Those to Be Catechized


Part Four of the General Directory for Catechesis treats the adaptation of catechesis to those to whom it is directed. Our Lord Jesus Christ, from the very beginning of His public ministry, announced that His saving message was for all, “beginning with the most disadvantaged.”

Part Four of the General Directory for Catechesis treats the adaptation of catechesis to those to whom it is directed. Our Lord Jesus Christ, from the very beginning of His public ministry, announced that His saving message was for all, "beginning with the most disadvantaged." Before ascending to the right hand of the Father after His Resurrection, He sent forth His disciples to preach the Gospel to all the nations. (General Directory for Catechesis, No. 163) Throughout her history and no less today, the Church applies many different approaches to teach the faith to a great variety of persons who experience many different circumstances of life.

Because the baptized are called to grow and develop in the faith and its practice, they have the right to an adequate catechesis. The Church has the corresponding duty to provide them an apt catechesis. The right of each of the baptized to an adequate catechesis is also the right of the whole community of faith which depends upon the teaching of the faith for its vitality and development.

The faith or the Word of God to be communicated is one, but those to whom it is communicated live in a diversity of circumstances and cultures. If catechesis is to be true nourishment for the faith of the catechized, the catechist must employ energy and creativity in addressing the faith to persons who are different in culture, age, spiritual maturity and their relationship to the Church. Most importantly, catechists must attend to the profound interior unity of the catechized: the questions, hopes and needs which lie in the heart. (General Directory for Catechesis, No. 170)


It is most natural that catechesis adapt itself to the age of the catechized, for the faith is meant to develop within the catechized as he or she grows in years. Also, each age of life presents challenges to the faith which catechesis helps a person to meet. In looking at the adaptation of catechesis to age, it is helpful to use as the point of reference the catechesis of adults to which the catechesis of all the other age groups is directed as its fulfillment.


Adults to be catechized are found in a variety of conditions:

adults who are living their faith and want to deepen it; baptized adults who have not received an adequate catechesis, who have not brought to fulfillment the gift of faith received in Baptism and perhaps Confirmation, or who have fallen away from the practice of the faith; unbaptized adults; adults who come from Christian communities which are not in full communion with the Catholic Church.

In the catechesis of adults, it must be kept in mind that they have the duty to bring to maturity the gift of faith received in Baptism or to be received in Baptism. Likewise, they are responsible for their own lives and the life of society, and undergo personal and societal changes and crises. The faith of adults, therefore, is in need of constant enrichment, development and protection. In presenting the faith to adults, attention must be given to their difficulties and actual experiences; to the distinctness of their call to holiness as laity, that is the call to sanctify every dimension of the life of the world; to the community which should encourage and foster growth in the knowledge and practice of the faith; and to their pastoral care and their participation in the Sacred Liturgy and in the Church's witness of charity.

The faith must be presented to adults in its entirety, helping them to address the truth of the faith to "the difficulties, doubts, misunderstandings, prejudices and objections of today" (General Directory for Catechesis, No. 175). Catechesis should help us to grow in the faith through participation in the Sacraments, and spiritual direction and retreats. At the same time, adult catechesis assists us in viewing our culture with the eyes of faith. It helps us to assess rightly what is good for the life of society and what is destructive, to respond to the moral questions of our day, to see how the social teaching of the Church applies to the circumstances of daily living, and to help us see the unity of faith and reason and so to avoid fundamentalism or subjective and arbitrary interpretations of the faith.

Catechesis of adults may take different forms. There should always be available for adults the systematic presentation of the entire faith. In addition, there is the catechemunate for the unbaptized; catechesis developed around the Liturgical Year; catechesis according to particular responsibilities in the Church, for example, a particular apostolate; catechesis suited to significant events, for example Marriage or the baptism of a child, or to critical moments of life, for example sickness, or to special events and experiences, for example military service or emigration; catechesis on the Christian use of free time and travel; and catechesis for special events in the life of the Church and society.


Those who give life to children and have brought them to the Church for baptism have the responsibility to foster the development of the gift of faith within them. In the catechesis of infants and young children, certain factors must be kept in mind:

infancy and childhood as the decisive time of first socialization in the family, the school and the Church; the introduction of the child into the life of the Church through the Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist), and the Sacrament of Penance; the human formation which is fundamental for growth in the life of faith, for example, the development of trust, self-giving, sharing, etc.; the teaching of prayer and a first introduction to the Bible; the family and the school as the two vital places of education and of catechesis, with emphasis on the irreplaceable role of the family.

With regard to the last factor, the teaching of the faith in the Catholic school or in other parish religious education classes will only achieve its effect to the degree that the family is fully involved. Pastors and teachers of religion should have as a first and primary goal the involvement of parents in the catechesis of their children. In this regard, we must not forget that the catechesis of their children is a wonderful occasion of adult catechesis for parents. Lastly, the Church must show special concern for children who lack support in the family for their growth in the faith and its practice or who have no family at all. Today, many children are not even baptized. Others have been baptized but have not received the help by which the seed of faith within them can grow.


In its treatment of the catechesis of young people, the General Directory for Catechesis rightly observes that the young are at one and the same time the most vulnerable to "the spiritual and cultural crisis gripping the world" and the repositories of hope for a renewed Church and world. (No. 181) The catechesis of young people is most critical in helping them to deal with the great challenges of faith in our society and culture, and in developing in them the virtues by which they will become strong members of the Church and good citizens.

