Missionary dimension of catechesis

The aim of the present article is to examine more closely the relationship between evangelisation and catechesis. We do this to understand the missionary dimension of catechesis.

Sep 01, 2023

In the previous article, the focus was on the identity of catechesis. Catechesis receives its dynamism and identity from the Church’s evangelising mission, which in itself is founded on the mandate of Jesus Christ (Mt. 28: 19-20). The aim of the present article is to examine more closely the relationship between evangelisation and catechesis. We do this to understand the missionary dimension of catechesis.

The word “evangelisation” comes from the Greek term evangelion, meaning “good news”. The first papal document devoted entirely to the topic of evangelisation is Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelisation in the Modern World) promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1975. According to the Pope, evangelisation means, “bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new…” (EN,18).

The Pope stated that evangelisation is a multi-dimensional process made up of a number of elements, all of which are aimed at bringing the Gospel of Christ to the whole of humanity. These include the renewal of humanity, witnessing, explicit proclamation of the Gospel, conversion and obedience to Christ, initiation into the Church and mission (EN, 43).

In the process, said the Pope, catechesis must not be neglected since “the work of evangelisation will profit greatly from the catechetical instruction given at Church, in the schools, and in every case, in Christian homes” (EN, 44).

No separation between evangelisation and catechesis
In Catechesi Tradendae (Catechesis for Our Times) promulgated by Pope St John Paul II in 1979, the relationship between evangelisation and catechesis is further emphasised. The Pope stated that catechesis cannot be disassociated from the Church’s missionary activity. According to him, catechesis is “a very remarkable moment” in the whole process of evangelisation (CT, 18) and that there can be no separation or opposition between catechesis and evangelisation.

Nevertheless, catechesis has its specific character when compared to evangelisation. The aim of evangelisation is to proclaim and witness to the Good News and lead a person to initial faith in Christ, and experience initial conversion as someone wanting to follow Christ. The aim of catechesis is to develop the initial faith so that it “may nourish day by day the Christian life of the faithful, young and old” (CT, 20). It is the teaching stage which helps baptised persons to grow and mature in their faith by means of a deeper and more systematic knowledge of the Person and message of Jesus Christ.

A new stage of evangelisation
In 2013, Evangelium Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel), a papal document on evangelisation, was published. In promulgating it, Pope Francis expressed his wish to “encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelisation…” (EG, 1). The Pope reiterated the inseparable connection between evangelisation and catechesis, and pointed out that the new stage of evangelisation is to be carried out in three main spheres.

Firstly, to those who do not know Christ. Secondly, to the baptised who “lack a meaningful relationship with the Church” or who have become lukewarm in their faith. Thirdly, the baptised who regularly take part in community worship and those who have a deep and sincere faith but seldom take part in worship (EG, 14). It means that not only those who do not believe in Christ are to be evangelised. Evangelisation is aimed also towards those who are baptised.

Catechesis at the service of the new evangelisation
Pope Francis’ insights are taken up in the Directory for Catechesis published in 2020, in which catechesis is described as a privileged stage in the process of evangelisation. The document states that in the face of the present realities and cultures, such as globalisation, social inequality, global tensions, science and technology, digital and mass media, the Church has to re-think the work of evangelisation with new categories and new languages. In this regard, catechesis is to be at the service of the new evangelisation so that every person may have personal access to Christ and be able to encounter Him (DC, 48).
The directory proposes that three new “accents” (special emphasis) have to become more evident in the catechetical ministry.

Catechesis “in a missionary going forth”
Catechesis has to form believers for mission, accompany them in their maturation of the faith, and help them become aware that they are missionary disciples. It has to help them participate actively in the proclamation of the Gospel and to make the Kingdom of God present in the world (CD, 49-50).

Catechesis under the sign of mercy
Since the Church is called to proclaim the love and mercy of Christ, catechesis has to teach believers to be “merciful like the Father” (Lk. 6: 36) by fostering knowledge of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and by becoming actively involved in acts of mercy. The document states that “The practice of mercy is in itself an authentic catechesis; it is catechesis in action” since Christ can be encountered through works of compassion and charity (CD, 51-52).

Catechesis as a “laboratory” of dialogue
The Church is called to dialogue with the people of her time because she “has something to say, a message to give, a communication to make” (Ecclesial Suam (His Church), 65). In present times, the dialogue with family, society, cultures, sciences, ecology and with every person is particularly essential. In this context, the Church desires that catechesis becomes an authentic “laboratory” of dialogue with the existing realities and concerns of humanity. In other words, catechesis is to connect faith and life (CD, 53-54).

Basically, it is important to understand that catechesis is not a “stand-alone” ministry. As mentioned, it receives its identity from the evangelising mission of the Church, and at the same time, participates in the Church’s task of evangelisation. Both evangelisation and catechesis have their own place and role in the Church, and yet, they integrate and complement each other in her mission of making Christ known and loved. Therefore, it is essential that the missionary dimension of catechesis be constantly explored and emphasised in our present catechetical efforts.

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