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On Better Care for Catechetical Teaching (Provido Sane Consilio)

by Holy See


Issued by the Catechetical Office of the Holy See, under Pope Pius XI, on catechetical instruction in the Catholic Church.

Publisher & Date

Vatican, January 12, 1935

1. With truly farseeing wisdom, the Catholic Church, the guardian and teacher of divinely revealed truth, undertaking to fulfill her most holy office and duty, has always held that the imparting of the heavenly knowledge necessary for salvation through catechetical instruction must be placed among her most serious obligations. This work of bringing all men-particularly children and the poorly instructed adults-to know Christ our Lord and to learn His teachings must be committed to the zeal and ministry of qualified teachers.

2. In this the Church surely acts with prudence. The knowledge of a Christian is wholly contained in the words of the divine Redeemer: "This is everlasting life, that they may know you, the only true God, and him whom you have sent, Jesus Christ."1 This knowledge is correctly and aptly contained in catechetical instruction wherein a summary of truths concerning God, Jesus Christ and His teachings and precepts are explained and presented to students according to their age, ability, and condition of life, Indeed, when this matter has been presented and clearly illustrated, no better way can be desired to provide a firm and certain norm of true belief and right living for the faithful.

"Let the Little Children Come to Me"

3. Thus it is that in the Catholic Church catechetical instruction has been and indeed should be held as that voice through which divine Wisdom cries aloud in the streets: "Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me";2 or like that lamp "shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,"3 or that "seed" and "leaven" of the Gospel whereby the whole Christian life springs into being and is nourished. Each of the faithful because of this instruction receives with profit the light of divine truth, the norm of divine law, and the help of divine grace; and he is able both to see what must be done and to gain the strength for its accomplishment. Religious instruction of this kind offers great advantages for all, but it is of special help in the years of childhood and adolescence, wherein lies the hope of adult life. Above all, then, catechetical instruction must be provided for children and youth, and they must be urged to take advantage of it. This is all the more necessary in an age in which the secular education of children and youth is eagerly planned and carried forward through a widespread pursuit of knowledge, manifold means of teaching, and improved methods of presenting matters to be learned. In the midst of such facilities for learning and such zeal for teaching, it must never be that the science of God and the all-important content of religion suffer neglect or omission.

4. It is evident too that the welfare of the nation itself is bound up with the Catholic instruction and training of children and youths. It is equally of vital interest to the state and to religion that citizens imbibe the Christian spirit as well as merely human knowledge and secular training.

5. It can thus be clearly understood why the Church, the teacher of Catholic truth and practice, out of love as well as prudence, speaks in the person of Christ and exclaims: "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for of such is the kingdom of God."4

Concern of the Holy See

6. The Roman Pontiffs as the supreme teachers and leaders of the Catholic Faith have always been fully cognizant of and attentive to all this, and they accordingly have never relaxed their vigilance and zeal in such an important matter.

7. There exists in our own time (if we may pass over more ancient documents) a splendid proof of this diligence in the Encyclical Letter Acerbo nimis of Pope Pius X which appeared on April 15, 1905. In this encyclical the ever-vigilant Pontiff first set forth the advantages that flow properly and solely from catechetical instruction, and then he concluded that the Faith in our day grows weak and is almost dead chiefly because the work of teaching Christian doctrine is either performed carelessly or is entirely omitted. He thereupon enacted legislation to provide for the teaching of Christian doctrine not only to boys and girls but also to youths and to adults as well.

8. The Code of Canon Law (Book III, tit. XX, chap. I) contains these same prescriptions practically in their entirety as set forth in the canons (1329-1336). Here the provisions relating to catechetical instruction, made obligatory throughout the universal Church, are duly stated and proposed as law.

9. With the purpose of seeing how the catechetical provisions of the Code are being carried out and to stimulate their enforcement when needful, Pope Pius XI, in a Motu proprio Orbem catholicum (June 29, 1923), instituted within this Sacred Congregation of the Council a catechetical office, whose special work is to guide and to promote the catechetical movement everywhere throughout the Catholic Church.

10. The zealous activities of the bishops have been in complete harmony with the commands and pleadings of the Supreme Pontiffs. In plenary and provincial councils, in diocesan synods, as well as in catechetical congresses both diocesan and national, they have earnestly endeavored to improve the teaching of the catechism.

