Adolescent Catechesis

Adolescent Catechesis has several areas of consideration and merits serious discussion, discernment, and attention from all people who work with young people in the Church: parents, priests, directors of religious education, youth ministers, high school religion teachers, high school campus ministers, and diocesan directors of youth ministry. The Catholic Church has much to say about catechizing teenagers and it seems to always be a topic of discussion in national youth ministry gatherings. The General Directory for Catechesis (1997) encourages that catechesis to youth must be profoundly revitalized to adapt to the catechetical needs and sensibilities of young people (no. 181, 185). At the core of adolescent catechesis is having young people resonate with and reflect on the life of Jesus as a young person in the Gospels. It is in the Gospel message that youth will encounter Jesus directly and the place that he “calls them to an enterprise of personal and community growth, of decisive value for the fate of society and of the Church” (n. 183).  Therefore, adolescent catechesis should strive to be transformative in nature just as the Gospels.  


Adolescent catechesis specifically exposes young people to sacred moments and peak religious experiences that can help to transform them into young Christian disciples. Adolescent catechesis inspires and enlightens the hearts, minds, and attitudes of Catholic teenagers in order that they might become “on fire” for God and their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The term “catechesis” comes from the Greek verbkatechein, which means “to resound” or “to echo.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) states, “At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth . . . Catechesis aims at putting ‘people. . . in communion with Jesus Christ’” (n. 426). TheNational Directory for Catechesis (2005) comments, “Catechesis for adolescents should take into account their physical, social, and psychological conditions. Such catechesis should present Christ as: the Son of God, friend, guide, and model who can be not only admired, but also imitated” (p. 199). Catechesis with young people is based on Scripture, tradition, liturgy, and on the teaching authority and life of the church, and it should encourage teenagers to become holy people, Christian disciples, and servant-leaders.  


Catechesis is one of eight multi-dimensional comprehensive components addressed in the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ (1997) document Renewing the Vision: A Framework for Catholic Youth Ministry (RTV). RTV beautifully describes and situates adolescent catechesis within Catholic comprehensive youth ministry. “The ministry of catechesis helps adolescents develop a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and the Christian community, and increase their knowledge of the core content of the Catholic faith. The ministry of catechesis also helps young people enrich and expand their understanding of the Scriptures and the sacred tradition and their application to life today, and live more faithfully as disciples of Jesus Christ in their daily lives, especially through a life of prayer, justice, and loving service. Genuine faith is a total response of the whole person—mind, heart, will. The ministry of catechesis fosters growth in Catholic faith in all three dimensions—trusting (heart), knowing (mind), and doing (will), and the goal should be to have all Catholic youth involved in some program of catechesis” (p. 29). The aspiration of adolescent catechesis is to teach youth about important faith-life issues and themes and to empower youth to love God, the Church, and neighbor.  

 RTV notes that effective catechesis with teenagers is diverse and dynamic and covers a myriad of pastoral strategies and learning modes. Effective adolescent catechesis “incorporates a variety of program approaches including parish and school programs; small-group programs; home-based programs; activities, and resources; one-on-one and mentoring programs; and independent or self-directed programs or activities” (p. 30). Whichever curriculum a diocese and/or parish utilize for adolescent catechesis, it is clear, that there are many ways to foster faith formation, moral development, and Christian discipleship.  Authentic adolescent catechesis illuminates the life of Christ and the Christian message to Catholic young people in ways that have meaning, inspire, and great impact (RTV, p. 30).


RTV states that youth ministers will gain catechetical insight from the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry (1986) document, The Challenge of Adolescent Catechesis: Maturing in Faith (CAC). The CAC maintains that adolescent catechesis is rooted in the Church’s understanding and experience of six foundational themes: (1) rooted in Jesus Christ, (2) rooted in Christian discipleship, (3) rooted in the Church’s mission and ministries, (4) rooted in the Christian faith, (5) rooted in the developing human person, and (6) rooted in the Christian community (pp. 61-69). Each one of these themes allows it to be integrated into comprehensive youth ministry, which has as its chief concern, the “maturing in Christian faith [as] a lifelong journey for everyone; it is a process of conversion, not a point of arrival” (p. 66). These six foundational themes should be woven throughout a comprehensive youth ministry in Catholic parishes and Catholic high schools. The USCCB catechetical document, Sharing the Light of Faith (1979), affirms that adolescent catechesis is a vital and necessary element of a broad-based, systematic, and wide-ranging Catholic youth ministry: “Youth catechesis is most effective within a [comprehensive] youth ministry” (n. 228). Ideally, adolescent catechesis empowers youth to learn and mature in their Catholic identity and spirituality through the Christian faith community.  


According to the CAC, the ministry of adolescent catechesis is diverse and multifaceted.  Adolescent catechesis involves three categories: (1) the aim, (2) the process, and (3) the principles for those engaged in catechizing young people.     

