The Catechesis in Preaching Research Initiative

A Turn toward Catechesis in Preaching – the new USCCB document, Preaching the Mystery of Faith: the Sunday Homily

The U.S. Catholic bishops have published a new document on preaching, Preaching the Mystery of Faith: the Sunday Homily (January, 2013). The focus of the document is this: the heart of Sunday preaching is to foster an encounter with God. Former Pope Benedict stated in his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (#46), “Given the importance of the word of God, the quality of homilies needs to be improved.” This new writing signals a tipping point: the American bishops recognize that preaching matters and that we need help.

What does this mean for catechetical leaders?

Catechesis means to echo the gospel: in John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae (#5), the core of catechesis is to put “people… in communion… with Jesus Christ.” The homily builds upon this foundation of echoing: “The homily takes up again the journey of faith put forward by catechesis, and brings it to its natural fulfillment” (CT #48). Sunday preaching and catechesis therefore need to work together for the transmission of the Christian faith. Ideally, preachers and catechists also work together.

Looking for data upon which to build effective catechetical preaching

The new USCCB document advocates for a greater emphasis on catechesis in preaching.  As we begin to implement this teaching, we have to clarify: what is catechetical preaching?  Parallel to the fifty-year catechetical effort that has asked, “What does effective catechesis look like?” will be the upcoming homiletical effort to envision, “What should effective catechetical preaching look like?” Both at the national level and in the parish, catechetical leaders need to be a part of this conversation.

As a result, our organization has collaborated with the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership (NCCL) in the Catechesis in Preaching Research Initiative. It began with a preliminary paper survey and focus groups at the annual NCCL conference in Cleveland, in May of 2013. Following the conference, the survey was made available to the NCCL membership online. The voice of catechetical experience is invaluable as a source of input at this dawn of catechetical preaching. Many of the results of this survey inform the book Connecting Pulpit and Pew: Breaking Open the Conversation about Catholic Preaching by Karla Bellinger.

Other sources on the relationship between catechesis and preaching: