The identity of catechesis

God’s revelation reached its perfect and definitive fulfilment in the Person of Jesus Christ. During His time on earth, Jesus revealed God’s plan of salvation through His life, words and works.

Aug 11, 2023

In my first article, I examined the origin and development of the term “catechesis”. In this article, I will discuss the identity of catechesis, that is, what is catechesis?

God’s revelation as the starting point of catechesis
The starting point for understanding the identity of catechesis is the Revelation of God. God revealed Himself in order to save humanity. God’s revelation reached its perfect and definitive fulfilment in the Person of Jesus Christ. During His time on earth, Jesus revealed God’s plan of salvation through His life, words and works. He sent the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, and before His Ascension, Jesus gave them a mandate: “Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commandments I gave you” (Mat. 28: 19 – 20).

Catechesis as a stage in the Church’s mission
Jesus’ mandate consists a series of closely related stages: “Go” (mission), “make disciples” (evangelisation), “baptise” (initiation) and “teach” (catechesis). It is a mandate to go and welcome, proclaim and educate, call and incorporate into the Church. Mission, evangelisation, initiation and catechesis are intertwined. Together, they form different stages of the mandate of Jesus to the entire Church.

Catechesis receives from the other stages a missionary dynamism which enriches it and defines its own identity. Without them, the true nature of catechesis cannot be fully understood nor appreciated. According to the Directory for Catechesis, “Catechesis is an action of the Church arising from the missionary mandate of Jesus and aimed at making the proclamation of His passion, death and resurrection continually resound in the heart of every person, so that his or her life may be transformed” (n. 55). Therefore, since catechesis is a stage in the Church’s evangelising mission, every catechetical activity is missionary in nature.

Forms of catechesis
Catechesis may be defined as “an education of children, young people and adults in the faith, which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted in an organic and systematic way, with the view of initiating hearers into the fullness of Christian life” (Catechesi Tradendae, n. 18). It takes various forms, such as family catechesis, basic catechesis, ongoing catechesis, situational catechesis and initiatory catechesis.

Family catechesis
The family is the place where the Gospel is first transmitted, the sense of God awakened, the first prayers are taught, moral conscience and Christian values are formed and a sense of Christian love is fostered. In most instances, family catechesis is more witnessed to than taught, more situational than systematic, more on-going and daily than structured into periods. This is generally known as “initial catechesis”. For it is in the home that children have their initial or first experience of the divine, undergo initial conversion to Christ and grow in the initial understanding of the Catholic faith. Here, parents and guardians play an important role.

Basic catechesis
This represents the type of catechesis where an adult (catechist) instructs or teaches a group of children or teenagers, usually by using a textbook (catechism). The focus here is the handing on of the basic truths of the Catholic faith and the imparting of basic Christian values in a holistic and systematic way in accordance to the ages of the learners. The learner is also prepared to receive the Sacraments of First Holy Communion, Penance and Confirmation. This form of catechesis presupposes that learners have received adequate catechesis at home. Without proper family catechesis, the task of providing catechesis to children and teenagers in the parish may be “weakened”. Basic catechesis by itself is insufficient for one to deepen his or her faith. It has to be followed up with ongoing catechesis.

Ongoing or continuing catechesis
Ongoing or continuing catechesis presupposes family and basic catechesis. It is aimed especially at the adult members in the Church. In fact, adult catechesis is considered the principal form of catechesis in the Church because it is addressed to persons who have the greatest responsibility and the capacity to live the Christian message in its fully developed form (Adult Catechesis in the Christian Community, n. 4). Ongoing catechesis includes the study of the scriptures, liturgical catechesis, the social teaching of the Church, spiritual formation, theological instruction and others.

Situational or occasional catechesis
Situational or occasional catechesis refers to imparting of the faith to children, teenagers and adults in relation to specific needs and circumstances or groups in the Church. Marriage preparation, youth programmes, catechesis on family life and human sexuality, social issues and the safeguarding of the environment, and for parish groups and ministries, basic ecclesial communities and associations in the Church are examples of situational catechesis. These seek to help Catholics understand and grow in their faith at the personal, marriage, family, ecclesial or social life.

Initiatory catechesis
An example of initiatory catechesis is that which occurs in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). Its focus is to help adults wishing to become Catholics to be initiated into the Church through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist. This form of catechesis is closely linked to liturgical celebrations and the involvement of the Christian community which is called to surround and assist “candidates and catechumens during the initiation process, from the precatechumenate to the catechumenate, to the period of mystagogy” (General Directory for Catechesis, n. 256).

Since catechesis is a stage in the evangelising mission of the entire Church, all the baptised, especially adult members, are both agents and recipients of catechesis. In understanding the true identity of catechesis, we will become aware that the responsibility for catechesis falls on the whole Christian community. The Church reminds that we are called to catechise and to receive catechesis so that together, we may continually grow and mature in our faith and also be able to help others to do so.

Below is a simple infographic I prepared to help readers capture the essence of my article.

The Identity of Catechesis (What is Catechesis?)

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