CATECHETICSThe work of catechetics1 comprises all those activities and duties which, under the wise guidance of the Church, aim at the evangelization of the masses.
Catechetics is an integral and genuine form of apostolate and goes beyond all others because it continues the work of the Divine Teacher who was the first and greatest catechist.
It is a key work in the Church. Its aim is to bring knowledge of God, who is our ultimate end, to all people, believers and non-believers, and to point out the ways to reach him.
Catechetics has always existed, albeit in various forms. Jesus Christ set out its central theme in his teaching
to the Apostles and the crowds, and fixed in a flexible and life-giving way its principal pedagogic and instructive norms.
Then came the Apostles to whom he had said: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them..."2 Theirs was a baptismal catechesis, based on the doctrine of their Teacher, set within the story of his life.
The deacons and some lay people joined ranks with the Apostles. After initial catechetical instruction by the Apostles came the catechumenate. Its aim was to convene these converts new to the Christian faith, give them suitable instruction in religious matters and prepare them for baptism.
Great catechetical schools flourished in Antioch, in Jerusalem and in Rome. Famous catechists came to the fore in the Church: Saint Clement of Alexander, Tertullian, Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine.
In the early Middle Ages this catechetical program sees a decline; it is given fresh impulse by the Council of Trent, which made religious instruction the basis of Catholic reform, as well as of ecclesiastical discipline and law. From then on the catechism assumed its proper role and organization, under the guide of eminent Doctors
and Pastors as Saint Robert Bellarmine in Rome, Saint Charles Borromeo in Milan and Blessed Gregory Barbarigo in Padua. Then came the first texts. The most practical were those of Saint Peter Canisius in Germany and of Saint Robert Bellarmine in Italy.
But while the catechism's cause gained ground, it did not establish a true universal yardstick for the Catholic conscience until Pius X awakened people's minds with his encyclical Acerbo nimis3 (1905) and set down strict and exact norms for the systematic teaching of the catechism.
The press apostle contributes to the work of catechetics through all his initiatives. He has only to recall his specific goal to be convinced of this. He can, nonetheless, contribute in a direct way to this work - in its commonly-accepted meaning - both by giving his direct cooperation as a catechist and by assisting chiefly in three great activities: catechetical instruction, catechetical formation, and catechetical organization.
The subject of catechetical instruction is both the catechist and the person(s) to be catechized.
The catechist by right is basically the priest. It is well known that to be a good catechist
it is not enough for him to be a good theologian. This is confirmed by the fact that (can. 1564 § 3) lays down that practical exercises on the way to teach catechism are to be organized in Seminaries. Thus in the letter of the Congregation for Seminaries attention is drawn to the formation of the clergy about the teaching of catechism.
If it is not enough to have studied Theology in the Seminary to be a good catechist, then catechetical instruction will first of all have to be addressed to priests.
However, those lay persons who are called to collaborate with the Church hierarchy in the work of evangelization will also need to have proper preparation.
Catechetical instruction will need to be given to both catechists and to those to be catechized.
The two official texts are those of Pius X: Catechism of Christian Doctrine and The Primary Elements of Christian Doctrine. Other texts and resource material have followed. In keeping with particular needs or aims, make use of part or all of this material supplementing it or enhancing it with facts, explanations, prayers, pictures, drawings, and applying it to practical situations.
The catechetical instruction given to catechists must, as a
general rule, help them as a guide for school.
That given to those to be catechized forms the basis of their study text.
Both forms must be adapted, complete and methodical.
Adapted to suit the persons and the ambience. Catechetical teaching given to infidels [=non-Christians] must naturally be presented in a way different to that given to heretics and schismatics. As for Catholics, one form will be required for adults and another for children, one for illiterates or uneducated people and another for students and educated people.
Catechetical instruction must be complete and not restricted to one part of Catholic doctrine. It has to comprise all three parts - faith, morals and grace - and it has to treat each part in a way that is appropriate.
It must be methodical; that is, there must be a teaching method. While the apostle writer is not to neglect the good in every method, he is to give preference to the cyclical progressive one and combine it with so-called activism, in all its forms: intellectual, organizational, collaborative and life-giving.
The catechism, in the mind of the Church, ought to be a school in which the person to be catechized is trained in the Christian life. It is easily understandable
that such training depends on the catechist. Even more so in our times, when to be a "catechism teacher" no longer means, as once upon a time, to be a repeater under the direction of the priest.
Today the catechist must know how to work alone and, where the catechism is organized in school form, the catechist has, for the most part, to take the part of the priest. Hence, to fulfill their mission worthily, catechists must have a particular vocation and formation.
Such a vocation is for a person who is docile to God, to the Church, to one's superior, to the priest; an apostolic person who feels and expresses the heartfelt cry of Jesus: "Misereor super turbam";4 a virile person who has a spirit of command, combined with gentleness and charity.
Such training must be complete and include doctrinal formation, pedagogic formation and interior formation.
Doctrinal formation is always necessary, even in country schools, because it is a matter of explaining to people principles that are difficult and delicate. Guidance for life and the salvation of so many people's souls depends oftentimes on catechism lessons.5
Doctrinal formation requires a preparation that is both remote and proximate.
