One method that has proven to be successful in authentically passing on the Faith is the Ecclesial method put forth my Msgr. Francis Kelly in his book, The Mystery We Proclaim: Catechesis for the Third Millennium. Instead of recreating the explanation of the method, I thought the explanation of each step from www.catecheticsonline.com was good. Here is a detailed explanation of the method which seeks to replicate God’s pedagogy. In teaching the Faith, it is appropriate to imitate God’s way of drawing us to Himself. When God reveals something to us in the Scriptures, through a presentation or lesson or in prayer, He showers us with actual grace so that we can understand. He then waits for us to make a response of faith. When we respond, He reveals more. God repeats the process with each person, over and over again, so that we come to know Him always more intimately. The Ecclesial Method is a effective means of accomplishing this desired goal of drawing students into a deeper knowledge and relationship with Christ.
Step 1: Preparation
“This step suggests that the catechist must help create the conditions for the possibility of deepening God’s Word in the hearts of those being served. This is no easy task in the setting of modern, hectic life in the Western world, where the individual is daily subjected to a barrage of stimuli from the media of communication, advertising, competing ideologies, etc.” (Kelly, 138)
How can you accomplish a setting in the room that you will teach that will let your students know there is something different, something entirely unique about what they are about to experience? That what they will learn in your classroom will affect their lives in a deeper way than they experience in the rest of their life. The first part of preparation is the setting of the room. The room should be a place set apart. This can be difficult to accomplish in some instances. Feel free to use our forums to ask other catechists for ideas. But consider, for instance, a sacred space. A place in your classroom, such as a small table, with liturgical colors, a crucifix, a Bible open to a passage you will teach from that day. Use your sacred space to teach your students. If you are teaching about the Prodigal Son, use the famous painting of the Prodigal Son to teach them about the Father’s love for them, even when they stray in sin. We include more ideas about the physical settings under other portions of the catechetics material available on this website. Whenever you can, teach from the liturgy, and lead them to the liturgy, where true worship takes place.
The preparation also means how you begin the day. If you are in a youth group, consider beginning the evening with praise music and prayer. Lift their hearts up to the Lord, allow them to leave the cares of the world, and the million other things they have to accomplish. Get them away from their thoughts and cares and focused on what you will have to tell them.
Step 2: Proclamation
“It is this aspect that from the start gave us the word catechesis – coming from the Greek word meaning to reecho, to resound the Word of God.” (Kelly, 141).
Catechists know that students will not remember everything that they will set out to teach them. In fact if we can get them to remember, even one fact, one important lesson from the day, a teacher has been successful. The second step of the ecclesial method is to proclaim the Word of God to your students. The proclamation should be rooted in the truths of the faith. It should be simple, and encompass the whole of your teaching. Let’s say you are teaching an RCIA group about the Eucharist. What is most important? What do you want them to leave knowing, if nothing else? “The Eucharist is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Jesus, the Father’s ultimate gift of love. We must eat his flesh and drink his blood if we are to live forever.” Lead up to and draw back to your proclamation. Never leave it entirely. Repeat it, write it on the board, see if your students can say it back to you. Advertisers try to get the name of their product into a commercial no less than 7 times. See if you can accomplish the same for your students.
Step 3: Explanation
“In the third step, in a certain sense, the catechists’ personal creativity is now more challenged and evoked so that they may help participants come to a deeper personal understanding and assimilation of the message of faith. This explanation that will be made will, of course, be always in the light of the Church’s understanding of the Word, but the catechist is challenged to find appropriate ways to “inculturate” this message so that it can be adapted to diverse groups to whom it is addressed.” (Kelly, 143)
This is the step of the ecclesial method for direct systematic delivery, and yet, as we focused on before, organic delivery. The explanation should always come back to God. What does my doctrine have to do with Jesus is a good question to ask. Prepare for this step, which can be the longest step, but doesn’t have to be, by looking up all relevant scriptural and catechism texts. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the “sure norm” for teaching the faith, use it. Know it as well as you know scripture (assuming of course that you know scripture well, and if you don’t, well, what is stopping you?). Consider the key terms that your students may not know yet and be sure to explain them. Don’t ever let your delivery of doctrine simply be a lecture. Teach to various intelligences. Employ the use of visual aids (movies, art), audio aids (music), and other material (get them to move around) as often as you can when teaching. The more outrageous it is, the more memorable it is, but don’t take that too far of course. Consider St. John Bosco to be your guide in this (resource: The Educational Philosophy of St. John Bosco). Put together a presentation that will capture the attention of your students, and teach them about the doctrine, while giving them an opportunity for a change of heart in their own lives.
Step 4: Application
“In biblical and ecclesial terms, what is hoped for as a result of catechesis is a life of “witness” and service.” In the fourth step of catechesis , as I envision it, the focus is on having the truth and knowledge acquired in the prior steps now bear fruit. This involves a deeper level of conversion in the person being catechized and a commitment to expressing this conversion in his or her lifestyle.” (Kelly 145)
Why are your students in your classroom? The answer should have something with their conversion. This step in the process of the ecclesial method should give them that opportunity, and can come in a variety of ways. In RCIA it could be small group time where they can share questions and answer some presented to them about their journey to the Catholic faith. In a high school setting, it could mean personal reflection and journaling time set to quite music. Use creativity to find an appropriate application. Some people have used ‘mock’ confessions to help prepare students for first confession. Some people have used the stations of the cross with pictures of the Passion of the Christ to teach about His mercy. The ideas are endless.
Step 5: Celebration
“If the catechetical process begins, as I have suggested, in prayerful attentiveness and openness to the Word of God, I believe that it must also end in a prayerful gratitude and praise to God.” (Kelly, 146)
If you begin with a liturgy of the Word, end with a song of praise. If you begin with a song, end with a prayer. Read scripture together. What you can employ here, now that you have given your students the opportunity for conversion in your application step, will allow them to turn again back to God. It will help make this a concrete time set apart for God. Visit our forums and discuss other ways to end in a place of gratitude depending on who you are teaching.
“The cross should be one of the major symbols we use in our catechetical celebrations: ‘May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Gal 6:14).” (Kelly 147)
May what we bring to our students be Jesus. May they dwell in Jesus. May they learn to love Jesus even more. May they call on the name of Jesus. May they find a Savior, King, Lord, Brother, and God in Him. May they learn to decrease as He increases in their lives. May Jesus Christ live in our students, in you, and in me. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
This is a method that can be used in Religious Education Programs that meet for an hour or an hour and a half as well as RICA programs. It provides a great way to truly hand on the faith and make it meaningful for individuals as well as fostering conversion. I highly recommend it!
What Method have you found fruitful?