Of all the personal discoveries which Catholics have made over the course of the lockdown – a taste for gardening; a skill for music; everything we’d hitherto never had time to watch on Netflix – perhaps one of the most significant, and yet most overlooked, is the reclaiming of an essential aspect of our baptismal vocation: our identity as catechists.
Maybe, at some point over the past few months, you have found yourself explaining the centrality of the Eucharist to the Faith, as you are quizzed by a child about why the family is watching a livestreamed Mass on a laptop. Maybe you have helped a friend struggling with separation from the sacraments by leading them through the act of making a spiritual communion. If so, you were not just being a good parent or a good friend. You were being a catechist.
What is a catechist? For most, the word brings to mind images of a very specific person or set of people from our parish: the RCIA co-ordinator, for instance, or the First Holy Communion class leader. All of us have benefitted in one way or another from small but dedicated teams of volunteers, under our parish priest, offering formal preparation for the sacraments and perhaps ongoing formation too within our parish. But in fact, there are as many catechists in each parish as there are baptised Catholics. Catechesis is not a task given only to a chosen few and carried out with a textbook and a lesson plan. It is instead part of the Church’s mission of evangelisation, entrusted to her by her Lord, in which all His disciples share by virtue of their Baptism. Catechesis, then, did not cease when lockdown closed our parishes. It simply shifted to wherever the baptised Catholics were: online, at work, at home.
We are probably comfortable with the idea that all of us, as Catholics, are called to evangelise – to share our faith with friends and family by presenting its truth in a joyful and appealing way, whether in words or simply by our example. But often when we talk about evangelisation, we’re describing what is more accurately termed first proclamation: the foundational reception of the message of the Gospel in someone who has never before encountered the person of Christ. First proclamation is merely one aspect – or, as the Church puts it, one “moment” – of evangelisation. Once the first proclamation has been made, the task of evangelisation then becomes helping to deepen and mature the faith enkindled by that initial encounter with Christ. The name for this is catechesis. It is another moment of evangelisation, just as necessary as the moment of first proclamation, and as much a part of the Church’s evangelical mission through which Our Lord’s command to spread His Gospel to the ends of the earth is fulfilled.
During lockdown, when normal parish activities ceased, many of us had to find new and inventive ways to transmit our faith to our family and friends. In doing so, we uncovered an old and well-established truth: that this transmission of the faith is not restricted to formal classes carried out by an appointed volunteer, but is part of the life and mission of every Christian disciple. Our short-term measures to fill the gap left by church closures, suspended RCIA courses and cancelled First Communion classes were in fact opportunities to grow deeper in our baptismal calling as catechists. None of us, of course, know when parish life will return to normal. But when it does, may we remain enthused and empowered in our shared vocation to catechise.