Directory for Catechesis
In 2020, the Holy See published the new Directory for Catechesis. In many parts it is not an easy read. But it does provide us with the opportunity to look at our catechetical endeavours in the light of changing times, demonstrated, of course, by the lockdown and the journey to a new and undetermined normal.
Canon Paul Daly, Episcopal Vicar for Formation, summarised the Directory, with some suggested pointers for reflection. A summary is, by its nature, subjective. Fr Paul will try to include the sections that he feels has most to say to ourselves and our parishes and communities at this time.
Please feel free to share with parish catechists, sacramental programme coordinators, parish leadership team members; in fact anyone who wants them! I hope you find them of benefit.
We will update this page on a weekly basis
27. The Directory for Catechesis (130-8) The Formation of Catechists
Formation is an ongoing process that, under the guidance of the Spirit and in the living womb of the Christian community, helps the baptised person to take shape, which means unveiling their deepest identity of being a daughter or son of God, in profound communion with their sisters and brothers. The work of formation acts as a transformation of the person, who internalises the Gospel existentially and in such a way that it may be light and guidance for their ecclesial life and mission. It is a process that, taking place within the catechist, cannot be reduced simply to instruction or techniques. Formation is a work of openness to the Spirit of God.
Formation sets as its goal making catechists aware that as baptised persons they are true missionary disciples, active participants in evangelisation, enabled by the Church to accompany and educate believers in the faith.
The Christian community is the place of catechesis. It is the community that welcomes those who wish to know the Lord better. The womb in which the vocation as catechist is born and grows, is a real community, rich with gifts and opportunities but not exempt from limitations and weaknesses; community in which one has the concrete experience of God’s mercy. The community that experiences the power of faith and is able to live and bear witness to love, proclaims and educates in an entirely natural way.
Listening to the needs of persons, pastoral discernment, concrete preparation, implementation and evaluation of the pathways of faith, are the moments of ongoing formation for catechists.
The Church seeks to form catechists in the style of personal accompaniment, a humble willingness to allow oneself to be touched by the questions and confronted by the situations of life, with a gaze full of compassion but also respectful for the other’s freedom. The catechist is called to closeness, unconditional acceptance and the gratuitousness with which they make themselves available to walk besides others in order to listen to them and explain the scriptures, without establishing the route in advance, without demanding to see the fruits and without holding anything back for themselves.
The deepest dimension of formation has to do with being a catechist, even before acting as a catechist. This involves a sense of ‘knowing how to be with.’
What proportion of our community’s resources is invested in the training of catechists?
1: Introducing the Directory for Catechesis
What and Why?
In a nut-shell, if the Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses the ‘content’ of the Church’s teaching (the ‘what’), the Directory for Catechesis expresses the ‘how’ that teaching is handed on in our time.
Given that the present ‘our time’ is different from the ‘our time’ of 1971 when the General Catechetical Directory was published, and different even from 1997 when the General Directory on Catechesis was published, it is not surprising that Pope Francis has approved a new Directory, looking at the challenge of handing on the faith in a digital and globalised culture.
To start us off on our journey, four quotations from the Introduction, with an invitation (written by myself and in italics) to reflect and respond, based on your own experience and context.
- Catechesis is an essential part of the broader process of renewal that the Church is called to bring about in order to be faithful to the command of Jesus Christ to proclaim always and everywhere his Gospel.
In our context of gradually reopening our churches to worship, how can we be renewed in our proclaiming ‘always and everywhere his Gospel?’
- A catechesis which goes to the very heart of the Christian message,……manifests the action of the Holy Spirit, who communicates God’s saving love in Jesus Christ and continues to give himself so that every human being may have the fulness of life.
This kerygmatic (from the Greek word for proclamation) catechesis is the very heart of the process, its source, summit and golden thread. How do we keep it at the very core of all our catechetical programmes?
- A catechesis which introduces the believer into the living experience of the Christian community, the true setting of the life of faith. This formative experience is progressive and dynamic…..According to a pastoral practice, becoming more urgent, catechesis should be inspired by the catechumenal model.
How do we, in a gradual way, introduce believers into an experience of the parish? Or do we just tell them to ‘come to Mass?’
- Intimate communion with Christ, the ultimate goal of catechesis,….should be brought about through a process of accompaniment……Only a catechesis that strives to help the whole person in his/her unique response of faith can reach the specified goal.
How do we accompany others to meet Jesus? Is that the goal of our catechesis?
2. Running through the Directory
The Directory lists six themes that are present throughout the document ‘almost to constitute its narrative thread.’ What strikes you as you read each of these themes? What grace might you ask for from the Lord for yourself, for the parish and for those receiving catechesis?
- i) Firm trust in the Holy Spirit, who is present and active in the Church, the world and in the human heart. This brings to the catechetical effort a note of joy, serenity and responsibility.
- ii) The act of faith is born from the love that desires an ever-increasing knowledge of the Lord Jesus, living in the Church, and for this reason initiating believers into the Christian life means introducing them to the living encounter with him.
iii) The Church, mystery of communion, is enlivened by the Spirit and made fruitful in bringing forth new life. This outlook of faith reaffirms the role of the Christian community as the natural setting for the generation and maturation of Christian life.
- iv) The process of evangelisation, and of catechesis as part of it, is above all a spiritual action. Catechists must be true ‘evangelisers with the Spirit’ and the pastors’ faithful co-workers.
- v) The fundamental role of the baptised is recognised. In their dignity as children of God, all believers are active participants in the catechetical initiative, not passive consumers or recipients of a service, and because of this are called to become authentic missionary disciples.
- vi) Living the mystery of faith in terms of relationship with the Lord has implications for the proclamation of the Gospel. It requires, in fact, overcoming any opposition between content and method, between faith and life.