In taking up the catechesis of young people, three distinct phases of human development must be recognized: pre-adolescence, adolescence and young adulthood. The General Directory for Catechesis underlines the need for special attention to pre-adolescence which it calls a "negated age-group," readily susceptible to the allurement of secularism and materialism and to the abandonment of the practice of the faith. The General Directory declares categorically: "Youth catechesis must be profoundly revised and revitalized." (Ibid. )

Catechesis of youth means the direct presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in language which young people can understand and with sensitivity to the difficulties which they are undergoing. Young people must be not viewed solely as the "objects of catechesis" but also as its subjects, taking up the call which God the Father gives them to witness to Christ in the world (No. 182). The General Directory asks that local Catechetical Directories state the appropriate means of catechesis of youth, keeping in mind the following directions:

attention to the diversity of religious condition of youth: the unbaptized, those who have not completed their Christian initiation; those who are in crisis regarding the faith; those who have suffered a crisis of faith, abandoned the faith and are in need of spiritual helps; attention to the social and educational situation of youth so that catechesis is part of their total pastoral care; the use of group activity, perhaps through already established youth associations, which includes spiritual direction "as an important element." (No. 184)

Finally, particular forms of catechesis of youth may include: youth catechumenate for the unbaptized; catechesis for Christian initiation for those who have not made their First Confession, received First Holy Communion or been confirmed; catechesis on special subjects; catechesis in the context of meetings of youth. Whatever the form of youth catechesis, it should assist above all growth in Christian freedom, the formation of a correct conscience and "an education for love." Clearly, such catechesis will foster the response to vocation which is the most critical task facing the young person, and the expression of the missionary aspect of every vocation.


The aged must not be seen as "passive objects" but rather as active members of the Church with the right to catechetical instruction. In their catechesis, special attention must be given to possible "isolation" and "marginalization" (No. 186). Catechesis is, in fact, an important tool for the aged to overcome isolation and marginalization, and remain active participants in Church life.

According to "the condition of faith" of the aged person, catechesis can further develop an already "rich and solid faith" or it can be the moment for a renewed practice of the faith among those who, for whatever reason, have grown tepid. Also to be taken into consideration is the possibility of some lingering hurt which the older person carries with him or her and which requires reconciliation.

Finally, catechesis of older persons helps them to take up their important role of catechist for children and young people who look to them as elders. Catechesis of the aged fosters the "dialogue of the generations" (No. 188).


The General Directory for Catechesis takes up a number of special situations to which catechesis must be sensitive.

Catechesis of persons with special needs should be personalized and adequate, and should be carried out by catechists who are specially prepared. (No. 189)

Catechesis of the marginalized (immigrants, refugees, nomads, traveling people, the chronically ill, addicts and prisoners) should be carried out in accord with the teaching in the Parable of the Last Judgment. (No. 190)

Catechesis of special groups (workers, professionals, artists, scientists, university students) is recommended, keeping in mind the need of prepared catechists. (No. 191)

Catechesis takes careful note of the environment of the catechized, especially whether the setting is rural or urban. (No. 192)

Regarding the socio-religious context, the following must be noted:

catechesis faces the challenges presented by life in a highly secularized society and culture. The faith needs to be "constantly nourished and sustained." (No. 193) Effective catechesis calls to the mind of the catechized all of the fundamentals of the faith, fosters conversion, and helps the catechized to give an account of what he or she believes to others; (No. 194) catechesis cultivates an appreciation of the positive aspects of popular devotions, especially to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and is attentive to the purification of the negative aspects, for example, "errors or fanaticism, superstition, syncretism, or religious ignorance;" (Nos. 195-196) catechesis should take account of ecumenism, presenting the Catholic faith in its integrity and helping the catechized to understand the sad divisions among Christian churches and ecclesial communities, the special relationship of the Catholic faith to the Jewish faith, and the distinct elements of other religions; (Nos. 197-200) catechesis should help the catechized deal with the new religious movements (sects and cults) whose doctrines and practices "are alien to the content of the Christian faith." (No. 201)

Regarding the socio-cultural context, catechesis faces the challenge of inculturating the faith. Inculturation requires a deep appreciation of the various cultures in which the catechized live so that the Gospel may accomplish its finality of elevating and transforming culture. Inculturation manifests the transcendence of the faith which cannot be expressed adequately in any one culture. It also fosters new expressions of the doctrine of the faith, according to the diversity of cultures. In any case, the integrity of the faith must always be preserved (Nos. 202-205). Clearly the communications media have a critical role to play in the work of inculturation because of their special capacity for transmitting the Gospel (No. 209).

In meeting the challenge of inculturation, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is an indispensable tool and measure. (No. 210) In a culture like our own, in which the faith has been taught for generations, inculturation means new evangelization, the teaching of the faith "new in ardor, methods and expression" (Pope John Paul II, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation "The Church in America," 22 January 1999, No. 6).

Bishops have the responsibility to guide efforts at inculturation. They do so by promoting the widest possible catechesis to "overcome ignorance and misinformation, the great obstacle of every attempt at inculturation;" by doing pilot projects of inculturation under careful supervision, by providing catechetical directories in the various languages of the faithful; and by providing for the communication and communion between the diocese, and other dioceses and the Holy See, which guarantees "a more valid and up-to-date inculturation" (No. 214).


Burke, Bishop Raymond. "Those to Be Catechized." The Catholic Faith (November/December 2000).

Reprinted by permission of The Catholic Faith. The Catholic Faith is published bi-monthly and may be ordered from Ignatius Press, P.O. Box 591090, San Francisco, CA 94159-1090. 1-800-651-1531.


His Grace Bishop Raymond L. Burke is the Bishop of La Crosse, Wisconsin

Copyright © 2000 The Catholic Faith

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