I am still troubled by those Japanese who without a priests or the sacraments, except baptism and marriage maintained the faith for 200 years.
Sometime ago a man about 28, a woman of 30 both English came see me about getting married. Both had 13 years of Catholic schooling, they were living together, neither had practiced since they were 15 and confirmed. I suspect that might have been the last time went they went to confession too. After 13 years of Catholic education they really didn't have a clue.
The Japanese Catholics initially catechised by St Francis Xavier would have received the most rudimentary catechesis. They would have been taught prayers of the Rosary and how to say it. They would have been taught the commandments, and what the Mass is about, again in the most rudimentary terms, when they attended Mass it would have been in Latin. They would have had bible stories by no vernacular bible. They would have had images, probably cheap prints, possibly statues and a few medals. I presume they would have had stories of the saints.
Traditionally the creed, not the scriptures, was given to those preparing for baptism, in ancient catechesis people were taught to do things: to be reconciled to neighbours and to keep the commandments, certainly, but also to genuflect, to kneel to pray, to bring flowers to the statue of the Blessed Virgin, to suffer and offer things up, to take part in processions, to go to Mass and devotions, to undertake the cycle of fasting and feasting. Obviously they were given a framework in which to think about God, but they were not expected to take part in theological speculation, which is so much part of today's catechetical methodology.
There was an old Jesuit, Fr Hugh Thwaites*, who was the most extra-ordinary evangelist, he received dozens of people into the Church every year. When I asked him what scheme he used for his converts, he said, "I just teach them to say the Rosary". I think he was returning to the methodology of those early Jesuits. It was the Rosary after all St Dominic used primarily to re-evangelise the Cathars of Langue d'Oc.
I think we ought to re-examine the whole way in which we catechise both our children and adults, Catholic Secondary education is just not producing the fruit that we expect. I suspect that we should be substituting practical Christian living for the theory stuff, the prayer desk in the chapel for the study desk classroom. The basis of catechesis should be to inculcate devotion to the person of Christ, rather than mere knowledge about him. Seeking knowledge of God will always follow devotion to him, but it seems rarely to work the other way round. We need to teach people to be Christians rather rthan merely to know about Christ.
*Fr Thwaites is quite sick and unable to say Mass nowadays, pray for him.