A whole new way of doing catechesis

Diana Klein shows us how the Emmaus story is the model for catechesis at all stages of our Christian initiation. The journey of those disciples 2,000 years ago is the same journey that we embark on today.

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“They came to know him in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35)

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults: the model for all catechesis

The General Directory for Catechesis (GDC) makes the catechumenate the model for all catechesis in the church.  It has given us a whole new way of doing catechesis in the church.

Jim Dunning, in his classic book, Echoing God’s Word, challenged us with methods that bring the word of God to echo in and through our lives.  Dunning compares the process which grounds the four periods in the RCIA as being parallel to some extent to Lonergan’s process of coming to insight: be attentive (tune your antennae into all the riches of your experience).  Be reflective (plumb the meaning of all the data).  Be responsible (be able to respond to what you discover).  Be loving (share the gift with others).  Enquiry, Dunning says, demands attention.  Catechumenate demands reflection.  Enlightenment demands response-ability.  Mystagogia emerges from and into love.[1]

Is this not the journey of the disciples in Luke?  They were walking to Emmaus telling their story and reflecting on that story.  They listened to Jesus and they shared the meaning of their Scripture and tradition (Moses and all the prophets, who suffered and died because of their fidelity).  There was conversion – their eyes were opened at the breaking of the bread; they turned around and rushed back to share their good news with the other disciples.

Infant Baptism

Jesus called on his apostles to “go . . . and make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

When parents ask for the baptism of their infant, they are given an opportunity to reflect on their faith – the faith they will teach their child. The method mirrors the RCIA:

The time of enquiry:                
The process begins with the parents approaching the parish priest or the catechist(s) to ask how they can go about arranging for the baptism of their infant.  Their first step is the formal request to be prepared for the baptism by submitting the form.  

The time of catechesis:
The parents are invited to some preparation sessions – an opportunity for them to go through the Rite of Baptism – giving them the chance to think about what they are asking for and helping them to understand the responsibility they are accepting to be the first teachers of their child in the ways of faith.  The second step is the request for baptism; this might take place at one of the Sunday Masses with the presentation of the child to the community.

The time of prayerful preparation:
This is the time when the parents and the parish community pray for the parents and the child who is to be baptised in the bidding prayers.  It leads to the third step in the process: the celebration of the sacrament.

Mystagogia:
During this time, the parents share with their children ways of living their faith by their example and by teaching them to pray.

First Communion

As they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and when he had said the blessing, he broke it and gave it to them. “Take it” he said “this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them, and all drank from it and he said to them, “This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many” (Mk 14:22-25).

Children are prepared for their first communion through the efforts of three groups of people: each child’s own family, the catechists and the parish community as a whole. 

The time of enquiry:                
The process begins by applying to join the preparation programme. The first step in the process may be a presentation of the children at one of the Sunday Masses to enrol them in the programme.

The time of catechesis:           
The parents are invited to some catechetical sessions – a chance for them to learn about the programme that will be used so that they can help their children come to an understanding of the Eucharist.  The children, too, will be invited to some catechetical sessions which will take them through the different parts of the Mass – something done in most of the First communion programmes. The second step might be to have a celebration at one of the Sunday Masses which focuses on one part of the Mass.

Prayerful preparation:
This is the time when the parents and the parish community pray for the children who are preparing to receive their First Communion during the bidding prayers.  There may be a poster with the names of all the children or photos of them with a prayer request.  The next step is the celebration of the Eucharist with the children. 

Mystagogia:                             
The children are sent forth to continue on their faith journey, bringing Christ out to the people they meet in faith, hope and love.

Confirmation

Catechesis draws its content from the living source of the word of God transmitted in Tradition and in the Scriptures. Content is found in biblical and liturgical catechesis, in doctrinal summaries and in the interpretation of the conditions of human existence” (GDC 94 & 118).

Older children or teenagers are prepared to be confirmed through the efforts of three groups of people: each child’s own family, the catechists and the parish community as a whole. 

The time of enquiry:
The process may begin by applying to join the programme. The first step in the process may be a Rite of Enrolment of the candidates at one of the Sunday Masses where the young people commit to taking this preparation seriously.

The time of catechesis:
The candidates consider what it means to be a Christian; they will be prepared to renew their baptismal promises and will reflect on the Creed – what they believe and how they live. The second step might be to young people to make a formal request to celebrate the sacrament at one of the Sunday Masses.

Prayerful preparation:
This is the time when the parents and the parish community pray for the youngsters preparing to be confirmed during the bidding prayers.  There may be a poster with the names of all the youngsters or photos of them with a prayer request.  The candidates themselves will also spend time in prayer and reflection.  The next step is the celebration of the sacrament of confirmation.

Mystagogia:
The youngsters are sent forth to continue on their faith journey, bringing Christ out to the people they meet in faith, hope and love.

Christian Initiation of Children of Catechetical Age (CICCA)

The Church gives us guidelines about what to include in our initiation of children of catechetical age in Part II of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (the RCIA).  This form of the rite is intended for children (7-14 years of age) who were not baptised as infants; they have attained the age of reason and we say they are of catechetical age. They follow the same process as the adults with only a few small differences.  The CICCA tells us that these children should be prepared for and celebrate the three sacraments of initiation together.

Sacramental preparation for people with learning disabilities

“The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Cor 12:22). This short passage of Scripture proclaims a very powerful and important message. Efforts to find ways to help people with learning disabilities to know Jesus and to be more like him have led to a wide development of alternative and creative methods of catechesis which do not rely solely on the literate or verbal.  

Symbolic catechesis speaks from the heart. It is transformative of life and people’s perception of the world – presenting an integrated and acculturated faith that unifies the diverse members of all cultures and all abilities in the community. Symbols of Faith is a programme of faith formation and sacramental preparation for people with learning disabilities.  The process is the same as the one used in the RCIA, in keeping with Part II (the CICCA) and is adapted to accommodate the ability of the people being prepared using symbolic catechesis.[2] 

“They came to know him in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35)

Like the disciples, we come to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread. We come to know him through the Scriptures and we come to know him through the liturgy and the sacraments.  And, like the disciples we naturally want to share the Good News with others.

Diana Klein is a writer and an editor specialising in pastoral theology and catechetics. This article is an adaptation of her chapter on catechetics in How to survive working in a Catholic Parish, Redemptorist Publications, 2016.


[1]    Bernard Lonergan, Insight, Philosophical Library, New York, 1957 and Method in Theology, Darton, Longman and Todd, London, 1971 as quoted in James Dunning, New Wine: New Wineskins, Pastoral Implications of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, William Sadler, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, 1981, pp. 20-21.

[2]    Symbols of faith – faith formation and sacramental preparation for people with learning disabilities, by Diana Klein, Redemptorist Publications, Chawton, Hampshire, January 2015.