Each year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops designates the third Sunday in September as Catechetical Sunday, an opportunity for catechists at the diocesan and parish levels throughout the United States to focus on lifelong faith formation. Since the theme for this year's event is, "Prayer: The Faith Prayed," parishes will focus on devoting themselves to prayer and the understanding of the practice.
In honor of this year's event, the USCCB has made an offering of resources available on its website for parish leaders to use to facilitate group prayer, along with a welcome message from Archbishop Leonard P. Blair, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis. These include free prayer cards, clip art and articles, as well as links to additional materials that are available for purchase.
"Catechetical Sunday, which is celebrated annually on the third Sunday of September in parishes across the United States, falls this year on the weekend of Sept. 18," said Archbishop Blair. "This year's theme invites all the baptized - especially catechists and Catholic schoolteachers - to devote themselves to a deeper study and practice of prayer, for their own spiritual good and the for the good of those they serve."
According to Mary Beth Coates, director of the diocesan Office of Lifelong Faith Formation, this unique opportunity for faith formation is a "moment that the USCCB has chosen, in the Church calendar, to kick off the catechetical year," although there is never a time when catechesis ends. The fact that the day coincides with the beginning of the academic year for Catholic schools is also an advantage for parishes.
"Not that there's ever a stop to our formation and learning our faith, but at the start of an academic year, sometimes, is a time where lots of people feel that things start new," she said. "The bishops choose a theme to try to help guide or direct the different activities during the year. Here in the diocese, we have done a number of different things, but more recently, we've been encouraging parishes to do things at a local level."
In the past, the diocese has had gatherings for parish catechetical leaders to recognize and call forth not only catechists and Catholic schoolteachers, but also parents, who are the first catechists of their children. In recognizing the importance of prayer, this year's event underscores the importance of both outward communal prayer, or strengthening and growing in faith as a community, and inner, personal prayer life.
Coates emphasized that both of these types of prayer are important, especially since although many of the people in a parish community will go to Sunday Mass each week and engage in communal prayer, one's individual prayer life may sometimes get lost in the shuffle. "Sometimes, in the busyness, (it) can get lost," she said. "The more we're reminded, as the adults, to model prayer life with young people, the better it is as we try to live our life as faith witnesses," she added. "Sometimes prayer is so private that nobody wants to be public about it, and what it is, is just a really important way that we can express our faith."
Additionally, there will be formal commissioning, blessings and prayers happening on this Sunday, in which parish leaders who will be religious education catechists, teachers, RCIA team members, adult faith formation volunteers and others will be recognized for their contributions to serving the catechetical mission of the Church, as well as the roles of parents in cultivating Catholicism in their children.
"The USCCB provides really nice resources, so you don't have to make things up, but people certainly can adapt things that fit their situation in their world," Coates also said. "That's a simple way, integrating a special blessing during that particular liturgy, related to the readings of the day. Other parishes are kicking off their faith formation year and having a picnic or after-Mass social, kind of an open house."
For more about Catechetical Sunday or for resources for parish leaders, visit the USCCB's website at www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/catechesis/catechetical-sunday.