Wrapping up Chapter II, the GDC turns to the topic of “Catechesis and religious instruction in schools.” (GDC 73-76) Today’s section, 73, is labeled, “The proper character of religious instruction in schools.” Let’s read:
73. Within the ministry of the word, the character proper to religious instruction in schools and its relationship with the catechesis of children and of young people merit special consideration.
The relationship between religious instruction in schools and catechesis is one of distinction and complementarity: “there is an absolute necessity to distinguish clearly between religious instruction and catechesis”. (220)
What confers on religious instruction in schools its proper evangelizing character is the fact that it is called to penetrate a particular area of culture and to relate with other areas of knowledge. As an original form of the ministry of the word, it makes present the Gospel in a personal process of cultural, systematic and critical assimilation. (221)
In the cultural universe, which is assimilated by students and which is defined by knowledge and values offered by other scholastic disciplines, religious instruction in schools sows the dynamic seed of the Gospel and seeks to “keep in touch with the other elements of the student’s knowledge and education; thus the Gospel will impregnate the mentality of the students in the field of their learning, and the harmonization of their culture will be achieved in the light of faith”. (222)
It is necessary, therefore, that religious instruction in schools appear as a scholastic discipline with the same systematic demands and the same rigour as other disciplines. It must present the Christian message and the Christian event with the same seriousness and the same depth with which other disciplines present their knowledge. It should not be an accessory alongside of these disciplines, but rather it should engage in a necessary inter-disciplinary dialogue. This dialogue should take place above all at that level at which every discipline forms the personality of students. In this way the presentation of the Christian message influences the way in which the origins of the world, the sense of history, the basis of ethical values, the function of religion in culture, the destiny of man and his relationship with nature, are understood. Through inter-disciplinary dialogue religious instruction in schools underpins, activates, develops and completes the educational activity of the school. (223)
(220) Congregation for Catholic Education, “The religious dimension of education in the catholic school” (7 April 1988), n. 68; Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, Roma 1988 cf. John Paul II, Allocution to the priests of the diocese of Rome (5 March 1981). Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, IV 1 pp. 629-630, CD 13c CIC 761.
(221) Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Document, The Catholic school (19 March 1977) n. 26, Typographie Polyglotte Vaticane 1977.
(222) Catechesi Tradendae 69. Note also as per CT 69 the originality of religious instruction in schools does not consist solely in rendering possible dialogue with culture in general since this pertains to all the forms of ministry of the word. Religious instruction in schools seeks in a more immediate way to promote this dialogue in a personal process of systematic and critical initiation and by encounter with the cultural patrimony promoted by the school.
(223) Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, “The religious dimension of education in the Catholic school”, l.c. 70.
These are high ideals. I do not recall the same seriousness in my own middle school or high school situation in the early 70’s. In the former, the main four subjects were English, Math, Science, and Social Studies. Religion classes were a daily experience, but they weren’t taught with the same rigor. High school was not dissimilar.
In parish life, I’ve known young people who excelled in sports, music, and the arts. I’ve known youth who excelled in various broad disciplines. But I’ve never known a Catholic high school student who was identified as excelling in religion. In my last city, there was a broad network of Catholic high schools. They were prep schools, primarily.
The ideals of GDC 73 would have interdisciplinary exchanges between religion and science, religion and history, religion and literature, and others. The strongest interface I’ve seen would be in the extra-curricular realm: religion and community service, religion and the arts.
But perhaps some readers know of how Catholic schools apply GDC 73. Links would be most helpful.