Action Alert!
Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

An Overview of the General Catechetical Directory

by Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos


Address of Cardinal Hoyos, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, to the International Catechetical Congress on October 14, 1997, summarizing the new GCD.

Larger Work

Origins Vol. 27, No. 41



Publisher & Date

Catholic News Service, April 2, 1998

The following is an official summary of the 1997 General Catechetical Directory developed by the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy to be used with the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the development of new catechisms and as a guide to catechetical teaching. The complete text of the GCD has been published in English in a 281-page book available from the U.S. Catholic Conference Office of Publishing Services (800-235-8722, publication No. 5-225, $19.95 plus shipping).

An Overview of the General Catechetical Directory

The Second Vatican Council did not devote a document especially to the subject of catechesis. However, if one were to assemble all the texts from the various conciliar documents which either explicitly or implicitly refer to catechesis and arrange them in a logical sequence, one would be surprised to discover a veritable summa of catechesis, a sort of conciliar catechetical directory, so great is the volume of texts of doctrinal abundance that reveal a fundamental homogeneity.

In a well-known and truly programmatic paragraph for a renewal of catechesis in the Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church, the nature, object and tasks of catechesis are defined (Christus Dominus, 14). Nothing has been left out of that text: catechesis of adults and the catechumenate, sources of catechesis and the necessity of the human sciences for an adequate preparation of the catechist.

The council understood that a true renewal in the area of catechesis would have to be the fruit of a special study conducted at an international level by experts and pastors, and thus the end of the Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church prescribed that a "directory for the catechetical instruction of the Christian people" be drawn up.

The Congregation for the Clergy, in execution of this conciliar mandate, availed itself of a special commission of experts and consulted the various episcopal conferences throughout the world, which made numerous suggestions and observations on the subject. The text prepared was revised by an ad hoc theological commission and by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The General Catechetical Directory was definitively approved by Pope Paul VI on March 18, 1971, and promulgated on April 11, 1971.

Reasons for the Revision

The 30-year period between the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council and the threshold of the third millennium is without doubt most providential for the orientation and promotion of catechesis. It has been a time in which the evangelizing vigor of the original ecclesial community has in some ways reemerged. It has also seen a renewal of interest in the teaching of the fathers and has made possible a return to the catechumenate. Since 1971, the General Catechetical Directory has oriented the particular churches in their renewal of catechesis and has acted as a point of reference for content and pedagogy as well as for methodology.

The course of catechesis during this same period has been characterized everywhere by generous dedication, by worthy initiatives and by positive results for the education and growth in the faith of children, young people and adults. At the same time, however, there have been crises, doctrinal inadequacies, influences from the evolution of global culture and ecclesial questions derived from outside the field of catechesis which have often impoverished its quality.

On this subject the new General Catechetical Directory is quite explicit. No. 30 states:

"It is necessary however, to examine with particular attention some problems so as to identify their solutions:

"— first concerns the conception of catechesis as a school of faith, an initiation and apprenticeship in the entire Christian life of which catechists do not yet have a full understanding.

"— ...The interrelation of sacred Scripture, tradition and the magisterium, each according to 'its proper mode' does not yet harmoniously enrich a catechetical transmission of the faith.

"— Concerning the object of catechesis, which always seeks to promote communion with Jesus Christ, it is necessary to arrive at a more balanced presentation of the entire truth of the mystery of Christ. Often emphasis is given only to his humanity without any explicit reference to his divinity; at other times, less frequently today, emphasis is so exclusively placed on his divinity that the reality of the mystery of the incarnate Word is no longer evident.

"— Various problems exist with regard to the content of catechesis: There are certain doctrinal lacunae concerning the truth about God and man; about sin and grace and about eschatology; there is a need for a more solid moral formation; presentations of the history of the church are inadequate'; and too little importance is given to her social teaching.

" — Catechesis is intrinsically bound to every liturgical and sacramental action.' Frequently, however, the practice of catechetics testifies to a weak and fragmentary link with the liturgy: limited attention to liturgical symbols and rites, scant use of the liturgical fonts, catechetical courses with little or no connection with the liturgical year; the marginalization of liturgical celebrations in catechetical programs.

" — Concerning pedagogy, after a period in which excessive insistence on the value of method and techniques was promoted by some, sufficient attention is still not given to the demands and to the originality of that pedagogy which is proper to the faith. It remains easy to fall into a 'content-method' dualism with resultant reductionism to one or other extreme; with regard to the pedagogical dimension, the requisite theological discernment has not always been exercised.

" — Regarding differences between cultures in the service of the faith, it is difficult to know how to transmit the Gospel within the cultural horizons of the peoples to whom it is proclaimed in such a way that it can be really perceived as good news for the lives of people and of society," and its integralness be guaranteed in eodem semper.

