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July 17, 2012

A reader asked me to explain canon 776.  It was good for me to re-read this canon, as a departing pastor, because it confirms something that I have sought to do for the last seven years.  Here is the text of the canon:

Can. 776 By virtue of his function, a pastor is bound to take care of the catechetical formation of adults, youth, and children, to which purpose he is to use the help of the clerics attached to the parish, of members of institutes of consecrated life and of societies of apostolic life, taking into account the character of each institute, and of lay members of the Christian faithful, especially of catechists. None of these are to refuse to offer their help willingly unless they are legitimately impeded. The pastor is to promote and foster the function of parents in the family catechesis mentioned in can. 774, §2.

Can. 774 §1. Under the direction of legitimate ecclesiastical authority, solicitude for catechesis belongs to all members of the Church according to each one’s role.

§2. Parents above others are obliged to form their children by word and example in faith and in the practice of Christian life; sponsors and those who take the place of parents are bound by an equal obligation.

Specifically, the reader wished to know what is meant by the obligation of members of the Church being obliged to assist with catechesis unless they are legitimately impeded.  It’s a very interesting question.  As we see from canon 774, part of catechesis is simply the way we live and speak.  Obviously, every member of Christ’s faithful is obliged to live a life worthy of their calling.  This canon is pointing out that the pastor, specifically, must ensure that the souls entrusted to him receive formation in the faith.  Obviously he cannot do that alone: he needs help.  The canon points out that parochial vicars, religious, and lay people may all be called upon to assist the pastor in this important work.  The are to do so willingly.  It would be a rough life for a pastor is one of the priests assigned to his parish refused to prepare children for their first Holy Communion, for example.  In this day of priest shortages, there is a greater onus on the lay faithful to take up their rightful role in catechesis.  Therefore, if the pastor asks you to help, then please help!  How could one be legitimately impeded?  All sorts of ways.  A religious sister who teaches full-time in a Catholic school, might not have extra time to take on catechism classes for the pastor: she has other obligations with her community.  A father of several children, might not be free on Thursday evenings to assist with RCIA.  I don’t think the canon is suggesting that the pastor has the right to compel the lay faithful to do his bidding in this regard; rather, it is suggesting that everyone should see it as a duty to help in catechesis and the spreading of the faith.  That’s off the top of my head.  There are probably many more important nuances.  Unfortunately, all my canon law books are packed in boxes right now.


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