        The Aim: The CAC notes, “The primary aim of adolescent catechesis is to sponsor youth toward maturity in Catholic Christian faith as a living reality” (p. 70). This aim is accomplished through a twofold task: (1) to foster in young people a communal identity as Catholic Christians and (2) to help teenagers develop their own personal faith identity. The aim of adolescent catechesis involves comprehensive, systematic, and intentional programming, but sometimes creative, spontaneous, and indirect ministry methods also work.  

      The Process: Adolescent catechetical involves: (1) discovering the relationships among the Catholic Christian tradition; (2) God’s present activity in the life of the adolescent, the family, the community, and the world; and (3) the contemporary life experience of the adolescent. The process also tries is to increase Catholic awareness and understanding in adolescents: (1) teaches youth Scripture, tradition, and Christian life issues; (2) reflects upon God’s presence in their lives; and (3) invites young people to come to “faith-knowing” through (a) introspection on life and experience and (b) identification of core religious signs, symbols, and images of Catholicism (pp. 72-73). The process is not a “quick fix,” but a multi-layered and multi-year ministry and initiative, which ideally informs, forms, and transforms Catholic juveniles into young Christian disciples.  

      The Principles:  The ten principles, which taken together provide a core context and approach to comprehensive adolescent catechesis. Catechesis to youth: (1) is situated within the lifelong development process of faith growth and of ongoing catechesis; (2) fosters Catholic Christian faith in three dimensions: trusting, believing, and doing; (3) supports and encourages the role of the family and in particular the role of the parent in the faith growth of the young person; (4) respects the unique cultural heritages of young people and builds upon the positive values found in these cultural heritages; (5) is integrated and developed within a comprehensive, multifaceted approach to ministry with youth; (6)  responds to the development, social, and cultural needs of adolescence; (7) respects the variability in maturation rates and learning needs of adolescence; (8) respects the expanding freedom and autonomy of adolescents; (9) uses a variety of learning formats, environments, schedules, and educational techniques; and (10) best responds to the learning needs of adolescents when it is focused on particular faith themes (pp. 73-77).  The principles of adolescent catechesis call those who minister to youth to challenge young people to live an active faith life in a complex world. The ministry of adolescent catechesis is unlimited and those working with young people may cultivate catechesis in teenagers through a variety of learning modes, methods, and models which are active approaches and pastoral delivery systems that promote adolescent identity, development, and spirituality.    


There are two recent documents that have been published by the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ regarding adolescent catechesis and its integration into the lives of Catholic young people: (1) the Doctrinal Elements of Curricular Framework for the Development of Catechetical Materials for Young People of High School Age (2008) and (2) the Adaptation for Use in Parish and Youth Ministry Programs (2010).  Taken together, both documents require Catholic dioceses, schools, and parishes to provide a comprehensive, systematic, and intentional plan for fostering and strengthening catechesis to young people in the Catholic tradition.  

The Core Curriculum: The suggested core curriculum for adolescent catechesis recommended by the U.S. Catholic Bishops are as follows:

• The Revelation of Jesus the Christ in Scripture

• Who is Jesus Christ?

• The Mission of Jesus Christ (The Paschal Mystery)

• Jesus Christ’s Mission Continues in the Church

• Sacraments as Privileged Encounters with Jesus Christ

• Life in Jesus Christ

The Elective Curriculum: The suggested elective curriculum for adolescent catechesis recommended by the U.S. Catholic Bishops are as follows:

• Sacred Scripture

• History of the Catholic Church

• Living as a Disciple of Jesus Christ in Society

• Responding to the Call of Jesus Christ

• Ecumenical and Inter-religious Issues

All of these themes with in the adolescent catechetical curriculum allow for creativity, collaboration, and the use of various approaches to doing adolescent catechesis.  The bishops’ catechetical framework should not be viewed as a hinderance or an obstacle to high school religion or parish youth ministry, but an opportunity to ensure Catholic young people are properly equipped with knowledge of the Church through sacred Scripture and holy Tradition.  As Pope John Paul II (1987) reminds us in Catechesi Tradendae: “The definitive [goal] of catechesis is to put people not only in touch, but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ (n. 5).  This is precisely the aim of doing catechesis with teenagers--putting them in direct relationship with their Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ.  Therefore, in the final analysis, adolescent catechesis leads to authentic Christian discipleship.  

By Arthur D. Canales, D.Min.
• Parts of this articulation were first written for the Diocese of Austin, Office of Youth Ministry in 2007
• Additions and redactions have been written for Adolescent Catechetical Outreach in 2011

Relevant Documents

Doctrinal Elements of a Curriculum Framework
click to download
Adaption of Doctrinal Elements for Parish and Youth Ministry Programs
click to download
Catechetical Formation in Chaste Living
click to download
Special Needs Directory
click to download
The National Directory of Catechesis emphasizes a systematic and intentional approach to adolescent catechesis within a comprehensive youth ministry, identifying the need for creative methodologies, formats, and settings, while providing solid content.