The Catechism of the Catholic Church – Course Notes – Wednesday 20th September 2023

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Week 1: pars 1-10

This section is about catechesis. The word is derived from Greek, meaning instruction by word of mouth; hence it originally referred to the oral instruction given to catechumens. They are people who want to join the Church and receive basic instruction, e.g., by means of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). The act of passing on the faith through such instruction is called catechising. At the heart of catechesis, we find a Person, Jesus Christ the only Son of the Father. Catechetical instruction refers to the systematic and organic teaching of the faith, especially by oral instruction, on the basis of what is in the CCC. In the Catholic Church the word ‘catechist’ is a term used of anyone engaged in religious formation and education, from the bishop to lay ecclesial ministers and clergy to volunteers at the local level. The primary catechists for children are their parents. In recent years we have come to see that Christian formation involves two important stages.

Firstly, there is the teaching of the kerygma, i.e., the proclamation of the basic truths of Christianity. It has been suggested that there are six of them.

A] God loves you

B] All have sinned and are in need of salvation

C] Jesus died to forgive our sins

D] Repent and believe

E] Receive the Holy Spirit and his gifts

G] Enter fully into Christian community.

Currently there are a number of kerygmatic courses such as Alpha, Life in the Spirit Seminars, Philip Retreats, and Christ Life, which teach the kerygma and aim to have the participants to experience baptism in the Holy Spirit and a personal relationship with Jesus.

Secondly, people who attend courses of this kind say, quite rightly, that they are the beginning of a new beginning. Once that foundation stone is in place, there is an on-going need to build upon it. This is where catechesis come in. It is a systematic and organic effort of instructing people of faith about the teachings and morals of the scriptures, especially those of Jesus Christ. Speaking about this St John Paul said in par 20 of his Apostolic Exhortation on Catechesis, “In view of practical difficulties, attention must be drawn to some of the characteristics of this instruction:

  • It must be systematic, not improvised but programmed to reach a precise goal;
  • It must deal with essentials, without any claim to tackle all disputed questions or to transform itself into theological research or scientific exegesis.
  • It must nevertheless be sufficiently complete, not stopping short at the initial proclamation of the Christian mystery such as we have in the kerygma;
  • It must be an integral Christian initiation, open to all the other factors of Christian life.

The aim is to form what Sherry Waddell referred to as ‘intentional disciples’, i.e., men and women who conscientiously try, with the Spirit’s help to live in a truly Christian way in conformity with the doctrinal and ethical teachings of Jesus. As Archbishop Justin Welby has said, “The best decision anyone can ever make, at any point in life, in any circumstances, whoever they are, wherever they are, is to become a disciple of Jesus Christ.”  

One of the pastoral problems we face is the fact that when people have come to a new depth of faith as a result of attending a kerygmatic course, it often happens that there is no group they can join in the parish which would offer ongoing faith formation with a view to becoming mature disciples. I can recall how I looked at the website of a North Dublin parish. It had up to 40 groups, but when I searched for ones that would offer good catechesis, I found that there were very few if any. It seems to me, echoing what the CCC says, that there will be no revival in the Christian way of life without a rededication to the practice of lifelong catechesis. That is why we are having this three-year course on the CCC.