Under the heading, “The catechetical tradition of the Fathers and the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” we read:
129. The whole Tradition of the Church together with Scripture is contained in the “deposit of faith”. “The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and in her prayer”. (Dei Verbum 8c) With regard to this doctrinal and pastoral richness, some aspects merit special attention:
– the decisive importance which the fathers attribute to the baptismal catechumenate in the structure of the particular churches;
– the gradual and progressive conception of Christian formation, arranged in stages: (441) The fathers model the catechumenate on the divine pedagogy; in the catechumenal process the catechumen, like the people of Israel, goes through a journey to arrive at the promised land: Baptismal identification with Christ. (442)
– The organization of the content of catechesis in accordance with the stages of that process; in patristic catechesis a primary role is devoted to the narration of the history of salvation; as Lent advanced, the Creed and the Our Father were handed on to the catechumens together with their meaning and moral implications; after the celebration of the sacraments of initiation, mystagogical catechesis helped interiorize them and to savour the experience of configuration to Christ and of communion with him.
(441) When the Second Vatican Council called for the restoration of the adult catechumenate it underlined its necessary gradual nature: “The Adult Catechumenate arranged in various stages will be re-established” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 64).
(442) The witness of Origen is significant: “When you abandon the darkness of idolatry and when you wish to arrive at a knowledge of the Divine Law then you begin your exodus from Egypt. When you are counted among the multitude of the catechumens, when you have started to obey the commandments of the Church, then you have crossed the Red Sea. During the sojourn in the desert, everyday, when you apply yourself to listen to the Law of God and to contemplate the face of Moses who uncovers for you the glory of the Lord. But when you arrive at the baptismal font, having crossed the Jordan, then you will enter into the Promised Land” (Homiliae in Iesu Nave, IV, 1: Sources Chrétiennes 71, 149).
It’s worth pondering why the RCIA is considered so important in the Church today. The saints considered it so; baptism informed much of their teaching and preaching in the centuries after Christ. The importance of a gradual awakening to Christ offers a practical counterbalance to the attractive headlines of instant conversion. That it patterns the gradual revelation of God as seen in the Scriptures.
130. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for its part, brings to catechesis “the great tradition of catechisms”. (Catechism 13) In the richness of this tradition the following aspects deserve attention:
– The cognitive or truth dimension of the faith: this is not only living attachment to God but also assent of intellect and will; the catechisms constantly remind the Church of the need for the faithful to have an organic knowledge of the faith, however simple in form;
– An education in the faith, which is well rooted in all its sources, embraces all the different dimensions of faith profession, celebration, life and prayer.
The wealth of the patristic tradition and the tradition of catechisms comes together in the actual catechesis of the Church, enriching her in her own concept of catechesis and of its contents. These traditions bring to catechesis the seven basic elements which characterize it: the three phases in the narration of the history of salvation (the Old Testament, the life of Jesus Christ and the history of the Church) and the four pillars of its exposition (the Creed, the Sacraments, the Decalogue and the Our Father). With these seven foundation stones, both of initiatory catechesis and of continuing Christian development, various schemes and styles may be devised, in accordance with the different cultural situations of those to whom catechesis is addressed.
If catechists adhere to GDC 130, they should be able to identify where the content of their service lies among these seven basic elements. Parents seriously interested in home catechesis of any sort could have a basic approach that considers these elements. Any other applications that you see?