Tag Archives: structure of catechetical session

The Ecclesial Method, Part 4

Here we are, after a very long gap, for which I apologise… The fourth step of the ecclesial method. The first three steps of the ecclesial method for catechesis (Mgr Francis D Kelly, The Mystery We Proclaim) are the preparation, the proclamation, and the explanation. Catechesis occurs through stages: it first involves preparing the ground without which nothing can really be heard or received, it then moves on to the central moment of the proclamation, the announcement of the kerygma, followed by a clear explanation adapted to the needs of those catechised. Next, comes the fourth step:


20120311-194624.jpgThis is a vital moment that can easily become overlooked. Only when doctrine and real life come together does the lightbulb come on, so to speak. We all know what it is like: we allot 30 minutes for proclamation and explanation. We have key objectives for understanding we need to cover. One activity takes longer than planned, a particular point sparks imagination and the questions are endless. You don’t get through everything you wanted to. Before you know it, the explanation step has not only encroached into, but totally gazumped the application step. Here are a few points I’ve found helpful:

  • ¬†You can’t cover everything! Hopefully you have a realistic number of learning objectives for your session (I’ve found that around three or four are realistic for an hour and a half session), but even then, even with the best will and catechetical skills in the world, it may be that you don’t get through everything. This is fine. Thankfully we’re giving catechesis, not teaching a GCSE syllabus.
  • I remember Professor James Pauley say at the Bosco conference at Steubenville last summer: every baptised Catholic has the right to be taught the full Deposit of Faith – just not in 30 minutes!
  • Because the Catholic Faith, and therefore catechesis too, are organic, the foundational truths and other central doctrines should come up again and again. Those receiving catechesis should be able to view them from many different angles. It is a bit like being on a tour of a cathedral or basilica and viewing the altar from every angle, including from above. We shouldn’t aim to exhaust any one teaching in one session.
So, what is the point of this step?

When we speak of the preparation step, we speak about “calculated disengagement” – helping those being catechised to step back from the busyness of the lives they have come from, to be ready to hear God’s Word. Now we come to the application step, we want to achieve “calculated re-engagement“. Now we have heard God’s Word and understood what this means, have thought it through and grasped it a little bit, we need to consider the reality of our lives in the light of this Word.

20120311-200908.jpgWhat does this teaching mean in our lives? Naturally, we seem to think straight away about the difficult moral implications it may mean for our lives. This is important, but even before we get there, there are simpler responses: If a teaching on God the Father is effective and powerful to those being catechised, their response may be: ‘Wow! Why do I worry so much if God is my Father?!’ If a teaching on Baptism hits home for the baptised, it may result in a response of: ‘The Three Persons of the Trinity have actually made their home in me! Which means I am never alone…’ Or an effective teaching on Grace may help a person realise, ‘I have been struggling so much with this sin. But God always gives grace, so I will ask for his help.’

I really believe that God’s Word transforms our attitudes, before it transforms our actions and behaviour. A woman who is afraid to come off the Pill needs to know the love of God for her, that her life is in safe hands, before the teaching about natural family planning can be truly received in her life.

How do we help this stage to happen? In our Catechumenate sessions, the Application stage happens in small discussion groups (answering questions for understanding and application to life) as well as afterwards during silent prayer in the church where they pray with and consider the questions further, and also at home, in between sessions. In our Confirmation sessions, the application stage happens in different ways: individual reflection in their spiritual journal, small group discussion, one-on-one chat with their mentor, or a spiritual questionnaire during the time of prayer.

This stage is so vital, because it means Christianity is real. It is not just something I assent to. This has meaning for every area of my life. If this step is squeezed out of our catechesis, the seed of the word lies on the surface of the soil without taking root. It is definitely more difficult than the explanation step, and it therefore requires us to give more time to planning and prayer: effort which is undoubtedly well-spent.

The Ecclesial Method, Part 2

I want to continue looking at the Ecclesial Method for catechesis by considering the second step:


This step is the most important step of the whole catechesis. It is an announcement. “This is something so important and amazing, I just have to tell you…” “This is something you just have to know!” This is the kind of attitude we give the proclamation with.

Sometimes we have moments, in prayer, or while we’re studying, or when we are receiving formation, when we’re overawed: WOW! And then as soon as we see friends, we have to tell them about what we’ve learnt. Or sometimes we hear something in our own formation and think: Wow – so-and-so really need to hear this. Our joy isn’t complete until we share this with those we love.

When we catechise we’re telling with joy the truths we have received from the Church and which have transformed our lives. We know they can transform the lives of the people we catechise too, so we want them to know the whole truth. But first, we tell the core message. “This is what you just have to know…” Not so that you can pass the test next week, or so that you can answer others’ questions (although this is an important reason) – you need to know this because it is the truth about who you are and what you’re made for – this will change your life!

This idea of the Proclamation is summed up well by Fr Cantalamessa:

“The runner arriving breathlessly in the town square from the battlefield doesn’t begin by giving an orderly account of the development of event and neither does he waste time on details. He goes straight to the point and in a few words gives the most vital piece of news which everyone is waiting to hear. Explanations can come later. If a battle has been won, he shouts: ‘Victory!’ and if peace has been made, he shouts: ‘Peace!'”
Life in the Lordship of Christ, p. 1

We can all think of times when we have experienced catechesis which has not been delivered with passion and joy. I remember sitting through a PowerPoint presentation on the Trinity where someone might have been forgiven for thinking that the Trinity was not Almighty God himself, but rather some “gadget” with lots of technical components that needed explaining. We do need to explain doctrine – but understanding should have some impact on our lives, it should move hearts, it should initiate change.

Here are some practical examples of proclamations that I have written for my own catechesis. Remember that we personally proclaim something – we teach something as one who knows this – and therefore we teach in a unique way, with our own human qualities and personalities.

Proclamation on the Trinity:
God alone can reveal to us who he is. He has revealed himself as a communion of Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is the central mystery of our Christian faith and Christian life.

Proclamation on the Church:
It is in the Church that Christ accomplishes the Father’s plan: to unite human beings to God. The Church is united to Christ as a Bride to her Bridegroom.

Before people worry that I’m proposing that there be no more content to the catechesis… Do not fear! Like the messenger example given by Fr Cantalamessa, everyone wants to sit down and hear all the details. This is the third step: where everything is explained.