As witnesses of Christ, Christians are commissioned to proclaim the Father’s “Word of Life” (Catechesi Tradendae 1). By the power of the Holy Spirit, who the Father and Son have given, Christians are called to raise-up new and intentional disciples from all the nations; through education and instruction “to help people believe that Jesus is the Son of God,” to build up and strengthen the Mystical Body of Christ (CT 1). In catechesis, Jesus is both teacher and subject. To catechize means “to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God’s eternal design reaching fulfillment in that Person” (CT 5). Christ’s own prayer beseeches every human soul to recognize: “this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn 17:3). The mission of catechesis in the Catholic Church is to show the Way to communion with the Trinity through a systematic understanding of Jesus as Truth and by a continual call of conversion into His Life of holiness.
Jesus Christ is the one Incarnate Word of God who gives His body, soul, and Spirit to each human person as a gift of and from the Father. Christ says, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me” (Jn 7:16), reiterating that He and His teaching are the mind and the authority of God. Catechesis is an instructional process which is wholly faithful to this divine deposit, who is the full and final Revelation of God. This definitive Revelation was handed down the generations, beginning with the twelve apostles, through a sacramental succession of bishops and ecclesial consensus of doctrine known as the twin presences of sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture, both protected by a Magisterial hierarchy: all three together transmit to man the heavenly graces of God’s own life, flowing not from human merits but through the mystical fountain of Christ’s own Body. Gradually and in stages catechesis deepens the student’s intimacy with this divine deposition, subsisting in the Catholic Church, and thus strengthens one’s relationship with Christ who is the “mediator and fullness of all Revelation” (The 1997 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 65).
The Catechism teaches that the human person responds to God’s Revelation with the profession of Faith and the “obedience of Faith” (CCC 142; Rom 1:5, 16:26). “By faith, [one] completely submits his intellect and his will to God” (CCC 143). In Faith, the human person assents to God’s revealed truth by his own free-will. Although God’s Grace leads one to this choice and assists him or her in making it, the freedom of the individual is never violated. Submission to the truth of the creed, which is the earliest form of the deposit of faith, is really freedom from sin, as Jesus said, “…the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). Although man believes on the authority of God Himself, and not on the authority of natural reason, his faith should always seek subsequent understanding, and by the assistance of reason imbued with love discover practical connections between heavenly mysteries and earthly life. Catechesis, therefore, must call the catechized to the assent of faith in Revelation in order that he or she be able to reason rightly. The complementary relationship between specific objective truths of doctrine and the highly personal providence of God is discovered only through a faith sincerely lived. When reason is in obedience to Revelation, it speaks in conversation with Christ about the intricacies of Divine Love. In catechesis, the Mystery of Christ Himself is the alpha and omega point to which every detail of theological analysis refers and returns.
In the liturgy of the Church, humankind celebrates the Paschal Mystery whereby Christ achieved human salvation through His passion, death, resurrection and ascension in hypostatic union with human nature. “Dying he destroyed our death, rising he restored our life” (CCC 1067). Through the liturgy the Christian participates in God’s work of redemption by uniting himself to Christ’s Priesthood. The liturgy is the visible sign of God’s communion with humanity and the inner ‘temple’ of the Holy Spirit. Because “the sacraments are ‘powers that come forth’ from the Body of Christ” as efficacious signs of God’s Grace in the world, catechesis draws from and points to this worship (CCC 1116; Lk 5:17, 6:19, 8:46). “Catechesis is intrinsically linked with the whole of liturgical and sacramental activity, for it is in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, that Christ Jesus works in fullness for the transformation of human beings (CT 23).” In the liturgy, Christ continues to preach the saving Gospel through his written word and to offer his very life through the food of His flesh. “Liturgy is the privileged place for catechizing the people of God” (CCC 1074). Liturgical catechesis both initiates the ‘marriage’ and strengthens the union between the God-man and his beloved Church, until the day when the saved see the Father as he is, face to face (1 Cor 13:8; 1 Jn 3:2).
