Magisterial Documents: Directorium Catechisticum Generale

General Catechetical Directory Sacred Congregation for the Clergy
18 March 1971

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Brief History

After the council, the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy worked to implement the mandate of Christus Dominus to publish a General Catechetical Directory: The sources for the material in the General Catechetical Directory are: Vatican II documents, Pope Paul VI's encyclicals and allocutions, the French and Italian catechetical directories, and Six International Study Weeks on catechesis. (Bernard Marthaler, Catechesis in Context, xxvi) The directory was not meant to be a catechism. It was mainly concerned with pastoral action and the ministry of the word rather than principles of education. Marthaler calls it "a studied effort to give an orientation – direction – to catechetical theory and procedures." (ibid, p. xxviii)

The directory consists of five major parts, each consisting of several chapters and an extensive list of subtitles. Mary is mentioned in paragraphs 43, 68, and 78. Articles 43 and 68 fall under Part III, the section on the content of the Christian message. Article 43 is categorized under the norms or criteria of the message, and discusses the hierarchy of truths. Article 68, the article devoted to Marian catechesis as such, falls under the title, "The More Outstanding Elements of the Christian Message." The final mention of the Blessed Virgin Mary appears in Part V and deals with "Catechesis According to Age Levels."

As the Foreword of the directory states, it was the intent of the directory to "provide the basic principles of pastoral theology – these principles have been taken from the Magisterium of the Church, and in a special way from the Second General Vatican Council – by which pastoral action in the ministry of the word can be more fittingly directed and governed."

The directory laid down basic guidelines or tenets for orientation concerning catechesis. It was considered essential to the authors of the directory that "the nature and purposes of catechesis" be understood, and "also the truths which are to be taught by it, with due account being taken of those to whom catechesis is directed and of the conditions in which they live." (Foreword, 2)

The Virgin Mary is mentioned for the first time in the directory under article 43, "Hierarchy of Truths to Be Observed in Catechesis." The article begins by using the expression "hierarchy of truths," from Unitatis Redintegratio, the decree on ecumenism: (AAS 32 (1965): 90-107) "In the message of salvation there is a certain hierarchy of truths which the Church has always recognized when it composed creeds or summaries of the truths of faith. This hierarchy does not mean that some truths pertain to faith itself less than others, but rather that some truths are based on others as a higher priority, and are illumined by them." Mary is named in the context of this "higher priority" which helps to illumine other truths.

The directory explains this hierarchy, that is, the truths which illumine the entire spectrum of what we believe, as "four basic heads," as it calls them. The four heads given in the General Catechetical Directory are the mystery of the Trinity, of Christ, of the Holy Spirit, and of the Church. Two of the four integrate Mary:

the mystery of Christ the incarnate word, who was born of the Virgin Mary, and who suffered, died, and rose for our salvation;
and the mystery of the Church, which is Christ's Mystical Body, in which the Virgin Mary holds the preeminent place.

In view of this inclusion, in catechesis Mary is to be integrated into the mystery of Christ and the mystery of the Church.

The Marian content of the General Catechetical Directory directly quotes Lumen Gentium five times, makes two comparisons to Lumen Gentium, and lists Lumen Gentium once as source without using quotation marks. The basic doctrine includes the four teachings: Mary, Mother of God, Mary, ever Virgin, Mary's Immaculate Conception, and Mary's Assumption. Mary intercedes for us, and prayer to Mary is encouraged.


AAS 64 (1972): 115-172;
Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, General Catechetical Directory, Washington, DC: USCC, 1971. Foreword: "Published in accord with the directive in Christus Dominus, Vatican II's Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church, 14, 28 October 1965."

© This material has been compiled by M. Jean Frisk.
Copyright is reserved for The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute.
Most recently updated in 2005.

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