Tuesday, October 6, 2020

An Apostolate: A Message from Gravissimum Educationis (1965)

Gravissimum Educationis, the Declaration on Christian Education written in 1965, carries the highest teaching authority of any document published by our Church on Catholic education. One of 16 documents produced during the Second Vatican Council, Gravissimum Educationis offers many important messages about Catholic education. Perhaps the two most compelling are:

  1. Catholic education is an incredibly vital ministry within the mission Jesus Christ handed on to His Church, "To fulfill the mandate she has received from her divine founder of proclaiming the mystery of salvation to all (people) and of restoring all things in Christ, Holy Mother the Church must be concerned with the whole of (a human's) life, even the secular part of it insofar as it has a bearing on (his/her) heavenly calling. (4) Therefore she has a role in the progress and development of education" (Vatican Council II, 1965, Introduction).
  2. Catholic educators form an apostolate, "The work of these teachers, this sacred synod declares, is in the real sense of the word an apostolate most suited to and necessary for our times and at once a true service offered to society" (Vatican Council II, 1965, #8). In this way, the Church elevates the ministry of Catholic education to "(t)he work of an apostle, not only of the first followers of Christ but of all the faithful who carry on the original mission entrusted by the Savior to the twelve to 'make disciples of all nations' (Matthew 28:19)" (https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=31898).

Put more simply, the Second Vatican Council, a gathering of the Church that has only happened 21 times in its 2000 year existence, took the time and effort to issue teaching on Catholic education. Education is an essential component of the Church's mission:
Since, therefore, the Catholic school can be such an aid to the fulfillment of the mission of the People of God and to the fostering of the dialogue between the Church and (humankind), to the benefit of both, it retains even in our present circumstances the utmost importance. (Vatican Council II, 1965, #8)
Furthermore, in doing so, the Church declared that the work of Catholic educators forms an apostolate, carrying on the original mission that Jesus gave to the original apostles. The apostles, the first ordained ministers of our Church. The apostles, the people responsible for taking Christ's message and spreading it to the world. 

Catholic school teachers are viewed as people who carry on this apostolic mission. 

This conjures up, for me, two of my favorite quotes regarding the ministry of Catholic education. First, St. Julie Billiart, the smiling saint, boldly exhorts us, "There must be nothing little among us; we must have the hearts of apostles." We have inside of us the same measure of the Holy Spirit gifted to those who built our Church and spread the gift of faith. As members of the apostolate of Catholic education, we must harness this apostolic fervor and commitment. 

The second quote comes from Fr. Pedro Ribadeneira speaking to King Phillip II of Spain, "All the well-being of Christianity and of the whole world depends upon the proper education of youth" (O'Malley, 1993, p. 209). 

The world depends upon our success within Catholic education.

The sacred synod declares that all schools should accomplish the following tasks (#5):
  • "develop with special care the intellectual faculties (of students)"
  • "form (in students) the ability to judge rightly"
  • "hand on the cultural legacy of previous generations"
  • "foster a sense of values"
  • "prepare for professional life"
  • "promote friendly relations and foster a spirit of mutual understanding"
  • "establish...a center whose work and progress must be shared together by families, teachers, associations of various types that foster cultural, civic, and religious life, as well as by civil society and the entire human community." 
Catholic schools, though, should also (#8):
  • "create for the school community a special atmosphere animated by the Gospel spirit of freedom and charity"
  • "help youth grow according to the new creatures they were made through baptism"
  • "develop (students') own personalities"
  • "order the whole of human culture to the news of salvation"
  • ensure that "the knowledge students gradually acquire of the world, life and (humanity) is illumined by faith"
  • "promote efficaciously the good of the earthly city"
  • "prepare (students) for service in the spread of the Kingdom of God, so that by leading an exemplary apostolic life they become...a saving leaven in the human community."
This, then, is why Catholic school teachers are held in such high regard. The Second Ecumenical Council goes all in on the importance of teachers at various points throughout this text, "Beautiful indeed and of great importance is the vocation of all those who aid parents in fulfilling their duties and who, as representatives of the human community, undertake the task of education in schools" (#5). Additionally, Gravissimum states, "But let teachers recognize that the Catholic school depends upon them almost entirely for the accomplishment of its goals and programs" (#8).

The Council also encourages the pursuit of teaching as a profession for the best among us, "Whether in Catholic universities or others, young people of greater ability who seem suited for teaching or research should be specially helped and encouraged to undertake a teaching career" (#10). The Council reiterates this idea in the Conclusion "earnestly entreat(ing) young people themselves to become aware of the importance of the work of education and to prepare themselves accordingly to take it up."

Finally, the Church offers insights as to the training and preparation required of this noble apostolate of Catholic education. Teachers must possess "special qualities of mind and heart, very care preparation, and continuous readiness to renew and adapt" (#5). Catholic school teachers should be "very carefully prepared so that both in secular and religious knowledge they are equipped with suitable qualifications and also with a pedagogical skill that is in keeping with their findings of the contemporary world" (#8). 

Teachers should also be driven by charity, both for each other and their students (#8). "Endowed with an apostolic spirit" Catholic school teachers must "bear witness to Christ" in all that they do (#8). 

The Church closes Gravissimum Educationis, meaning the "heaviest education", with this rallying cry to Her teachers:
(P)ersevere generously in the work (you) have undertaken and, imbuing (your) students with the spirit of Christ, to strive to excel in pedagogy and the pursuit of knowledge in such a way that (you) not merely advance the internal renewal of the Church but preserve and enhance its beneficent influence upon today's world, especially the intellectual world. (Conclusion)

Catholic school teachers, the whole well-being of Christianity and the entire world depends upon you. 

Let there be nothing little about you.

You have the heart, and the apostolate, of an apostle.


O'Malley, J. (1993). The First Jesuits. Retrieved from  https://academics.lmu.edu/media/lmuacademics/centerforteachingexcellence/documents/The%20Schools%20-%20Rhetorical%20Arts.pdf 

Vatican Council II. (1965, October 28). Gravissimum Educationis. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_gravissimum-educationis_en.html