Catechesis is about inviting people into the mystery of God and walking the journey of that mystery with them. The word “catechesis” comes from the Greek, meaning “to echo the teaching.” An echo is a resounding of words, so, in a sense, catechesis is the Gospel message of Jesus Christ resounding in every age and generation. “The source from which catechesis draws its message is the word of God.” (“General Directory for Catechesis (GDC), No. 94”)
There are various ways that church and parish leaders approach catechesis. One way is through a parish religious education program directed predominantly towards children and youth. These programs often use an academic model. They take place in classrooms, with books, and involve the transference of information about the Catholic faith. A cognitive response on the part of the “student” is the basis for evaluation. Group prayer experiences and sacramental preparation are also part of these programs. Religious education is predominantly post-baptismal catechesis.
Another form of catechetical ministry in parishes that is pre-baptismal is the adult initiation process. This catechetical journey is preparation for full membership in the church. The teaching documents of the church tell us that initiation should be the model for all catechesis. “It’s spirituality of Baptism inspire(s) all catechesis.” (GDC, No. 91)
This initiation process can also be adapted for children, and is essentially liturgical catechesis.
“Post-baptismal catechesis, without slavishly imitating the structure of the baptismal catechumenate … does well … to draw inspiration from this preparatory school for the Christian life, and to allow itself to be enriched by those principal elements which characterize the catechumenate.” (GDC, No. 91)
So, what exactly is liturgical catechesis, and how does it differ from a parish religious education program? It is all a matter of where you begin and how you hold your focus. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1075 says: “Liturgical catechesis aims to initiate people into the mystery of Christ.” So, liturgical catechesis, like the initiation process, begins with the mystery of God, the ways of the human heart, and the individual’s relationship with God. It recognizes that encounter with the living God is where we all start our spiritual journey.
Therefore, it begins with experience of God rather than information about God. It expands into relationship with God, in and through the person of Jesus Christ, as made known to us through the Gospels and through participation in the ritual public prayer of the church. By this description, the main formative elements of liturgical catechesis are the scripture and the liturgy. All moral, doctrinal and dogmatic issues rise from or are integrated within this liturgical catechetical model, but are not the primary or ongoing focus. Liturgical catechesis forms Catholics who live and grow spiritually through regular participation in, and reflection on, the source and summit of our Christian lives, the liturgy.
If you are a catechist in religious education, it is important that you understand the church’s initiation process and incorporate its spirituality and principals of formation into your leadership. Increasing your awareness of liturgical catechetical elements, and encompassing a broader base of those elements into the time spent with those in your spiritual care, can strengthen the scope of your ministry. It means shifting your primary evaluative focus from cognitive to experiential.
Think of it as immersion in a spiritual formation that moves from heart-to-mind, rather than mind-to-heart. This also requires that you walk the spiritual journey alongside those in your care. Through liturgical catechesis, the Gospel content and message becomes a “knowing” in one’s heart that eventually becomes a “knowing” in one’s head.
Other forms of liturgical catechesis for children include the Children’s Liturgy of the Word on Sunday mornings, which last week’s article examined, and a program known as Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, which we will address in the next article.
Liturgical catechesis can also be effective for ongoing faith formation for adults in a parish. For example, informal weekly scripture reflection on the readings for each upcoming Sunday can bear much fruit in the spiritual lives of those who participate, or Lectio Divina, as a group practice can provide a more formal approach to scripture reflection. There are also programs available that provide a process for reflection on the liturgy itself, such as From Mass to Mission, a five-part series available in three different formats — adults, youth, children — with leader’s guide and accompanying videos from Liturgy Training Publications, Archdiocese of Chicago (ltp.org).
If you would like further information on liturgical catechesis for your parish, please contact the ADLA Office for Worship [email protected].