| By Dr. Mike Martocchio

Catechetical Sunday

What Is Catechesis in the First Place?

Each year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops designates the third Sunday of September as Catechetical Sunday, which presents an opportunity for us to celebrate all that is “catechetical” within the Church. Many parishes fittingly use the celebration as an opportunity to commission their parish catechists. But it’s also important to remember the nature of the Church, what the Church as a whole teaches, and the special role parents play as the first evangelists and catechists of their children.

To fully appreciate what we recognize and celebrate on Catechetical Sunday, let’s first clarify what catechesis is. The word comes from the Greek katakhezein, which means “to teach orally,” and literally evokes the aural image of something resounding. Fittingly then, many in the field of catechesis describe it as a process of making what has been handed on echo in the hearts of those who are being catechized. But what is it that has been handed on for us to share? The answer is simple and profound: the faith.

To understand the implications of this, it is best to think in terms of a classic distinction: fides quae creditur (faith that is believed) and fides qua creditur (faith as belief). The former refers to all the content of what we call the “deposit of faith,” Scripture and Tradition. Communicating this is essential to the catechetical task. But also essential, and perhaps more foundational, is the passing on of the latter notion of faith, faith as belief, which encompasses the relationship that faith entails.

The important thing to remember is when parish catechists, clergy, parents and others pass on the faith, it is always a process of handing on the beliefs of the Church — and also the living witness of a relationship of loving trust with a God who constantly calls us into a deeper relationship with him. Catechesis, then, is a part of evangelization where we delve deeper into a relationship with God.

When talking about parish catechetical ministry, we often use some roughly synonymous phrases, like “religious education” or “faith formation.” Sometimes, you will still hear people use the now-defunct designation C.C.D. The unfortunate connotation with all of these is that catechesis is limited to the sphere of elementary religion classes. This mind-set really misses a lot. 

Catechesis is too important to be relegated to the classroom or limited to children. As a Church, as God’s people, we are constantly being catechized during all times and seasons of life, as we are constantly being evangelized. This includes moments and opportunities not strictly on church grounds.

Our call is to go out and make disciples. That call begins at home with the evangelization and catechesis that happens as we strive to live out the faith we celebrate at Mass. It also flows from there into the living witness that we, as individuals and as families, give to all those we encounter in the world.

Michael Martocchio, Ph.D., is the diocesan secretary for evangelization and director of the Office of Catechesis and Christian Initiation. Email him at mmartocchio@charlestondiocese.org.