Four Dimensions & Approaches to Catechesis


Time to bore you again with some of my dissertation research on this lovely sunny bank holiday weekend πŸ˜‰ Haha, not really… PLEASE READ ON!

It’s good to remind ourselves every now and again of the ‘basics’ of catechesis, and to measure up our current practice against them. One of those basics (or maybe not if you’re new to this) is the four dimensions of the Christian life. Throughout the history of salvation, God has communicated himself to us not just through teaching us, but also in deeds, in giving his People liturgy, in giving them a way to live, and in forming them in prayer. This finds its culmination in the new Christian community we read about in Acts 2:42:

β€œThese remained faithful to the teaching of the Apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Therefore, all Christian formation needs to include these four dimensions in order to be “integral”, in order to be authentic Christian formation. Each catechetical session should include teaching, a liturgical dimension, experience of community, time of prayer.

What I’ve been researching is how approaches to catechesis can tend to emphasise one of these dimensions at the expense of the others. For example, a moral approach to catechesis focuses on the resulting moral action from the catechesis. We see this in the See-Judge-Act method of the Young Christian Workers movement, used by the Confirmation programme, Truth (Curtin, D. (2011) Truth – A Confirmation Course for Teenagers. Redemptorist Publications).

Another example of this approach is CAFOD, which has catechetical resources on its website in which topics are approached with regard to the resulting action, the outcome of the session: β€œWhen we make the choice to be confirmed, we are choosing to become active rather than passive members of God’s family.” These emphasise the third dimension – maybe at the expense of others – I will leave that to your analysis πŸ˜‰

A further example is a doctrinal approach to catechesis. This is an interesting one. In some ways, we might say that this is ‘reactionary’ in that there has been such an emphasis on experience-based catechesis in the decades since Vatican II that some in the Church have (understandably) swung back in the opposite direction, stressing teaching of doctrine. I do not criticise this – knowing doctrine means we can build up a firm framework for understanding the whole of reality and our place within it. It means we have words to express the realities in which we believe. However, I think that some programmes emphasise this at the expense of the other three dimensions. Don’t get me wrong, they include teaching on these three dimensions (liturgy, life in Christ, prayer) but these dimensions are not included in the session themselves. There is no liturgical element to the session, or experience of community, or an opportunity for deeper prayer. You may be able to think of programmes which fall into this category.

Do you find you or your parish emphasises one approach above others in your catechesis? How can you aim at something more integral which forms the whole person?


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

4 responses to “Four Dimensions & Approaches to Catechesis

  • Margaret Wickware

    Hi Hannah:

    As always, I find your blog postings insightful and thought provoking. This article was very interesting and I look forward to reading your thesis on some visit to the Maryvale Institute library before too long.

    While I would undoubtedly agree that many programmes emphasize one dimension at the expense of another – due in large part to the formation of the author(s) I would presume. However, it can also be challenging to fit all four dimensions into each session when there are time constraints. I am always keen to read and see examples of how this can be done well.

    Actually, My colleague, Mark Nash (Agency for Evangelisation -Westminster Diocese) and I recently collaborated on an article that appeared in the Westminster Record on how the booklets that we craft for Small Faith Communities for Westminster Diocese and beyond endeavour to address these four dimensions. The link is as follows (

    God bless you and your ministry.

    • Paul Rodden

      Hello Margaret. Wow!
      Your ‘threefold cord’ blog and resources, etc. are great!
      Wish I had a mind that worked like yours and Marks!

  • Paul Rodden

    I do try to be positive, honest! But, I have to say that the catechists I know, would probably not have a clue what you’re going on about. πŸ™‚

    Most of the ones I know are mums of good will who, when catechised, were led to believe that the central doctrine of the Christian life is Good Personism* and that’s all they know how to hand on. They would be the first to admit they know nothing, and yet they cobble together things as best they can to help out because no one else will, or because they’ve been asked. Bless. πŸ™‚

    But, irrespective of content, model, or approach, I’d say the necessary characteristic of a catechist is someone radically converted and walking closely with the Lord on a daily basis. Someone who knows Jesus and so can introduce him to others. That person is capable of adapting any content, model, or approach – and even switch between them on-the-fly – in order to communicate the life of faith to their charges because their charges are central.

