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Congregation for the Clergy
General Directory for Catechesis

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1. The Second Vatican Council prescribed that a "Directory for the catechetical instruction of the Christian people"(1) be drawn up. The Congregation for the Clergy, in execution of this conciliar mandate, availed itself of a special commission of experts, and consulted the various Episcopal Conferences, throughout the world, which made numerous suggestions and observations on the subject. The text prepared was revised by an ad hoc theological Commission and by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The General Catechetical Directory was definitively approved by Pope Paul VI on 18 March 1971 and promulgated on 11 April 1971.

2. The thirty-year period between the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council and the threshold of the third millennium is without doubt most providential for the orientation and promotion of catechesis. It has been a time in which the evangelizing vigour of the original ecclesial community has in some ways re-emerged. It has also seen a renewal of interest in the teaching of the Fathers and has made possible a return to the catechumenate. Since 1971, the General Catechetical Directory has oriented the particular Churches in their renewal of catechesis and has acted as a point of reference for content and pedagogy, as well as for methodology.

The course of catechesis during this same period has been characterized everywhere by generous dedication, worthy initiatives and by positive results for the education and growth in the faith of children, young people and adults. At the same time, however, there have been crises, doctrinal inadequacies, influences from the evolution of global culture and ecclesial questions derived from outside the field of catechesis which have often impoverished its quality.

3. The Magisterium of the Church, throughout these years, has never ceased to exercise its pastoral solicitude for catechesis. Numerous Bishops and Episcopal Conferences in all parts of the world have devoted considerable attention to catechesis by means of catechisms and pastoral guidelines, by promoting the formation of their priests and by encouraging catechetical research. Efforts such as these have proved fruitful and have contributed much to catechetical praxis in the particular Churches. The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, published by the Congregation for Divine Worship on 6 January 1972, has proved especially useful for catechetical renewal.

Mention must also be made in a particular way of the ministry of Pope Paul VI, who shepherded the Church in the immediate post-conciliar period. In his regard, Pope John Paul II has said: "... through his gestures, his preaching, his authoritative interpretation of the Second Vatican Councilconsidered by him to have been the great catechism of modern times — and through the whole of his life, my venerable predecessor Paul VI served the Church's catechesis in a particularly exemplary fashion".(2)

4. The reflections of the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops of October 1974 on the theme of Evangelization in the Contemporary World constitute a decisive milestone for catechesis. The propositions subsequently drawn up by the Synod were presented to Pope Paul VI, who promulgated the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi of 8 December 1975. This document enunciates, amongst other things, a particularly important principle, namely, that of catechesis as a work of evangelization in the context of the mission of the Church. Henceforth catechesis would be considered as one of the enduring concerns of the Church's missionary mandate for our times.

The final General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, convoked by Pope Paul VI in October 1977, proposed catechesis to its participants as the theme for analysis and reflection. This Synod saw "in catechetical renewal a precious gift of the Holy Spirit to the contemporary Church".(3)

5. Taking up this catechetical heritage in 1978, Pope John Paul II set out his first orientations for catechesis in the Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae of 16 October 1979. This Exhortation forms a cohesive unity with Evangelii Nuntiandi and fully locates catechesis within the context of evangelization.

Throughout his entire pontificate, Pope John Paul II has continually proposed a constant magisterium of the highest catechetical value. From amongst his discourses, his letters, his written teaching, particular emphasis must be given to the twelve Encyclicals, from Redemptor Hominis to Ut Unum Sint. These Encyclicals constitute in themselves a synthetic corpus of coherent doctrine with regard to the renewal of ecclesial life desired by the Second Vatican Council.

Of particular catechetical value, amongst these documents of the Petrine ministry of Pope John Paul II, the following are of special importance: Redemptor Hominis (4 March 1979), Dives in Misericordia (30 November 1980), Dominum et Vivificantem (18 May 1986) and Redemptoris Missio (7 December 1990), in which last, the permanent validity of the Church's missionary mandate is re-affirmed.

6. On the other hand the General Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops, both ordinary and extraordinary, have been particularly important for catechesis. In this respect mention must be made of the Synods of 1980 and 1987 which dealt with the mission of the family and the vocation of the laity. Following the work of these Synods, Pope John Paul II promulgated the respective Apostolic Exhortations Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981) and Christifideles Laici (30 December 1987). The Extraordinary Synod of Bishops of 1985 was also of decisive importance for the catechesis of our times and for the future. On that occasion, following a review of the previous twenty years of the application of the Second Vatican Council the Synodal Fathers proposed to the Holy Father a universal catechism for the Catholic Church. The proposal was most favourably received and made his own by Pope John Paul II. After a long and complex process of elaboration the Catechism of the Catholic Church was presented to the bishops and the Particular Churches by the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum of the 11 October 1992.

7. The publication of the Catechism together with the aforementioned interventions of the Magisterium necessitated a revision of the General Catechetical Directory so as to adapt this valuable theologico-pastoral instrument to new situations and needs. It is in service of the entire Church that the Holy See now seeks to collate this heritage and to organize it systematically in order to make it available for catechetical purposes.

The work of revising the General Catechetical Directory undertaken by the Congregation for the Clergy, was conducted by a group of Bishops and experts in theology and catechesis. In the revision of the General Directory, its original inspiration and content were respected. Episcopal Conferences and several experts were consulted as were the principal catechetical institutes and centres.

