The Catechism: Proclamation and Pedagogy | The Preface to "The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Craft of Catechesis" | IgnatiusInsight.comThe Catechism: Proclamation and Pedagogy | The Preface to The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Craft of Catechesis | Petroc Willey, Ph.D., S.T.L., Pierre de Cointet, and Barbara Morgan

In the fullness of time, God revealed himself and his loving plan of salvation in his beloved Son, through the power of the Holy Spirit. God came and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. The Father teaches us by coming among us, in his Son and Spirit. God's revelation and the manner of its transmission cannot be separated. And in the fullness of time, God's desire for embodiment received its perfect response:
[G]iving her consent to God's word, Mary becomes the mother of Jesus. Espousing the divine will for salvation wholeheartedly, without a single sin to restrain her, she gave herself entirely to the person and to the work of her Son; she did so in order to serve the mystery of redemption with him and dependent on him, by God's grace. [1]
In this revelation of the condescension, mercy and faithfulness of God, and in the perfection of Mary's response, we see the whole of the craft of catechesis. We see what the Church has called the "pedagogy of God". God has his own way of teaching. And in this way, this pedagogy, which we are invited to learn, God reveals what we are to teach, how we are to receive this teaching, and how we are to participate, under God's grace, in its transmission.

The underlying thesis and conviction of this small book, then, is that the Catechism of the Catholic Church not only offers us a new, definitive account for our time of the contents of the Catholic Faith; its value for the catechist lies more broadly in the pedagogy that informs every page. Those participating in the teaching mission of the Church can learn from the Catechism not only what is the Deposit of Faith but also how to receive and to hand on that deposit in a truly ecclesial way. Appreciating this pedagogy enables us to practice catechesis as a craft in which content and the methods of transmission are united in a living whole: we are apprenticed into the Lord's own school of learning and teaching. For this is how the Lord teaches, we believe, as act and word together and, amazingly, as Word made historical flesh.

The Catechism is rightly understood to be, in the first place, an annunciation, a proclamation, of the Faith of the Church for our day. It is a presentation of the "essential" and "fundamental" points of the Faith (see CCC 11). Every Catholic can refer to the Catechism to gain a secure understanding of the Church's teaching on matters of faith and morals. For catechists, then, the Catechism is the key reference work for their teaching, the utterly reliable place to which they can turn. Approved by the bishops of the whole Church, the Catechism is a uniquely collaborative work, drawing on the wisdom and insights of Catholics from every culture. It is a work for teaching all nations that has involved the bishops of every nation in its compilation and writing.

It is less well known and appreciated that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is also a superbly crafted work from which to learn and to teach. The teaching follows from the learning, for as one learns from the Catechism one gains not only a deepening understanding of God's gratuitous plan for our salvation, but also a sense of growing wonder at the learning process itself, as one's heart and mind are enlarged to welcome and receive these truths in one's own life. The Catechism is utterly faithful to the truth that God's revelation is his very act of transmission, his gift of himself to us. And we are invited into that truth, to hand ourselves over to it (see Rom 6:17), so that we can ourselves hand on the Faith to others. And it is from this love of learning from, and with, the Lord that the catechist is able to discover in his own life a growing love for God's revelation of himself in Christ, for the process of learning and transmission, and for the learner. The introduction to the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church points us precisely to this pedagogical dimension of the Catechism, speaking of the "wisdom of its presentation":
In fact, the Compendium is meant to reawaken interest in and enthusiasm for the Catechism, which, in the wisdom of its presentation and the depth of its spirituality, always remains the basic text for catechesis in the Church today. [2]
For these reasons, the Catechism is not a work to be read briefly or hastily; one needs to stay with the text, pray with it and immerse oneself in it to appreciate fully its visionary power and the compelling sense of beauty, goodness, and truth that radiates from its pages. In these pages we meet the Spirit at work in his Church. The Catechism is a place of "personal encounter" (see CCC 2563), and it is in and through this. encounter that a truly Spirit-led pedagogy can emerge and inspire one's teaching methods, a pedagogy flowing directly from one's prayerful understanding of the Faith. It is in and through this encounter that the authentic craft of catechesis can arise.

To read the Catechism in this way, searching its depths and allowing oneself to be questioned and challenged by it in order to teach effectively from it, one needs to understand some of the elements that structure and inform its pedagogy of the Faith. When these elements are firmly grasped and their significance appreciated the Catechism can become one of the most transforming and penetrating teaching tools the Church has ever possessed.

