FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

About Whole Community Catechesis

Where did the idea for “whole community catechesis” come from? The whole movement toward an approach to catechesis which involves the entire parish community comes from four main sources. First, catechetical leaders have given careful consideration to the way Jesus taught, as the GDC suggests we should. Second, we have all done serious reflections on the teachings of Vatican II for more than forty years. Third, the direction provided by the General Directory for Catechesis itself has been nothing other than revolutionary. And fourth, there is simply an emerging consensus in the catechetical community that the present way we do our work, in what’s known as the “school house” framework, just isn’t working as well as we’d like it to.

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Where did the name itself come from? The name, whole community catechesis, comes directly from article #254 of the GDC where it says that The Christian community is the origin, locus, and goal of catechesis. Proclamation of the Gospel always begins with the Christian community and invites [people] to conversion and the following of Christ. It is the same whole community that welcomes those who wish to know the Lord better and permeate themselves with a new life. The whole Christian community accompanies catechumens and those being catechized, and with maternal solitude makes them participate in her own experience of the faith and incorporates them into herself.

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What’s wrong with how we do catechesis now? It isn’t so much that there’s something “wrong” with what we do now as that our experience tells us we can do so much better! In most parishes, we deal mainly with the children. The Church asks us to make adult catechesis the norm. How do we do that under our present framework? And it makes sense to all of us that we get the adults of the church involved. Catechesis, as Pope John Paul II has pointed out, is for everyone in the Church, not just for kids!
So we know we need to do better and the GDC directs us here, toward the whole community. It just makes good sense.

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But don’t we need to instruct the children in the faith? Yes indeed, there is a need for outright religious instructions in order for Christian children to grow up and mature in their faith. Understanding the Sacred Scriptures, the Church’s liturgies, its history, devotions, and doctrines is essential. This is true for Christians of all age groups. Our present school house framework does provide a structure within which this outright religious education happens very well. The textbooks are complete and beautiful. The students do seem to come away with a pretty good working knowledge of the Church.

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But… what’s missing? Well, first of all, for us Catholics, nothing can happen in the Church that doesn’t have it’s origin in the Sunday Mass. For us, the liturgy is the “source and summit” of our faith. It’s what makes us truly Catholic. So we must say that a real connection to the Sunday liturgy is missing in most parishes. How do we add that? whole community catechesis makes several suggestions:
• faith sharing based on the Sunday readings
• some form of liturgical catechesis to help us understand the rites
• using a spiral scope and sequence in our textbook series

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What is a “spiral scope and sequence?” Well, first of all, a scope and sequence is the organized framework, the system under which we present the teachings of the faith to a learner. This framework follows a certain sequence of ideas, one after the other. And it stays within a certain scope of topics and themes. By giving it this order, a learner has a better chance of getting it all right!
A spiral scope and sequence is one in which the learner returns to each topic each year, in spiral fashion: always in age appropriate language and teaching methods. By using a spiral, all the students in a single parish or school - or both! - can be studying the same theme at the same time, making teacher prep, parent involvement, intergenerational groupings, and cross cultural teaching much more possible!

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What else does whole community catechesis recommend? Every single Church document in the past forty five years that deals with Christian education and catechesis has insisted that parents and entire households be involved in catechesis, not just the children. Without the rest of the household, no matter how good the religious education might be, the child has little chance of developing deep faith roots and living by Catholic customs and morality.
In whole community catechesis, parishes plan for the involvement of the entire community, based on that spiral scope and sequence mentioned earlier. This doesn’t mean merely that parents are present when their children are formed in the faith. Much more radically, it means that households are being formed as Christian homes.

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How do households get involved? First, parishes invite every single household in the parish to take part in the faith-sharing mentioned above, based on the readings from the Sunday Assembly. It’s this faith sharing that gives rise to the possibility of deeper and ongoing conversion to Christ. And it’s the presence of Christ in the homes that is the first step. That will lead naturally to more prayer, to interpreting the events of the culture or world through Christian eyes, and to a desire for more catechesis.
Households might receive a kit of some kind, or suggestions about how to form a real home, sharing meals and supporting one another as a family.

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Why all this emphasis on conversion? For many Catholics growing up in the 1950s (and even for those who can’t remember the 1950s) “conversion” was what we thought every Protestant should do. We even called them “converts” when they joined the Catholic Church. But today we take a wider view and we see that each Catholic also needs to turn his or her heart to Christ over and over again throughout their lives. This turning is what we call “conversion.” The word comes from Latin, meaning literally, to turn.
And here’s the reason we emphasize it so much. The GDC teaches us that conversion, the turning of one’s heart to Christ, precedes catechesis. Adults, like their kids, might sit through instructional classes, but until they turn their hearts to Christ and share that with others, we haven’t really done our job of announcing the good news of Christ.

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What kind of resources do we need for this? First and foremost, parishes will need a textbook that is designed for this purpose. It’s really necessary for the whole community to study the same themes at the same time. As I said above, this means a spiral scope and sequence, with themes that both make sense and are understandable to people. It doesn’t do much good to just dump a whole lot of doctrine into people’s heads if it isn’t well organized and written.
So look for a spiral scope and sequence that follows certain important themes: (1) Creation first, followed by (2) God, (3) Jesus Christ, (4) the Church, (5) Morality, (6) the Sacraments, and (7) the Kingdom of God. All of it must be based in both the Scriptures in every lesson, and also in the church’s tradition through the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Look for these themes when choosing a textbook.

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Is it all in the textbook? Certainly not. But here’s the thing: your textbook program will always be the basis of everything else you do. Think about it this way. While the first graders in both the school and parish programs are studying about Creation, so are the 5th graders and the youth. Extend that across the parish and have material also available for young married couples, middle-aged adults, and senior members of the parish. Wow! Now you truly have the whole community working together at catechesis. Just think how much more powerful that will be!
Outside the elementary program, look for materials that will allow you to extend your children’s catechesis into the rest of the community. Combine that with faith sharing which brings Christ alive in people’s heart and you have yourself a fantastic whole community experience!

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Where can I get more help? Keep your eye on Harcourt. This web site is serving as a national center for the advance of whole community catechesis. Our materials are written to do precisely what we have just described for you. Soon we will have stories here from people succeeding at this in parishes across the country today. We hope maybe one day to have your story here.
Return to this web site over and over again, to get the Questions of the Week for faith sharing, to learn more about this, and to obtain the resources you need for your parish. We’re glad to have you here! Thank you for all you do to support the Church!

-- Your Friends at Harcourt Religion Publishers