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.