Editor's Reflections: Kerygmatic Catechesis and the New Directory

Authored by Dr. James Pauley in Issue #7.1 of The Catechetical Review

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Painting: Jesus Teaches the People by the Sea The much-anticipated Directory for Catechesis is finally here! So many of us involved in the work of catechetical renewal have eagerly awaited its publication. This directory is the third of its kind, following 1971 and 1997 directories that each proposed a vision for catechesis intended to prepare Catholics to live in the modern world as well-formed, mission-oriented disciples of Jesus. We here at Franciscan University are enthusiastically studying its vision and priorities as it will be formative for us moving forward. This issue of our journal is dedicated to the Directory for Catechesis and features articles written by leading scholars and practitioners unpacking each of its chapters. 

We could begin with a few important questions: Why do we need a new directory? How has the cultural situation changed in the last twenty-three years so that a refocusing of our catechetical mission has become necessary?  

To answer these questions, we need only consider the increasingly pluralistic world in which we live and how it both encourages and challenges Catholic life. We are also living in a time when many believe science and faith to be in an adversarial relationship, rather than understanding their intrinsic complementarity. Further, we have witnessed the rise of a nearly ubiquitous digital culture, containing much promise but also real obstacles to living life in an authentically human way. These are three examples of important societal changes in this third millennium, developments that deeply impact our catechetical work. Each of these is carefully addressed in the new Directory.  

But when it comes to the primary reason why the Directory for Catechesis was written, the Directory itself roots its publication in today’s tremendous need for a kerygmatic approach to catechesis (see DC p. 5). Tracing its lineage to the work of Austrian Jesuit Josef A. Jungmann in the early twentieth century, the movement towards a kerygmatic catechesis puts the proclamation of the core Gospel message—the good news of our redemption through Christ and the need for repentance and conversion—at the center of catechesis as its animating principle. Decades later, this conviction was authoritatively adopted into the magisterial vision for catechesis. In 1979, for example, St. John Paul II explained in Catechesi Tradendae that “the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity” (5). In 1992, the Catechism of the Catholic Church taught that, in the communication of Christian doctrine, “the love of the Lord must always be made accessible” (25). The 1997 General Directory for Catechesis put it this way: “the fundamental task of catechesis is to present Christ and everything in relation to him” (98). And now, quoting Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium no. 164, the new Directory tells us: 

…this first proclamation is called “first” not because it exists at the beginning and can then be forgotten or replaced by other more important things. It is first in a qualitative sense because it is the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment. (DC, p. 5) 

Why is this recovery of a kerygmatic approach to catechesis so important that it necessitates a new directory? We don’t need to look far to see how many Catholics are falling away from sacramental practice, catechetical formation, and a Catholic way of seeing natural and supernatural reality. In the pages of the Directory, the Church is telling us of the crucial response that catechists can make to this contemporary exodus: Proclaim Christ crucified and risen from the dead! Make the love of Jesus accessible to them! Propose the Christian life as you teach the content of the faith! Teach in a way that makes disciples who are capable of making disciples! 

The recovery of the kerygmatic approach has been integral to Franciscan University’s catechetical vision since the founding of the Office of Catechetics by Prof. Barbara Morgan in the mid-1990s. So many of the graduates of our academic programs and outreach initiatives have significant experience teaching kerygmatically, and are prepared to be leaders in this twenty-first-century kerygmatic renewal movement.  

For each of us serving as a catechist or Catholic educator, may our reading of the new Directory deepen our conviction that Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6), and that being a Catholic means that we must truly “repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15).  

Dr. James Pauley is Professor of Theology and Catechetics and author of two books focused on the renewal of catechesis: An Evangelizing Catechesis: Teaching from Your Encounter with Christ (Our Sunday Visitor, 2020) and Liturgical Catechesis in the 21st Century: A School of Discipleship (Liturgy Training Publications, 2017). 

This article originally appeared on page 5 of the printed edition.

"Jesus Teaches the People by the Sea" by James Tissot, courtesy of Brooklyn Museum.

This article is from The Catechetical Review (Online Edition ISSN 2379-6324) and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of The Catechetical Review by contacting editor@catechetics.com

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