The Vatican’s liturgy office on Monday issued a rite and guidelines for the institution of lay catechists in the dioceses of the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis created the lay ministry of catechist in May with the release of the motu proprio Antiquum ministerium (“Ancient ministry”), which emphasized the importance of the role of the catechist in history and today for transmitting the Catholic faith.
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published the rite of institution to the ministry of catechist on Dec. 13. The rite is a liturgical ritual by which the role of catechist is conferred.
In a letter to bishops published with the new rite, the Vatican’s liturgy prefect, Archbishop Arthur Roche, explained that catechist is a lay ministry distinct from the ordained priesthood, but that catechists, “by virtue of their Baptism, are called to be co-responsible in the local Church for the proclamation and transmission of the faith, carrying out this role in collaboration with the ordained ministers and under their guidance.”
“The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity,” Roche said, quoting from St. Pope John Paul II’s 1979 apostolic exhortation Catechesi tradendae.
The archbishop also explained that the way this role will be carried out may be different in each diocese, depending on the particular needs of the community; the tasks of a catechist in a mission territory will differ from those in an area with a long-standing tradition of the Catholic faith.
It is the job of bishops’ conferences, Roche said, “to clarify the description, the role, and the most appropriate forms for the exercise of the ministry of Catechists” in conformity with Pope Francis’ May 11, 2021 motu proprio.
The two main categories of tasks for catechists, he said, are catechizing, or teaching the faith, and participating in apostolates.
Baptized adult Catholics who have received the sacraments of confirmation and first Holy Communion and would like to be instituted in the ministry of catechist can present a written and signed petition to their diocesan bishop, who decides who may be admitted as a candidate.
The ministry is conferred by the bishop or by a priest delegated by him, according to the liturgical rite promulgated by the Holy See on Dec. 13, 2021. The institution should take place during a Mass or celebration of the Liturgy of the Word.
The structure of the rite proposes an exhortation about the role of the catechist, an invitation to prayer, a blessing, and the handing over of a crucifix.
In his letter, Roche emphasized the “vocational aspect” of the ministry, and noted the importance of careful reflection on the part of diocesan bishops regarding who to institute in the ministry.
“It does not seem appropriate for everyone to be instituted as a catechist,” he said, encouraging suitable discernment about who should be admitted to the lay ministry.
He added that it is not necessarily appropriate to institute as catechists all people who are involved in parish formation programs for adults seeking to join the Catholic Church — in the U.S. this program is now called the Order of Christian Initiation for Adults, or OCIA.
“If, however, those who are involved in initiation are entrusted — under the moderation of ordained ministers — with a task of formation or the responsibility for coordinating all catechetical activity, then it would seem more appropriate for them to be instituted as Catechists,” Roche said.
The liturgy office also offered guidelines for who, with some exceptions, should not be instituted as catechists in a diocese. This list included men who are preparing to receive Holy Orders as priests or deacons, men and women religious, catechists for ecclesial movements, and Catholic religion school teachers.
In Antiquum ministerium, Pope Francis said that recent decades had seen “a significant renewal of catechesis,” and “catechists are called first to be expert in the pastoral service of transmitting the faith as it develops through its different stages from the initial proclamation of the kerygma [Gospel proclamation] to the instruction that presents our new life in Christ and prepares for the sacraments of Christian initiation, and then to the ongoing formation that can allow each person to give an accounting of the hope within them.”
“It is fitting that those called to the instituted ministry of Catechist be men and women of deep faith and human maturity, active participants in the life of the Christian community, capable of welcoming others, being generous and living a life of fraternal communion,” the pope wrote.
Catechists “should also receive suitable biblical, theological, pastoral and pedagogical formation to be competent communicators of the truth of the faith and they should have some prior experience of catechesis,” he continued. “It is essential that they be faithful co-workers with priests and deacons, prepared to exercise their ministry wherever it may prove necessary, and motivated by true apostolic enthusiasm.”