A number of months ago, I wrote a Herald of Hope article presenting an overview of the new Directory for Catechesis issued by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization (“New Directory for Catechesis Connects Faith Formation with Evangelization,” Catholic Herald, Feb. 7, 2021). The Directory for Catechesis lays out the guidelines for carrying out the teaching of the faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an official text of the Church’s Magisterium, which brings together in precise form a synthesis of the salvific truths expressing the common faith to the people of God. It is an indispensable reference for catechesis and for composing local catechisms. The Directory for Catechesis is a complementary work, which provides a methodology for catechesis.
The new Directory points out that there is a strong link between evangelization and catechesis. It emphasizes the call of every baptized person to find ways to communicate the faith. The Directory quotes the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) from the Second Vatican Council: “In the building up of Christ’s Body, various members and functions have their part to play. There is only one Spirit who, according to the richness and needs of the ministries, gives his different gifts for the welfare of the Church.” (Lumen Gentium, 7) The whole Christian community is responsible for faith formation – ordained ministers, consecrated persons and the lay faithful.
This article focuses on Part 1, Chapter III of the Directory, titled “The Catechist.” This chapter describes Catholic faith formation in terms of many moving parts and focuses on the various individuals who play a role in catechesis: bishops, priests, deacons, persons in the consecrated life and lay catechists.
Chapter III begins by describing the vocation and identity of the catechist. The catechist has a calling from God, and accepting that call in faith empowers the catechist for the transmission of the faith and initiating others into the Christian life. The Catechist participates in Jesus’ mission of calling disciples into relationship with the Father. The Holy Spirit gives efficacy to the catechetical activity.
The catechist gives witness to the living tradition of the faith and acts as a mediator, bringing people into the Body of Christ. The catechist bears witness to new life through living the Gospel and encountering the person of Jesus through the Word of God, the Sacraments, prayer and service. The role of the catechist is to communicate knowledge of Christ, unveiling the mystery of salvation found in the deposit of faith and in liturgy. In the process of faith formation, the catechist accompanies others in their faith journey and helps them mature in the Christian life.
The local bishop is the primary catechist within his diocese. He is responsible for developing a plan of catechesis that meets the needs of his people. He ensures effective organization of catechesis within his diocese and the means to achieve it. The bishop also pays close attention to the texts and materials that catechists use in faith formation programs.
The parish priest is the bishop’s co-worker as an educator in the faith, and within the parish community, he is the first catechist. His role is to be dedicated to the faith formation of the faithful and to elicit a spirit of responsibility for catechesis within the community, helping others to discern their vocation to this ministry and showing gratitude for the service offered by catechists. The parish priest integrates catechesis into the pastoral plan of the community and ensures a link between faith formation programs in the parish and the diocesan pastoral plan. He must also see that the catechists receive the formation that they need to carry out their ministry.
Highlighting the particular role of service that defines the diaconate, the Directory states that the role of the deacon is to tend to faith formation in the life of charity and family life. Deacons are in a unique position to be able to tend to faith formation in prisons, among the sick and elderly, with at-risk youths and immigrants.
Consecrated women and men have a special role to play in faith formation because of their witness value. Because of their dedication to living the radical nature of the Gospel, they carry out faith formation in the light of their particular charisms. Their way of catechesis is interconnected with their particular consecrated way of life.
The Directory states: “The laity, in bearing witness to the Gospel in different contexts, have the opportunity to give a Christian interpretation to the realities of life, speak of Christ and of Christian values, to present the reasons for their choices.” (Directory for Catechesis, p. 79.) Some of the baptized feel called by God to be catechists in a more formal sense of the word, in structured programs within the Church, such as parish faith formation programs. This personal calling and a living relationship with Jesus Christ drive the activities of the catechists. Lay catechists, carrying out faith formation, are participating in a mission from the Church, in collaboration with the bishops and the priests.
Along with describing the unique role of lay catechists, this section speaks about the helping role of particular individuals in the process of faith formation – parents, godparents and grandparents. All can and should be active participants in catechesis. The Directory states: “Believing parents, with their daily example of life, have the most effective capacity to transmit the beauty of the Christian faith to their children.” (Directory, p. 81) Godfathers and godmothers are co-workers with the parents in faith formation. Their task is to show their godchildren how to practice Gospel values and to help them progress in their baptismal life. Grandparents play a valuable role in faith formation because of the time they are able to dedicate to their grandchildren. They are in a good position to encourage their grandchildren in the ways of faith.
Chapter III of the Directory concludes with a recognition of the essential and indispensable role of women in the ministry of catechesis, and the great contribution that women make to faith formation. At the same time, this section points out that both female and male presences in catechetical programs are essential for healthy spiritual growth.
The Directory sees catechesis as a ministry, a calling from God and a mission of the Church. It is a collaborative ministry that involves all of the faithful. I highly recommend the Directory for Catechesis to pastors, directors of faith formation and anyone engaged in catechesis. It is available in both English and Spanish. (Directory for Catechesis. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Washington, D.C., 2020.)
(I based this article on a presentation I made to the Order of Catechists of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on June 1, 2021.)