The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has released the Latin editio typica of a Rite for the Institution of Catechists. Translations in the vernacular languages are expected to follow shortly. These translations are to be guided by Magnum principium, Pope Francis’s motu proprio on liturgical translation.
Archbishop Arthur Roche, the prefect of the CDWDS, wrote a detailed letter to accompany the release of this Rite of Institution. It offers helpful clarifications concerning the scope of this initiative, which Pope Francis announced on May 10, 2021 by means of the motu proprio Antiquum ministerium.
Because there are no praenotanda as of yet, Archbishop Roche’s letter is an essential tool for interpreting the rite and its intentions. His letter also states, however, that the local bishops’ conferences will be responsible for adapting the editio typica, clarifying the role and description of catechists, and providing for their formation. Clearly, it is expected that integrating this instituted ministry of catechist into the life of the local churches will be a collaborative venture.
I’d like to share several initial observations about the new Rite of Institution for Catechists and its accompanying letter.
1. First of all, the rite does seem to have been put together in some haste. This is the reason given for why there are no praenotanda. Perhaps there are some other rites that have appeared without praenotanda, but I can’t think of any examples, so this seems striking to me. I am glad to think that there is some urgency surrounding this, a break from the usual glacial pace at which things take shape in Rome. At the same time, more reflection may be in order on certain points. One wonders if some fine-tuning will take place in the coming months, in response to feedback from the field as bishops take this into consideration.
2. The ritual itself is quite simple. It involves a presentation of the candidates to the bishop following the proclamation of the Gospel. It then moves into preaching directed to their calling, followed by a greeting and exhortation. This is then followed by a blessing of the candidates, which they receive while kneeling. Finally, there is a presentation of a cross to each one individually as a sign of their commission (it does not specify a crucifix). A song may be sung as they approach to receive the cross, if there are many of them.
And that’s it. Mass, or a service of the Word, is the usual setting and this continues as usual after the presentation of the cross. If done in a word service, the dismissal by the deacon is specific to this occasion: “Ite et Ecclésiæ Dei servíte.” (Go and serve the Church of God.) Nice.
3. I was surprised to see no role for the people of God in the rite, no acclamation or affirmation, and no reference to any communal discernment in the local community that may have preceded the rite. There’s an expectation that these catechists, by the time they are instituted, are well-known by the people, and trusted by them. But this organic relationship is not in any way ritualized in the rite. That seems a missed opportunity.
There is one moment when everyone is invited to share in silent prayer, but that’s all. In this sense, the rite is very clerical, although the text the bishop reads does make reference to a community of ministers, and it affirms lateral relationships within ministerial service. Could local adaptations incorporate an affirmation by the assembly?
4. Archbishop Roche’s letter emphasizes that the ministry of instituted catechist is a lay ministry. All well and good. But there are religious orders (some ordained) that were founded to undertake the ministry of catechesis, and it’s unclear what relationship exists between these groups and the role of the instituted catechist. In other words, is it really possible to draw a bright line between lay catechists and those of the ordained and religious variety? I get it that catechesis can be considered to flow from baptism — but all of us are baptized. While not wanting the ministry to appear more complicated than it is, I think this question could be a little more nuanced.
5. It’s very interesting that there seems to be an exception made for those who work as catechists for Christian initiation. Not every catechist for initiation should be instituted. But some of them can be. This makes sense because a plethora of volunteer catechists serve in initiation of children and adults, and not all of them continue on in this as a stable ministry. There are other exclusions too. Catholic school teachers don’t automatically get instituted as catechists. This seems wise to me, as many teachers in Catholic schools are not even Catholic, or they may be teaching religion by default, not as a true calling. Religious are not automatically to be instituted as catechists either, but they can be if they are leaders of a parish or oversee a program of religious education. No one on the way to Holy Orders is eligible. Finally, members of ecclesial movements whose work is solely within those movements are also excluded.
The pertinent distinction seems to be that the instituted catechist must be stable in the catechetical ministry, and it is their proper vocation, not just a job they are doing. The proper venue is the local church, primarily the parish, rather than some other ecclesial community.
In addition to catechesis as echoing God’s word through catechetical instruction, there is another category of catechist named here too, however: someone who is “co-responsible” with the ordained for the spreading of the faith in the local church. This includes leading prayer, helping the poor, assisting the sick, and working for justice and human development. This broader description points to the experience of the church in Latin America and in mission lands, where the catechist is a pastoral minister and perhaps the only official representative of the church within miles. We shouldn’t limit it only to that, however. A broader vision will be increasingly needed in North America too, as there are fewer priests to staff parishes across large geographical areas. This rich vision of the catechist’s service deserves consideration.
6. To complicate matters further, Archbishop Roche rightly points out the the role of instituted Lector also includes faith formation — a venerable connection. So there is overlap between these instituted ministries of Lector and Catechist. Which should be chosen? Should the same person receive both designations? Not too many people are even aware that the role of Lector includes catechesis. In the United States we have been focused almost entirely on tasks rather than on an integrated vision of ministry based in the person. This is going to have to be sorted out on the local level, but I was glad to see a reference to it here. When we get around to the institution of Lectors it will matter there also.
7. A paragraph devoted to the role of the catechist as described in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults helps to fill out Archbishop Roche’s letter (see item 10). I was glad to see this included. Evangelization in the precatechumenate and mystagogy following initiation are recognized here as catechetical ministries. For some inexplicable reason, however (probably an oversight) there is mention of how the catechist may be deputed to celebrate the minor exorcisms, but no mention of the blessings, which are also deputed in the same way. I hope this point will be clarified eventually.
8. Finally, I was disappointed to see a reference in the letter to “the catechetical year.” After clarifying that not everyone who serves in the ministry of catechesis should receive institution, the Archbishop says that for catechists who are not receiving institution “it is absolutely appropriate that at the beginning of each catechetical year they all should receive a public ecclesial mandate entrusting them with this important function.” As far as I am aware, there is no such thing as a “catechetical year” in Roman documents. We’re all familiar with an inculturation that ties the work of catechesis to the school year and uses a classroom model, but catechesis really does not need to be tethered to the school year. An ecclesial mandate would be fine, in short, but I would much rather see it linked to the liturgical year.
What are your own observations?