Dominican St. Thomas Aquinas gave us one monumental Summa. Now, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist have their turn with a summa of a catechetical work named Echoing the Mystery, a master resource for those wishing to catechize and evangelize.
Sister John Dominic Rasmussen, a foundress of the Dominican Sisters of Mary in Ann Arbor, Michigan, led the project and served as the general editor of this masterwork co-written by Barbara Morgan and Dominican Sister Athanasius Munroe. Technically speaking, it was seven decades in the making because Morgan began that long ago as a teen catechist assistant on a Native American reservation in Arizona. By the 1990s she founded the catechetics program at Franciscan University of Steubenville at the invitation of the school’s president, Franciscan Father Michael Scanlon, who recognized her unique talents.
Providently, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist got to know Morgan, and invited her to instruct the sisters in catechetics. Sister John Dominic realized Morgan’s seven-decades-long knowledge and outstanding successful methods had to be not only preserved but continuously spread and employed. She had been one of Morgan’s students, along with others, including EWTN mainstays Chris Stefanik, Edward Sri and Jeff Cavins.
When Morgan retired to Ann Arbor, a decade-long initiative to bring such a masterwork to fruition was interrupted numerous times because of her health’s ups and downs. In 2016, Sister Athanasius Munroe, who has a degree from Franciscan University’s Catechetical Institute, was assigned to work with Morgan, composing the content.
For the record — the method and title of the work — catechesis comes from the Greek word meaning “to instruct orally, to echo down.” The middle of the word sounds like “keys,” and Morgan concentrated on what “keys” to each doctrine should be grasped to unlock and understand God’s revelation: “Divine Perspective,” “Theological Virtues,” “Scripture and Essentials,” “Related Doctrines,” “Common Errors,” “Liturgical Sources” and “Teaching Through Beauty.” Through her book, Morgan presents her teaching method to unlock the doctrines — 62 doctrines — for the catechist in an orthodox way.
Sister John Dominic shared several insights about this monumental project with Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen via a recent email interview.
Why do you see this as a master resource?
It was a work that developed over decades of field experience.
How long was it in the making?
I became involved over 12 years ago. However, the method of analyzing doctrine was developed over Barbara’s lifetime as a catechist.
What makes it so accessible to anyone desiring to evangelize and catechize?
For each doctrine the template is the same. It follows the “Seven Keys.”
This consistency aids anyone seeking to study the doctrines to enrich their faith and to be equipped to evangelize or catechize with confidence, but most especially to “echo down” what they know and believe – in sum, to study, to contemplate and to give to others the fruits of one’s study and contemplation.
Why is this book being called “the first catechetical book ever written to clearly instruct anyone desiring to evangelize and catechize?”
If we are going to make a difference in evangelization and catechesis, those entrusted with this awesome responsibility need a resource that is accessible, beautiful and draws them into the mystery.
St. John Paul II wrote, “The primary and essential object of catechesis is … ‘the mystery of Christ.’ In a way, catechizing leads a person to study this mystery in all its dimensions.” You follow that understanding, don’t you, in the work and even in the title itself?
A mystery is not that which is “unknown”; it is that which is “made known.” So the book was written keeping in mind those who will be instructing others in knowing and understanding all God has revealed.
How does this work rate as “all the information you need to know about that doctrine in one place”?
The seven keys enable you to analyze each doctrine and to “see” it from different perspectives. It also has Scripture references, as Scripture drives doctrine. It also has many references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other Church documents. It can be challenging to find all the references for each doctrine in the Catechism. This resource cites the Catechism and brings them all together in an easy way to understand.
Why do you describe the method or approach as “the ‘new wine’ to be poured into the ‘new wineskin’ of catechesis, which draws the catechist into knowing, understanding and living God’s loving plan of salvation?”
I do believe we need to approach catechesis with a fresh approach. This method brings together the transcendentals of truth, beauty and goodness. And it offers different approaches to draw someone into the mystery of God’s revelation. Art or music, the liturgy, Scripture or even a common error — there are so many different ways that can be used to unlock the doctrine for someone.
Just like a new wineskin, it can expand and grow with the new wine. From a different angle — in the preaching of the kerygma, we [are] being the apostles, who were filled with a new wine, the joy of knowing and experiencing the Good News and desiring to proclaim God’s love.
In a nutshell, what was it like to learn with Barbara Morgan?
Barbara was able to teach with passion and conviction. Her students knew that she bore witness to Jesus Christ. It was always a mission, never a job, to hand on or echo down God’s revelation.
Can this resource complement existing catechetical programs?
Yes, it is not intended to be in competition, but to enhance any scope and sequence and any standards.
What are some of the beautiful highlights that make this a substantial work — from Dominicans again! — a “summa of catechesis”?
Dominicans have three mottos: 1) Veritas (Truth); 2) To Praise, to Bless, to Preach; 3) To contemplate and to give to others the fruits of one’s contemplation.
“Echoing the Mystery” contains the truth of God’s revelation. Once one is able to study and encounter the truth, one is ready to go forth and not stand around idle, but to praise, to bless and to preach the word. And most importantly, it all begins in prayer, in contemplation, in taking the time to sit and study and meditate. The highlights are the keys to analyzing the doctrine. It can be overwhelming to see the size of the book (over 700 pages), but if one can just take it a little bit at a time, it will be transformative.
Imagine if every catechist had this resource to study! Religious ed and catechesis would change.
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.
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