Professor emphasizes instruction in real meaning of sacraments


On Sept. 29 in the Gallery, students and members of the community gathered to hear why there should be a revived effort to teach people the importance of the sacraments. The talk, entitled “Today’s Declining Sacramental Practice: Catechetical Foundations for Recovery,” was a continuation of the 3 p.m. Friday Fall Lecture Series, which began in September.

James Pauley, who holds a doctorate from The Liturgical Institute at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, said the problem leading to the decline is that “…we’re studying each other and focusing on experience of selves instead of God.”  The true meanings of the sacraments are being lost in the personalization of the faith, said Pauley.

It is important not to “oversimplify the problem,” he said. The sacramental decline of over 100,000 people who identify as Catholic has contributed to the need to merge parishes in Pittsburgh to an estimated 43 churches. 53 percent of Christians leave the faith of their childhood, he said, and only 9 percent return.

“If we remain on this side of experience versus mystery, it will not invoke a desire for the sacraments,” he said. People should be instructed on the importance of the sacramental graces that can be attained through proper attendance at Mass and the other sacraments. “Such encounters have supernatural effects,” Pauley said.

Pauley gave a brief historical summary on the changes of theology during the World Wars and after Vatican II.

According to Pauley, in 1943 there was a Paris formation of the Catholic Institute, and they were motivated “not by scholarly work … what inflames us is missionary zeal.” Even in times of danger and war, the people were intent on immersing themselves fully in the faith and sacraments.

After Vatican II, there was less focus on doctrine and more emphasis on “an intersection of faith and personal experience,” Pauley said.

There were many experimental practices being brought into the practice of ancient traditions, said Pauley. People mediated on what they experienced and how their neighbor was moved by personal faith, then on the actual sacraments. Hence, the importance of participation in the teachings of the Church receded, and there were opportunities for questionable practices to infiltrate the sacraments.

Pauley is a professor of theology and catechetics at the university and wrote a book entitled “Liturgical Catechetics of the 21st Century.”

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