WHAT IS A CATECHIST?
While the idea of having Catechists is relatively new in Ireland it is a growing and vibrant ministry in other countries and one that is bearing much fruit.
Persons who take on this ministry tend to do so because of the joy they know in their relationship with Christ and because they want others to know this joy. Consequently we speak of catechists as persons who:
(i) are in love with Christ’s message,
(ii) feel called by the Holy Spirit,
(iii) have been trained and
(iv) commissioned to directly empower others with the truths and mysteries of the Catholic faith.
They are adults, young and older, women and men, to whom aspects of the spiritual formation of children, teenagers and adults can be entrusted, persons capable of encouraging faith-sharing, of nurturing discipleship, enthusiasm, healing, reconciliation and learning.
Engagement in the ministry takes many different forms and shapes. Sometimes it involves teaching in adult education style settings, e.g. as part of a Rite of Christian Initiation programme for adults who wish to join the Church. Other times it may involve encouraging faith sharing among others, e.g. confirmation candidates and teenagers who participate with them in programmes such as the Faith Friends programme.
The ministry can also be expressed by sharing a cuppa with the parents of a new born baby prior to baptism, working with a Parish Pastoral Council in planning a parish mission, providing a spiritual input for an Apostolic Group in the parish, preparing an Advent or Lenten Prayer resource that parishioners may use in their own home and / or assisting the priest of a parish prepare people for a liturgical season or feast. In summary, parish catechists are persons who create and facilitate opportunities likely to have a positive formative influence on the faith of other parishioners.
Another aspect of their work can be providing or tweaking materials and presentations to groups, e.g. parents of First Communion children. The tweaking and adaptation is taken up mindful and respectful of the stages of faith development of such groups and with due reverence for the teachings of the Church. In this context Catechists are expected to have the capacity to present the content of Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church in absorbable ways and to engage in their ministry realizing and teaching that it is God alone who can transform human hearts and souls.
Catechists also participate in efforts to develop Christian community. Along with priests, deacons and bodies such as the Parish Pastoral Council they do this by:
(i) affirming the gifts people bring to their family, church, and community,
(ii) modelling biblical hospitality / remaining sensitive to the social, familial, and cultural issues of individuals who present for catechetical opportunities, and
(iii) inviting the participation of persons whom they feel will benefit.
In some parishes Catechists are also involved in leading people in worship and prayer and more specifically in introducing people to various forms of prayer, e.g. Taize prayer, Lectio Divina, meditation etc. – everything that supports people grow in their relationship with God.
Frequently too by modelling faith-sharing and a sacramental life they motive and encourage people to serve others in their parishes and to be on the look-out for ways they can serve their brothers and sisters in Christ.
In light of this every Catechist needs to be a person who:
(i) actively participates in Roman Catholic worship
(ii) nurtures his or her faith life by a daily commitment to prayer
(iii) relates appropriately with the age group(s) s/he teaches / facilitates
(iv) shares faith with conviction, joy, love, enthusiasm, and hope commits to the teachings of Scripture and the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church
(v) accepts persons as individuals where they are spiritually and emotionally, while gently inviting them to grow in faith
(vi) commits to continued growth and learning for himself or herself
(vii) is open to a good working relationship with the priest(s) of the parish, the bishop and other catechists, especially school catechists and chaplains.
This paper has drawn from the following resources:
Catechism of the Catholic Church, Dublin: Veritas, 1994.
Congregation for the Clergy General Directory for Catechesis, Dublin: Veritas, 1998.
Pope John Paul II Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, Vatican City, 1979 [online]. Rome: Vatican web site. Available http://www.vatican.va [1 May 2008]
Catechesis section of the web site of The Office for Catechesis and Youth Ministry of the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago (USA). See : www.catechesis-chicago.org
“The Parish Catechist” section of the web site of The Diocese of Evansville (USA). See www.evansville-diocese.org/adulteducation/parish%20catechist.htm
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) National Catechetical Directory, Washington: USCCB, 2003.
Prepared by: Justin Harkin, Director of Pastoral Development & Fr. Michael Duignan, Assistant Diocesan Secretary.
Placed on Elphin Diocesan web site 2/5/2008.