Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
New Guide to Teaching the Faith
A Popular Overview of the General Directory
Did you ever wonder why the great cathedrals
were built the way they were? It would be a mistake to recognize
them only for their beauty or to think of them only as places of
prayer. These European cathedrals—Notre Dame, Chartres and the rest—also
were built as giant records of the faith. In the elegant windows
and impressive sculptures Bible stories and the beliefs of the Church
are told in simple, yet intimate, detail, so that all people—whether
nobles or paupers, learned scribes or illiterate peasants—could
learn about Jesus and believe in him. For almost a thousand years,
the Church has used these images to retell the story of Jesus and
the Church to the next generation of believers.
The Church continues to proclaim the
Good News of Christ Jesus to the ends of the earth. While today
we are more likely to use texts made of paper instead of those made
of glass and stone, our goals and message are still the same: 1)
to introduce people to the person and story of Jesus, 2) to lead
them to believe in him and to follow his way, 3) to invite them
to profess their faith and live as disciples of Christ and 4) to
nurture or foster the growth of that faith.
Today there is a new resource for teachers
of the faith that will affect everyone in the Church. Published
in 1997 by the Vatican—s Congregation for the Clergy, it is gradually
finding its way into parishes. The General Directory for Catechesis,
already nicknamed the "GDC," will help shape the way we pass
on the faith as we move into the new millennium. Just as the new
Catechism made a big impact when it was introduced in English in
1996, the GDC is making a far-reaching impact today.
This Update gives an overview
of key points in this important new resource.
The gift of Vatican II
The Second Vatican Council really brought
a shift in the Church—s approach to how we pass on the faith. It
was in 1971, six years after the close of the Council, that the
Holy See published the first General Catechetical Directory,
laying out this new approach. Over the next 25 years there were
rapid developments rooted in Vatican II—s directives.
Significant documents gave guidance to
this new "catechetical" (faith formation) movement: The Rite
of Christian Initiation of Adults (1972), Evangelization
in the Modern World (1975), On Catechesis in Our Time
(1979), Mission of the Redeemer (1990) and the Catechism
of the Catholic Church (1992). The new GDC builds upon
the foundation laid by these documents and the real-life experience
of the Church. It reflects the continual development of how we teach
Because of its title, you might wonder
why you should bother learning more about the General Directory
for Catechesis. Unless you are a catechist (a teacher of the
faith), you—re probably saying, "What does this have to do
with me?" The answer to this question can be found in Jesus—
words to his disciples, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all
nations...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you"
(Matthew 28:19-20). As a baptized member of the Body of Christ—the
Church—you are called to tell others about Jesus. Whether you know
it or not, you engage—by word and deed—in some form of catechetical
ministry every day.
Knowing about the GDC will help
you better understand your baptismal call to proclaim the Good News
and, possibly, take this call more seriously than you have in the
past. If nothing else, understanding what faith-sharing is about
will help you to evaluate, appreciate and take responsibility for
how people are catechized in your parish. Catechesis (communicating
the faith) is truly the work of the entire faith community: Mothers
and fathers will always be the key teachers of the faith (see The
Church in the Modern World, #48), but grandparents and indeed
every other member of the parish have important roles as well. This
is one of the key themes of the new directory.
The parish forms a living faith in its
members through proclamation, teaching, worship, service and community:
through every dimension of parish life. The quality of parish life
affects how much people will "catch the faith" as much as any formal
religious education program. By your participation and growth, you
help improve your parish and its ability to catechize.
Before presenting the key themes of the
GDC and showing how they shape catechetical ministry, let—s
look briefly at the relationship between the GDC and the
Catechism of the Catholic Church.
How does the new directory relate
to the Catechism?
Since its publication in 1992, catechetical
leaders have given a great deal of attention to the Catechism
of the Catholic Church. The Catechism has become a standard
resource in catechist formation programs and is being used as a
reference to evaluate the doctrinal content of religion textbooks.
The General Directory for Catechesis
helps us to understand better the role of the new Catechism.
In Part II, the GDC points out that the Catechism
and the GDC "are two distinct but complementary instruments
at the service of the Church—s catechetical activity" (#120). Where
the Catechism is "a point of reference for the authentic
presentation of the content of faith," the GDC "is an official
aid for the transmission of the Gospel message and for the whole
of catechetical activity." In other words, the Catechism provides
a general reference of what should be taught in catechesis, while
the GDC clarifies who the audience for catechesis is, how
catechesis is to be conducted and why, and names the outcome of
all catechetical processes. Familiarity with both documents is equally
important for teachers of the faith.
It—s not just information, it—s Good
The GDC reinforces the idea that
the purpose of catechesis is more than mere instruction. As evangelists,
catechists introduce people to the risen Lord who lives today: "Evangelization
invites men and women to conversion and faith" (GDC, #51).
The purpose of all catechesis, then, is to call people to a personal
encounter with Jesus, make them disciples and help them to make
a permanent commitment to think, judge and live as he lived. It
not only informs, it forms our faith.
Three levels of evangelization.
The GDC recognizes three basic situations that require evangelization:
1) when people have never heard the word of God; 2) when people
have heard the word of God and are hungry to grow in maturity of
faith needing patient guidance and direction; and 3) when people
have been baptized, yet live as if they don—t know Christ. All of
these groups are different and thus need to be evangelized in different
In line with its emphasis on evangelization,
the GDC sees the adult baptismal catechumenate (the RCIA,
in which adults enter a formation period leading to the celebration
of the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil) as the inspiration
or model for all catechesis. With this reference the directory notes
that all catechesis is formational, is aimed at personal conversion
and full participation in the Church—s sacramental life, involves
the entire life of the parish and is ongoing. It—s not a once-in-a-lifetime
event. In addition, the GDC says that this adult approach
"must be considered the chief form of catechesis" (#59). Other religious
education, even for children, should be in some way connected to
adult faith formation.