God the Father sends Jesus Christ to give mankind the Life of His Spirit. The catechist, who is always also an evangelist, must proclaim God’s Word not only through teaching, but by the testimony of his or her own Life in the Spirit, for the aim of Catechesis is understanding and conversion. The fruits of living in the Spirit are the Christian virtues. “Catechesis has to reveal in all clarity the joy and the demands of the way of Christ” (CCC 1697): “Realities such as man’s activity for his integral liberation, the search for a society with greater solidarity and fraternity, the fight for justice and the building of peace” (CT 29). Every person is called to the vocation of holiness. Within catechesis, moral education and formation are of utmost importance. The cultivation of holy habits, in thought and action, builds a pure vessel between souls to communicate Christ’s Spirit of Charity, who is able to work in hearts according to their holiness and sanctification (never based in human merit alone). In this way, the Spirit labors through free persons to unite all the Father’s children in Christ’s Body, that is, Love Incarnate. “The first and last point of reference in this catechesis will always be Jesus Christ Himself, who is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life’” (CCC 1698; Jn 14:6).
Another crucial task of Catechetics is to prepare the child of God for life in community. Human nature is intrinsically social and so images the divine communion of the Blessed Trinity. Affirming the dignity of the human person and cultivating true creative freedom are the only legitimate ends of a social institution. Any society that subordinates the spiritual reality of man to the ends of a temporally bound body (local, national, or global) will invariably instantiate in it a culture of sin and death. Zealous voices of evangelization and constant calls to conversion are vital to the survival of any such conglomeration of peoples. In imitation of Christ, Catechetics must impart: the spirit of simplicity and humility, solicitude for the least among the brethren, particular care for those who are alienated, fraternal correction, common prayer, and mutual forgiveness (General Directory of Catechesis, 86). This means also developing an ecumenical dimension in one’s social life, such that the Christian strives toward all possible empathy with alien faiths in order to honor the truths therein and sequentially to lead the religious other into that perfect unity which God wills. That union must be in and through Jesus Christ, whose truth and life ‘subsists’ in the Catholic Church by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Holiness in private and public life sustains and empowers the missionary initiation of Catechetics. All Christians are sent by Christ into their daily routine in world as His witnesses both to the secular (mission ad gentes) and to the baptized (new evangelization), inviting all peoples to the renewal of life by conversion in Christ. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” (Mt 28:19). The disciple as such is in a state of perpetual maturation, requiring the seasonal maintenances of body and soul. Through energetic work in The Spirit of Charity, Christians attract and awaken in themselves and others the abundant and overflowing fruitfulness of Christian virtue. “The evangelical attitudes which Jesus taught his disciples when he sent them on mission are precisely those which catechesis must nourish: to seek out the lost sheep, proclaim and heal at the same time, to be poor, without money or knapsack; to know how to accept rejection and persecution; to place one's trust in the Father and in the support of the Holy Spirit; to expect no other reward than the joy of working for the Kingdom” (GDC 86; Mt 10:5-42 and Lk 10:1-20). The success of the Christian mission depends entirely upon genuine conformity to the example of Christ’s own life, led by The Holy Spirit to a childlike and joyful submission to the will of God.
At Baptism, Christians join into living communion with the Blessed Trinity through hidden, vocal, meditative, and contemplative prayer. “In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit” (CCC 2565). God is constantly calling the human heart to prayer, through the voice of Love, desiring that each soul will freely respond and be filled by Him. The prophets and kings of the Old Testament prayed to God in anticipation and petition for the conversion and salvation of humanity, most especially in the timeless prayer of the Psalms. But “the drama of prayer is fully revealed to us in the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us” (CCC 2598). In contemplation of the Lord Jesus, one learns from God Himself how to pray. He or she first listens to Jesus pray, then in turn discovers how God answers prayer. In blessing and adoration, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, and praise, one prays in Christ to Christ, ‘from true God to true God’. Jesus, whose human will is wholly united to God’s Will, gave His disciples the perfect prayer of the New Covenant in the “Our Father.” This prayer summarizes the whole Gospel and fashions one’s mind, heart, and spirit to the Trinitarian movement. It strengthens man and woman, uniting them to Christ in ecstasy and joy just as in humiliation and pain. The “Our Father” is the constant prayer of the Church as Christ until the end of days. Catechesis is founded upon this relationship of prayer between Christ and His Church, and all understanding and conversion proceeds from it. “When Catechesis is permeated by a climate of prayer, the assimilation of the entire Christian life reaches its summit” (GDC 85).
