The first summer I spent at my current parish I was talking to a catechist who said to me: “The Church doesn’t believe in Purgatory anymore do they”? On another occasion I’ve had a catechist share how the Holy Spirit actually dwells in water in the baptismal font. Also, I have heard of catechists doing nice crafts or activities that do not support the heart of the day’s lesson even if they get kids moving around. These few examples point to the great need for the initial formation of catechists and their ongoing development. In this post I would like to share what the Church in the United States (i.e., United States Conference of Bishops) has to say about how a catechetical leader (CL) has the responsibility to help catechist receive initial and ongoing formation.
The National Directory For Catechesis (NDC) lists 11 points that should be considered regarding the initial formation of catechists (see pages 237-238). Among those points I would like to focus on the first and fourth. The NDC begins, “Initial formation of catechists most profitable precedes the beginning of their ministry and can employ different methodoligies. Whether the training is done at a diocesan catechetical center or in the parish, it should be adapted as much as possible to the specific needs of the individual catechist” (pg. 237). The final sentence before the list says: The initial formation of new catechists should:
“Help them develop an understanding of the nature and goals of catechesis.”
The Nature and Goals of Catechesis
What is the nature of catechesis?
The nature of catechesis is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and God’s plan of salvation to humanity. Catechesis in its very essence is communicating or echoing a person and aiming to bring people into communion with Jesus Christ (cf. Catechesi Tradendae 5). Catechetical Leaders whether on the parish level or the diocesan level need to help catechists understand from the beginning of their ministry that they are to proclaim the Gospel message communicated orally (apostolic tradition) and through the Sacred Scriptures. This is what we know as the Deposit of Faith.
What are the goals of Catechesis?
The goals of catechesis are to 1) help bring about an understanding of the knowledge of the faith so that deeper conversion will be fostered and occur (cf. Catechesi Tradendae, 20). It is also a part of the goals of catechesis to communicate what the General Directory and the National Directory for Catechechesis calls the 6 tasks:
1. Catechesis that promotes knowledge of the faith
2. Catechesis that promotes a knowledge of the meaning of the Liturgy and the sacraments.
3. Catechesis that promotes moral formation in Jesus Christ.
4. Catechesis that teaches the Christian how to pray with Christ.
5. Catechesis that prepares the Christian to live in community and to participate actively in the life and mission of the Church.
6. Catechesis that promotes a missionary spirit that prepares the faithful to be present as Christians in society.
Initial formation for those in ministry is essential to authentically passing on the Faith. Communicating the nature and goals of catechesis cannot be assumed or overlooked. I believe the following statement can be true in the Church as well as outside the Church: “There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church”(Archbishop Fulton Sheen).
Even though our catechist don’t hate the church the aspect about “perceiving” what we believe can apply to them. If catechists are not formed they communicate and pass on what they think we as Catholics believe and it can often be inaccurate to what we actually believe.
The 4th point listed in the NDC says that initial formation of new catechists should: “Provide thorough formation in the knowledge and understanding of our Catholic faith and practice, making the catechist aware of the social, cultural, ethnic, demographic, and religious circumstances of the people he or she will serve, so that the catechist can bring the Gospel message to them” (pg. 237).
There is a lot here to unpack. Many challenges exist to providing thorough formation in the knowledge and understanding of our Catholic Faith when there is only a limited amount of time to equip catechists. However, it is important to help provide and point towards important resources for catechists. A brief introduction on the Catechism of the Catholic Church is very important as a catechist begins their ministry. An introduction on how to use the Scriptures and help engage students in them is also essential. Also, giving catechists various resources and showing them where they can find them (e.g., resources you have in your office as well as valuable websites that communicate the faith well are valuable for catechists).
What about You?
How does your diocese and/or parish help catechists attain a strong initial formation in the Faith? What challenges do you experience in helping catechists acquire a thorough formation as they begin their ministry?
Other posts in this Catechetical Leader Series: