General Background & Rationale of Catechist Formation
Men and women from a wide variety of backgrounds are called to share in the Church’s catechetical mission. Most are volunteers. They bring a wide variety of talents and abilities to their task. They have widely divergent levels of experience and competence in catechesis. According to The National Directory for Catechesis “programs of formation should be designed to help them acquire the knowledge and skills they need to hand on the faith to those entrusted to their care and assist them in living as disciples of Christ.” Recognizing its responsibility for providing for the formation of catechists and youth ministers, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, through its Office of Evangelization, Catechesis and Family Life, provides many opportunities for the training, formation and certification of those involved in catechetics.
“The fundamental tasks of catechesis are to proclaim Christ’s message, to participate in efforts to develop community, to lead people to worship and prayer, and to motivate them to serve others” (NCD 213). Therefore, the careful selection of women and men called to be catechists and their initial and on-going formation are the greatest factors in assuring the quality of catechist in the parish, school and diocese. Formation will help the catechist to grow in maturity as an adult, a believer and an apostle (General Directory for Catechesis 238). Catechists must have sufficient knowledge and background to carry out their ministry effectively. They are charged with bringing others to a fuller understanding of the challenge of the Gospel message and the Church’s living out of that message. To do that well, they must be formed themselves.
Catechesis is a complex form of communication where many elements are skillfully planned and ordered so that learning may take place. While never losing sight of the centrality of Jesus’ message, the catechist uses the insights of sound education psychology, and other human sciences, in presenting the Christian message according to age, needs, circumstances, and capabilities of the learner. The catechist must also utilize various communication methods, creative activity, and group skills which help comprise the art of teaching.
Unless a catechist if adequately prepared, the teaching ministry will be of little effect, and in limited cases, may even be harmful to the faith development of the young. Those entrusted with leadership in the catechetical ministry should recognize the necessity for adequate preparation and training of their catechists.
The Necessity of Catechist Formation
“Absolute priority” must be given to training and keeping qualified catechists in order to effectively pass on the Deposit of Faith (GDC 137, 156, 216, 219, 234). Catechists play a decisive role in missionary activity. Many times, it is the catechists who reach out from the parish in so many ways to touch people in the so called “real world,” take their hand, and walk them to the fullness of life with Jesus Christ.
In an address to a plenary assembly in April 1992, Pope John Paul II stated that:
To set high standards (for catechist training) means both to provide a through basic training and to keep it constantly updated. This is a fundamental duty, in order to ensure qualified personnel for the Church’s mission, with good training programs and adequate structures, providing for all aspects of formation – human, spiritual, doctrinal, apostolic and professional.
Sharing faith with others is an awesome responsibility, and it requires development of special skills and knowledge. As a result, anyone involved in catechetical ministry should plan on participating in catechist formation.
Orientation or “Initial Formation” of Catechists
Those called to the ministry of catechesis should be generous with their time and talent, open to deepening their understanding of the theology and methodology necessary for teaching, and be able to communicate faith and knowledge effectively through word and deed. In their document The Catechist in the Third Millennium: Call, Mission and Formation the Bishops of New York State say that prior to the beginning of his/her ministry, each catechist should participate in an introductory formation program that will:
- introduce this ministry as a vocation;
- introduce the curriculum;
- teach age-appropriate faith formation processes;
- introduce ways to maintain an effective catechetical environment;
- introduce lesson planning skills;
- acquaint the catechist with resources;
- review the policies and procedures for catechesis in the parish, Catholic school or diocese;
- introduce the process for continuing catechist formation and certification in the diocese.
Ongoing Formation & Training of Catechists
According to the Bishops of NYS in The Catechist in the Third Millennium, “Catechists need not only introductory, but also ongoing formation in theology, catechetical methodology, and spirituality for this ministry. They are expected to comply with diocesan certification policies, and, even after completing certification, to continue with annual ongoing formation. Catechist formation should offer diverse opportunities for growth in knowledge and understanding and be presented in a variety of ways that honor the experience and lifestyle of each catechist.”
Our state’s bishops write that “the curricula for the formation of catechists in the General Directory for Catechesis includes background in the Old Testament, the life of Jesus, the history of the Church, a deepened understanding of the Creed, the moral life, liturgy and prayer. ‘… Sacred Scripture should be the very soul of this formation’ (GDC 240).”
In addition, catechists need to be familiar with the Catechism of the Catholic Church as an important compendium of Church teaching and as a rich resource for their ministry. Because the first step in catechesis is initiatory catechesis – that is preparing people to celebrate the paschal mystery – and because the catechumenal model is the primary model for this catechesis, the GDC also emphasizes that all catechists must have a basic understanding of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and of how this process is linked to catechesis (GDC 91).
Theological formation should include the following topics:
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Eastern Catholic Churches
Ecumenism and Relationship with other faith communities
God and Trinity
Mary and the Saints
Prayer and Liturgy
Scripture and Revelation
Social Mission of the Church
The Christian Vision of Human Sexuality
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults
Catechetical methodology should include:
Catechetical methods for different age groups and abilities
Creating the Climate for Catechesis
Introduction to Catechetical Documents and Resources
Psychological, Moral and Faith Development
Psychology of the Learner
Use of Media and Resources
Opportunities for Spiritual Growth for catechists might include:
Days or Evenings of Reflection
Prayer & Reflection on the Scriptures
How this is implemented in the Diocese of Albany.