The Catechetical Review - Communicating Christ for a New Evangelization

From the Shepherds – A Half Century of Progress: The Church’s Ministry of Catechesis, Part Three

Authored by Monsignor John Pollard in Issue #8.3 of Catechetical Review

The General Catechetical Directory (1971) – Catechesi Tradendae (1979)

In this series of articles exploring a rather extraordinary fifty-year period in the Church’s catechetical mission, we have already considered the impact of the six International Catechetical Study Weeks. We now turn our attention to three pivotal catechetical documents promulgated at the level of the universal Church: the General Catechetical Directory(1971), and two apostolic exhortations, St. Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi (1974) and St. John Paul II’s Catechesi Tradendae (1979).

By the time the final report of the International Catechetical Study Week at Medellin, Columbia was published in 1969, the Holy See was well into the process of developing a catechetical directory for the universal Church. That process had been set in motion by the promulgation in 1965 of the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on the Pastoral Office of the Bishops in the Church Christus Dominus. It specifically prescribed that “directory should be composed concerning the catechetical instruction of the Christian people.”[1]

General Catechetical Directory (1971)

In June 1966, the task for implementing the conciliar mandate for a directory was given to the Congregation for the Clergy under the leadership of its prefect, Cardinal Jean Villot. At that time, the Congregation for the Clergy had the competence to oversee the Church’s catechetical ministry. (Pope Benedict XVI subsequently transferred that responsibility to the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.)[2] Cardinal Villot gathered an international commission in Rome in 1968 to plan the directory. The commission was also responsible for the composition of the directory and consulted with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for the Sacraments throughout the process. The commission also consulted directly with the world’s bishops. The commission developed a proposed outline, which was reviewed at a special plenary session of the Congregation for the Clergy. The Foreword to the Directory states, “After that, a longer draft was prepared, and once again the Conferences of Bishops were queried so that they might express their opinion about it. In accord with the advice and observations given by the bishops in this second consultation, a definitive draft of the Directory was prepared. Even so, before this was published, it was reviewed by a special theological commission and by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”[3] A draft text was developed and then released to all the episcopal conferences in the world for further consultation.

As is evident, the task of preparing a catechetical directory for the universal Church in a post-conciliar Church was not only challenging because of the nature of the task itself but also because of the methodology employed by the congregation; namely, an exhaustive process of multiple, multi-tiered, worldwide consultations. In fact, this rather cumbersome process became the standard for the preparation of the two succeeding catechetical directories of 1997 and 202,1 as well as for that of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The General Catechetical Directory was published on Easter Sunday, April 11, 1971, bearing the signature of Cardinal John Wright, who had by then become the prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. Its purpose was “to provide assistance in the production of catechetical directories and catechisms.”[4]

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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

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