7 “Catechesis is intimately bound up with the whole of the Church’s life. Not only her geographical extension and numerical increase, but even more her inner growth and correspondence with God’s plan depend essentially on catechesis.”10
Paragraph 7 is something of a counterbalance to the previous one, which had gone to some lengths to separate catechetical ministry from other works of the Church, such as preaching. The description of catechesis as “intimately bound with the whole of the Church’s life” is a rather powerful endorsement, both of the process and, by implication, the entire Catechism. It occurs to me that one aspect of catechesis rarely described as such is formation to Holy Orders. It is a bit ironic that we have little difficulty discussing catechetics and formation in nearly every other aspect of Church life—for sacraments of initiation, Penance, classroom teaching and the like—but the use of the term catechesis for future ordinands is not at all common. There is nothing in paragraph 7 to prohibit such terminology, and one wonders if the entire enterprise of catechetics would be enhanced by its connection to the formation of priests.
Paragraph 7 makes the first concrete mention of the catechist as a front line minister for the enlargement of the Church, which is distinct from the role of educating those already within the fold. We saw in para. 6 that there was some effort to distinguish catechists who worked in first world settings—with clerics in the forefront—from catechists in third world settings who function of necessity as community leaders and de facto ministers of daily Church life. This paragraph does not make such a distinction, with its reference to catechetical involvement in the “geographical extension and numerical increase” of the Church.
Interestingly, this paragraph gives a hint of the aging of the Catechism, or at least of its overview of those who would use it. Given that the Catechism was released in 1993, it is not unreasonable to assume that this optimistic phrasing about numerical and geographic expansion was probably first drafted at least 25 years ago, maybe more. While the United States is hardly the world, it is a significant bell weather in the western Catholic world. Just yesterday our diocesan faith formation director posted online the highlights of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, which concluded its annual convention in Buffalo last week. He noted that a major concern was the deteriorating funding situation of the Church across the country. To quote him, “I was struck by how much we are impacted by the stretching of our resources (staffing, programming, and funding) as everyone is being asked to do more with less (church leaders, publishers, and academics alike).” In short, the language of “numerical increase” is actually the reverse of what catechists actually experience in 2015.
Paragraph 7 goes on to talk about the role of catechesis in the “inner growth” and “correspondence with God’s plan.” In fact, catechesis is presented here as essentially carrying this mission. I suspect this may be a touch of magisterial hyperbole, but it does raise an interesting question: if this is the ultimate mission of catechetics, do we need to expand our understanding of catechesis to include the Catholic academic community? If I am a tenured theology professor at Gonzaga or Notre Dame, am I in fact part of the Church catechizing mission as described in this paragraph? The obvious answer, of course, is yes; in practice this has not been the general case, dating back at least to 1968 when a clear majority of Catholic moralists shared great concern about the academic underpinnings of the encyclical Humanae Vitae on artificial birth control. The ongoing tension between academic freedom and Church mission is subject matter for many a day’s reflections. For our purposes today, however, it is worth noting that the Catechism has precious few footnotes from post-Enlightenment Catholic sources; in fact, I have not seen any.
Something to bear in mind, too, is the time conditioned nature of this Catechism, or of any catechism, for that matter, as there have been many over history. To understand and interpret its teachings, it would be wise to keep in mind the 1990 world view of John Paul II and those who pushed for a contemporary world catechism. No one can ever accuse John Paul II of anti-intellectualism; yet it is no secret that a fair amount of the Catechism’s momentum came from a desire to clarify the status of religious teaching after the paradigm shift of Vatican II and a frenetic generation of academic and pastoral exploration. Whether those needs of clarification and restoration are necessary in 2015 is an open question; it is worth noting that John Paul himself made his call for a new evangelization after the publication of the Catechism.
6 While not being formally identified with them, catechesis is built on a certain number of elements of the Church’s pastoral mission which have a catechetical aspect, that prepare for catechesis, or spring from it. They are: the initial proclamation of the Gospel or missionary preaching to arouse faith; examination of the reasons for belief; experience of Christian living; celebration of the sacraments; integration into the ecclesial community; and apostolic and missionary witness.
Paragraph 6 continues a string of introductory instructions drawn from the 1979 Catechesi tradendae of John Paul II. Here the Catechism makes a technical distinction between catechesis per se and other works of the Church, without losing an intimate connection between them. The paragraph cites a sequence of distinct ministries of the Church: (1) initial proclamation of the Gospel or missionary preaching to arouse faith; (2) examinations of the reasons for belief; (3) experience of Christian living; (4) celebration of the Sacraments; (5) integration into the ecclesial community’ and (6) apostolic and missionary witness.
Even by the standards of Roman documents, this is a peculiar paragraph, particularly so early in the Catechism. Opening paragraphs till now have generally painted a broad landscape of the ministry of catechesis. Here there is an almost clumsy negation, “while not being formally identified with them….” At first glance this appears to be a delineation of responsibilities between lay catechists and those in Sacred Orders, and this may be a significant consideration. However, some of the ministries cited in para. 6 are not those generally associated with catechetical personnel in the United States, such as initial proclamation of the Gospel or missionary preaching to arouse faith. I am not aware of confusion between catechists teaching and catechist preaching at the present time.
What we may see here are hints of multiple understandings of catechetics. In fact, at roughly the time of the release of the Catechism itself, The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples released Guide for Catechists (1993). This congregation deals with the missionary work of the Church, where the numbers of priests are few and dependence upon lay leadership is high. (This Congregation might be better known by its old name, Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith.)