" — Formation for the apostolate and for mission is one of the fundamental tasks of catechesis. Nevertheless, while there is a new sensitivity to the formation of the laity for Christian witness, for interreligious dialogue and for their secular obligations, education for missionary activity ad gentes still seems weak and inadequate. Frequently ordinary catechesis gives only marginal and inconsistent attention to the missions." Proper catechesis rests foremost on the absolute necessity of Christ the Redeemer for every person.

Catechetical Deepening of Church Teaching

The magisterium of the church throughout these years has never ceased to exercise its pastoral solicitude for catechesis. A number of bishops and episcopal conferences have devoted considerable attention to catechesis, but mention must also be made in a particular way of the ministry of Pope Paul VI, who led the church in the immediate postconciliar period. Pope John Paul II has said of him: "Through his gestures his preaching, his authoritative interpretation o the Second Vatican Council — which he considered the great catechism of modem times — and throughout the whole of his life, my venerable predecessor Paul VI served the church's catechesis in a particularly exemplary fashion" (Catechesi Tradendae, 2). On his authority an( through his inspiration events took place an( extremely important information was published for the good of catechesis.

From a chronological point of view, it would be appropriate to refer to the Rite o Christian Initiation of Adults, published Jan. 6 1972, which contains special riches for meeting the needs of the catechetical renewal.

The reflections of the general assembly o the Synod of Bishops of October 1974 on the theme of evangelization in the modem world constitute a decisive milestone for catechesis The propositions subsequently drawn up by the synod were presented to Pope Paul VI, who promulgated the postsynodal apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi on Dec. 8, 1975. This document enunciates, among other things, a particularly important principle, namely, that o catechesis as a work of evangelization in the context of the church's mission. Henceforth catechesis would be considered one of the enduring concerns of the church's missionary mandate for our times.

The final general assembly of the Synod of Bishops, convened by Pope Paul VI in October 1977, proposed catechesis to its participants as the theme for analysis and reflection. This synod saw "in catechetical renewal a precious gift of the Holy Spirit to the contemporary church."

Taking up this catechetical heritage in 1978, Pope John Paul II set out his first guidelines for catechesis in the apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae of Oct. 16, 1979. This exhortation forms a cohesive unity with Evangelii Nuntiandi and fully locates catechesis within the context of evangelization.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope John Paul II has offered constant teaching of the highest catechetical value. From among his speeches, letters and writings, particular emphasis must be given to the 12 encyclicals from Redemptor Hominis to Ut Unum Sint. These encyclicals constitute in themselves a concise, organized body of doctrine regarding the renewal of ecclesial life desired by the Second Vatican Council.

Of particular catechetical value among these teaching documents of Pope John Paul 11, the following are of special importance: Redemptor Hominis (March 4, 1979), Dives in Misericordia (Nov. 30, 1980), Dominum et Vivificantem (May 18, 1986) and Redemptor Missio (Dec. 7, 1990), which reaffirms the permanent validity of the church's missionary mandate.

On the other hand, the general assemblies of the Synod of Bishops, both ordinary and extraordinary, have been particularly important for catechesis. In this respect mention must be made of the 1980 and 1987 synods, which dealt with the mission of the family and the vocation of the laity. Following these synods, Pope John Paul 11 promulgated the respective apostolic exhortations Familiaris Consortio (Nov. 22, 1981) and Christifideles Laici (Dec. 30, 1987).

Relevance of the 1985 Synod

At the extraordinary synod of 1985, they wanted to do something more than simply commemorate the Second Vatican Council. One must not only look backward, but with prophetic vision launch the church toward the threshold of the third millennium, reflecting once again on the situation of the ecclesial community in relation to the council's insights and asking how one ought to act on those directives today and how to make them fruitful for the future. In this context the idea of a catechism for the universal church was born. The fathers stated it in the following words:

"Very many have expressed the desire that a catechism or compendium of all Catholic doctrine regarding both faith and morals be composed, that it might be, as it were, a point of reference for the catechisms or compendiums that are prepared in various regions. The presentation of the doctrine must be biblical and liturgical. It must be sound doctrine suited to the present lives of Christians" (Final Report, II, B, a, 4).

In this passage we note that the synodal fathers meant to propose a catechetical text in profound continuity with the reflections begun by the Second Vatican Council. This is to say, to incorporate the doctrinal and pastoral richness of the ecumenical decrees in an organized synthesis of the faith present in the church's tradition for transmission in the catechetical formation of the faithful.

Thus the Catechism of the Catholic Church, while intended to make the doctrine of Vatican 11 better known and more deeply applied, reaffirms that preaching the Gospel holds first place in the purpose of the church. In particular, today there must be a greater commitment to present Catholic doctrine in its entirety and by means of a method more consistent with the nature of the Christian message.

