The Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments says “the publication of the Rite of Institution of Catechists offers a further opportunity for reflection on the theology of ministries in order to arrive at an organic vision of the distinct ministerial realities.”
Accipe hoc fídei nostræ signum, cáthedram veritátis et caritátis Christi, eúmque vita, móribus et verbo annúntia – “Receive this sign of our faith, cathedra of the truth and love of Christ, and proclaim it with your life, your conduct and your word.”
Beginning on 1 January 2022, this will be one of the Latin formulas with which laymen and laywomen “of profound faith and human maturity” will be instituted as catechists by their bishop during a liturgical celebration.
After formally instituting the ministry of the catechist with the motu proprio Antiquum ministerium, Pope Francis has approved and published an Editio typica [typical edition] that introduces a specific Rite of Institution of Catechists. This is the base text that will then be translated and adapted by the various Bishops' Conferences around the world.
The conferences will have the task of clarifying the profile and role of catechists, offering them suitable formation and helping the various communities grasp the meaning of the ministry, so that it will not be confused with other roles in the Church.
The Rite of Institution can take place during a Mass or a celebration of the Word of God; the Editio also indicates the readings from the Old and New Testaments to be used in the celebration. The Rite will follow a precise format, beginning with an exhortation to the candidate, followed by an invitation to prayer, a blessing, and the handing over of the crucifix.
The introduction of a Rite of Institution of Catechists marks a further step in the general reflection on ecclesial ministries, following up on the motu proprio Spiritus Domini, issued on 10 January 2021, which modified Canon Law on women's access to the ministries of lector and acolyte; and the aforementioned Antiquum ministerium, issued on 10 May 2021.
In a letter accompanying the publication of the Editio typica, Archbishop Arthur Roche, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, emphasizes that the new Rite “offers a further opportunity for reflection on the theology of ministries in order to arrive at an organic vision of the distinct ministerial realities.”
The letter, addressed to the presidents of the various bishops’ conferences, proposes some indications concerning the ministry of catechist.
First of all, the letter clarifies the nature of this ministry, quoting Pope Francis’ description of it as “a stable form service rendered to the local Church.” It is above all a “lay ministry based on the common baptismal state” and therefore “essentially distinct” from the ordained ministry.
Archbishop Roche explains that “catechists, by virtue of their Baptism, are called to be co-responsible in the local Church for the proclamation and transmission of the faith, carrying out this role in collaboration with the ordained ministers and under their guidance.”
To avoid misunderstandings, the Prefect of Divine Worship clarifies that the term “catechist” indicates different realities in relation to the ecclesial context: “Catechists in mission territories,” for instance, “differ from those working in churches of long-standing tradition.”
In the great variety of forms, however, one can distinguish – “though not rigidly” – two main types: catechists with the specific task of catechesis, and others who participate in the different forms of the apostolate, such as leading community prayer; assisting the sick; celebrating funerals; training other catechists; coordinating pastoral initiatives; and helping the poor.
In his letter, Archbishop Roche says that since this ministry has “a definite vocational aspect” which requires “due discernment” by the bishops, not all those who are called “catechists” or who carry out a service of pastoral collaboration should be formally instituted in the ministry of catechists.
In particular, he says, “it is preferable” that certain classes of people not be instituted as such. These include: candidates for the diaconate and the priesthood; men and women religious, regardless of whether they belong to Institutes whose charism is catechesis; teachers of religion in schools; and those who perform a service aimed exclusively at members of an ecclesial movement, to whom this “precious” function is entrusted by the leaders of the movements and not by the bishop.
As for those who accompany the initiation of children and adults, they too do not necessarily have to be instituted in the specific ministry, but should receive at the beginning of each catechetical year “a public ecclesial mandate entrusting them with this important function.” However, this does not detract from the fact that some of them may be instituted as Lectors or Catechists, on the basis of their pastoral abilities and needs.
The letter then specifies that it is the task of the individual Bishops’ Conferences to clarify the profile, role, and the most coherent forms for the exercise of the ministry of catechists. The Conferences are also called to define suitable formation programmes for candidates, and to prepare their communities to understand the meaning of this ministry.
Archbishop Roche notes that canon law provides for the possibility of entrusting to a lay person “a share in the exercise of pastoral care in a parish,” but says it is necessary “to form the community so that it does not see the Catechist as a substitute for the Priest or Deacon, but as a member of the lay faithful who lives their baptism in fruitful collaboration and shared responsibility with the ordained ministers, so that their pastoral care may reach everyone.”
The Prefect also explains the requirements for catechists, referencing Antiquum ministerium.
The ministry of catechist is open to men and women “of profound faith and human maturity active participants in the life of the Christian community, capable of welcoming others, being generous and living a life of fraternal communion,” with “suitable biblical, theological, pastoral and pedagogical formation,” who have received the sacraments of Christian initiation. Each candidate must first present his or her bishop with a “freely written and signed” petition seeking institution as a catechist.