    They enthuse (in its literal sense en-theos) because they are naturally enthusiastic. It’s far more infectious, content aside.
    If the catechist manages to enthuse them – i.e. hands on the faith – then the catechumen will desire enough to try to go deeper in that relationship and find out for themselves, too. They will want Jesus and want to know/try anything that will help them. Unfortunately, at this stage they are most vulnerable to being led astray without support – and from my experience, end up Evangelicals owing to their frustration – yet it’s also the time when the ‘intentional catechist’ and being surrounded by intentional disciples is needed the most.

    I would argue that, if we are to catechise effectively, Sponsors, God Parents, etc., must be intentional disciples, too.

    An intergral person will be an integral catechist. A person cannot pass on what they don’t have. All they can pass on are facts which they don’t understand and, even if they do, facts are simply not the essence of what we’re about.

    BTW, I’m still looking for the other intentional disciple in our parish if we’re meant to have 2. πŸ™‚ But I’m workin’ on it…


  • Paul Rodden

    I’ve found myself chewing over your article, on an off, over the week. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with it. I think it’s superb, like Margaret!

    I feel I benefit greatly from the sheer breadth of your knowledge about the subject. Mine’s more jumbled, gathered from here and there, whilst yours is disciplined and focussed – and invaluable.

    It struck me this evening what’s been buzzing round my head which I couldn’t put my finger on: ‘exposing people’ to Liturgy, Life in Christ, and Prayer. Could they be considered ‘active’ aspects of catechesis (involve others-in-relation), whereas doctrine is ‘passive’ (little, or no, interaction required)? (And therefore less threatening?)

    What I mean is that sometimes people can be very uncomfortable about these other three ‘active’ areas in a small setting if they’re unfamiliar with them (and groups, too!). Speaking out, ‘sharing’, and expressing opinions can be very difficult for some, and being put on the spot through ‘Ice Breakers’ and other games can simply overwhelm them.

    Maybe ‘training’ is a way of tackling the other three areas? Many people don’t know how to pray and so are uncomfortable doing so. They don’t know how to conduct themselves in Church, especially in terms of gestures and posture. They don’t understand how Liturgy ‘works’. In short, they don’t feel confident.

    is it a good idea we train them, rather than teach them, so they feel confident in knowing what they’re doing? Maybe these areas should be more like a Choir Practice? Where saying Psalms, antiphonally, can be tried and experienced so that way of doing things becomes familiar before it’s a ‘performance’? Or maybe practising genuflecting, profound bowing, etc.? Then, when they’re confident in knowing what they’re doing, and where, they won’t feel embarrassed? So would that be the time to introduce participatory prayer, etc., into the sessions? They would also be, and so feel, more at home with each other one would hope, too.

    As an example, there is a monastery near where I live and one of the monks has been saying the Rosary, every day, since 1937 (he’s 99), at 1.30pm. When people are invited, they don’t go. Why? because they’re frightened they won’t know what to do and might make a mistake. I really appreciate that as I’ve been in the same boat, being a revert.

    In fact, this is also a reason why many people don’t come forward to be catechists in our parish, I believe. They feel vulnerable, they feel ignorant, and are frightened of making a fool of themselves (from what they’ve said to me in private).

    That’s why I don’t think we should not simply ‘plonk’ prayer, liturgy, and Life in Christ in the laps of catechumens, etc., thinking it’s no big deal. It might not be for us.

    For the unchurched, to decide to start going to Church and step inside a Church building when you’ve only been for baptisms, weddings, or funerals, takes an immense amount of courage when one thinks about it. (Not that we shouldn’t be going out and evangelising through our apostolate!)

    The way I try to work is never think like a catechist – but as an enquirer, a catechumen, a person who doesn’t know the first thing about Jesus and the Church. “What would I need if I was in their position?”, “How would I feel?”, “What things might rip me out of my comfort zone”, “What things might make me give up”, etc..

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