Getting catechesis right

One of the suggestions for the Year of Faith is for dioceses to review the catechetical resources they currently use:

It is hoped that local catechisms and various catechetical supplements in use in the particular Churches would be examined to ensure their complete conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Should a catechism or supplement be found to be not totally in accord with the Catechism, or should some lacunae be discovered, new ones should be developed, following the example of those Conferences which have already done so.


It would be appropriate for each particular Church to review the reception of Vatican Council II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church in its own life and mission, particularly in the realm of catechesis. This would provide the opportunity for a renewal of commitment on the part of the catechetical offices of the Dioceses which – supported by the Commissions for Catechesis of the Episcopal Conferences – have the duty to care for the theological formation of catechists.

One of the activities students do in the Maryvale Certificate in Catechesis is evaluate some commonly used parish catechetical resources. As I’ve been marking these papers, I’ve been amazed at the heresy in these very common resources: such as this First Communion resource. The problem is, parish priests and catechists see an attractive resource, lots of colouring in, easy for catechists to use, very child-friendly and happily ‘add to cart’ – it ticks all the boxes!

But, when you look more closely, like the Maryvale catechists are being trained to do, there are some serious deficiencies. How, as a catechist, can you identify if the resources your parish uses are catechetically sound?

A helpful list of ten deficiencies found in many catechetical resources was drawn together by the US Bishops at an ad hoc committee to oversee the use of the Catechism, in June 1997.

Placing this list against the First Communion resource identified above makes for some interesting discoveries. This is a resource which might tick all your ‘easy-use’ requirements, but it also successfully ticks many of the ‘spot-the-heresy’ boxes, too:

Here’s just one example:

“Jesus was a good person and spent a lot of his time talking about God.”

Two mistakes in one (insufficient attention to the Trinity and insufficient emphasis on Christ’s divinity): the ten deficiencies list explains these two problems:

“A recognised reluctance to use “Father” for the First Person of the Trinity…There are times where the word ‘God’ is placed in a sentence where one would expect to find ‘Father’ or ‘God the Father'”

“Jesus as Saviour is often overshadowed by Jesus as teacher, model, friend, or brother.”

20120211-221648.jpgMany would say that this reluctance to use the word “Father” in a resource is not going to make too much difference to a seven-year-old. But, I would disagree – a seven-year-old is capable of entering into a living relationship with God who is their Father – not some monolithic being. A young child is also awakening to their own sense of sin, and to their corresponding need for a Saviour. Jesus as “model” simply puts a great moralistic burden on a child, rather than inviting them to know the One who, because He is God, saves them.

I hope many parishes and even dioceses will take the opportunity of the Year of Faith to review what resources are being used in their catechesis, to acknowledge the subtle but real harm they can do, and train their catechists in the use of authentic resources.

About transformedinchrist

I live in Southsea and work for the Diocese of Portsmouth. My first love is for catechesis and evangelisation: until January 2013, I worked for a busy, thriving parish in south London coordinating the catechesis - sacramental programmes and adult formation. In November 2013, I completed my MA in catechetics at Maryvale Institute, Birmingham. View all posts by transformedinchrist

12 responses to “Getting catechesis right

  • Dorthy Sterling

    I finally decided to write a comment on your blog. I just wanted to say good job. I really enjoy reading your posts.

  • Tonia

    I liked point 9 on the list of ten deficiencies. It’s hard to find a First Reconciliation program that talks about forming your conscience and not just examining it.

  • lucille

    Hello! Happy Valentines Day! Do you have Confirmation Activities to share so I can share with my students also?…Thanks.More blessings to come.

  • lucille

    Hello! Thanks in advance. I want to introduce the Holy Spirit to the Adult deaf ages 12 to 25 years old. My desire is to share about the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. I really wish and pray that at the end of our session, they will be more close and a friend of the Holy Spirit. Please help me if you do have activities or whatever which may help my catechesis more alive and more interesting for the deaf. More power. God bless you!

  • Marc Cardaronella

    Hey Hannah! I haven’t heard from you in a while. I’ve been way too busy and haven’t been reading much lately.

    I can’t believe those textbooks are saying that! Petroc would always say that the catechetical situation in England is different that the U.S. but I didn’t realize how much. I guess he was right!

  • William

    This is a good reminder for me to make sure we are helping catechists use the textbook well! Thanks!

  • Lesley

    What is wrong with ‘God’s Greatest Gift’ exactly? It is a brilliant resource for First Communion.

    • transformedinchrist

      Hi Lesley. Thanks for your comment. In this post, I wrote about some of the most concerning deficiencies in this resource. The General Directory for Catechesis stresses the importance of ‘Trinitarian-Christocentricity’ in resources, and this is one of the areas where God’s Greatest Gift falls short. There are many other areas too (especially when you consider the list of 10 deficiencies I referred to in the post). If you would like a fuller answer, I am happy to email you. Out of interest, why would you say it is a brilliant resource?

  • Edward

    Thank you for this post – I wonder whether you could let me know any other specific heresies in the “God’s Greatest Gift” resource, as it’s used in our local Catholic primary school.
    I’d be grateful if you could mention a course which passes muster (or perhaps there aren’t any!)
    Many thanks,

  • Hannah Vaughan-Spruce

    Hi Edward,
    I analysed it in depth as part of my MA dissertation and am happy to pass you a fuller analysis if you’d like. However, in brief, it’s dangerously anthropocentric (little room for revelation-aspect of catechesis), it refers to the Eucharist throughout as “bread” and “wine”, it implies the “adoptionist” heresy which suggests Jesus was not aware of his “calling” until his Baptism – implying he is not equal in divinity with the Father. Rarely is he referred to as God the Son (if at all!) or as Lord or Christ – terms which would imply his divinity. The Mass is presented in human-centred terms, including liturgically dubious suggestions, such as, at one Mass the children carry up the altar cloth, candles, flowers, vase, bread and grapes during the Offertory procession and then proceed to dress the altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. These are just some examples. It is one of the worst programmes in use in this country, in my opinion, and sadly it seems to be prevalent.

    Instead, I would recommend: the Faith and Life series (Grade 2 is geared towards First Holy Communion – we used that in Balham), or the Sadlier programme. I’m afraid there is not a great deal else that’s worth recommending!

    Hope that helps,

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