Since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), several terms have appeared with increasing frequency in our Catholic vocabulary, among them “catechesis” and “evangelization/new evangelization.”  Although they are not actually new to the Catholic lexicon, their meaning and application within contemporary Catholic life and experience have developed and taken on greater significance.

When we see the word “catechesis,” another word “catechism,” probably comes to the mind of most Catholics.  Older folks who were raised in the Catholic Church before Vatican II no doubt remember the Baltimore Catechism with its many questions and answers about the Catholic faith and religion committed to memory. “Catechesis” must have something to do with that – and it does.

Another “catechism” was developed and published in 1992, The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), to include in summary form similar aspects of the Catholic faith and religion as developed during and after Vatican II. Again, the idea of “catechesis” rightly emerges in connection to it.

The word “evangelization” might remind some Catholic folks of the expression “evangelical,” more frequently associated with Protestant denominations and their emphasis on the Bible and preaching. There is a connection here, too. The authors of the Gospels are known as the four “evangelists” and their writing and preaching are foundational elements of “evangelization.”

“Catechesis” comes from a Greek word translated as “echo or teaching by word of mouth.”  “Evangelization” comes from a Greek word, too, meaning “good message, good news” translated into the Latin verb “evangelizare,” rendered as “to bring good news.”

Interesting etymological background converted into Christian usage over the centuries!  In the latter part of the twentieth century until the present day, the expressions “catechesis” and “evangelization” have become commonplace in the vocabulary of the Catholic Church and their meaning is almost taken for granted.

In Catholic diocesan chanceries today across the United States, it is also quite common to find specific offices for “catechesis and evangelization.” On a national level, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has its own Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis. On its website, the USCCB committee explains:

Evangelization is the (Catholic) Church's deepest identity.  Evangelization brings the good news of the Gospel to all who seek the life-giving message of faith in Jesus Christ. Catechesis nourishes, forms and deepens the faith one receives through the ministry of the Church. 

Evangelization means bringing the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ into every human situation and seeking to convert individuals and society by the divine power of the Gospel itself. Its essence is the proclamation of salvation in Jesus Christ as well as the response of a person in faith, both being the work of the Spirit of God (USCCB, “Go and Make Disciples: A National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the United States,” November 18,1992, p. 2).

Evangelization has different implications depending on our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church he established. For those who practice and live the Catholic faith, it is a call to ongoing growth and renewed conversion. For those who have accepted it only in name, it is a call to re-evangelization, a “new evangelization.” For those who have stopped practicing their faith, it is a call to reconciliation, also considered a “new evangelization.”

For children, it is a call to be formed into disciples through the family's faith life and religious education. For other Christians, it is an invitation to know the fullness of the Gospel message. For those who have no faith, it is a call to conversion to know the Lord Jesus Christ and thus experience a change to new life with Christ and his Church.

Catechesis is nothing other than the process of transmitting the Gospel, as the Catholic Christian community has received it, understands it, celebrates it, lives it and communicates it in many ways.  Again, the USCCB explains on its website:

Catechesis is the act of handing on the Word of God intended to inform the faith community and candidates for initiation into the Church about the teachings of Christ, transmitted by the Apostles to the Church.

Catechesis also involves the lifelong effort of forming people into witnesses to Christ and opening their hearts to the spiritual transformation given by the Holy Spirit.  

There is so much more that has been and can be said about “evangelization” and “catechesis” as understood and experienced in the Catholic Church. In our “bottom line,” “bullet point world,” we might summarize these words and expressions this way: “Evangelization” describes and defines our encounter with and experience of the Lord Jesus Christ, his Gospel and the Catholic Church. “Catechesis” is the process used by the Catholic Church to understand, teach, communicate, encourage and apply what that encounter and experience mean in the faith life of the Catholic individual and Catholic community.

For information in the Diocese of Trenton, go to:

CATECHESIS

dioceseoftrenton.org/catechesis

Denise Contino, Director of Catechesis

dcontino@dioceseoftrenton.org

 

EVANGELIZATION

dioceseoftrenton.org/evangelization

Josue Arriola, Director of Evangelization and Family Life

jarrio@dioceseoftrenton.org