Over the last 40 years, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has especially recognized the importance of catechists in the process of evangelization by reserving the third Sunday in September as “Catechetical Sunday.” Catechetical Sunday commemorates and celebrates the ministry of formal catechesis, which is the systematic teaching of the tenets of the Catholic faith in order to help others know more about God and his Church. This ministry has had a significant role in my life over the past four years and across two different dioceses. There is something amazing about trying to explain the Old Testament prophets to a group of 6th grade students, a majority of whom has never heard the likes of Jeremiah, Isaiah, Elijah, etc. I love seeing the excited faces of students that either know or are interested in the subject of my teaching, while the blank ones challenge me to find compelling ways to make the faith a living part of their lives.
On Catechetical Sunday, parishes, including where I have served, have a particular ritual: before the recessional at the end of Mass, the celebrant asks all who are called to serve as catechists to stand and receive a blessing for their work throughout the year. This serves two purposes: it helps the catechist understand the importance of their teaching role in the parish and also serves as a moment of reflection for the rest of the congregation.
The influence of a catechist on a young life cannot be understated. Below are a few tips I’ve learned throughout my time as a catechist that can help those interested in pursuing the ministry of catechetical formation.
- Enjoy your subject matter: When explaining the tenets and history of our faith to a group of impressionable minds, how you feel about what you are teaching—and especially how you present it—greatly influences how your students will receive that information. A negative attitude toward your subject, whether intentional or not, can send the wrong message about Christ and his Church. For example, I am passionate about the Old Testament and Church history, so I offer to teach these subjects whenever possible.
- Expand the meaning of prayer: For many students, prayer means attending Mass or folding your hands while quietly saying a Hail Mary or an Our Father. One of our most important jobs as catechists is to teach students about the many and varied ways to pray. My mother, a catechist herself, once explained to me that different types of prayer resonate with different people, not unlike how different teaching styles resonate with different students. The beauty of our faith is that it allows each person to develop a prayer life best suited to him or her. Remember to keep your audience in mind when you are demonstrating the different forms of prayer with your students. When teaching 6th grade, I incorporated brief meditative prayer and the rosary into the classroom. When teaching Kindergarten, I found that songs and group prayer worked well. In addition to teaching traditional prayers and praying as a group, we also prayed through song. If you are an RCIA instructor, consider offering service opportunities as a form of prayer through the use of reflection. The Works of Mercy or Beatitudes offer a great method of exploring our commitment to the faith.
- Understand your role: As much as I value being a formal catechist, the Church has always emphasized the importance of the role of the family in catechesis. The family is central for the initial catechesis of youth and introduces the concept of love of Christ through prayer, Mass, and good works. That being said, sharing the faith is a responsibility for all the baptized. The catechist attempts to formalize and systemize the knowledge and history of our Church in an effort to make it accessible and digestible to all believers. Catechists work with the family to promote the same mission: to help others serve, know, and love God. Don’t be afraid to use whatever tools you have at your disposal: songs, videos, textbooks, crafts, etc. A diverse group of students necessarily requires a diverse toolkit.
Catechetical Sunday reminds us of our individual roles in the evangelization of the baptized. In our small way, my fellow catechists and I—men and women from all walks of life and individual faith journeys—try to sow the fruits of faith for the next generation of disciples. Pulling from my toolkit, I will leave you with a blessing for catechists:
source of all wisdom and knowledge,
you sent your Son, Jesus Christ, to live among us
and to proclaim his message of faith, hope, and love to all nations.
In your goodness
bless our brothers and sisters
who have offered themselves as catechists for your Church.
Strengthen them with your gifts,
that they may teach by word and by example
the truth that comes from you.”