The language of catechesis

The word catechesis (n.) is not an everyday word, but is the key to affirming the process by which faith is passed on. It comes into English from the Latinized form of Greek katekhesis “instruction by word of mouth,” and has a with sense evolution via “to sound (something) in someone’s ear” from kata “down” + ekhein “to sound, ring,” or echo.

While this sounds like a scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding where every word “is come from the Greek word”, the importance of understanding that our faith formation is relational and is transmitted by the echo of knowledge passed down from person to person, sheds light on how we pass on (catechesis)  the what (catechism) of our faith.

There is significant difference in purpose between The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Directory for Catechesis. The Catechism is a doctrinal manual, the ‘What we believe”, while the Directory was an explicit break, post Vatican II, in approach to teaching, designed and established to answer the “How we teach what we believe”. Each of the Directories (This is No.3) are formed in response to major events and trends in the Church and the world so as to keep the Gospel of Jesus Christ relevant.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: What we believe
Directory for Catechesis: How we teach what we believe culture.

Luke explicitly writes to Theophilus “so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed” (Luke 1: 4). The verb used, catechized, is that from which are formed the words “catechise,” “catechumen,” “catechism” etc., and implies oral teaching. Later on this became the sense of teaching specifically as a preparatory to baptism. The passage is important as showing that such instruction mainly turned on the facts of our Lord’s life, death, and resurrection, and on the records of His teaching.

Thus the term catechesis is used from the New Testament onwards as a term for Christian formation and preparation for baptism and lifelong discipleship founded through remembrance, as we hear echoed every week in the celebration of the Eucharist.  Catechisms were the documents that outlined the content of that formation.

In reaction to the abstract catechesis of recent centuries, some have called for a “kerygmatic theology” concerned more with the saving work of Jesus Christ than with scientific, speculative theology. There has been a renewed appreciation of the view of the Christian message as an event to be experienced rather than ideas to be studied.[1] The new Directory reflects this.

The point of departure to understand the new Directory is Evangelii Gaudium in which the reality, as Pope Francis sees it, is that “being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place; on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.” The new Directory gives us concrete ways in which we can make this real in the Church today.

While the term has used for the period of formation beginning from first enquiry through to and beyond baptism and being established in the faith. The Directory seeks to widen and reaffirm the focus of catechesis is a:

responsibility that belongs to every single believer and the whole church. (Directory for Catechesis, preface)

That is why a background on the specialised language of catechesis is important to have.



Catechism, catechesis, catechetical. What the … ?
A history of catechisms