Catechesis has an essential role within the whole process of evangelisation. ‘This requires the commitment and the responsibility to identify new languages with which to communicate the faith…..The Church is committed to deciphering some of the signs of the times through which the Lord shows her the path to take. Among these multiple signs can be recognised:
- The centrality of the believer and of her/his life experience
- The considerable role of relationships and the affections
- Interest in that which offers true meaning
- The rediscovery of that which is beautiful and lifts the spirit.
In these and the other movements of contemporary culture the Church grasps the possibility for encounter and for proclamation of the newness of the faith. This is the linchpin of her missionary transformation which drives pastoral conversion. (Dir4-5)
Talking with someone in a language they do not understand hampers effective conversation! In looking at these four signs of the times, how might they help us find a language that can be more easily understood in order better to communicate the faith? Are there other signs of the times you might add?
3. Revelation and its Transmission (Directory 11-16)
All that the Church is, all that the Church does, finds its ultimate foundation in the fact that God…wanted to reveal the mystery of his will by communicating himself to human beings….From the very beginning of creation, God has never ceased to communicate this plan of salvation to human beings and to show them signs of his love. What signs of his love does God continue to show me? Can I ask for the grace of courage in sharing my experience of God’s goodness with others, when appropriate? How might I enable others to pause and recognise the signs of God’s love in their lives? Maybe using and helping others to use the Ignatian Examen might help? See www.pathwaystogod.org for resources.
God manifests and puts into action his plan in a new and definitive way in the person of his Son….Revelation is an initiative of God’s love and is directed towards communion…..
The novelty of the Christian message does not consist in an idea but in a fact: God has revealed himself. Precisely because it unveils a new life – life without sin, life as his children, life in abundance, eternal life, this proclamation is beautiful.
The divine plan is:
- A mystery of love: human beings, loved by God, are called to respond to him, becoming a sign of love for their brothers and sisters;
- The revelation of the intimate truth of God as Trinity and of humanity’s vocation to a life in Christ, source of our dignity, as God’s sons and daughters;
- The offer of salvation to all through the Paschal mystery of Jesus Christ, gift of God’s grace and mercy, which implies liberation from evil, from sin and from death
- The definitive call to reunite scattered humanity in the Church, bringing about communion with God and fraternal union among people already in the here and now, but to be fulfilled completely at the end of time.
Jesus inaugurates and proclaims the kingdom of God for every person. He is the complete manifestation of God’s mercy and of the call to love that is in the heart of humanity….Entering into communion with him and following him offers fullness and truth upon human life.
There is a close connection between the recognition of God’s action in the heart of every person, the primacy of the Holy Spirit and the universal openness to every person.
As I read the above, I am struck by………….
Three of my reactions to the above:
It is God’s work; we are helping the Holy Spirit, not replacing the Spirit.
The divine plan, in those four points, is something massively exciting. How can we communicate that excitement?
God is already present in the hearts of those who come to us for catechesis, drawing them (and us) deeper into communion. How can we help them recognise the already action of God in their hearts?
4. Faith in Jesus Christ: the response to God who reveals himself. (Directory 17-23)
There are several rich images in these next passages. Read them prayerfully. How does it speak to you of God’s action in the world, in the lives of people, in our lives?
‘You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in you.’ When a human being comes within God’s reach, he or she is called to respond….Faith responds to that ‘waiting’, often unconscious and always limited in its knowledge of the truth about God, about humanity itself and about the destiny what awaits us.
The Christian faith is, first of all, the welcoming of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ, sincere adherence to his person, and the free decision to follow him….. We believe Jesus when we accept his word, his testimony, because he is truthful. We believe in Jesus when we personally welcome him into our lives and journey towards him, clinging to him in love and following in his footsteps along the way, on a dynamic journey that lasts a whole lifetime…. To believe is an adherence of the heart, of the mind and of action.
Faith is certainly a personal act and, nevertheless, it is not an individual and private choice; it has a relational and communal character… The faith of the disciple of Christ is kindled, sustained and transmitted only in the communion of ecclesial faith where the ‘I believe’ of Baptism is married to the ‘we believe’ of the whole Church. Every believer joins the community of disciples and makes the Church’s faith their own. Together with the Church which is the people of God on a journey in history and the universal sacrament of salvation, the believer is part of her mission.
The Church carries out in history the same mission that Jesus had received from the Father.
The Holy Spirit, true protagonist of the whole of the Church’s mission, acts both in the Church and on those whom she must reach and by whom, in a certain way, she must also be reached, since God works in the hearts of everyone. The Spirit continues to enliven the Church, which lives by the word of God, and makes her grow always in the understanding of the Gospel, sending her and supporting her in the work of evangelising the world. The Spirit himself, from within humanity, sows the seed of the Word; supports good desires and works; prepares the reception of the Gospel and grants faith, so that, through the Church’s witness, human beings may recognise the loving presence and communication of God.
As I read this I am encouraged by…………
As I read this I am inspired by………..
As I read this I am challenged by……..
5. The Transmission of Revelation in the Faith of the Church (Directory 24-27)
The Apostles, faithful to the divine mandate, by witness and works, preaching, institutions and writings inspired by the Holy Spirit, have handed on what they received, and, ‘in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and active in the Church, left bishops as their successors, ‘handing over’ to them ‘the authority to teach in their own place.’ (Vatican II). This apostolic tradition ‘develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth on the understanding of the realities and words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching.’ (Vatican II)
Vatican II speaks of ‘study made by believers’ but before ‘study’ it mentions ‘contemplation.’ How do we and those we serve grow through contemplation? What might ‘contemplative catechesis’ look like?
The transmission of the Gospel according to the Lord’s command has been carried out in two ways: ‘through the living transmission of the Word of God (also called Tradition) and through Sacred Scripture which is the same proclamation of salvation in written form.’ Tradition and Scripture are firmly united and interconnected, stemming from the same source, the Revelation of Jesus. These join together in a single stream, the ecclesial life of faith, and work together… to render the whole mystery of Christ alive and dynamic in the Church. How does our catechesis use Scripture and Tradition as a single life-giving stream?
