Magisterial Documents: Catechesi Tradendae

Apostolic Exhortation on Catechesis in Our Time Pope John Paul II
16 October 1979

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Brief History

In 1977, the synod of bishops met in Rome to discuss the theme, "Catechesis in our time, with special reference to the catechesis of children and young people." This synod was a follow-up of the synod on evangelization that had taken place three years earlier with its ensuing document on evangelization, Evangelii Nuntiandi, which was to spark new zeal in the spread of the Christian message. The two synods, 1974 and 1977, are twins in the ministry of the Word. Due to the work of the synods, the terms, evangelization and catechesis, were clearly defined.

Evangelization is the beginning stage, the first encounter and decision to embrace the faith; catechesis is the deepening, the instruction in the doctrine once the faith-decision has been made.

The work of 1974 and its resulting apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, became the study material in preparation for the catechesis synod. Two documents prepared by the bishops resulted from the catechesis synod. One, Message to the People of God, was publicly presented at the end of the sessions on October 29, 1977. The second document, consisting of thirty-four propositions and ca. One thousand amendments to the propositions, was sent privately to Pope Paul VI. As had been the case at the 1974 evangelization synod, the bishops requested that a magisterial document be written in summary of the deliberations.

The Message to the People of God first established the distinguishing elements between evangelization and catechesis. The starting point, evangelization, is ideally followed by, as the message states, "continued growth and maturation in faith."[1] Catechesis should assist this process. The bishops of the synod defined catechesis as "every ecclesial activity which seeks to bring about growth in faith."[2]

In regard to Marian catechesis, an American contribution at the synod was presented by Cardinal Carberry of St. Louis. Carberry's theme was, "The Role of the Blessed Virgin Mary In Catechetics." It is from this talk that Pope John Paul II eventually picked up the phrases: Mary, a "compendium of catechetics," and she is "a living catechism."[3]

Pope John Paul II stated that the General Catechetical Directory of 1971 was to remain the norm for catechesis, and specialists were to be called upon to define the various meanings and branches of catechesis.

Archbishop Joseph L. Bernardin, "Introduction," Synod of Bishops- 1977: Message to the People of God and Interventions of the U.S. Delegates, Washington, DC: USCC, 1978, 2.
Bernardin, 2.

John Joseph Carberry, "The Role of the Blessed Virgin Mary In Catechetics," Synod of Bishops-1977: Message to the People of God and Interventions of the U.S. Delegates, Washington, DC: USCC, 1978, 23.


I. We Have But One Teacher, Jesus Christ 5-9

II. An Experience as Old as the Church 10-17

III. Catechesis in the Church's Pastoral and Missionary Activity 18-25

IV. The Whole of the Good News Drawn from Its Source 26-34

V. Everybody Needs To Be Catechized 35-45

VI. Some Ways and Means of Catechesis 46-50

VII. How To Impart Catechesis 51-55

VIII. The Joy of Faith in a Troubled World 56-61

IX. The Task Concerns Us All 62-71

Conclusion 72-73


AAS 71-10-16 (1979):1278-1340
St. Paul Editions
This source: L'Osservatore Romano, English Edition

© This material has been compiled by M. Jean Frisk.
Copyright is reserved for The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute.
Most recently updated in 2005.

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