Like I’ve been asking, why don’t catechists teach from the Catechism?

I just downloaded an article from the EWTN Library entitled, Why American Catechists Don’t Teach the Catechism, by Russell Shaw. I haven’t read it yet, it’s nearly 1am and time to shut this laptop down and call it a night, er, morning. Whatever. But I’m going to read this in the next couple of days. Yeah, along with the thousand and one other projects on my ever-burgeoning to-do list. Funny, not long ago I was wondering what I was going to do with this blog and now I’ve got so many ideas I’m afraid my head is going to explode. Okay, maybe not that many ideas. But almost!

7 thoughts on “Like I’ve been asking, why don’t catechists teach from the Catechism?

  1. woleary

    Thanks for your response. I think Catechists need to use the catechism as a resource but I think it is often not fruitful to merely read out of it for students grace 1st – 6th. I think reading a paragraph in class and discussing is definitely ok, but it is not a text that engages today’s learners. It is however a vital resource for today’s catechists and all involved in adult faith formation. It is also great for personal reflection. I agree with you that it is for more than bishops and priests – it even says that in the first few paragraphs. I provide copies for the catechism to be used in the 7th and 8th grades School of Religion classes at my parish.
    Hope that clarifies what I meant. Thanks again!


    1. Oops! I’m sorry. I thought we were talking about the RCIA. I definitely agree that the Catechism was not written for children. It’s written at an adult level. There are, of course, children who read at an adult level. I did. But I did not have an adult faith. I think I would have loved to have something like the Catechism when I was growing up. But, alas, I wasn’t Catholic. I can say that just about every question I had about Christianity when I was a child (and as an adult) has been answered in the Catechism.

      I think I should have made mention of the RCIA explicitly in my post. Having never gone through any Catholic catechesis myself other than as an adult, I tend to concentrate on that. I took a Catechism class taught by a marvelous priest, then went through an adult “Know Your Faith” (or convert) class taught by the same priest; then went through an alleged RCIA class (taught by deacons in another parish) when I sponsored a friend who came from an atheist background. The classes I took were wonderful. My friend’s classes were awful. Those catechists should not catechize anyone at any level.

      Anyway, I agree that catechizing children is different from catechizing adults. You would definitely want to use other material with them. But the catechist him- or herself should, I think, be thoroughly grounded in the Catechism before he or she goes anywhere near a classroom, no matter what material is being used in there. I think nothing less than a year will do. A year of training. And not just on the Catechism. And this training should take place no matter what age group the catechist will be dealing with.

      I don’t think that’s too much to ask. And I think that not doing this is part of the trouble we’re in now. We’ve expected people who do not have the faith to hand it on. We’ve expected people who are inarticulate to articulate the faith to others. We’ve allowed people to present their own opinions as the teachings of the Church. And now things are a mess. And we wonder why…Well, some do. Some of us are surprised things aren’t worse than they are.


  2. woleary

    I know it’s been a while since you wrote this. What did you think of the article? I think we are further than we were in 1996 when the article was written but still many catechists feel that the Catechism is too much for the classroom. Even in RCIA it is not to be used to teach (for the most part) but it is a foundational resource for the Catechist’s to use to pass on the faith. A lesson on using the Catechism might be really helpful. Those of just some initial thoughts. God Bless.


    1. Greetings! Is that W. O. Leary or W. O’Leary? Or none of the above? You’re right, it has been a while since I wrote the above post. I re-read the article just now and read some other things too while I prepared to reply to your comment. In answer to your question: I thought the article by Mr. Shaw was spot on! And the book he mentions, Flawed Expectations: The Reception of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press), by Msgr. Michael Wrenn and Kenneth Whitehead, and the material he quotes from it, is spot on, too!

      As for the Catechism as “not to be used to teach”, I have heard many people say this, especially when I worked in a Catholic bookstore before I decided to convert. The Catechism was released after I had worked there for a year or so (and had been reading a lot!) and the timing could not have been more perfect. Providence! I took a Catechism class and fell in love with the teachings of the Church. It was precisely because of that Catechism and the teaching I received directly from it in that class that opened my heart and mind to the beauty and truth of Christ and His Church.

