catechetical textbooks


We are in an exciting time in the life of the Church.  The ministry of Catechesis over the last 40 years has born much fruit.  Something however that I find a little troubling is that sometimes the 4 dimensions of the Christian life are not seen as an integrated whole or an organic unity in regards to the faith, but more as “individual” components or dimensions.

What are the 4 Dimensions?

St. Luke speaks about them in the Acts of the Apostles 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to the communal life, to the breaking of the break and prayers.”  These 4 dimensions have constantly been rooted in the teaching and practice of the Christian Life.  The General Directory for Catechesis paragraph 122 speaks of them this way: 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is structured around four fundamental dimensions of the Christian life: the profession of faith; the celebration of the liturgy; the morality of the Gospel; and prayer. These four dimensions spring from a single source, the Christian mystery. This is:

– the object of the faith (Part One);

– celebrated and communicated in liturgical actions (Part Two);

– present to enlighten and sustain the children of God in their actions (Part Three);

– the basis of our prayer, whose supreme expression is the Our Father, and the object of our supplication, praise and intercession (Part Four); (425)

Integrating the 4 Dimensions into your Catechetical Setting

The presentation of the faith is meant to be seen as a unified whole.  Catechesis to adults and children can accomplish this with some thought to being intentional in integrating these 4 dimensions in your catechetical settings.  Take for example the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Specifically, it is from the 2nd dimension (the Celebration of the Christian Mysteries), but all four dimensions should be integrated into this lesson.  Here is an brief example of how the 4 dimensions should be included in ones catechesis on the subject:

~ Open in prayer using appropriate Scripture’s regarding God’s forgiveness and mercy.  Also, praying the Our Father or taking a moment to reflect and praying the Confeitor could be a good way to begin.  (This incorporates the 4th dimension)

~ Proclaiming God’s call to repentance and His Gift of mercy.  Then explaining what Christ and His Church have continually taught about the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  (The 1st & 2nd dimensions are covered)

~ Helping the hearers to respond to what has been proclaimed and explained through discussion, reflection, examination of conscience and/or an activity.  (The  3rd and possibly the 4th dimension)

~ Concluding by encouraging and challenging the hearers to live out what they have heard and encountered.  Also, offering up through prayer and thanksgiving that which they have experienced. (each of the 4 dimensions are referred to)

Our Faith is a Symphony

The example above shows how when we catechize we can help others see that our faith as unified and whole not merely a lot of parts that somehow fit together or related to God.  A Symphony has 4 parts but it is a unified whole.  The 4 fundamental dimensions of the Christian Life are to be seen as a “Symphony of Faith” (Fidei Depositum).  Blessed John Paul II goes on to say in the previous mentioned Apostolic Exhortation that the Catechism of the Catholic Church provides for the Church a great exposition of the faith “showing carefully the content and wondrous harmony of the Catholic faith.”

It is therefore essential to catechize with the goal of bringing about an awareness of the faith being an organic unity which expresses the faith as a whole rather than mere parts.  One of the authors of Catechetical Foundations stated this well when saying:

The Organic Unity of the Faith is a principle that ensures that whatever aspect of the Faith is being presented by a catechist, that it is taught in relationship to the entire Deposit of Faith. In other words each article of faith is always seen within the organic whole in which it exists. No truth of the faith is an island. Lastly, the entire organic unity of the faith is Christocentric. Regardless of what is being taught (the Old Covenant, the Fall, Redemption, The Mass and Sacraments, the Church, etc.) everything finds its source and meaning in the Person of Christ.

Keep these 4 Dimensions in mind always as you catechize.  Doing so will ensure that the faith is seen in all it’s beauty and wonder as coming to know, love and serve God who has revealed Himself to us and seeks to unit Himself more fully “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13); and “so that He may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).

textbooks-imageIn my experience of over 14 years in parish ministry, I find that catechetical textbooks are relied on too much by catechists and as a result limiting their effectiveness in the classroom.  Textbooks can be a valuable resource but they are a tool not the heart of the lesson.  It is the catechist who should use it as a tool.  Since most religious education classes meet for an hour and a half or less it is difficult to cover what the catechist manual recommends. In addition, I find that the concepts in chapters are often too scattered trying to cover too much.