General Catechetical Directory

This deeply significant event together with the aforementioned interventions of the magisterium necessitated a revision of the General Catechetical Directory in order to adapt this valuable theological and pastoral instrument to new situations and needs.

The work of revising the General Catechetical Directory spanned approximately three years and can be seen as the significant expression of the living sense of collaboration and communion in the church. In fact, although the text was published under the responsibility and authority of the Congregation for the Clergy, it was nevertheless the fruit of communion among all the bishops of the world and with many episcopal conferences and various national and international catechetical institutes, as well as with many experts representing different cultures and situations and with those bodies of the Roman Curia interested in the subject.

The General Catechetical Directory, while retaining the basic structure of the 1971 text, is set out in the following way:

— The introduction proposes guidelines for interpreting and understanding human and ecclesial conditions. There are brief diagnoses concerning mission.

— Part I roots catechesis above all in the conciliar constitution Dei Verbum, placing it in the context of evangelization as seen in Evange1ii Nuntiandi and Catechesi Tradendae, and proposes, moreover, to clarify the nature of catechesis.

— Part 2 contains two chapters. The first sets out norms and criteria for presenting the Gospel message in catechesis. The second chapter, which is completely new, serves to present the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a reference point for the transmission of the faith in catechesis and for the preparation of catechisms at the local level.

— Part 3 has also been revised to formulate the main elements of a pedagogy of the faith inspired by the divine pedagogy; while this question is primarily a theological one, it also involves the human sciences.

— Part 4 is titled "Those to Be Catechized." In five short chapters attention is given to the diverse situations and contexts of those to whom catechesis is directed, to matters arising from social and religious situations, and in particular, to the question of inculturation.

— Part 5 focuses on the centrality of the particular church and on its primordial duty to promote, organize, oversee and coordinate all catechetical. activities.

— The Conclusion advocates an intensification of catechetical activity in our times and concludes with an appeal to faith in the action of the Holy Spirit and in the efficacy of the word of God.

It is evident that not all parts of the directory have the same importance. Those dealing with divine revelation, the nature of catechesis, the criteria governing the proclamation of the Gospel message are universally valid. Those, however, referring to present circumstances, to methodology and to the manner of adapting catechesis to diverse age groups and cultural contexts are to be understood rather as indications or guidelines.

Criteria for the Revision

What theological and pastoral criteria guided the drafting of the General Catechetical Directory and the organization of its sections? The main criteria can be set out thus:

— Criteria concerning the concept of catechesis, its initiatory character and catechumenal inspiration.

— Criteria concerning the content of catechesis; the principles that govern the gathering of content and its presentation.

— Criteria relevant to the catechetical method; pedagogy of God, fidelity to God and to the human person and inculturation.

— Criteria for the organization of pastoral catechesis, the centrality of the particular church.

It should be remembered that the new version of the directory, as compared to that of 197 1, seeks to give more precise theological justification to the concept of catechesis. While upholding, as the preceding text did, the foundation of catechesis in the truth of revelation and thus substantially complying with Dei Verbum, it integrates the riches of the documents Evangelii Nuntiandi and Catechesi Tradendae. These sources that inspire the concept of catechesis are not only presented but also related to

one another and explained. Thus the new directory presents catechesis as an essential moment in the process of evangelization.

The catechesis of initiation is thus the necessary link between missionary activity, which calls to faith, and pastoral activity, which continually nourishes the Christian community. This is not, therefore, an optional activity, but as basic and fundamental for building up the personality of the individual disciple as it is for the whole Christian community.

Catechesis is closely connected with the sacraments of initiation, especially with baptism, "the sacrament of faith." The link uniting catechesis and baptism is the profession of faith, which is at the one and the same time an interior element of this sacrament and the goal of catechesis. And so, the model for all catechesis is the baptismal catechumenate, which is a specific formation by which converts to the faith are led to the baptismal confession of faith.

Recalling the 1977 synod, the directory clarifies in a well-balanced way how the baptismal catechumenate is a model for all catechesis.

In fact, Nos. 90 and 91 underline those elements of the catechumenate that ought to inspire contemporary catechesis and the significance of this inspiration, noting, however, that there is a fundamental difference between postbaptismal catechesis and baptismal catechesis.

— The baptismal catechumenate constantly reminds the whole church of the fundamental importance of the function of initiation and the basic factors that constitute it: catechesis and the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and eucharist. The pastoral work of Christian initiation is vital for every particular church.

— The baptismal catechumenate is the responsibility of the entire Christian community. Indeed, "this Christian initiation which takes place during the catechumenate should not be left entirely to the priests and catechists, but should be the care of the entire Christian community, especially the sponsors." The institution of the catechumenate thus increases in the church the awareness of the spiritual maternity she exercises in every form of education in the faith.

