An Invitation to a Faithful, Dynamic Renewal of Catechesis

Authored by Jem Sullivan in Issue #7.1 of The Catechetical Review

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This article explores chapters 1-2 of the new Directory for Catechesis. 

Perugino's Ascension paintingThe publication of a Directory for Catechesis by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization could not have arrived at a more providential moment as the universal Church seeks a renewal of Christian faith in local churches struggling through the effects of a global pandemic. In a perfect synthesis of old and new elements, this catechetical document is addressed primarily to those engaged in catechetical ministry, namely Bishops, pastors, catechists, parents, and teachers of faith. This audience is invited to reflect on the nature, purpose, tasks, content, methods, and sources of catechesis in a Church that exists in “a permanent state of mission.” As the preface notes, the three major parts of this Directory are divided across twelve chapters, and are inspired by two papal phrases: “The Church exists to evangelize” (Pope St. Paul VI) and “I am a mission” (Pope Francis).   

This article will discuss major themes in the first two chapters of the Directory for Catechesis, namely “Revelation and Its Transmission,” and “The Identity of Catechesis.”[1]  A catechist will find in these introductory chapters foundational theological and pastoral principles to ground and to guide catechetical ministry at the service of the evangelizing mission of the Church.

Revelation: The Foundation of Catechesis

Part One of the Directory for Catechesis is aptly titled “Catechesis in the Church’s Mission of Evangelization.” Within this overarching framework the focus of the first chapter on “Revelation and Its Transmission” invites the question: why begin with revelation?

The ultimate foundation of all that the Church is and does, notes the Directory, is the fact of divine revelation. For, “the novelty of the Christian message does not consist in an idea but in a fact: God has revealed himself” (DC 13).

From the very beginning of creation, the loving plan of God, who is love, manifests a divine desire to restore the created order to the high vocation and dignity of communion with God. Revelation originates in divine love, unfolds in a dialogue of salvation, and is directed to transformative communion—divine and human. Divine revelation is the firm theological ground on which evangelization and catechesis stands, as affirmed in previous catechetical directories.

Jesus Christ is the perfect fulfillment of the plan of divine revelation. For, “revelation is an initiative of God’s love, and is directed toward communion . . . Jesus perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his whole work of making himself present and manifesting himself: through his words and deeds, his signs and wonders, but especially through his death and glorious resurrection from the dead and final sending of the Spirit of truth” (DC 12). Radiating from the center of every catechetical activity is the belief that “Jesus Christ, with his life, is the fullness of revelation: he is the complete manifestation of God‘s mercy, and at the same time of the call to love that is in the heart of humanity” (DC 15).

The Directory makes clear that the proclamation of the Gospel, at the core of all evangelizing and catechetical activity, is rooted in the fact of revelation that invites a person into a radically new way of life centered on Jesus Christ. “Precisely because it involves a new life—life without sin, life as his children, life in abundance, eternal life—this proclamation is beautiful” (DC 13).

The Directory identifies four dimensions of the Christian proclamation that manifest this divine plan. First, we encounter a mystery of divine love—a revelation of the intimate truth of God as Trinity and of humanity’s vocation to new life in Jesus Christ. Second, the offer of salvation is addressed to all people through the Paschal mystery of Jesus Christ and the gift of God’s grace and mercy, which implies liberation from evil, sin, and death. Third, the definitive call to reunite scattered humanity into the community of the Church, bringing about communion with God and neighbor in the here and now. And fourth, a proclamation that guides our pilgrim journey to its eschatological fulfilment in Jesus Christ at the end of time (DC 14).

Revelation, Its Transmission, and the Response of Faith

Divine Revelation does not exist for itself or for a select few. Rather, God’s revealing love floods the created world and is addressed to all people in and through various modes and processes of transmission, which are safeguarded by the living Magisterium of the Church.

