The Work of Catechesis for Priests and Deacons

Foreword by Rev. John P. Cush: “HPR Ressourcement, Part II”

As you, as our faithful reader (or even new reader!) might know, this journal, now known as Homiletic and Pastoral Review, was founded over 123 years ago. When I think about the priests who have had the honor of serving as editor of HPR, I know my limitations! For 123 years and counting, HPR has tried, to the best of our abilities, to explicate the truth that is Our Lord Jesus.

The name of our beloved journal, then in print form only up until 2011 (and since then online exclusively at was The Homiletic Monthly & Catechist. This was our title until 1919, at which time the name was changed to what it is today (HPR).

In reviewing our almost 125 years history at HPR, I am amazed about the fact that, as much as things change, the more they stay the same. My predecessor here at Saint Joseph’s Seminary, Msgr. William Brady (a diocesan priest of New York and a professor of dogmatic theology in Dunwoodie, New York), HPR’s founding editor, thought it important that this journal, dedicated to the formation, education, and edification of priests, might need a special section of the magazine dedicated to preaching and theology, might have a special section dedicated to catechesis.

Now, we arrive 123 years later. The current editor is a diocesan priest (of Brooklyn) assigned to serve as professor of dogmatic theology at Saint Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie! As I mentioned in part one of this article, I feel that I must return to our roots so that HPR can remain a relevant factor in the lives of bishops, priests, deacons, and dedicated lay faithful who are praying, ministering, and who have an apostolate, both active and contemplative, in our Mother, the Catholic Church, both Latin and Eastern.

In returning to our roots, as per why we were founded in 1900, my editorial staff (Sister Mary Micaela Hoffmann, RSM, S.E. Greydanus, and Christopher Siuzdak, JCL) have decided that several features that were formally featured in HPR might be revived. Among these features would be “Bishops’ Corner,” where a Prelate can speak to his brother priests (and others) concerning certain issues and a more active “Comments” section, which would take the place of our “Letters to the Editor.” As in all things, in this section, I ask that you exercise charity and prudence. I am very grateful to the Bishops who have already contributed to the “Bishops’ Corner,” like Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Bishop John O. Barres, and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.

In addition, I am so pleased with our homilists, many of whom are my former seminarians whom I had for priestly formation at the Pontifical North American College, continue to edify us all with their Sunday and Solemnity homilies. Our articles, I believe, remain top-notch, most certainly due to the careful vetting, both theologically and editorially, by Sister M. Micaela, RSM, and S.E. Greydanus. Certainly, our book reviews are top-notch! We at HPR review some fine texts which, hopefully, can be at the service of those in active ministries and apostolates, as well as those in a contemplative state of life (for the contemplatives who read HPR, humbly, thank you and please pray for us!) Christopher Siuzdak, JCL, is an exemplary editor, and his choices of book reviews make me want to examine even more texts!

With all of this being said, please allow me to return to HPR’s original name: The Homiletic Monthly & Catechist. What do I believe that is most missing today from our homilies, our thought, our pastoral practice as clerics and laity? May I please suggest that it is good catechesis! The diocesan bishop is the chief catechist of his diocese. I am so pleased when I see diocesan bishops issue pastoral letters on aspects of the faith and life which the Catholic faithful need to hear. The parish priest, the pastor, is the chief catechist of his flock, after the diocesan bishop. This extends to those to whom in priestly ministry and in lay apostolate the parish priest, the pastor, wishes to extend his ministry.

In light of this current situation of life, isn’t the same necessity paramount today that Monsignor Brady here at Dunwoodie, all those years ago, recognized, namely the reality that we as priests and deacons need to recognize our ordained ministry as catechist? It is for this reason that asked Mr. Ted Musco, a master catechist, to become a semi-regular contributor to HPR.  Ted is one of the best catechists and religious educators whom I know. He loves the Lord Jesus and the Church and I am proud to present Mr. Musco’s ideas to you here in the revival of the Catechist’s Corner. Ted Musco can teach us priests, deacons, and laity so much. I am grateful for Ted’s contribution and for his help with HPR Ressourcement. I look forward to many more articles, specifically on the role of catechesis in the ministry of the Church.

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“The Work of Catechesis for Priests and Deacons” by Dr. Theodore Musco

The work of catechesis, that is the passing on of Faith, is every baptized Catholic’s responsibility and duty. Stated clearly in the third Directory of Catechesis (2020) #75, “At the center of every process of catechesis is the living encounter with Christ.”

We acknowledge that the three generally accepted roles of the priest are to teach, to sanctify, and to govern. All priests, who serve the people of God in many and varied ways often depending on local circumstances, have a special part to play in “echoing God’s WORD.” Deacons most certainly have a particular role to play as ministers of the Word and Sacraments. As ministers of the Word of God, they preach and teach in the name of the Church. Both the priest and the deacon are closely connected to the work of catechesis, in many situations assisted or even mentored by trained and well-formed laity, men and women who have taken up the mission of passing on the Catholic Faith by baptismal demand.