Tradition is not primarily a collection of doctrines but is a life of faith that is renewed every day….The Church’s Magisterium (the Bishops in communion with the Pope), supported by the Spirit and endowed with the charism of truth, exercises its ministry of authentically interpreting the word of God, which it serves.
The word of God is the primary source of evangelisation, the source around which all other sources are ordered.
How do we equip our catechists to use Scripture and Tradition as a life-giving source?
How do we bring to others the rich treasures of God’s living Word?
6. Revelation and Evangelisation (Directory 28-31)
‘Evangelising is the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelise… She begins by being evangelised herself. She is the community of believers, the community of hope lived and communicated, the community of brotherly love, and she needs to listen unceasingly to what she must believe, to her reasons for hope, to the new commandments of love…she has a constant need of being evangelised if she wants to retain her freshness, vigour and strength to proclaim the Gospel. ‘(Pope St. Paul VI).
I am evangelised afresh when I …………
Our parish is evangelised afresh when…………………
Our Diocese is evangelised afresh when…………………..
Evangelising is not, in the first place, the delivery of a doctrine but rather making present and announcing Jesus Christ. …Evangelisation makes this enduring presence of Christ concrete, in such a way that those who draw near to the Church may encounter in his person the way to ‘save their lives’ (cf Matt 16:25) and open themselves to a new horizon. How comfortable am I talking about Jesus?
How often do I talk with new parents, families, parishioners about Jesus and his place in my life?
Evangelisation has as its ultimate aim the fulfilment of human life. … God became human, so that humanity could become truly human as he intended and created him to be; humanity whose icon is the Son; the human being, who is saved from evil and death in order to participate in the divine nature. Believers can already experience this salvation here and now, but it will find its fullness in the resurrection.
Inspired and supported by the Holy Spirit in the process of evangelisation the Church:
-driven by charity, permeates and transforms the whole temporal order, incorporating cultures and offering the contribution of the Gospel so that they may be renewed from within;
-draws near to all humanity with attitudes of solidarity, fellowship and dialogue, thus bearing witness to the Christians’ new way of life, so that those who meet them may be prompted to wonder about the meaning of live and the reasons for their brotherhood and hope;
-explicitly declares the Gospel through the first proclamation, issuing the call to conversion;
-initiates into Christian faith and life, through the catechumenal process (catechesis, sacraments, witness of charity, fraternal experience) those who convert to Jesus Christ or return to following him, incorporating the former and restoring the latter into the Christian community;
-through ongoing education in the faith, the celebration of the sacraments and the exercise of charity nourishes the life of communion among the faithful and supports the mission, sending all the disciples of Christ to proclaim the Gospel in the world with works and words.
As I read the elements of evangelisation I am inspired by……………………………………………….
As I read the elements of evangelisation I am consoled by……………………………………………..
As I read the elements of evangelisation I am challenged by…………………………………………
As I read the elements of evangelisation I wish to………………………………………………………….
7. The stages of Evangelisation (32-)
Evangelisation includes various stages and moments; these are not only phases that follow each other but also aspects of the process.
Missionary activity is the first stage of evangelisation;
The three paragraphs that follow are densely packed and can seem to turn the process of catechesis into a series of complicated stages for which we feel we lack the necessary time, resources, energy.
They are stages but maybe see them more as movements in the hearts of the ‘sympathisers’, ‘seekers’, parents seeking baptisms, First Communions, adults seeking membership of the Church. I wonder if we move direct from the initial inquiry to the full-on teaching without giving time for them (and us) to recognise God’s presence already with them.
Read the paragraphs below in the light of people to whom you minister. I have highlighted phrases that speak to me. Which phrases speak to you?
- Witness involves openness of heart, capacity for dialogue and reciprocity, willingness to recognise the signs of goodness and of God’s presence in the people one meets. God comes towards us from within the very hearts of those to whom the Gospel is communicated. He is always the first to arrive. Recognition of the primacy of grace is fundamental in evangelisation, right from the first moment. The disciples of Jesus, sharing life with all, bear witness even without words to the joy of the Gospel that elicits questions. Witness, which is always expressed as respectful dialogue, at the appropriate time, becomes proclamation.
- To stimulate an initial turn towards faith and conversion ….[is the aim of the first proclamation.] The interest raised, while not a stable decision, creates the dispositions for the reception of faith. The Church calls those who show such concern ‘sympathisers’.
How do we reach out to sympathisers, searchers? What will help them?
8. At the service of the profession of faith
- (continued from last week) The time of inquiry and maturation is necessary to turn initial interest in the Gospel into a deliberate choice. The Christian community, cooperating with the work of the Holy Spirit, welcomes the interest of those who are seeking the Lord and carries out a first form of evangelisation and discernment through accompaniment and the presentation of the kerygma. This ‘precatechumenate’ is important for the reception of the proclamation and for an initial response and conversion. It already brings with it the desire to get away from sin to follow in the footsteps of Christ.
The ‘Precatechumenate’ or the Inquiry Stage, in the RCIA, is not the first few teaching sessions of the programme,, the ‘Basics’ before we move on to the ‘heavy stuff’. If we look at it as about a movement in the heart of the enquirer, it’s about the movement from ‘wondering whether to become a Catholic’ to ‘wanting to become a Catholic.’ If an attendee tells their friends they are coming to RCIA because they are ‘wondering whether’ that, to me is a sign of inquiry. If they ‘want to’ and the signs as mentioned in the RCIA are present, then they can and should be admitted as catechumens.
These signs are; ‘an initial conversion and intention to change their lives and enter into a relationship with God in Christ. …evidence of the first stirrings of repentance, a start to the practice of calling upon God in prayer, a sense of the Church, and experience of the company and practice of Christians through contact with a priest of some members of the communion’ RCIA 42.
What does this say to us about preparation for the other sacraments?
