For much of Christian history, the Church catechized through the liturgy -- that is through the Mass and the Daily Offices (Matins/Morning Prayer, etc.). Luther describes catechesis in this way with his elaborate preaching system of assigning lessons to particular offices as well as the Mass. In other words people learned and grew in the faith with in a worship setting.
It may have been that this process was moving away from a worship setting to a classroom setting all along -- I do not know -- and there were periods of decline as well as renewal for such things as the Daily Offices. But I do know that after the Reformation a new "paradigm" was born.
When Protestantism got into the mix, this catechesis was formally detached from the worship life in which it was connected and thus things like Bible study and Sunday school were born. Now I have no grudge against these but I wonder about the fruits of detaching of catechesis in the mind and practice of people and the Church. What have we lost because of this?
It is my assumption -- historians out there prove me wrong -- that you do not find much that looks like the modern day parish program of Bible studies (Pastor or lay led), Sunday school, youth catechism classes, and adult instruction classes. It is my assumption -- again I have not researched this) that these things all took place within the praying context of the Daily Offices or within the liturgical context of the Divine Service.
Our parish rents our chapel to a struggling Orthodox mission. Our association began with the personal request of an Army chaplain (Orthodox) who had hosted this small mission on post until he was reassigned from Ft. Campbell. His concern for this mission's continuation led us to let them use our chapel until their future was more certain. After an interim period of time served by priests from throughout the area, they recently received a full-time priest as the mission developer of this parish. Judging from his plans, it may well be that they are not long for our chapel... we will see.
But what I have noticed is that this priest intends to catechize through the Daily Offices and the Divine Liturgy. He expects that catechesis into the Orthodox faith is through liturgical means. So on Saturday evening this small group gathers for Vespers. Then the evening fast begins which will carry them through to the Sunday Divine Liturgy. But before the Divine Liturgy, they sing Matins. And after the Divine Liturgy they gather for a community meal and then for Vespers. And the mission holds to a full schedule of holy days with a similar service schedule for them. It is my assumption that this is what a regular Orthodox congregation does.
Scripture has long been separated from the worshiping community -- this is fact of life in American congregations. Why not return to a more liturgical setting for catechesis and instruction? Certainly it is in our own Lutheran history and tradition. And I think it is a wise course to confront some of the issues and challenges that we face today.
Furthermore it would incorporate the people into the liturgical life of the Church as well as teach and communicate to them the Word of the Lord. If we used a lectionary and followed the calendar with its holy days, feasts, festivals, commemorations, etc. there would be an abundance of Scripture on which to focus and through which to teach the faith. It would be a whole lot more work than I am currently used to -- perhaps a better way of putting it is that it would be different work than I am currently used to -- but it may be a whole lot more fruitful in communicating the faith while at the same time connecting people to the community of faith as that community gathers for what is our most important "business" -- worship...
Well... some random thoughts... meanderings... what do you think?