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A Spiral Curriculum

Sadlier’s We Believe with Project Disciple Program
A Spiral Curriculum

Dr. Baumbach is Director of the Center for Catechetical Initiatives, Institute for Church Life, and Concurrent Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. He was Executive Vice President and Publisher at William H. Sadlier, Inc. and was the initiator of Sadlier's original We Believe program. Dr. Baumbach is an internationally known author and speaker.



A Spiral Curriculum for Catechesis

Christ at the Heart of the Curriculum

Some Foundations of Sadlier’s We Believe with Project Disciple Spiral Curriculum

Framing Catechesis: Evangelization and Inculturation

The Six Tasks of Catechesis

Educating for Catholic Identity

One Example: Baptism and the We Believe with Project Disciple Spiral Curriculum


Selected References

Figure 1: Spiral of Knowledge for Catechesis, Grades 1-8

Figure 2: Building the We Believe with Project Disciple Program’s Spiral Curriculum

Figure 3: We Believe with Project Disciple: Spiral Curriculum and the Six Tasks of Catechesis

Figure 4: Selected Teachings on Baptism from the We Believe with Project Disciple Program’s Spiral Curriculum



Near the end of January 1959, just three months after having been elected to the papacy, Pope (now Blessed) John XXIII announced the forthcoming convening of an ecumenical council. This pope, one of advanced age, set out on a course that would impact and affirm Catholic life in all its beauty, wonder, and teaching, as well as address the broader context of society and world religions.

Although it had been about nine decades since the last Vatican council,[1] the papal announcement took many by surprise. It “gave rise to a great fervor throughout the world in expectation of the holding of the council.”[2] 

Just three years later, on October 11, 1962, the Holy Father would open the Second Vatican Council, telling the Church Fathers, in part:

“The greatest concern of the ecumenical council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously. That doctrine embraces the whole of man, composed as he is of body and soul. And, since he is a pilgrim on this earth, it commands him to tend always toward Heaven. . . . .

“In order, however, that this doctrine may influence the numerous fields of human activity, with reference to individuals, to families and to social life, it is necessary first of all that the Church should never depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers. But at the same time she must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and new forms of life introduced into the modern world which have opened new avenues to the Catholic apostolate.

“For this reason the Church has not watched inertly the marvelous progress of the discoveries of human genius and has not been backward in evaluating them rightly. But, while following these developments, she does not neglect to admonish men so that, over and above sense-perceived things, they may raise their eyes to God, the Source of all wisdom and all beauty. . . .

[Doctrine] “is a patrimony not well received by all, but always a rich treasure available to men of good will. . . .

“The substance of the ancient doctrine of the Deposit of Faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another.”[3]

Less than nine months after Pope John XXIII’s announcement, an event of a different sort took place in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Known as the Woods Hole Conference (a name linked to its geographic location), this event brought together 35 persons[4] from the world of academe and related institutions and with backgrounds in a variety of academic disciplines. The conference would ultimately have a dramatic impact on education.

“What had prompted the meeting was a conviction that we were at the beginning of a period of new progress in, and concern for, creating curricula and ways of teaching science, and that a general appraisal of this progress and concern was in order, so as to better guide developments in the future.”[5]

In the 1960 book that resulted from the Woods Hole Conference, scholar and participant Jerome Bruner wrote of “spiral curriculum”[6] :

“If one respects the ways of thought of the growing child, if one is courteous enough to translate material into his logical forms and challenging enough to tempt him to advance, then it is possible to introduce him at an early age to the ideas and styles that in later life make him an educated man.”[7]

Using the notion of tragedy in literature as an example for promoting a spiral curriculum, Bruner asserts that:

“What matters is that later teaching build upon earlier reactions to literature, that it seek to create an ever more explicit and mature understanding of the literature of tragedy. Any of the great literary forms can be handled in the same way, or any of the great themes—be it the form of comedy or the theme of identity, personal loyalty, or what not.”[8]

Who would have thought that a papal announcement would lead to a Council that would have such a powerful impact on ecclesial life and ministry? And who would have thought that a Cape Cod gathering of about three dozen participants would impact so dramatically curriculum development?

From a catechetical perspective, the pastoral portal of the Second Vatican Council emerged during a time of a renewal in catechesis that was already underway. The Council’s historic gatherings and resulting documentation would go on to shape ecclesial life and impact catechesis in a multitude of ways.

The urgent work of handing on the faith would continue with a renewal of spirit and with engagement with appropriate educational approaches, including that of a spiral curriculum.

A Spiral Curriculum for Catechesis
The implementation of a spiral approach for curriculum development was influential in the preparation of numerous catechetical materials following the Second Vatican Council. Approaches born of spiral foundations became an important contributing dimension to curriculum development. Sadlier took a leadership role in this development, publishing many spiral-driven catechetical materials.