The Directory reiterates the Church’s perennial teaching when it affirms that God’s self-communication is transmitted in two forms, namely Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. Revelation is conveyed “through the living transmission of the Word of God (also simply called Tradition) and through Sacred Scripture which is the same proclamation of salvation in written form. Therefore Tradition and Sacred Scripture are firmly united and interconnected, they stem from the same source, the Revelation of Jesus Christ” (DC 25).

All pastoral activities in evangelization and catechesis are understood as the Church’s response to Jesus’ call to Go . . . and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:19–20).

Jesus’ missionary mandate is accompanied by the gift of the Holy Spirit, soul of the Church’s evangelizing and catechizing efforts. From Jesus’ act of sending his disciples on mission comes Gospel words that make up the lexicon of an evangelist and catechist: proclaim, make disciples, witness, baptize and teach, remember, and love one another. After Pentecost, evangelization as a “rich, complex and dynamic reality”[2] takes shape in the early moments of the Church’s life as witness and proclamation, Word and sacrament, interior conversion of heart, and social and cultural transformation in the light of the Gospel.

Evangelization is characterized as “a dynamic proclamation . . . in which there is a close connection between the recognition of God‘s action in the heart of every person, the primacy of the Holy Spirit, and the universal openness to every person” (DC 16).

The Directory goes on to reflect on the nature and dimensions of faith. Here we find a personalist and holistic approach to Christian faith understood, first of all, [as] the welcoming of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ, sincere adherence to his person, and the free decision to follow him” (DC 18). Faith is a personal and multifaceted response to a personal, loving God who reveals.

In imitation of the Mother of God, Mary’s faith is seen as a personal “yes to Jesus Christ (that) contains two dimensions: trustful abandonment to God (fides qua) and loving assent to all that He has revealed to us (fides quae).” Those who are evangelized and catechized are invited to “believe that,” what Jesus says is true, to “believe Jesus” by accepting his word, and to “believe in” Jesus “by personally welcoming him into our lives and journeying toward him, clinging to him in love and following in his footsteps along the way, on a dynamic journey that lasts a whole lifetime”(DC 18).

The New Evangelization: Nature and Stages

The first chapter of the Directory concludes with an extended reflection on the nature of evangelization. It identifies three accents that permeate all catechetical activities in the new evangelization: catechesis in a “missionary going forth, ” catechesis under the sign of mercy, and catechesis as a “laboratory of dialogue” (DC 48–54).

Echoing Pope St. Paul VI’s defining words, the Directory notes that “the mandate to evangelize all people constitutes the essential mission of the church . . . [for] evangelizing is, in fact, the grace and vocation proper to the church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize.”[3] At the same time, the Church always “begins by being evangelized herself . . . she has a constant need of being evangelized, if she wishes to retain her freshness, vigor and strength in order to proclaim the Gospel” (DC 28).

Various stages, moments, and phases of evangelization are identified as aspects of an unfolding process with catechesis as a remarkable moment within it (DC 31–37). A first stage is missionary activity ad gentes embodied in witness, first proclamation, and a time of inquiry and maturation. Then a period of catechesis of Christian initiation that offers a basic, essential, organic, systematic, and integral formation in faith. This is followed by pastoral action and ongoing formation in the Christian life through knowledge of Sacred Scripture, liturgical catechesis and the experience of the sacraments, and charitable witness. Each stage of evangelization corresponds to stages and periods of the catechumenate that carry out the ministry of the Word of God to which all are invited and engaged (DC 66–74).

The Directory highlights the imperative to evangelize culture so as to inculturate the Gospel. It acknowledges that “the relationship between Gospel and culture has always posed a challenge to the life of the Church. Her task is to guard faithfully the deposit of faith, but at the same time, ‘it is necessary that the sure and immutable doctrine, which must be given the assent of faith, be explored and presented according to the needs of our time.’”[4] The Directory emphasizes that in “the current situation marked by a great distance between faith and culture, it is urgent to rethink the work of evangelization with new categories and new languages that may serve to emphasize its missionary dimension” (DC 44).

