The sixth edition of The Program for Priestly Formation includes intellectual formation as an integral component of the propaedeutic stage, though its nature, methods and goals should be distinct from academic studies in the sense of secular schooling or job training (cf. PPF #114).
Seminarians in the propaedeutic stage engage in intellectual formation of a mystagogical nature. “Mystagogy” means “learning about the mysteries.” It is a process of growing in the faith through prayer, learning, and practicing with other believers. Pope Benedicts XVI’s encyclical Sacramentum Caritatis, Section 64, is entitled “Mystagogical Catechesis.” There it says, “The mature fruit of mystagogy is an awareness that one’s life is being progressively transformed by the holy mysteries.” Accordingly, all the courses in the propaedeutic stage are aimed primarily at a deeper personal encounter with the mystery of the Holy Trinity evidenced in ongoing conversion and “configuration to the heart and life of the Lord Jesus” (PPF #115). Such an aim requires that both the instructor and the seminarians approach the courses in a way that integrates doctrine and lived experience, theology and sanctity. While engaged in mystagogical catechesis, we may not isolate our thinking about God from our encounter with God. This intellectual engagement should be intimately and inseparably integrated with the spiritual and human dimensions of priestly formation.
Moreover, the inner transformation at which mystagogical catechesis aims is meant not only to benefit the seminarians personally but also to enable them to bear witness in their surroundings to the Catholic faith that inspires them (cf. PPF #263). In the words of Benedict XVI: “Communicating the faith means stating openly and publicly what they have seen and heard in their encounter with Christ, what they have experienced in their lives which has been transformed by that encounter.” This is a communication of the faith “born from a knowledge of God which is realized in familiarity with him”; it is a witness born from filial prayer.
The course content most suitable to the propaedeutic stage includes spirituality and prayer, catechesis/doctrine, and biblical literacy (cf. PPF #129). Seminarians should be taught “how to pray, especially scriptural meditation and the art of lectio divina.” They should also be introduced to “the great schools of spiritual theology and the spiritual masters.” Additionally, the propaedeutic stage is “an ideal opportunity to acquire an initial and overall familiarity with Christian doctrine by studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” Equally important is that seminarians “obtain an introductory knowledge of the Bible” (PPF #268 and Ratio Fundamentalis, no. 59).
Seminarians at STPSU typically take twelve courses in the propaedeutic stage, which are spread over four modules. The courses normally meet once a week for two hours and are held in the morning or early afternoon. Although the seminarians’ coursework is not evaluated as is the case in a formal academic program, instructors can require reading assignments, interviews, reflection papers, and journalling assignments. Participation includes attentive listening to presentations, contributing to group discussions, as well as personal reflection and appropriation of course material. It is hoped that the insights and concerns that come up in these courses will enrich a seminarian’s personal prayer and spiritual life, inform discussions that take place in spiritual direction and human formation workshops, and enhance the quality of formation discussions with the director of the program.