Mary, the Mother of God, is the immaculate model of discipleship as well as catechesis. Long before His public mission began, while Jesus was still a young child, Mary was pondering His words and deeds in her heart (Lk 2:51). Because Mary lived a sinless life, overshadowed by the grace of the Holy Spirit, her example of alignment to God’s heart is paradigmatic. The Trinitarian will and Christ’s human will are perfectly united, and since Mary is the mother of God’s human nature, “everything in Mary has a reference to Christ” (Saward, The Christocentric Mary, 29). It is from Mary that Christ’s Church learns how to be a Mother to the world, gently counseling and passionately interceding for it. Perfection in uniformity to the Body of Christ, which the Church is longing and striving for, is already complete in her. Thus, Mary is the supreme embodiment of the goals of Catechesis. She exhibits assent to the articles of faith in the highest degree; she surrendered all her plans, her virginity, her motherhood, and her whole personality to the service of God and His work of salvation in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Celebration of the sacramental gifts, which are God’s Life given to humanity, is fully consummated in Mary, for who could be closer in communion with the Body of Christ than she who shares with Him the same flesh. Nor will any human person ever draw closer in intimacy to God’s Persons than Mary, who nurtured and raised the Trinity’s Word by the power and strength of the Trinity’s Spirit and thus spent her life observing and conversing with the single intellect and will of God. The Apostles crowded near “the Virgin of Pentecost” in the upper room illustrates perfectly the communal life, as Mary herself was the “first flowering” and the “first Church” of Christianity, whose life and example, then and today, fuels the mission of evangelization (Saward 31-32; CT 73; Acts 1:13-14). Mary’s prayer, “behold the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done to me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38), expresses the gracious submissio of the whole Church to the new covenant of Christ (CCC 2617-2619). Mary is creation’s crown and the archetypal catechist, precisely because she has given more than any other has or will to the honor and praise of the Lord Jesus Christ, her Son.
“The Word of God, incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is the Word of the Father who speaks to the world through his Spirit” (GDC 99). Jesus, who is the fullness of this Word and Revelation of God, is the alpha and omega of Catechetics. In the Old Testament, God prepared the world to receive the Messiah, who would save mankind from sin, through the prophets and laws of Israel. In the fullness of time, God sent His only Son to profoundly deepen man’s understanding of God’s Love to the world, to atone for the disobedience of mankind, and to redeem the world by sending, and calling all to conversion in, the new Life of the Holy Spirit. All of history has been a salvation history, the journey of humanity into the loving embrace of the Blessed Trinity. The One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, as the Mystical Body of Christ, mediates and feeds this growing relationship between God and His children, and pours out the graces of the Holy Spirit to build up man in the Life of Faith until the Church’s mission is complete at the end of time. “Catechesis is intimately bound up with the whole of the Church's life. Not only her geographical extension and numerical increase, but even more, her inner growth and correspondence with God's plan depend essentially on catechesis” (CT 13). Together, the proclamation of the Gospel, preaching of the Word, examination of the details of belief, perpetual progress in the moral life, active participation in the celebration of the sacraments of the Church, the cultivation of strong communal bonds within the Church community, and missionary zeal for the conversion of the world, form the foundational structure of the Church and the content of Catechesis (CT 18). All these elements find their origin in specific dimensions of Christ’s own Life, by which they are nourished and in which they participate in His work of redemption. Thus, the character of Catechesis is above all else, “Christocentricity” (CCC 426-429). “In reality, the fundamental task of catechesis is to present Christ and everything in relation to him” (GDC 98). By conforming to Jesus men become “sons in the Son” of the Father, in the Life of the Holy Spirit, and thus join in the eternal communion of Love which is the essence of the Blessed Trinity and the purpose for which human beings were made (GDC 99-100).