The first must be methodical and has to cover a complete course of religious instruction. It has to include Catholic doctrine in its three principal parts, that is, faith, morals and grace; salvation history in the Old and the New Testament, the history of the Church, at least the main points, the history of Liturgy and the liturgical life of the Church.
The second is the immediate preparation of every lesson. Help can come from resource books for catechists, from the use of a journal and from ongoing, updated study.
Pedagogical formation is necessary in order to prepare catechists in the art of teaching those entrusted to their care.
It comprises the study of psychology and didactics.
The general and particular principles of psychology will show how to adapt catechetical teaching and to make it productive and complete.
Judicious and wise didactics will utilize all natural means and work in unison with divine action for the benefit of people's souls.
Since the catechism is addressed in particular to children, catechists must be cognizant of the particular psychology of children and their inner make-up;6 they must know their language (children have their own language and words), and learn to become a child like them, going back to the years of their own childhood to recall the things and the words that made more impression on them at that age.
Doctrinal and pedagogical formation go hand in hand with interior formation, for it is on this that supernatural efficacy depends.
Interior formation aims to train catechists to be perfect Christians, capable of bonding intense prayer with a great love of God and love of people.
The apostle who devotes himself to catechetics (once he has acquired a formation
in keeping with the norms set out above), will be in a position to contribute to the formation of catechists and, in a direct way, also of those to be catechized, should the necessity and prospect arise.
The present-day organization of catechetics is set out in the decree Provido sane consilio, issued by the Congregation of the Council on 11 February 1935. It is a masterpiece of catechetical wisdom.
With this decree, catechetical organization and procedure are no longer left to the free will and judgment of individual persons, but become part of Church legislation. The competent bodies for such legislation are the central Catechetical Office in Rome and the diocesan Catechetical Offices that depend directly on the Bishops.
In the first part of the decree, Provido sane consilio sets out what the Church has done for the cause of the catechism; in the second part, it sets out what has to be done, clarifying a number of points and indicating a course of action.
It prescribes the following:
The Sodality of Christian Doctrine, which must hold pride of place in the parish. In accord with canon 1333 § 1 of the Code of Canon Law, "the parish priest may and indeed, if he is legitimately
impeded, must engage the help of clerics living within the confines of the parish and, if needs be, of those pious lay people who are enrolled in the Sodality of Christian Doctrine or in another similar institution erected in the parish."
Priests and other clerics, not constrained by other legitimate impediments, are to help their own pastor in this holy undertaking, also to not incur the sanctions to be imposed by the Ordinary of the Diocese: "A special appeal is addressed to school teachers to be generous in taking up this teaching."
The Parochial Catechetical Schools are to be considered real schools, no less inferior to the others, and are to vie with them as regards the cleanliness of the premises, teaching methods and personnel.
Sunday Catechism for Adults is to be held on every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation in accord with canon 1332 and the whole Council of Trent Catechism is to be explained.
In view of all this, the decree wisely sets out some practical measures for the Ordinaries:
a) Every diocese in Italy must have a Catechetical Office as already prescribed by the Council, [and reconfirmed] with the letter of 12 December 1929. Its purpose is:
1. to see that Christian Doctrine is taught in accord with the Church's traditional form and by suitable people;
2. to promote the celebration of catechetical congresses;
3. to establish courses of religion to train teachers and make them fully skilled for parish and public schools.
b) Catechism [teaching] is to be supervised to see that it is carried out properly. The Bishop is to appoint priests to be inspectors.
c) Catholic Action is the workshop of catechists; "it has already done a great deal in this field."
d) Every parish must hold a Christian Doctrine Day (Sacraments, preaching, press, collection, and so on).
e) Every five years the Ordinary has to report to the Congregation of the Council regarding the catechetical situation, replying to a list which contains some 24 questions.
Always faithful to the directives of the Church, the apostle is to study, follow and disseminate the practical norms that she sets out.
1 Cf. TONOLO, Il manuale della Catechista, from which part of the subject matter of this chapter was taken.
2 Mt 28:19.
3 * Encyclical promulgated to assert the fundamental importance of the teaching of Christian doctrine.
4 * Cf. Mk 8:2: "I feel sorry for these people."
5 In his wonderful encyclical on the Catechism, Pius X had this to say: "This type of preaching cannot dispense with tiredness or reflection; indeed they will be its hallmark. It is much easier to find a preacher who is able to give an eloquent talk than a catechist to give instruction that is praiseworthy on all counts. No matter what natural talent people have to formulate and discuss ideas let them be mindful that they can never give a fruitful catechism lesson to children and to people without a great deal of preparation and reflection.
"Those who count on people's lack of polish and knowledge are deceived if they think they can neglect their own preparation. On the contrary, the more coarse the listeners the greater the obligation for greater study and diligence so as to bring within everyone's grasp truths so sublime and so remote from the intelligence of the common people, which everyone, learned and unlearned, needs to know in order to attain eternal salvation."
6 "A child's brain" writes Fénelon "is like a lighted candle in a place open to the breeze; its flame flickers."