Lay catechists are valued not only because of the quality of the information they impart, but also because their ministry is rooted in their life witness in the world:
230. The catechetical activity of the laity also has a proper character which is due to their condition in the Church: “their secular character is proper and peculiar to the laity”. (Lumen Gentium 31. Christifedeles Laici 15 contains a detailed analysis of the ‘secular character’ of the lay faithful.) The laity engage in catechesis on the basis of their insertion in the world, sharing all the demands of humanity and bringing to the transmission of the Gospel specific sensitivity and nuances: “this evangelization, that is, the proclamation of Christ by word and the testimony of life, acquires a specific property and peculiar efficacy because it is accomplished in the ordinary circumstances of the world”. (Lumen Gentium 35) Indeed by sharing the same form of life as those whom they catechize, lay catechists have a special sensitivity for incarnating the Gospel in the concrete life of men and women. Catechumens and those receiving catechesis can find in them a Christian model for their future as believers.
The ministry of lay catechists is sacramentally based. It is ordered by the clergy, but is not dependent on priests. Its foundation is deeper: the personal call of Jesus discerned in the faith life of women and men.
231. The vocation of the laity to catechesis springs from the sacrament of Baptism. It is strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation they participate in the “priestly, prophetic and kingly ministry of Christ”. (Apostolicam Actuositatem 2b. cf. Rite of Baptism for Children 62) In addition to the common vocation of the apostolate, some lay people feel called interiorly by God to assume the service of catechist. The Church awakens and discerns this divine vocation and confers the mission to catechize. The Lord Jesus invites men and women, in a special way, to follow him, teacher and formator of disciples. This personal call of Jesus Christ and its relationship to him are the true moving forces of catechetical activity. “From this loving knowledge of Christ springs the desire to proclaim him, to ‘evangelize,’ and to lead others to the ‘Yes’ of faith in Jesus Christ”. (Catechism 429) To feel called to be a catechist and to receive this mission from the Church acquires different levels of dedication inaccordance with the particular characteristics of individuals. At times the catechist can collaborate in the service of catechesis over a limited period or purely on an occasional basis, but it is always a valuable service and a worthy collaboration. The importance of the ministry of catechesis, however, would suggest that there should be in a Diocese a certain number of religious and laity publicly recognized and permanently dedicated to catechesis who, in communion with the priests and the Bishop, give to this diocesan service that ecclesial form which is proper to it.*
* The Code of Canon Law establishes that ecclesiastical authority may officially entrust an office or an ecclesial service to the laity, prescinding from the fact that this service is or is not a formally instituted non-ordained ministry: “lay people, who are found to be suitable, are capable of being admitted by the sacred pastors to those ecclesiastical offices and functions which, in accordance with the provisions of law, they can discharge” (CIC 228 § 1); cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi 73; Christifedeles Laici 23.
The one interesting endorsement from this document is the regard for people who might serve occasionally as a catechist. My take on this is that catechetical ministry should be wholly focused on those whom it serves. I applaud the resistance to instituting “permanent” catechists as a special order. Certainly, some people have this as a true calling. I was speaking to a friend of mine about his experiences as a Confirmation catechist this year. Last year, his eldest was confirmed. Next year, his second child will be. This year he was part of the Confirmation team, and he spoke of his experience of developing as a more effective catechist and role model. It wasn’t just rendering a service to his own children. He sees a three-year involvement (and perhaps beyond) as a discerned and thought-out arc of service and personal renewal.