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SIDIC Periodical XI - 1978/1
Catechesis: Transmission of the Faith (Pages 07 - 11)

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Catechetics today_ need for biblical and Jewish inspirations
Marie-Hélèene Fournier


Christian catechesis has been renewed. It has always evolved. Is not the true meaning of the word, as the Greek etymology stresses, « to make resound », to cause the proclamation of the Good News that questions and transforms men's lives to resound differently according to each epoch? There are changes that affect above all the urban districts: generally accepted disbelief, nationalization and secularization of institutions, radical questioning which has become a pattern of thought, the fact that these attitudes have led Christians to another way of speaking of God, based on personal experience and to another conception of faith as lessa collection of truths than a way of living in relationship with the Lord. What does all this mean for us?

The aim of these few reflections on the catechetics of the Church of our times is to isolate the meaning and what is at stake in the evolution now taking place. The aim of the first part is to recall how this evolution was effected: what are the chief factors in the change of direction and the characteristics of present-day teaching?

Faced with the radical re-evaluations with which it is confronted, we shall then ask ourselves, as the synod of 1977 invites us to do, what are the conditions for a true catechesis? Will such a catechesis take into consideration its biblical and Jewish roots? Faithful to the grace of its origins, this would be its chance to contribute to the re-awakening of the Christian community.

I. Renewal of catechetics

The synod, comprising two hundred delegates from the episcopates of the world, was held in Rome in October 1977. Its subject was the renewal of Christian catechetics. What renewal? For twenty-five years catechetics has been changing visibly, and not only in its methods and its textbooks.


It has enlarged at one and the same time its public: we talk of continuous catechesis; its objective: the whole of Christian education aims at living and celebrating as a Christian; its content: the entire mystery of God's salvation culminating in Jesus Christ; and those responsible for it: the whole Christian community.

The first e Message to the People of God t> issued by the synod can be deceptive by its volume and by the accumulation of amendments which have blurred its aim, but it is not neutral. It resolutely supports the renewal of catechetics, encourages the efforts made inthis direction and invites Christians to solve their practical problems within the very broad framework traced by it.

The change effected does not, as we sometimes hastily conclude, make catechesis more efficacious or easier, nor does it change the quality of the Christians it forms. 4: The results of the old catechetics are not so bad, said a catechist jokingly, e since we are here.”

It is however irreversible because there have been many factors in the evolution of history. This is why we are on our guard against a sterile nostalgia seeking to revive an age that is past. We must live in our own era, true to the faith received from our fathers and to the new man of the space age. In the sixteenth century the Church, in the person of St. Peter Canisius, brought up to date a catechesis of « transmission of the truths of faith ». Its aim was to formulate clearly the doctrinal content of the Christian message so that it could be memorized and life could be conformed to it. How was it then that she arrived at a catechesis of good news at the heart of life » whose starting-point is the now of human activity, the place where it can be understood that God speaks and causes us to act?

Some factors in the renewal begun

The change in civilization is accelerating at the end of this twentieth century, and it is felt above all by those adults who were children before or immediately after the Second World War. They need only look back to see the chief factors that have contributed to the modification of Christian pedagogy:

1. Contact between countries has opened the way to renewal. International exchanges which have become an institution during the last forty years brought about a first realization. Since 1954 the methods have changed according to milieu, age and country as the catechism by question and answer, in which the « truths of the faith could be learned », was progressively abandoned.
At the crossroads of the international institutes of catechetics, as of the sessions and colloquia organized in Europe and in Latin America, one can discern the transformation reflected in certain documents which serve as rallying points:

Paris 1964, Directory of pastoral catechetics; Medellin 1968, Latin American Conference of Bishops;

Holland 1968, the Dutch catechism;

Rome 1971, General Catechetical Directory;

Rome 1976, preparatory document for the synod: « Catechetics in our time, with special reference to catechetics for children and young people ».

2. The cultural upheaval caused by the aftermath of two wars is being precipitated by technical progress, the rise of mass media, the upsurge of institutions: the school itself is being called into question. The devaluation of speech in favor of action, the changed concept of morality (situation ethics), affect Christian communities also, and oblige them to reconsider their basic convictions. They are seeking for new fields of catechesis and new ways of expressing their faith.

Thus a « proposition of faith g is replacing magisterial teaching. Religious instruction at school is becoming optional, all the more so since it is excluded from the syllabus of many state schools. Religion is lived differently during the events organized by the young clergy, and even Catholic schools try to bring catechesis out of the institutional framework.

A man-centered universe

Since man sees himself as conqueror of the universe, he is more conscious of his potential and he desacralizes what he formerly adored. Terah, Abraham's father, worshipped the stars and the cosmonaut walked on the moon ... Life's pole has been displaced. According to Marx: « Man himself is man's ultimate reason », andit is in himself that he seeks the meaning of his existence. The emancipation of woman associates her more and more with this awareness of liberating autonomy.