One illustration of a spiral image of the time is shown in Figure 1 as part of Sadlier’s “An Introduction to Modern Catechetics” program, published in 1970. The spiral in Figure 1 portrays a gradual and increasingly expansive image, one that demonstrates a reasoned and deliberate progression of graded teaching and learning for topics under study.   

Figure 1

Figure 1
Spiral of Knowledge for Catechesis, Grades 1-8

The label “Spiral of Knowledge” [9] confirms one among several catechetical initiatives during the years following the Second Vatican Council; that is, of ensuring that the presentation of knowledge of the faith would be explicit, forthright, and faithful to Catholic teaching. The image’s developers also sought to ensure that such presentation would benefit from sound curricular approaches of the time.

We are reminded of Pope John XXIII’s assertion, already stated here, that “The greatest concern of the ecumenical council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously.”[10] This sacred deposit of Christian doctrine is a living source of truth and not, as some might object, a wearying list of statements and facts.

Emerging from Scripture and Tradition, doctrinal truth is life-giving, set afire in the hearts, minds, and souls of the believing community. Thus, doctrine is not to be understood to be something akin to a “bank deposit” but rather, by virtue of its sacred and dynamic character, is a “deposit” that is in and of itself already cause for celebration, adoption, and adherence. As the General Directory for Catechesis observes:

Being inspired by the pedagogy of faith, catechesis presents its service as a designated educative journey in that, on the one hand it assists the person to open himself to the religious dimension of life, while on the other, it proposes the Gospel to him. It does so in such a manner as to penetrate and transform the processes of intelligence, conscience, liberty and action making of existence a gift after the example of Jesus Christ. Thus the catechist knows and avails of the contribution of the sciences of education, understood always in a Christian sense.”[11]

Within the world of catechesis, a spiral curriculum enables the presentation and promotion of key aspects of doctrinal teaching at selected points in the curriculum. This incorporates expansion points for re-presentation and enhanced promotion of core teachings.

A comprehensive and complete way to do this is to identify a core teaching (e.g., Baptism) early on in a graded program and reinforce such a teaching by its own internal expansion at selected points later in the curriculum, with in-depth coverage at appropriate intervals in subsequent grades. This approach enables a curriculum to remain faithful to the authentic and complete presentation of the doctrinal heritage of the Church.

Thematic presentation of doctrinal teaching within and at the heart of a spiral curriculum ensures not only periodic and predictable treatment of core themes but also incorporates an age-appropriate context determined by theological topic, catechetical readiness, and explicit presentation of doctrinal truth. This context for catechesis is founded on the word of God in Scripture and Tradition, relies on the gift of the Magisterium as servant to catechesis, and is enlightened and enriched by the six tasks of catechesis. Such is the case with the We Believe with Project Disciple Program.

Christ at the Heart of the Curriculum
“The object of catechesis is communion with Jesus Christ.”[12]We Believe with Project Disciple fosters both knowing about Jesus Christ and knowing Christ, Lord and Savior. Indeed, at the heart of the curriculum of the We Believe with Project Disciple Program is the Person of Jesus Christ. We Believe promotes with vigor “the definitive aim of catechesis [which] is to put people not only in touch, but also in communion and intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.”[13]

Throughout the teaching process, We Believe with Project Disciple asserts in multiple ways the reality that “Christ is the unique Teacher because his teaching is not merely a collection of abstract truths but the Truth itself, ‘the communication of the living mystery of God.’”[14] Through awareness of Christ’s own approaches to forming disciples catechists can gain fresh insight into ways of catechizing that can be effective for us today. As participants in this communication, we experience the mystery of God present among us.

A spiral catechetical curriculum, implemented over time, reaches key points of transition as the learner grows more capable of understanding and living in discipleship. Consider the following as aspects of Jesus’ ministry happening over time:

  • “Jesus chose his apostles . . . .
  • “He established a bond of friendship with them that was the context for his teaching.
  • “He engaged them in lively conversations by asking them probing questions: ‘Who do people say that I am?’
  • “He gave them hope . . . .
  • “After he taught the crowds, he explained the meaning of his teaching to his disciples ‘in private.’
  • “He taught them to pray.
  • “He sent them out as his apprentices on mission; “he instructed them . . . .
  • “To sustain them on their mission, Jesus promised to send them the Spirit of Truth, who would lead the Apostles to all Truth.”[15]

This summary, drawn from the National Directory for Catechesis, is a valued resource for developing a Christ-centered curriculum as part of an overall catechetical plan.  

