Here is the church and here is the steeple. Open the door and see all the people – or that is how most people learned the simple rhyme in Sunday school, while interlocking fingers. Last Sunday during the whole family catechesis session at St. John’s Church, Liturgist Rebecca Landry instructed the congregation on the different meanings of the word ‘church’ in the catholic tradition, and she did it using a simple child’s rhyme. A&Y caught up to Rebecca today to discuss her catechetical method.
A&Y: Thanks for taking time to talk to us today Rebecca.
RL: Oh, you’re welcome. I don’t mind. It really is my pleasure.
A&Y: Can you tell us a little about how you decided about your catechetical method?
RL: Oh yes. Well, I’ve read quite a number of papal encyclicals and in a number of them there comes a reoccurring theme: the new evangelization and encountering the modern world. So I was operating out of those ideas.
A&Y: The new evangelization. Can you sum that up for the readers who might not be familiar with it?
RL: The new evangelization came at the end of Vatican II when Pope Paul VI in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi where he expressed the desire of the council fathers to usher in a new evangelization, which I find interesting because at the start of Vatican II Pope John XXIII prayed for a new Pentecost in his document Humanae Salutis. Anyone knows that you can’t have a new Pentecost and not have it be followed by a new evangelization. But in a nutshell, the new evangelization is spreading the gospel through all means presently available.
A&Y: That is something important today. Where did you get the idea to teach about church using a child’s rhyme?
RL: It was really simple. I was teaching it to my niece, and it just hit me.
A&Y: And what were you hoping to teach?
RL: Well, I was hoping to teach a number of things. There are a number of misconceptions about what we do on Sunday. First, I wanted to inform our parishioners that the Catholic church is not a club. This is not a volunteer organization like the Elks or Lions Club or even the Scouts. The church is the Body of Christ, and the Body is the place where love is experienced and felt whose end is the kingdom of Christ. Clubs don’t require faith. Being a member of the church and body of Christ does.
A&Y: Yes. Very interesting. What else?
RL: Well, Secondly, there is this idea that the church is the building you go to on Sunday to go to mass. Well that is certainly true, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, I wanted to extend our theological understanding a bit. So I expressed that church is something we are and something we do. You know the old phrase that became popular after Vatican II “We are Church.” Well, we are.
A&Y: That seems like a phrase that is popular among certain progressive groups.
RL: Well it is, but there is some truth to it. You see, the Catechism of the Catholic Church section 795 reads “Christ and his Church thus together make up the ‘whole Christ.’” It would be silly to think that Christ, the second person of the Trinity, Son of the Living God, is made whole when in union with a building. A living God made whole by a non-living thing, as if the body of Christ is made of brick and mortar. This seems silly. It appears that the wholeness must be between two living organisms. Thus Benedict’s calling of the church as being both “Alive and Young.” So the church is alive and we help make it living while God helps keep it young.
A&Y: Yes, I am familiar with Benedict’s phrase. What else were you wanting to pass on to your families?
RL: Oh there is so much, so much. Too much really. Other points I really wanted to express, if you don’t mind a laundry list?
A&Y: Oh no, we don’t mind.
RL: Good, well: the church is holy, catholic, and apostolic, the church is an article of our faith, the church transcends time and history, it is not reducible to what you can only see, that the church is born from Christ’s self giving and flowed from his side on the cross, that Sharing in the body of the Lord is a communion in the Love of the Lord and we should be what it is we eat when we are worshiping as church - as the body of Christ - in the liturgy, and finally that the Church is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery.
A&Y: You weren’t kidding. That is a lot. What practical advice can you give to our readers about church?
RL: That as the church we are communal. The church is not your personal self-help group. Though we are church we are also the body of Christ, and as being one body, anything that one person does – though unknowingly and mysteriously, it will have an effect upon the rest of the body. It is like when you have a broken leg or hand. That brokenness affects the rest of your body. It makes other parts work harder than they should. Remember, The church and the liturgy is for the sake of the world.
A&Y: Can you share with us the rhyme you used?
RL: Certainly: “Here is the church and here is the steeple. Open the door and see all the people. Here is the birch and here is the steeple. Open the door and the people are church.”
A&Y: Thank you very much for your time.
RL: You are welcome.