In Praise of Catechists
Teachers of religious education are unsung heroes who do heroic work.
But the bishops, meeting in Milwaukee last June, finally sang their
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
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.
Catechists serve a vital
role in the Church’s mission of modeling and handing on the Good News
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.
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.”
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.
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: