On Tuesday Pope Francis released the apostolic letter Antiquum ministerium (“Ancient ministry”), which institutes the new lay ministry of catechist.
But you may be thinking, “I’m a catechist at my church. How is this a new ministry?” Cale Clarke recently discussed Pope Francis’ new letter on The Cale Clarke Show, and pointed out that catechists (those who teach the faith) have been a part of the Church for centuries, but Pope Francis has long desired to formally define what a catechist is.
“Being a catechist, this is the vocation. Not working as a catechist,” Pope Francis said in the past.
Cale noted, “I’ve done a lot of catechetical work, teaching RCIA programs, teaching parish Scripture studies, and in a lot of ways what I’m doing on The Faith Explained is very much what I used to do teaching a church basement full of adults the Scriptures.”
“We all have to be catechists at some level,” he said. “But Pope Francis is very clear that he wants this to be a vocation, he doesn’t want this to be a job. He doesn’t want this to be something that people just do, but something that they are. It’s all about who you are as a person, not so much a job you’re doing or a role you’re trying to fill.”
Pope Francis invites the bishop’s conferences around the world to determine their own process of formation for the lay ministry of catechists. This is because the role of a catechist is different in different parts of the world.
“This presence is all the more urgently needed today as a result of our increasing awareness of the need for evangelization in the contemporary world, and the rise of a globalized culture,” Pope Francis wrote.
Cale explained, “Here in the West we often think about people who teach RCIA programs, parish Directors of Religious Education, maybe teachers at Catholic high schools. But in a lot of places in the world, especially parts where there is a shortage of Catholic priests, the catechist is actually a big deal.”
In some countries and in some situations where an area may not see their priests for long stretches of time, the catechist steps in as a lay minister who is responsible for teaching and passing on the faith to their community.
“Some catechists witness marriages when there are no priests available, they have to do the baptizing, sometimes they even have to bury the dead,” Cale said. “So in some missionary situations, the catechist is a very important role, because they help missionary priests. And there are often not too many of them, so they have a lot of responsibilities and a lot of roles.”
While there are still details to be ironed out as to what the ministerial role of a catechist will look like in the United States, this is a step toward recognizing the role and vocation of teaching the Catholic faith.
Stay tuned to Relevant Radio for more information about the new lay ministerial role of catechist, because as Cale said, “I’m really going to be watching this quite carefully to see how this is all developed.”