Pope John Paul II on the family’s role in catechesis

The following is from Pope John Paul II’s 1979 Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae.

68. The family’s catechetical activity has a special character, which is in a sense irreplaceable. This special character has been rightly stressed by the Church, particularly by the Second Vatican Council (118). Education in the faith by parents, which should begin from the children’s tenderest age (119), is already being given when the members of a family help each other to grow in faith through the witness of their Christian lives, a witness that is often without words but which perseveres throughout a day-to-day life lived in accordance with the Gospel. This catechesis is more incisive when, in the course of family events (such as the reception of the sacraments, the celebration of great liturgical feasts, the birth of a child, a bereavement) care is taken to explain in the home the Christian or religious content of these events. But that is not enough: Christian parents must strive to follow and repeat, within the setting of family life, the more methodical teaching received elsewhere. The fact that these truths about the main questions of faith and Christian living are thus repeated within a family setting impregnated with love and respect will often make it possible to influence the children in a decisive way for life. The parents themselves profit from the effort that this demands of them, for in a catechetical dialogue of this sort each individual both receives and gives.



Family catechesis therefore precedes, accompanies and enriches all other forms of catechesis. Furthermore, in places where anti-religious legislation endeavors even to prevent education in the faith, and in places where widespread unbelief or invasive secularism makes real religious growth practically impossible, “the church of the home” (120) remains the one place where children and young people can receive an authentic catechesis. Thus there cannot be too great an effort on the part of Christian parents to prepare for this ministry of being their own children’s catechists and to carry it out with tireless zeal. Encouragement must also be given to the individuals or institutions that, through person-to-person contacts, through meetings, and through all kinds of pedagogical means, help parents to perform their task: The service they are doing to catechesis is beyond price.

Pope St John Paul II reminds us that while a good a holy life is a form of catechesis, parents must go beyond that. He exhorts parents to explain the importance of Catholic life events as well. But even more than that, the holy father says parents should repeat the “methodical teaching” which children receive from religious classes.

This is useful advice to follow. In Singapore, it is not unheard of that parents sit down with their children in spite of a long, tiring day, to go through with their children what they’ve learnt in school. This is a good example of a parent’s care and desire for the child to do well. The same can (and should) be done with matters of our faith, since their faith will guide the children’s life. Pope John Paul II recognises that this is a demanding task, but he also rightfully points out that parents will also benefit from this.

Think about the matters of your Catholic faith that you don’t quite understand. Have you put in effort to find the Church’s teachings on the particular subject? If not, this is the time to learn and grow. While many children are baptised in your faith, children should not be in the Church for your sake when they grow up; they should remain in the faith because they believe that the Catholic faith is true. That seed is nurtured when they start learning the “reason for the hope” they have (cf 1 Peter 3:15).



118. Since the High Middle Ages, provincial councils have insisted on the responsibility of parents in regard to education in the faith: cf. Sixth Council of Arles (813), Canon 19, Council of Mainz (813), Canons 45, 47; Sixth Council of Paris (829), Book 1, Chapter 7: Mansi, Sacrorum Conciliorum Nova et Amplissima Collectio, XIV, 62, 74, 542. Among the more recent documents of the Magisterium, note the Encyclical Divini illius Magistri of Pius XI December 31, 1929: AAS 22 (1930), pp. 49-86; the many discourses and messages of Pius XII; and above all the texts of the Second Vatican Council: the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 11, 35: AAS 57 (l965), pp. 15, 40; the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity Apostolicam Actuositatem, 11, 30: AAS 58(l966), pp. 847, 860; the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, n. 52: AAS 58 (l966) p. 1073; and especially the Declaration on Christian Education Gravissimum Educationis, 3: AAS 58 (1966), p. 731.

119. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Declaration on Christian Education Gravissimum Educationis, 3: AAS 58 (1966), p. 731.

120. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 11: AAS 57 (1965), p. 16; cf. Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity Apostolicam Actuositatem, 11: AAS 58 (1966), p. 848.

Archdiocesan Commission for the Family

Archdiocesan Commission for the Family