BLEVINS: Recognizing the ministry of the catechist
May 25, 2021
On May 11, Pope Francis made public his apostolic letter, Antiquum Ministerium, instituting the Ministry of Catechist. He begins his letter by noting the ancient origins of this ministry, already present during the time of the apostles and evangelists.
Those with a vocation as a catechist possess a “personal charism” that is of great value in the Catholic Church.
“The Church wished to acknowledge this service as a concrete expression of a personal charism that contributed greatly to the exercise of her mission of evangelization. This glance at the life of the first Christian communities engaged in the spread of the Gospel also encourages the Church in our day to appreciate possible new ways for her to remain faithful to the word of the Lord so that his Gospel can be preached to every creature.” (Paragraph #2)
This Apostolic Letter comes soon after the publication of the new Directory for Catechesis (July 2020). Chapter 3 of this document speaks to the role of the catechist. Pope Francis’s apostolic letter goes further than the Directory in highlighting the value of the LAY catechist.
“Without prejudice to the Bishop’s mission as the primary catechist in his Diocese, one which he shares with his presbyterate, or to the particular responsibility of parents for the Christian formation of their children, recognition should be given to those lay men and women who feel called by virtue of their baptism to cooperate in the work of catechesis. This presence is all the more urgently needed today as a result of our increasing awareness of the need for evangelization in the contemporary world, and the rise of a globalized culture.” (Paragraph #5)
The Office of Evangelization and Catechesis provides formation programs for catechists as well as catechetical leaders in both English and Spanish. The certificates awarded for completion of these courses of study enable the catechist to serve their parish and the Church as a whole authentically.
“At the same time, every catechist must be a witness to the faith, a teacher and mystagogue, a companion and pedagogue, who teaches for the Church. Only through prayer, study, and direct participation in the life of the community can they grow in this identity and the integrity and responsibility that it entails.” (Paragraph # 6)
Bishops from each country will meet to discern the process for instituting the Ministry of Catechist in their part of the world. This will not happen overnight but will prayerfully call on the Holy Spirit for guidance in establishing these criteria.
“It is fitting that those called to the instituted Ministry of Catechist be men and women of deep faith and human maturity, active participants in the life of the Christian community, capable of welcoming others, being generous and living a life of fraternal communion. They should also receive suitable biblical, theological, pastoral and pedagogical formation to be competent communicators of the truth of the faith and they should have some prior experience of catechesis.” (Paragraph #8)
The publication of this Apostolic Letter has begun a process that will highlight the important role of catechists for our Archdiocesan parishes.
In this post-COVID-19 time, parishes are investigating different approaches to faith formation in their parish that may be more effective. This includes the implementation of new 21st century methodologies that incorporate the whole family/household of faith (Domestic Church) in both in-person and virtual platforms. Our office assists parishes and catechetical leaders in these initiatives made possible through your annual contributions to our Archdiocesan Services Fund (DSF).
The role of the catechist will expand from skills used in traditional “classroom” settings to include roles of family mentors, faith group leaders and virtual facilitators — those who accompany people in their faith journey in a variety of platforms. They will serve as initial proclaimers of the Kerygma.
“Catechists are called first to be expert in the pastoral service of transmitting the faith as it develops through its different stages from the initial proclamation of the Kerygma to the instruction that presents our new life in Christ and prepares for the Sacraments of Christian initiation, and then to the ongoing formation that can allow each person to give an accounting of the hope within them. At the same time, every catechist must be a witness to the faith, a teacher and mystagogue, a companion and pedagogue, who teaches for the Church. Only through prayer, study, and direct participation in the life of the community can they grow in this identity and the integrity and responsibility that it entails.” (Paragraph #6).
This is what it means to be an authentic witness of the faith.
We give thanks every day to all of our thousands of catechists and catechetical leaders who are co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord. We need more of these authentic witnesses, agents of the New Evangelization, as we embark on these post-COVID-19 times. Maybe you can prayerfully discern if the Lord is calling you as a layperson to serve Him and His Church in this important ministry.
To read the Apostolic Letter in its entirety, visit www.vatican.va.
Julie Blevins is the director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.