11. Despite the initial success of early beginnings, however, it is clear from the reports of the bishops themselves that there are still many obstacles which prevent the full force and effectiveness of the teaching of Christian doctrine. We must surely deplore first of all the carelessness of parents, many of whom are ignorant of the things of God and who accordingly do little or nothing for the religious education of their children. This is indeed a serious situation; for when the parents are either neglectful or deliberately opposed, there is practically no hope that the children will receive a religious training.

12. The condition is, even worse where, as is the case in some nations, the very right of the Church to direct the Christian education of children is called into question or even denied by reason of political policy. Then the parents, overcome by indifference or their own fickleness of mind or weakened by the pressure of circumstances, offer neither opposition to the unjust laws nor do they give attention or care to the catechetical instruction of their children.

13. In countries where Catholics and non-Catholics dwell together and mixed marriages among them are common, it often happens as a consequence of the intimate relationship of married life that both the parents and children grow to disdain religion or fall altogether from the Faith.

14. A further consideration is a general lack of interest on the part of the children and youth in religion. They are taken up with other things and are attracted by games and exercises of physical culture, or by worldly shows where not infrequently moral discipline is relaxed; and thus led away, even on feastdays, the result is failure to attend the parish catechetical instruction. Thereupon forgetfulness and neglect of the things of God, which we so much deplore, take root in early childhood and grow worse with the years.

15. This forgetfulness and neglect cause even greater harm to the Faith in view of the fact that ravening wolves have come into the world, not sparing the flock; likewise, pseudo-teachers given to atheism and the new paganism have made their appearance, giving expression to clever falsehoods and sheer nonsense by writings and by other means cunningly attempting to destroy the Catholic belief in God, in Jesus Christ, and in the divine work of the Church. With these are joined the individuals who possess a semblance of Christian learning and piety, yet burn with zeal to propagate unhappy Protestantism. And with an ease that is almost unbelievable, they deceive those who are ignorant of or weak in Catholic doctrine-even also the simple and unwary faithful.

16. Although the bishops and those having the care of souls are striving diligently to overcome these difficulties, nevertheless this Sacred Congregation is bound to stimulate their zeal again and again; and their efforts do not exempt them from even greater attention and labor to a work upon which depends the eternal welfare of the sheep committed to their charge.

Further Catechetical Regulations

17. It has, therefore, seemed opportune to this Sacred Congregation that all interested in religious education should be encouraged to new efforts, and that certain prescriptions should be enacted and promulgated which, if observed, will give grounds to hope that catechetical instruction will make greater progress in the future.

18. In the first place let the bishops, mindful of the duty and office entrusted to them, exert even greater care and diligence than heretofore has been their custom, to encourage greater efforts and labor to spread catechetical instruction. "Let them see to it," therefore, in accord with Canon 336:2, "that the food of Christian doctrine be given to the faithful, especially to children and to the uninstructed, and that in the schools the education of children and youth be carried on according to the principles of the Catholic religion." Moreover, as provided in Canon 1336, "the Ordinary of the place has the right to legislate in his diocese in all matters that pertain to the instruction of the people in Christian doctrine," and, therefore, each Ordinary should consider in the Lord what preparations are to be made, what laws should be laid down for this most holy and necessary work, and by what means he can most easily and effectively carry out his plans in this matter. He shall bear in mind that, if the occasion warrants, he can punish those who are negligent or who refuse to obey with the penalties prescribed in Canons 1332:2 and 2182, and at the same time, as a reward to the zealous, he can intimate that special care and diligence exercised in the work of teaching catechism will be of greatest weight and importance in the conferring of parishes and other benefices.

19. Pastors and others having the care of souls should ever bear in mind that catechetical instruction is the foundation of the whole Christian life, and to its proper performance all their plans, studies, and efforts should be directed. Let them, therefore, note well and put into effect all the prescriptions of Canons 1330, 1331, and 1332; thus in this work in particular they ought to become all things to all men that they may gain all men for Christ, and be able to show themselves as faithful ministers and dispensers of the mysteries of God. Let them carefully determine the souls who need to be nourished with milk, and those who have need of more solid food, but let all be offered that food of doctrine that gives growth to the soul and mind so that the Christian will not be ignorant of his religion, neither will he hold it merely as a gift from his forebears, but on the contrary he will possess it well understood and clearly analyzed in order that it enrich both himself and others.

