The Catholic Church and everything she teaches is focused on the person of Jesus Christ. Through the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), Jesus established his Church and the reception of his teaching, the catechism, through apostolic succession. Every page of the Catechism is filled with scriptural quotations and the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Without Jesus and his teaching, the Gospels, there is no Catholic Church. All of Jesus’ teaching is handed down to us through the Church and has been gathered for us today in the form of the Catechism, therefore the Catechism of the Catholic Church is christocentric.
In the General Directory for Catechesis, it is explained that Jesus Christ must be at the center of all catechesis because he doesn’t just transmit the word of God, he is the Word of God. “Thus what must characterize the message transmitted by catechesis is, above all, its ‘christocentricity’”. (General Directory for Catechesis 98) There are a number of dimensions to christocentricity which are presented in the catechism and the General Directory of Catechesis which include the Person of Jesus, Jesus as the center of salvation history, the Trinity and the Gospel message as coming from God and not man. Additionally, Marian doctrines are also Christocentric. What these doctrines tell us about Mary flow from and are dependent upon the truths that the Church holds about Christ.
Pope St. John Paul II emphasizes the christocentricity of all authentic catechesis in Catechesi Tradendae (On Catechesis in Our Time) by saying “At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a person, the person of Jesus of Nazareth” (CT 5). Everything must be taught as it relates to Jesus Christ. As stated in John 14:6, he is the “the way, and the truth and the life” and it is through him we are united with God. Since he is the truth, there is no dogma or doctrine within the Catholic Church that does not relate back to him. Catechesis is “to seek to understand the meaning of Christ’s actions and words and the signs worked by him.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #426) Through this seeking to understand, his mystery is revealed to us and “he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.” (CT 5)
From the beginning of all creation, God had a plan for the salvation of man which culminates in his son, Jesus Christ. (CCC #65,280) In the fullness of time, the history of salvation is revealed and Christ is at its center. The catechism helps individuals to find their place within that history. (GDC 98) “In him human history and indeed all creation are ‘set forth’ and transcendentally fulfilled.” (CCC #668) In Colossians 1:15-20, St. Paul also explains how Jesus is at the center of salvation history stating, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…He is before all things, and in him all things hold together…and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross…” Authentic christocentric catechesis is critical to our understanding of salvation and in helping us work toward our end goal of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ where we will be set free from the bondage of sin.
Christocentricity is also defined within the context of the Most Holy Trinity. Jesus is the way to God through the Holy Spirit and through our baptism we are “configured to Christ”, therefore our faith is necessarily bound to the Trinity. (GDC 99) In the context of the Trinity, the catechism is christocentric-trinitarian – “Through Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit.” (GDC 100) As the catechism teaches us about Jesus’ works and teachings, we can better understand him and hence understand God and his will as illuminated by the Holy Spirit. This understanding of the Trinity is essential to our Christian development. We are made in the image of God who is three persons in one nature – “a communion of persons”. (GDC 100) “The divine image is present in every man. It shines forth in the communion of persons, in the likeness of the unity of the divine persons among themselves.” (CCC #1702) In this image, we are called to live according to certain moral and social guidelines as described in the christocentric catechism derived from the Gospels which promotes the dignity of human persons within the Body of Christ.
While the catechist is a teacher, Jesus Christ is the true teacher as everything in the catechism has been handed down from him through apostolic succession. So, the catechist is “Christ’s spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with his lips.” (CT 6) The catechist does not approach the work of teaching from an individualist perspective, but as one who has the true teacher living within him. “yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me…” (Galatians 2:20) In catechesis, there is no room for personal opinion, interpretation or agenda as it relates to the Church’s teachings as we cannot alter the Truth Jesus teaches us. (GDC 98) Catechists must clearly convey the lesson and how it relates to Jesus Christ and the Trinity in order to maintain christocentric-trinitarian catechesis. “My teaching is not my own, but is from the one who sent me.” (John 7:16) Catechists must also be in deep communion with Jesus themselves. To make followers of Christ, one must be a follower of Christ. Catechists should pray and participate in the sacraments in order to lead their students through faithful example. If the catechist is not in communion with Jesus, the importance for a relationship with Jesus cannot be conveyed and the catechumenate would not be receiving a proper Catholic education.
To someone unfamiliar with the christocentricity of the Catholic Catechesis, the Church’s teachings on Mary might seem to be the opposite of christocentric and appear to detract from Jesus. In reality, Mary, and the Church’s doctrines regarding her, always point us to her son, Jesus Christ. The Wedding Feast at Cana (Jn 2:1-11) illustrates so beautifully and succinctly the relationship between Jesus and his mother and their relationship to us. When the wine runs out, Mary advocates on behalf of the couple and brings their needs to her son who is the source of all good. Similarly, Mary brings our needs to her son, acting as advocate on our behalf. We also see Jesus’ humble honor and obedience to his earthly mother as he tells her that his “hour has not yet come”, but he fulfills her wish anyway. The christocentric message in this is that it is not through Mary’s power that Jesus does anything, but through his own free obedience to her that he fulfills any request from her. Finally, we see that Mary does not receive nor take any credit for anything. In telling the servers to “do whatever he tells you”, Mary points us to her son, taking the focus off of herself and keeping our gaze fixed on him. The Catholic devotion to Mary is taken, in part, from the example of Jesus’ devotion to her and is much different from the adoration and worship reserved strictly for Jesus Christ. (CCC 971)
One of the Marian doctrines of the Catholic Church is that of the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary as being conceived without original sin and remaining sinless. Without an understanding of christocentricity at the heart of all Catholic teaching, it may appear, on the surface that this doctrine states that Mary herself did something to earn such status or contains some inherent divinity. In fact, the doctrine does not have anything to do with Mary as a super human, but has everything to do with her son, Jesus Christ and his nature as God. Looking back in the Old Testament, we know that man, due to his sinful nature, must not touch the most holy Ark of the covenant or he will be killed (Numbers 4:15, 2 Samuel 6:1-7). Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, a living tabernacle, and carried the most holy of all creation in her womb. Therefore, for her to have a sinful nature would corrupt the holiness she is bringing forth and would be contrary to God’s own commands in handling his Holy covenants. She did not achieve this sinless nature through her own merit, but was conceived in that state as a gift from God as Gabriel announces to her that she is “full of Grace” (Luke 1:28, CCC 490-491). When something is full, there is no room for anything else, so she was filled only with the Grace bestowed on her, leaving her free from sin. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is christocentric as it focuses on the very nature of Jesus Christ as our living God and most Holy.
The Catholic Church as established by Jesus Christ and handed down through Apostolic succession is responsible for leading her people to salvation through authentic christocentric catechesis. Since Jesus is the pathway to that salvation, the Church must teach them what he himself taught and ensure that every doctrine, lesson and message points us back to him. The catechism, the official teachings of the Catholic Church, maintain christocentricity in everything in order to stay true to the Church’s mission in the salvation of souls. Through the christocentric catechism, Faith and Truth continue to be passed on with integrity, just as the first Apostles received it and then handed it on themselves.
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