Catechists as living models
This link between faith formation (catechesis)
and outreach or reintroducing the faith anew (evangelization) will
take years to develop in the Church—s life. Yet the link is essential:
Seen through the lens of evangelization, catechists must see themselves
as being more than teachers. Just as the stained-glass windows in
the great cathedrals brought Jesus to life and proclaimed his love
to seekers in an earlier age, catechists are to make Christ and
his life come alive in the minds and hearts of seekers today. How?
Through the catechists— own love for the Lord.
It should come as no surprise that the
GDC says that "the formation of catechists cannot be overlooked
by concerns such as the updating of texts and the reorganization
of catechesis" (GDC, #234). In other words, catechists are
the living texts for their students.
It is no accident that the GDC
begins with a reflection on the parable of the Sower and the Seed.
The authors of the directory stress that faith is planted and grown
in the many different cultures in which people live and work. Just
as the seed in the parable falls on all types of ground—ground that
is far too often hostile to it—faith is also planted in all types
of situations and surroundings. Jesus told parables of fishermen,
vineyards and farmers because these were familiar images to his
listeners. Catechists today must pay similar respect to the cultures
of the people whom they catechize.
In a beautiful passage the GDC offers
this message on inculturation (respecting the unique richness of
each culture): "The Word of God became man, a concrete man, in space
and time and rooted in a specific culture: —Christ by his incarnation
committed himself to the particular social and cultural circumstances
of the men among whom he lived.— This is the original —inculturation—
of the word of God and is the model of all evangelization by the
Church, —called to bring the power of the Gospel into the very heart
of culture and cultures—" (#109).
Inculturation is more than adapting the
Christian message to make it understandable or attractive to people
of other cultures; it also means finding a way for the Gospel to
penetrate to the very heart of people, who they are, what they believe
and how they act. When Pope John Paul II spoke in 1986 to the aborigines
in Australia he said it this way: "The Gospel of our Lord Jesus
Christ speaks all languages. It esteems and embraces all cultures.
It supports them in everything human, and when necessary, it purifies
them....That Gospel now invites you to become, through and through,
aboriginal Christians. It meets your deepest desires. You do not
have to be people divided into two parts, as though an aborigine
had to borrow the faith and life of Christianity, like a hat or
pair of shoes, from someone else who owns them. Jesus calls you
to accept his words and his values into your own culture."
But Christianity not only influences
other cultures, it also is shaped by them. Over the centuries the
Church has been greatly influenced by Western European culture.
For example, the images carved in stone at Chartres are not historically
or ethnically accurate: They are products of Europe—s medieval art
and concepts. Yet these images continue to shape our attitudes about
faith, and so they should—but not solely.
Today—s Church is being influenced by
peoples and cultures from around the world. Ethnic images of Christ
and Mary are appearing in churches across America in great numbers,
just as they have during every wave of migration in this country—s
history; this time, though, those images look Asian, African or
Indian and not European. The values and customs of these peoples
are influencing both civil and Church life. This influence will
only increase in the next century.
The GDC—s message to catechists—and
thus to all of us—is simple: Celebrate the diversity of God—s gifts.
Be open to learn about those you catechize and to learn from them.
Preach the word of God in a way that it can be heard and understood
while protecting the integrity of the message. Take from the riches
of these cultures that which is compatible with the faith, and challenge
those parts of the culture which are not.
It—s about growing in faith
The GDC says that the very goal
of catechesis is to "put the human person in communion with Jesus
Christ" (#116). In order to do this, the new directory recognizes
that catechists need a way to grow in faith themselves. How else
could they share the faith of the Church? Recognizing that "any
form of pastoral activity is placed at risk if it does not rely
on truly competent and trained personnel" (#234), the GDC
offers these thoughts on the formation of all catechists: priests,
religious and lay. Catechists are to be formed so that they can:
Introduce people to the person
— Evangelize in the present
— Initiate and educate
— Teach as they have been
— Be people of faith, who
know the faith, and know how to communicate this message with style and grace—what the directory
As you can see, as these new guidelines
in the GDC are implemented they will change the role of catechists
and how they are formed. For one thing, formation programs will
have to focus more on the personal spiritual growth of the catechist
than they do now. In the process, the role of catechist will be
elevated from that of perhaps an under-respected volunteer to one
who is held in high esteem by the Christian community.
The future of catechesis
The GDC is built upon the foundation
laid by more than 25 years of catechetical experience and Church
documents that followed Vatican II. But just as the great cathedrals
were far different than those that came before, the GDC moves
catechesis into a new dimension. New wineskins (attitudes, expectations,
practices) will be needed to hold the exciting, robust new wine
of catechesis foreseen in these guidelines. G.K. Chesterton once
said of Christianity: "It—s not that Christianity was tried and
found wanting, but that it was tried and found difficult, and so
Let—s hope that the same cannot be said
in the future about the vision of catechesis offered in the GDC.
The challenge of our time, laid out in these new guidelines, is
to go deeply into our faith, in our parishes, and there find the
path to catechesis and evangelization. Those involved in religious
education indeed have a vocation as catechists (#233). That vocation
should be shared and embraced by everyone in the parish.
Just as it took many years for the great
cathedrals to be created, it will take many years for the results
of the GDC to be fully seen. But it is a vision full of hope.
Around the world, dioceses are beginning to implement the vision
presented in the GDC and the new wine is starting to burst
the old wineskins. Everyone in the parish is invited to participate
fully in this grand adventure. It promises to be an exciting time.
Next: Communion Services and Eucharist—What—s