The Ecclesial Act of Kerygmatic Catechesis with Jesus Christ as Center

The focus of chapter two is the identity, nature, goals, tasks, and sources of the ecclesial act of catechesis as a privileged stage in the process of evangelization. Here, the Directory highlights the intimate relationship between evangelization, kerygma, and catechesis as it draws on a key theme in the Synod on the New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith and Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.

Catechists are to give qualitative priority to an evangelizing catechesis in which the kerygma is the first, repeated, and main announcement of catechesis, in one form or another, to all ages and in all stages and moments. This represents a deepening of our understanding of the nature of catechesis that cannot be limited to “a time of growth in faith” but rather a process that “contributes to generating faith itself and allows the discovery of its greatness and credibility” (DC 57). As the document states, “this demand to which the Church must respond at the present time brings into focus the need for a catechesis that in a consistent way can be called kerygmatic, meaning a catechesis that is an entering more deeply into the kerygma.” Within this fresh perspective, “catechesis . . . is called to be in the first place a proclamation of the faith [that is] the essential dimension of every moment of catechesis” (DC 57).

The Directory then reflects on the catechumenate as a source of inspiration for catechesis in three aspects: a catechumenate in the strict sense for the unbaptized child, young adult or adult; a catechumenate for those seeking full sacramental initiation; and a catechesis of catechumenal inspiration that takes on its style and formative dynamism. Such a catechesis is characterized as Paschal, initiatory, liturgical, ritual, symbolic, communal, and marked by ongoing conversion and witness and the progression of a formative experience of faith (DC 61–65).

The tasks of catechesis are identified as: leading to knowledge of the faith, initiating into the celebration of the Mystery, forming for life in Christ, teaching prayer, and introduction to community life. Formation in missionary discipleship permeates all five tasks of catechesis. Then the sources of catechesis are affirmed as: the Word of God in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the Magisterium, the liturgy, the testimony of the saints and martyrs, theology, Christian culture, and the “way of beauty” or the via pulchritudinis. Catechists will find in these sections a particularly rich source of inspiration and guidance for ministry.

The Directory stresses the close link between evangelization and catechesis that unites the Church’s faithful witness to the kerygma, to ongoing faith formation, to liturgical participation, to the moral life, and to growth in prayer within a community of believers. For the kerygma is “simultaneously an act of proclamation and the content of the proclamation itself . . . in the kerygma, the active figure is the Lord Jesus, who manifests himself in the testimony of the one who proclaims him” (DC 58).

“At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth,” wrote Saint John Paul II.[5] At the center of the new Directory for Catechesis stands the person of Jesus Christ, whose Incarnation, Life, Death and Resurrection ground the goals, tasks, and sources of catechesis of children, youth, and adults today.

Conclusion

The presentation of the new Directory for Catechesis occured three months after its approval on March 23, 2020, the liturgical memorial of the sixteenth-century saint Turibius of Mogrovejo, bishop and model catechist. In the intervening time, between its approval and its publication, Catholics around the world endure the ongoing, unprecedented, and devastating effects of a global pandemic. In a post-pandemic world, this catechetical directory can serve as a trusted guide for a renewed proclamation of the Gospel unfolding in the new evangelization and in that one remarkable moment within it, that is, the Church’s ministry of catechesis. 

Jem Sullivan, Ph.D. teaches Catechetics in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. She hosted a podcast series on the new Directory for Catechesis which is viewable at https://trs.catholic.edu/social-media/podcast.html.

Notes


[1] Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Directory for Catechesis (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2020), 11–109. Hereafter cited parenthetically as DC followed by paragraph number.

[2] Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi (December 8, 1975), no. 17.

[3] Ibid., no. 14.

[4] DC 44, quoting Pope John XXIII, Address on the Opening of the Vatican II Ecumenical Council (Oct. 11, 1962).

[5] Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendae (October 16, 1979), no. 5.

This article originally appeared on pages 6-8 of the printed edition.

Ascenion by Pietro Perugino public domain image at WikiMedia.org.


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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