Sources of catechesis

The Directory of Catechesis (DC, 90-109) identifies seven key sources from which catechesis draws its content.

Dec 01, 2023

Echoing the Faith - Dr Steven Selvaraju

In the previous article, I examined the tasks of catechesis. In this article, I will discuss the sources from which the content for catechesis, whether it is aimed at children, teenagers or adults, is drawn. The Directory of Catechesis (DC, 90-109) identifies seven key sources from which catechesis draws its content. These are Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the Magisterium, the liturgy, the testimony of the saints and martyrs, theology, Christian culture and beauty, all of which can be traced back to the word of God.

Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition
Among the sources of catechesis, Sacred Scripture has a preeminent place. Sacred Scripture is the Word of God as it is put down in writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, both the Old Testament and New Testament have an essential place in catechesis. However, in the Catholic Church, the Word of God cannot be confined to Sacred Scripture alone. Sacred Tradition has an important place as well since it transmits the totality of the Word of God which has been entrusted to the Apostles by Christ. A key element in the Church’s Tradition is the thoughts and writings of the early Fathers of the Church.

Jesus Christ gave the Apostles the mandate to proclaim the Gospel to the world, and He promised to send the Holy Spirit to help them. The Apostles transmitted the word of God orally (Tradition) and in writing (Scripture). The bishops, successors of the Apostles, continued this task. They also safeguard and interpret the Gospel in its totality, as well as teach the message of salvation. All the bishops, in communion with the Pope, as successor to Peter, have the main responsibility, as the Church’s Magisterium, of preserving, interpreting and transmitting the Gospel to the People of God. Therefore, the teachings of Church Councils and papal documents are important sources of catechesis.

The liturgy
The liturgy is another essential source. Firstly, because the Word of God is constantly proclaimed, heard, interiorised and explained in the celebration of the liturgy. As such, catechesis draws “its contents, vocabulary, actions and words from the liturgy” (DC, 95). Secondly, the liturgy is “the privileged place for catechising the People of God” (CCC, 1074). Catechesis reaches its true fulfilment when the one being catechised takes part meaningfully in the liturgical life of the Church. Catechesis is not to be viewed as merely preparing someone for the sacraments or how to celebrate the Mass. Instead, it is meant to help him or her enter fully and consciously into the liturgical experience.

The testimony of the saints and martyrs
Examples from the lives of Mary, the saints and martyrs are also important sources of catechesis. Throughout the centuries, personalities and stories from the Bible and the life of the saints and martyrs have served as meaningful sources for catechesis. Martyrs are especially seen as “illustrators of the faith” because, through their suffering and death, they help us realise the meaning of remaining true to the faith even at the cost of one’s life. In modern times, known as the century of martyrdom, many men and women serve as witnesses of the faith through their martyrdom. Their stories and testimonies must be safeguarded and transmitted in catechesis. The lives of saints and martyrs of every culture and people, including those from Asian and other non- Western cultures, must also be used as sources of catechesis.

Theology is an indispensable part of the Church. It helps a person seek an understanding of the faith. However, theology should not be done for its own sake. It has to be at the service of the Church. According to St John Paul II, “theological work in the Church is, first and for all, at the service of the proclamation of the faith and catechesis” (Fides et Ratio, n. 99). However, theology, as a source of catechesis, has its unique role. It makes its contribution more in general instead of highlighting any specific form of theology or the work of a particular theologian. Aspects of fundamental theology, dogmatic theology, moral theology, spiritual theology, ecclesiology, pastoral theology, etc., are to be taken into consideration in selecting the content for catechesis.

Christian culture
Over the centuries, diverse cultures have been influenced by the Word of God. By slowly permeating different cultures, Christianity “has adopted, purified and transformed them from within, contributing to the creation of a new and original culture, that is, Christian culture”. At the same time, Christian culture has played a decisive role in the preservation of cultures that came before it, as well as,in the advancement of international culture. This can be seen in the emergence of literary and scholarly texts, architectural masterpieces, musical compositions, paintings and other forms of art, etc., which serve as a heritage for all humanity.

In recent years, Pope Francis has been highlighting the importance of beauty as a source of catechesis. The Pope states that it is necessary “that every form of catechesis… attend to the ‘way of beauty’ or via pulchritudinis” (DC, 108). This includes the beauty found in creation, in liturgical and artistic settings, contemporary art and music and others. I will discuss beauty as a source of catechesis in greater detail in the next article.

for catechesis It is the responsibility of the Church, as guided by the Holy Spirit, to understand, interpret and transmit truthfully and entirely the Word of God. The seven sources of catechesis are important aspects in the Church’s duty to transmit the Word of God. Each of the sources is important and interrelated to the others. Generally, most catechisms would incorporate elements from all these sources. In presenting the lessons, catechists may give preference, depending on the participants and contexts, to one or more of the sources. However, they should not over-emphasise certain aspects, such as the biblical, liturgical or theological elements, all the time at the expense of the others. In general, catechesis must be done with balance and without practising a onedimensional approach.

The key ideas of the article are presented in a simple illustrated format as below.

The images used are taken from the common domain.

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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