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Experiential catechesis (letter)

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 Contents - Apr 2003AD2000 April 2003 - Buy a copy now
Editorial: Good news on the liturgy - Peter Westmore
Dr Claudio Betti's inspiring visit to Australia - Peter Westmore
News: The Church Around the World
Documents: Church must be outspoken on moral issues: Australian Senator - Senator John Hogg
Documents: Archbishop Hickey on Catholics in politics - Archbishop Barry Hickey
Archbishop Hickey's pastoral letter on marriage - Archbishop Barry Hickey
Ecumenism: Christian unity: major obstacles still remain - David Schutz
Film Review: Why 'Gangs of New York' misses the boat as history - William J. Stern
Education: Chavagnes International Catholic college update - Br John Moylan
Our Lady of Peace: one American parish's successful formula - Arthur J. Brew
Letters: Authentic teaching (letter) - Aaron Wright
Letters: Vatican II (letter) - Denis O'Leary
Letters: Shooting the messenger - Alan Gill
Letters: Experiential catechesis (letter) - Fr. G.H. Duggan SM
Priestly Fraternity of St Peter - Holy Week 2003
Letters: Infallible? (letter) - Fr John Crothers PP
Letters: Life Walk (letter) - Brian Harris
Letters: Priorities (letter) - Jeanette Joseph
Letters: Stem cell research (letter) - W. Kline
Letters: Catholic hospitals? (letter) - Tom King
Letters: TV report (letter) - Kevin J. Kerr
Letters: Novena (letter) - Robert Anderson
Books: Newman, by Avery Dulles SJ - Peter Westmore (reviewer)
Books: The First Grace, by Russell Hittinger - Peter Westmore (reviewer)
Books: Marian Apparitions, The Bible, And The Modern World - Michael Gilchrist (reviewer)
Books: A Seat At The Supper, by Frank Colyer - Mark Posa (reviewer)
Books: A Long Way From Rome, edited by Chris McGillion - John Barich (reviewer)
Books: Our books are the cheapest!
Reflection: The road to Emmaus: coming to terms with the hard reality of loss - Fr Dennis Byrnes PP

From the beginning of the Church until the 1960s, catechesis was doctrinal (in Greek, didache). It was the communication of a body of truths revealed by God and entrusted to his Church as a sacred treasure to be defended and expounded with authority, the key to happiness for the individual and humanity as a whole, in this world and in the next.

In the 1960s, this was in many places abandoned, and a new kind of catechesis called "experiential" took its place. The starting point in this system is no longer the body of revealed truth entrusted to the Church, but the religious practice of the Christian community. The pupil learns the content of the Christian faith by participating in this experience.

It is an application to religious education of the sceptical pragmatism of John Dewey, whose approach was summed up in the phrase, "they learn by doing". In ordinary education, this system is doomed to failure, for the amount of knowledge that can be acquired in this way is only a small fraction of the subject matter which one has to make one's own.

We have to learn by learning, that is, by the assiduous study that will alone enable us to grasp the content of the lecture notes or the textbook dealing with the subject in question, whether it be geology or Roman history, or the teaching of the Church. For this last, Cardinal Newman used to urge prospective converts to make a careful study of the Penny Catechism.

The new experiential catechesis has produced several generations of religious ignoramuses. It is not likely that Thomas Groome's catechesis, "by means of shared Christian praxis", will be any more successful.

Upper Hutt, New Zealand

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Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 16 No 3 (April 2003), p. 14

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