— Finally, the concept of the baptismal catechumenate as a process of formation and a true school of faith offers postbaptismal catechesis dynamic and particular characteristics: comprehensiveness and integrity of formation; its gradual character expressed in definite stages; its connection with meaningful rites, symbols, biblical and liturgical signs; its constant references to the Christian community.

Postbaptismal catechesis, without slavishly imitating the structure of the baptismal catechumenate, and recognizing in those to be catechized the reality of their baptism, does well, however, to draw inspiration from "this preparatory school for the Christian life," and to allow itself to be enriched by those principal elements that characterize the catechumenate. This explains why the directory values the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (1972) as a fundamental reference for catechesis.

The Word of God

Let us now consider the norms and criteria to which catechesis must aspire in gathering, formulating and expounding its content. The new directory recaps in shorter form the norms and criteria of its predecessor but with a new articulation and an enriched perspective First, it lays down the supreme rule: Catechesis must draw its message from the word of God.

Nevertheless, this sole source, which is the word of God as contained in sacred tradition and sacred Scripture, reaches us in many ways which are sources of catechesis. In fact, the word of God:

— Is meditated upon and understood more deeply by means of the sense of faith of all the people of God, under the guidance of the magisterium, which teaches with authority.

— Is celebrated in the sacred liturgy, where it is constantly proclaimed, heard, interiorized and explained.

— Shines forth in the life of the church, particularly in the witness of the saints.

— Is deepened by theological research, which helps believers to advance in their vital understanding of the mysteries of faith.

— Is made manifest in genuine religious and moral values which, as "seeds of the word," are sown in human society and diverse cultures.

These are all the sources, principal or subsidiary, of catechesis but ought not to be understood in a narrow sense.

Tradition, Scripture and the magisterium, all of which are closely connected, are "each in its own way, the principal sources of catechesis. Each of the subsidiary sources of catechesis has its own proper language which has been shaped by a rich variety of "documents of the faith." Catechesis is a living tradition of such documents. Today we cannot overlook the contribution made by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a comprehensive synthesis of the faith that has universal value.

The present directory does not devote a chapter to the presentation of the contents of the faith as was the case in the 1971 directory under the title "The more outstanding elements of the Christian message" (cf. 1971 General Catechetical Directory, 111, 2 ), and this is explained by the fact that this directory, as far as the content of the Christian message is concerned, simply refers to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is intended as a methodological norm for its concrete application. However, this calls for a clarification of the relationship between the directory and the catechism. No. 120 establishes the basic principle of a relationship of distinctness and complementarity between the two documents.

They are distinct in that:

— The Catechism of the Catholic Church is "a statement of the church's faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illuminated by sacred Scripture, the apostolic tradition and the church's magisterium."

— The General Catechetical Directory provides "the basic principles of pastoral theology taken from the magisterium of the church and in a special way from the Second Vatican Council, by which pastoral action in the ministry of the word can be more fittingly directed and governed."

They are complementary in that:

— The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an act of the papal magisterium, by which in our times in virtue of his apostolic authority, he synthesizes in a normative way the totality of the Catholic faith. He offers the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the first place, to the churches as a point of reference for the authentic presentation of the content of the faith.

— The General Catechetical Directory, for its part, carries that authority the Holy See customarily grants instruments of orientation it approves and confirms. It is an official aid for the transmission of the Gospel message and for the whole of catechetical activity.

— These two instruments, each taken in accordance with its specific nature and authority, are mutually complementary.

Comparison with the preceding directory shows an elaboration of the theme of subsidiary sources of catechesis by speaking of the source of catechesis in order to underline the uniqueness of the word of God and to amplify more fully the concept of revelation present in Dei Verbum. Now the living source of the word of God and the subsidiary sources which flow from it provide catechesis with the criteria for the presentation of its message.

With respect to its predecessor, the new directory contributes - even in referring to this point - something new: It correlates these criteria. Thus is shown the uniqueness of the sources from which they spring as well as their dynamic interrelationship, which prevents them from emphasizing one side over another.


— The message centered on the person of Jesus Christ (Christocentricity), through its internal dynamic introduces the Trinitarian dimension of the same message.

— The proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of God, centered on the gift of salvation, implies a message of liberation.

— The ecclesial character of the message reflects its historical nature because catechesis - as with all evangelization - is realized within "the time of the church."

— Since it is good news destined for all peoples, the Gospel seeks meaningfulness for the human person, which can be authentic only if the message is presented in all its organic integrity and purity.

Although these criteria are valid for the entire ministry of the word, here they are developed in relation to catechesis.

Christocentricity of the Gospel Message

— "At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a person, the person of Jesus of Nazareth." In reality, the fundamental task of catechesis is to present Christ, true God and true man: to present everything in relation to him.