In the Papal Apostolic Letter issued “Motu Proprio” by the Supreme Pontiff Francis, “Antiquum Ministerium” “Instituting the Ministry of Catechist,” we read, “Without prejudice to the Bishop’s mission as the primary catechist in his Diocese, one which he shares with his presbyterate, or to the particular responsibility of parents for the Christian formation of their children (cf. CIC can. 774 §2; CCEO can. 618), recognition should be given to those lay men and women who feel called by virtue of their baptism to cooperate in the work of catechesis (cf. CIC can. 225; CCEO cans. 401 and 406). My experience of over 42 years of ministry, especially in the catechetical world, has led me to understand that the work of catechesis must necessarily be shared by the clergy, the parish and regional laity, and the family, to one degree or another. One significant challenge is to have all groups work together in significant and meaningful ways to achieve the goals of this most important mission. Catechesis is often described as the echoing of God’s WORD, which can be done in many and varied ways. Let me say now that success or failure does not rest with any one group, but success should rest when all collaborate for the good and love of all. We have all been called to be missionary disciples and eventually even apostles. This can be achieved through hard work and dedication to one’s vocation.

In the Directory for Catechesis, we read, “Catechesis has the task of making the heart of every Christian resound with the call to live a new life in keeping with the dignity of children of God received in Baptism and with the life of the Risen One that is communicated through the sacraments” (#83). Catechesis is not only an academic exercise but also a formational one. Although knowing one’s faith is critical, a relationship with Christ and his Church cannot be considered any less important. Parishes and Catholic schools might claim that they have done well educating children and teens in the basics of the Faith, although we might be concerned that education was not long lasting or complete in many ways. Since Vatican II, textbook companies and other institutions have worked diligently to produce materials that help catechists teach the Faith. Often, we hear the debate over whether Religion in a Catholic school setting should be graded like other subject areas. This debate has been going on since at least the 1980s. We can address this issue in more detail at another time. While the intellectual portion of catechesis is important, it’s not the only piece. Forming a relationship with Christ and His Church is essential to the catechetical process that must be a focus today.

The pendulum as it relates to catechesis often swings from one direction to another. Remember the Baltimore Catechism, and, in fact, even recent attempts to duplicate it in one way or another. Though some people lament the fact that people today know very little academically about the Catholic faith, one might argue that knowing the Faith and living the Faith are two different things. I believe we need to both know the Faith and live/relate to the Faith. One must be formed and educated in the Faith to be Catholic, fully alive, and well. Recently, in some areas of the Church, more emphasis has been given to the passing on of our Faith in a way that is relational and touches the heart as well as the mind. Clearly, the recent national and universal documents related to catechesis, education, family life, etc. all have an evangelization umbrella of sorts. While not ignoring the intellectual (academic) part of the formational process, we look to the three other foundations as well: human, spiritual, and pastoral. These four formational foundations are part of every ecclesial formation process, including the priestly and diaconal formation. They are essential in the formation of all people, no matter the age or the circumstance. Emphasizing one over the other has no valuable consequences.

Recently, in early August 2023, Pope Francis arrived in Lisbon, Portugal to celebrate World Youth Day 2023. Speaking to crowds from throughout the world, Pope Francis encouraged the young and not so young to RISE UP, a new catechetical method which challenges the youth to reflect on major themes such as the ecology, friendship, mercy, social concerns, and vocations. How do we as catechists help young people discuss these issues while making a connection to God and His Church? For most of us, this is a new method of catechesis which might be foreign to us but appealing to young people. Remember that it is hardly helpful to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” It is fair to say that things we have tried in the past might have been useful in that time and place, and some catechetical methods used in the past can remain, but we must have courage to try something that might appeal to our current audience. I was recently reminded that if things worked in the past, we would have very little to worry about now.

A major challenge for the clergy and laity, including the domestic or “home” Church, is to make faith formation more relational, that is attempting to reach not only the mind of those disciples in our classroom, whether they be in person or online, but also their heart. At the World Youth Day that concluded not that long ago, one could notice even on the television accounts that the young people and their chaperones gathered in Lisbon responded well to all the experiences presented to them and the tremendous crowd gathered with them. The music, venue, messages, liturgies, and community spirit brought about a transformation in the hearts and minds of those who witnessed the gifts of the Holy Spirit alive and well. For most, I dare say, their heart was touched and transformed.

At almost every level, from the universal Church to the family and everyone in between, for most this has been a struggle. For so long and for so many, the classroom situation has been the model for religious education at almost every level; very young, young, middle-school, high school, young adults, adults, older adults, etc. There have been attempts by many to make learning fun and exciting, to a greater or lesser extent. Almost certainly you have attended where the presenter claimed to have found the best way forward. The result in practicality was that it may have worked for him or her in a particular situation. I have used very often the popular phase, “One size does not fit all.” This is certainly the case when it comes to faith formation. I might add, as well, this was not since we did not try our best to meet the needs of those in our various settings, home, classroom, church, etc.

