Liturgical Catechesis: An Overview
April 25, 2007
Liturgical catechesis is a multifarious term with a variety of meanings. Many people often think Lectionary-based and liturgical catechesis are synonymous terms. Although related, they are nonetheless distinct. Lectionary-based catechesis is based solely on the Scriptures of the Sunday liturgy. The entire enterprise is reduced to just one of its parts.
Liturgical catechesis includes Lectionary-based catechesis, but it is a much broader concept. Liturgical catechesis prepares people to encounter fully the sacramental mysteries inherent in the liturgy, readying them for full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy. Liturgical catechesis similarly invites reflection on the experience of those inherent mysteries. Liturgical catechesis might be more aptly described as mystagogy -- reflection on the "sacred mysteries." Such reflection leads the ones who reflect into a deeper understanding of the sacramental mysteries and helps them appropriate meaning for their lives. It is conversion-centered catechesis.
The Church reminds us that liturgy forms and transforms the people of God; it is the privileged place for catechizing the faithful. "Catechesis is intrinsically linked with the whole of liturgical and sacramental activity, for it is in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, that Christ Jesus works in fullness for the transformation of men." Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) 1074. Liturgical catechesis seeks to facilitate this transformation and conversion.
The source of liturgical catechesis is foremost the liturgical year, followed by the liturgy -- the Scriptures, the ritual gestures and prayers, and the symbols and sacraments. The major tenets of the Catholic tradition flow from these same sources. The principle lex orandi, lex credendi reminds us that the rule of prayer constitutes the rule of belief. In other words, the primary doctrines and major teachings of the Church are celebrated, set forth and proclaimed in one complete liturgical cycle. Within the Church's liturgical cycle the entire mystery of Christ unfolds, "from his incarnation and birth until his ascension, the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of blessed hope and of the Lord's return." Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 102. Liturgical catechesis explores the doctrines in light of their liturgical context -- that which is expressed in the liturgy and liturgical year.
In addition to reflection on the Sunday Scriptures and doctrine flowing from the liturgy, liturgical catechesis also invites reflection on the symbols and symbolic actions of the liturgy and sacraments. The nine dominant symbols of Christian faith faith express and embody Catholic identity. They invite ongoing, lasting conversion in the lives of those who enter into their reality. Symbols express and embody what it means to be Christian, what it means to be Catholic.
Symbols remind the baptized that they are a people who gather in the name of Christ [COMMUNITY]; who are formed and participate in the redemption of the cross [CROSS]; who live their lives patterned after the Gospel [WORD]; who celebrate the healing touch of God [LAYING ON OF HANDS]; who continue to be immersed, reborn and renewed in the waters of death and resurrection [WATER]; who are anointed and transformed with the oil of gladness and the Holy Spirit [OIL]; who put on Christ and don the robe of righteousness through baptism [GARMENT]; and who feast on the Bread of Life and the Life Blood of our Lord and Savior [BREAD and WINE]. Sacramental symbols give meaning to people's lives and invite them deeply into the mystery of Christ's death and resurrection.
Liturgical catechesis uncovers the mysteries within those symbols and invites conversion and renewed discipleship as a result of the encounter with them and mystagogical reflection upon them. Ultimately, liturgical catechesis provides the fertile ground for people to make appropriate decisions to live the biblical imperatives of justice and the moral life.
Mary Birmingham is the Director of Liturgy & Music at Ascension Catholic Community in Melbourne, Florida. She is the author of Word & Worship Workbook: For Year A : For Ministry in Initiation, Preaching, Religious Education and Formation (Paulist Press, 1999; ISBN 10: 0809138263; ISBN 13: 978-0809138265), Word and Worship Workbook for Year B: For Ministry in Initiation, Preaching, Religious Education and Formation (Paulist Press, 1999; ISBN 10: 0809138980; ISBN 13: 978-0809138982), and Word & Worship Workbook for Year C: For Ministry in Initiation, Preaching, Religious Education and Formation (Paulist Press, 1997; ISBN 10: 080913747X; ISBN 13: 978-0809137473); and Year - Round Catechumenate (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2001) ISBN 10: 156854412X; ISBN 13: 978-1568544120.