CGS Connection – Dimensions and Criteria for Catechist Formation

A lot of parishes are reduced to asking for any volunteer who will help with the religious education of the children of the parish. The Church (while grateful to her volunteers!) actually has an elevated expectation and ideal for the Vocation of Catechist. The Vatican’s 2020 Directory for Catechesis states that “The catechist is a Christian who receives a particular calling from God” (#112) and then goes on to describe criteria for and dimensions of Catechist formation. Pope Francis wrote about the ancient Ministry of Catechist in Antiquum Ministerium (May 2021) and has already modeled the formal, liturgical instituting of this ministry.

Last Week’s CGS Connection about “The Prepared Adult” highlighted that Catechesis of the Good Shepherd also takes preparation of the Catechist very seriously. In fact, each formation course is a minimum of 90 hours – the equivalent of 6 college credits! Committing to a course of this proportion takes discernment by the Catechist and often with his/her family. Citing what is called the “32 Points of Reflection -The Characteristics of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd” we will now take a look at how CGS is fulling the Church’s vision of Catechist preparation…

Many participants describe their formation course like a retreat – “a great gift” of time set apart, because in this method “both children and adults place themselves in a listening stance before his Word and seek to penetrate the mystery of the liturgical celebration” (Point 3). Participants receive all presentations just as the children will! Prayerfully and contemplatively, formation leaders model how “The Word is proclaimed in the most objective manner possible, so that the words of the adult do not impede the communication between God who speaks and God’s creature who listens” (Point 6). During courses Catechists are aided in their task of “going deeper into the Christian message through the knowledge of the biblical and liturgical sources and of ongoing living tradition of the church…” (Point 24). They are exposed to “Maria Montessori’s vision of the human being and thus the attitude of the adult regarding the child” and how to prepare the physical and social space “which aids the development of the religious life” (Point 2). “The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is also concerned with helping adults open their eyes to the hidden riches of the child, especially to the child’s spiritual wealth, so that adults will be drawn to learn from the child and to serve him/her” (Point 27).

The “32 Points of Reflection” were first drafted in 1993, yet the five points which we have highlighted above align extremely well with the framework provided in the current Directory’s Chapter 4, “Formation of the Catechist” in nos. 136-150. Under the heading, “Dimensions of Formation,” the Directory iterates that: “The deepest [dimension] has to do with being a catechist, even before acting as a catechist.”  Also, there is an aspect of “knowing-how to be with” the other. Of course there is the dimension of knowledge of the content but also of the human person. Finally, there is the practical dimension of the pedagogical and methodological “savoir-faire” (know-how).

Under Chapter 4’s heading, “Criteria for Formation” no. 135we look to see if/how the above described CGS formation meets the Criteria. Indeed, CGS formation provides an integral formation of the catechist, aiming “to transmit not only a teaching” but a “comprehensive vision of Christian life” (135b). It is also consistent with the criterion to produce a style of accompaniment with the children and to provide consistency among formative styles – with the adult receiving in the same manner as the child.  The participants are guided in “an attitude of docibilitas” – a docility to be touched by grace, by life, by other persons! Finally, formation takes place in a group context where community is built and where faith is shared and grows during the sessions, during the duration of the course, and for many years beyond.

This alignment between CGS formation and the Directory for Catechesis is one of the central reasons why we at the IMF at Saint Vincent Seminary, highly recommend CGS formation and will incorporate at least Level One of Formation in our upcoming Catechetics Certificate!