Catechesis is also directing a penetrating gaze onto the creature, image of God. Progress in the human sciences has increased our knowledge of the conditions for personal development and of the laws of communication. This has entailed a renewal of pedagogy.

Christian education envisages a universal and life-long formation in awareness, in effectivity and in action and has no hesitation in recognizing man's life as the place where God continues to reveal himself.

The massive entry of lay people, parents and educators into the field of catechetics, formerly open for the most part to priests and religious only, has contributed to the presentation of faith as witness to a « way of life », as the gospel message of today, continually being challenged.

This shared responsibility urges parents in charge of catcchesis to seek re-education, and one of the blessings of pastoral theology is the obligation of acclimatizing one's language and adapting to other cultures.

These are the principal elements that demand a new evaluation of the goal of catechetics and call for a revision of methods.

It is not, however, simply a question of exterior causes. The Second Vatican Council itself, when inviting the Church to return to her origins uses pastoral language based on human life. It is from social experience and Christian action that the theologian learns how to rediscover the active presence of God in the world. Revelation is continuous and catechetics has no other aim than to enable future generations to be, in their turn, the center where God manifests himself.

Stages in a twenty-year-old evolution

As we examine the evolution of catechetics throughout the historical upheavals of the last twenty years, we find that there is a change of outlook; this is important, because it implies a different theology.
Catechetics has indeed long taken its first point of departure « elsewhere » (from the Word come from above) in order to enlighten the « here g. The life of man is centered on the « here» so that in it he may experience the challenging call of him who continues to reveal himself « where two or three are gathered together in his name ». To discover God we do not need to seek in two places, but only in one: in life, from whose heart springs the challenge that transforms and sends forth.

Formerly, catechizing was reserved to priests and religious in a master-pupil relationship. Today it is progressively becoming a task to which lay people, three-quarters of them women, mothers and young people, bring their enthusiasm and their experience of being Christians-on-the-way. They are no longer facing the young but « inside » with them.

Teaching aids are numberless; documents, pictures, records, tapes, video-cassettes enable the participants to make an immediate evaluation of their experiences. They thus replace the sole catechism, that compiled by the Council of Trent, that on which the faith of many of us was built. It was certainly useful for its time, aiming as it did at preserving orthodoxy and guarding against heresy. The situation has, however, changed. Today it seems more important to help people to meet God in a world where faith can no longer be taken for granted.

The stages in the progress of the last twenty years can be characterized by the prominence given to some of the most important elements:

1. Religious instruction builds a knowledge of faith through a magisterial type of pedagogy: « the presentation of Christian doctrine to all men of all ages in all situations » (F. Gaudreau 1955). School courses seem adapted to this kind of encounter with religious culture.

2. The proclamation of the Good News (kerygnta) of God's salvation appeals to the whole man, and the liturgy is the privileged setting for the dialogue in which this proclamation resounds and whence arises man's response: « Catechesis is the pastoral function that transmits the Word of God so as to arouse and nourish faith » (Directory of Pastoral Catechetics, Paris 1964).

3. At Medellin in 1968 J. Audinet already characterized catechetics as « the action by which a human group interprets its situation, lives it and expresses it in the light of the gospel ».

In 1974 the theologian I. Berten could define catechetics thus: « this event thanks to which a person or persons, children, adolescents or adults, reach a point where they can express in their own words the meaning of the experience of their lives in relationship and in solidarity with other believers, discerning in this experience the God of Jesus Christ a (Lumen Vitae course).

Similarly the international catechetics team of the Christian Brothers spoke of the a movement of critical reflection and transformation of the realities lived with reference to the Lord » (1975). It starts from action and its aim is to lead to a particular action: an evangelical involvement or change. Hence the tole of the catechist today — we shall return to this — is not so much to discourse and to get people to memorize, as to accompany this involvement and this change by taking time to share the life, the plans and the action of others. The content of catechesis becomes the life of the group, understood and lived in a new way, and its striving to renew the world with God in the prophetic tradition. This can no longer be confined to childhood because it involves the entire life of man in all its situations. In Latin America a catechesis is developing which is centered on free speech and complete freedom for all. In black Africa, where animism already implies faith in God, there is a growing discovery of Christian messianism which, however, needs to become more deeply rooted.

We can discern in these points of emphasis the three elements adopted by the members of the last synod and indissolubly united in its catechetical project: proclamation (Word), celebration (memorial) and life involvement (witness).