Some Foundations of Sadlier’s We Believe with Project Disciple Spiral Curriculum
A fresh and clarifying opportunity for employing a spiral approach emerged with the appearance during little more than a ten-year period of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the General Directory for Catechesis, and the National Directory for Catechesis.[16]

For catechesis in the United States, these essential tools form together a type of catechetical bridge linking the second and third millennia and twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Their theological, doctrinal, and catechetical import arises from firmly grounded foundations. “The source of catechesis is found in the word of God revealed by Jesus Christ.”[17] In the same section, the NDC affirms: [T]he word of God, contained and transmitted in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition and interpreted by the Magisterium, is the principal source of catechesis.”[18]  

Within Sadlier, a breakthrough opportunity emerged in the first decade of the 21st century with the publication of the We Believe Program. Informed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the General Directory for Catechesis, and built on scriptural foundations (not only from within the Scriptures themselves but also from within a scriptural catechesis linked to catechetical documentation), We Believe stands as a significant contribution to catechetical curriculum development. The 2011 revised edition, We Believe with Project Disciple, benefits in a particularly dynamic way from the guidance and insights provided by the National Directory for Catechesis.

For many years, the Catechism of the Catholic Church has been a fundamental resource for catechesis and for catechetical textual development. It is a clear reference and valued tool for understanding the sacred mystery of Christ present to us, with us, and for us and offers many pathways for strengthening relationships in and with Christ.

Reliance on the Catechism as an essential reference point enables a spiral curriculum to come alive through gradual and comprehensive exposition of its four pillars: the Profession of Faith, the Celebration of the Christian Mystery, Life in Christ, and Christian Prayer. This historic sequential structure offers numerous opportunities for catechesis, especially when viewed in conjunction with the sections on the pedagogy of the faith and divine and human methodology from the General Directory for Catechesis and National Directory for Catechesis, respectively.[19]

The We Believe with Project Disciple spiral approach provides systematic linkages within core topics and between core topics through the entire curriculum as a whole—when children are best able to grow “outwardly” from initial and then heightened awareness of a selected topic and “inwardly” from more challenging and developmentally appropriate awareness of a topic (e.g., Baptism as taught across the curriculum).

We Believe with Project Disciple integrates the content of faith year by year through (a) depth of doctrinal awareness and (b) breadth of doctrinal application. This spiral curriculum approach serves not only the presentation of the Church’s ecclesial heritage but also its enthusiastic promotion, leading to a catechesis rich in handing on the “living doctrine” of truth and life.

Framing Catechesis: Evangelization and Inculturation

Effective catechetical programs take seriously the charge to “evangelize by educating and educate by evangelizing.”[20] The Spirit-filled and prayerful activity of catechists everywhere becomes a potent voice for handing on the faith. The power of grace prevails.

Because of the opportunity presented by its spiral curriculum, the We Believe with Project Disciple Program serves even more effectively the Church’s call to faith and conversion of life in the minds and hearts of program participants. This demands a dynamic partnership between evangelization and catechesis in forming faith. It also enlivens the catechetical agenda through what Pope John Paul II identified as the “new evangelization”—reaching out to many different peoples in coming to Christ.[21]

The faith journey occurs within a context of faith and culture, prayer and worship. The GDC states: “This faith, transmitted by the ecclesial community, is one.”[22] The We Believe with Project Disciple spiral curriculum reflects the intimate connection between evangelization and catechesis and becomes part of the promotion of the faith handed on with faithfulness and care. That fidelity is mirrored in faithfulness to God through fidelity to one another within the Church, the community of faith.

The program is a sound tool for a catechesis that serves the ongoing conversion in faith and discipleship of the entire Christian community, including children and young people. The term “ongoing” does not mean “only for adults” but rather is applicable for the entirety of one’s life—whether from one grade to another or from one period of life to another.  

The General Directory for Catechesis states that “Frequently, many who present themselves for catechesis truly require genuine conversion.”[23] Guided by the Holy Spirit, people “seek the living God and enter the way of faith and conversion.”[24] This “Way”[25] is open to all. It is the Way of Christ.

Within a socially and culturally diverse milieu people yearn for relationship with Jesus Christ. “In the mystery of his incarnation, Jesus Christ is the human face of God and the divine face of humanity. The incarnation of the only Son of God is the original inculturation of God’s word.”[26]

The Way of Christ is traveled in and through a culture but not without that same culture being impacted by the Gospel itself. The Gospel penetrates[27] people of all types even as it seeks to find a home within cultural environs that may already be responsive to the integrity of the Gospel. Indeed, the word of God permeates the lives of people who may have known

little or nothing of Christ and whose lives may have been unable to secure a deep and intimate communion with him. This also relates to shaping a catechetical response to the new evangelization.

At the same time, “inculturation involves listening to the culture of the people for an echo of the word of God.”[28] All of this leads to genuine moments along the way of ongoing conversion, opportunities that one may not even recognize at first but will eventually come to be seen as opportunities for purification, encouragement, and committed discipleship. In sum, neither evangelization nor inculturation can be swept away in offering a sound catechesis.

