Fr. Kevin Cronin, C.M.
Principal, St. Mary's Training College.
TEACHING THE CATECHISM: an aid-book for teachers, by Canon F. H. Drinkwater (Macmillan and Burns and Oates, new edition. 10s. 6d.) FROM the view-point of the hard-worked and hard-working Catholic teacher, this is without any doubt one of the most useful books published in England in recent years.
There are very fe‘v books written specifically for our teachers. but this is one of them. Its sub-title "And AidBook for Teachers" describes exactly what it is.
In writing his book, Canon Drinkwatcr set out to aid the teacher in his task of teaching Christian Doctrine to school children.
He was careful not to intrude himself between the teacher and his children by giving him, for instance, a series of model lessons to be takao whole and entire, and applied uncritically, or by laying down hard and fast instructions on how the teaching should be done, with the implication: "This is the correct way, and you would be well advised to follow it." He has too much respect for the teacher to do this.
iNSTEAD, he puts himself in the position of someone sitting at the teacher's elbow as he begins to prepare for his daily Catechism class.
He envisages hiM asking himself: " What is the precise meaning Of this point of doctrine? How can I explain it to the children? How can I illustrate it, and develop it? Are there any passages in Scripture, stories, parables, that should be mentioned in this context?"
Canon Drinkwater answers all these unspoken questions. His book is partly a compilation of useful lesson material, partly an explanation, point by point: of the Church's teaching.
WHEN, for instance, he deals with the important doctrine of Grace he begins by devoting two full pages to an explanation of " What is Grace ". a straightforward presentation in simple language of the theology in question.
He leads from this to a brief survey of the Scriptural background of the doctrine, mentioning eleven passages where Grace is variously referred to as Life, Charity, Adoption, Regeneration, Justification. And he concludes by suggesting for the teacher's consideration certain analogies or metaphors which he would find useful in making, as he says, " the idea of Sanctifying Grace as vivid and pictorial as possible".
These are: Our Lord's parable of the wedding garment, and His comparison of the vine and its branches; the ladder between earth and heaven representing the necessity of Grace for salvation; the sponge held in water illustrating our intimate union with God by Grace; the bar of cold iron, and the same bar red-hot, an analogy for a soul without Grace and with it; the wire filament in an electric lamp showing how our souls are transfigured by Grace; the working of a magnet as illustrating the new powers, over and above its nature. which our soul receives through the life of Grace.
SIMILARLY, when he treats of prayer Canon Drinkwater starts by explaining briefly our need of prayer, our duty of prayer, and what prayer means. He follows this by a formidable assemblage of Scriptural references, no less than 38, on the nature and the qualities of prayer. Any teacher would recognise immediately that here is material for a dozen good lessons.
It is easy to understand why "Teaching the Catechism " has been an enormous success with teachers, as without any doubt it has been. A publisher might be pardoned for doubting whether a book of this sort would ever achieve a large circulation.
After all, there are at the very most some 18,000 Catholic teachers in this country, and by no means all of these are engaged in teaching religion. Add to these a certain number of catechists, and perhaps some especially zealous parents, and still the potential buyers of this type of book would not, in theory, be very numerous.
Yet "Teaching the Catechism", first published in 1936, has already been reprinted six times, and this
is now a new edition. In the circumstances this is truly remarkable, and it underlines the comment made at the beginning of this article that Canon Drinkwatera book is eminently a " useful" work. It has filled a gap, met a need, supplied a want, and teachers everywhere ale indebted to the author for the help he has provided.
"IN a larger perspective Canon Drinkwater's book (and here \ke must link with it the other aidbooks of the Birmingham series " Catechism Stories ". " More Catechism Stories ". "'third Book of Catechism Stories", "Twelve and After ". "Talks to Teenagers") has been responsible for
establishing certain attitude in this country towards the whole question of catechetical literature.
In Germany, we know, the policy has been to secure the adoption of a standard religion text book in all Catholic schools, and then to aid the teacher in every possible way to teach this book. The new German Catechism is a most impressive production. And the aid-honks that accompany it are excellent indeed.
But teachers brought up, if one might use the expression, in the Drinkwater tradition are not
attracted to a sy!,terti which interposes a book. no matter how well it may be compiled, between the teacher and the child, and which reduces the role of the teacher to explaining this book and comment
ing oil it. .
Surely it is better to do everything possible to equip the teacher to teach religion intelligently and competently, and then to leave him free to communicate all that he knows and that he feels to his children. In this way more is required of the teacher, but also more is left to his initiative.