In its present form the General Directory for Catechesis seeks to arrive at a balance between two principal requirements:

– on the one hand the contextualization of catechesis in evangelization as envisaged by Evangelii Nuntiandi;

– on the other the appropriation of the content of the faith as presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

8. The General Directory for Catechesis, while retaining the basic structure of that of 1971, is divided as follows:

– The Introduction takes its starting point from faith and trust in the power of the Gospel seed, and proposes guidelines for interpreting and understanding human and ecclesial conditions. These are intended to assist mission.

Part One(4) has three chapters and roots catechesis above all in the conciliar Constitution Dei Verbum, placing it in the context of evangelization as seen in Evangelii Nuntiandi and Catechesi Tradendae, and proposes, moreover, to clarify the nature of catechesis;

Part Two(5) contains two chapters, the first of which, under the title Norms and Criteria for presenting the Gospel message in Catechesis, puts forward afresh the entire content of the corresponding chapter of the previous text from a new and enriched perspective; the second chapter, which is completely new, serves to present the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a reference point for the transmission of the faith in catechesis and for the preparation of catechisms at local level; this chapter also outlines those fundamental principles to be employed in the redaction of catechisms in particular and local Churches;

Part Three(6) has also been revised to formulate the main elements of a pedagogy of the faith inspired by divine pedagogy; while this question is primarily a theological one, it also involves the human sciences;

Part Four(7) is entitled Those to be catechized; in five short chapters attention is given to the diverse situations and contexts of those to whom catechesis is directed, to matters arising from socio-religious situations, and in particular, to the question of inculturation;

Part Five(8) focuses on the centrality of the particular Church and on its primordial duty to promote, organize, oversee and co-ordinate all catechetical activities; of particular significance is the description of the roles proper to the various agents involved in catechesis (who, of course, are always dependent on the Pastors of the particular Churches) and of the requirements necessary for their respective formation;

– The Conclusion advocates an intensification of catechetical activity in our times, and concludes with an appeal to faith in the action of the Holy Spirit and in the efficacy of the word of God sown in love.

 9. The object of this Directory is clearly the same as that pursued by the 1971 Directory. It attempts to provide those fundamental theologico-pastoral principles drawn from the Church's Magisterium, particularly those inspired by the Second Vatican Council, which are capable of better orienting and coordinating the pastoral activity of the ministry of the word and, concretely, catechesis.(9) The basic intention of the Directory was (and remains) that of offering reflections and principles, rather than immediate applications or practical directives. This method has been adopted principally for the reason that defects and errors in catechetical material can be avoided only if the nature and end of catechesis, as well as the truths and values which must be transmitted, are correctly understood from the outset.(10)

The concrete application of these principles and pronouncements by means of guidelines, national, regional or diocesan directories, catechisms and other ways deemed suitable for the effective promotion of catechesis is something which pertains to the specific competence of the various Episcopates.

10. It is evident that not all parts of the Directory have the same importance. Those dealing with Divine Revelation, the nature of catechesis, the criteria governing the proclamation of the Gospel message are universally valid. Those, however, referring to present circumstances, to methodology and to the manner of adapting catechesis to diverse age groups and cultural contexts are to be understood rather as indications or guidelines.(11)

11. The Directory is addressed principally to the Bishops, Episcopal Conferences and, in a general way, in accordance with their competence, to those who have responsibility for catechesis. Clearly it will be of use in forming those preparing for ordination to the Priesthood, in the continuing formation of priests and in the formation of catechists.

The immediate end of the Directory is to assist in the composition of catechetical directories and catechisms. Numerous notes and references have been included in this Directory, at the suggestion of many Bishops, which may be useful in drawing up such catechetical aids.

12. Since the Directory is intended for the use of particular Churches, whose pastoral needs vary greatly, it is obvious that only common or intermediate concerns could be taken into account. This is true also of the sections dealing with the organization of catechesis at different levels. Due note should be made of this observation while using the Directory. As has been already noted in the 1971 Directory, what may appear insufficient in areas where catechesis and catechetical resources have reached a high standard, may perhaps seem excessive in areas where catechesis has not yet undergone such development.

13. It is hoped that the publication of this document, testimony of the Apostolic See's solicitude for catechetical ministry, will be received and carefully studied in the context of the pastoral needs of each particular Church. It is to be hoped that it will promote future study and deepen research so as to respond to the needs of catechesis and the norms and directives of the Church's Magisterium.

Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed on, and triumph as it did among you (2 Thess 3:1).

From the Vatican, 15 August 1997

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

+ Darío Castrillón Hoyos
Archbishop Emeritus of Bucamaramga

+ Crescenzio Sepe
Titular Archbishop of Grado

1) CD 44.

2) CT 2.

3) CT 3.

4) Corresponds to Part II of the DCG.

5) It has the same objectives of Part III to the DCG.

6) Corresponds to Part IV of the DCG.

7) Corresponds to Part V of the DCG of 1971. While several significant reasons would suggest that this section should preceed that on pedagogy, however, given the new form of Part Three it is preferred to maintain the same order as that in the 1971 text. This underlines that attention to those to whom catechesis is directed is a partipation in and a consequence of this same divine pedagogy, this Acondescenion of God in the history of Salvation (DV 13) of his self adaptation in revelation to the human condition.

8) Assumes all the elements of Paul VI of the DCG.

9) Cf. DCG (1971), Introduction.

10) Cf. ibidem.

11) Cf. ibidem.

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