Those who have already met Jesus Christ feel the growing desire to get to know him more intimately. In the Christian community catechesis, together with the liturgical ceremonies, works of charity and experiences of fraternity, initiates them in knowledge of the faith and apprenticeship in the Christian life. The disciple of Jesus is ready for the profession of faith when, through the celebration of the sacraments of initiation, he is grafted onto Christ. This stage corresponds to the catechumenate and the prior of purification and illumination in the RCIA.
Pastoral action nourishes the faith of the baptised and helps them in the Christian life’s ongoing process of conversion. The beginning of this stage corresponds to mystagogy in the RCIA.
As I read these words I am inspired by………………………………….
As I read these words I am struck by……………………………………
As I read these words I am challenged by…………………………..
As I read these words and look at my own discipleship I…………………………….
9. Evangelisation in the Contemporary World (38-42)
The Church faces a ‘new stage of evangelisation.’ Our times are complex, pervaded by profound changes, and the Churches (of the developed western world) are often marked by phenomena of detachment from a lived ecclesial and faith experience. Yet the Holy Spirit continues to arouse the thirst for God within people, and within the Church a new fervour, new methods and new expressions for the proclamation of the good news of Jesus.
What particular kind of fervour, methods and expression will adequately respond to the thirst for God within people?
The Holy Spirit is the soul of the evangelising Church.
The spirituality of the new evangelisation is realised today in a pastoral conversion through which the Church is called to come to fruition by going forth and puts her in a permanent state of mission. This leads to a true reform of ecclesial structures so that they become more missionary, capable of enlivening with boldness and creativity the cultural and religious landscape. Every one of the baptised, as a missionary disciple, is an active participant in this mission.
How can we sustain ourselves in a permanent state of mission?
What will we need to begin?
What will we need to let go of?
Evangelisation takes shape essentially in three areas:
- Ordinary pastoral care carried out in Christian communities. We include here those who preserve a deep and sincere faith, expressing it in different ways Ordinary pastoral ministry helps believers grow spiritually and respond to God’s love ever more fully in their lives.
2. The baptised whose lives do not reflect the demands of baptism, lack a meaningful relationship to the Church and no longer experience the consolation born of faith. The Church seeks to develop new language attuned to the different world cultures, proposing the truth of Christ with an attitude of dialogue and friendship.
3. Those who do not know Christ or have already rejected him. Many of them are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeking to impose new obligations they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and invite others to a delicious banquet.
Where have we put our energy? Where do we need to put our energy?
10. Evangelisation of cultures (42-47)
The Church is called to look at history with God’s own eyes to recognise the action of the Holy Spirit, who, blowing where he wills reveals signs of his presence.This makes it possible for the Church to recognise the signs of the times in the heart of every person and culture, in all which is authentically human.
I look at history with God’s own eyes when I…………………………………
I see the action of the Holy Spirit in the world when I see………………………………………….
Evangelising does not mean occupying a given territory but eliciting spiritual processes in the lives of persons so that the faith may become rooted and significant.
Together with a worrying social inequality that often results in alarming global tensions, profound changes are taking place within the horizon of meaning of human experience itself. Priority is given to the outward, the immediate, the visible, the quick, the superficial and the provisional. A central role is entrusted to science and technology as if on their own they could provide answers to the deepest questions. Some educational programmes are organised to the detriment of an integral formation that would acknowledge the most authentic aspirations of the human spirit. A true anthropological revolution is underway which has consequences for religious experience and poses vital challenges for the ecclesial community.
I recognise these profound changes in…………………………………………………..
I respond to these changes by……………………………………………………………….
An undeniable role is played by the mass media which have redefined basic human boundaries well beyond the goals connected to the needs of communication. New technologies are bringing about a vast cultural transformation. A new way of thinking and learning is developing, with unprecedented opportunities for establishing relationships and building fellowship. This touches upon the sphere of personal identity and freedom, upon ways of knowing and learning, and changes the very approach to the experience of faith. For the Church the revolution taking place in communications media and information technologies represents a great and thrilling challenge; may we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination as we seek to share with others the beauty of God.
New technologies fill me with………………………………………………..
I can use them to spread the Gospel by………………………………………….
11. Catechesis at the service of the new evangelisation. (48-56)
The Church is attentive to giving every one of her activities an in-built connection with evangelising and mission.
Catechesis forms believers for mission, accompanying them as they mature in attitudes of faith and making them aware that they are missionary disciples, called to participate actively in the proclamation of the Gospel and make the Kingdom of God present in the world.
The essence of the Christian faith is mercy, made visible in Jesus of Nazareth. The practice of mercy is catechesis in action. St. Augustine affirms that catechesis becomes a work of mercy in that it satisfies ‘with the word of God the intelligence of those who hunger for it.’
The Church must enter into dialogue with the world in which it lives. It has something to say, a message to give, a communication to make. Dialogue is a free and gratuitous initiative, takes its cues from love and grows in a gradual way. At the present time this dialogue, with society, cultures and sciences, with every other believer, is particularly required as a valuable contribution to peace.
The Church desires that catechesis should accentuate this dialogical style, to make more easily visible the face of the Son who, as with the Samaritan woman at the well, stops to begin a dialogue with every human being in order to lead her or him with gentleness to the discovery of living water.
What do these words affirm in our pastoral activity?
What do they challenge?
12. The intimate relationship between kerygma and catechesis (55-61)
Even if it is still useful to distinguish pre-evangelisation, first proclamation, catechesis, ongoing formation, in the present context it is no longer possible to stress those differences. Those who ask for or have already received the sacraments often do not have an explicit experience of faith or do not intimately know its power and warmth. A formal proclamation limited to a bare enunciation of the faith would not permit an understanding of the faith itself which is instead a new horizon of life that is opened wide, starting from the encounter with the risen Jesus.
The Church needs a catechesis that can be called kerygmatic. (The kerygma is the basic proclamation/key message that Jesus is Lord, God with us, who gave himself for us).
