Digesting the Content

27 Jun

Catechesi TradendaeChurch documents can seem a bit daunting at first, especially to lay people who have not studied Catholic theology for any length of time. Yet the writings of the Popes and other Church authorities are far too important to be left merely to scholars or so-called “experts.”

I received a tip many years ago that I have found very helpful: Most Church documents, including Vatican II documents and papal encyclicals, are divided into numbered sections. Each section is bite-sized, usually 1-4 paragraphs in length. The tip is to read the document one numbered section at a time, and then try to summarize the content in one sentence. This may be a little challenging at first, but eventually you will get the hang of it and quickly zero in on the main point of the section.

One of Blessed John Paul II’s longest documents is Catechesi Tradendae, a 1979 apostolic exhortation on Catechesis in Our Time. Below you will find my summary of this document, with a few memory verses thrown in at no extra charge. Especially during this “Year of Faith,” you might want to try this method with one of the documents of Vatican II or an encyclical on a topic you find most interesting.


(1) Christ’s Final Command
As Our Lord commissioned the Apostles to explain His teachings with authority, the Church continues this mission to make disciples through the work of catechesis, which nourishes the life of faith of the individual and also builds up the Church, the Body of Christ.

(2) Paul VI’s Solicitude
Pope John Paul II affirms the work of recent Popes, especially Pope Paul VI, in the area of catechesis, culminating in the 1977 Synod of Bishops devoted to this topic.

(3) A Fruitful Synod
The Synod saw in catechetical renewal a precious gift from the Holy Spirit to the Church, a gift to which the People of God are responding with generosity and dedication.

(4) Purpose of the Exhortation
Carrying on the work of Popes Paul VI and John Paul I, Pope John Paul II seeks to strengthen Christian faith and life through the renewal of the Church’s catechetical ministry.

I. We Have but One Teacher, Jesus Christ

(5) Putting into Communion with the Person of Christ
At the heart of catechesis is the Person of Jesus Christ, such that the primary object of catechesis is the mystery of Christ, and its goal is to put us in intimate communion with the Holy Trinity.

(6) Transmitting Christ’s Teaching
In catechesis, everything is taught in reference to Christ, and it is Christ Himself who teaches; the catechist should be aware of this principle and not substitute his or her own opinion for the teachings of Christ.

(7) Christ the Teacher
The Gospels relate many occasions in which Jesus “taught” the people; His teaching was not a body of abstract truths, but rather He communicated the living mystery of God as one who had authority.

(8) The One “Teacher”
Jesus was recognized by His contempories as “Teacher,” and at particularly solemn and highly significant moments He calls Himself “Teacher”; The image of Christ the Teacher has been part of Christian tradition from earliest times.

(9) Teaching Through His Life as a Whole
Christ’s teaching cannot be separated from who He is and what He does; That’s why the crucifix is one of the most sublime and popular images of Christ the Teacher.

Memory Verses:
*John 7:16—“My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.”
*1 Corinthians 11:23—“I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.”
*John 13:13—“You call me teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.”

II. An Experience as Old as the Church

(10) The Mission of the Apostles
As witnessed in the Acts of the Apostles, the Apostles were faithful to the mission given them by Christ to make disciples of all nations, as they devoted themselves to teaching what the Lord taught them.

(11) Catechesis in the Apostolic Age
The Apostles associated many others in the early catechetical ministry of the Church, and in particular they transmitted to their successors task of teaching.

(12) The Fathers of the Church
In the post-apostolic age, especially in the third and fourth centuries, the most impressive bishops and pastors considered it an important part of their ministry to deliver catechetical instruction.

(13) Councils and Missionary Activity
Catechesis draws ever fresh energy from Church councils, including Vatican II; the missions, meanwhile, have required the Church to apply catechetical ministry in various cultures and situations, thus facilitating her external as well as internal growth.

(14) Catechesis as the Church’s Right and Duty
All the faithful, especially pastors, have the duty to make disciples; at the same time, all the baptized have the inalienable right to catechetical formation, and civil authorities have the duty to protect the religious freedom of its citizens.

(15) Priority of This Task
The Church’s life is enriched when with an attitude of faith she makes catechesis a priority, investing in this ministry her best resources, without sparing effort, toil, or material means.

(16) Shared but Differentiated Responsibility
Despite different responsibilities, catechesis is a responsibility shared by all the faithful, including clergy, religious, teachers, catechists, parents, and those involved in the media.

(17) Continual Balanced Renewal
Authentic catechetical renewal, ever faithful to the integrity of doctrinal content, must avoid dangers of routine (refusal to accept any changes) and improvisation (accepting imprudent change).

