The long-awaited “Directory for Catechesis” from the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization arrives at a most timely moment as the universal church seeks a renewal of Christian faith in local churches struggling through a pandemic-ridden world. Two papal phrases frame the text — “The church exists to evangelize,” of St. Paul VI and “I am a mission,” of Pope Francis.
Keeping with the genre of catechetical directories that followed the Second Vatican Council, this updated “Directory for Catechesis” presents fundamental theological-pastoral principles for the age-old ministry of catechesis while responding to current social conditions and cultural forces that shape the church’s communication of the living mystery of God today.
In a perfect synthesis of old and new elements, the directory confirms the close link between evangelization and catechesis that unites the church’s faithful witness to the Gospel core, the kerygma, to ongoing formation and maturation of faith within a community of believers.
Witness to the kerygma in all catechetical activities is nothing less than the loving and joyful sharing of the good news of the saving life, death and resurrection of Jesus with the invitation to live a life transformed by faith in Jesus within the church.
As the introduction notes, catechesis accompanies a dynamic process of internalization of the Gospel involving the whole person in his or her life experience, a spiritual action that is the original and necessary form of inculturation of the faith.
Addressed primarily to those engaged in catechetical ministry, namely bishops, pastors, catechists, parents and teachers, the document invites the reader on a journey of reflection on the nature, purpose, tasks, content, methods and sources of catechesis in the contemporary world.
As a document of the universal church, it encourages the drafting or revision of national directories that attend to local catechetical opportunities and challenges in particular churches.
In three major parts divided across 12 chapters, the new directory offers key elements that permeate all catechetical activities: witness, mercy and dialogue. Presented in dynamic continuity with the two catechetical directories that preceded it, namely the 1997 “General Directory for Catechesis” and the 1971 “General Catechetical Directory,” this text affirms the perennial nature and purpose of catechesis.
Several new emphases are also proposed — the primacy of the kerygma in all catechetical activities; the dynamic process of evangelization and catechesis within it as a spiritual action above all; the pedagogy of God that inspires the pedagogy of the church in catechetical tasks of initiation, education and ongoing formation in Christian discipleship; catechesis in a digital culture; the globalization of culture; bioethical issues that impact catechesis; the “way of beauty” in catechesis; and catechesis that accompanies with mercy the poor and people with disabilities, migrants and prisoners.
Drawing on a key theme in the 2012 world synod on the “new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith” and Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium,” this document brings to the forefront the elements of a kerygmatic catechesis that is field-encompassing.
Catechists are to give qualitative priority to an evangelizing catechesis in which the kerygma is the first, repeated and main announcement of catechesis to all ages in one form or another, in all its stages and moments.
“At the heart of catechesis, we find, in essence, a person, the person of Jesus of Nazareth,” wrote St. John Paul II. At the center of the new directory stands the person of Jesus Christ, whose incarnation, life, death and resurrection grounds both the content and methods of catechesis of children, youth and adults in today’s world.
One noteworthy highlight in this directory is its focus on the identity and formation of catechists, who are the living face of the church’s catechetical efforts. A renewal of the church is linked inextricably to a renewal of catechesis made possible by vibrant, ongoing catechist formation. By responding to the universal call to holiness catechists become the “saints next door,” in the phrase of Pope Francis.
The presentation of a new “Directory for Catechesis” occurred three months after its approval on March 23, 2020, the liturgical memorial of 16th-century St. Turibius of Mongrovejo, bishop and model catechist.
In the intervening months between its approval and its publication, the universal church has endured unprecedented and devastating effects of a pandemic. In a post-pandemic church, this new directory will surely serve as one trusted road map for a renewed proclamation of the Gospel unfolding in the new evangelization and in that one remarkable moment within it, that is the church’s ministry of catechesis.
Sullivan teaches catechetics at The Catholic University of America in the School of Theology and Religious Studies.