It is no small thing to be, as the Catechism is, an excellent instrument for both learning and teaching, just as it is no small thing to be oneself both a learner and a teacher. This requires the drawing together of the contemplative and the active dimensions of our lives, the uniting of the two. [3] A learner must be able to contemplate things as they are; a book to assist learning must help in this. It must assist in a contemplative attitude toward things, enabling the mind to grasp them as they are. This the Catechism does par excellence. It is structured, organized, and written to support a deeply contemplative appreciation of the doctrines of the Faith. It offers us an unveiling of the meaning of doctrine through the twin avenues of reasoning and the focus of a "humbly attentive heart" (CCC 2668), "a gaze of faith" (CCC 2715). On the one hand, the Catechism asks the mind to engage actively with the annunciation ofthe Faith, following its tight, reasoned presentation of doctrine. On the other hand, it invites a mode of learning of the Faith not unlike that of lectio divina. In leaio divina, or "divine reading", the scriptures are read slowly and attentively, the mind resting on the words and phrases in a way that has been described as a little like a cow cudding. [4] The Catechism benefits from this slow reading aloud of its text, this pondering of its meaning, of its precise, taut, yet contemplative text.

A good teacher also needs to see things with the eyes of the one he is teaching, thereby needing to focus on the vision that the learner will have of the subject. A book, if it is to assist in the craft of teaching, must facilitate this work of the teacher as well. The Catechism achieves this too. As well as emphasizing the necessary distinctions among learners that the teacher needs to bear in mind (see CCC 24), it adopts a structure and organization that enable the teacher always to begin with what is small, individual, the beginning point in understanding and study, so as to move on from there to what is greater and perhaps harder to grasp. The writing of the Catechism text in short, numbered paragraphs is an example and a practical outworking of this intention. It also adopts a style that enables one to enter into each subject with the fresh awareness of one approaching it for the first time. The Catechism employs a gracious and classical style, straightforward, precise, and elegant. The text communicates a reverence and love for the subjects with which it is dealing, drawing the reader into a simple and direct relationship with the various doctrines, and in and through these doctrines to a deepening adherence to the Person of Christ.

The present book, then, aims to bring to light the pedagogy embedded in the Catechism, setting out the principles and steps for putting this pedagogy into practice. It explains very simply how every catechist can discover the key principles that enable one to learn from and teach from the Catechism, so that we are nourished and enriched by our Mother, the Church, even as we teach. Chapter by chapter, this book builds up a full picture of this pedagogy, explaining the catechetical "keys", making clear why they are of such importance, and illustrating them with numerous examples. In this way, it aims to help catechists to see how the Catechism may be used directly as the basic resource for catechetical work and as the reference point for planning and teaching.

On a practical level, the book helps catechists to see how the Catechism identifies key teaching points for any subject and how to immerse one's catechesis in the living, ecclesial sources of the Faith, so that catechetical sessions are occasions for a deepening attachment to Christ, who is revealed and handed on to us in the Church's Tradition, Sacred Scriptures, and liturgy. Above all, the book follows the Catechism in highlighting the inseparability of the delivery of catechesis from the person and prayer of the catechist: as a work of the Church, catechetics is rooted in the incarnational reality of the Word becoming fleshbecoming flesh in the person of the catechist and becoming flesh in those to whom catechesis is delivered.

This little book, then, is both a manual for practical use and an invitation to seek and to find a renewal of one's spiritual life through the ministry of catechesis, in which the catechist can gratefully draw, in prayer, on the life, gifts, and interior guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Catechism offers us the possibility of discovering an "organic connection" between the spiritual life and dogma as the secret for the renewal of both catechesis and spirituality, both being avenues toward the One who is all-good, all-true, and all-beautiful.

A pedagogy of the Faith

That the Faith has its own specific pedagogy may perhaps be a new idea for us. The General Directory for Catechesis, however, calls upon catechists to consider "the demands" and "the originality" of "that pedagogy which is proper to the faith" (no. 31; this source hereafter abbreviated GDC). The Church has certain "demands", or requirements, with regard to pedagogy. She has expectations not only concerning the content of what we teach, but also how we teach it. This is the case because the Faith generates its own pedagogy. The Faith is inseparable from pedagogy, the pedagogy of God, and our catechesis is to follow this pedagogy. To discover such a pedagogy is not to uncover a single or restrictive methodology—we need to distinguish carefully here between a method of teaching on the one hand and the pedagogy of God on the other. By method we mean a specific way of organizing and structuring one's teaching so as to bring about learning. This book is not directly about such methods of teaching; it concerns God's pedagogy, which is something much more all-encompassing. In fact, this pedagogy is informed by a largesse that can welcome every authentic and creative teaching style.