Memory Verses:
*Acts 2:42—“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers.”
*Acts 8:30-31—“Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone instructs me.’”

III. Catechesis in the Church’s Pastoral and Missionary Activity

(18) Catechesis as a Stage in Evangelization
Catechesis is a moment in the process of evangelization; it is an education in the faith, which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted in an organic and systematic way, thereby initiating people into the fullness of Christian life.

(19) Catechesis and the Initial Proclamation of the Gospel
Catechesis has the twofold objective of maturing the initial faith and of educating disciples through a deepening, systematic presentation of the Person and message of Jesus Christ; yet in practice many who come for catechesis have not been adequately evangelized, so catechesis must also be concerned with the awakening of faith and conversion.

(20) Specific Aim of Catechesis
Within the whole process of evangelization, the aim of catechesis is to be the teaching and maturation stage, giving growth, knowledge, and life to the seed of faith sown by the Holy Spirit which was received at Baptism, so that we may be more closely conformed to Christ.

(21) Need for Systematic Catechesis
Catechetical instruction must be systematic, deal with the essentials of the faith, go beyond the initial proclamation and thus be sufficiently complete, and be part of an integral Christian initiation.

(22) Catechesis and Life Experience
Christianity involves right belief and right action, and there should be no opposition set up between a systematic, doctrinal catechesis and life experience; indeed, the orderly study jof the message of Christ illumines the whole of life with the light of the Gospel.

(23) Catechesis and Sacraments
Every form of catechesis necessarily leads to the sacraments of faith; sacramental life is impoverished if it’s not based on knowledge of the meaning of the sacraments, and catechesis becomes intellectualized if it fails to come alive in the sacramental practice.

(24) Catechesis and Ecclesial Community
Authentic catechesis builds communion in the Church; for that reason the Church community must not only teach the faith, but also welcome Church members into an environment that nurtures the faith and fosters missionary dynamism.

(25) Catechesis in the Wide Sense Necessary for Maturity and Strength of Faith
Through catechesis the Gospel kerygma (the initial ardent proclamation by which a person is brought to the decision to entrust himself to Christ) is gradually deepened, developed in its implicit consequences, explained in language that includes an appeal to reason, and channeled toward Christian practice in the Church and witness to the world.

Memory Verse:
*John 14:6 – “Jesus said to Thomas, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

IV. The Whole of the Good News Drawn from Its Source

(26) Content of the Message
Catechesis probes the good news of salvation unceasingly through reflection and systematic study, ordered toward authentic Christian living.

(27) The Source
Catechesis draws its content from the Word of God—transmitted through Tradition and Scripture—the source and goal of the Church’s teaching, liturgy, and life.

(28) The Creed, an Exceptionally Important Expression of Doctrine
Throughout Church history, Creeds have provided important syntheses or summaries of the Church’s faith, which traditionally have been an integral element of catechetical instruction; Pope Paul VI’s Credo of the People of God in our time is a sure reference point for the content of catechesis.

(29) Factors that Must Not Be Neglected
The essential content of catechesis includes an introduction to the Redemptive Incarnation—to the Son of God who saved us through His death and Resurrection; to the Mystery of the Church as the “Family of God”; and to the moral demands of living the Gospel in the world.

(30) Integrity of Content
The disciple of Christ has the right to a presentation of the Catholic Faith that is whole and entire, in all its rigor and vigor, and not in a mutilated, falsified, or diminished form.

(31) By Means of Suitable Pedagogical Methods
The integrity of content allows for diverse pedagogical approaches, so long as the approach is not motivated by prejudices or ideologies, but by a sincere desire to communicate the entirety of the faith in a manner geared to the particular individual or group.

(32) Ecumenical Dimension of Catechesis
Catechesis necessarily has an ecumenical dimension; while never ceasing to teach the fullness of revealed truth that comes through the Church, catechists should correctly and fairly present the other Churches and ecclesial communions so as to foster greater unity and solidarity with those who are not Catholic.

(33) Ecumenical Collaboration in the Field of Catechesis
In some situations it may be opportune or even necessary to collaborate with other Christians in catechesis, which would complement a specifically Catholic catechesis; this should be done with great care so as not to water down Catholic teaching.

(34) The Question of Textbooks Dealing with the Various Religions
Books in public schools that present different religions, including the Catholic Faith, can be helpful when objective and free from distortion, yet they are not to be considered catechetical works.

Memory Verse:
*Acts 20:28—“Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians, to feed the Church of the Lord, which he obtained with his own blood.”

V. Everybody Needs to Be Catechized

(35) The Importance of Children and the Young
Catechesis of children and young was a particular focus of the Synod of Bishops, as amidst contemporary challenges they are called to build the civilization of the future.