The Church must be able to embody the kerygma according to the needs of her contemporaries, providing help and encouragement so that on the lips of the catechists, from the fullness of their hearts, in a reciprocal dynamic of listening and dialogue, there may blossom credible proclamations, vital confessions of faith, telling everyone the good news: ‘Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.’
This leads to several guidelines for catechesis: it has to express God’s saving love which precede any moral or religious obligation on our part; it should be marked by joy, encouragement, liveliness and a harmonious place which will note reduce preaching to a few doctrines which are at times more philosophical than evangelical.
Catechesis reveals a new vision of life, of humanity, of justice, of the whole cosmos which emerges from the faith and which makes its signs constantly present.
Are we trying to do too much when we catechise?
Do we focus on the trees or the wood?
13. The catechumenate as a source of inspiration for catechesis. (61-63)
The catechumenate is an ancient ecclesial practise, restored after the Vatican Council, offered to unbaptised converts. It has an explicitly missionary character and is structured as an organic and cumulative whole for initiation into Christian faith and life. The catechumenate can also inspire the catechesis directed towards those who, although they have already received the gift of baptismal grace, do not actually taste its richness. This inspiration does not forget that the baptised ‘by baptism have already become members of the Church and children of God. Their conversion is based on the baptism they have already received, the effects of which they must develop.’
The restoration of the catechumenate fostered by the Second Vatican Council was realised with the publication of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). The catechumenate, ‘a training period in the whole Christian life, is a process structured in three phases, aimed at leading the catechumen to the full encounter with the mystery of Christ in the life of the community.
The rites of passage between phases highlight the gradual nature if the formative itinerary of the catechumenate:
- In the pre-catechumenate (enquiry phase) the first evangelisation takes place and the kerygma of the first proclamation is presented;
- the period of the catechumenate is set aside for comprehensive catechesis; entrance to it is through the Rite of Admission;
- the time of purification and enlightenment (usually Lent) provides a more intense preparation for the sacraments. This phase, which is entered into through the Rite of Election provides for the handing on of the Creed and of the Lord’s Prayer
- The celebration of the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil opens the time of mystagogy, with an ever deeper experience of the mysteries of the faith and by incorporation into the life of the community
How can the RCIA help our parishes become more truly missionary?
What support from the Department for Formation would be helpful to my parish in starting/deepening/reviewing RCIA?
14. Catechesis through a catechumenal lens (64-65)
The catechumenal inspiration of catechesis does not mean reproducing the catechumente in a servile manner but taking on its style and its dynamism. The catechumenate has an essential missionary character which in catechesis has become weakened over time. The essential elements of the catechumenate are being brought back and they must be understood, valued and implemented again today with courage and creativity. Such elements are:
- The Paschal character: everything is oriented toward the mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, bringing each person into contact with the Risen One.
- The initiatory character, that provides and introduction to all the dimensions of Christian life, helping each one to initiate, within the community, their personal journey of response to God who has sought them out.
- The liturgical, ritual and symbolic character: the catechumenate is interwoven with symbols, rites and celebrations that touch the senses and the affections. Catechesis like this can respond to the demands of contemporary people who typically see as significant only those experiences which touch their physical and emotional being
- The community character: the catechumenate takes place in a real community that provides an experience of the communion given by God. Such catechesis integrates the contribution of all the various charisms and parish ministries (catechists, liturgical ministries, ministries of charity and outreach) revealing that the womb of regeneration in faith is the whole community.
- The character of ongoing formation and witness: aware that conversion is never fully accomplished but lasts a whole lifetime, catechesis teaches believers to discover that they are pardoned sinners. It provides formative paths that foster the conversion of heart and mind in a new way of life that should be apparent from the outside.
- The catechumenate of is a dynamic process which responds to the actual life story of the person who grows and matures over time. The Church, patiently accompanying her children and respecting the pace of their maturing, shows herself to be an attentive mother.
A lot to take onboard!! Take a moment to count your catechetical blessings! When you look at these dimensions/characters, what do you see happening in your parish catechesis (whether RCIA, First Communion, Marriage Prep) that makes your heart burn within you, or at least gives you a quiet sense of satisfaction?
Please share it with us and with the Diocese. That example of good practise might be just the thing another parish needs to hear.
And which of these elements needs some further thought and planning?
Once again, how can the Department for Formation assist you?
15. (DfC 66-75 adapted)
Catechesis of initiation into Christian life is a journey, offered in the church community, which leads the believer to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ through the word of God, liturgical action, and charity, integrating all the dimensions of the person so that they may grow in the mindset of faith and be a witness of new life in the world.
In our parish approach to initiation for Christian initiation, whether adults for Baptism or Reception, young people for Confirmation and children for First Communion, which of the aspects highlighted in BOLD come across strongly and which less so?
With the first or initial proclamation the Church announces the Gospel and elicits conversion.
This proclamation is called first because it is the principal proclamation, the one we must hear again and again in different ways, the one we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at ever level and every moment. The first proclamation, the task of every Christian, is based on that ‘go’ which Jesus gave as an instruction to his disciples and which implies going out, making haste, accompanying, thus becoming true missionary disciples. It cannot be reduced to the conveying of a message but is first of all sharing the life that comes from God and communicating the joy of having met the Lord. As Pope Benedict wrote: ‘Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.’
Pope St John Paul II wrote ‘the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.’ Catechesis is oriented toward forming persons who get to know Jesus Christ and his Gospel of liberating salvation ever better; who live a profound encounter with him and who choose his own way of life and his very sentiments, striving to realise, in the situations in which we live, the mission of Christ, which is the proclamation of the kingdom of God.
Read the words of Pope Benedict and Pope St John Paul II prayerfully a couple of times. How do you feel when you read those words? …………………Inspired? Challenged? Reassured? Afraid? Or…………..?