Figure 2 shows the We Believe with Project Disciple spiral curriculum as framed and enriched by both evangelization and inculturation. They provide a realistic template and dynamic framework for nurturing faith, building understanding, and fostering active and informed discipleship.     

Figure 2

Figure 2
Building the We Believe with Project Disciple Program’s Spiral Curriculum

Fortunately, in addition to awareness of the importance of evangelization and inculturation, catechists have the benefit of the six tasks of catechesis to support their efforts along the Way.

The Six Tasks of Catechesis

The presentation on the six tasks of catechesis[29] in the National Directory for Catechesis appears in Chapter 2, “Catechesis within the Church’s Mission of Evangelization.” The tasks follow sections on evangelization, the source and sources of catechesis, and the nature and purpose of catechesis.[30] The section on the six tasks is followed by the section on inculturation.

The We Believe with Project Disciple spiral curriculum invites, enlivens, and invigorates the child’s life of faith through application of the six tasks of catechesis across all the grades. This invitation incorporates discipleship, a dimension of faith prominently reflected in the “Project Disciple” feature of each of the texts. Doctrinal awareness comes alive in catechizing for discipleship, particularly in the daily encounters children and young people have with one another, with family members, and with others who may be drawn to Christ through their own tender witness to faith.

Our effort to catechize is itself a catechesis. Through this effort we affirm that “Jesus formed his disciples by making known to them the various dimensions of the Kingdom of God. . . . Christ’s method of formation was accomplished by diverse yet interrelated tasks.”[31]

In our own day, the Church offers us a catechesis that is molded by six tasks. “Faith must be known, celebrated, lived, and expressed in prayer. So catechesis comprises six fundamental tasks, each of which is related to an aspect of faith in Christ. All efforts in evangelization and catechesis should incorporate these tasks.”[32]

The six tasks of catechesis can be summarized briefly as follows.

TaskTask as Stated in NDC 20[33]Including:[34]
1 “Catechesis promotes knowledge of the faith.”

Invitation to conversion;

God’s self-revelation; Sacred Scripture; Sacred Tradition; Creeds; doctrinal formulas

2 “Catechesis promotes a knowledge of the meaning of the Liturgy and the sacraments.”Paschal Mystery; celebration of sacraments and call to becoming active participants in the liturgy; sacramental catechesis
3 “Catechesis promotes moral formation in Jesus Christ.”Jesus’ moral teaching; content of teaching and what it means for Christian living; becoming conformed to Christ (transformation, conversion); importance of witness in society
4 “Catechesis teaches the Christian how to pray with Christ.”Becoming one with Christ through conversion to him; prayer as a standard for catechesis; the Our Father essential for prayer, catechesis
5 “Catechesis prepares the Christian to live in community and to participate actively in the life and mission of the Church.”Command to love others in Christian discipleship in community; developing apprenticeship in living as a Christian; importance of ecumenical aspects; catechesis for Christian unity

 “Catechesis promotes a missionary spirit that prepares the faithful to be present as Christians in society.”


Call to seek and to serve; living one’s vocation in Christ; Christian witness in society; adopting Jesus’ “evangelical attitudes”; dialogue with other religious traditions

Figure 3 identifies the six tasks of catechesis. The broken lines indicate the interdependent flow between and among the tasks within Grades K to 8 of the We Believe with Project Disciple spiral curriculum.

Figure 3

Figure 3
We Believe with Project Disciple Spiral Curriculum and the Six Tasks of Catechesis

Why must a catechist vigorously embrace all of the tasks of catechesis? The answer is that “knowing the basics of the faith” is itself a reflection of all six tasks. The child’s, young person’s, or adult’s holistic growth in faith is accomplished by attention to all six of the tasks, which remain in dynamic interdependence and interaction with one another. Catechesis thrives on the harmony of the six tasks and reflects their derived benefits individually and collectively within the enriching environs of cultural diversity.

However, some catechists may find themselves in a type of comfort zone that limits catechesis to one or two of the tasks. For example, they may assume that other catechists will fill in the gaps for certain aspects of Catholic teaching about which they are uninformed, insufficiently informed, or uncomfortable teaching.

Other catechists may find the term “task” to be off-putting, bringing to mind images of drudgery and burdensome study. For others, the term may lend itself to a hardening of one’s spirit, leading to unrealistic goal-setting regardless of the age or composition of those being catechized.

Catechists don’t just teach; catechists also proclaim. In fact, all Christians are called to be proclaimers of the Gospel, though methods for such proclamation may vary. The catechist’s duty remains that of handing on the faith with due regard to all of the tasks of catechesis.