      But I heard many people try to discourage others from reading the Catechism, saying it was meant for bishops, not lay people. But that’s not what it says. It is, as are so many documents of the Church, primarily for the bishops who are, after all, the ordinary teachers of the faith in their dioceses. And it isn’t meant to replace their local duly authorized catechisms, but is to encourage and assist in the writing of new local catechisms.

      But studying or teaching directly from it is not to be discouraged. Far from it. I think every Catholic should study the Catechism. I think every Catholic should have at least one copy for themselves and a spare they can give away when someone has questions. I refer to mine often and it looks well used, believe me. I’ve given away many copies.

      A lesson on using the Catechism…that’s what my friend said of her class. She kept thinking the instructors would get around to discussing it since they handed out copies to everybody. (I’d already given her one, of course. I gave her a Catholic Bible for Christmas, then a Catechism the first time she went to Mass with me.) But that was the last time it was mentioned in class.

      I think some catechists may think the Catechism is too much for the classroom, but I suspect that they really think it’s too much for themselves! Too much reading, too much studying, too much work. And too sad that they feel that way. Most catechists I’ve seen are warm bodies that show up and are ill-prepared to hand on a faith that they know little about. The Faith is inspiring and beautiful and one has to be on fire with it to help someone else catch fire too.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Peace be with you. :)


    2. I meant to add in my previous comment that I wrote in my last post that I am praying to our Lord for guidance, that He show me what He wants me to write next. Today I found your comment with your idea about a “lesson on using the Catechism” and that seems like an answer. I wanted to thank you (and the Lord) for that, too. :)


  3. Hi again, Kirsten :) Ouch! Your experience with the RCIA does sound painful! And I do know what you mean about sometimes not being able to count on even the priests and religious to represent orthodoxy. I know too well. I’ve dealt with some pretty far out there ones, more among the religious than priests, but some among those too. But there does seem to be a growing number now both of those who want to be taught orthodoxy and for those who want to teach it, and I pray for that to increase daily.

    I don’t mean to be too harsh on those people who may or may not have volunteered to instruct others in the faith. It’s an awe-inspiring obligation. But it is one that is so serious that I think we have to do our very best to teach from the Catechism and/or good materials based on it and in line with it. Good solid teaching, doctrine.

    To skip over the prayers of the Church, especially the Rosary, is something that really leaves a lacuna in the formation of the new Catholic, I think, but it happens a lot. There’s so much to cover and I think people have a hard time discerning what is important, so they make the mistake of leaving it out in favor of something else. I have seen too many instructors who are too afraid of doing anything that’s “too Catholic” :O for fear of offending non-Catholics.

    Are the non-Catholics not there precisely to learn about what Catholics do, what Catholicism is, why they should bother? Oy ve.

    I’m glad you’re searching for knowledge on your own, Kirsten. I amassed quite the Catholic library when I got interested. And it’s grown a lot over the ensuing years. There are several additional volumes I plan to add as soon as I have the opportunity, which I hope is very soon. :) Among them, a new copy of St. Faustina’s Divine Mercy in my Soul and more of St Louis de Montfort’s writings. I need, more than anything, more wisdom in walking all this talk I’ve learned.

    Peace be with you, Kirsten. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. :)


  4. kirsten

    well, a lot of times RCIA and other study groups appear to be led by either laymen with no real training, or people like Priests and Nuns who should have the training, and harbor some distinctly non-Catholic ideas….

    my own RCIA class was, admittedly, very much dumbed down to a “so, you never knew anything about Christianity” level… which hurt to sit through since 3 of us were Preachers Kids…. and rather knowledgeable.

    Our primary teacher, a nun, was at least not teaching anything non orthodox.. but the Priests were often another story.. including the one priest arguing happily for ordaining women.. and allowing priests to marry.

    oddly the most vocal opponents of that were the three PKs…. who had lived with their fathers being ministers.

    frankly i learned far far more from Catholicism for Dummies, and my cvarious studies of the Rosary…. oh, and my RCIA class never covered the Rosary.


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