The note on GDC’s title, “Parents, primary educators of their children,” references ”chapter 3 of this Part, The family as an environment or means of growth in the faith, where the characteristics of family catechesis are analysed; here, more consideration is given to parents as agents of catechesis. Cf. canon law 226 § 2; 774 § 2.” GDC 226 is built on three principles elucidated by Pope John Paul II in his 1979 document Catechesi Tradendae.
226. The witness of Christian life given by parents in the family comes to children with tenderness and parental respect. Children thus perceive and joyously live the closeness of God and of Jesus made manifest by their parents in such a way that this first Christian experience frequently leaves decisive traces which last throughout life. This childhood religious awakening which takes place in the family is irreplaceable. (Catechesi Tradendae 68) It is consolidated when, on the occasion of certain family events and festivities, “care is taken to explain in the home the Christian or religious content of these events”. (Catechesi Tradendae 68) It is deepened all the more when parents comment on the more methodical catechesis which their children later receive in the Christian community and help them to appropriate it. Indeed, “family catechesis precedes…accompanies and enriches all forms of catechesis”. (Catechesi Tradendae 68)
What are these principles? The guidance of parents in a child’s religious awakening. “Explanation” of the religious meanings of cultural events. I would probably expand this to include more than a mystagogical commentary, and would include the parents’ participation in religious and spiritual aspects of life, and the encouragement of children to do the same by example. And then there’s parental “commentary” on their children’s catechesis.
How is this endorsed by the Church? At root, it is a sacramental endeavor. The GDC is explicit in speaking of it also as a ministry:
227. Parents receive in the sacrament of Matrimony “the grace and the ministry of the Christian education of their children”, (Cf. Christifedeles Laici 62; cf. Familiaris Consortio 38) to whom they transmit and bear witness to human and religious values. This educational activity which is both human and religious is “a true ministry”, (Familiaris Consortio 38) through which the Gospel is transmitted and radiated so that family life is transformed into a journey of faith and the school of Christian life. As the children grow, exchange of faith becomes mutual and “in a catechetical dialogue of this sort, each individual both receives and gives”. (Catechesi Tradendae 68; cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi 71b) It is for this reason that the Christian community must give very special attention to parents. By means of personal contact, meetings, courses and also adult catechesis directed toward parents, the Christian community must help them assume their responsibility—which is particularly delicate today—of educating their children in the faith. This is especially pressing in those areas where civil legislation does not permit or makes difficult freedom of education in the faith. (Cf. Catechesi Tradendae 68) In this case “the domestic Church” (Lumen Gentium 11; Familiaris Consortio 36b) is virtually the only environment in which children and young people can receive authentic catechesis.
Parents are ministers to their children in the domestic Church. This is the language of the Council. It’s the language of the Magisterium. It’s an awesome responsibility–and I use that term in its traditional sense. I’m not sure parents are well-prepared for this role. Too often we (And I have to include myself in this condemnation) are content to professionalize catechesis in much the same way we allow professionals to fix our cars, prepare our food and serve us, dry clean our wardrobe, and the like. And in many cases, this is not a bad development–to have well-trained catechists serving under a faith formation director. It’s that we turn over too much of this vital ministry to others, and decline to shoulder a more involved presence in the lives of our children.
What do you think?