Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Ecclesial Method in Catechesis

As far as I'm concerned, the Ecclesial Method is the way to do catechesis. If you pursue a Certification in Catechetics at FUS, this is the primary method you are instructed to use. That's how I learned it ... but you don't have to put yourself in thousands of dollars worth of debt to obtain the same knowledge. Anyone can use this method, once they know the principles.

Below is an outline of the method as it is presented by Msgr. Francis D. Kelley in his book The Mystery We Proclaim: Catechesis for the Third Millennium. I have also supplemented his various points with instruction from my professors on this method and my own thoughts, informed by my personal experience using this method. With this outline, you should get the gist of it, but I highly recommend reading his book to round out your understanding.

  • The ecclesial method is a way of conducting catechesis, a way of passing on the faith.
  • It was created by Msgr. Francis D. Kelley in 1992.
  • We find it in his book The Mystery We Proclaim: Catechesis for the Third Millennium.
  • The method is inspired by the principles and the pedagogy found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the General Directory for Catechesis, and Catechesi Tradendae.
  • The word “ecclesial” means “pertaining to the Church.”
  • It is called the “ecclesial” method because:
    • it utilizes the Sacred Scripture and Tradition of the Church;
    • it is informed by the teaching and practice of the Fathers, popes, and great teachers of our faith;
    • it reflects the belief that catechesis is above all a service in and for the Church by which she transmits her living faith from generation to generation; and
    • it presupposes fidelity to the teaching of the Church.
  • The method proceeds through five steps: Preparation, Proclamation, Explanation, Application, Celebration


Set the Mood
  • The catechist must create the conditions necessary for students to receive the message.
    • This is not easy, considering our modern, hectic life and the barrage of various stimuli.
  • What we must create is a sort of “calculated disengagement.”
  • Help the believer to be open, docile, receptive to truth, to an encounter with Christ.
  • Foster exterior and interior silence.
  • It is desirable that the setting for catechetical sessions have the aura of “holy space.”
    • This suggests that something important, special, different takes place here.
    • Create an atmosphere where students can “be still and know that I am God.” (Psa 46:10) “The Lord will fight for you, you have only to be still.” (Exo 14:14)
Look Outside Yourself
  • Our culture tends to create self-absorbed people.
  • We are made to think almost obsessively about our own feelings and desires.
  • Call believers to acknowledge Rom 14:7-8:
    • “None of us lives as his own master and none of us dies as his own master. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”
  • Help them move from the subjectivity of their own thoughts, feelings, experiences to the objective truth of Christ, and Him crucified.
  • "There is something, or rather someone, greater than you who is calling you to die to yourself and so rise to new life with Him."
  • However you set about doing this, respect the freedom and dignity of your audience and avoid manipulation.
How to Prepare
  • Devote room to a sacred space.
  • Utilize classical music, Gregorian chant, and traditional Catholic hymns.
    • Music is very good at setting the mood for the session.
    • Examples: "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent" for a catechesis on the Incarnation or the Eucharist, "Ave Maria" or "Salve Regina" for a catechesis on the Marian dogmas, "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" for a catechesis on the Trinity.
    • Utilizing Gregorian chant and traditional Catholic hymns also helps to increase literacy of and appreciation for the great heritage of liturgical music that is every day being lost.
  • Great works of art can also be presented via PowerPoint presentation.
  • Conduct a Liturgy of the Word.
    • This helps to lay the Scriptural foundation for your catechesis.
    • It is appropriate that the first words they hear are from the Lord.
  • Observe silence from the moment the students enter.
  • Begin with the Sign of the Cross and/or a prayer
    • Now everything you do will be in the context of prayer.
    • Expose them to the various ways of praying as a Catholic.
  • There are also environmental factors to consider:
    • Is the room set at a comfortable temperature?
    • Is the seating comfortable … but not too comfortable?
    • Is the seating arrangement conducive to listening and sharing?
  • Welcome the students with warmth and enthusiasm.
    • be Christ in their midst.


The Heart of the Teaching
  • This is the announcing of God’s Word.
  • This is really what “catechesis” is all about
    • deriving as it does from the Greek word that means “to echo down, resound.”
  • Primacy must be given to the announcement of God’s Word as it is found in Scripture and Tradition, enunciated by the Magisterium.
  • The Letter to the Hebrews (4:12) tells us: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
  • It is through the proclamation that we allow this word to fulfill its task.
  • To do this effectively, the catechist must have a strong grasp of the teaching of the Church and the meaning of Scripture.
  • Spiritual formation is also an ongoing, absolute requisite for effective proclamation.
  • We have to make sure that our own opinions or personal agendas don’t distort the content of our catechesis.
  • In Catechesi Tradendae (no. 30), Pope John Paul II tells us:
    • “[T]he disciple of Christ has the right to receive ‘the Word of faith’ not in mutilated, falsified, or diminished form but whole and entire, in all its rigor and vigor. Unfaithfulness on some point to the integrity of the message means a dangerous weakening of catechesis.”
How to Proclaim
  • Proclamation must be short, concise, and easy to remember.
  • This is the heart of the teaching, what it all boils down to.
  • If they only go away with one thing, let it be the proclamation.
  • It must be so well understood and internalized by the catechist that it comes from the heart, with confidence and joy – not simply read out loud.
  • Constantly reinforce it throughout the catechesis.
  • It must be age and group appropriate.
  • Make it visually present (on the board, on handouts, etc.).
  • Express it positively, as Good News, as something worthy to be proclaimed.
  • Some examples:
    • For a catechesis on marriage: "It takes three to get married."
    • For a catechesis on salvation: "If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed!" (Jn 8:36)
    • For a catechesis on the priesthood: "The priest is not his own."
    • For a catechesis on the Blessed Mother: "Mary: Blessed by the fruit of her womb."


