May 11, 2021
Pope Francis has formally instituted the office of catechist as a ministry within the Church.
With an apostolic letter entitled Antiquum Ministerium, released on May 11, the Pope established the lay ministry, and announced that the Vatican would soon publish a ritual for the commissioning of catechists.
The papal document—issued in the form of a motu proprio—does not clearly define the role of the catechist. Instead the Pope says he will “invite the episcopal conferences to render effective the ministry of catechist, determining the necessary process of formation and devising the most appropriate forms for the service…”
In his apostolic letter the Pope stresses that the role of the catechist should be “carried out in a fully ‘secular’ manner, avoiding any form of clericalization.” He underlines the importance of lay people in bringing the Gospel message into their everyday lives, “interwoven with family and social relationships.” But he calls for recognition of a class of lay people who have a special commitment to evangelize. “It is the task of pastors to support them,” he says.
Describing the ministry that he has recognized, the Pope writes:
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, and then to the ongoing formation that can allow each person to give an accounting of the hope within them (cf. 1 Pet 3:15). At the same time, every catechist must be a witness to the faith, a teacher and mystagogue, a companion and pedagogue, who teaches for the Church.
“The ministry of Catechist in the Church is an ancient one,” the Pope writes at the opening of his apostolic letter. He emphasizes the crucial role of lay people in passing along the faith, and the variety of gifts within the Church. From the earliest days of Christianity, he says, “we can see that certain baptized persons exercised the ministry of transmitting in a more organic and stable form related to different situations in life the teaching of the apostles and evangelists.”
With the Second Vatican Council, the Pope continues, the Church gained “a renewed appreciation of the importance of lay involvement in the work of evangelization.” He notes that Pope Paul VI encouraged episcopal conferences to recognize the role of catechists.
In some countries, particularly in mission territories, lay people work regularly as catechists, in many cases on a full-time basis. How the newly recognized ministry functions in other countries will be determined by the nations’ episcopal conferences.