By virtue of his Apostolic authority, Pope Francis on Monday established the “lay ministry of catechist” as “a stable form of service rendered to the local Church in accordance with the pastoral needs identified by the local ordinary.”
The Pope sees the foundation of the ministry of catechist in the early days of the Church. In the motu proprio by which he institutes the new ministry, the Pope recalls the work of “Bishops, priests and deacons, together with many men and women in consecrated life” as well as “countless lay men and women” who spent their lives to teach the faith to others through catechetical instruction.”
Having established the historical foundations of the ministry of catechesis, the Pope then considers the Church’s “renewed appreciation of the importance of lay involvement in the work of evangelisation,” especially since the Second Vatican Council.
He concludes, then, that, “without prejudice to the Bishop’s mission as the primary catechist in his Diocese, one which he shares with his presbyterate, or to the particular responsibility of parents for the Christian formation of their children, recognition should be given to those lay men and women who feel called by virtue of their baptism to cooperate in the work of catechesis.”
Although other formal ministries in the Church, including the ministries of acolyte and lector, are open to the laity, the ministry of catechist is the first to be described in terms of its lay character. Pope Francis points to “a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church,” and the hope that “the reception of a lay ministry such as that of Catechist will emphasise even more the missionary commitment proper to every baptised person.” At the same time, he says, it is a commitment “that must be carried out in a fully ‘secular’ manner, avoiding any form of clericalization.”
Nonetheless, Pope Francis says there is a “definite vocational aspect” to the new ministry, which demands “due discernment on the part of the Bishop.” Those called to the ministry of catechist, he says, should be “men and women of deep faith and human maturity, active participants in the life of the Christian community, capable of welcoming others, being generous, and living a life of fraternal communion.” In addition, they should receive suitable academic, pastoral and pedagogical formation “to be competent communicators of the truth of the faith” and should also have “some prior experience of catechesis.”
Pope Francis also insists on the importance of working in coordination with priests and deacons, under the direction of the Bishop, and on the availability of catechists “to exercise their ministry wherever it may prove necessary, motivated by true apostolic enthusiasm.”
In the concluding paragraphs of the motu proprio, Pope Francis calls on Bishops’ Conferences “to render effective the ministry of Catechist” by providing criteria for admission to the ministry and determining the “necessary process of formation,” as well as deciding how the ministry can be exercised in practical terms, within the parameters set out by the motu proprio.
He also exhorts Bishops to embrace the various “ministries and charisms” by which the faithful, whether clerical or lay, assist in the Church’s mission to the world. “May the discernment of the gifts that the Holy Spirit never fails to grant to the Church sustain their efforts to make the lay ministry of Catechist effective for the growth of their communities.”