III. Acknowledgement of the biblical and Jewish roots of the Christian faith

In this second part we shall try to take as criterion of the authenticity of catechesis the recognition of the biblical and Jewish roots of our faith. If this fundamental dimension is not present Christian education as it is at present is dangerously impoverished, and there is risk of deviation in the reform undertaken.

In spite of the reminder in official documents which have so far received insufficient commentary (those which develop the message of Nostra Aetate 4-5), Christian reflection very rarely goes to the Judeo-Christian roots of its faith to find there the solid basis of its message and of its pedagogy.

Sufficient proof of this is found in the minimal space given to the Scriptures, particularly in the Belgian primary classes. There is abundant reference to Jesusand the gospels but scarcely any to the Old Testament and the Epistles. However, faith, if it is to grow, needs prolonged contact with the biblical way of encountering God in life, as well as the irreplaceable contribution of the Old Testament, a contribution reinforced by the fact that the New Testament when quoting it is often in continuity with it.

Before the varied and not always coherent way in which the Bible is used, the European catechetical team Enfance » (ten countries), of which we are members, has been working since 1976 on a document « Bible and Catechetics ». Its aim is to recall the essential lines of a pedagogy of faith inspired by the Bible.

On the other hand, the successive enquiries of Paul Demann and of Francois Houtart (Louvain 1972) on the presentation of Judaism and Jews in manuals of catechetics have sounded the alarm. A new analysis of the last hundred works recommended by the Catholic publishers of France in agreement with the national center of religious teaching (Toulouse 1977) will soon show that there is still much to be done to replace a priori negative attitudes by a fresh outlook. Canon Houtart and his team, like professor Dequeker in Belgium, have both helped to contribute the elements for a necessary readjustment.

Canon Houtart incisively denounces the theological a priori's which are the root causes of the deformations in Christian teaching: theory of substitution; apologetics that set up an opposite reaction; negative interpretation of Israel's place in salvation history.

Professor Dequeker, after quoting the eighteen theses of the Belgian commission which rectify the principal errors collected, sheds, under the title « The New Covenant and the problem of Jesus some valuable light on certain key points: the new commandment, Jesus and the Law, St. Paul and the Law, Jewish messianism and Jesus Christ, mission of Israel and of the Church, the link between Israel and the Land, the New and Old Covenant, common faith. Where we persist in seeing only the ruptures which have been accentuated by historical confrontation, he stresses the continuity of the two traditions.

To point out the positive contributions of a practical catechesis, re-rooted and renewed at its biblical and Jewish sources, we shall here confine ourselves to proposing certain lines of thought and some examples.


It is not a question, as so often in the past, of a catechesis with the Bible as illustration or as history, but rather of an inspired setting in motion of the Bible itself.

It is in catechetical groups that apprenticeship to this « biblical approach can be made, imitating Jesus with his disciples in the tradition of the prophets.

The biblical approach

This approach means entry into the development of a history that began before us and continues in groups of believers just as Jesus taught it to the disciples of Emmaus. This history is « particular vs because each one lives it in his own way in order to discover that in it he is God's partner. It is also a “universal” history because God is building it for the whole of humanity yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Faith springs from the discovery of the active Presence, loving and disconcerting, of someone who dislodges, reveals his identity to those who receive him, and makes himself known from generation to generation.

The three stages of this reading and re-reading of life can be found in every biblical episode of both testaments:

— The events of life: learn to listen to the cry of birth and of suffering, to be involved in it as were our fathers in the faith.

— Group reflection among believers which draws out the meaning and opens up the future.

— The action that corresponds with the challenge received and that today involves life with the liberator who achieves what he promises.

Here a dynamic is perceived: a hope that binds the promise and its temporary realizations in a perpetual outstripping, a journey with God, a « wandering », as J.P. Bagot calls it, stressing thus the risk inherent in faith.

The Bible is a crucible in which man and woman are forged and learn again how to walk; it is the place where conscience is formed.

Two exemplary pedagogies

Jean Radermakers describes how the word of Jesus, through the stages retraced by the synoptics, causes his interlocutors to live this inspired catechesis of the Bible. We should deepen our understanding of the riches of the two different pedagogics: that adopted for the disciples from Judaism and that adopted for sympathizers from paganism. They throw much light on how to choose the best approach to the kind of Christians with whom we are concerned.

« Believers » who have entered into the Covenant know that life has a meaning and for them the Bible is a kind of memory in which they can re-read today. This is what happens in the Sunday liturgy as in the ritual of Shabbat.

The pagans — that is to say, the part of us that does not recognize God, because it is secularized —will be confronted with the transformations effected today so that we question ourselves about the action of him who thus renews men's lives. The whole New Testament, moreover, is an example of diversity of approach: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings are three ways of living and expressing our faith, three pedagogics for different cultural milieux.

