The publication of the rite to institute lay catechists, a ministry created in May 2021, is accompanied by additional clarifications regarding the contours of the new ministry.
Having created the lay ministry of catechist on May 10, 2021, Rome has now published—on December 13—a rite for the institution of this ministry. The ministry will go into effect January 1, 2022. A letter accompanying the decree specifies the profile and functions of the future catechists, who will be able to perform minor exorcisms, among other functions. “Not all those currently called ‘catechists’ will have to be instituted,” explains Archbishop Arthur Roche, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Pope Francis’ prayer intention for the month of December is catechists. In explaining that intention through the Pope Video, the Holy Father notes how “in many dioceses, on many continents, evangelization is fundamentally in the hands of a catechist.” This is true especially in regions of poverty, persecution, or complicated geographical situations, such as, for example the Amazon.
In the Motu proprio “Antiquum ministerium” – “Ancient ministry” in Latin – Pope Francis had asked the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to see to it that a “rite of institution of the lay ministry of catechist” was published “as soon as possible.” This has been done with the distribution of an “Editio typica,” an official Latin text that the episcopal conferences of the world will adapt and translate.
The ministry of catechist is to be conferred by the diocesan bishop, or by a priest delegated by him, during Mass or at a Celebration of the Word of God. The structure of the rite provides—after the liturgy of the Word—for an exhortation, an invitation to prayer, a text of blessing, and the presentation of a crucifix.
In a letter attached to the decree, the prefect of the Congregation, Archbishop Roche, makes it clear that it is up to the diocesan bishop to discern the call to the ministry of catechist by evaluating the needs of the community and the abilities of the candidates. Men and women who have received the sacraments of Christian initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist) and who have presented a freely written and signed request to the diocesan bishop may be admitted as candidates.
A ministry distinct from the ordained ministry
This ministry, which may be regulated in terms of “duration, content, and modalities,” is lay. It is therefore “essentially distinct from ordained ministry,” the prefect specifies, since the catechist must exercise his or her role in “collaboration with and under the direction of ordained ministers.”
Moreover, “not all those who prepare children, youth, and adults for initiation should be instituted as catechists,” the document says.
To be instituted, candidates “must have had previous experience in catechesis,” recalling the requirements already set forth in the Motu Proprio of May 10. They should have a deep faith, a human maturity and a true apostolic enthusiasm.
Catechists may perform minor exorcisms
The letter places particular emphasis on the active participation of instituted catechists “in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults,” that is the rite by which youth and adults join the Church. Moreover, Bishop Roche’s document explains that “truly worthy and well-prepared catechists” may be entrusted by the bishop with the celebration of minor exorcisms.
During the catechumenate—the period during which an adult who wishes to become a Christian is instructed and prepared to receive the sacraments of initiation—minor exorcisms are performed to free the catechumen from various manifestations of evil and to make him or her available to the word of God. From now on, a lay catechist who is particularly involved in accompanying catechumens could be entrusted with the celebration of these exorcisms.
The catechist is not a substitute for a priest
But the mission of the instituted catechist will not be limited to proclamation and teaching. Under the guidance of pastors, they will be able to fulfill many functions. For example, they may lead community prayer, “especially the Sunday liturgy in the absence of the priest or deacon,” or lead funeral celebrations.This stipulation points to the reality that in some areas of the world, the faithful can go any number of weeks or longer without the availability of an ordained minister.
Bishop Roche warns that “this breadth and variety of functions should not come as a surprise” because they fully embody the consequences of baptism. Thus, it becomes necessary to “form the community so that it does not see in the catechist a substitute for the priest” but “a faithful lay person who lives his baptism in a fruitful cooperation and co-responsibility with the ordained ministers, so that their pastoral work can reach everyone.”