20. In carrying out this most holy work, "let the pastor," in accord with Canon 1333:1, "employ the help of other clerics in the parish, and also if necessary, of devout lay persons, especially those who belong to the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine or a similar society established in the parish." All of these, whether asked or commanded, should freely, nay more, should most gladly give their assistance to this work-as joyful givers beloved of the Lord.

21. The help of members of religious communities, according to Canon 1334, should not be lacking in a work so helpful, so pleasing to God, and so necessary for souls, if the Ordinary of the place requires it. The religious themselves on being called should joyfully respond, and they should even desire to give assistance in order to gain the reward exceedingly great through the salvation of souls that is achieved also in this part of the Lord's field, where the harvest is great but the laborers are few.

22. Finally, effective help and loyal support in this matter is both expected and demanded from parents and guardians. The provision of Canon 1113 should be called to their attention that, "they are bound by a most strict obligation to provide to the best of their ability for the religious and moral as well as for the physical and civil education of their children," and this obligation is fulfilled, according to Canon 1335, when they see to it that their children receive catechetical instruction and also, by Canon 1372:2, in providing them with a Christian education.

23. All of the matters we have here treated in summary are already well known and evident; nevertheless the old adage, "repetition is useful," must not be overlooked, especially when the subject is one that cannot be insisted upon too much.

Specific Commands for the Catechetical Apostolate

24. In order, then, that all of this may more readily be carried out in the entire world, this Sacred Congregation, with the approval of His Holiness, Pope Pius XI, commands that in all dioceses the following be observed:

25. 1. In every parish, besides the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, as the most important of all others, must be established in accordance with Canon 711:2, and it should embrace all who are capable of teaching and promoting catechetical instruction, especially teachers in the schools and all who are skilled in the science of teaching children.

26. 2. Using the Letter of this Sacred Congregation directed to the Bishops of Italy as a norm, parochial classes in Christian doctrine should be established if they do not already exist. With the pastors themselves in charge of these classes, and with the employment of approved methods of teaching, children and youth will have opportunity to learn the fundamentals of the divine law and of the Faith. In order, moreover, to overcome the indifference of parents already referred to, who think their children are not obliged to attend the catechism classes of the parish because they are receiving religious instruction either at home or in the public schools, let the following be carefully observed:

27. a. Pastors shall not admit to reception of the sacraments of Penance and Confirmation, as prescribed in Canon 1330, children who have not acquired sufficient knowledge of the catechism according to directives of the Decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments on August 8, 1910; and after they have received their First Communion, they must endeavor to learn the catechism more perfectly and with greater profit.

28. b. Pastors, preachers, confessors, and rectors of churches shall take particular care to advise parents of the grave obligation which is theirs to see to it that, "all subject to them or under their care are given catechetical instruction" (Canon 1335). On this subject, Pope Benedict XIV wrote as follows in his Encyclical Etsi minime, of February 7, 1742: "It is evident that the Bishop can and should in all earnestness recommend to preachers that in their sermons they impress upon the ears and minds of parents the importance of teaching their children the truths of our religion; and that if they are not fully capable of so doing, they should bring their children to the church where the precepts of the divine law will be explained."

29. c. Furthermore, let pastors and their assistants endeavor so far as they can to make the children eager to attend the parish catechism classes. To this end the most successful and tried means should be employed, for example, the celebration of a Mass for the children on all holy days, catechetical competitions, offering of attractive prizes, and the use of suitable projects and moderate forms of amusement.

30. d. Finally, let pastors carefully prepare the children so that they may be examined on their knowledge of religion by the bishop when he makes his pastoral visitation. The bishop will take this opportunity to call attention to the condition of religious instruction in the parish: what he feels needs correction, improvement, or special commendation.

