This article explores chapters 3-4 of the Directory for Catechesis.
One could liken chapters three (The Catechist) and four (The Formation of Catechists) of the new Directory for Catechesis to a meditation on windows and how they are made.
Identity and Vocation of the Catechist
In the early Church, those who followed the Way were often called “saints.” This designation did not refer to the canonized (or even “canonizable”), but to the fact that, as Joseph Ratzinger points out, all of the faithful were called “to use their experience of the risen Lord to become a point of reference for others that could bring them into contact with Jesus’ vision of the living God.” Ratzinger applies the image to the present, saying that believers should, “in all their weaknesses and difficulties, be windows for the light of the living God.”
Like a window, which offers a particular glimpse of light outside, the catechist facilitates a unique encounter with his or her own source of light. The catechist is a reference point, a witness to the Tradition of the Church and “a mediator who facilitates the incorporation of new disciples of Christ into his ecclesial body” (DC 112).
This means, of course, that the catechist participates in a mission that he or she did not initiate. As the Directory says, the catechist is “a facilitator of an experience of faith of which he is not in charge” (DC 148). Instead, the catechist is empowered by the Holy Spirit, “the true protagonist of all authentic catechesis,” and participates in Jesus’ mission “of introducing disciples into his filial relationship with the Father” (DC 112). Catechesis is, above all, what Benedict XVI calls a theandric activity. This is to say it is “made by God, but with our involvement and implying our being, all our activity.” The True Catechist—and this is a critical point—is Jesus Christ. The window itself is not the source of light, but that which mediates the entry of the light into the room. Similarly, the human catechist participates in the mission of the light by mediating its presence today. The catechist fosters an encounter with Jesus Christ, the One who initiates this encounter.
According to paragraph 113 of the Directory, the catechist is:
- A witness of faith and a sign for others of the credibility of Christianity through the testimony of his or her life. The catechist also serves as a keeper of the memory of God who safeguards the “memory of God’s history with humanity.”
- One who “introduces others to the mystery of God, revealed in the paschal mystery of Christ” by acting as both a teacher and a mystagogue. As a teacher, the catechist transmits the content of the faith. As a mystagogue, the catechist leads others in the mystery of faith by “introducing them to the various dimensions of Christian life.”
- An educator who is “an expert in humanity” and skilled in the art of accompaniment.
In the early Church, every Christian was to be a saint. That call remains, and it aligns with the catechetical call for all of the faithful. Through Baptism and Confirmation, the Directory says, "Christians are incorporated into Christ and participate in his office as priest, prophet, and king; they are witnesses to the Gospel, proclaiming it by word and example of Christian life” (DC 110). In this way, “the whole Christian community is responsible for the ministry of catechesis” (DC 111). We might think of it as something of a universal call to catechesis—a call for all the baptized to witness and to proclaim, a call for “the transmission of faith and for the task of initiating" (DC 112).
Catechists in the Body of Christ
While windows have something of a “universal call,” namely, the mediation of light, it is not the case that one window is exactly the same as the next. Windows vary based upon their function for a space, though their fundamental purpose is the same. Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium emphasizes the universal call to holiness for all the faithful, regardless of rank or status, while making the point that the response to the call takes on a certain uniqueness based upon one’s state in life. While all the faithful are called to catechize, the Directory specifies precisely how that call is to be answered according to one’s “particular condition in the Church: ordained ministers, consecrated persons, lay faithful” (DC 111). These distinctions of catechetical roles allow for a rich flood of the light of Christ in the Church and the world.