Catechesis as a Way of Life

What are the catechetical developmental tasks that can be identified in the Catechism of the Catholic Church? In the foregoing these tasks will be reviewed within the context of a family’s daily practice of their everyday lives. Developmental tasks have their origin from the staff associated with Daniel A. Prescott’s Child Study Program at the University of Chicago from 1935 to 1950.[1] They concluded that throughout our lives we are under the influence of an agenda of life goals. It was Robert Havighurst who defined this agenda of life goals as developmental tasks. He noted that each task “arises at or about a certain period in the life of the individual, successful achievement of which leads to . . . happiness and to success with later tasks, while failure leads to unhappiness in the individual, disapproval by the society, and difficulties with later tasks.”[2]

The tasks were recognized as related to physical and biological development, social-cultural influences and a person’s values and aspirations.[3] The meaningfulness of this concept is supported in its application in a variety of contexts—development,[4] educational psychology,[5] spiritual development and Christian education,[6] rehabilitation,[7] and corrections.[8] What is especially noteworthy is that the achievement of developmental tasks across these contexts depends upon the support of others. Also, there are some that require ongoing support and maintenance long after they are achieved.

Recognition of Catechetical Developmental Tasks

Awareness of the notion of catechetical developmental tasks emerged while reflecting on the application of developmental tasks to spiritual development[9] and Christian education,[10] reading articles on the Catechism and the family,[11] and reading the Catechism. Catechetical developmental tasks have been happening as long as there has been the intention of families and individuals to live their commitments to Christ. This is a Catholic’s true fulfillment: God (CCC §27, 1718-1724). To reach true fulfillment requires cultivation and expertise in doing what God wants done in thought and action. It means to enthusiastically learn and conform one’s behavior to the commandments, virtues and beatitudes.

A close reading of the Catechism reveals that it is a repository and source of a life-long agenda of catechetical developmental tasks. Achievement and maintenance of many of them depends upon family interventions and care. Many of these tasks follow baptism at infancy into early childhood (birth to 6 years) and through the years into early adulthood (18-35 years). A discussion of the care needed from the family during these ages as noted in the Catechism involves parents’ pursuit of their own catechetical developmental tasks during early adulthood (18-35 years) and even into middle age (35-60 years) and beyond (60+ years). In sum, successful achievement of these tasks at each life stage require a family’s commitment across the life-span into late life. What follows is a chronological list of selected life-long catechetical tasks identified in the Catechism:

Lifelong Catechetical Developmental Tasks Identified in the CCC[12]

Family—Spouses’/parents’ catechetical developmental tasks in early adulthood (18-35 years) and into middle age (35-60 years):
Marriage . . . as a bond between spouses which . . . is perpetual and exclusive: §5, §1601, §1638-1642, §1659-1664.
Becoming parents: §2366, §2378.
Being a Christian family: §1657, §2205.
Prayer every day: §2659-2660.
Prayer at meals: §2828-2837.
Mass attendance on Sundays and other holy days of obligation: §1074, §2188-2195.
Infancy and early childhood (birth to 6 years)
Parents present infant for Baptism: §1250-1252.
Child needs a community of believers/family: §1253-1255, §1666, §2204-2206.
Child learns to pray with the family—prayer times (e.g., morning, meals, and evening): §2685, §2691, §2694, §2834.
Child attends Mass with family—initiation into the mysteries of faith: §2041-2042, §2222-2225.
Practicing the Mass prayers—the “Lord’s Prayer,” “Gloria,” “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and “Lamb of God”—during family devotions: §2688.
Family catechesis—education in the faith: §5, §902, §1653, §1656-1666, §2201-2203, §2225-2226.
Child learns modesty: §2524.
Middle childhood (6-12 years)
Education of child’s conscience: §1784.
Learning self-mastery—during childhood: §2342.
First confession/reconciliation catechesis: §1457.
First communion catechesis: §1244.
Preadolescence and adolescence (12-18 years)
Learning self-mastery—continues during adolescence and throughout life: §2342.
Confirmation catechesis: §1307-1309.
Vocational catechesis—Personal holiness and Gospel as vocation: §1533, §1962.
Marriage: §1603-1604, §1607, §2331;
Evangelical counsels: §1974.

