Even with the extension of the services rendered by lay people both within and outside the Church, there is always need for the ministry of catechists, a ministry with its own characteristics.
This “extension” may mean the piling on of various or even random responsibilities. Catechists I’ve known have been asked to sing, plan liturgical prayer, conduct charity events. On one level, it’s not surprising: this is what we ask of priests.
The role of catechist is essentially a person of evangelization and discipleship, according to Pope John Paul II. I would largely agree:
Catechists are specialists, direct witnesses and irreplaceable evangelizers who, as I have often stated and experienced during my missionary journeys, represent the basic strength of Christian communities, especially in the young churches. The new Code of Canon Law acknowledges the tasks, qualities and qualifications of catechists.(Cf. 785.1)
Notice we haven’t talked about “teacher” yet. Thirty years and fifty-five years ago, challenges were identified.
However, it must not be forgotten that the work of catechists is becoming more and more difficult and demanding as a result of ecclesial and cultural changes.
I wouldn’t see this as an example of blame. It’s a human reality. The Church and the surrounding cultures have always been in a process of change. We might be able to say the changes are happening very rapidly compared to a century or a millennium ago. But significant shifts were always an experience of upheaval, of disconnect, as well as new opportunity.
Catechists are professionals (and that’s not a bad word):
What the Council suggested is still valid today: a more careful doctrinal and pedagogical training, continuing spiritual and apostolic renewal, and the need to provide “a decent standard of living and social security.”(Ad Gentes 17)
As for this point, I’ve noticed some shuttering of opportunities in the past few decades:
It is also important to make efforts to establish and support schools for catechists, which are to be approved by the Episcopal Conferences and confer diplomas officially recognized by the latter.(Cf. Plenary Assembly of the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, 1969, on catechists, and the related “Instruction” of April 1970: Bibliographia Missionaria 34 (1970), 197-212 and S. C. de Propaganda Fide Memoria Rerum, III/2 (1976), 821-831)
One challenge that surrounds this point involves the insecurity of some clergy and the institution that lay people serve on a level of competence that can be perceived as threatening. Instead of teamwork and a mutual affirmation of roles, abilities, and spiritual gifts, we’ve seen chasms open. Bishops are responsible for healing this. Their ministry, by definition, is promoting unity. Many do not do this, sadly.
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