We warmly welcome Pope Francis’s Apostolic Letter Antiquum ministerium, formally recognising the ministry of catechist and look forward to what it proposes for the Universal Church and for the Church in England and Wales.
The ministry of catechist, which the document promotes anew in the Church, flows from the Directory for Catechesis published in March 2020 and emphasises the connection between evangelisation and catechesis as a life-long process of formation.
It sets the ministry of catechesis in the heart of the Church’s mission to evangelise all people:
“The history of evangelisation over the past two millennia clearly shows the effectiveness of the mission of catechists.” (AM 3)
In welcoming this “motu proprio”, firstly, we would like to pay tribute to the dedicated and generous work of all our catechists over the years. We thank those who have supported parish catechesis and, through their generosity, have helped many to come to a deeper knowledge of their faith. We can think of the many ways in which catechists have accompanied others in the journey of faith, not only as teachers but even more as witnesses, walking with those seeking to know the Lord and his Church.
The ministry of catechist is rooted in the lay apostolate, and so is a way in which lay men and women can authentically live out their vocation in the life of the Church, bringing their families and friends, those with whom they share life’s journey, to an encounter with the Lord. In this way they testify to Christ in service of the Church and the world. This sense of living out the Christian life is always based on a personal encounter with the Lord, rooted in our baptismal vocation and expressed in witness.
The “motu proprio” asks Episcopal Conferences to “render effective the ministry of catechist, determining the necessary process of formation and the normative criteria for admission to this ministry.” (AM 9).
The bishops of England and Wales have already begun this work by reflecting on the Directory for Catechesis. With the new “motu proprio” we will seek ways to incorporate the ministry of catechist into the life of the Church in England and Wales alongside the ministries of lector and acolyte.
We will now determine how best to support prospective catechists, both in discernment of their possible vocation and in formation for ministry.
In our reflection ‘The Day of the Lord’ we also gave consideration to how we emerge from the global pandemic and our desire to meet the challenge of bringing our communities and the practice of the faith to a still greater expression and strength. This is also a key consideration in how we form lay men and women for the ministry of catechist.
A solid preparation for this ministry based on a clear understanding of its biblical, theological, pastoral and pedagogical foundations will no doubt bring great fruit to the Church.
Bishop David Evans
Chair, Committee for Catechesis
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
You can download the Apostolic Letter Antiquum ministerium here:
Pope Francis reminds us that we cannot “forget the countless lay men and women who directly took part in the spread of the Gospel through catechetical instruction. Men and women of deep faith, authentic witnesses of holiness, who in some cases were also founders of Churches and eventually died as martyrs. In our own day too, many competent and dedicated catechists are community leaders in various parts of the world and carry out a mission invaluable for the transmission and growth of the faith.” (AM3)
Through baptism all are called to a new life in Christ and share in the life of the Church. Each member of the Church is called to serve the Lord by the manner of their lives and so this new ministry is an opportunity for us to discern how the Lord wishes us to serve Him in the Church. Those called to the ministry of catechist, like all called to serve in the Church, will share in a key responsibility to proclaim the faith and form others as they come to know the Lord.
The ministry of catechist, which is set in the ancient tradition of the Church, is rooted in service of the Lord and his Gospel in the life of the Church so Pope Francis reminds us that:
“The role played by catechist is one specific form of service among others within the Christian community… every catechist must be a witness to the faith, a teacher, a mystagogue, a companion and pedagogue, who teaches for the Church.” (AM 6)
The “motu proprio” makes it clear that this new ministry of catechist is aligned to the bishop’s ministry in the local Church. The diocesan bishop is to promote the discernment and formation of this new ministry so that it is set in service of the Church. Pope Francis reminds us: “It is in fact a stable form of service rendered to the local Church in accordance with the pastoral needs identified by the local Ordinary, yet one carried out as work of the laity, as demanded by the very nature of the ministry.” (AM 7)
Catechesis is a ministry of teaching and forming that passes on the Word of God to inform the Catholic community and candidates for initiation into the Church about the teachings of Christ, transmitted by the Apostles to the Church. The word ‘catechesis’ comes from the Greek for “echo” and is intended to nurture the Christian life through imitation in word and deed. The main sources for all catechesis are the Sacred Scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The lector is called upon to proclaim the Sacred Scriptures (except the Gospel) at Mass and at other liturgical functions, and also presents the General Intercessions.
The word ‘acolyte’ comes from the Greek for the “one who comes”, or an “attendant”. In the liturgy the acolyte assists the priest and deacon by carrying the missal, cross or candles. The acolyte is also entrusted to distribute Holy Communion during Mass and to take Holy Communion to the sick outside of the celebration of Mass.
Pope Paul VI in his Apostolic Letter Ministeria Quaedam of August 1972 said that these ministries were no longer reserved just for those in preparation for the priesthood, but were open, from that time, for laymen to receive. In January 2021 Pope Francis extended these ministries to lay women.