Christ is at the centre of catechesis

In recent years, the link has been further strengthened with Pope Francis’ emphasises on kerygmatic catechesis, by which the kerygma runs like a golden thread throughout the whole catechetical process. Therefore, the message of the kerygma is not only meant for non-believers, but for all the baptise

Nov 03, 2023

Echoing the Faith - Dr Steven Selvaraju

In my previous article I examined the role of kerygma in catechesis. I explained that the link between kerygma (proclamation of the faith) and catechesis (teaching of the faith in a systematic manner), which had faded for many centuries, was firmly re-established in the 20th century. In recent years, the link has been further strengthened with Pope Francis’ emphasises on kerygmatic catechesis, by which the kerygma runs like a golden thread throughout the whole catechetical process. Therefore, the message of the kerygma is not only meant for non-believers, but for all the baptised as well.

Centrality of the Person of Christ in catechesis
Of all the concepts that the kerygma has restored to the catechetical ministry, the most important is the centrality of the Person of Jesus Christ in catechesis. All authentic catechesis has to be Christo-centric. The document Catechesi Tradendae (CT) promulgated by St John Paul II in 1979 makes it clear:

“…at the heart of catechesis we find a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son from the Father… full of grace and truth”, who suffered and died for us and who now, after rising, is living with us forever.” (CT, 5).

Therefore, Jesus Christ is the “heart” or centre of catechesis, and not doctrine, Scripture, liturgy, the sacraments or the Church herself. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states, “The transmission of the Christian faith consists primarily in proclaiming Jesus Christ in order to lead others to faith in Him” (CCC, 425). The idea that Christ is at the centre of catechesis has two important implications for all involved in the ministry of catechesis.

Catechists lead people to Christ
It is from the knowledge of the centrality of Christ that the Church finds her understanding of the ultimate aim of catechesis. According to the Church:

“… the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity” (CT, 5).

Basically, the main aim of catechesis is to lead people to Christ so that they will have an authentic relationship with Him. It means that the primary role of catechists is not only about teaching people the doctrines of the faith or preparing them for the sacraments, though these are essential too. It is, firstly, the action of accompanying others towards becoming true disciples of Jesus.

“To put people in touch with Christ” — means to accompanying a person towards an initial knowledge or encounter with Jesus. This is done through the proclamation of the Gospel of salvation, witnessing and initial catechesis. It is mostly carried out through family catechesis or by means of initiatory catechesis as in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

“To put people in communion with Jesus Christ” — refers to accompanying a person to a greater awareness of Jesus and His message and to a closer relationship with Him. This may be done through basic, ongoing and systematic catechesis, regular celebration of the liturgy, prayer, involvement in the community and by dedicating oneself to service.

“To put people in intimacy with Jesus” — indicates accompanying someone to an even deeper relationship with Him and to a life fully dedicated to serving Him. Here, adult catechesis or ongoing formation may help a person to mature in all areas of his or her life, as a disciple of Christ. The Directory for Catechesis states that a genuine and close encounter with Jesus will lead to conversion in all areas of one’s life – heart, mind and senses:

“Catechesis is oriented toward forming persons who get to know Jesus Christ and His Gospel of liberating salvation even better; who live a profound encounter with Him and who choose His own way of life and His very sentiments, striving to realise, in the historical situations in which they live the mission of Christ which is the proclamation of the kingdom of God.” (DC, 75).

Catechists transmit the teaching of Christ
The knowledge that Christ is at the centre of catechesis must make a catechist want to transmit the teaching of Jesus and not one’s own teaching. After all, we have but one Teacher, Jesus Christ. He is the source of all that is taught in catechesis. The document Catechesi Tradendae (no. 6) emphasises this point clearly:

“In catechesis, it is Christ, the Incarnate Word and Son of God, who is taught — everything is taught in reference to Him — and it is Christ alone who teaches — anyone else teaches to the extent the he is Christ’s spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with his lips.

Whatever be the level of his responsibility in the Church, every catechist must constantly endeavour to transmit, by his teaching and behaviour the teaching and life of Jesus. He will not seek to keep directed towards himself and his personal opinions and attitudes the attention and the consent of the mind and heart of the person he is catechising.

Above all, he will not try to inculcate his personal opinions and options as if they expressed Christ’s teachings and the lessons of His life.

A catechist is a spokesperson of Christ and a servant of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, every catechist should be able to apply to him/herself the words of Jesus as found in John 7: 16, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me.”

Jesus Christ is at the centre of catechesis, and is the source and goal of catechesis. It means that if catechists want to lead people to know, love and serve Christ, they too have to grow in their own relationship with Christ. Only by having an intimate communion with Christ can they receive the wisdom, perseverance and grace to serve Him wholeheartedly. It is only in this way that they can truly accompany others towards Him.

I have presented the key ideas in my article in a simple illustrated format as below.

(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.)

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