The Catholic Church in the United States has designated the third Sunday in September as Catechetical Sunday, an annual opportunity to recognize everyone involved in the ministry of catechesis in the parish. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) writes on their website, “Catechetical Sunday is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the role that each person plays, by virtue of baptism, in handing on the faith and being a witness to the Gospel.” As a church, we give thanks to those who dedicate themselves to the ministry of catechesis and commission those in the service of the church for this important ministry.
This year’s theme for Catechetical Sunday is “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you” from 1 Corinthians 11:23, a verse catechists can appreciate because the term “catechesis” has a Greek etymology that means “to resound or echo.” St. Paul’s letter is a reminder that he passed on what he received from the Lord and this process of handing on the faith continues to the present day.
Who are catechists? Passing on the faith is a mission of the church that involves a variety of people. The new General Directory for Catechesis teaches us that the “whole Christian community is responsible for the ministry of catechesis, but each according to his particular condition in the Church” (§111). Parents are the first catechists of their children. Clergy play an indispensable role through the Ministry of the Word. Parishes typically sponsor a Parish School of Religion (PSR) for formal catechesis for school-aged children and teenagers that involve a number of catechists who lead classroom instruction. Youth ministers catechize through their outreach and engagement efforts. RCIA programs teach the faith to those discerning their call to join the Catholic Church. And countless other people have the opportunity to witness the faith through their words and deeds.
This year’s celebration brings renewed emphasis on what it means to be a catechist because our experience of church has been radically changed due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Passing on the faith from a distance means learning new ways to reach students. Publishing companies have done an outstanding job retooling their curriculum for online learning. Parishes have adapted by sending materials to families since families have not been able to gather in traditional settings. Sacramental celebrations have had to be adapted to meet safety guidelines. Youth ministers are engaging their students in new and creative ways. Despite the many challenges the pandemic has presented us, faith formation continues to be a vital aspect of parish life.
As we prepare to celebrate Catechetical Sunday and commission those who are in the service of the church for this ministry, let us take a moment to thank those in this ministry and ask for Mary’s intercession that everyone involved in the catechetical mission of the church stays safe during this pandemic and that they inspire the next generation of the faithful to be lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ!
Kyle Holtgrave is director for Catechesis, Office for Catholic Education, Diocese of Springfield in Illinois
1 https://www.usccb.org/committees/evangelization-catechesis/leadership-institute-catechetical-sunday-2020, retrieved August 10, 2020
2 Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Directory for Catechesis. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2020.