In an earlier post on what parishes in the Ordinariate might do to bring seekers into the fold, I recommended the Alpha Course.
Many Catholic parishes in Canada are now using the Alpha Course to re-evangelize cradle Catholics and to reach out to the unchurched. Some are meeting tremendous success with this approach, such as St. Benedict’s in Halifax. Fr. James Mallon, former pastor of St. Benedict’s wrote a book about St. Benedict’s parish renewal using Alpha called Divine Renovation.
The General Directory for Catechesis says, “It is the task of catechesis to show who Jesus Christ is, his life and ministry, and to present the Christian faith as the following of his personÖ. The fact that Jesus Christ is the fullness of Revelation is the foundation for the ëChristocentricityí of catechesis: the mystery of Christ, in the revealed message, is not another element alongside others, it is rather the center from which all other elements are structured and illumined.” GDC 41. If Alpha does anything well, it is this; and this is perhaps one of the reasons for its popularity. It is meant to introduce an inquirer to the person of Jesus Christ.
We can affirm as well Alphaís desire to include a number of elements that the Vatican 2 decree Ad Gentes saw as vital to evangelization: “Christian witness, dialogue and presence in charity (GDC 11-12),” and “the proclamation of the Gospel and the call to conversion (GDC 13).” Catholic Alpha acknowledges that from this must follow more detailed catechesis through the catechumenate and initiation into the Catholic community. The GDC speaks of “essential moments” in the process of evangelization, and we can affirm that an initial proclamation to non-believers and the unchurched is going to be distinct from the catechesis of those already introduced to Christ, and for which it lays the foundation. GDC 47
Primary proclamation (the responsibility of all Christians) implies “a going-out, a haste, a message,” while catechesis “starts with the condition indicated by Jesus himself: ëwhosoever believes,í whosoever converts, whosoever decides. Both activities are essential and mutually complementary: go and welcome, proclaim and educate, call and incorporate.” Alpha could be seen as an attempt to accomplish the first. But though primary proclamation and catechesis are distinct, we cannot rigidly separate them, and that is what Alpha seems to suggest by saying that “distinctives” must be left to a “supplementary” program. There must be some content, which provides the basis for the decision to follow Christ; thus the GDC speaks of a “kerygmatic catechesis” or a “pre-catechesis,” which paves the way for “a solid option of faith.” GDC 61-62. We are to have “a single program of evangelization which is both missionary and catechumenal.” GDC 277
The object of catechesis is communion with Jesus Christ. Again, we can affirm the central emphasis of Alpha. “ëThe definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch, but also in communion and intimacy, with Jesus Christ.í All evangelizing activity is understood as promoting communion with Jesus Christ. Starting with the ëinitialí conversion of a person to the Lord, catechesis seeks to solidify and mature this first adherence.” GDC 80
However, the GDC insists that his initiatory catechesis must be “a comprehensive and systematic formation in the faith.” We are to aim for “a ëcomplete Christian initiation,í which promotes an authentic following of Christ, focused on his Person.” It is “essential” and “common,” but not in the sense of being minimalist; for the GDC this means that we catechize “without entering into disputed questions nor transforming itself into a form of theological investigation.” GDC 67-68. “ÖCatechesis starts out with a simple proposition of the integral structure of the Christian message, and proceeds to explain it in a manner adapted to the capacity of those being catechized.” GDC 112. The guide to this structure is the Apostlesí Creed. GDC 115.
And the GDC rejects an individualistic piety, for “Communion with Jesus Christ, by its own dynamic, leads the disciple to unite himself with everything with which Jesus Christ himself was profoundly united: with God his Father, who sent him into the world, and with the Holy Spirit, who impelled his mission; with the Church, his body, for which he gave himself up, with mankind and with his brothers whose lot he wished to share.” GDC 81
The Church is thus not something that can be discussed as an afterthought to the Gospel message, but is the essential agent in the proclamation of the Gospel. “Catechesis is an essentially ecclesial act.” GDC 78. Christ founded the Church on the apostles, to whom he gave the Holy Spirit, sending them to preach the good news to the entire world. The Church through all ages bears the fullness of the divine Word, in Scripture and Tradition, guided by the Spirit speaking through the Magisterium. As the “universal sacrament of salvation,” the Church not only preaches the Gospel, but communicates Godís gifts in the sacraments. GDC 42-46.
All most interesting. Your thoughts?