(36) Infants
The very young child receives the first elements of catechesis from his or her parents and family, beginning with a simple revelation of a loving Father in heaven to whom the child learns to turn his or her heart.

(37) Children
As the child becomes connected through school and church with the larger community, the child is prepared for the sacraments, a preparation that is didactic, but ordered toward a living faith to which the child will give witness.

(38) Adolescents
Catechesis cannot ignore the changeable, often crucial moments of adolescence, with its times of self-discovery, questioning, and suffering; the revelation of the love of God poured out through Jesus Christ–our savior and model–should be emphasized.

(39) The Young
Catechesis prepares young people for the important commitments of adult life, encouraging them to replace selfishness with generosity, and informing their life decisions through the creation of an authentically Christian worldview.

(40) The Adaptation of Catechesis for Young People
The Gospel must be presented to young people with patience, wisdom, and without betrayal; despite today’s obstacles and challenges, young people have a real desire to know Jesus Christ.

(41) The Handicapped
Young people with physical or mental handicaps have a right to know “the mystery of faith”; the greater difficulties they encounter give greater merit to their efforts and to those of their teachers.

(42) Young People without Religious Support
Children raised in non-practicing homes must be ensured a catechesis attuned to them, so that they may grow closer to Christ despite the lack of support or even opposition.

(43) Adults
Adult catechesis is the primary form of catechesis, because it is addressed to those who have the greatest responsibilities and the capacity to live the Christian message in its fully developed form; catechesis is a lifelong process.

(44) Quasi-Catechumens
Many people have never been educated in the faith and, as adults, are really catechumens even if strictly speaking they are already Catholics, such as those who received no or inadequate formation as children; others have been raised in areas not yet Christianized.

(45) Diversified and Complementary Forms of Catechesis
Catechesis is for people of all ages and circumstances in life; while addressing each group’s needs, catechesis should not be overly compartmentalized, but rather should be a complementary effort that builds up the entire faith community.

Memory Verse:
*1 Corinthians 9:22 – “I have become all thing to all men, to save at least some.”

VI. Some Ways and Means of Catechesis

(46) Communications Media
The Church does not cease to look for the most suitable means of imparting catechesis; using media that combines technical and aesthetic excellence with rigorous fidelity to the Magisterium is of prime importance.

(47) Utilization of Various Places, Occasions, and Gatherings
Other valuable occasions for catechesis include pilgrimages, missions, Bible studies, youth groups, and prayer groups, which nonetheless must not neglect the serious study of Christian doctrine.

(48) The Homily
Catechetical teaching finds its source and fulfillment in the Eucharist; homilies should familiarize the faithful with the whole of the mysteries of faith and the norms of Christian living, at once substantive and also adapted to the hearers.

(49) Catechetical Literature
In recent decades there have been materials that are ambiguous and harmful to young people; some omit essential elements of the faith, others give excessive importance to some areas at the expense of others and may provide a horizontalist view that is incompatible with Church teaching; catechetical materials are very important: they need to speak to contemporary audiences while presenting the fullness of the message of Christ and His Church.

(50) Catechisms
The preparation of catechisms and catechetical tools must be done with the approval of appropriate Church authorities, in keeping with the General Directory of Catechesis.

Memory Verses:
*2 Timothy 4:3-4—“The time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.”

VII. How to Impart Catechesis

(51) Diversity of Methods
Catechesis should adopt different methods in educating people in the faith, based on facts such as age, maturity, and social/cultural conditions, but always in a way that doesn’t harm the unity of the faith.

(52) At the Service of Revelation and Conversion
Catechesis becomes radically distorted when combined with one’s ideology or agenda; the basis of catechetical instruction is divine Revelation as transmitted by the Magisterium, and it’s ordered to conversion of heart and not any political or social agenda.

(53) The Message Embodied in Cultures
Catechesis must “take flesh” in a particular culture, as “inculturation” is an integral part of evangelization and catechesis; at the same the Gospel may not be dissociated from its biblical and traditional roots, and it’s the Gospel that transforms societies, not the other way around.

(54) The Contribution of Popular Devotion
Popular devotions and piety may be used in catechetical instruction; some forms may need to be purified or rectified, but most have elements which, if properly used, could help people grow in their knowledge of the Mystery of Christ.

(55) Memorization
An over-reliance on memorization can lead to a lack of assimilation and understanding; but memorization still plays a necessary role in catechesis: “The blossoms, if we may call them that, of faith and piety do not grow in the desert places of a memory-less catechesis.”

Memory Verses:
*2 Tim. 1:13-14—“Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.”

