As Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, I welcome the apostolic letter issued today “motu proprio” (“on his own initiative”) by His Holiness Pope Francis, “Antiquum Ministerium” (Ancient Ministry), officially establishing the “lay ministry of Catechist” in the Church.

Tracing the existence of the broadest participation of the entire Church – bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated religious and baptized lay women and men, especially parents – in the work of evangelization from the Church’s earliest days, Pope Francis highlights the involvement of the baptized laity in this critically important ministry to reach and teach the young as they grow in their Catholic faith.

His Holiness observed,

“To be sure, “there has been a growing awareness of the identity and mission of the laity in the Church. We can indeed count on many lay persons, although still not nearly enough, who have a deeply-rooted sense of community and great fidelity to the tasks of charity, catechesis and the celebration of the faith” (Evangelii Gaudium, 102). It follows that the reception of a lay ministry such as that of Catechist will emphasize even more the missionary commitment proper to every baptized person, a commitment that must however be carried out in a fully “secular” manner, avoiding any form of clericalization (art. 7).”

This ministry has a definite vocational aspect, as evidenced by the Rite of Institution, and consequently calls for due discernment on the part of the Bishop. It is in fact a stable form of service rendered to the local Church in accordance with pastoral needs identified by the local Ordinary, yet one carried out as a work of the laity, as demanded by the very nature of the ministry. It is fitting that those called to the instituted ministry of Catechist be men and women of deep faith and human maturity, active participants in the life of the Christian community, capable of welcoming others, being generous and living a life of fraternal communion. They should also receive suitable biblical, theological, pastoral and pedagogical formation to be competent communicators of the truth of the faith and they should have some prior experience of catechesis (cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church Christus Dominus, 14; CIC can. 231 §1; CCEO can. 409 §1). It is essential that they be faithful co-workers with priests and deacons, prepared to exercise their ministry wherever it may prove necessary, and motivated by true apostolic enthusiasm (art. 8).”

The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Faith will soon issue a “Rite of Institution of the Lay Ministry of Catechist” and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will develop “the necessary process of formation and the normative criteria for admission to this ministry and devising the most appropriate forms for the service which these men and women will be called to exercise in conformity with the content of this Apostolic Letter (art. 9).”

This initiative will help the Diocese of Trenton to strengthen and support its already effective efforts to evangelize and share our Catholic faith as a “common task” and a “saving mission” through the institution of this officially established, stable ministry.  I look forward to its development and implementation throughout the four counties of our Diocese.