Catechesis is the act of handing on the Word of God intended to inform the faith community and candidates for initiation into the Church about the teachings of Christ, transmitted by the Apostles to the Church.
Catechesis also involves the lifelong effort of forming people into witnesses to Christ and opening their hearts to the spiritual transformation given by the Holy Spirit.
A catechism is the name given to a written work that contains a summary of all the beliefs of the faith that is used as a teaching tool.
Sacramental preparation is a very special time for Catholics and the whole parish. Parish communities do their best to provide sacramental programmes that form children,
youth, and adults for the rest of their lives. For many families, these sacramental moments serve to enrich and deepen their faith. For others, they are turning points that have inspired them to more fully participate in the life of the Church.
Yet, in spite of our best efforts, sacramental moments can also be a time of tension and difficulty.
Our sacramental programmes may be informing children and families, but are they also forming and transforming them? Many parishes encounter families who are in great need of conversion. Parents bring children for sacramental preparation who have never been in religious education or go to Mass on Sunday themselves. We encounter parents who resist participation in sacramental programmes because they interfere with sports or other extracurricular activities. And who among us has not experienced the reality of children who are not seen again in the parish after they have received their First Communion?
All of these experiences, positive or negative, only serve to highlight the fact that sacramental moments offer us a unique opportunity to transform people’s lives. We must seize the moment! The GDC recognizes this fact: “Certain situations and circumstances require special forms of catechesis” (#176). Catechesis for sacraments is one of these circumstances because it is a time when “people are disposed more than ever to seek out the true meaning of life” (#176).
The GDC also challenges us to embrace a new vision for sacramental catechesis.
It is important that we begin now to embrace this vision.
Why? Because leading people to sacraments and celebrating sacraments is one of the most important things we do as Church. Sacramental preparation is much more than one activity among many. It has priority over the many activities we do.
The primacy of sacramental catechesis flows from the priority given to liturgy at the Second Vatican Council: “Still the liturgy is the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fount from which all the Church’s power flows” (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 10).
What is the model we are called to embrace?
It is the baptismal catechumenate. The GDC inspires us with this directive: “The model for all catechesis is the baptismal catechumenate, when, by specific formation, an adult converted to belief is brought to explicit profession of baptismal faith during the Paschal Vigil. This catechumenal formation should inspire other forms of catechesis in both their objectives and in their dynamism” (GDC, 59).
The model of the baptismal catechumenate is especially important for sacramental preparation as a special form of catechesis. It shows us the way to lead people to sacraments.
It provides a blueprint for the journey. It makes us aware that our sacramental programmes for the non-baptised, as well as for those who are already baptised, should not contradict one another. More importantly, our sacramental programmes may be informing children and families, but are they also forming and transforming them?
We encounter families who are in great need of conversion.
Baptismal catechumenate provides us with the fundamental objectives and dynamics for all sacramental preparation in the Church.
• Conversion, the formation and transformation of the person, is the pre-eminent goal of sacramental preparation;
• The context for all sacramental preparation is the community of believers.
• Liturgical prayer is the most powerful way we have of “forming” in the faith;
• The sacramental rites of the Church give us the first foundation for developing a comprehensive catechesis for sacramental preparation.