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Father Muench Says...

The ministry of the catechist

May 26, 2021

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Each week, I enjoy listening to the podcast of John Allen. He reports on happenings and news in the Catholic Church and the Vatican. Allen offers insights in present day news of our Church including the recent activities of Pope Francis. I find it most informative and keeps me up to date on my Church.

Today, one of Allen’s items mentioned that Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Letter making a “motu propria” formally instituting the new lay ministry of the catechist. Pope Francis writes that he has done this to “respond to the urgent need for the evangelization of the modern world, undertaken in a secular manner.”

So, now we another official ministry in the Church. There is the ministry of the clergy: the ministry of bishop, the ministry of the priest and the ministry of the deacon. There are also the ministries of the lay men and women also. Lay persons are chosen and prepared to undertake certain recognized activities in the life of the Church. There is the ministry of the theologians. There are the ministries that lay people carry out during the liturgy of the Church. Pope Francis now wants to include in these formal ministries the ministry of the catechist, the ministry of the teacher.

I know that many of you have served as catechists. Many of us have been taught in religious education programs by catechists. Pope Francis wants to make all of you catechists realize how important you are to the Catholic Church as ministers and teachers. Our Catholic Church is truly grateful for the support and involvement of such dedicated lay catechists.

Pope Francis writes: “It is necessary to recognize these lay men and women who feel called by virtue of their baptism to cooperate in the work of catechesis.” He goes on to emphasize the importance of “genuine interaction with young people” as well as the need of “creative methodologies and resources capable of adapting the proclamation of the Gospel to the missionary transformation that the Church has undertaken.”

I have a great respect and gratitude for lay catechists. I was truly influenced greatly by the catechists who were my teachers when I was in high school. I attended a public high school, Fayetteville High School. Once a week during my high school days, I was involved in a religious education program led by lay catechists at the parish church, Immaculate Conception Parish in Fayetteville.

I remember well that the catechists in that program had a real influence on the formation of my vocation to become a priest. As a senior, we were expected to write a paper for English class. I remember talking it over with a catechist at Church. I was encouraged to read the writings of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk. I wrote my paper about the life in a monastery and what I learned from this particular monk. I never became a monk, but I did find a vocation as a parish priest.

In many places, where there is a severe lack of priests – like parts of South America and Africa – areas are served by lay catechists who are teachers and bridges of the people with the Church. In those places, communities may be visited by a priest only once a month. It is the lay catechist who brings the message of Jesus to the people of their community. They become a powerful influence on the people of that community.

Pope Francis writes: “clearly shows the effectiveness of the mission of catechists, who have devoted their lives to catechesis and instruction so that the faith might be an effective support for the life of every human being.”

Pope Francis quotes the Second Vatican Council, “the role of the catechists is of the highest importance for the development of the Christian community.”

I want to join our Pope in recognizing all you catechists and offer my gratitude for all you accomplish for your parishes.

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