Readiness for Catechetical Developmental Tasks

Catechetical developmental tasks are a curriculum of religion involving religious experiences and education within the family that has a readiness phase. Consideration of readiness or the “when” for religion has been of interest for some time. Readiness has appeared in the literature under the labels of readiness for religion[13] and God-concept readiness.[14] The focus of readiness in that literature was from the perspectives of academic and/or psychological capabilities. It has been advocated that children ought to have religious experiences as early as possible. Early as possible was reported to mean between ages 2 to 3 years[15] and/or before ages 6 or 7.[16]

Within the Bartkus perspective of the home as a “Catholic subculture,” everyone’s readiness for religious or catechetical developmental tasks begins with parents during infancy.[17] Interestingly, this parental family perspective has been a recurring theme asserted in studies dating from the early 20th century into the present.[18] Readiness then, is not a time to wait for, but to be facilitated by parents in the context of the family. Father van Kaam has observed that, “Already as infants, before participating knowingly in the life of Christ, we participated in the life of our parents.”[19] Thus, from infancy into early childhood (birth to 6 years), a child becomes bonded to and dependent upon parents for everything and especially religious and spiritual development and ultimately achievement of catechetical developmental tasks.

That Catechetical Memories May Endure

The earliest memories will likely be of parents’ prayers. Parents’ prayers within the family have been identified in the Catechism as the beginning of a child’s education in prayer:

The Christian family is the first place of education in prayer. Based on the sacrament of marriage, the family is the “domestic church” where God’s children learn to pray “as the Church” and to persevere in prayer. For young children in particular, daily family prayer is the first witness of the Church’s living memory as awakened patiently by the Holy Spirit. (CCC §2685).

Current research being carried out by Christian Smith and Justin Bartkus at Notre Dame University’s McGrath Institute tends to support the impact of a comprehensive and intentional approach to familial catechesis. In his discussion of this research, Bartkus makes a very worthwhile distinction between parents being religious versus religious parenting. Parents who are practicing religious parenting are “Living Catholically and forming their children religiously.” This is a meaningful description of how to think about the familial context for catechetical developmental tasks. Bartkus notes that, “The more Catholic ‘stuff’ to which children are exposed, the less likely they are to be able to envision lives in isolation from the practices and relationships that being Catholic entails.” Catholic “stuff” begins with the initial preparation of a child to be ready to worship and pray at Mass in the “domestic Church” of the home right after being baptized (Lumen Gentium, §11).

Parents establishing times and a place for daily devotions is a context for their children’s spiritual and religious development (Familiaris Consortio, §39). In the Letter to Families, John Paul II reminds us that, “prayer makes the Son of God present among us” (§4) and elsewhere asserts that, “family catechesis . . . precedes, accompanies and enriches all other forms of catechesis” (Catechesi Tradendae, §68). A child’s inclusion in the devotions of parents and participation at the level of the child’s abilities also contribute to preparation for the catechetical developmental tasks of worship and prayer at Mass. As a child matures, learning the prayers of the Mass—the “Lord’s Prayer,” “Gloria,” “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and “Lamb of God”—can be practiced at family devotions. In such homes, a child learns from the example of the parents. Elkind would regard this as a catechetical context feeding “the emotions as well as the mind and it is the child’s emotions that are ready for religious training . . . What this means . . . is that the child must be shown and not told about religion.”[20] It is also worthwhile to share other Catholic devotions with a child, including the rosary and prayers to and readings about the lives of the saints. Parents can also consider previewing the lessons of the Mass during devotions. Here the child will begin to learn how “The human word is the vehicle of the divine Word” and “it becomes the means of real interpersonal relationship between God and believing human being.”[21]

When a child begins formal catechesis for the sacraments of reconciliation and first communion, parents can be supportive by having conversations with the child about the lessons and sharing their catechesis during family devotions. As a child is growing and learning, parents may want to develop a bookshelf of age-appropriate and interesting religious books and materials. Many parishes have established catechetical libraries offering printed and video resources for all age levels. In fact, I have seen instances, when after parents borrow a book and share it with their child, the child wants a personal copy.

