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  • Catechesis and the Arts: Attending to the “Way of Beauty”
  • Jem Sullivan (bio)

The Directory for Catechesis presents fundamental theological-pastoral principles of the age-old ministry of catechesis while attending to current social conditions and cultural forces that shape the Church’s communication of the living mystery of God today.1 In a synthesis of perennial and novel elements the directory, divided into three parts across twelve chapters, emphasizes three accents of catechesis at the service of the new evangelization: witness, mercy and dialogue.2 Presented in dynamic continuity with the two catechetical directories that preceded it, namely the 1997 General Directory for Catechesis and the 1971 General Catechetical Directory, the Directory for Catechesis discusses the enduring nature, tasks, and agents of catechesis. At the same time, this catechetical document proposes several new directions, one of which is the “way of beauty” or via pulchritudinis in catechesis. In content and structure the new Directory for Catechesis draws particular inspiration from the synod on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith (2012) and Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium.3

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminds the Church that the “joyful, patient, and progressive preaching of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ must be your absolute priority.”4 The pope [End Page 143] encourages the Church to explore new paths in the essential task of evangelization, marked by the joy of the Gospel. By locating catechesis as a vital stage of maturation and growth in faith within the overarching process of evangelization, Pope Francis echoes the thought of Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and catechetical documents and directories since the Second Vatican Council.5

Furthermore, the pope highlights three areas of particular significance in catechesis that deserve attention today: first, the qualitative priority of the kerygma as the principal proclamation to be “announced one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment;”6 second, the mystagogic initiation of a person through “a progressive experience of formation involving the entire community and a renewed appreciation of the liturgical signs of Christian initiation”;7 and third, a formation in the “way of beauty,” the via pulchritudinis that “ought to be a part of our effort to pass on the faith.”8

“Every form of catechesis,” notes Pope Francis in regard to the third area, “would do well to attend to the ‘way of beauty’ . . . [since] proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow Him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties.”9

This call of Pope Francis, elaborated in the Directory for Catechesis, raises questions specific to catechesis: what is the “way of beauty” in catechetical ministry? If beauty is affirmed as a vital, even indispensable, [End Page 144] dimension of initiation and lifelong formation, what reasons may be given to support the integration of beauty in all forms of catechesis today? In other words, why should a catechist integrate into initiatory, instructional, or formational activities an epic poem by Dante, a Bach Cantata, a Gothic rose window, or the beauty of creation that offers “signals of transcendence,” in the phrase of the sociologist Peter Berger.10

While Pope Francis invites those engaged in catechetical ministry to attend to the “way of beauty,” reasons to compel this attention remain to be articulated. Taking his call as a starting point then, I will propose four reasons, drawn from theology, Christian anthropology, and Church history, to support renewed attention to the “way of beauty” in catechesis and its application in liturgical catechesis. Leaving aside classical and contemporary discussions in theology, liturgy, aesthetics, and art history on the nature and definition of beauty in its objective and subjective dimensions, this article will explore reasons for the integration of beauty conveyed in artistic forms in the evangelization and catechesis with families, children, youth, adults, the elderly, persons with disabilities, migrants, the poor, and those on the margins of society.

Without attempting to review, analyze or critically evaluate theological, philosophical, or art historical debates on the concept of beauty, the essay...


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pp. 143-167
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