Initiatory Catechesis: Introducing the Life of Faith


So far in your quest for evangelizing catechesis you have:

Those are the first two stages of the Church’s 5-stage evangelization process.

So when do you actually start teaching them something?

The third stage of the Church’s process is Initiatory Catechesis. Finally, we get to the actual catechesis.

But you didn’t think that just meant teaching lessons from the textbook…did you? The job now is to introduce them to the life of faith.

But as you’ll see, that’s more than merely teaching doctrine.

Initiatory vs. Systematic Catechesis

Initiatory Catechesis is for non-Catholic Christians coming into the Church, Catholics completing their initiation, and children.

The catechesis is oriented toward initiation. For adults in the RCIA, this means receiving the Sacraments of Initiation–Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist–at the Easter Vigil.

What does initiation mean for Catholic kids in religious education programs and Catholic schools? It means the same thing but it takes a really long time.

Essentially, Cradle Catholic kids are in an extended RCIA…like 14 years extended. Their religious formation is geared toward receiving those same Sacraments of Initiation…but over their whole childhood.

The Catechism calls for this kind of extended RCIA.

“By it’s very nature infant Baptism requires a post-baptismal catechumenate. Not only is there a need for instruction after Baptism, but also for the necessary flowering of baptismal grace in personal growth.”

In RCIA, this instruction is done before initiation. With baptized infants, it obviously has to be done when they’re old enough. And, it most definitely needs to be done! The grace of baptism must be activated, nurtured, and grown for the child to have a hope of becoming a mature Christian.

As I’ve talked about before, stages 2 and 3 of the evangelization process, Initial Proclamation of the Gospel and Initiatory Catechesis, are where we should spend most of our time with children…but in reality, we don’t. We skip over the first four stages and go right to the end, Systematic Catechesis. If you think about it, this is the methodology of most religious education textbooks.

So, what’s different? Why would Initiatory Catechesis be any different than Systematic Catechesis and why would it matter?

The difference is faith

The difference is, Initiatory Catechesis nurtures faith.

To do that, it deepens the basic principles of the Gospel proclamation, breaks them out, and works out their implications for Christian life…always with the goal of increasing faith.

Systematic Catechesis is more of an academic discipline. It seeks to understand the Faith in it’s depth and entirety. This is what the textbooks do and it’s counter-productive to what children need.

Initiatory catechesis is not merely informational. It should:

  • Be liturgical and draw students toward the liturgy.
  • Be oriented toward action and works of mercy.
  • Make concrete life applications.

While comprehensive and structured, it deals more directly with living the Christian life, not just learning about it.

We have to get away from thinking of catechesis as merely passing on information. We need to see it as initiating children into the Christian way of life.

It’s a subtle yet important distinction. Even though Initiatory Catechesis is still concerned with teaching doctrine, it’s focus is on evangelization, not academic depth.

In On Catechesis in Our Time #25, Blessed John Paul II explains,

“Thus through catechesis the Gospel kerygma…is gradually deepened, developed in its implicit consequences, explained in language that includes an appeal to reason…All this is no less evangelical than the kerygma…The truths studied in catechesis are the same truths that touched the person’s heart when he heard them for the first time.” (Emphasis added)

I’m not saying Systematic Catechesis isn’t necessary. It is…in it’s proper place. But that place is not the catechesis of children or even most adults who are improperly formed or not yet converted.

Initiatory Catechesis in the evangelizing classroom

Here are five practical ways to bring a more initiatory flavor to your current (more academic) textbook lessons:

  1. Continually draw students back to the Gospel story. Tie your lessons to the fundamental concepts of salvation and keep revisiting them for deeper clarity.
  2. Make it thoroughly Christ-centered. When you make your lesson plans, figure out how this topic relates to Christ. And not only informationally, but relationally.
  3. Use liturgical elements and rituals from the liturgy such as: processions, Bible readings, prayers, sacred space, holy water, silence.
  4. Make life applications. Don’t teach for information, teach for transformation. Challenge them to change.
  5. Allow time to reflect. Use journals or private writing exercises. Have them do partner discussions and reports. Assign reflective homework activities, home prayer activities, or works of mercy activities to complete before the next class.

 Preparing Christians for life

I think this piece is a key component in the revival of parish catechetical programs. Until we start to look at religious formation as more than instruction, our children will continue to grow up with little faith.

I propose we think rather of initiating our children into the Christian life. The primary question to answer–what do they need to live as mature Christians? How can we prepare them for that? That’s very different from what they need to learn.

Initiatory Catechesis implies an education in knowledge of the Faith but also education in the life of faith. It makes a person an authentic follower of Christ, deeply enriched by contact with him and his word.

This way, you’ll have students who you won’t have to teach. They’ll someday be motivated learn on their own.

Photo Credit: Eustaquio Santimano via Compfight cc


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  1. Suzanne Walsh says:

    Very nice Marc, totally agree with this approach. We need to win over their hearts as well as their minds – to often we forget the hearts.

    A request – can you suggest what the layout for a sample lesson plan might be? For example would you include a preview of the gospel for the coming Sunday and some discussion of that? Homework including a work of mercy makes sense.

    Would love to introduce this approach to our catechists and also use it in my own 8th grade faith formation class. Thanks!

    • Hi Suzanne! Great question. Big question! Here’s a little bit of what this might look like.

      When you’re planning your lesson, ask how this applies to Christ, dead, risen and alive. Make that the center of your teaching plan.

      I would start the lesson with Scripture and include the liturgical rituals from the Mass associated with the Liturgy of the Word. Include other liturgical elements as well. You might include the gospel for the coming Sunday as part of the biblical element, but I’m more inclined to use a gospel reading that applies specifically to the topic of the lesson. Lead with that Scripture and make it the underlying foundation of the doctrinal presentation.

      Every class would include doctrinal, biblical, and liturgical elements. Those are the primary paths to relationship and union with Christ. Additionally, every lesson should also include some type of Christian witness–either in the form of your own personal stories, stories of someone you know, or from the lives of the Saints.

      Finally, think about how you want this lesson to affect your students and challenge them in some way to grow in faith or their commitment to Christ. Don’t just teach and then be on your way. Capitalize on the lesson content to make an emotional appeal by calling them to some concrete life application.

      Hope that helps! Obviously, there’s a lot more that could be said, but these are the foundations in my opinion.

      • Suzanne Walsh says:

        Thanks for the suggestions Marc, good ideals that I will try to introduce in my classroom. Thank you!

      • “I’m more inclined to use a gospel reading that applies specifically to the topic of the lesson.” Yes. The Lectionary runs on its own 3 year cycle and is likely to have, well, not much in common with your textbook’s syllabus.

  2. Marc, this is a really excellent post. Nice work.

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