Giving Them the Meat
  • This is the longest of the five steps.
  • This is when we help our audience come to a deeper understanding of the topic.
  • This is where the creativity and dynamism of the catechist really comes into play.
    • How can I adapt the Church’s teaching to my audience so that they are better able to receive it while at the same time being faithful to that doctrine?
  • Utilize the various ways in which people learn (by hearing, seeing, or doing).
  • Tap into cultural points of reference.
  • Actively engage your audience, using:
    • Audio/visual aids
    • Role-playing
    • Story-telling
    • Show them that the Christian faith is fully reasonable and intelligible
    • Utilize apologetics, address their questions and doubts.
      • This is in obedience to Peter, who tells us in his first letter (3:15) to “always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”
    • Don’t be afraid to use theological or distinctly Catholic words.
      • Define them and refer back to them, so that your students can set them to memory.
How to Explain
  • Have a Q&A box where students can submit questions anonymously.
  • Provide a glossary of the important words you used in that day’s teaching.
  • Tell a story from the Bible or from your own life.
  • Show a clip from a movie (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, etc).
  • Explain the different items in the sacred space and how they apply to the teaching.
  • Read a poem, or an excerpt from a work of literature, or a great Catholic quotation.
  • Draw the meaning out of a great work of art.
  • Refer to relevant passages from Scripture.
  • Quote the early Church Fathers.
  • Quote passages from Church documents, particularly those from Vatican II and the Catechism.


Compel to Witness
  • Religious knowledge has the power to transform the individual and society.
  • John Paul II says in Catechesi Tradendae (no. 22): “Firm and well-thought-out convictions lead to courageous and upright action.”
  • The goal of catechesis is not the memorization of facts – although that is important – but the conversion of hearts and minds to Jesus Christ.
  • How is this conversion lived out in one’s day-to-day living?
  • After Peter preached, the people asked him, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37)
  • In this step, we are helping our audience to answer that question.
  • Show how the day’s topic applies to one’s daily life.
  • Help your audience to see how the teaching is lived out.
  • Empower them to be a witness to their faith, as the apostles were:
    • “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
  • Pope Paul VI gives us a memorable passage on this idea of witness:
    • “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, no. 41)
    • Evangelii Nuntiandi is Latin for “proclaiming the Gospel.” This is his apostolic exhortation on evangelization in the modern world.
Compel to Serve
  • The image of Christ washing the feet of the apostles sets the tone for Christian living:
    • “If I then, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (Jn 13:14-15)
  • “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34), “What you do for the least of these my brethren you do for me” (Mt 25:40) – this is what Christ is calling us to.
  • Service, of course, can take on a variety of forms, depending on who you are serving and why you are serving them.
How to Apply
  • Propose hypothetical situations in which they might have to defend the teaching, or explain it to someone.
  • Give them time for journaling, with questions for reflection.
  • Break them up into small groups for discussion.
  • Challenge them to perform certain good habits, prayers, or daily exercises.
  • Go on a field trip or engage the class in a community service project that acts as an extension of what they have learned.


Ending on a High Note
  • This step is all about ending with prayerful gratitude and praise to God.
  • Is everything that God has done for us and revealed to us wonderful, or is it not?
  • If it is, then we should rightly end every teaching by helping our audience to see the Good News in what they have learned, and to rejoice in it.
  • This need not be especially exuberant.
  • Gratitude can also be expressed via prayer, or quiet reflection and contemplation.
  • The aim is for the learner to leave the catechetical setting in a place of peace and joy and preparedness for life’s challenges.
How to Celebrate
  • Many of the techniques used in the Preparation step can also be used in the Celebration step.
  • Celebrate a Liturgy of the Word, or pray the Liturgy of the Hours.
  • Listen to a piece of music, or – God forbid! – sing a hymn together as a group!
  • Incorporate movement or gestures:
    • Stand for the Gospel reading.
    • Move into the Church to pray.
    • Pray the Stations of the Cross around the room or church.
    • End with the Sign of the Cross.
    • Younger children enjoy songs with sign language.
  • End with a "witness," where you or someone from the parish can come and tell his story about how the teaching for the day changed his life or strengthened his relationship with Christ.

This method takes a little bit of work and prep time for the catechist. It requires creativity, thoughtfulness, and fidelity ... but it is not difficult. If it means reaching souls better and converting hearts and minds to Jesus Christ, then we should be all about that work. If this method is too much for you to take on all at once, then you may spend a semester or even a whole year just focusing on one of the five steps. "This year, I'm going to make sure I have an excellent Preparation step." Once you feel comfortable with one step, move on to the next one.

Once you have gained experience using the Ecclesial Method, you will find that you are able to move from step to step with great ease. Then, each year is just about improving. "What might I add to my sacred space for this teaching?" "This movie would be great for my Explanation step!" "How can I improve this Proclamation?" Keep your eyes open to anything you can use to supplement your teaching and make it better.

And, of course, as you grow in holiness, your heart will become more open and docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. He will give you the wisdom and the courage to seize every catechetical moment.

For more on the Ecclesial Method, see the following articles:

Pax Christi ... and good luck!

1 comment:

  1. Hi PhatCatholic,
    I'm doing a teaching on Sacrament (not the 7 but Sacrament in general) and I'm looking for ideas for things to include in the Sacred Space and for something to do for the Celebration. I'm also looking for some pop culture songs or movies to help portray the doctrine. The audience I'm working with is College students. Any help or suggestions you can give me would be fantastic!


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