Another engaging catechetical experience I encountered was a children’s food-offering collection that followed the money-offering taken by the ushers. Children emerged from everywhere in the church with their food offerings in cans, packages and bags. What was most noteworthy was that parents shared that they were reminded by the child about the need for the food offering indicating a child’s anticipation of Sunday Mass and worship. This is clearly the maintenance of a catechetical developmental task.

Ways Families Know They're Achieving Catechetical Developmental Tasks

One way of knowing that catechetical developmental tasks are happening in a family is to log recurring daily behaviors. For example, prayers in the morning, at meals, and evening, recitation of the rosary, scripture and spiritual reading, and family discussions in anticipation of Sunday Mass are worth logging. The log is a resource to review the family’s catechetical developmental tasks.

Another resource for reviewing a family’s recurring catechetical developmental tasks is shared by the Strong Catholic Families national initiative titled, “Family Faith Inventory.” The inventory appears to be intended for completion by parents. Among the topics covered on the inventory are family and community, prayer and worship, formation, and justice and service. Some examples of particular areas to be responded to on the inventory are: Catholic family identity, family prayer, special prayers and rituals at home during the liturgical seasons, desire to learn more about the Catholic faith, and discussion about morality and discernment of right and wrong. The inventory concludes with an invitation to identify two things the individuals completing the inventory and the family will do “to grow in faith in the coming months.”

It has also been meaningful for a family to focus on the activities of children. One informal approach to engage a child about activities that support catechetical developmental tasks is to suggest recording church or religion related activities in a log during a week or month. Examples of activities are attending Mass, catechism classes, studying and working on catechetical assignments, and other parish activities that the youngster participates in. Logs diligently kept up can tell parents something about whether a child is “aware of the demands of religious commitment in everyday life.”[22] It is worthwhile for the family to encourage sharing of the log once or twice a month or more often.

The following are examples of recurring participation in activities with dates (e.g., month/day) from the log of Stephen (a pseudonym) a 10-year-old:

  1. Attended Sunday Mass with my family. 3/7, 3/14, 3/21, 3/28, 4/4, 4/11, 4/18, 4/25, 5/2, 5/9, 5/16, and 5/23.

  2. Attended catechism class. 3/6/, 3/13, 3/20, 3/27, 4/3, 4/10, 4/17, 4/24, 4/30, 5/1, 5/8, 5/15, and 5/22.

  3. Completed assignment for catechism class. 3/6, 3/13, 3/20, 3/27, 4/3, 4/10, 4/17, 4/24, 4/30, 5/1, 5/8, 5/15, and 5/22.

  4. Participation in centering prayer group after catechism classes. 3/6, 3/13, 3/20, 3/27, 4/3, 4/10, 4/17, 4/24, 4/30, 5/1, 5/8, 5/15, and 5/22.

  5. Worked in the kitchen during the monthly parish suppers. 3/20, 4/17, and 5/22.


After one of the family’s devotions, Stephen’s parents had a discussion and reflection with him about the activities he recorded in his log. Stephen indicated that he appreciated being able to get to Mass with his parents—even though he was sometimes slow getting ready. He also shared that memorization of his catechism assignments has helped him improve memorization of school assignments.

