New National Directory for Catechesis Will Shape Religious Education in Parishes and Schools

Article excerpt

On Dec. 16, 2004, a letter from the Holy See's Congregation for the Clergy was received at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., granting the Vatican's recognitio to the "National Directory for Catechesis" for the United States, which had been approved by the U.S. bishops at their June 2003 meeting. With this letter, the "National Directory for Catechesis" (henceforth, NDC) was approved for use in all of the Latin dioceses in the United States of America. The NDC now is being prepared for publication (scheduled for May 1) and over the next few years it will begin to shape how religious education takes place within the parishes and schools throughout the United States.

This article provides a general overview of the purpose of catechesis, explains what a national directory does and provides a glimpse into the key concepts presented in the NDC. Future Momentum articles will unpack the NDC in greater detail.

Begin with Evangelization

In his final words to his disciples, Jesus gave them a vital task to accomplish: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matt 28:19-20).

This task has been handed down through the ages until it has reached us today. As Catholies, we are called to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to all those we meet, introduce them to Jesus and to the church, and help them to fall in love with both Christ and his church. This process of proclaiming the Gospel and making disciples is what is meant by the word "evangelization." According to Pope Paul VI in the 1975 encyclical "On Evangelization in the Modern Word (Evangelii Nuntiandi)," "the task of evangelizing all people constituted the essential mission of the church" (#14)

One of the primary ways that the church evangelizes is through the process of catechesis. According to the NDC,

* Catechesis describes the essential ministry of the church through which the teachings of Christ have been passed on to believers throughout the ages.

* Catechesis is a work of evangelization that helps people understand the meaning and fullness of God's eternal plan.

* Catechesis is that particular form of the ministry of the word which matures initial conversion to make it into a living, explicit and fruitful confession of the faith that aims to bring about in the believer an ever more mature faith in Jesus, a deeper knowledge and love for him and the church and a firm commitment to follow him faithfully.

* The object of all catechesis is to put people into communion and an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Catechesis is a pivotal dimension of the church's pastoral activity and a significant element in all the church does.

Being Jesus' follower means that a believer tries to live as Jesus taught. Catechesis helps people learn how to live as a disciple of Christ. A person who works in the ministry of catechesis is called a catechist. People will often use the words religious education or faith formation to describe the work of catechesis.

What Is a National Catechetical Directory?

A national catechetical directory provides the fundamental theological and pastoral principles that give direction to parishes and dioceses within a country on how they should proclaim the Good News of Jesus and help believers learn about the beliefs of the faith. The NDC was developed for use within the United States. A directory provides guidance as to what should be taught in catechesis and how it should be taught.

The original national catechetical directory for use in the United States, "Sharing the Light of Faith," was published in 1979 and has guided catechesis here since that time. In 2000 the decision was made to develop a new national directory. The NDC was developed over a three-year period and involved three national consultations among bishops, academics, teachers, catechists and many others engaged in the church's catechetical mission. …