Educating for Catholic Identity
One outcome of a task-focused catechesis within a spiral catechetical curriculum is the child’s and young person’s self-identification as Catholic. Across the various texts, core themes appear in a variety of ways among grade levels,[35] reinforcing Catholic awareness and enriching the presentation of related topics from within the motif of the six tasks of catechesis. This contributes to the catechist being able to educate for Catholic Identity every year through a focused and centered approach.

Over time, the curriculum engages the child as a participant in both mission and mystery: “Through the Holy Spirit, the Risen Christ is alive in those who believe, helping them to understand their experiences in the light of faith.”[36] Theologically, the child or other program participant becomes a “witness to” and “witness of” the developing life of faith of the Christian community, the Church. From within a context that integrates discipleship throughout the catechesis, the child or other participant gradually becomes disposed to invite others to come to Christ as a natural outcome of being and living as a Christian.

For example, the We Believe with Project Disciple spiral curriculum enables the child to integrate prayer, content, and practice week by week and promotes his or her understanding of truths of faith as essential to living as a disciple. A core fundamental element within the approach is the three-step learning process of “We Gather, We Believe, We Respond” (in the grades 7-8 books, “Gathering, Believing, Responding”).Through these three steps, this historically-based approach[37]:

  • invites the active participation of the one being catechized and fosters prayerful entrance into a core theme from within the child’s experience of faith and life (We Gather/Gathering)
  • intentionally and explicitly pursues the understanding and faithful acquisition of Catholic teaching (We Believe/Believing)
  • and proposes challenging opportunities to live as a disciple of Christ within the supportive community of the Church (We Respond/Responding).

The program fosters within each grade level the child’s developing relationship with Christ and promotes faith in Christ through the child’s lived experience as a member of the Church.

Through the efforts of catechists over time, children and young people become more and more sharers “in the life of the Holy Trinity”[38] as faithful and faith-filled Catholics.

The program fosters the child’s and young person’s gradual awareness and eager embrace of “the evangelical attitudes of Christ”[39] as it presents content in depth and in breadth. Finally, it promotes the faithfulness and gifts of the catechist as he or she acts on his or her role in understanding, recognizing, and affirming the Church as teacher[40] through the catechetical encounter.

One Example: Baptism and the We Believe with Project Disciple Spiral Curriculum
Baptism is one example from among many core teachings that could be selected for illustration of an effectively prepared spiral curriculum.

The General Directory for Catechesis points out with profound simplicity: “Faith, by means of which man respond to the Gospel, requires Baptism.”[41] The first of the three sacraments of initiation, Baptism is a doorway, an opening, a welcoming post, a celebration of new life, a journey to move ahead, a lighthouse along the Way of conversion, a call to risk, and a sound hearing of the word of God in Christ.

The saving waters of Baptism beckon the believer to come to new life in Christ. Jesus insisted that John baptize him, despite the latter’s resistance. After coming up out of the water, “he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove [and] coming upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”[42]

We hear proclaimed at the end of Matthew’s Gospel the great commission of Jesus to his faithful disciples: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”[43] Baptism is foundational for the Christian and for life shared within the community of the Church. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out:

“Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit (vitae spiritualise ianua), and the door which gives access to other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: ‘Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word.’”[44]

The We Believe with Project Disciple presentation of the teaching on Baptism demonstrates both lively adherence to the six tasks of catechesis and coherent and age-appropriate presentation of fundamental baptismal elements presented gradually across the curriculum. Figure 4 identifies selected aspects of Baptism as taught from within this spiral curriculum.[45] The statements are exemplary and not exhaustive, and provide a glimpse of the program’s rich treatment of this sacrament.

Figure 4

Selected Teachings on Baptism from the We Believe with Project Disciple Program’s Spiral Curriculum
GradeTeachingsGrade Level Concordance
KAt Baptism we become members of the ChurchWater and special words are used in Baptismp. 195
p. 195
p. 195
p. 195
1At Baptism we receive God’s life.
Water is a sign of the life God gives us.
At Baptism God gives us a share in his life. We call God’s life in us grace.
The Church celebrates Baptism with special words and actions. . . . “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
In Baptism we are joined to Jesus and one another.
p. 149
p. 149
p. 149

p. 150

p. 151
p. 198
p. 198
p. 199

p. 200
p. 201

p. 202
2Water is an important sign of the sacrament of Baptism.
Through Baptism, original sin and all other sins are taken away.
Baptism is the sacrament in which we are freed from sin and given grace, a share in God’s life.
We celebrate the sacrament of Baptism with special words and actions.
We can show that we are children of God by what we say and do.
p. 45

p. 45

p. 45

p. 46

p. 47
p. 58

p. 59

p. 59

p. 60

p. 62
3Even though Jesus was without sin, he went to John to be baptized.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we receive and celebrate God’s own life and love in the sacraments.
Through the power of grace, we grow in holiness.
Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist are the sacraments of Christian initiation.
In Baptism the Church welcomes us. We become children of God and members of the Church.
p. 22

