In this summary of the Directory for Catechesis (2020), we go back to the beginning of Pope Francis’s pontificate and his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, which is the precursor to this new directory.
The Directory for Catechesis is an opportunity for the Church to re-examine the role of catechesis in our contemporary situation, in some way heightened by the challenges of the COVID pandemic.
The impact of the global pandemic has accelerated change in our society at so many levels and has made people question what is truly important for them. A pertinent example of this is the way in which the digital culture is changing our lives and how much we have come to rely on it, something which has accelerated in the past few months. This shows us that nothing is static and that by responding to the situation of our times the Church can become an evangelising presence in the world and guide people in the pathways of faith.
During these days the Church has had a very visible presence in the digital world, and many have come to experience the Church’s worship for the first time via the internet. The last few months, in many ways, have highlighted the challenges that we face both in coming to know Christ and how to present Him to others. The Directory, therefore, comes at a grace-filled moment and demonstrates ways in which we, the members of the Church, can be more confident in proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ contained in Scripture and Tradition and to incarnate him in the life of all believers. This surely “needs to be the centre of all evangelising activity and all efforts at Church renewal.”
To understand the new Directory, we must go back to the beginning of Pope Francis’s pontificate and his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, which is the precursor to this new directory. Pope Francis stated “I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelisation marked by joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.” The Directory for Catechesis presents opportunities for us to seek out these new paths share the joy of the Gospel.
The point of departure to understand the new Directory
Evangelii Gaudium gives both the point of departure and the direction of the new Directory which itself is set in a context of personal accompaniment which shapes the way in which the Church understands the tasks of evangelisation and catechesis. “Evangelisation is the task of the Church. The Church, as the agent of evangelisation, is more than an organic and hierarchical institution; she is first and foremost a people advancing on its pilgrim way towards God.” Everything the Church does, therefore, advances us on the way to God and so in her evangelising activity the Church invites the People of God to co-operate with Divine Grace and invites us to live in that life. “No one is saved by himself or herself, individually, or by his own efforts.” It is God who attracts us to himself by “taking into account the complex interweaving of personal relationships entailed in the life of a human community. This people which God has chosen and called is the Church.”
The Church draws others into this community of faith by a spirit of joyful trust in the Lord and attentive to his command to “Go out and make disciples!” The Church offers the world a message of encouragement and hope, being God’s leaven in the world in the various contexts where the People of God find themselves. Pope Francis is clear that the Church “must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.” This is a major step on the way to bringing the Lord’s message of love to the world.
By virtue of their baptism the members of the Church are called to be missionary disciples who have a missionary mentality and hearts focused on the Word of God and ready to offer what they have received to society. The People of God dispersed in many cultures and places incarnate and receive the Gospel in the context of that place and time and transmit through their careful listening to the Word and by responding to the needs of that place. The reality, as Pope Francis sees it, is that “being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place; on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.” The new Directory gives us concrete ways in which we can make this real in the Church today.
The first characteristic is Kerygmatic catechesis “which goes to the heart of the faith and grasps the essence of the Christian message.” It “manifests the actions of the Holy Spirit, who communicates God’s saving love in Jesus Christ and continues to give himself so that every human being may have the fulness of life.” This is at the very heart of our mission to communicate to others the Truth and beauty that God wishes to bestow upon the world. The new directory, thus, opens our cultural horizons and reminds us that the most essential work of the Church is to evangelise, to bring others to know Christ in a way that “promotes fidelity to the Gospel as a way of life.”
Pope Francis stated that “we must not think that in catechesis the kerygma gives way to a supposedly more “solid” formation. Nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation. All Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma, which is reflected in and constantly illumines the work of catechesis, thereby enabling us to understand more fully the significance of every subject which the latter treats.” It is the fundamental action of the Church that we proclaim Christ and make him known and so the missionary activity of the Church is deeply intertwined with its catechetical activity.
The second distinctive characteristic is catechesis as a mystagogic initiation whereby the believer is introduced into a living experience of the Christian community which is the “true setting of the life of faith.” This can never be a solitary endeavour but rather is the place where all share the road together, nourished by the Word of God and attentive to the signs of the times, so as to share the joys and hopes of the Christian people and proclaim it to the world. The Directory is clear in pointing out that this process is a life-long process as we continue to accept what the Lord is saying to us and offering to us as we understand his life more clearly reflected in our own lives.
