Tag Archives: The Mystery We Proclaim

Organic Catechesis


Well, I’m back again at the seminary doing my annual “catechetics-in-three-days” with seminarians who are doing an extended placement next year.

Much of what I am teaching is guided by the understanding in Weigel’s recent book that we are – and need to promote – moving into a model of ‘evangelical Catholicism’. The key points of Sherry Weddell’s book also fit very well into theme, especially what she writes about moving from an infant paradigm of catechesis into an adult paradigm. This leads to an interesting question – To what extent is moving to an adult paradigm for catechesis essential for ‘evangelical Catholicism’? DISCUSS! (Thank the Lord I am not a full-time teacher – I would be a nightmare!)

It is amazing what we have covered in a short space of time. We began with the Pedagogy of God in Part 3 Chapter 1 of the General Directory, which then became the overarching theme of everything else. The pedagogy of God really blows your mind when you think deeply about it, and transforms your understanding of catechesis. (Why is it that so few practitioners speak/write about it?!) We have used Mgr Francis Kelly a lot – examining his five goals of catechesis, and the ecclesial method.

Yes – I know – writers I’ve mentioned on here gazillions of times…

One of the exercises we did concerned ‘organic catechesis’. (This is part of ‘Catechesis 101’ if this is all Greek to you!) By organic catechesis, I don’t mean rustic focal pieces draped with greenery. Because in catechesis we hand on the Person of Christ, not just a stack of facts about the faith, it is important that we show the interconnections between the doctrines of the Faith. They are all connected in the Person of Christ. If we are teaching someone about a person, everything about their personality, characteristics, are connected. A list of unconnected bullet points will not reveal much about them. But telling the whole story behind them will. So, any doctrine needs to be linked into the ‘big picture’.


A big old tree is a helpful image to have. The healthiness of its leaves depends on the firmness of its trunk. The ‘trunk’ is those truths of our faith which are ‘foundational’ – without these foundational truths we would not have the rest of the Faith. These are also sometimes called the ‘golden threads’ which run through the Catechism – on every single page you will find these foundational truths. What are these foundational truths? (Can you work this out?!)

In case it’s too late in the day to do much theological pondering, here they are…

  1. The Blessed Trinity
  2. The dignity of the human person
  3. The Incarnation – the Person of Christ
  4. The Paschal Mystery
  5. The Church

Whatever we teach – whether it’s doctrine on Purgatory, or the communion of saints, or openness to life within marriage – it is good to connect this doctrine to each of these foundational truths. It guarantees that we are teaching this doctrine within the whole picture of the Faith, and especially, teaching the whole Person of Christ. This ensures a rich, organic transmission of the faith. Read more in The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Craft of Catechesis.

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

Mgr. Kelly's excellent book - a must-read for all catechists!

The holidays continue! In this week between returning from Germany and heading off for Madrid, I am still reflecting on the many, many things I learnt and received at the St John Bosco Conference. I want to write a bit about the Ecclesial Method for catechesis. I first learnt about it in Methodology as part of my MA. It is a method developed by Mgr Francis D. Kelly and explained in his excellent book.

Every catechist should know the Ecclesial Method 🙂

How do you plan and structure your catechetical session? Because of a lack of solid, readily-usable and attractive sacramental programmes, I’ve heard of many hard-working catechists and parishes who, each year, cobble together their own programmes. That this is done well, is crucial. How do we go about it?

I agree that sound doctrine is indispensable – but how do you present this? Giving teenagers a long talk – however orthodox in its teaching – is not exactly going to float their boat on a week night after school. How the catechesis is received and applied is its whole purpose. If the content of the teaching is beyond reproach, and yet the young people have taken nothing away, we might ask what the point is.

Mgr. Kelly addresses these questions in his book. In the challenge of finding a methodology that is faithful to God and also faithful to the needs and make-up of the human person, this method is an excellent framework to use as your starting-point.

How to form teenagers who love Christ and the Church?

Before the summer, we had training sessions for our new First Communion and Confirmation catechists for next year. In these sessions, we looked at why the Ecclesial Method is an effective method – that is, how it best achieves our goals of understanding and conversion for the young people in our sacramental programmes.

In summary, the Ecclesial Method is very simple. Here are the five steps:

1. Preparation 

2. Proclamation

3. Explanation

4. Application

5. Celebration

What I want to do is outline each step, giving practical examples from catechesis we have given in the parish, to illustrate how this method is an excellent framework for all catechesis we give.


The question of how you open your session is paramount. Do you put everyone off with a dodgy icebreaker? Do you leave teenagers standing around awkwardly with some well-intentioned Coke and crisps? Do you open your teaching on the Trinity by asking what your participants ‘think about’ this doctrine of the Church?

Does your catechetical session kick off with an embarrassing icebreaker or two?!

Mgr. Kelly suggests that our guiding principle should be “calculated disengagement”. When people arrive at catechesis, they come from a full range of different situations. We need to help create the conditions in which people can open their heart and mind to God’s Word. How do we do this?

I think the first part of the preparation is with the catechists. If catechists can arrive 15 minutes early to pray together for the participants, this already lays the foundation for the session.

Prayer – opening the heart to God

“Calculated disengagement” can be different for different groups. Teenagers may need a deliberately-created calm, prayerful atmosphere to begin the session with prayer, to encourage them to open their hearts to God, to prepare for their encounter with Him. For example, quiet music, candles, maybe beginning the session in a beautiful setting, like the church. This environment is deliberately different from the environments they have come from: busy homes and timetables, constant noise and numerous demands. It implicitly states: Catechesis is something different – it is not just more learning like the rest of your day – here you are coming to listen to what God wants to tell you. Somehow, we need to encourage them to be still and silent before the Lord. This may take a whole year to achieve, but it is possible: I know of a very successful fortnightly prayer group for teenagers run by a young priest, where they spend an hour together in prayer, much of it in silence. This isn’t possible straight away – we need to work up to it. But with prayer, patience, perseverance, I think it is mostly possible.


A high school teacher at the Bosco conference said that she often started her classes with a “journal prompt”, which is another idea for “calculated disengagement” for teenagers. As soon as they arrive, they write down their personal response to a question which invites them to look at God’s work in their lives. We use a similar method in our Confirmation sessions, where the candidates have a notebook called their “Spiritual Plan of Life” and where they write their personal responses to questions during sessions or times of prayer, e.g. What one practical thing can I do to give God first place in my life this week?

“Calculated disengagement” for adults

What does “calculated disengagement” look like for adults? I would suggest it always involves prayer, but it is important to get this right. I have been involved in too many prayer sessions or “liturgies” for adults where we have been invited to engage in methods of prayer more suited to children… or not even children. If intelligent, professional adults are attending catechesis, the last thing we want is for them to be cringing as soon as they step through the door.

In RCIA sessions, we begin with a Liturgy of the Word. We begin by praying to the Holy Spirit (and explain why – the Holy Spirit is the Teacher, who teaches them interiorly), some silence, followed by a first reading, Psalm and Gospel (proclaimed by the priest if he is present) which prepare for the teaching to follow. In a mysterious way, this is very powerful: even if not yet fully understood, proclaiming the Scriptures allows God’s Word to speak unadulterated into people’s hearts.

These are just a few ideas for preparing people to hear the proclamation of God’s Word in catechesis. I’m sure there are many more and would love to hear your views:

  • How do we get teenagers ready to hear what God wants to tell them? 
  • What experiences have you had? What do you think does or does not work?
  • How can we help adults temporarily “disengage” from their preoccupations and hear God’s Word?
  • Icebreakers – do you LOVE or LOATHE them?!
Reply with your thoughts in the comments!