This log of recurring activities tends to tell Stephen’s parents something about awareness of what it means to have a religious commitment in his everyday life. From the log, it can be seen that, with the support of his family, Stephen is conscientious about his attendance at Mass, catechism classes, completion of his catechism assignments, and involvement in parish activities. Related to this is the fact Stephen’s family is known for its commitment to the parish and Church. It is worth recalling that it is likely that Stephen is less likely “to envision . . . isolation from the practices and relationships that being Catholic entails.”[23] Also, what is observed in the trend of Stephen’s participation in religious activities is in accord with quite earlier findings of six major U.S. Protestant denominations reported in 1990. The results were that “the two experiences most associated with higher faith maturity are level of family religiousness and the amount of exposure to Christian education.”[24]

Resources to Support Catechetical Developmental Tasks

The notion of resources to support catechetical developmental tasks is not as simple and straightforward as it may appear. Success through the transition during marriage from spouses to parents will benefit from access to resources dedicated to spouses committed to pursuing their lifelong catechetical developmental tasks. In the first instance, these resources will be the Mass, the liturgical year, scripture, devotions, and the parish catechetical program. Along with these basic resources it is important for spouses to maintain their spiritual growth through their transitions from being spouses to being parents of families. Some selected resources that can be accessed to support catechetical developmental tasks of spouses becoming parents of families are:

  1. A family’s parish and diocese.

  2. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website has resources for parents and families. A meaningful example of the site’s resources is a “Family Commitment Prayer” (Catechetical Sunday 2011).

  3. The publication, The Catechetical Review covers many topics that support catechesis within a family context. Examples of such articles are “Holiness and Marriage” and “Cultivating an Ecosystem of Silence.”

  4. Essays in support of family catechesis will also be found in Church Life Journal. Some examples are as follows: “Relegating the Faith to the Private Sphere Generates a Distortion,” “Our Children Might Return to the Church, but Our Grandchildren Most Likely Won’t,” “Why Chant is Good for Children,” and “The Liturgy Is for (Little) Kids.”

  5. Our Sunday Visitor Publishing is a resource in support for many areas of catechetical developmental tasks.


Finally, families will find support in the Catechism itself.

Families as a Resource for Others

Families successful at achieving and maintaining their catechetical developmental tasks may want to consider being a resource for other families. These families will be the most convincing advocates of family catechetical developmental tasks. Family to family sharing of experiences and resources face to face and through social media will likely be helpful and a support.

[1] Robert J. Havighurst, “History of Developmental Psychology: Socialization and Personality Development Through the Life Span,” in Life-Span Developmental Psychology: Personality and Socialization, ed. Paul B. Baltes & K. Warner Schaie (New York: Academic Press, 1973), 10.

[2] Robert J. Havighurst, Developmental Tasks and Education, 3rd ed. (New York: Longman, 1972), 2.

[3] Robert J. Havighurst, “Social and Developmental Psychology: Trends Influencing the Future of Counseling,” Personnel and Guidance Journal, 58, (1980): 328-333.

[4] Kim Gale Dolgin, The Adolescent: Development, Relationships and Culture, 13th ed. (Toronto: Pearson, 2011), 42-44; and John Kurtz, “Developmental Tasks of Children and Youth—Record Analysis,” (Unpublished manuscript, 1973).

[5] Donald Hamachek, Psychology in Teaching, Learning and Growth, 4th ed. (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1990), 40-42.

[6] Ruth Beechick, A Biblical Psychology of Learning: How Your Mind Works (Denver, CO: Accent Books, 1982), 145-149; and André Godin, “Some Developmental Tasks in Christian Education,” in Research on Religious Development: A Comprehensive Handbook, eds. Merton P. Strommen, (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1971), 109-154.

[7] John M. Williams and L. D. Burlew, “Dealing with Catastrophic Injury: A Developmental Perspective on Life Care Planning.” Monograph of the American Board of Vocational Experts: Professional Issues: Assessment, Expert Testimony, and Catastrophic Injury, 3 (1995): 53-59.

