[This is a part of the Fundamentals of Effective Catechesis series. Have you seen the other posts?]
Have you ever walked into a movie after it’s already started?
You can’t figure out what’s going on because you don’t know what happened before.
This is what it’s like when you don’t understand the story of the Bible.
We are all inserted into this story, the mystery of Christ, when we’re baptized.
Then, we’re expected to participate in it and play an active part! How can anyone do this if they don’t know what’s already happened?
This should be done in the youngest grades using biblical catechesis. This is catechesis using the Bible or Bible stories to tell the story of salvation and draw out the deeper meaning of Catholic doctrine.
But why should you begin with biblical catechesis? Here are three compelling reasons why this is the best way to start.
Biblical catechesis: the primary method in the early Church
This is the way it’s always been done. In the early Church, great teachers like St. Augustine used this method in their catechetical schools.
Around the year 405, a deacon named Deogratias wrote to St. Augustine and asked him the best way to begin teaching people about the Catholic Faith.
In response, Augustine wrote a whole book! He had a lot to say! The book is called The First Catechetical Instruction. And, lucky for you, it’s still available. Here is the main point:
“When anyone is to receive his first catechetical instruction, he shall be given the complete history (of salvation), starting from the place where it is written ’In the beginning God created heaven and earth’ down to the present period of the Church.”
In another place, Augustine instructs that all the events before Christ should be presented so they converge on his coming. This is essentially biblical catechesis on the mystery of Christ.
In this divine romance, God is the initiator. He revealed himself first to mankind and then asked for our response of faith. It seems natural that we should imitate God’s methods. That means introducing students to him the way he introduced himself to mankind–through his revelation in the Bible.
Biblical catechesis lays this out in the most basic way.
The fathers learned biblical catechesis from the apostles
So, did Augustine just make this stuff up? How did he figure this out? The early Church fathers learned this method of biblical catechesis from the apostles.
There’s many examples in the Bible of the apostles doing this. In Acts, when the apostles catechized, they always referred back to the Old Testament Scriptures and interpreted their fulfillment in Christ.
- Acts 2:14ff: At Pentecost when Peter preaches his first sermon.
- Acts 7: St. Stephen gives his defense to the Pharisees
- Acts 13:16ff: St. Paul speaks in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia
Why is this kind of biblical catechesis so effective for understanding God? You understand a person by their actions. Sometimes people hide their intentions in their actions–but not God. With God, what you see is what you get. His actions reveal his inner being.
“God’s works reveal who he is in himself; the mystery of his inmost being enlightens our understanding of all his works.”
God’s works are uniquely revealed in the Bible. By understanding the Bible, you understand what God has done. This gives you a greater insight into who he is and, of course, into the mystery of Christ itself.
The more you can understand who God is, the better you understand his works revealed in the Bible. It’s an interpretive feedback loop.
The apostles learned it from Jesus
In catechizing like this, the apostles were simply following the example the learned from Our Lord.
Jesus was continually referring back to the Old Testament Scriptures to explain his actions. He said he was a:
- Greater than the temple
- Greater than Solomon
- Greater than Jonah
In his actions and in his teaching, Jesus continually re-interpreted the Old Covenant in himself. His actions show him as the:
- New Moses
- New David
- Lamb of God
He summed up all the understanding of God that came before, took it into himself and redefined all of it. The Gospels, in narrating the events of Christ’s life, were actually reinterpreting all of the Old Testament in light of him.
Why begin with biblical catechesis? To put it simply, it’s the way it’s always been done.
- The Church fathers primarily used this method
- They learned it from the apostles who also used it extensively
- The apostles learned it from Jesus–need I say more?
- It imitates God’s own methodology in teaching mankind about himself and his plan of salvation
- Understanding what God has done helps you understand who he is and what he wants from you!
From the moment of Baptism, your students are thrust into an ongoing story and expected to make their mark! How can they know what to do if they don’t understand the story and what is expected of them.
Also, this is a great gift that they need to know about. A great inheritance that is there’s for the taking. They need to be made aware of it.
Biblical catechesis is the best first way to introduce anyone to the mystery of Christ. But, it is especially effective in the younger grades. I’ll speak about this more in future posts.
How do you use the Bible in your teaching? If you teach the younger grades, do you tell them Bible stories?
This is part of the Fundamentals of Effective Catechesis series. I’m laying out the basics of the catechetical system I learned at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Check out the other posts!