Maybe bring those words to your next encounter in prayer with Jesus. Talk with him about how he can work through you to enable others to encounter him.
And savour within yourself in these crazy and unsettling times the ‘joy of having met the Lord’ or better still ‘the joy of meeting the Lord not just once but so frequently.’ And if that joy is in your heart, let it be seen in your face, even above and through the face mask!
16. (DFC 76-82) The tasks of catechesis
Catechesis pursues several interconnected tasks that are inspired by the way in which Jesus formed his disciples: he got them to know the mysteries of the Kingdom, taught them to pray, proposed to them gospel values, initiated them into the life of communion with him and among themselves, and into mission. The faith, in fact, demands to be known, celebrated, lived and turned into prayer. Catechesis therefore pursues the following tasks.
One initial reaction in reading what follows is to think ‘how on earth can we cover all of this in one Baptism Preparation Evening or a First Communion/Confirmation course or even over the course of an RCIA journey? The answer, of course, is that we can’t and we don’t!
One of the mistakes we make is to see catechesis as being offered simply in terms of sacramental preparation and we turn even those into an explicit curriculum to be covered.
We need, surely, to look at the catechetical dimension of every aspect of parish life. Not only are there catechetical dimensions to the way we celebrate the Sacraments and preach but social media, parish newsletters, displays in church, on the noticeboard, CTS pamphlet racks are all catechetical tools.
In addition, everything, including the way one responds to the First Communion parents who hand in the form late or the family arriving late for the Baptism, conveys a lesson on the nature of the parish community.
So each and every point below is not intended to be explicit in each and every catechetical programme. Rather, it is helpful to look at the whole catechetical mission of the parish, through sacramental preparation, adult formation opportunities (maybe in the Deanery or Diocese), preaching, opportunities for prayer, pilgrimage, retreats and consider to what extent we are covering all the bases below across the whole life of the parish.
And maybe that is a discussion to be had within groups of neighbouring parishes. Maybe there are suggestions below that can be hosted within one parish but open to others.
Leading to knowledge of the faith
Catechesis helps the believer to know the truths of the Christian faith, introduces them to the knowledge of Sacred Scripture and of the Church’s living Tradition, fosters knowledge of the Creed and the creation of a coherent doctrinal vision that can be used as a reference in life.
What do we mean by offering ‘a coherent doctrinal vision that can be used as a reference in life’?
Forming for life in Christ
Catechesis seeks to make the heart of every Christian resound with the call to live a new life in keeping with the dignity of children of God received in Baptism and the life of the Risen Christ communicated through the sacraments. This consists in showing that the response to the universal vocation to holiness is a way of life capable of bringing every situation back to the way of truth and happiness that is Christ.
This involves the Christian formation of the moral conscience, so that in every circumstance they may listen to the Father’s will in order to discern, under the guidance of Christ, the evil to be avoided and the good to be done and putting it into practice with diligent charity.
How are all our catechetical activities geared to life in Christ?
17.(DFC 83-90) The tasks of catechesis continued
Initiating into the celebration of the Mystery
Catechesis helps the believer to understand the importance of the liturgy in the Church’s life, initiates them into the knowledge of the sacraments and into sacramental life, especially the sacrament of the Eucharist, source and summit of the life and mission of the Church.
Catechesis educates the believer in the attitudes that the Church’s celebration require: joy for the festive quality of celebrations, a sense of community, attentive listening to the word of God, confident prayer, praise and thanksgiving, awareness of symbols and signs. Catechesis teaches the believer to understand the liturgical year, the true teacher of the faith, and the significance of Sunday, the day of the Lord and of the Christian community. Catechesis also aids in the appreciation of the expressions of faith found in popular piety.
Which of the above ‘attitudes’ are brought to the attention of believers through catechesis in your parish? Are any missing?
It is necessary to teach the believer to pray with Jesus Christ and like him, initiating the believer into blessing and adoration, petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise. There are several well-established means; the prayerful reading of sacred scripture, in particular through the liturgy of the hours and lectio divina, the Jesus Prayer, the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary through practices of the Rosary, processions etc.
Is there a way in which we might incorporate a time of prayer and new experiences of prayer into existing and even long-standing parish gatherings? Is it too much to expect that a short but significant period of prayer (rather than an opening prayer) begins all parish meetings, school meetings, governors’ meetings?
Introduction to community life
The faith is professed, celebrated, expressed and lived above all in community. We should cultivate a spirituality of communion. This makes one able to see the light of the Trinity reflected in the face of one’s sister or brother as well, feeling through the profound unity of the Body of Christ that they are part of oneself; sharing their joys and sorrows in order to perceive their desires; taking care of their needs; offering them a true and profound friendship. Looking above all at what is positive in them in order to cherish them as a gift from God helps one to reject the selfish temptations that lead to competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy.
What does a ‘spirituality of communion’ mean to you? How can it foster healthy parish relationships and prevent the breakdown of such ways of working?
18. Directory for Catechesis (90- 96 abridged) The Sources of Catechesis
The sources which catechesis draws upon are to be considered interrelated: one points to the other, while all can be traced back to the Word of God, of which they are an expression.
Catechesis draws its message from the Word of God, which is its main source. Sacred Scripture, which God has inspired, reaches the depths of the human spirit better than any other word. The Word of God is not exhausted in Sacred Scripture…God speaks and his Word is manifested in creation and in history. The only-Begotten of the Father is the definitive Word of God.
Christ has given the Apostles and their successors the enduring mandate of proclaiming the Gospel to the ends of the earth, promising them the assistance of the Holy Spirit who would make them teachers of humanity, transmitting orally (Tradition) and in writing (Scripture) the word of God. The Magisterium (the Pope and Bishops in communion with him) preserves, interprets and transmits the deposit of faith which is the content of Revelation. The whole People of God is bound to guard and propagate the deposit of faith, it being the task of the entire Church to proclaim the Gospel to all peoples.