— Christ is the "center of salvation history" presented by catechesis. The catechetical message helps the Christian to locate himself in history and to insert himself into it by showing that Christ is the ultimate meaning of that history. Thus all that is transmitted by catechesis is "the teaching of Jesus Christ, the truth that he communicates, or more precisely, the truth that he is."

The Christocentricity of catechesis, in order of its internal dynamic, leads to confession of faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is essentially a Trinitarian Christocentricity. The consequences of this Trinitarian Christocentricity for catechesis are the following:

— Every mode of presentation must always be Christocentric-Trinitarian: "Through Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit." If catechesis lacks these three elements or neglects their close relationship, the Christian message can certainly lose its proper character.

— Following the same pedagogy of Jesus in revealing the Father, himself as the Son and the Holy Spirit, catechesis shows the most intimate life of God, starting with his salvific works for the good of humanity.

— The presentation of the innermost being of God revealed by Jesus, the mystery of being one in essence and three in person, has vital implications for the lives of human beings. To confess belief in one God means that "man should not submit his personal freedom in an absolute manner to any earthly power." It also implies that humanity, made in the image and likeness of God who is a "communion of persons," is called to be a fraternal society, comprised of sons and daughters of the same Father and equal in personal dignity.

Proclaiming Salvation

The second set of criteria for presentation of the message correlates the gift of salvation with the message of liberation that is inherent in salvation. The proclamation of the kingdom of God is central to the preaching of Jesus. Catechesis transmits this message of the kingdom, underlining the following basic aspects:

They are:

— Jesus, with the coming of the kingdom, proclaims and reveals that God is not a distant, inaccessible being but present among his creatures.

— Jesus shows at the same time that God, with the coming of his kingdom, offers the gift of integral salvation, frees from sin, brings one to communion with the Father, grants divine sonship, and in conquering death, promises eternal life.

— Jesus, in announcing the kingdom, proclaims the justice of God: He proclaims God's judgment and our responsibility. The proclamation of this judgment, with its power to form consciences, is a central element of the Gospel and good news for the world.

— Finally, Jesus shows that the history of humanity is not journeying toward nothingness but, with its aspects of both grace and sin, is in him taken up by God and transformed.

The Beatitudes of Jesus are an eschatological proclamation of the salvation that the kingdom brings. They note that painful experience to which the Gospel is so particularly sensitive: poverty, hunger and the suffering of humanity (cf. Lk. 6:20-2 1). As an important dimension of her mission, "the church is duty bound to proclaim the liberation of these hundreds of millions of people, since very many of them are her children."

To prepare Christians for this task, catechesis is attentive, among other things, to the following aspects:

— It shall situate the message of liberation in the prospective of the "specifically religious objective of evangelization," since it would lose its raison d'etre "if it were divorced from the religious basis by which it is sustained."

— Catechesis shall present Christian social morality as a demand and consequence of the "radical liberation worked by Christ."

— At the same time, in the task of initiating mission, catechesis shall arouse in catechumens and those receiving catechesis "a preferential option for the poor" that is neither exclusive nor sectarian and will keep in mind that the first and radical poverty is to be sinners.

— The true subject of catechesis is the church, which carries on Jesus' mission of teacher and is animated by the Holy Spirit, and which has been sent to be the teacher of the faith. The ecclesial nature of catechesis confers on the transmitted Gospel message an inherent ecclesial character. Catechesis is the process of transmitting the Gospel as the Christian community has received it, understands it, celebrates it, lives it and communicates it in many ways.

Hence, when catechesis transmits the mystery of Christ, the faith of the whole people of God echoes in its message throughout the course of history. This faith transmitted by the ecclesial community is one. Catechesis in the church therefore is that service which introduces catechumens and those to be catechized to the unity of the confession of faith.

The "economy of salvation" has thus a historical character since it is realized in time: "In time past it began, made progress and in Christ reached its highest point; in the present time it displays its force and awaits its consummation in the future." For this reason, the church, in transmitting today the Christian message, has a constant "memory" of the saving events of the past and makes them known. In their light she interprets the present events of human history, where the Spirit of God is continually renewing the face of the earth, and she awaits with faith the Lord's coming.

The historical character of the Christian message requires catechesis to look after these aspects:

— To present the history of salvation by means of a biblical catechesis that makes known the "deeds and words" with which God has progressively and gradually revealed himself to man.

— In explaining the Creed and content of Christian morality, catechesis should illuminate the "today" of the history of salvation. Indeed "the ministry of the word, in the light of this revelation, interprets human life in our age, the signs of the times and the things of this world."

— To situate the sacraments within the history of salvation by means of a mystagogy which "rereads and relives the great events of salvation history in the 'today' of her liturgy."

