Catechesis and the Kerygma

In the previous article, I examined the missionary dimension of catechesis and highlighted particularly, the relationship between catechesis and evangelisation.

Sep 29, 2023

In the previous article, I examined the missionary dimension of catechesis and highlighted particularly, the relationship between catechesis and evangelisation. I emphasised that catechesis is an essential stage of evangelisation, and therefore, every catechetical activity is missionary in nature, and every catechist is a missionary disciple. It means that even catechesis taking place in the parish classroom is a part of the mission of the Church.

Therefore, it is essential that catechesis, whether in the family, parish, school or any other context, is not seen as an activity or ministry carried out in isolation or separation from the larger mission of the Church and the parish community, which is, to build God’s Kingdom on earth.

In recent years, another aspect of evangelisation, which has a crucial bearing on the ministry of catechesis, has regained importance in the Church. It is known as the kerygma. In the Christian understanding, kerygma is the proclamation of the crucified and risen Jesus as God’s perfect and definitive act of salvation. It contains the core of the Christian message (Jn. 3: 16). This is why the kerygma is called the first or primary proclamation of the faith (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1666). It is proclaimed to non-believers in order to convert them to Christ and initiate them into the Church.

In this article, I will discuss the importance of the kerygma to catechesis. I do this so that every catechist understands its significance for their ministry.

Kerygma, the first proclamation
The term kerygma in Greek basically means “proclamation”. In the Old Testament, the term usually referred to a prophetic or priestly proclamation. In the New Testament, kerygma encompasses elements, such as, the message or content of Christian proclamation (Rom. 16: 25; 1 Cor. 1: 21), the activity of proclamation itself (1 Cor. 2: 4; 15: 14) and the office or task given to a preacher or herald.

An excellent example of kerygmatic proclamation can be seen in Acts of the Apostles. In Acts 2, the account of Peter preaching to the Jews who had gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost is described (Acts 2: 14: 41). At the centre of Peter’s preaching is the Person of Jesus Christ, and His death, resurrection and glorification. Jesus is the Messiah, Lord and the Saviour of humanity:

“God raised this man, Jesus, to life, and all of us are witnesses to that. Now raised to the heights by God’s right hand… For this reason, the whole House of Israel can be certain that God made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2: 32-36).

This proclamation was a powerful word that led to initial belief and conversion among many of the Jews who heard the message. Scripture says that about 3,000 people “were added to their number”.

The Apostles considered preaching the message of salvation as one of the most vital forms of their ministry. In fact, their main activity was preaching and teaching. Both of these were intimately linked to Baptism. Pre-baptismal preaching, also known as apostolic kerygma or the first proclamation of the Gospel, was carried out before Baptism. It was addressed mainly to unbaptised adults and required a mature decision to become a disciple of Christ. This was followed by post-baptismal teaching, known as apostolic catechesis (as seen in Acts 2: 42: “these remained faithful to the teaching of the Apostles…”).

Proclamation and teaching of the faith
In this way, the Apostles were faithful to the task of teaching that Jesus had given them, namely, “… teach them to observe all the commandments I gave you” (Mat. 28: 20). They fulfilled their mission in a dual form — proclamation and teaching. By this, we can observe that both apostolic kerygma and apostolic catechesis were essential and closely intertwined. Once a person has initial faith in Jesus through the proclamation of the faith (kerygma), his or her faith is strengthened and deepened through the teaching of the faith (catechesis).

The pattern of first proclamation-teaching was generally followed by the early Christians in their missionary work. For example, Paul usually started his evangelising mission in a particular place by preaching the Gospel to the Jews or gentiles (see: Acts 9: 20). Upon the conversion of the person (as expressed in the desire to follow Christ), he or she was initiated by Baptism into the Christian community. Once he or she was a member of the community, the teaching process took place through oral catechesis or in written form (epistles).

The same process of proclamation-teaching was also used by many of the Church Fathers during the second to the fifth centuries. This was especially so in the adult catechumenate. The first period of the catechumenal process involved preaching the Gospel message, with the kerygma at its centre, to those enquiring about the faith. After the candidate had received initial faith and was converted to Christ, the process was followed by the second period, wherein systematic and ongoing oral catechesis took place. Therefore, the first proclamation of the message of salvation and catechesis, that is, in-depth instruction in the faith, were part of the preparation for Baptism.

It is key to note that at all times, the Paschal Mystery — the death, resurrection and glorification of Christ, who is Lord, Messiah and Saviour — was, and remained, the focal point of the kerygma. All the other elements and events were arranged around or resulted from this fundamental fact.

From the sixth century onwards, however, infant baptism became increasingly the main form of initiation into the Church. As fewer adults sought Baptism, the catechumenate began to lose its importance. As a result, the preaching or kerygmatic aspect became more and more detached from the catechetical aspect. By the Middle Ages, the kerygmatic element in catechesis had greatly weakened or diminished, since the doctrinal element was emphasised. Over the centuries, preaching became the “work” of the clergy, and catechesis, the task of the laity. In this way, the powerful and essential link and impact that the kerygma had on the ministry of catechesis gradually declined.

[To be continued]

Below is a simple infographic which I prepared to help readers capture the essence of my article (the drawings in the infographic are my own).

( Dr Steven Selvaraju, STD, STL, holds a Doctorate in Theology with Specialisation in Catechetics and Youth Ministry from Pontifical Salesian University, Rome. He serves as Director of the Archdiocesan Catechetical Centre, Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur.)

Total Comments:2

Fr. Walter
I Profoundly appreciate your elucidation on the key elements ; Catechesis and kerygma. Thank you so much for sharing with us your knowledge. I wish to learn more!
Dr.Steven thank you so much for your effort in sharing the good news...clear & easy to comprehend . God bless.