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In Praise of Catechists

Laity Are Pivotal

Amidst a Secular Culture

Sparing No Effort


Teachers of religious education are unsung heroes who do heroic work. But the bishops, meeting in Milwaukee last June, finally sang their praises.

In a statement called In Support of Catechetical Ministry, the bishops acknowledge their own leadership role as chief catechist in their dioceses. They pledge their support to the 500,000 or so U.S. Catholics who work with sacramental preparation or as directors of religious education, principals, Catholic school teachers, parish catechetical teachers, youth ministers, RCIA team members and adult education facilitators. And then there are the parents and families who accept their primary responsibility for the faith formation of their children.

Bishop Placido Rodríguez of Lubbock, Texas, called them all “instruments of God.” It’s “good, opportune and timely to recognize our catechists who fulfill a very sacred duty to hand down our Catholic faith to the next generation,” he declared.

The statement comes out on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of Catechetical Sunday (September 17 this year), and in light of Pope John Paul II’s call for a new evangelization.

Laity Are Pivotal

Catechists serve a vital role in the Church’s mission of modeling and handing on the Good News of Jesus.

Catechesis is a responsibility of the entire faith community, says the General Directory for Catechesis (#220). The current situation of the Church, with fewer priests and religious sisters, who for years carried the burden of the formal teaching of religion, has created an opportunity for laypeople. Now not only are laypeople doing a great deal of the work in their local parishes, but they are even working as foreign missionary-catechists.

The bishops reaffirm that “lay catechists should be recognized, respected and loved by their priests and communities. They should be supported in their formation and encouraged and helped to accomplish a task....Theirs is a genuine service through which God in Christ continues his work of mercy and salvation in the world” (Adult Catechesis in the Christian Community: Some Principles and Guidelines, #76).

Some years ago I knew that the parishes where I taught high school “CCD” were serious about catechesis because they paid for my additional courses in religious education and Scripture. And from one parish I still treasure the pastor’s surprise Christmas gift of a pen and pencil set. More often today, parishes celebrate Catechetical Sunday by having a commissioning ceremony at a Mass, often giving catechists dove pins or other symbols of their unique ministry.

Amidst a Secular Culture

The bishops single out four challenges facing catechists today:

1) “We live in an increasingly secular and materialistic society, which is often at odds with our Christian messages and values.

2) “The emphasis on individual rights has eroded the concept of the common good and our ability to call people to accept revealed teaching that cannot be changed by democratic process.

3) “The disintegration of the community and social structures that once supported religious faith and encouraged family life has been replaced by a media- and technology-driven culture that makes catechesis especially difficult.

4) “Religious instruction and catechesis compete against entertainment and sports for time in people’s busy lives.”

Moreover, catechists must work in a multicultural context, reach out to the unevangelized and undercatechized, and make special provision so those with disabilities—physical and mental—can be accommodated. No one ever said it would be easy.

Sparing No Effort

Good catechists can turn these challenges into assets.

In this media age they can make better use of media and technology in teaching, even as they recognize “that these tools, as helpful and necessary as they may be, can never completely replace the personal contact between teacher and disciple that is at the heart of Christian pedagogy.”

To deal with the stresses of family life and time pressures, catechists themselves can serve as models of correct priorities, community involvement, time management and, above all, generosity of spirit. The “personal sacrifices they make to teach in the name of Christ and his Church” were cited by the bishops as particularly inspiring.

And in the section “We Commit Ourselves,” the bishops say, “The Church ‘is bidden to offer catechesis her best resources in people and energy, without sparing effort, toil or material means, in order to organize it better and to train qualified personnel’” (On Catechesis in Our Time, #15; italics added).

In other words, it’s time to demand more financial support for new textbooks, more supplementary reading material and videos, larger parish and diocesan libraries, and encouraging full parish involvement.

Since the Church “exists in order to evangelize” (On Evangelization in the Modern World, #14), catechesis deserves our best efforts.B.B.

In Support of Catechetical Ministry (Publication 5-343 in English and 5-827 in Spanish) is available from the U.S. Catholic Conference for 50 cents apiece, plus 10 percent shipping and handling ($3 minimum). Call toll-free 800-235-8722, or visit the bishops’ Internet site:



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