[8] Robert B. Williams, “The Developmental Tasks of Prison Inmates,” (Unpublished manuscript, 1992).

[9] Beechick. 1982.

[10] Godin. 1971.

[11] Stratford and Léonie Caldecott, “The Use of the Catechism in the Family,” The Sower 34, no. 3 (2013): 32-33; and Mary Mosher, “The Way of Restoration: Family Catechesis in the Mind of the Church,” The Sower 28, no. 1 (2007): 40-41.

[12] Paragraphs cited from the Catechism provide background related to each catechetical developmental task topic. This approach is based upon Willey’s notion of “overarching paragraphs” that offer guidance regarding the topic of interest. See: Petroc Willey, “Lesson Planning with the Catechism, Part 2,” The Catechetical Review 2, no. 2 (2016): 41.

[13] Ronald Goldman, Readiness for Religion: A Basis for Developmental Religious Education (New York: The Seabury Press, 1965).

[14] Robert Williams, “A Theory of God-Concept Readiness: From the Piagetian Theories of Child Artificialism and the Origins of the Religious Feeling in Children,” Religious Education 66, no. 1 (1971): 62-66.

[15] Pierre Caillon, “The First Seven Years are the Ones That Count.” Religious Education 63, no. 3 (1968): 172-179; and James DiGiacomo and Edward Wakin, “Bringing Religion Home. What Parents Can Do”—. U.S. Catholic 37, no. 7 (1972): 6-13.

[16] Robert J. Havighurst and Barry Keating, “The Religion of Youth,” in Research on Religious Development, ed. M. Strommen (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1971), 686-723; and Williams, 1971.

[17] Justin Bartkus, “The Home: A Catholic Subculture That Makes a Difference.” The Catechetical Review 3, no. 2 (2017): 9-11.

[18] Pierre Bovet, The Child’s Religion. trans. G. M. Green (London: Dent, 1928); Κathleen, O. Chesto, FIRE (Family-Centred Intergenerational Education) (Kansas City: Sheed and Ward, 1991); Κathleen, O. Chesto, “Being Home When God Comes,” National Catholic Reporter 39, no. 4 (2002): 30-31; John J. Convey, “Parents,” in Catholic Schools Make a Difference: Twenty-five Years of Research, edited by John J. Convey (Washington, DC: National Catholic Educational Association, 1992) 138-156; James M. Frabutt, “Parenting and Child Development: Exploring the Links with Children’s Social, Moral, and Cognitive Competence,” in Handbook of Research on Catholic Education, ed. Thomas C. Hunt, Ellis A. Joseph, and Ronald J. Nuzzi (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001), 183-204; V. Baily Gillespie, The Experience of Faith (Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press, 1988); and Pierre Ranwez, “Parents as Educators of Their Children’s Faith,” Lumen Vitae 23 (1986): 71-88.

[19] Adrian van Kaam, The Dynamics of Spiritual Self Direction (Denville, NJ: Dimension Books, 1976), 21.

[20] David Elkind, “The Child’s Conception of His Religious Identity,” Lumen Vitae 19 (1964), 646.

[21] Michael Mulvihill, Liturgy, Worship and Prayer: A Course Book for the MA in Religious Education and Catechesis (Maryvale Institute, 1999), 86.

[22] Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Religious Education: Curriculum Directory for Catholic Schools (London, UK: Catholic Educational Service, 1996), 10.

[23] Bartkus 2017.

[24] “Burning Issues in Education: Report of the Global Workshop on Education 2000” (Geneva, Switzerland: Office of Education, Program Unit III, Education and Renewal, World Council of Churches, 1990) Education Newsletter 2.

Featured Image: Jacek Malczewski, Landscape with Tobias, 1904; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-80.


Robert B. Williams

Robert B. Williams is a psychologist with an interest in catechesis and spiritual care. His areas of reflection are the role of memory on catechesis and the role of catechesis on life-span development.

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