On May 11, 2021, Pope Francis instituted a new ministry of catechist. You may be thinking, as I did when I heard the news, that we have had the ministry of catechist since the Second Vatican Council. In fact, we could say that the ministry of catechist or teacher was established in the New Testament (see 1 Cor 12:4-11).
But what is new here is that the pope has established the ministry of catechist as a permanent vocation. For those of us that have been catechists for several decades, we might have thought our ministry was pretty permanent already. But if you think about it, any of us could stop being a catechist any time we wanted. It has been, in a sense, a daily choice to serve in this ministry.
What will a permanent RCIA catechist do?
In the future, catechists who are “instituted” will take on their service as a permanent commitment. Pope Francis wrote:
This ministry has a definite vocational aspect, as evidenced by the Rite of Institution, and consequently calls for due discernment on the part of the Bishop. It is in fact a stable form of service rendered to the local Church in accordance with pastoral needs identified by the local Ordinary…. (Instituting the Ministry of Catechist, 8)
In addition to being a “stable form of service,” instituted catechists will serve under the direction of their bishop as he discerns the pastoral needs of the diocese. That means that, like deacons, catechists will be assigned to serve in the places of the diocese that have the greatest need. The place of greatest need may or may not be their own home parish.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, commented on why the new permanence of this ministry is so important:
At stake here is much of what is new in this ministry: men and women are called to express their baptismal vocation in the best possible way, not as substitutes for priests or consecrated persons, but as authentic laymen and laywomen who, in the distinctive nature of their ministry, are able to experience the full of extent of their baptismal vocation of witness and effective service in the community and the world. (Press Conference, May 5, 2021)
It’s all forming new seekers
In addition, there is a key statement in Pope Francis’s apostolic letter that all RCIA teams need to take note of. The ministry of catechist can be very broad and encompass many aspects of teaching the faith. However the primary role of a catechist in this new, stable ministry is to form new seekers in faith:
Catechists are called first to be expert in the pastoral service of transmitting the faith as it develops through its different stages from the initial proclamation of the kerygma to the instruction that presents our new life in Christ and prepares for the sacraments of Christian initiation…. (Instituting the Ministry of Catechist, 6)
The reason this new instituted ministry is so important for RCIA teams is that it formalizes and recognizes the central work we do a members of the baptized priesthood in the work of evangelization and initiation. The pope calls the ministry of catechist “an indispensable diakonia for the community” (2).
However, many of us who currently serve as catechists may not wind up becoming a permanent, instituted catechist. Archbishop Fisichella said, “It is obvious that not everyone who is a catechist today will have access to the ministry of Catechist” (Press Conference, May 5, 2021). In a future post, we’ll look at what this new ministry of catechist entails and what the requirements are for becoming an instituted catechist.
Have you read the apostolic letter? What jumped out to you? What does it make you think about what catechists have been doing in your parish? About what they might be doing now? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
- The journey toward becoming an RCIA catechist
- Five attitudes necessary for your RCIA team’s savoir-faire
- RCIA catechists have to teach the faith…in context
- Does your RCIA team know how to “be with”?
- What RCIA teams need to know about how catechists are formed
- What is the ministry of the catechist?
- Why is the new ministry of catechist important for RCIA teams?