p. 132

p. 132
p. 133

p. 133
p. 25

p. 173

p. 173
p. 174

p. 174
4Jesus Christ is our Savior.
Original sin makes it harder for us to love and obey God.
Even though they had sinned, God did not turn away from his people. God promised to save them from sin. He sent his only Son to save all people. Jesus is the Son of God who came to take away the sin of the world.
The disciples spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
The disciples went everywhere teaching about Jesus.
Many . . . were baptized.
The Church is the community of people who are baptized in Jesus Christ and follow his teachings.
Through Baptism, we are joined to all the members of the Church. When we are baptized we become members of the Church.
Through our Baptism each of us is called to become more like Jesus. We are called to follow the example of Jesus who always remained close to God his Father.
In the sacrament of Baptism, we are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This blessing in the name of the Blessed Trinity gives us the gift of grace for the first time.
The grace we receive in the sacraments helps us to grow in holiness.
p. 22
p. 22

p. 22

p. 22

p. 22

p. 22
p. 22

p. 31
p. 22
p. 44

p. 93

p. 206
p. 24
p. 24

p. 24

p. 26

p. 26

p. 26
p. 26

p. 39
p. 26
p. 56

p. 123

p. 277
5The gift of sharing in God’s life that we receive in the sacraments is sanctifying grace. This grace helps us to trust and believe in God. It strengthens us to live as Jesus did.
Baptism is the foundation of Christian life. It is upon Baptism that we build our lives as followers of Christ.
Baptism is the sacrament in which we are freed from sin, become children of God, and are welcomed into the Church.
In Baptism we are anointed, blessed with holy oil. This seal of Baptism marks us as belonging to Christ, and thus we receive Baptism only once.
In Baptism we are anointed and sealed forever in Christ. To be anointed is to be blessed with holy oil. The seal of Baptism marks us as belonging to Christ. Because of this seal we receive Baptism only once. . . . [W]e share in Jesus’ role of priest, prophet, and king.
We know that Jesus is the only one, true priest. However, he calls all the baptized to share in his priesthood. This is the priesthood of the faithful.
The Church welcomes all to be baptized.
The catechumenate is a period of formation for Christian initiation.
The entire parish takes part in the formation of the catechumens.
The celebration of Baptism on Sunday highlights the fact that we rise to new life like Jesus did.
p. 36

p. 44

p. 44

p. 46

p. 46

p. 52
p. 52

p. 52

p. 52
p. 45

p. 57

p. 57

p. 60

p. 60

p. 60
p. 68

p. 69

p. 69
6We call our sharing in God’s life and friendship grace, and we receive grace through the sacraments. A sacrament is an effective sign given to us by Jesus through which we share God’s life.
God made a covenant with Noah. . . .
There is great meaning in the symbols found in the story of Noah… the flood water is a symbol of the waters of the sacrament of Baptism.
Through Baptism we are freed from original sin and all personal sins.
Through Baptism God offers us his forgiveness and his love.
We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, our Savior. We are called to believe what the Church teaches us about Christ.
p. 56

p. 60
p. 60

p. 60

p. 60

p. 266
p. 57

p. 60
p. 60

p. 61

p. 61

p. 266

Selected Teachings on Baptism from the We Believe with Project Disciple Program’s Spiral Curriculum 
GradeTeachings  Grade Level Concordance
7At Baptism we accept the gift of faith from God and become Jesus’
disciples. We become part of the Church. At Baptism we also receive another gift from God, the gift of grace. Grace is a participation, or a sharing, in God’s life and friendship. Grace helps us to respond to God with love. It leads us to want to know God better and to live as God wants us to live. It gives us the strength to live as Jesus’ disciples.
In Baptism we receive new life in Christ.
The Sacrament of Baptism is our rebirth in water and the Spirit. Baptism, like faith, is necessary for salvation. It is in Baptism that sin, both original sin and personal sin, is taken away. In Baptism, the immersion into, or plunging into, water symbolizes that we die to sin and rise to new life in Christ. We are purified and renewed. Belonging to Christ, we are called “Christian,” and God gives us his grace, his own life and love.
As baptized members of the Church, Jesus calls all of us to share in his priesthood. This priesthood is not the ordained priesthood but the priesthood of the faithful, in which we can all participate—in the liturgy, especially the Eucharist, in prayer, and in the offering of our lives to God.
 p. 17

p. 154
p. 154

p. 155
8[I]n the Sacrament of Baptism, God offers us the hope of eternal life, a life of happiness with him forever. God frees us from original sin, and our personal sins are forgiven. God also gives us his grace, a participation, or a sharing, in God’s life and friendship.
The Catholic Church has always taught that our good works on earth do matter. God’s grace, working through us, enables us to cooperate in Jesus’ work of salvation. Through Baptism we are saved by our faith in God and in his Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior; but we also must express our faith through good works. In fact, the Church teaches that God’s gift of grace gives us a responsibility to do good works on earth—a responsibility to live our earthly lives as Jesus lived his.
Our conversion begins when we are baptized in the name of the Blessed Trinity.  We take on the common mission of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and of working together to spread God’s Kingdom.
Through Baptism we become members of the Church.

