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What is the new ministry of catechist? A CNA explainer

May 11, 2021 Catholic News Agency 0
Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst and Archbishop Rino Fisichella present the apostolic letter ‘Antiquum ministerium’ at the Vatican, May 11, 2021. / Vatican Media.

Vatican City, May 11, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Tuesday instituted the new lay ministry of catechist, with the apostolic letter Antiquum ministerium (“Ancient ministry”).

You might have questions about what this ministry is and who it is for. In this explainer, CNA answers your burning questions about this new (or is it?) ministry in the Church.

What is the instituted ministry of catechist?

An instituted ministry is a type of formal, vocational service within the Catholic Church. It can be either lay, such as lector or acolyte, or ordained, such as deacon or priest.

The newly instituted ministry of catechist is for lay people who have a particular call to serve the Catholic Church as a teacher of the faith.

The ministry is “stable,” meaning it lasts for the entirety of life, independent of whether the person is actively carrying out that activity during every part of his or her life.

But catechists already exist. How is this different?

Many catechists today serve the Church at the parish level, but the instituted ministry of catechist will be tied to the diocese and be at the disposal of the diocesan bishop.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella explained at a Vatican press conference May 11 that “the institution of a ministry by the Church is confirmation that the person invested with that charism is performing an authentic ecclesial service to the community.”

Fisichella is president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, which oversees the Church’s instituted ministries.

The institution of this ministry, together with the lay ministries of lector and acolyte, “will make it possible to have a laity that is better prepared in the transmission of the faith,” the archbishop said.

He also emphasized that the instituted catechist is dedicated to the transmission of the faith through proclamation and instruction — he or she does not have any kind of liturgical responsibility.

The catechist collaborates with the local bishop and priests in the teaching of the faith to the local community. And it can be a benefit in places where priests are scarce.

Pope Francis “is well aware of how many areas of Latin America and Africa today still have catechists at the head of the community,” Fisichella said. He stressed the unique nature of each ministry, noting that they are not interchangeable.

“At stake here is much of what is new in this ministry,” he said. “Men and women are called to express their baptismal vocation in the best possible way, not as substitutes for priests or consecrated persons, but as authentic laymen and laywomen who, in the distinctive nature of their ministry, are able to experience the full of extent of their baptismal vocation of witness and effective service in the community and the world.”

Who is qualified to be instituted into the ministry of catechist?

Pope Francis’ letter said that a lay person called to be instituted in the ministry of catechist should have “deep faith and human maturity,” be an active participant in the life of the Christian community, and “capable of welcoming others, being generous and living a life of fraternal communion.”

Bishops’ conferences will be responsible for deciding the “necessary process of formation and the normative criteria for admission” to the new ministry.

Individual bishops are tasked with determining appropriate candidates in their own territories, and ensuring they have been properly prepared through “suitable biblical, theological, pastoral and pedagogical formation.”

Prior experience of catechesis is also a prerequisite.

Archbishop Fisichella said that “it is obvious that not everyone who is a catechist today will have access to the ministry of Catechist.”

“Of primary importance is the vocational dimension which implies a willingness to serve the Church where the bishop considers it most beneficial,” he explained. “Ministries are not conferred for personal gratification, but for service to be rendered to the local Church where the bishop deems the presence of the catechist necessary.”

The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments will publish a Rite of Institution of the new lay ministry of catechist. It will be ready “in a short time,” according to Fisichella.

Where did the idea of the lay catechist come from?

In his apostolic letter, Pope Francis emphasized the history of the catechist, beginning with the New Testament’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, which refers to “teachers” within the early Christian community.

He said that catechists played a critical role in the Church’s missionary expansion in the following centuries and noted the renewed appreciation for lay catechists in the work of evangelization following the Second Vatican Council.

Fisichella said his pontifical council, at the request of Pope Francis, has been studying the institution of the lay ministry of catechist for more than five years in collaboration with bishops’ conferences and experts.


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Pope Francis to issue apostolic letter on ministry of catechist

May 5, 2021 Catholic News Agency 0
Pope Francis waves to pilgrims during his March 28, 2018 general audience in St. Peter’s Square. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

CNA Staff, May 5, 2021 / 06:20 am (CNA).

Pope Francis will issue an apostolic letter next week on the ministry of catechist.

The Holy See press office said May 5 that the papal letter, issued motu proprio (“on his own impulse”), would be presented at a press conference on May 11.

It described the apostolic letter, Antiquum ministerium, as the means “by which the ministry of catechist is instituted.”

The Italian section of the Vatican News website said: “The motu proprio therefore will formally establish the ministry of catechist, developing that evangelizing dimension of the laity called for by Vatican II.”

It noted that in a 2018 video message, Pope Francis said that the vocation of catechists “demands to be recognized as a true and genuine ministry of the Church, which we particularly need.”

Further details will be unveiled at the news conference, which will take place at the Vatican. Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, and Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, the Pontifical Council’s delegate for catechesis, will speak at the event.

The Code of Canon Law (Can. 785) defines catechists as “lay members of the Christian faithful, duly instructed and outstanding in Christian life, who devote themselves to setting forth the teaching of the gospel and to organizing liturgies and works of charity under the direction of a missionary.”

“Catechists are to be formed in schools designated for this purpose or, where such schools are lacking, under the direction of missionaries,” it says.

In his 1990 encyclical Redemptoris missio, Pope John Paul II described catechists as “irreplaceable evangelizers.”

He wrote: “It is with good reason that the older and established churches, committed to a new evangelization, have increased the numbers of their catechists and intensified catechetical activity. But ‘the term “catechists” belongs above all to the catechists in mission lands … Churches that are flourishing today would not have been built up without them.’”

“Even with the extension of the services rendered by lay people both within and outside the Church, there is always need for the ministry of catechists, a ministry with its own characteristics.”

He continued: “Catechists are specialists, direct witnesses and irreplaceable evangelizers who, as I have often stated and experienced during my missionary journeys, represent the basic strength of Christian communities, especially in the young churches.”

A 1993 guide for catechists, issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, said: “Through religious instruction, preparation for the sacraments, animation of prayer and other works of charity, they help the baptized to grow in the fervor of the Christian life.”

“Where there is a shortage of priests, the catechists are also entrusted with the pastoral guidance of the little community separated from the center. Often, they are called to witness to their faith by harsh trials and painful privations.”

“The history of evangelization past and present attests to their constancy even to the giving of life itself. Catechists are truly the pride of the missionary Church!”

In his 2020 post-synodal apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis said that there was a need to strengthen lay leadership in the Amazon region.

He wrote: “A Church of Amazonian features requires the stable presence of mature and lay leaders endowed with authority and familiar with the languages, cultures, spiritual experience and communal way of life in the different places, but also open to the multiplicity of gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows on every one. For wherever there is a particular need, he has already poured out the charisms that can meet it.”

“This requires the Church to be open to the Spirit’s boldness, to trust in, and concretely to permit, the growth of a specific ecclesial culture that is distinctively lay. The challenges in the Amazon region demand of the Church a special effort to be present at every level, and this can only be possible through the vigorous, broad and active involvement of the laity.”

In January this year, the pope issued a motu proprio, Spiritus Domini, changing canon law to allow women to serve as lectors and acolytes.

Lector and acolyte are publicly recognized ministries instituted by the Church. The roles were once considered “minor orders” in the tradition of the Church and were changed to ministries by Pope Paul VI.


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