What has your religious education program done in order to help better equip catechists to not only teach the lessons laid out in each chapter, but to help them have clarity and focus in each lesson?

Something I’ve done in in the last two parishes I’ve worked at is to help give catechists a clear focus to their lessons. I use a version of the ecclesial method (you can find it in Msgr. Francis Kelly’s book, The Mystery We Proclaim to help replicate God’s pedagogy – trying to give the students an understanding of what God has revealed and how to respond to it).  I outlined the chapters bringing a more focused understanding of what should be covered (noting the most important points). I also provide ideas and additional activities that support the content that is being covered.

I would love to hear from anyone that is seeking ways to help catechists better use their textbook.


What are the Sources?

I read an article by Dr. Petroc Willey,editor of the Sower Magazine and deputy director of the Maryvale Institute. In the article entitled: Renewing Catechist Formation at the Sources, he speaks of the sources used in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as vital to forming catechists. The Sacred Scriptures should be the foundation of all catechesis. The Councils of the Church and the teachings of the Popes are also very important when forming catechists and offering catechist and adult formation in the parish. Other important sources to use when training catechists is the writings of the saints, especially the doctors of the Church. The last source that needs to be mentioned, and certainly not the least in the sources is the Divine Liturgy which is the source and the summit of the life of a Catholic Christian.

From the Heart of the Church

I believe this is very important to use the sources that the Church uses. Secondary sources like helpful handbooks or creative teaching ideas are good, but good only in reference to the primary sources that are ecclesial.  I find that there is a temptation to be so kid friendly in religious education programs that we only present secondary sources.  Granted it is not always easy to quote the Saints and quote sections of the Catechism, but that does not mean catechist should not be using those primary sources as they preparing to pass on the faith to their studnets.  

Dr. Willey said the following in this article I read from the Sower:  

Those leading catechetical formation are not themselves the sources. They know that they are instruments, guiding others to the living sources of the faith. Above all, they know that they are disciples – literally, learners – whose value lies in exemplifying the joy of learning and drinking from the wellspring of the sources. Their role is to grow less in order that those being formed can ‘grow in all things towards him, who is the Head, Christ’ (Eph 4:15). Catechetical growth which is renewed at the sources is always ecclesial, rather than narrowly personality-led; it is a matter of initiating others into the great Tradition of the Church where they can receive the deposit of grace and the deposit of faith.”

A Couple Questions

Do you find that the textbook your program uses actually quotes from the sources? 

How do you use the “living sources of the faith” in your catechesis?

Over the last number of years publishers have been “on the move” to get approval from the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for their particular textbook series.  Many publishers have made improvements to their previous lack of solid doctrinal content and outdated focus on “feelings” and “experience is what matters”, however there is still a long way to go.

In my 10+ years being in charge of choosing textbooks, there is still a gap that needs to be bridged. Here are 6 things textbooks need to do to improve meeting the needs (especially for students who go to a public school and meet only one time a week) of students in the Third Millennium.

1. Provide clear content. Many textbooks still lack a clarity of the faith. It presents what at times seems “Schizophrenic” because it’s a little of this and a little of that and not much of one clear idea followed through to the end.

2. Present a more unified method that authentically replicates God’s Pedagogy. It is important to teach as God has taught – gradually and in stages while always seeking our response. We need a method in textbooks that helps the catechists present solid teaching and practical application regarding the content given.  Our goal is for the students to respond to the content – who is Jesus Christ.

3. Less additional material throughout the lesson.  We like to give lots of choices but in this case less is more.  Less content allows students to be more focused and to grasp what is presented.

4. More help using technology. Weather this is how to use a certain video clip from a movie or how to use technology to draws students into the lesson.  Technology is becoming an essential and vital tool in ministry.

5. Less, step by step instruction on what to do next and more of a fluid presentation that lays out important content and useful ideas. It seems that the excessive “hand holding” keeps non-professional teachers (catechists) from transmitting the faith and more bound to the idea of “what do I do next”. This leads to a more dry presentation of the faith.

6. Involving parents. Publishers have assignments that students can do with their parents/families at home but we need to find ways to bring parents into the classroom more.

What are additional marks of a good textbook?  What are you finding is needed in the classroom today?