The Holy Father Pope Francis, issued an apostolic letter on the lay ministry of catechists (Antiquum Ministerium) in the Catholic Church on 11 May 2021. The Pope gives strong recognition to “lay men and women who feel called by virtue of their baptism, to cooperate in the work of catechesis.” He also encourages every baptised lay person to be involved in the work of evangelisation, and to carry out the mission of the Church in the World.
With the many different gifts and forms of ministry, the early Christian Community was obedient to the work of the Holy Spirit, and they devoted their lives in building up the Church. For centuries, we have had many baptised lay men and women, who exercised and witnessed their faith in Christ, now become saints and martyrs of the Church. The Holy Father added that “many competent and dedicated catechists are community leaders in various parts of the world, and carry out a mission invaluable for the transmission and growth of the faith.”
In parts of the world where there is a shortage or absence of priests, the involvement of lay men and women are very much encouraged. The lay people are urgently required and they are most needed in the various ministries of the Church, and in society as well. Today, the Church needs to recognise and appreciate the lay ministry of catechists and their involvement in the life of the church and society in large.
When we read this apostolic letter, the words lay ministry of catechists is referred to all baptised lay men and women, faith formators and lay leaders of the Church. Thus, the future of our Church is in the hands of the ministry of catechists, which includes parents, grandparents, catechism teachers and lay leaders from various ministries. As we reflect on the institution of ministry of catechists, we are grateful first to our own parents and grandparents. They are the first catechists who passed on their faith, and even sacrificed their lives for us to grow in our Christian values.
The Church is always on mission in the world. Besides priests, our catechists have a big role to play in building up our Church. The lay ministry of catechists is invited to take part in the mission of the Church, in order to strengthen our Christian communities – both within and outside of the Church. Every baptised lay person has been bestowed various gifts of the Holy Spirit and charism for the “pastoral service of transmitting faith” and “for the growth of our communities.” Therefore, every Catechist should have obtained certain religious instructions or formations so that they may be able to assist both baptised and non-baptised individuals for various sacraments, conduct prayers, other forms of works of charity and to help one another to grow in Christian life.
We have just celebrated the feast of the Ascension and in a week we will celebrate Pentecost. This apostolic letter comes at the right time – reminding us that “You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come on you, and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1: 8) and “go into the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation,” (MK 16: 15). Hence, every lay ministry of catechist is commissioned once again to go forth and proclaim the good news of life, love, hope and peace to one another.
On 9 May 2021, the Holy Father Pope Francis, canonised a first lay catechist from India, Saint Lazarus Devasahayam Pillai (1712). Let his martyrdom and his faith gives us great inspiration to be rooted in our lay vocation, and to grow in our leadership. Let’s renew our commitment to be true disciples of Christ wherever we go, beginning with our family and in our parish community.
Rev. Fr. George Packiasamy