GDC 51-52: “Functions and forms of the ministry of the word”

Five functions of the ministry of the word are inquiry (my term), initiation, ongoing formation, liturgy, and theology. Good things to remember. I think a healthy parish should have all five, even the last of them.

51. The following are the principal functions of the ministry of the word:

– Called together and called to faith

This function is the most immediate expression of the missionary mandate of Jesus. It is realized through “the primary proclamation”, directed to non-believers; those who have chosen unbelief, those Christians who live on the margins of Christian life, those who follow other religions. (Evangelii Nuntiandi 51-53) The religious awakening of the children of Christian families, is also an eminent form of this function.

Most American parishes are decent enough with children and awkward with Christians on the “margins.”

– Initiation

Those who are moved by grace to decide to follow Jesus are “introduced into the life of faith, of the liturgy and of the charity of the People of God”. (Ad Gentes 14) The Church achieves this function fundamentally by catechesis, in close relation with the sacraments of initiation, whether these are about to be received or have already been received. Important forms include: the catechesis of non-baptized adults in the catechumenate, the catechesis of baptized adults who wish to return to the faith, or of those who need to complete their initiation; the catechesis of children and of the young, which of itself has the character of initiation. Christian education in families and religious instruction in schools also have an initiatory function.

This could be our strongest function in most parishes–once people get in the door and have taken some initiative to get noticed.

– Continuous education in the faith

In many regions this is also called “permanent catechesis”.*

It is intended for those Christians who have been initiated in the basic elements of the Christian faith, but who need constantly to nourish and deepen their faith throughout their lives. This function is accomplished through a great variety of forms: “systematic and occasional, individual and community, organized and spontaneous”. (General Catechetical Directory 19d)

Here’s the footnote starred above: There are different reasons which for using such expressions as “continuing education in the faith” or “continuing catechesis”. They may not however, relativise the prior, basic, structural and specific character of catechesis understood as basic initiation. The expression “continuing education in the faith” has been widely used in catechetical praxis since the Second Vatican Council. It denotes a second grade of catechesis which is subject to initiatory catechesis. It does not denote the totality of catechetical activity. The distinction between basic formation and permanent formation is used in reference to priestly formation in the Apostolic Exhortation, Pastores dabo vobis of John Paul II, chapters five and six, especially in n. 71: AAS 84 (1992), pp. 729 ff; 778 ff; 782-783.

I don’t hear “permanent catechesis.” Sounds ominous. Like getting lectured by the pope or by a cardinal. Ongoing faith formation: much better.

– The liturgical function

The ministry of the word also has a liturgical function since, when realized within the context of a sacred action, it is an integral part of that action. (Cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 35; CCC 1154) It takes different forms but amongst them the most important is the homily. Other forms in the liturgical context include celebrations of the word and instruction received during the administration of the sacraments. On the other hand, mention must also be made of the immediate preparation for reception of the different sacraments, the celebration of sacramentals and above all of the participation of the faithful in the Eucharist, as a primary means of education in the faith.

No argument from the liturgist on this one.

– The theological function

This seeks to develop understanding of the faith and is to be situated in the dynamic of “fides quaerens intellectum”, that is, of belief which seeks to understand. (Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Instruction on the ecclesial vocation of the theologian”, Donum veritatis (24 May 1990) 6) Theology, in order to fulfil this function, needs to confront philosophical forms of thought, various forms of humanism and the human sciences, and dialogue with them. It is articulated whenever: “the systematic treatment and the scientific investigation of the truths of the Faith” (General Catechetical Directory 17; cf. Gaudium et Spes 62g.) are promoted.

Faith seeking understanding: the first motto I learned in grad school. Parishes could do more of this, especially under the umbrella of function number three.

52. The important forms of the ministry of the Word are: the first annoucement or missionary preaching, pre and post baptismal catechesis, the liturgical forms and the theological forms. Then, it often happens, for pastoral reasons, that important forms of the ministry of the word must assume more than one function. Catechesis, for example, together with its initiatory forms, has frequently to discharge tasks of mission. The same homily, depending on circumstances, can take on both the functions of convocation and of integral initiation.

And obviously, particular efforts in catechesis take on multiple functions, especially when a diversity of believers and inquirers may be present.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in General Directory for Catechesis, post-conciliar catechetical documents. Bookmark the permalink.

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