Ask a Priest: Catholic Social Teaching

December 18, 2017


Q.  Can you tell me what Catholic Social Teaching is?

A.  Well, it goes back to the gospels and to the teachings of the prophets.  Modern Catholic Social Teaching goes back to the 1890s and Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical letter Rerum Novarum.  It’s available online, but to give a little overview, it speaks about the rights of workers, the dignity of labor, and fairness in the workplace and the marketplace. 

Other popes and national bishops’ conferences have added to that original teaching.  Quadrigesimo Anno, was an encyclical letter of Pope Pius XI.  Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Populorum Progressio

The bishops of the United States issued two important pastoral letters on world peace and on a just economy.  St. John Paul II wrote several encyclicals on our social obligations.  And Pope Francis has challenged us to look at the social dimensions of caring for our common home, the earth. 

All of the social teachings have focused our attention on our responsibilities to other people and to other nations. The faith we try to live must not be closed-in on ourselves, a kind of  “me and Jesus” approach.  Social justice is important in our duty as believers.

Q.  What are some ways that I can get involved in my parish?

A.  Now that’s a question every pastor wants to hear! 

Depending on the size and the location of your church, there are lots of possibilities: Simple tasks like parish office help; religious education teacher or assistant; outreach to the hungry and homeless; food pantry helper; being a sponsor couple to help engaged couples prepare for marriage; working with a baptism class for new parents; serving as a sponsor or a team member for those preparing to become Catholics; lending your voice to one of the music groups; being a reader at Mass; and becoming a Communion minister.  The list goes on and on. 

Ask your pastor or a staff member about any of these and many other possibilities.




Q.  Can you tell me what it means to be a Franciscan or a Dominican or a Benedictine or a Jesuit?

A. You’d be better off asking a member of those religious communities what it means to them. 

Religious communities have been founded throughout Christian history.  St. Benedict is credited with being the father of western monasticism.  St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers.  St. Francis founded the Order of the Friars Minor.  St. Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus – the group we know as the Jesuits. 

Each of those founders wanted to emphasize a certain approach to the life of the Church.  And over the centuries, they (and many other religious communities) have offered a richness to the Christian tradition. 

The Second Vatican Council asked members of those orders or congregations to go back to the origins to find out what the founders wanted to emphasize.  So, over the past 50 years, those groups have searched the history of their communities and have recommitted themselves to those ideals. 

Diocesan priests ordinarily don’t belong to any of those congregations.  They commit themselves to working within a diocese and serving the needs of the people in a certain geographic area.  The same goes for permanent deacons.


Q.  Besides the celebration of the Mass, are there any other official prayers that the Church recommends?

A. Some call it the Liturgy of the Hours; others call it the Divine Office; Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer lead the list of recommended prayers for the faithful. 

Today, in addition to the full Liturgy of the Hours, there are a number of popular versions available to the ordinary Catholic.  One of them is called Magnificat.  Another is called Give Us This Day.  Both of them offer a selection of prayers to begin the day and to conclude the day – in addition to the prayers for the daily celebration of the Mass. 

There are also countless online prayers that help parishioners to develop and nurture their prayer life.

 Q.  Someone told me that the Mass used to be celebrated in Latin.  Is that true? Why was a dead language used?

A. When it was first used, it wasn’t a dead language.  In fact, it was the common language of the people. 

Earlier celebrations of the Eucharist were celebrated in Aramaic (the language of Jesus), in Greek, and in other languages from around the Mediterranean area. 

Because Latin was used throughout the Roman Empire, it also became the common language of the Church.  The Second Vatican Council reclaimed the importance of celebrating the Lord’s Supper in the common languages of the people.  So today, if you’re in France, Mass is celebrated in French.  If you’re in Germany, Mass is celebrated in German.  If you’re in Japan, Mass is celebrated in Japanese. 

Even in Rome, the pope usually celebrates Mass in Italian – it’s the common language of the people.