Let’s talk about books. If this document had been prepared today, we might be talking about internet sites, too. Books are seen as supplements to the “live communication of the Christian message.” They do not replace the catechist.
283. Along with those instruments dedicated to the orientation and general planning of catechetical activity (analysis of the situation, plan of action, Catechetical Directory), there are other instruments of more immediate use in catechetical activity. In the first place, mention must be made of textbooks, (321) which are placed directly in the hands of catechumens and those being catechized. Also helpful are the various catechetical Guides for both catechists and, in the case of the catechesis of children, for parents. (322) Audio-visual aids too are important in catechesis and appropriate discernment should be exercised in their use. (Cf. Part Three, chap. 2, Social communication; cf. General Catechetical Directory 122) The basic criterion for these work aids should be that of twofold fidelity to God and to (people), a fundamental principle for the whole Church. This implies an ability to marry perfect doctrinal fidelity with a profound adaptation to (human) needs, taking into consideration the psychology of age and the socio-cultural context in which (people) live.
(321) With regard to this ensemble of catechetical books Catechesi Tradendae notes: “one of the major features of the renewal of catechetics today is the rewriting and multiplication of catechetical books taking place in many parts of the Church. Numerous very successful works have been produced and are a real treasure in this service of catechetical instruction” (Catechesi Tradendae 49).
The General Catechetical Directory 120 defines textbooks in the following way: “textbooks are aids offered to the Christian community that is engaged in catechesis. No text can take the place of a live communication of the Christian message; nevertheless, the texts do have great value in that they make it possible to present a fuller exposition of the witnesses of Christian tradition and of principles that foster catechetical activity”.
(322) With regard to catechetical manuals General Catechetical Directory 121 indicates what they should contain: “an explanation of the message of Salvation (constant reference must be made to the sources and a clear distinction must be kept between those things which pertain to the faith and to the doctrine that must be held, and those things which are mere opinions of theologians); psychological and pedagogical advice; suggestions about methods”.
In short, catechetical aids must:
– be “linked with the real life of the generation to which they are addressed, showing close acquaintance with its anxieties and questionings, struggles and hopes”; (Catechesi Tradendae 49b)
– try “to speak meaningfully to this generation”; (Catechesi Tradendae 49b)
– “really aim to give to those who use them a better knowledge of the mysteries of Christ, aimed at true conversion and a life more in conformity with God’s will”. (Catechesi Tradendae 49b)
Catechesi Tradendae was Pope John Paul II’s first major catechetical document. Clearly, it was a personal priority, and given the witness of his life, especially connecting with students, it’s not a surprise his emphasis would be on an effective and personal touch.
Note at the end that knowledge itself is a means to an end. The desired result of a well-formed believer is “true conversion” and a life’s example that exemplifies “conformity with God’s will.” Gathering knowledge, by itself, is not the mark of an accomplished believer.