p. 15

p. 128

p. 220

p. 221

Figure 4
Selected Teachings on Baptism from the We Believe with Project Disciple Program’s Spiral Curriculum

Key baptismal themes are woven throughout the chart above. The recurrence of particular dimensions of Baptism is intentional and developmentally appropriate, enabling the child or young person to be introduced to more comprehensive elements of baptismal understanding with the passage of time. At the same time, some aspects are repeated for reinforcement with the intention of motivating the child to memorize and retain not only prior learning but also construct deeper awareness as he or she matures.  

Each aspect of baptismal teaching can be placed within the spiral design presented here in conjunction with the six tasks of catechesis. Figure 5, for example, demonstrates this principle with regard to teaching on grace.

The grace of the Holy Spirit, the gratuitous gift of God to us, opens up a wide array of opportunities for actively partaking in responding to the call of the Gospel. Catechist and catechized are charged with the awareness that a life of grace is an engagement in the very life of God. Through the divine initiative, ongoing conversion and faithful discipleship become emblematic of God’s will in our lives coming to fruition, the grace of God firmly taking root in the lives of the catechized.

“Grace” in relation to the sacrament of Baptism is identified many times in the graded charts presented in Figure 4.  Age-appropriate linkages can be established within and among selected grades for other aspects of Catholic teaching in relation to one or more of the six tasks of catechesis. Of obvious import are the elements of evangelization and inculturation, which continue to serve as a mega-framework for the entire catechetical effort.

One paramount goal in this type of exercise is that of ensuring that the program foster living as a disciple of Christ in and through the Church. Catechists would be wise to commit to memory what has already been stated here: “the object of catechesis is communion with Jesus Christ.”[46]


“The object of catechesis is realized by diverse, interrelated tasks. To carry them out, catechesis is certainly inspired by the manner in which Jesus formed his disciples.”[47] A spiral curriculum for catechesis in this new century enables each of the aspects of Catholic teaching to be woven in and through a comprehensive learning approach that relies, from a catechetical perspective, on the interdependence of the six tasks.

Even little children can be invited to gather, believe, and respond to the message of the Gospel. It is a surety that little children, by word, deed, and prayer, can encourage others to do the same. Through dynamic application of the six tasks of catechesis, the We Believe with Project Disciple Program is an authentic aid for deepening and enlivening the child’s faith understanding over time.  And with Sadlier’s implementation of a spiral curriculum, the We Believe with Project Disciple Program remains a compelling tool for faith formation, not only for children and families, but also for catechists and teachers—people of faith who also are on their own personal and communal journeys in the Lord.

Selected References

Bellitto, Christopher M. The General Councils, Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2002.

Bruner, Jerome. The Process of Education. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University  
    Press, 1960. See also edition published in 1977 for new Preface.

Catechism of the Catholic Church. United States Catholic Conference, Inc.— Libreria   
     Editrice Vaticana. America copyright © 2000, 1997, 1994, United States Catholic
     Conference, Inc.—Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Glossary and Index Analyticus © 2000,
     United States Catholic Conference, Inc.

General Directory for Catechesis (GDC), Congregation for the Clergy. USCC—Libreria
     Editrice Vaticana, 1997. Published in the US by United States Catholic Conference, 1998.

National Directory for Catechesis. Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic
     Bishops, 2005.

Pope John XXIII. Address Delivered by His Holiness Pope John XXIII at the Solemn Opening
     of the Second Vatican Council, October 11, 1962.
Washington, DC: National Catholic  
     Welfare Conference.

Pope John Paul II. On Catechesis in Our Time (Catechesi Tradendae). 1979.  

     Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference.

Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. International Committee on English in the Liturgy.
     Washington, DC: ICEL. 1985.

The New American Bible. Copyright © 1991, 1986, 1970, Confraternity of Christian

    Doctrine, Inc. Washington, D.C.

[1] Vatican I (1869-1870), convened by Pope Pius IX (“Pio Nono”), did not formally conclude as Vatican II would decades later. At Vatican I, voting on the statement named Pastor aeternus (dealing with “papal jurisdiction and infallibility”) occurred with war on the horizon. “Vatican I was effectively over, though it was not officially adjourned. There was no time: The day after the vote the Franco-Prussian war broke out” (Christopher  M. Bellitto, The General Councils, Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2002, p. 124.). 

