Pope Francis formally established the new lay ministry of catechist in the Catholic Church in an apostolic letter released on Tuesday, May 11.
The letter titled “Antiquum ministerium (Ancient ministry)” emphasized that the new lay ministry necessitates “even more the missionary commitment proper to every baptized person.”
The pope described it as “a commitment that must however be carried out in a fully ‘secular’ manner, avoiding any form of clericalization.”
The Vatican released the papal letter in eight languages, including the Italian sign language. It was issued “motu proprio” on May 10, feast of St. John of Avila.
In his letter, the pope stressed the need to recognize “lay men and women who feel called by virtue of their baptism to cooperate in the work of catechesis” in the contemporary world.
He also cited the importance of “genuine interaction with young people” and “the need for creative methodologies and resources” capable of adapting the proclamation of the Gospel in the present day.
In his letter, the pope recalled the role of catechists in Church history, beginning with the Letter to the Corinthians, which refers to “teachers” within the early Christian community.
“Fidelity to the past and responsibility for the present are necessary conditions for the Church to carry out her mission in the world,” said Pope Francis in “Antiquum ministerium.”
He said the history of evangelization “clearly shows the effectiveness of the mission of catechists,” who have “devoted their lives to catechetical instruction so that the faith might be an effective support for the life of every human being.”
Since the Second Vatican Council, there has been a growing awareness of the role of catechists and its importance for “the development of the Christian community.”
“In our own day too, many competent and dedicated catechists … carry out a mission invaluable for the transmission and growth of the faith,” said Pope Francis.
He cited the “long line of blesseds, saints, and martyrs who were catechists” and who “significantly advanced the Church’s mission.”
The pope urged bishops and priests to support catechists and enrich the life of the Christian community “through the recognition of lay ministries capable of contributing to the transformation of society through the ‘penetration of Christian values into the social, political and economic sectors.’”
Pope Francis said catechists “must be a witness to the faith, a teacher and mystagogue, a companion and pedagogue, who teaches for the Church.”
He said they are are “called first to be expert in the pastoral service of transmitting the faith,” including in the preparation for the sacraments of Christian initiation and the process of ongoing formation.
Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has always emphasized the role of the laity.
In January, he issued “motu proprio” the document “Spiritus Domini,” changing canon law to allow women to serve as lectors and acolytes.
The Vatican said the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments of the Holy See will soon publish a “Rite of Institution” of the new lay ministry of catechist.
“This ministry has a definite vocational aspect, as evidenced by the Rite of Institution, and consequently calls for due discernment on the part of the bishop,” said Pope Francis.
The pope said that bishops’ conferences should decide the “necessary process of formation and the normative criteria for admission” to the new ministry.