31. 3. There is a danger that the religious training received in childhood will be forgotten with advancing age, for as Pope Benedict XIV has pointed out, "It is well known that not only the young and those reaching maturity are steeped in ignorance of the things of God, but also adults and old people are altogether destitute of the teachings of salvation; this is because they have never learned them, or having once learned them they have little by little forgotten them" (loc. cit.). Bishops, therefore, should carefully see to it that the provisions of Canon 1332 be scrupulously observed by the pastors. They are bound, according to this Canon, "to explain the catechism on Sundays and holy days to adults among the faithful in words suited to their capacity to understand." With this in mind, Pope Pius X, in his celebrated encyclical Acerbo nimis, ordered that "the catechism of the Council of Trent should be used in such a way that over a period of four or five years the entire material would be covered which treats of the Apostles' Creed, the sacraments, the commandments, prayer, and the precepts of the Church," and the same holds true of the evangelical counsels, grace, the virtues, sin, and the last things.

Practical Means To Be Adopted

32. In addition to the above measures incumbent upon all, this Sacred Congregation considers it opportune to point out to the Ordinaries some means which experience has proved to be well adapted to the end desired. The Ordinaries, therefore, will take care that all or at least some of the means which here follow are used according to the different needs and circumstances of each diocese.

33. 1. As is already provided for Italy in the Letter of this Sacred Congregation on December 12, 1929, the Ordinaries will, if possible, set up a diocesan catechetical office, which under their supervision will direct all catechetical education in the diocese. The chief functions of this office will be to provide:

34. a. that in parishes, in schools, and in colleges, Christian doctrine be taught by qualified teachers employing the traditional form of the Church;

35. b. that at stated times catechetical conventions and other meetings in the interests of religious education shall be held for the purpose of discussion and study of the methods best suited for catechetical instruction, as has been noted in a decree of this Sacred Congregation on April 12, 1924;

36. c. that a special Course of Lectures on Religion be offered each year to those who teach Christian doctrine in parochial and public schools, in order that they will increase in the quality and depth of their knowledge.

37. 2. The Ordinaries shall not fail to appoint competent priest visitors each year to inspect all the schools of religion in the dioceses; they shall carefully report the results, the improvements, or the weaknesses in the religious instruction of the schools. Pope Benedict XIV wrote on this subject as follows: "It will be of greatest benefit for the education of the Christian people if visitors be chosen, some to visit in the city, others to go about in the diocese, making careful and exhaustive inquiry and informing the bishop who, thus made aware of the work being done by the pastors. may place praise or blame where it is deserved" (loc. cit.).

38. In order that the mind of the Christian people may be directed from time to time toward religious education, let a Catechetical Day be established in each parish, if this has not already been done. On this day, the Feast of Christian Doctrine is to be celebrated with as much solemnity as possible. On this occasion:

39. a. The faithful should be called together in the parish church, and having received the Holy Eucharist, they should pray to obtain greater fruit from divine teaching;

40. b. A special sermon should be preached to the people on the necessity of catechetical instruction. Parents are to be told about their duty to instruct their children in Christian doctrine and to send them to the parochial catechism classes, being mindful of the divine command: "And these words which I command you this day shall be in your heart. And you shall tell them to your children.... "5

41. c. Books, pamphlets, leaflets, and other material suitable for the purpose should be distributed to the people;

42. d. A collection may be taken up for the promotion of catechetical works.

43. 4. In places where the scarcity of priests is such that the clergy themselves cannot satisfactorily perform the work of teaching Christian doctrine, the Ordinary should take active steps to supply capable catechists of both sexes to help the pastors to impart religious instruction in the parochial or in the public schools, even in the remote parts of the parish. A leading part in this work should be undertaken by all members of Catholic Action groups, These associations have already done much commendable work in this direction, and certain of them have very wisely provided in their constitutions that lectures in religion are to be conducted each year at which all their members must be present.

44. Members of other Catholic organizations and associations should not fail in this work, especially the societies of religious of both sexes that are specifically dedicated to the education of youth. To these His Holiness, Pope Pius XI, addressed his memorable Motu Proprio Orbem catholicum: "We earnestly desire that in all the principal centers of religious societies which are engaged in the teaching of youth, there be established, under the direction and guidance of the bishops, schools for select students of both sexes, where they shall be trained in a suitable course of studies, and upon examination be declared fit to undertake the teaching of Christian doctrine and Bible and Church History." This surely will be accomplished if, as reason itself persuades and demands, the study of religion holds first place among the subjects pursued by children and youth in our Catholic schools and colleges. Let such instruction be given by priests skilled in teaching and according to proved principles of pedagogy.

