GDC 240-241: “The biblico-theological formation of the catechist”

Any formation for catechists that focuses on the Scriptures and theology is, by nature, Christo-centric:

240. Besides being a witness, the catechist must also be a teacher who teaches the faith. A biblico-theological formation should afford the catechist an organic awareness of the Christian message, structured around the central mystery of the faith, Jesus Christ.

The context of this doctrinal formation should be drawn from the various areas that constitute every catechetical programme;

– the three great eras in the history of Salvation: the Old Testament, the life of Christ and the history of the Church.

– the great nuclei of the Christian message: the Creed, the Liturgy, the moral life and prayer.

In its own level of theological instruction, the doctrinal content of the formation of a catechist is that which the catechist must transmit. For its part, “Sacred Scripture should be the very soul of this formation”.* The Catechism of the Catholic Church remains the fundamental doctrinal reference point together with the catechism proper to the particular Church.

*Cf. General Catechetical Directory 112. Guide for Catechists, 23, underlines the primary importance of Sacred Scripture in the formation of catechists: “May Sacred Scripture continue to be the principal subject of teaching and may it become the soul of all theological study. Where necessary may this be actualized”.

Subject and soul: this is good. In order for a catechist to be well and thoroughly rooted, it’s vital to pray what is learned. The Word forms an indispensible part of that.

Four qualities of catechist formation follow.

241. This biblico-theological formation must contain certain qualities:

a) In the first place, it should be of a summary nature and correspond to the message to be transmitted. The various elements of the Christian faith should be presented in a well structured way and in harmony with each other by means of an organic vision that respects the “hierarchy of truths”.

b) This synthesis of faith should be such as to help the catechist to mature in his own faith and enable him to offer an explanation for the present hope in this time of mission: “The situation today points to an ever-increasing urgency for doctrinal formation of the lay faithful, not simply for a better understanding which is natural to faith’s dynamism, but also in enabling them to ‘give a reason for their hope’ in view of the world and its grave and complex problems”. (Christifedeles Laici 60c)

c) It must be a theological formation that is close to human experience and capable of correlating the various aspects of the Christian message with the concrete life of man “both to inspire it and to judge it in the light of the Gospel”. (Catechesi Tradendae 22) While remaining theological it must in some fashion adopt a catechetical style.

d) It must be such that the catechist “will be able not only to communicate the Gospel accurately, but also able to make those being taught capable of receiving it actively and of discerning what in their spiritual journey agrees with the faith”. (General Catechetical Directory 112)

Obviously, a lot to discuss here. I want to single out a few observations.

First, think beyond “catechist” of young people. We’re talking the whole gamut of catechetical ministry from liturgical preaching to evangelical outreach to classroom stuff to formation for apostolic life.

Second, note the importance of discernment in 241d. Forming catechists to discern in their own lives: critical. Developing in them the tools to assist others in discernment: very challenging. The importance of discernment in the life of the Church: priceless.

Lastly, note how the quality of hope is emphasized. Faith and love get a lot of attention, and in some ways they’re the more attractive sisters of these virtues. We throw around the word “love” a lot–both in the secular culture and in the Church. And faith is rightly the focus of initiatory catechesis. Faith is also a bulwark when life is full of obstacles and sorrows. Hope is a very elusive quality, one I think that is overlooked.

If I were forming catechists, I would say that a helpful spiritual exercise would be to reflect on their head-learning and life-experiences through the lens of hope. What does Christ offer that gives us hope? And how does that move from the theoretical of heaven into the present-day. And that movement is not only about our own hope, but also planting hope in the lives, minds, and prayers of those who are far less steady in their faith.

This is an important section. There’s much more to talk about here. What do you see?

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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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