“Evangelization” is a term that we hear often in the Church today. What does that word mean? Evangelization is always about the proclamation of the life, teaching, Kingdom and mystery of Jesus, the Son of God. It leads to conversion through the power of the Holy Spirit. The fruits of evangelization are changed lives and a changed world.
Evangelization is distinct from catechesis, but the two are closely related. The word “catechesis” refers to religious education and faith formation of children, youth and adults.
Many of you are familiar with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, an official text of the Church’s Magisterium, which brings together a synthesis of the truths of our faith. It is an indispensable reference for faith formation and for composing local catechisms. However, it does not provide a methodology for catechesis.
The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization promulgated the new Directory of Catechesis on June 25, 2020. Pope Francis had approved this updated Directory on March 23, 2020. The Directory is the Church’s official guide for teaching the faith and it lays out the guidelines for carrying out the teaching of the faith.
This new edition of the Directory builds upon the General Catechetical Directory of 1971 and the General Catechetical Directory for Catechesis of 1997 and stands in continuity with these two documents, but with a new emphasis. The new Directory seeks to show the strong link between evangelization and catechesis. It emphasizes the call of each baptized person to find new ways to communicate the faith.
Pope St. John Paul II in his apostolic exhortation, On Catechesis in Our Time, wrote that while catechesis and evangelization are distinct, they are closely linked together and complement each other. Pope Benedict saw the importance of understanding catechesis in light of the new evangelization. Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, stressed the inseparable connection between evangelization and catechesis.
The new Directory for Catechesis consists of three parts divided over 12 chapters. Part 1 is “Catechesis in the Evangelizing Church;” Part 2 is “The Process of Catechesis;” and Part 3 is “Catechesis in Particular Churches.”
Part 1, “Catechesis in the Evangelizing Church,” presents the foundations of catechesis – the revelation of God and the transmission of the faith in the Church. The Directory describes the role of the catechist in terms of a special calling from God. When a person accepts the call in faith, his or her task is the transmission of the faith to others. To be witnesses of the faith, catechists must first receive thorough education and formation in the faith. Formation for catechists is a process of transformation of the person and internalization of the faith, emphasizing missionary spirituality, integrity and dedication as essential to the life of the catechist.
Part 2, “The Process of Catechesis,” emphasizes the importance of a model of profound and effective communication. The goal of revelation is the salvation of every person, realized through God’s pedagogy throughout the ages. Jesus is the model Teacher, who evoked a response of faith and obedience from those who heard him. Those, who encounter Jesus, encounter the joy of the Gospel with its power to liberate people from sin and sorrow. The Holy Spirit, who led the disciples to truth, inspires human beings to cling to what is truly good – communion with the Father and the Son. This divine pedagogy inspires the Church’s catechesis, expressing God’s gratuitous love, evoking conversion, recognizing the centrality of Christ, valuing communal prayer, and focusing on the universal destination of salvation. The Directory recognizes the need for a plurality of methods in order to catechize effectively. Catechesis involves encountering people in their own life situations. Different methods are used to address different groups, such as children, adolescents, adults, the elderly, and those marginalized in our society, including the disabled, the migrants, the incarcerated.
Part 3, “Catechesis in Particular Churches,” recognizes how the Church is incarnate in particular places and particular social and cultural situations. Catechesis must be engaged in the formation of a community of “missionary disciples” living with the experience of the risen Christ and living out new relationships generated by Christ. Parishes should provide creative catechesis adapted to the experience of the people. The Directory points out that Church movements and associations can add to the Church’s richness and have a great capacity to evangelize.
The Directory proposes a “kerygmatic catechesis.” The word “kerygma” means “proclamation” or “announcement,” and it refers to the apostolic proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ – the very core of our faith. While the word “kerygma” describes the first announcement of the Good News to the Jewish and Gentile communities in biblical times, the Directory states that the “kerygma” is first not simply chronologically, but first in the sense of being the principal proclamation. The Church must announce the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ continuously in different ways. Today’s kerygmatic catechesis takes its inspiration from the ancient practice of introducing the faith to unbaptized converts. This approach, applied to those, who are baptized but not necessarily evangelized, is a catechesis rooted in evangelization – bringing people into the practice of the Christian faith.
Catechesis in the context of evangelization involves trust in the Holy Spirit, knowledge of Jesus living in the Church, and understanding the Church as the natural setting for coming to maturity in the faith in diverse ways. The Directory proposes a catechesis that entails a spirit of “missionary discipleship,” meaning that faith formation leads to active participation in the Christian community. This catechesis is mission focused and rooted in the Gospel. The Directory emphasizes that we must pay close attention to the current social and cultural contexts, in which catechesis takes place.
I highly recommend the new Directory for Catechesis for pastors, directors of religious education, and anyone involved in the good work of faith formation. It is a valuable and useful guide for teaching the faith of the Catholic Church.
(This article is adapted from a presentation I gave via Zoom to the Archdiocesan Order of Catechists on Oct. 7, 2020. Please see Directory for Catechesis. Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2020.)