[2]Address Delivered by His Holiness Pope John XXIII at the Solemn Opening of the Second Vatican Council, October 11, 1962. Washington, DC: National Catholic Welfare Conference, p. 5. Citations from this address are rendered as in the original.

[3] Ibid., pp. 7-8.

[4] Cf. Bruner, Jerome. The Process of Education. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1960, p. vii.

[5] Ibid., p. xvii. This and succeeding citations are rendered as in the original.

[6] Ibid., p. 52. See also Bruner’s Preface to the 1977 edition.

[7] Ibid., p. 52.

[8] Ibid., p. 53.

[9] Diagram copyright 1970, W. H. Sadlier, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Printed in U.S.A.

[10] Pope John XXIII, op.cit., p. 7.

[11]General Directory for Catechesis (GDC), Congregation for the Clergy. USCC—Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997, 147, p. 143.

[12]National Directory for Catechesis (NDC) 8, p. 55 (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2005); Cf. GDC 80, p. 71.

[13]Catechesi Tradendae (Catechesis in Our Time: Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II, Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, October 16, 1979), 5; cf. General Directory for Catechesis (GDC) 80 and National Directory for Catechesis (NDC) 19B.

[14] NDC 8, p. 19, quoting Catechesi Tradendae 7.

[15] NDC 28, p. 92. Cited material does not appear in a list in the original.

[16]Catechism: 1992 (English, 1994); GDC: 1997; NDC: 2005.

[17] NDC 18, p. 53.

[18] NDC 18, pp. 54.

[19] See GDC Part 3 and NDC Chapter 4.

[20] GDC 147, p. 143.

[21] For example, the new evangelization includes efforts to renew the faith of the baptized as well as to serve the gift of faith coming to life in people who are beginning to explore Christianity and the Church or who may not have heard of Christ and the Church. The new evangelization addresses, in part, the situation of Catholics who have been away from the Church for some time, those who are seeking or needing to know and understand Catholic teaching, or those who may indeed be alienated from the Church. The basic request of the Holy Father, now exercised by a multitude of Christians, is “to open wide the doors to Christ” (NDC 17, p. 46).  See NDC 17, pp. 46ff. for further treatment.

[22] GDC 106, p. 101.

[23] GDC 62, p. 56.

[24]Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults [RCIA], © 1985, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc.,  1.

[25] For example, cf. Acts of the Apostles 9:2; 18:26; 19:9.

[26] NDC 21, p. 63; cf. Ecclesia in America 67 for the first sentence quoted.

[27] See GDC 109.

[28] NDC 21, p. 64.

[29] NDC 20. See GDC 84-87.

[30] In addition to treatment of the new evangelization, conversion, and the process of evangelization (and more), it is within these sections that we read of the source of catechesis being “found in the word of God revealed by Jesus Christ”; Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium (“servant of the word of God”); and “the object of catechesis [as] communion with Jesus Christ” (NDC 17-19, pp. 46ff.).

[31] NDC 20, pp. 59-63. See GD 84-87, pp. 73-81.

[32] NDC 20, p. 60.

[33] NDC 20, pp. 60-62.

[34] Includes some terms/phrases directly from NDC 20; cf. GDC 84-87.

[35] In this regard, see Chapter 4 (“Divine and Human Methodology”) of the National Directory for Catechesis.

[36] NDC 16, p. 44.

[37] This three-step approach emerges from catechetical and liturgical foundations and complements the simply stated but profound observation of the General Directory for Catechesis that identifies the relationship between “primary proclamation” of the Gospel and catechesis. The GDC notes that “both activities are essential and mutually complementary: go and welcome, proclaim and educate, call and incorporate” (GDC 61). This complementarity is an essential characteristic of Sadlier’s spiral curriculum.

[38]Catechesi Tradendae 5.

[39] Cf. NDC 20, p. 62.

[40] Cf. NDC 16, pp. 43-44, NDC 18, 53-54.

[41] GDC 65, p. 58.

[42] Matthew 3:16-17.

[43] Matthew 28:19-20.

[44] Excerpt from the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for the United States of America copyright © 2000, 1997, 1994, United States Catholic Conference, Inc.—Libreria Edtricie Vaticana, 1213; cf. Council of Florence for ‘vitae spiritualis ianua,’ Denziger-Schönmetzer 1314; cf. Roman Catechism II, 2, 5 for regeneration quote. 

[45] Since this example is for illustrative purposes only, the descriptive chart treats only a sampling of baptismal teaching from the program. A separate chart could be compiled for liturgical and other sacramental dimensions of Baptism as presented throughout We Believe.

[46] NDC 19, p. 55; cf. GDC 80, p. 71.

[47] GDC 84, p. 72; see note 18.