Monday, April 18, 2011

The job of the catechist

I am an RCIA catechist. Easy to say, but "catechist" is not a work you run across in ordinary speech, except maybe in catholic-oriented crossword puzzles.

What does it mean? Well, like a lot of "church words" the word catechist has its origins in Ancient Greek. I know almost no Greek - just a smattering from a seminar senior year in high school. But for blog purposes I am taking a shot at it. Greek scholars should feel free to comment.

There are two important Greek words that will shed light here I hope - κατέχειν (katēchein) which means "to echo back faithfully" and κήρυκας (kirikas) which means to "herald".

Most folks in the ancient Greek world were not literate - and yet the king obviously had a vested interest in making sure his commands were spread far and wide. So the messenger of the king, his herald (κήρυκας) was sent to the main meeting place in every town, to "echo back faithfully" (κατέχειν) the words and commands of the king.

And you better believe the herald had a vested interest in getting the message right - as the penalty for any screw-up was likely to be death.

Thus, catechesis is serious business! It is our job to echo back faithfully the words of the king we have learned, bringing them to those who have not heard them yet.

In my opinion - this also leaves opinion out. The kirikas' job was not to editorialize, or speculate on what the king's message might mean. I believe this is why theology students often make lousy catechists. Many times I have heard theological theories - often highly speculative ones at that - taught to students and catechumens who lack the basis to be able to determine what is sound (the message of the king) and what is mere speculation or theory.

Getting it right - helping our students find the truth and fullness of our faith - requires a faithful rendering of the king's message, free from distractions, and both taught and received in the Holy Spirit.

Where do we as catechists get the "message of the king" to pass on? That's the topic of my next post - "A sure and certain norm".

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