Article 37 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Father John G. Hillier
Sing a song of sixpence
a pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened,
the birds began to sing.
Wasn’t that a dainty dish,
to set before the King?
I recall being taught this strange nursery rhyme as a small child. My mom would sit me on her knee and repeat the words over and over while having me clap my hands as we sang the lyrics.
A quick search of the Internet explains that, although the origins of this nursery rhyme, “Sing a Song of Sixpence” remains unknown, an Italian cookbook in 1549 contained such a recipe: “to make pies so that birds are alive in them and fly out when it is cut!”
Although not a tempting dish, nor does this nursery rhyme “Sing a Song of Sixpence,” seem to be the best or most complimentary analogy of God’s creation, it captures the sense – with rye as its sole ingredient to a fully baked pie with live, singing birds – of how God could create everything “out of nothing.” The difference, of course, is that the nursery rhyme with the pie and live birds is fantasy whereas God’s creation of “the visible world in all its richness, diversity and order” (ccc 337) is real.
This section of the Catechism begins with references from Genesis where “Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine ‘work’, concluded by the ‘rest’ of the seventh day” (ccc 337). Immediately, without commentary in its narrative, the Catechism resolves the question of whether the Church embraces the “7 day creation account” as literal or symbolic. Quoting the Second Vatican Council, the Catechism explains that “on the subject of creation, the sacred text teaches the truths revealed by God for our salvation (ccc 337). Still, the truths associated with the “six days of divine work” and the “day of rest” including the “inner nature, the value and the ordering” (ccc 337) are not to be underestimated.
Sacred Scripture teaches in the Book of Psalms that God loves all his creatures (see Psalm 145:9). There is a hierarchy of creatures, however, as indicated “by the order of the ‘six days’, from the less perfect to the more perfect” (ccc 342). The most perfect, human beings, are “the summit of the Creator’s work” (ccc 343), as the Genesis account states: “Then God said, Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth” (Genesis 1:26)..
Everything that exists “owes its existence to God the Creator” (ccc 338). In fact, “each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection” (ccc 339). As such, it can be said that there is something “of God” in every created thing. It is as if God left his fingerprint or reflection of himself in each. “Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness” (ccc 339). No wonder the Catechism says that “the beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator” and should inspire “the respect and submission” of our intellect and will (ccc 341). A more explicit directive is given a few paragraphs earlier when we are counseled to “respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things which would be in contempt of the Creator and would bring disastrous consequences for human beings and their environment” (ccc 339).
In addition to addressing the beauty and harmony of creation, the Catechism also teaches that God wills the interdependence of creatures as it confidently states: “no creature is self-sufficient” (ccc 340). The passage continues: “Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other” (ccc 340).
In short, “there is a solidarity among all creatures arising from the fact that all have the same Creator and are all ordered to his glory” (ccc 344).
In fact, “worship [too] is inscribed in the order of creation” (ccc 347). In the Genesis account God creates all things over a 6 day period and rests on the 7th day or the Sabbath. It is reasonable, therefore, to say that “creation was fashioned with a view to the sabbath and therefore for the worship and adoration of God” (ccc 347). Saint Benedict goes even further in his Rule of Life stating that “the work of God (Solemn Worship) must take precedence over everything else.”
The final paragraph in this section of the Catechism speaks about “the eighth day (the day of Christ’s Resurrection) … The seventh day completes the first creation. The eighth day begins the new creation” (ccc 349). Thus, “the work of creation culminates in the greater work of redemption. The first creation finds its meaning and its summit in the new creation in Christ” (ccc 349).
How blessed we are to be members of the Body of Christ and participants in the new creation initiated by Christ. By virtue of our baptism we are just that!