The Directory also says that the pedagogy we are invited to follow is an original one. The word "original" signals two connected things here. In the first place, there is something uniqueabout the content of the Faith. Pope John Paul II often wrote about the sense of wonder and amazement that we have as we contemplate the Faith we have received. In the second place, the word "original" indicates that the uniqueness of the Faith is intrinsically related to its origin. The Faith is not generated out of human experience, whether individual or collective. It is not simply the result even ofthe accumulation ofcenturies ofhuman wisdom and analysis. It is not the creation of man. It is given from God (see CCC 51).

When describing the word "pedagogy", then, "original" does not simply mean "unusual"; it also means a pedagogy rooted in the origins of the Faith. We turn to the sources of the Faith and the media of revelation to discover it. John Paul's introduction to the Catechism clarifies this point when he speaks of the Catechism offering us a "catechesis renewed at the living sources of the faith". [5]

The pedagogy we shall be exploring in this book is one that is derived from the Faith of the Church and follows the content and contours of that Faith. The Catechism, as a work of collaboration between the Holy Spirit and the successors to the apostles, is written with this divine pedagogy flowing through it. The heart of the Deposit of Faith, its center, lies in the revelation of the Heart of God in the Person of Jesus Christ (see CCC 478, 609). The pedagogy of God, therefore, has its culminating point in the appearing among us of the Savior, Jesus, the one in whom we find our happiness, the fullness of truth, and our way of return to the Father. We shall see that catechesis is conceived by the Catechism to be the annunciation of this and the invitation to participate in the fiat of Mary, in the paschal grace and work of an ever-deepening conversion and conforming of our lives to the image of the Son in his Bride, the Church.

This book is written for all those involved in the work of catechesis in the Church, whether this takes place in the parish, the home, or the school. It is offered to bishops and to those to whom they delegate responsibility for catechesis at the diocesan level. It is offered to priests, and to those religious and laity working in collaboration with them. It is also intended to be of assistance to parents, the principal educators of their children in the home.

This work does not offer a history of catechetics, nor does it see its focus as lying in discussions of current debates in catechetics. Nonetheless, both of these aspects are relevant to the presentation of catechetics outlined here. On the whole, however, the reader will find both the historical and the more discursive elements in the footnotes. This leaves the main text free to develop the exposition of the pedagogy of God, drawing on Scripture and Tradition and guided by the texts of the Magisterium.

The book begins with an essay by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn on the Church's mandate to teach, a mission from which we may draw strength and grace. An appreciation of this point lies at the heart of all endeavors to participate fruitfully in the pedagogy of God. The first chapter follows, setting forth the foundations for developing the craft of catechesis using the Catechism. The pedagogy of God, especially as it is revealed to us in the Catechism, is then explored in seven further ways, each way offering us pedagogical "keys" for our learning and teaching. Through these chapters, then, the meaning of the most important terms in this pedagogy are systematically unpacked and their catechetical implications uncovered. We hope that readers are led to see the beauty, necessity, and practicality of the catechetical principles that are presented both explicitly and implicitly in the Catechism.

The focus of the final chapter turns more explicitly to the life of the catechist: the significance of the theological virtues for the life of the catechist is uncovered, as well as their pedagogical importance, and the place of the spiritual gifts and the life of prayer crowns the book.


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 494; this source hereafter abbreviated CCC; cf. LG 56.

[2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, "Introduction", in Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (London: Catholic Truth Society, 2006), no. 3.

[3] On this see Josef Pieper, Guide to Thomas Aquinas (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), pp. 93-97.

[4] See Andre Louf, Teach Us to Pray (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1974),pp. 46-47, and see Ezek 3:1-13.

[5] John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, p. 3 (October 11, 1997); this source hereafter abbreviated FD.

Related Ignatius Press and Ignatius Insight pages and articles:

Catholic Faith Explorers | Adult Catechetical Series
Faith and Life | Catechism Series, Grades 1-8
Image of God | Catechism Series, Grades 1-8
Understanding The Hierarchy of Truths | Douglas Bushman, STL
Liturgy, Catechesis, and Conversion | Barbara Morgan

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