The liturgy is one of the essential and indispensable sources of the Church’s catechesis. The liturgy is the ‘privileged place for catechising the People of God.’ This is not to be understood in the sense that the liturgy should lose its celebratory character and be turned into catechesis. But catechesis is set in motion by a first effective encounter between the one being catechised and the community that celebrates the mystery, which is to say the catechesis reaches its fulfilment when the one being catechised takes part in the liturgical life of the community. Catechesis cannot be thought of merely as preparation for the sacraments but must be understood in relation to liturgical experience.
Looking at the sources of catechesis above (and there will be more next week) which occupy a greater part in your catechetical approach? Any gaps?
Reflect on the last paragraph about the Liturgy as a Source of Catechesis. What does the Church mean by ‘a first effective encounter between the one being catechised and the community that celebrates the mystery?’ It surely suggests that the experience of Sunday Eucharist and of the community that celebrates it will have a transformational impact on the one being catechised (whether they are parents of children for baptism or children/young people preparing for First Communion/Confirmation or adults seeking admission into the Church). It also suggests that the experience of people being catechised through the liturgy will have an impact on the parish community!
That is quite a challenge. We might be tempted to throw up our hands and say ‘but haven’t we got plenty to do already’. But as we prepare ourselves and our parishes for the time when restrictions will be loosened, what small, practical steps can we take to make that vision of that last paragraph more of a reality?
19. The new Directory for Catechesis (DfC 97-106 abridged) Sources for Catechesis, continued
From the very first centuries, the example of the Virgin Mary and the lives of the saints and martyrs have been an integral and effective part of catechesis.
The Church sees the martyrs as illustrious teachers of the faith. This twentieth century, which has been called the century of martyrdom, showed itself to be especially rich in witnesses who were willing to live the Gospel to the point of the supreme trial of love.
The apparitions of the Virgin Mary recognised by the Church, the lives and writings of the saints and martyrs of every culture and people are true sources of catechesis.
Bishop Burke confirmed me way back in 1974. When he visited us at St. Mary’s Primary, Denton, he told us that he would encourage us, as our confirmation name, to choose one of the Forty Martyrs. The problem was that I had already chosen Peter. I toyed with the idea of choosing St. Ambrose Barlow but stook with Peter! Mind you the girl in our class called Margaret Ward had it easy and become Margaret Ward (Margaret Ward) Ward. But as school children we knew at least of the stories of some of the Forty Martyrs, mainly, I guess, SS Ambrose Barlow and Margaret Clitherow. But we also heard of the likes of Fr. Damien of the lepers, now St. Damian, and so many more.
How do we share the lives of the heroes of the Christian story not just with our children and young people but with adults and families too? And what about those who have not been declared Blessed or Saint but are part of our Diocesan Story? Women such as Elizabeth Prout and Alice Ingham. Men such as Lawrence Vaux. What resources might the Diocese of Formation produce to assist in that?
The fact that the Revelation of God surpasses human capacity to understand it does not mean that it is opposed to human reason but that it penetrates and elevates it. The believer’s seeking of an understanding of the faith – or theology– is an indispensable necessity for the Church.
What resources might help us or other members of our parish to link theology and life? Who would want to be part of this?
Christian culture is born from the awareness of the centrality of Jesus Christ and his Gospel which transforms the life of humanity. By slowly permeating different cultures, the Christian faith has adopted, purified, and transformed them from within.
Over the course of the centuries, nonetheless, those societies shaped by Christian culture have arrived at a crisis resulting from an exaggerated secularism. This split between the Gospel and culture is without doubt the drama of our time (JPII). A new understanding is needed of Christian culture, a culture of encounter, which has the ability to unify, allowing the Gospel to unleash forces of true humanity, peace and justice.
This heritage, of great historical and artistic value, is a resource that inspires and enhances catechesis, in that it transmits the Christian vision of the world with its creative power of beauty and preserves among people the faculties of contemplation and observation which lead to wisdom.
How does the Church encounter the world to sport, media, industry, politics, entertainment etc? By ‘the Church’ we don’t mean priests and Bishop but also lay apostles, unafraid to come out as Catholic. They, the lay faithful (Christifideles) are on the real front-line. How can we, as Church, call, form and send them as missionary disciples? Is there anything we could be doing as Diocese to further identify and form such front-line disciples?
20. Directory for Catechesis, (106-109 abridged)
Beauty as a source for Catechesis
Scripture presents God as the source of all splendour and beauty. In the presence of creation, which is to be admired and contemplated for its own sake, one feels amazement, ecstasy, and emotional and affective reaction. In the New Testament all beauty is concentrated in the person of Jesus Christ. His Gospel is captivating because it is news that is beautiful, good, joyful, full of hope. He recounted through the parables the beauty of God’s activity. In his relationship with men and women he spoke beautiful words that with their efficacy heal the depths of the soul. He performed beautiful actions, he healed, he set free, he accompanied humanity and touched its wounds.
I can help radiate the beauty of the person of Jesus Christ by………..
The Church bears in mind that in order to reach the human heart the proclamation of the Risen One must shine forth with goodness, truth and beauty. All beauty can be a path that helps lead to the encounter with God. There must be discernment between true beauty and the forms that are apparently beautiful but empty or even harmful.
How can we make concrete opportunities for people to be led to an encounter with God along the way of beauty?
Contemplating beauty elicits within us sentiments of joy, pleasure, tenderness, fulness, meaning, opening us to the transcendent. The way of evangelisation is the way of beauty and every form of beauty is a source of catechesis.
In demonstrating the primacy of grace, manifest in a special way on the Blessed Virgin Mary;
in making known the lives of the saints as true witnesses to the beauty of faith;
in giving prominence to the beauty and mysteriousness of creation;
in discovering and cherishing the immense liturgical and artistic heritage of the Church;
in valuing the highest forms of contemporary art,
catechesis shows concretely the infinite beauty of God, which is also expressed in the works of human beings, and leads those who are catechised toward the beautiful gift that the Father has made in his Son.