The final set of criteria for the presentation of the content of catechesis concerns the integrity and organic nature of the Gospel message in reference to its significance for the human person. Jesus proclaims the Gospel integrally "because I have made known to you all that I have heard from my Father" (Jn. 15:15). This same integrity is demanded by Christ of his disciples in his sending them on mission "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt. 28:18-19). A fundamental principle of catechesis, therefore, is that of safeguarding the integrity of the message and avoiding any partial or distorted presentations.

Two closely connected dimensions underlie this criterion. The first:

— Integrity must also be accompanied by adaptation. Consequently catechesis starts out with a simple proposition of the integral structure o the Christian message and proceeds to explain it in a manner adapted to the capacity of those being catechized. Without restricting itself to this initial exposition, it gradually and increasingly proposes the Christian message more amply and with greater explicitness, in accordance with the capacity of those being catechized and with the proper character of catechesis. These two levels of the integral exposition of the Gospel message are called intensive integrity and extensive integrity.

— The second is to present the authentic Gospel message, in all of its purity, without reducing its demands for fear of rejection and without imposing heavy burdens that it does not entail, since the yoke of Jesus is light. There is always tension in. this necessary task: "Evangelization will lose much of its power and efficacy if it does not take into consideration the people to whom it is addressed." However, "it may lose its very nature and vanish if on the pretext of transposing its content into another language that content is rendered meaningless or is corrupted."

The message transmitted by catechesis has a "comprehensive hierarchical character" which constitutes a coherent and vital synthesis of the faith. This is organized around the mystery of the most holy Trinity, in a Christocentric perspective, because this is "the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them." The harmony of the overall message requires a "hierarchy of truths." Nevertheless, this hierarchy "does not mean that some truths pertain to faith itself less than others, but rather that some truths are based on others as of a higher priority and are illumined by them."

All aspects and dimensions of the Christian message participate in this hierarchical system:

— The history of salvation is organized in reference to Jesus Christ, the "center of salvation history."

— The Apostles' Creed is a synthesis of and a key to reading all of Scripture and church doctrine, which is hierarchically ordered around it.

— The sacraments, which like regenerating forces, spring from the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ, are also a whole. They form "an organic whole in which each particular sacrament has its own vital place." In this whole, the holy eucharist occupies a unique place to which all of the other sacraments are ordered. The eucharist is to be presented as the "sacrament of sacraments."

— The double commandment of love of God and neighbor is - in the moral message - a hierarchy of values which Jesus himself established: "On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets" (Mt. 22:40).

— The Our Father gathers up the essence of the Gospel. It synthesizes and hierarchically structures the immense riches of prayer contained in sacred Scripture and in all of the church's life.

A presentation of the Gospel message that is integral, organic and hierarchical becomes a deeply significant event for the human person. The relationship between the Christian message and human experience is not a simple methodological question. It springs from the very end of catechesis, which seeks to put the human person in community with Jesus Christ. Catechesis operates through this identity of human experience between Jesus the Master and his disciple and teaches him or her to think like him, to act like him, to love like him. To live communion with Christ is to experience the new life of grace.

In concluding the exposition on the criteria for the presentation of the content of catechesis, it must be noted that from these criteria and norms it is not possible to deduce the order that should be observed in the exposition of catechetical content. Indeed, "it can happen that in the present situation of catechesis, reasons of method or pedagogy may suggest that the communication of the riches of the content of catechesis should be organized in one way rather than another." It is possible to begin with God so as to arrive at Christ and vice versa. Equally it is possible to start with man and come to God, and conversely.

— The selection of a particular order for presenting the message is conditioned by circumstances and by the faith level of those to be catechized. It is a matter for bishops to draw up more particular norms for this and to apply them by means of catechetical directories and catechisms which cater to different ages and cultural conditions as well as in other ways deemed more appropriate.

Pedagogy of God

Let us now consider two criteria that qualify the catechetical method. It seems appropriate to discuss the pedagogy of God first.

God has spoken to man not only through his works of creation (Rom. 1:20-23) but especially as Father to child, friend to friend, spouse to spouse, adapting himself to man's capacity to understand and in full respect for his freedom. This way of acting on the part of God is called the pedagogy of God.

The two fundamental functions of the word of God, salvific and educative, are inseparably joined in what could be called the method followed by God in communicating his saving word to mankind.

Catechesis, as communication of divine revelation, is radically inspired by the pedagogy of God and receives from its constitutive characteristics; and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, it sets out a wise synthesis to encourage a true experience of faith, and thus a filial encounter with God. In this way, catechesis:

— Is a pedagogy which serves and is included in the "dialogue of salvation" between God and the person; with regard to God it underlines divine initiative, loving motivation, gratuity and respect for our liberty; with regard to man it highlights the dignity of the gift received and the demand to grow continually therein.