45. If these means and plans are used, and if all who are duty-bound give themselves vigorously and perseveringly to this work -more holy and more necessary than any other-then it can be hoped that the Christian people will be made secure through holy and uncorrupt doctrine against the attacks of error, becoming an acceptable people, followers of good works. Then, too, they will produce those wholesome results which the Roman Pontiffs have repeatedly desired for the salvation of souls. Finally, with the approval of His Holiness, Pope Pius XI, this Sacred Congregation, derogating in this respect from the above-mentioned Motu Proprio Orbem catholicum, commands all bishops to submit an accurate report every five years to this same Sacred Congregation regarding catechetical instruction in their dioceses. They shall use the questionnaire which follows and shall observe the order prescribed in Canon 340:2 of the Code of Canon Law relating to the report which must be submitted by each bishop on the state of the diocese entrusted to him.

Given at Rome, on the Feast of the Holy Family of Nazareth, January 12, 1935.

I. CARD. SERAFINI, Prefect I. BRUNO, Secretary


1. Jn. 17:3.

2. Prov. 9:4.

3. 2 Pt. 1:19.

4. Mk. 10:14.

5. Dt. 6:6-7.


1. For Children

(a) In the Parishes:

Q. 1. What is the number of the children in the individual parishes, and how many of these attend catechetical instruction?

Q. 2. What diligence do the pastors display in the fulfillment of their task of giving the children religious instruction, and what pastors neglect this duty?

Q. 3. Have parochial schools been instituted in these same parishes? With what result, and what method do they follow in teaching Christian doctrine?

Q. 4. Do the priests and other clerics living within the territory of the parish assist the pastor in teaching Christian doctrine? In what way is this assistance given? Have any been negligent or recalcitrant?

Q. 5. Do the religious of both sexes assist the pastor in teaching catechism to the children? Have any shown themselves negligent or recalcitrant?

Q. 6. Has the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine been established in the separate parishes, and in what way does it cooperate with the pastor in teaching Christian doctrine to the children?

Q. 7. Do other societies of the laity, especially of Catholic Action, assist the pastor in this same duty?

Q. 8. Has a Catechetical Bureau (Officium catechisticum) or some similar institute been established in the diocese, or is it possible to establish such?

Q. 9. Is a Catechetical Day celebrated? In what manner?

Q. 10. Are catechetical gatherings (coetus catechistici) held? With what fruits? Are other conventions for religion schools held?

Q. 11. Are any means employed to stimulate both parents and children, so that the latter will attend the parish catechism class? What means are employed?

Q. 12. Is there anything that interferes with the more abundant fruits of the teaching of Christian doctrine? What abuses have crept in, and what means are being employed, or may be employed, to remove them?

(b) In Catholic Schools and Colleges:

Q. 13. How many Catholic schools for boys and girls, especially of recent institution, are under the direction of the secular or regular clergy or of religious sisters?

Q. 14. How many pupils are there, day and boarders, in the individual Catholic schools and colleges?

Q. 15. How often during the week, and by what method and with what results, is religious instruction given in these schools?

Q. 16. How could this instruction be more efficaciously and usefully promoted?

(c) In the Public Schools:

Q. 17. Is Christian doctrine being taught in the public schools? In what schools, and with what success?

Q. 18. Is the religious instruction subject to the authority and inspection of the Church? In what way and in what public schools?

Q. 19. In what public schools, and for what reason, is Christian doctrine not taught? How is the religious instruction of the pupils of these schools being provided for?

Q. 20. Are any means employed, or can there be, to secure that Christian doctrine may be taught in these schools?

2. Adults

Q. 21. Besides the usual homily, is any catechetical instruction being given by the pastor to adults? When is this instruction given?

Q. 22. With what diligence, by what method, and at what time do the pastors fulfill this duty?

Q. 23. Do the faithful attend religious instruction in the individual parishes, and with what results?

Q. 24. In view of the circumstances of the time and place, what means are considered most suitable for promoting the more fruitful religious instruction of adults?

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