By Andrea Slaven | Diocesan Director of the Office of Catechesis
Every year on the third Sunday of September, Catholic churches in the United States celebrate Catechetical Sunday to acknowledge the importance of the Church’s teaching ministry and to honor those who serve the Christian community as catechists. Catechesis is derived from the Greek word meaning “to echo, or resound.” Catechesis, therefore, is the act of resounding or bringing the Church’s teachings to the world and a catechist is one who teaches in the name of the Church.
Catechesis is a necessary action in the Church because it is the means by which the teachings of the Church are shared with others in a way that deepens one’s knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is, how the love and mercy of Jesus is experienced in one’s life, and what it means to be a disciple in the world — in other words, catechesis is essential for the Church’s mission to evangelize.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) emphasizes this action with this year’s theme: “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” This theme emphasizes the missionary action in which all baptized members of the Church are called to participate. The family is the first place where faith is handed on. Parents, the primary teachers of their children, are called to hand on their faith to their children through the modeling of prayer, forgiveness, service, and love.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us that “catechesis is intimately bound up with the whole of the Church’s life. … Her inner growth and correspondence with God’s plan depend essentially on catechesis” (CCC no. 7). This means catechesis is the responsibility of all the baptized.
Recalling the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians — “There are different kinds of gifts. But they are all given to believers by the same Spirit. There are different ways to serve. But they all come from the same Lord. There are different ways the Spirit works. But the same God is working in all these ways and in all people.” — gives us the understanding that each person has a unique role in the Church for sharing the Gospel. The catechist is one whose unique gifts calls them into the distinct and special ministry of catechesis. This ministry of teaching in the name of the Church has a profound dignity, which is why catechists are formally commissioned by the Church every year.
The catechists in your parish are those who are directly using their gifts and talents to share the teachings of the Church to various ages and stages of faith. Catechists include children’s religious education teachers, youth ministers, adult formation leaders, RCIA team members, Children’s Liturgy of the Word leaders, evangelization teams, and Catholic school teachers. On this Catechetical Sunday, the Church recognizes and acknowledges the gifts of these individuals and will commission them with a special blessing as they go forth this year.
Over the years and decades, methods and models of catechesis have responded to the culture of the times. This year is no different. Since March of 2020, the culture of our society has dramatically changed with the onset of COVID-19 and the challenges of gathering safely. Parish programs had to stop traditional means of gathering as health policies mandated. In response, catechetical leaders discovered new methods to connect with families, provided support and understanding, and continued to teach the faith in a very real and authentic way. Catechetical programs may have stopped gathering, but catechesis continued through the witnessing and presence that leaders and catechists provided to their parish families.
And now, we begin the 2020 catechetical year with new eyes. The Office of Catechesis in the Diocese of Syracuse will be supporting parishes as they implement new methods and new models of catechesis so that the teachings of the Church are shared in a way that promotes the mission of the Church in her efforts to evangelize. This year and moving forward, the Office of Catechesis envisions a rejuvenated energy to build relationships of accompaniment with families, a renewed focus to support the family as the primary teachers of faith, a rededication of emphasis on the vocation of the catechist and, as always, a realization that Christ is the center of all catechesis.
This visioning requires, as the Directory for Catechesis stresses, the need for professional, skilled, and well-formed catechetical leaders. Catechetical leaders, in collaboration with other ministerial leaders in the parish and pastoral care area, are tasked with the responsibility to oversee all or parts of the ongoing faith formation of parish members.
The Office of Catechesis is very proud to say that we have 19 catechetical leaders who have been certified as Parish Associate Directors through the process of Formation for Ministry and 26 leaders who are certified as Parish Directors through advanced education receiving either master’s degrees or master’s equivalency certificates in theology or religious education. Currently, we have eight leaders pursuing leadership certifications.
The Office of Catechesis extends much gratitude to:
• our parish catechetical leaders who tirelessly create, develop, and implement catechetical programs that invite students and families into a joyful encounter with Jesus;
• our parish catechists and youth ministers who dedicate themselves to teaching and witnessing the faith and accompanying others into discipleship;
• our pastors, who guide the catechetical efforts of the parish and partner with evangelization and catechetical leaders;
• and to our parents, who model to our children God’s love within the home.
May this year be a year of hope. May we always remember that God’s love is with us, and that through Jesus Christ, our Savior, we are given that hope. “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.”