— It accepts the principle of the progressiveness of revelation, the transcendence and the mysterious nature of the word of God and also its adaptation to different persons and cultures.

— It recognizes the centrality of Jesus Christ, the Word of God made man, who determines catechesis as "a pedagogy of the incarnation," and through whom the Gospel is to be proposed for the life and in the life of the people.

— It values the community experience of faith. which is proper to the people of God, the church.

— It is rooted in interpersonal relations and makes its own the process o dialogue.

— It conducts a pedagogy of signs where words and deeds, teaching and experience are interlinked.

— It draws its power of truth and its constant task of bearing witness to it from the inexhaustible divine love which is the Holy Spirit, since God's love is the ultimate reason for his revelation.

Catechesis, which is therefore active pedagogy in the faith, in accomplishing its tasks cannot allow itself to be inspired by ideological considerations or purely human interests. It does not confuse the salvific action of God, which is pure grace, with the pedagogical action of man. Neither, however, does it oppose them and separate them.

Catechesis as pedagogy of faith in action, receives from Jesus Christ a fundamental law: fidelity to God and fidelity to man. Genuine catechesis therefore is that catechesis which helps to perceive the action of God throughout the formative journey. It encourages a climate of listening, of thanksgiving and of prayer, and is attentive to every human person, keeping in mind the variety of situations and cultures in which man lives in order to offer him the one word of God that saves in the form of healthy and adequate food. Therefore, the fundamental law of fidelity to God and to man is the origin of the second criterion overseeing the catechetical method: the wise and prudent inculturation of the message.

Inculturation of the Gospel

"Christ by his incarnation committed himself to the particular social and cultural circumstances of the men among whom he lived." This is the original "inculturation" of the word of God and is the model of all evangelization by the church, which is "called to bring the power of the Gospel into the very heart of culture and cultures."

Inculturation is a profound, global process and a slow journey. In this work of inculturation, however, the Christian community must discern, on the one hand, which riches to "take up" as compatible with the faith; on the other, it must seek to "purify" and "transform" those criteria, modes of thought and lifestyles which are contrary to the kingdom of God. Such discernment is governed by two basic principles: "compatibility with the Gospel and communion with the universal church."

In this inculturation of the faith, there are different concrete tasks for catechesis. Among these mention must be made of

— Looking to the ecclesial community as the principal factor of inculturation: An expression and efficient instrument of this task is represented by the catechist who, with a profound religious sense, also possesses a living social conscience and is well rooted in his cultural environment.

— Drawing up local catechisms which respond to the demands of different cultures.

— Making the catechumenate and catechetical institutes into "centers of inculturation," incorporating with discernment the language, symbols and values of the cultures in which the catechumens and those to be catechized live.

— Presenting the Christian message in such a way as to prepare those who are to proclaim the Gospel to be capable "of giving reasons for their hope" (I Pt. 3:5), in cultures often pagan or post-Christian: Effective apologetics to assist the faith-culture dialogue is indispensable today.

In a more emphatic way than the 1971 text, the new directory sees in the diocese the natural place for the ministry of catechesis to unfold and identifies the supporting axis of the catechetical organization in the person of the bishop.

The proclamation of the Gospel and the eucharist are the two pillars on which is built and around which gathers the particular church. Catechesis is a basic evangelizing activity of every particular church. By means of it the diocese gives to all its members a formative process which permits knowledge, celebration, living and proclamation within a particular cultural horizon. In this way, the confession of faith - the goal of catechesis - can be proclaimed by the disciples of Christ "in their own tongues." As at Pentecost, so also today the church of Christ "present and operative" in the particular churches "speaks all languages," since like a growing tree she extends her roots into all cultures.

Catechesis is a responsibility of the entire Christian community. Christian initiation, indeed, "should not be the work of catechists and priests alone, but of the whole community of the faithful."

Yet while the entire Christian community is responsible for Christian catechesis and all of its members bear witness to the faith, only some receive the ecclesial mandate to be catechists. Together with the primordial mission which parents have in relation to their children, the church confers the delicate task of organically transmitting the faith within the community on particular, specifically called members of the people of God.

In the diocese catechesis is a unique service performed jointly by priests, deacons, religious and laity in communion with the bishop. Even if priests, deacons, religious and laity exercise catechesis in common, they do so in different ways, each according to his particular condition in the church (sacred ministers, consecrated persons and the Christian faithful). Were one of these forms absent, catechesis would lose something of its richness as well as part of its proper meaning.

The bishop has primary responsibility for catechesis in the particular church. The Second Vatican Council gave much importance to the proclamation and transmission of the Gospel in the episcopal ministry. "Among the principal duties of bishops, that of preaching the Gospel excels." Missionary proclamation and catechesis are two closely united aspects of the prophetic ministry of bishops. To perform this duty bishops receive "the charism of truth." The bishops are "beyond all others, the ones primarily responsible for catechesis and catechists par excellence."