This catechesis, inspired by the Bible, demands that those who use it should themselves have entered upon this journey of faith — be it only by joining a biblical study group that shares its experience of living. They witness to the groping of their wanderings and of their setting out on the adventure guided by the events of daily life. It is this witness that the young are seeking. They are dissatisfied with inert conservatism and the anonymity of religious language that does not pulsate with vital experience.


A catechesis recentered on the Good News # in its universality and its complete unfolding n, makes it possible — according to the wish expressed by Bishop Orchampt during the last synod — to discover an authentic ecumenical dimension. It is indeed by returning together to the roots of faith and by deepening understanding of God's Word that Christians of the different separated communities meet at the level of the essential. We recognize the attraction exercised by such inspiring centers as Taize or Chevetogne where frontiers can be abolished so that values such as prayer, gratuitousness, involvement in the service of more deprived brothers and sisters, can be lived together.

The experience of a common catechesis is often positive, as at the Lycee Europeen of Brussels or in Switzerland. The pastor and the priest take turns to lead the same group of students in an explanation of the Bible or an interpretation of life.

Through stimulating encounter with Jews who are faithful witnesses to their tradition, Christians can also re-discover dimensions that have been blurred for centuries by anti-Jewish prejudice, dimensions such as: family liturgy; opportunity for the child to ask questions, for religious dialogue with the father who thus transmits the account of the paschal liberation; the Shabbat discussions on the Torah; the blessings that form the rhythm of daily life with easily memorized formulae and endings suited to the occasion (« Blessed art thou, 0 Lord our God, king of the universe, who ... »); the joyful festive atmosphere in the home recalled at each stage of liturgy by symbolic objects.

The many women who are renewing the Christian formation of their families in the home find new resources when they can thus fall back on a tested tradition to restore dialogue on God to daily life.


Oriental peoples — the Bible was born in the Fertile Crescent — have a lively way of memorizing and transmitting their traditions; they m tell a story » as the father of the family still does during the paschal seder. The use of the mashal or parabole is well known since the gospel has familiarized us with it. That of the Midrash or symbolic commentary also makes it possible to translate religious experience and to exchange on a plane other than that of ideas. When a point is not clear, the Midrash asks: « What does this resemble? n The child can thus express himself by a drawing and the adolescent can perform a midrashic exercise. Transposition into daily language, into the familiar register of images, helps one to enter into the biblical approach and to translate the experience of the presence of the living God. For example, what Jeremiah is evokingwhen he says « the Word of the Lord was addressed to me n can be translated to a group by symbolic slides to be commented upon by the young people.

It is by a return to the language of symbols, starting with biblical realities such as bread, wine, seed, earth, salt, light, that young people can be made attentive to the a other dimension n which can be evoked only through created things.

Basically the universe and man are in God's image, communicating with him. Through this resemblance the human spirit can understand the call of God's Spirit. Jesus, like the Jewish prophets, speaks of the new creation in terms of these realities of sense.

Finally, to control the body and the memory of the heart, catechists, like the Jews, including Jesus, still use rhythm and gestures to obtain entry into the structures of the transformed universe. Along these lines the books of Father Jousse and Father Moreau's group are seeking a gestured method of memorizing corresponding to the rhythm of breathing and of the heart-heat (rhythmomelody and rhythmocatechesis) thus linking up with Jewish tradition. Like the yoga and zen techniques, this pedagogy helps to unify the person at his inmost center and educates him in the key attitude of “remembering”.

* * *

The aim of these few examples is to give impetus to the creativity of catechists. They must before all, as we have seen, re-center the Christian message on the essential: that Good News of God's tenderness which accompanies man in his wanderings, as it led Israel in its Exodus and Jesus in his passage through death to the accomplishment of universal liberation.

They must also renew their witness and its communication through a respectful relating to the development of the young which helps their own personal self-expression. Is it not our concern to allow them to open the whole of their being to the Word of God and to respond to this Word by the free expression of the act of faith or of the action inspired by faith?

It will take a long time to free catechetics entirely from the anti-Judaism which mutilates the message of Jesus Christ, and to put an end to that counter-witness which, in the words of Jules Isaac, we can only call # the teaching of contempt ».

The renewal of catechetics unanimously encouraged by the synod of 1977 can produce an awakening full of hope, provided the entire Christian community witnesses to a faith that is a way of living and of dialoguing with God, of listening to his Word today as yesterday.

Through a pedagogy addressed to the whole person, enlisting his creativity, it reforges its links with a tradition that remains alive in Judaism.

Sr. Marie-Helene Fournier of the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion is a member of the national Belgian commission for Jewish-Christian relations and coordinator for catechetics in the diocese of Bruxelles-Malines. She is also responsible for the Rencontre center for documentation on Jews, Christians and Muslims.


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