Which of the above five examples am I more or less familiar with?
22. Directory for Catechesis (112-113)
The true protagonist of all catechesis is the Holy Spirit, who by means of the profound union with Jesus Christ which is nurtured by every catechist, gives efficacy to human efforts in catechetical activity. This activity is carried out in the bosom of the Church: the catechist is a witness to her living Tradition and a mediator who facilitates the incorporation of new disciples of Christ into his ecclesial Body.
By faith and baptismal anointing, in collaboration with the Magisterium of Christ, as servant of the action of the Holy Spirit, the catechist is:
- A witness of faith and keeper of the memory of God; in their encounter with Jesus, the catechist keeps, nourishes and bears witness to the new life that becomes a sign for others. The faith contains the memory of God’s history with humanity. Keeping this memory, reawakening it in others is the specific vocation of the catechist. The testimony of their life is necessary for the credibility of the mission. Recognising their own frailty before the mercy of God, the catechist does not cease to be the sign of hope for their sisters and brothers.
- A teacher and a mystagogue who introduces others to the mystery of God, revealed in the paschal mystery of Christ; as an icon of Jesus the teacher, the catechist has the task of transmitting the content of the faith and leading others into the mystery of the faith itself.
- An accompanier and educator of those entrusted to them by the Church; the catechist is an expert in the art of accompaniment, becoming a travelling companion. The catechist, an expert in humanity, knows the joys and sorrows of human beings, their sadness and distress and is able to situate them in relation to the Gospel of Jesus.
What is this asking of us in order to call forth those whom God is already calling to this vocation?
Is this a ministry that could be shared across a group of parishes?
What part will we allow the Holy Spirit in this process of discernment?
23. Directory for Catechesis (114-118)
THE BISHOP AS FIRST CATECHIST
The Bishop is the first preacher of the Gospel by his words and the witness of his life, and, as the one primarily responsible for catechesis in his diocese, has the principal function, together with preaching, of promoting catechesis.
THE PRIEST IN CATECHESIS
The priest is the bishop’s first co-worker and has the responsibility of bringing to life, coordinating, and directing the catechetical activity of the community entrusted to him. Priests discern and promote the vocation and the service of the catechists.
The parish priest is the first catechist in the parish community. The tasks of catechesis proper to him, and to priests in general are:
- Dedicating themselves with competent and generous commitment to the catechesis of the faithful entrusted to their pastoral care, taking advantage of every opportunity offered by parish life and the sociocultural environment to proclaim the Gospel;
- Taking care to the link between catechesis, liturgy and charity, making the most of Sunday as the day of the Lord and of the Christian community;
- Eliciting the responsibility of the whole community for catechesis and discerning specific vocations of catechists;
- Integrating catechesis into the pastoral plan of the community;
- Ensuring a link between catechesis in their own parish and the diocesan pastoral programme;
- As the catechist of catechists, taking care of their formation, dedicating the utmost concern to this task and accompanying them in the maturation of their faith.
THE DEACON IN CATECHESIS
Deacons exercise the diakonia of the word of God, alongside that of liturgy and of charity, in order to make Christ present in the community. They are called to give much attention to catechesis of the faithful at all stages of Christian living.
Their ministry of catechesis can be carried out among prisoners, the sick, the elderly, at-risk youth, immigrants etc. Permanent deacons who live in the marries state are called to be credible witnesses to the beauty of this sacrament. They can engage in the catechesis of families and in the accompaniment of all those situations that require particular sensitivity.
Where does catechesis fit in to my ministry, lay or ordained?
Does anything have to be let go of, in order to give it a renewed focus?
Have I thought of, and spoken of, the role of catechists as being a VOCATION? How might that be promoted/resourced?
How can we promote the vocation of Deacons, from amongst men, married and single, within our parishes?
24. Directory for Catechesis (119-123)
CONSECRATED PERSONS IN THE SERVICE OF CATECHESIS
The Church summons religious, consecrated persons in a particular way to catechetical activity to which they make an original and specific contribution. They bear witness to the marvels wrought by God in their frail humanity not so much by words as by the eloquent language of a transfigured life, capable of amazing the world. Their first catechesis is in their very life, living out the radical nature of the Gospel as witnessed to the fulness that life in Christ makes possible. The Church continues to draw strength from their service and awaits with hope a renewed commitment to the service of catechesis.
Through their presence in the world, the laity offer a valuable service to evangelisation: their very life as disciples of Christ is a form of proclamation of the Gospel. They infuse temporal realities with the spirit of the Gospel: evangelisation takes on a specific quality and a special force when carried out in the ordinary surroundings of the world. The laity, in bearing witness to the Gospel in different contexts, have the opportunity to give a Christian interpretation to the realities of life, to speak of Christ and of Christian values, to present the reasons for their choices. This catechesis, which is spontaneous and unpremeditated, is of great importance because it is immediately connected to their witness of life.
The vocation to the ministry of catechesis flows from Baptism and is strengthened by Confirmation, both sacraments through which the layperson shares in the priestly, prophetic, and kingly office of Christ. Some faithful are called by God to take on the role of catechists in the Christian community. This personal call of Jesus Christ and the relationship with him are the true engines of the catechist’s activity. The Church fosters and confirms this divine vocation and confers the mission of catechising.
At times the catechist can collaborate in the service of catechesis over aa limited period or purely on an occasional basis but it is always a valuable service and worthy collaboration. The importance of the ministry of catechesis, however, suggests that there should be in a Diocese a certain number of religious and laity publicly recognised and permanently dedicated to catechesis, who, in communion with the Bishop and priests, give to this diocesan service that ecclesial form which is proper to it.
What is the landscape of the task of catechesis that the Directory is mapping out for us?
Catechist as, in some cases, a formally instituted Lay Ministry, open to women and men? What might that look like?