“It pleased God, in his goodness and wisdom, to reveal himself and to make know the mysteries of his will. His will was that men should have access to the Father, through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature.” The teaching of Dei Verbum reminds us that God made himself one like us, in all ways except sin, and in walking the journey with us God is not just the word that speaks to us, but he is also that he is truly the God with us. He is not a casual acquaintance on the journey, but he is in fact the very reason for the journey. It is hoped that the new Directory will be a useful tool for the local Churches to seek ways in which they can incarnate the initial proclamation into the lived reality of the local Church especially in its “catechetical reflection and ecclesial pastoral practice.”
These two distinctive characteristics of the new Directory offer a new way of reinterpreting the catechetical process which brings a person to an intimate union with Christ as both the goal of a catechetical initiative and accompaniment the very process by which this happens. “Only a catechesis that strives to help each individual to develop his own unique response of faith can reach the specified goal.” It is for this reason that we need to be attentive to the action of the Holy Spirit that brings joy, serenity and responsibility and from that flows the act of faith that desires and ever increasing knowledge of the Lord which is set forth in the communion of the Church.
“The directory for catechesis arranges its contents in a new and systematic structure.”
The first part, catechesis in the Church’s mission of evangelisation, opens up this itinerary and thus speaks of how God reveals himself in the world. It speaks of the identity of the catechist and the goals and tasks of catechesis and the vocation of the catechist. It speaks of the necessary and important work of catechetical formation, both for the catechist and in the giving of catechesis.
The second part of the Directory looks to the process of catechesis and deals with the catechetical dynamic. In this second part we are offered a pedagogy of faith in the Church and are reminded of the importance of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. An important stage in this second part is to recognise the value of catechesis in the lives of persons and here we are presented with a comprehensive list.
The Directory explores the importance of catechesis among the family, with children and teenagers and the whole realm of young people. It looks to how catechesis is carried out with adults and then looks to specific groupings; the elderly, those with disabilities, migrants and emigrants and those who are marginalised. The new Directory invites the local Churches to give consideration to catechesis with all the particular groups that it mentions.
In the third part Catechesis in the particular Churches the focus is to see how the “ministry of the Word of God takes shape in the concreteness of ecclesial life.” This section presents how catechesis is manifested in the various ecclesial contexts and in the contemporary cultural scenarios such as the urban and rural context. An interesting feature of the third part is how it looks to how catechesis is involved in ecumenism and religious pluralism and in socio-cultural contexts.
In its final section it speaks to how the Directory is useful for the episcopal conferences and the dioceses in their catechetical work.
The new Directory is clear in its emphasis to offer new guidelines for catechetical practice that are able to respond to the current time and therefore it is a tool for the elaboration of the national or local directory. This present directory is at the service of bishops, of the episcopal conferences…and organisations engaged in catechesis and evangelisation.
The Directory proposes the Rite of Christian initiation as the model, suggesting that it cannot be reduced to a process, but it is an ongoing journey and necessitates a conversion of heart. By following this catechumenal model, the Directory looks to a formative dynamism whereby the community seeks to discern how best it may serve the local community of faith. At the heart of the catechetical journey is its Paschal character focussed on Christ’s passion, death and resurrection creating the opportunity to bring each person in contact with the Risen One.
The Directory is keen to explore how the catechumenate is an initiation into faith and this is formed in attentive listening to the Word of God, the liturgical and teaching life of the Church formed in community of faith which extends to conversion and ongoing witness bringing out the formative and accompaniment practice of the Church. In this way the Church “patiently accompanying her children and respecting the pace of their maturing, shows herself to be an attentive mother.”
The catechetical journey is bound up with its tasks which are enumerated by the directory and wrapped in its ultimate goal which is to know Christ and have a living encounter with Him. The tasks are summarised thus
The sources of catechesis, like the tasks, are invaluable for the catechetical journey. They are interrelated and can all be traced back to the Word of God, of which they are an expression.
There is no doubt that the publication of the new Directory for Catechesis is an important moment for the Church in our time. It calls each believer to focus on their relationship with the Lord. It calls for the pastors of the Church to create new ways to come to know Christ and proclaim him confidently in our own day and age. This Directory provides a prism through which we can reflect the contribution of catechesis in our own settings and see how we can adapt them to remain always focussed on the Lord and what he asks of us.
The Directory “represents a further stage in the dynamic renewal that catechesis carries out” and is offered as framework for the local Churches to look once again at the connection between evangelisation and catechesis and see how it can be promoted in the world of today. It is offered as part of a process that helps the Church to continue to reveal and celebrate God’s enduring love for the world and for the people he has created to be his own.