As hinted earlier today, I’d like to delve into an important post-conciliar document, the General Catechetical Directory. There’s a very interesting story behind it, and it’s something that this generation of serious Catholics probably need to know more about.
Catholic history buffs may know that the bishops of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) discussed assembling a universal catechism. There were actually two versions of it: a comprehensive document for scholars and clergy, which did get written. There was general approval for an abbreviated one for children and the uneducated. It never came to pass.
Likewise in 1870, the first Vatican Council took up the discussion. But that council ended prematurely, and other items were higher up on the list of concerns. The bishops did approve a “small” catechism, but they never wrote it.
Flash forward to the 1960’s. The possibility of a catechism was discussed at Vatican II–at length. What the council bishops left to the Congregation of Bishops was the assembly of a directory rather than a catechism. Why something different? The French bishops had some success with a directory for catechesis a decade earlier. Instead of being content-oriented, a directory focuses on an orientation to the Church’s ministry of the Word, and locates catechesis as a part of that ministry. It also brings more: a summary of other ways to form the believer in faith, things other than just the nurturing of the intellect.
The GCD was written for the bishops with a wide and unprecedented consultation among clergy, catechists, and education experts. People with contributions in other fields, including worship and evangelization also contributed.
As we look through the GCD, we will find how the post-conciliar bishops saw catechesis relating to evangelization, liturgy, and other dimensions of theology. This interrelation remains relevant today as we struggle with the basic question of why the Catholic faith hasn’t taken deeper root in the laity, clergy, and perhaps even the bishops. In looking at the GCD, we will find some very lively thinking from the year 1971, and a way to approach faith formation that was, perhaps, ahead of its time, and has likely yet to be totally received or understood. The GCD was intended to be bigger than a catechism in the sense it wanted to stretch the old boundaries of catechesis, looking to not only what was taught, but how it would be presented in the most effective ways so as to take root. We speak today of the “new evangelization” or of other initiatives like they were developed during the last two pontificates. We may well find good seeds planted back in the 60’s for these efforts.
At the start of this series, expect a few posts a week. We’ll do them alongside the liturgy documents. The GCD has 134 nnumbered sections, plus a foreword and an addendum. Another twelve dozen posts, likely. Enough to get us well on the way to 8,000. Tell your DRE and DFF and school and other friends. It will be great to widen the discussion here to folks beyond our usual liturgy geeks. Which isn’t to say that those with more interest in evangelization or worship or even music won’t find good material. I’m sure you will.