of the Catechism, one might wonder why the Ukrainian Church would go to the trouble of preparing its own catechism? Surely, one is enough, especially when that one is already so long and thorough?

Well, in his letter promulgating the Catechism, John Paul II stated that it was ‘not intended to replace local catechisms’, but rather was meant to ‘encourage and assist in the writing of new local catechisms’, which take into account the various situations and cultures of the world.

Such local catechisms complement the universal catechism by articulating the faith for a particular culture, language group, rite or demographic.

Ukrainian Catholic priest Fr Simon Ckuj speaking at the launch of the new Ukrainian catechism, the first in 400 years. Photo: Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2016
Ukrainian Catholic priest Fr Simon Ckuj speaking at the launch of the new Ukrainian catechism, the first in 400 years. Photo: Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2016

Thus, since the publication of the universal catechism, there have been approved the United States Catechism for Adults, the Catechism for Filipino Catholics, the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and YouCat, the catechism designed for youth.

Each of these local catechisms contributes to and acknowledges diverse gifts and needs in different parts of the Church which invite different approaches, sources and expressions of the one Catholic faith.

A number of bishops, theologians, catechists and lay faithful have thought it a weakness that there has not till now been a catechism which builds on and complements the universal catechism but also approaches the teachings of the Church through the lens of Eastern Catholic theological tradition and liturgical practice – such as the works of the eastern Doctors of the Church, the Anaphora of St Basil the Great, or the catechism of St Josaphat.

But who would be first and give a lead to the rest of the Catholics of Oriental rite?

Well, the Ukrainians are the largest or among the largest both in membership and geographic reach; theirs is also one of the most ancient churches, tracing its origins to the days when the faith “first resounded in the lands of Rus-Ukraine through the preaching of St Andrew the First-Called” and was echoed “through the mission of the holy apostles to the Slavs, Cyril and Methodius”.

Like all Christians, Ukrainian Catholics face the challenges of globalisation, assimilation and secularisation in today’s world, and the need for authoritative touchstones of identity and beliefs.

The stated goal of this catechism is therefore to help Ukrainian Catholics “to better understand, and more profoundly embody within their own lives, the Christian faith handed down to them by the Fathers of our Church – the hierarchs, martyrs, confessors, and venerables – and to nurture our Kyivan-Christian tradition, finding it the light needed to respond to today’s challenges”.

Christ Our Pascha, the 2011 Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, now available in English, will for these and other reasons be welcomed by all Catholics of the Oriental rites and indeed many an interested Catholics of the Latin rite.

Already in its second edition, it has appeared in Ukrainian, Portuguese, Russian and now English language versions.

The English translation allows Anglophone members of the Ukrainian Church to feel a part of the universal Church without losing touch with the charism of their particular Church with its great theological, liturgical and devotional traditions. Simplifying the four-part structure of the universal Catechism, Christ Our Pascha is divided into three sections: The Faith of the Church, The Prayer of the Church, and The Life of the Church, corresponding to the theological, liturgical, and moral aspects of our Christian faith.

While remaining faithful to universal Catholic faith and mores, it approaches each of these dimensions in a manner particular to Catholics of Oriental rite, and quotes important sources with which Latin Catholics would mostly be unfamiliar.

As I’ve intimated, this new book will therefore be of interest and indeed benefit not just for members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church but anyone interested in the many sided gem that is the Catholic faith.

I, for one, have found the many Byzantine theological texts and practices cited very instructive and enriching. The Anaphora of St Basil the Great opens with a rhetorical question:

O Master, the One-Who-Is, Lord God, Father Almighty, who deserve worship: it is truly right and proper, and fitting the majesty of your Holiness to praise you, to hymn you, to bless you, to worship you, to thank you, to glorify you, who alone are truly God; and to offer you with a contrite heart and spirit of humility this our rational worship.

For it is you who have granted us the knowledge of your truth and who can tell of all your acts of power, make all your praises heard, or account all your wonders at every moment?

Well, you might say that the answer of this Catechism to the ‘who’ question is: the Synod of Ukrainian Catholics.

I commend the hard work of all those who prepared, revised and authorised the Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, those who translated it into English, and those now publishing it for all to see.

Congratulations to Bishop Peter Stasiuk CSsR, eparch of the Ukrainian Catholic eparchy of St Peter and St Paul in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania, and the other members of the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, the clergy, monks and nuns and laity on this excellent new production!

This is the edited text of the speech given by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at the launch of the English edition of Christ Our Pascha, the new Ukrainian Catholic Catechism. Archbishop Fisher launched the new catechism at the Mustard Seed Bookshop in Lidcombe.