The Guide for Catechists was itself inspired by a slightly more technical encyclical of Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, issued December 7, 1990, on the entire picture of missionary activity. The Guide for Catechists (1993) appears to be a later elaboration of the ministry of catechist. I have provided links for both documents, and I have read Guide for Catechists for today’s blog (I have no life anymore.) What emerges from GC is a church situation quite different from our own, where catechists serve as community leaders in the absence of priests. In fact, GC provides a rather detailed look at the ministry of the catechist in missionary lands:
“The tasks entrusted to them are multiple: preaching to non-Christians; catechizing catechumens and those already baptized; leading community prayer, especially at the Sunday liturgy in the absence of a priest; helping the sick and presiding at funerals; training other catechists in special centers or guiding volunteer catechists in their work; taking charge of pastoral initiatives and organizing parish functions; helping the poor and working for human development and justice. This type of catechist is more common in places where parishes cover a large area with scattered communities far from the centre, or where, because of a shortage of clergy, parish priests select lay leaders to help them.”
I was reminded here of discussion from Vatican II of the restoration of the permanent diaconate in missionary lands; this was certainly a hope, but one that remains yet to be fulfilled. In GC the pope discusses the need for quality training of catechists who are for all practical purposes local church leaders. As luck would have it, though, I am Facebook friends with an old seminarian friend who has given much of his adult life as a catechist and lay minister in Honduras. He has been called by his local diocese for the order of diaconate. I am going to coax him into adding something useful to our discussion (and perhaps correct my errors.)
So it would seem that at the time of composition of the Catechism, it was felt best to address catechesis more to the needs of “first world concerns” and bracket, so to speak, the special circumstances of catechists serving under the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in third world settings. I do not want to imply that the concerns of both types of catechists do not significantly overlap, but in the United States over the past two decades the bishops have enforced rules against lay and religious preaching, which legal or not, was not uncommon in the 1960’s and 1970’s in small U.S. faith groups, campus ministries, religious houses, etc.
5 “Catechesis is an education in the faith of children, young people, and adults which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life.”8
I noted last week that these opening paragraphs depend heavily upon Pope John Paul II’s 1979 document, Catechesi tradendae. In fact CT will be the only cited source for paragraphs five through ten. Thus, I felt it was necessary to take a look at this 1979 document, given its place of prominence in the opening of the Catechism.
I am grateful to J. Michael Miller’s The Post-Synodal Exhortations of John Paul II, of which a considerable portion of his analysis of CT is available free to the reader at the book’s site. Miller provides a very useful summary of the Church’s situation vis-à-vis catechesis and religious education. Indeed, it is rather intriguing.
Vatican II, given its lofty goals of reorienting the Church’s mission in the modern post-Enlightenment era, did not address the issue of catechetics except in the most general ways. It did, however, commission further study of the issue as it would on numerous other issues of Church life, including Liturgy and Canon Law, to name two. The first Vatican Document after the Council to address religious formation was the General Catechetical Directory of 1971. The GCD (superseded by a 1997 document to follow) was something of a housekeeping document until more substantive attention could be brought to bear on the subject.
Miller points out that during and after Vatican II the field of catechetics was divided in several ideological directions. The technical terms for the different emphases were orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Orthodoxy was and is emphasis upon the doctrinal statements of the Faith. An orthodox approach to religious education would highlight the intellectual experience of the creedal statements of the Church. Orthopraxis, on the other hand, featured emphasis upon deed and action. An orthopractic approach placed high emphasis upon human experience, gained through interactions with other believers and with the culture at large. Liberation theology is a particular brand of orthopraxis.
In 1977 a Synod of Bishops (206) met in Rome under the general heading, “Catechetics in Our Time.” Episcopal synods were still something of a new experience for the twentieth century; in the first millennium, however, they exercised significant teaching authority and issued binding legal determinations. A formal summary of this synod came forth, though in this era a synod’s findings were considered advisory to the pope. Thus, the synod bishops completed their work with the understanding that their deliberations would be promulgated by the pope in his own formal statement. Paul VI intended to issue a papal document on catechetics though he died in 1978. The same fate befell his successor, John Paul I.
Thus the task fell to John Paul II, who issued Catechesi tradendae in 1979 as an Apostolic Exhortation. Miller observes that the document was a significant departure from the usual papal style. CT cites Vatican II documents 20 times and the Sacred Scriptures a whopping 91 times, or two thirds of all footnoted citations. JP II expanded the identity of the catechist, stating that this ministry does not simply identify Jesus for its listeners, but makes possible an intimate relationship. Strong affirmation indeed.
The pope does not identify catechesis as synonymous with evangelization. He makes an interesting distinction, calling catechetics a deeper and more systematic presentation of the meaning of Christ. Put another way, catechetics aims at teaching a Christian to “think like Jesus.” This 1979 teaching finds its way into Para. 5 of the Catechism, where catechetics involves an “organic and systematic” handing on of the doctrinal life of the Church. This is clearly an emphasis upon orthodoxy over orthopraxis.
In CT the pope goes on to say, though, that catechists should never assume that students are in fact evangelized, an early recognition of the problem many parishes face today, the “drive-by” religious ed programs where parents have limited or zero practice of the Faith in the home. He also states the right of every Catholic to receive an excellent faith formation in his or her home parish, the opportunity to enter a full Christian life.
Needless to say, I have only skimmed the surface of Catechesi tradendae here (in fact, I just ordered a copy of the full document). But for study of the Catechism it is critical to understand the thinking the pope who championed the work and who presumably had a major hand in its composition.