Friday, 27 May 2011

All about catechetical theory

Since we have finished our exams (well, all bar the STB exam Saturday for top-year!), we have, for the past two days, had, in our timetable, 'Pastoral Study Days'. These are opportunities apart from the normal academic programme, to engage with issues and situations in the priestly ministry. I suppose they are the times when we learn priestcraft (that's the aim anyway). 
Yesterday, Dr Farey, until this year, Thomistic philosophy lecturer, led a day on Catechesis for the lower house.
We began our day with the aim of catechesis, which, as Blessed John Paul II reminded us, should look a little like this:
In order that the sacrificial offering of his of her faith should be perfect, the person who becomes a disciple of Christ has the right to receive 'the word of faith' not in mutilated, falsified or diminished form but whole and entire, in all its rigour and vigour. (Catechesi Tradendae, 30)
All persons, including children, have the right to know who they are, and who God is, in order to hand themselves over more fully to God as a sacrificial offering. This is what every soul is made to do, so that Christ may take it to the eternal bliss of heaven. 
For example, all Christians should have been taught the sign of the cross. It is the birthright of every Christian, to take this sign, and cover themselves with it, and through the invocation that accompanies, wrap themselves in the persons of the Blessed Trinity. Not all Catholics, however, are aware of something as simple as the sign of the cross, and its significance. In catechesis, one cannot presume anything, and, for catechists, one cannot pass on what one has not received. 
The life of the early Church demonstrates for us the method of catechesis relevant event today.
They continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42)
We can see from this, a four non-optional dimensions for, not only catechetical method, but for living the Christian life:
  1. Teaching of the Apostles
  2. Life in Christ
  3. Sacraments
  4. Prayer
In living this Christian life, Christ, of course, is at the heart, both in his human nature, and as a person of the Blessed Trinity. This is called a Trinitarian-Christocentricity. In catechetical method, this does not mean that you must talk about Christ for, say, 80% of the time, rather, everything is connected, and all leads to Christ (we call this the nexus mysteriorum). These four dimensions of teaching the Christian life are organic, systematic and comprehensive: that it is connected and grows, it is arranged intelligibly, and it leaves nothing out.
We should also look at the law of the Church (Canon law), when thinking about catechesis (Canons 773-80).
There is a whole chapter in the code of canon law all about catechesis, next to the chapter about homiletics: so, catechesis, in the mind of the Church, is just as important as the homily you hear (or give) every Sunday!
The parish priest is bound, before God, to undertake his proper duty to take care of catechesis in the parish, both through doctrinal instruction and example and experience. He is the person, who not only is responsible for organising catechesis, but he himself is the teacher of our first teachers, our parents, and our sacramental sponsors. He exercises this power from the bishop, and no-one can take away this grave responsibility, and he should employ all the resources and helps available to him (remembering that the personhood of Christ is found more in man's personhood than on a screen!).
There is envisaged, in the code, five types of catechesis, in this order:
  1. Catechesis for the celebration of the sacraments: this is for everybody, and it goes on forever. Nobody should be celebrating the sacraments without adequate preparation. Perhaps an example of this is preparing lapsed-people immediately a sacrament such as baptism and marriage. This means, not only what they 'do' to participate, but what they are 'doing' in participating.
  2. Catechesis in preparation for the first reception of the sacraments: this is what, perhaps, most people are referring to when they say 'catechesis'; as we see, sacramental preparation is just a part of what catechesis is. This is for everybody, but happens only once. Our sacramental life is nourished through on-going catechesis.
  3. Catechesis after the first reception of the sacraments: in the early Church, this was called 'mystagogia', and it refers to the on-going catechesis immediately after the sacrament, whether that be baptism (for adults and older children), first communion, or confirmation. The person still needs to be instructed at this time, perhaps even more so than before. Just think of all the grace present from the sacrament just received; it is important to keep that flame burning.
  4. Catechesis for the impaired: sometimes, we are required to instruct people who are impeded in some way by a disability, physical or mental, which necessitates particular care and attention.
  5. Catechesis for the faith of youth and adults: this is for the on-going formation of 'grown ups', in order to strengthen, enlighten and develop their faith in a variety of different ways. Every person has a right to this formation (though, obviously, it ultimately requires them to respond to it!). For those who undertake a particular ministry in a parish, it is particularly important, and they should all have access to at least an annual 'day of recollection' and 'day of formation', whether they be Extra-ordinary ministers of Holy Communion, readers or flower-arrangers: none are more important than the other in what they do for Christ, and, in fact, these are the people most open to formation.
There are many different materials available to parish priests and his catechists, and they should always be inspected for their Trinitarian-Christocentricity. Really, we should ask what these materials are teaching. Are they affected by agendas other than Christ's? Ultimately, we must remember that the Blessed Trinity is the light which illuminates everything else; without it, there is darkness.
Some important resources and links:
Catechism of the Catholic Church (not everyone starts here!)
General Directory for Catechesis
Top Ten Errors in Catechesis Today (a good checklist to see if your resources could be improved!)
RCIA Catechists' Manual (available from various places)
Echoes Course (a wide-ranging learning resource run by Maryvale)
Anchor Course (a really excellent and simple course designed for parents of children on preparation courses, but I think could have a wider use)
Evangelium Course (RCIA-based catechesis, both for preparation and on-going formation, in partnership with the CTS)

1 comment:

CLERICUS said...

My humble scripture blog. I just completed my STB as well. Some where in Rome, near the Via Pilotta, me thinks...