VIII. The Joy of Faith in a Troubled World

(56) Affirming Christian Identity
Catechesis needs to strengthen the Catholic identity of believers, so that they may be “light” and “salt” in the world.

(57) In an Indifferent World
In a world that largely ignores God and treats religion with indifference or suspicion, Catholics must be trained to serenely affirm their Christian identity, and to remain steadfast in their faith.

(58) With the Original Pedagogy of the Faith
Advances in the field of education may be adapted for teaching the Faith; however, we must be mindful of the absolute originality of the Faith, which isn’t mere human knowledge and which has its own pedagogy.

(59) Language Suited to the Service of the Creed
Catechesis has a pressing obligation to speak a language suitable to the listeners, from children and the uneducated to intellectuals and scientists; however, the language used must be at the service of the faith and not alter the substance.

(60) Research and Certainty of Faith
Faith entails things not yet in out possession and in the life we see dimly; yet we do have an assurance and conviction rooted in the Word of God that must be communicated to young catechumens.

(61) Catechesis and Theology
The profound relationship between theology and catechesis should not result in theological opinions being presented as part of the faith; rather, catechists must immerse their students in the essentials, thereby fostering a joyful, humble adherence to Christ and His Church.

Memory Verses:
*Matthew 5:14—“You are the light of the world.”
*Hebrews 11:1—“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

IX. The Task Concerns Us All

(62) Encouragement to All Responsible for Catechesis
The goal of this apostolic exhortation is to set aflame the hearts of catechists, offering courage, hope, and enthusiasm.

(63) Bishops
Bishops are “catechists par excellence” and have primary responsibility for catechesis in their respective dioceses; while bishops have many responsibilities, catechesis must never be neglected but rather must be a passionate concern of the pastors of the Church.

(64) Priests
Priests are “instructors in the Faith”; all believers have a right to catechesis, and all pastors have the duty to provide it; priests are not to leave the faithful without catechesis.

(65) Men and Women Religious
The Holy Father affirms the many religious communities devoted to Christian education; he asks religious to be readily available and prepared to dedicate themselves to the specific work of catechesis in accordance with their vocation and their community’s charism.

(66) Lay Catechists
The Pope affirms the often hidden but crucial work of lay catechists; he also notes that the term “catechist” belongs above all to the catechists serving in the missions.

(67) In the Parish
The parish is the preeminent place for catechesis; without monopolizing or enforcing uniformity, the parish needs to provide catechetical leadership and training, and be a welcoming, family home where the faithful are fed solid teaching as well as the Bread of Life.

(68) In the Family
Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches all other forms of catechesis and should be supported; in places where widespread unbelief or invasive secularism stunts religious growth the Domestic Church remains the one place where youth may receive authentic catechesis.

(69) At School
The special character of the Catholic school, the underlying reason for it, the reason why Catholic parents should prefer it, is precisely the quality of religious instruction integrated into the education of the pupils. Its mission is accomplished together with and in connection with the family.

(70) Within Organizations
All Catholic organizations will benefit if they give an important place in their internal organization and their method of action to the serious religious training of their members; every association of the faithful has the duty to educate in the faith.

(71) Training Institutes
The Church recommends the formation of special centers and institutes to help prepare lay catechists for this vital ministry.

Memory Verses:
*Ephesians 4:11-12—“And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ.”


(72) The Holy Spirit, The Teacher Within
The Holy Spirit is the principle inspiring all catechetical effects, which He alone initiates and sustains in the Church; catechists must be aware of their role as a living, pliant instrument of the Holy Spirit, and renewed devotion to the Holy Spirit will bring about a renewal of catechesis.

(73) Mary, Mother and Model of the Disciple
The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and disciple, is rightly called “a living catechism” and the mother and model of catechists.

Memory Verses:
*John 14:26—“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in My name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”
*Luke 2:51—He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.”

3 Responses to “Digesting the Content”

  1. samzabotney June 28, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    “In the post-apostolic age, especially in the third and fourth centuries, the most impressive bishops and pastors considered it an important part of their ministry to deliver catechetical instruction.”

    On a contrarian note, it might be argued that many of our current problems stem from this period, when “The Way” got forced into the Procrustean Bed of Greco-Roman philosophy and more attention was paid to Plato the philosopher and his dualism of matter and spirit than to Jesus the Rabbi and his proclamation of the Reign of God.

  2. Leon Suprenant June 28, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    Remember that the quoted material is a summary of John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation. You might also check out Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 8, which picks up this theme and highlights the work of Sts. Ambrose, Augustine, John Chrysostom, and Cyril of Jerusalem, among other Church leaders from that period who made lasting contributions in the field of catechesis.


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