This concern for catechetical activity will lead the bishop to assume "the overall direction of catechesis" in the particular church, which implies among other things:

— That he ensure effective priority for an active and fruitful catechesis in his church, "putting into operation the necessary personnel, means and equipment and also financial resources."

— That he exercise solicitude for catechesis by direct intervention in the transmission of the Gospel to the faithful and that he be vigilant with regard to the authenticity of the faith as well as with regard to the quality of texts and instruments being used in catechesis.

— That he bring about and maintain a real passion for catechesis, a passion embodied in a pertinent and effective organization," out of a profound conviction of the importance of catechesis for the Christian life of the diocese.

— That he ensure "that catechists are adequately prepared for their task, being well instructed in the doctrine of the church and possessing both a practical and theoretical knowledge of the laws of psychology and educational method."

— That he establish an articulated, coherent and global program in the diocese in order to respond to the true needs of the faithful: It should be integrated into the diocesan pastoral plan and coordinated with the programs of the episcopal conference.


Thus far we have outlined the principal reasons and criteria which guided the revision of the General Catechetical Directory. In conclusion, it seems appropriate to say a few words about the object and use of the text and those to whom it is addressed.

The object of this directory is clearly the same as that pursued by the 1971 directory. It attempts to provide those fundamental theological and pastoral principles drawn from the church's magisterium, particularly those inspired by the Second Vatican Council, which are capable of better orienting and coordinating the pastoral activity of the ministry of the word and, concretely, catechesis. The basic intention of the directory was and remains that of offering reflections and principles, rather than immediate applications or practical directives. This method has been adopted principally for the reason that defects and errors in catechetical material can be avoided only if the nature and end of catechesis, as well as the truths and values which must be transmitted, are correctly understood from the outset.

The concrete application of these principles and pronouncements by means of guidelines, national, regional or diocesan directories, catechisms and other ways deemed suitable for the effective promotion of catechesis is something which pertains to the specific competence of the various episcopates.

The directory is addressed principally to the bishops, episcopal conferences and, in a general way in accordance with their competence, to those who have responsibility for catechesis. Clearly it will be of use in forming those preparing for ordination to the priesthood, in the continuing formation of priests and in the formation of catechists. The immediate end of the directory is to assist in the composition of catechetical directories and catechisms.

Numerous notes and references have been included in this directory at the suggestion of many bishops, which may be useful in drawing up such catechetical aids.

Since the directory is intended for the use of particular churches, whose pastoral needs vary greatly, it is obvious that only common or intermediate concerns could be taken into account. This is true also of the sections dealing with the organization of catechesis at different levels. Due note should be made of this observation while using the directory. As has been already noted in the 1971 directory, what may appear insufficient in areas where catechesis and catechetical resources have reached a high standard, may perhaps seem excessive in areas where catechesis has not yet undergone such development.

It is hoped that the publication of this document, testimony of the Apostolic See's solicitude for catechetical ministry, will be received and carefully studied in the context of the pastoral needs of each particular church. It is to be hoped that it will promote future study and deepen research so as to respond to the needs of catechesis and the norms and directives of the church's magisterium.

The directory is a vehicle conveying those assurances that people of all times and places need for their lives and to which, as children of God, they have the right. A methodology, a criteriology of intelligent transmission equal to the times and cultures, constitutes a valuable instrument for responding to this right of the faithful. All of us in the church who by office or mandate are responsible for catechesis and preaching must be able to provide clear responses concerning certain truths of the faith and responsible answers to ongoing controversial issues. Accompanying this instrument is the encouragement to supply objective content of the Catholic faith in the psychological and affective inferiority of the I of each person. Indeed, it is not enough to know the truths and assurances of the faith, since the faith in its essence is also an act of sequence and confidence in the person of Christ in whom we believe.

And since every believer must always be ready, for himself and others, to give reasons for his faith in Jesus Christ today as well as tomorrow, I invite all on this last stretch of road separating us from the great jubilee, likely burdened with other priorities, to make an intense journey of catechesis together, one we cannot afford to miss. Let us make this journey in profound communion of ecclesial intention and affection. We must reach the third millennium "strong in faith." Our communities will be strong to the degree that each individual can give himself and others reasons for his own belief and personal adherence to Christ, the redeemer of all people. May the example of our mother, who became actually present in the mystery of Christ precisely because "she believed," guide and sustain us. To be present in the mystery of Christ means to be determined by it in our way of living. Thank you.

© Origins, CNS Documentary Service, Catholic News Service, 3211 4th Street N.E., Washington, D.C. 20017-1100.


This item 326 digitally provided courtesy of