“One cannot fail to stress the evangelizing action of the family in the evangelizing apostolate of the laity. At different moments in the Church's history and also in the Second Vatican Council, the family has well deserved the beautiful name of "domestic Church." This means that there should be found in every Christian family the various aspects of the entire Church. Furthermore, the family, like the Church, ought to be a place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates. In a family which is conscious of this mission, all the members evangelize and are evangelized. The parents not only communicate the Gospel to their children, but from their children they can themselves receive the same Gospel as deeply lived by them. And such a family becomes the evangelizer of many other families, and of the neighbourhood of which it forms part. Families resulting from a mixed marriage also have the duty of proclaiming Christ to the children in the fullness of the consequences of a common Baptism; they have moreover the difficult task of becoming builders of unity."
“Education in the faith by parents, which should begin from the children's tenderest age,(119) is already being given when the members of a family help each other to grow in faith through the witness of their Christian lives, a witness that is often without words but which perseveres throughout a day-to-day life lived in accordance with the Gospel. This catechesis is more incisive when, in the course of family events (such as the reception of the sacraments, the celebration of great liturgical feasts, the birth of a child, a bereavement) care is taken to explain in the home the Christian or religious content of these events. But that is not enough: Christian parents must strive to follow and repeat, within the setting of family life, the more methodical teaching received elsewhere. The fact that these truths about the main questions of faith and Christian living are thus repeated within a family setting impregnated with love and respect will often make it possible to influence the children in a decisive way for life. The parents themselves profit from the effort that this demands of them, for in a catechetical dialogue of this sort each individual both receives and gives.
Family catechesis therefore precedes, accompanies and enriches all other forms of catechesis. Furthermore, in places where anti- religious legislation endeavours even to prevent education in the faith, and in places where widespread unbelief or invasive secularism makes real religious growth practically impossible, "the church of the home"(120) remains the one place where children and young people can receive an authentic catechesis. Thus there cannot be too great an effort on the part of Christian parents to prepare for this ministry of being their own children's catechists and to carry it out with tireless zeal. Encouragement must also be given to the individuals or institutions that, through person-to-person contacts, through meetings, and through all kinds of pedagogical means, help parents to perform their task: The service they are doing to catechesis is beyond price."
The right and duty of parents to give education is essential… original and primary… on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; and it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others…. it cannot be forgotten that the most basic element, so basic that it qualifies the educational role of parents, is parental love.
"The witness of Christian life given by parents in the family comes to children with tenderness and parental respect. Children thus perceive and joyously live the closeness of God and of Jesus made manifest by their parents in such a way that this first Christian experience frequently leaves decisive traces which last throughout life. This childhood religious awakening which takes place in the family is irreplaceable. It is consolidated when, on the occasion of certain family events and festivities, "care is taken to explain in the home the Christian or religious content of these events". It is deepened all the more when parents comment on the more methodical catechesis which their children later receive in the Christian community and help them to appropriate it. Indeed, "family catechesis precedes...accompanies and enriches all forms of catechesis".
Parents receive in the sacrament of Matrimony "the grace and the ministry of the Christian education of their children", to whom they transmit and bear witness to human and religious values. This educational activity which is both human and religious is "a true ministry", through which the Gospel is transmitted and radiated so that family life is transformed into a journey of faith and the school of Christian life. As the children grow, exchange of faith becomes mutual and "in a catechetical dialogue of this sort, each individual both receives and gives". It is for this reason that the Christian community must give very special attention to parents. By means of personal contact, meetings, courses and also adult catechesis directed toward parents, the Christian community must help them assume their responsibility—which is particularly delicate today—of educating their children in the faith. This is especially pressing in those areas where civil legislation does not permit or makes difficult freedom of education in the faith. In this case "the domestic Church" is virtually the only environment in which children and young people can receive authentic catechesis."
England and Wales
In 2000 the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales highlighted “parents’ own needs for formation”, and recognised that “parents (in the first instance) and then children require formation in basic Christian beliefs and faith experience to precede any specifically sacramental formation.” The Priority of Adult Formation. Committee for Catechesis and Adult Formation. CBCEW, 2000
Extracts from the Report on Evangelisation in England and Wales (2002)
“It is very clear that the means by which people are most effectively evangelised rely predominantly on human relationships and pastoral care. This is evidenced by the strongly affirmative responses in elements relating to the influence of family, friends, having children, marriage…”(p119)
“What is very apparent yet again, is that it is in the context of the family that faith would seem to be most effectively communicated and nurtured. Secondary to this influence is the importance attached to a sense of belonging in the local Church”(p121)
“Human relationships between Christians and their families, friends, and neighbours are the most powerful evangelising force in England and Wales ” (p142)
“Our research shows a high percentage of active Catholics attribute their sense of the Gospel to their families and personal friendships. However they need supporting and equipping. Resourcing the domestic Church to assist families raise their children in the faith must be a priority" (p141)