GDC 154-155: Memorization in catechesis

Memorization: are they serious? They sure are. The title is footnoted thus: Cf. Part I, chap. III; General Catechetical Directory 73; Catechesi Tradendae 55.

Memorization needs to be balanced with other ways of learning:

154. Catechetics forms part of that “memory” of the Church which vividly maintains the presence of the Lord among us.(Cf. 1977 Synod of Bishops, Message to the People of God 9) Use of memory, therefore, forms a constitutive aspect of the pedagogy of the faith since the beginning of Christianity. To overcome the risk of a mechanical memorization, mnemonic learning should be harmoniously inserted into the different functions of learning, such as spontaneous reaction and reflection, moments of dialogue and of silence and the relationship between oral and written work.(Cf. Catechesi Tradendae 55)

Explanation (or mystagogy?) first:

In particular, as objects of memorization, due consideration must be given to the principal formulae of the faith. These assure a more precise exposition of the faith and guarantee a valuable common doctrinal, cultural and linguistic patrimony. Secure possession of the language of the faith is an indispensable condition for living that same faith. Such formulae, however, should be proposed as syntheses after a process of explanation and should be faithful to the Christian message. To be numbered amongst them are some of the major formulae and texts of the Bible, of dogma, of the liturgy, as well as the commonly known prayers of Christian tradition: (Apostles’ Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary…).(Cf. Catechism 22)

Pope John Paul II on memorization:

“The blossoms—if we may call them that—of faith and piety do not grow in the desert places of a memoryless catechesis. What is essential is that texts that are memorized must at the same time be taken in and gradually understood in depth, in order to become a source of Christian life on the personal level and on the community level”.(Catechesi Tradendae 55)

It’s not just about memorization for the catechetical stages, but also to apply to the lived life in the world:

155. Again, more importantly, the learning of the formulae of the faith and their profession must be understood in the traditional seed-bed or context of the traditio and the redditio, for which the handing on of the faith in catechesis (traditio) corresponds to the response of the subject during the catechetical journey and subsequently in life (redditio).(Cf. Part I, chap. 3. The baptismal Catechumenate: structure and progression)

This process encourages a greater participation in received truth. That personal response is correct and mature which fully respects the datum of faith and shows an understanding of the language used to express it (biblical, liturgical, doctrinal).

Do Christians call upon memory not only to “prove” graduation, or to function liturgically? Do they resort to memorized prayers appropriate to the situation? Is it a repertoire wider than just the key prayers of, say, the rosary? In these days of a new liturgical translation, do you suppose we are too focused on “performance,” as a virtue above and beyond the notion of internalization? How are we doing, do you think?

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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.
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