ROME – Pope Francis on Tuesday instituted the “secular” ministry of the catechist, meant for lay men and women who feel called to help in the Catholic Church’s mission of spreading the Gospel.
With the formal recognition of the many “competent catechists” who already exercise an “irreplaceable mission in the transmission and deepening of the faith,” Francis offers yet another ministry to the laity after extending the role of acolytes and readers to women in the beginning of January.
The institution of the ministry of the catechist came in the form of a motu proprio, meaning a document issued by the pope on his own initiative and personally signed by him. Titled Antiquum ministerium, Instituting the ministry of catechist, it was presented on Tuesday by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-Van Elst, who heads up the council’s catechetical office.
RELATED: ‘Bling Bishop’ a classic case of Vatican’s ‘Ironic Employment Division’
“There is no doubt that the institution of this ministry, together with those already existing of Acolyte and Lector, will make it possible to have a laity that is better prepared in the transmission of the faith,” Fisichella said.
Catechists, he said, must know that they speak in the name of the Church and transmit the faith of the Church, but always doing so in a “secular” manner, “without falling into forms of clericalism that blur the true identity of the ministry, which must express itself not primarily in the liturgical sphere, but in the specific sphere of the transmission of the faith through proclamation and systematic instruction.”
“It should not be forgotten that in various regions where the presence of priests is inexistent or rare, the figure of the Catechist is that of one who presides over the community and keeps it rooted in the faith,” Fisichella said.
“To be sure, there has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church. We can indeed count on many lay persons, although still not nearly enough, who have a deeply-rooted sense of community and great fidelity to the tasks of charity, catechesis and the celebration of the faith,” Francis wrote in the document. “It follows that the reception of a lay ministry such as that of Catechist will emphasize even more the missionary commitment proper to every baptized person, a commitment that must however be carried out in a fully ‘secular’ manner, avoiding any form of clericalization.”
The document stipulates that Catholic lay men and women who feel called to cooperate in the work of catechesis should be recognized for their willingness to help in the Church’s mission.
The presence of catechists “is all the more urgently needed today as a result of our increasing awareness of the need for evangelization in the contemporary world, and the rise of a globalized culture.”
The history of evangelization, Francis wrote, shows the effectiveness of the mission of catechists, both when it’s been bishops, priests, deacons and consecrated men and women who’ve carried out the task, and when lay people “directly took part in the spread of the Gospel through catechetical instruction.”
“Men and women of deep faith, authentic witnesses of holiness, who in some cases were also founders of Churches and eventually died as martyrs,” he wrote. “In our own day too, many competent and dedicated catechists are community leaders in various parts of the world and carry out a mission invaluable for the transmission and growth of the faith.”
This is the case, for instance, in many places though out the Amazon region, where thousands of Catholics rarely have access to the sacraments due to a shortage of priests.
The renewed appreciation of the role lay people play in evangelization is something the Catholic Church has come to further appreciate with the Second Vatican Council, Francis wrote.
“We do well to remember, however, that in addition to this apostolate, the laity can be called in different ways to more immediate cooperation in the apostolate of the hierarchy,” the pope said. “The role played by catechists is one specific form of service among others within the Christian community.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma