By María G. Covarrubias
Summer is almost over and most parishes are preparing to begin their catechetical programs again. Every year in September, the Catholic Church has a day to celebrate the ministry of catechesis and those called to be catechists. This special day is called Catechetical Sunday.
Catechetical Sunday came about in 1935, when the Vatican published a document called “On the Better Care and Promotion of Catechetical Education.” This document asks every country to acknowledge the importance of the Church’s teaching ministry and to honor those who serve the Christian community as catechists.
During the first few years of celebrating Catechetical Sunday, national catechetical congresses were held in conjunction with the celebration. Beginning in 1971, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Department of Education began producing resources and materials on a specific theme to help parishes celebrate the event at the local level. The USCCB has designated the third Sunday in September as Catechetical Sunday.
This year, Catechetical Sunday will be celebrated on September 21. The theme is “Teaching About God’s Gift of Forgiveness,” which focuses on God’s love and compassion for us and the grace we receive through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Bishop David L. Ricken, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis says, “Even before anyone of us can consider seeking forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance, we know God is already at work in our hearts. God the Father pursues us down the byways of our life, intent to restore and share with us in greater measure a life of grace and union with him, which was secured at so great a cost through the saving death of his Son.
“The Holy Spirit helps us to discern where sinfulness has wounded and enslaved us, and creates in us, the penitents, a readiness to embrace ongoing conversion of life through sorrow for sins, sacramental confession through the ministry of the priest, and a firm purpose of amendment.”
Also, on Catechetical Sunday during the Masses, those members of the community who are called to be catechists are called forth and commissioned to the ministry of catechesis. In general, Catechetical Sunday is a wonderful opportunity for the entire Church community to reflect on their role, by virtue of their Baptism, in handing on the faith and being a witness to the Gospel. Catechetical Sunday is an opportunity for all of us to rededicate ourselves to this mission as a community of faith.
For years, many Catholics used the word “catechism” to name what had to do with the compendium of the Church’s teachings. Today, we call it “catechesis.” The root word, “catechesis,” is from a Greek word meaning “to echo, or resound.” Catechesis is the act of resounding or bringing the Church’s teachings to the world. In English it is frequently translated as “to teach or to instruct,” in the sense not of giving only facts but of sharing insights, knowledge, wisdom and love. From the beginning of the Church the main purpose of catechizing was neither purely academic nor purely notional. Its purpose is to strengthen the commitment and dedication to faith. The National Directory for Catechesis states that the object of catechesis is communion with Jesus Christ. Catechesis leads people to enter the mystery of Christ, to encounter him, and to discover themselves and the meaning of their lives in him.
María G. Covarrubias is the Director of the Office of Catechetical Ministry for the Diocese of San Bernardino.