In a recent document from the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life dealing with the Marriage Catechumenate, Pope Francis calls for many options to be offered to couples as they prepare for their marriage. The Holy Father recognizes the importance of the needs each person has as he/she enters the marriage process. I mention this because too often this is not considered when forming and educating other individuals from young children through those older adults. One size never fits all.

Here in my own Archdiocese of New York, where I serve as Director of the Office of Family Life, we have been attempting for nearly a year now to see how we can first form and then implement a Marriage Catechumenate. My experience with those in Pre-Cana sessions has been very interesting when it comes to catechetical preparation. They often indicate that they want a Catholic wedding and, in fact, a Catholic marriage, but the reasons they have are not very clear to me or to them. Clearly, when they have been influenced by someone to learn more about their faith and continue to develop a stronger relationship with Christ and His Church, they seem better prepared to further their catechetical and liturgical experiences and enter the Sacrament of Matrimony. What can we do to spark that interest and enthusiasm not only in the few months (if we are lucky) leading up to the wedding, but more importantly perhaps in all the years leading up to it and all the years following it? That is why we are called to consider and implement this Marriage Catechumenate. There will be more about this later.

Again in the Directory for Catechesis, we gain greater insight into the sense of belonging and relationship. Catechesis, in reference to preparation for community life, therefore has the task of developing the sense of belonging to the Church; teaching the sense of ecclesial communion, promoting the acceptance of the Magisterium, communion with pastors, fraternal dialogue; forming believers in the sense of ecclesial co-responsibility, contributing as active participants to building up the community and as missionary disciples to its growth” (#89). Evangelization and catechesis are often seen as things “to do,” activities, programs, processes need to achieve something. Perhaps we should ask, how does the work of evangelization and catechesis touch the heart of the faithful?

Very often, the tendency is to concern ourselves with a certain program or process that will make more positive the experience of passing on the Faith. First ask yourself this question: “What makes me more interested in learning and experiencing more about God and His Church and how can I grow in my faith?” Then see how other people you know respond to that question as well. Note that we are dealing with people, not objects, so we must be concerned with exactly what we are trying to do: echo God’s WORD and share the Good News of Jesus Christ with all people.

The measurement of a “good” or “excellent” program of religious education often relates to the number of participants and the longevity of each participant in the program. One asks, do families come to the program, and do they stay? Does the program attract more people than the former program did? Do parents appear to be satisfied (and perhaps even the students)? While there is something to be said for all of this, I suggest that other questions are important as well. Has the student been “touched” by the Word of God? Have a well-developed prayer life and the reception of the Sacraments become a priority? Has the person experienced the joy of the Gospel? Has he/she encountered the Risen Lord and shared that encounter? Does he/she feel accompanied by others in the family and faith community?

I encourage you, as a priest or deacon, to reflect on some practical points listed below:

  1. Pray, reflect, and ask others to join you in this mission that is important to you and those you serve.
  2. Give attention to four basis foundations: prayer, formation, accompaniment, and advocacy.
  3. Observe the educational and formational needs of all groups in your parish, school, families, and community. Pay attention to the audience.
  4. Encourage all family members to participate in the work of catechesis. Everyone is part of God’s family.
  5. Share your relationship with God and accompany others on their journey.
  6. Commit to giving the catechetical ministry “at least one more chance,” especially as it seems that many people have apparently given up.
  7. Be willing to go deeper into your own personal formation and education in the Faith.
  8. Commit to responding positively to what is being done well.
  9. Remember that one size does not fit all.
  10. Recognize and confirm that there are limits to our work, but not to God’s work.
  11. Know that there is always MORE to do.
  12. Constantly seek others to join you in this mission of catechetics.

Keep in mind the complexity of this evolving ministry within the Church and resolve not to give up or lose hope. The joy that comes from proclaiming the Good News of Our Risen Lord comes from daily encountering Christ and accompanying others in this missionary field. We are called to be missionary disciples seeking to bring the Kingdom of God to those who are in need. This is a noble calling which is ours and the benefits cannot be underestimated.

Theodore Musco About Theodore Musco

Theodore J. Musco (Ted) is a lifelong Catholic involved in all aspects of parish, Catholic school, and (arch)diocesan life and ministry. Called to missionary discipleship, Ted is committed to seeking ways to help others encounter Christ and accompany them on their journey of faith. Finding joy in new and innovative methods to communicate the Good News of Jesus, Ted finds hope in the joy of the Gospel and the Eucharist and currently serves as the Director of the Office of Family Life in the Archdiocese of New York.


  1. Avatar P Thomas McGuire says:

    Your Chatechetical insights are most welcome. Much needed in contemporary homilies. The living encounter with Christ comes when we, bishops, priests, deacons, and laity, all echo God’s word in life. Without that encounter, so many words of evangelization become an abstract ideology called the Gospel. I look forward to reading your future articles.

    I will share this article in my meeting with the principal of our parish Catholic Elementary School.


  1. […] He loves the Lord Jesus and the Church and I am proud to present Mr. Musco’s ideas to you in the revival of the Catechist’s Corner. Ted Musco can teach us priests, deacons, and laity so much. I am grateful for Ted’s contribution […]