: ■ What is a catechism?

A catechism is a text which contains the fundamental Christian truths formulated in a way that facilitates their understanding. There are two categories of catechism: major and minor. A major catechism is a resource or a point of reference for the development of minor catechisms. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an example of a major catechism. The Baltimore Catechism is an example of a minor catechism.

■ What is a “universal catechism?

“A “universal catechism” is a major catechism which is intended to be a resource or point of reference for the development of national or local catechisms and catechetical materials throughout the world. Such a catechism can be termed “universal” in that its primary audience is the universal Church.

■ Is the Catechism of the Catholic Church a “universal Catechism?

“Yes. Insofar as it is intended to be a resource or point of reference for the development of minor catechisms throughout the Universal Church, it is a “universal catechism.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church was titled the Catechism of the Universal Church in an earlier draft, but it was never officially titled the “universal Catechism.” The Catechism is in need of what its Prologue terms “the indispensable mediation” of particular culture, age, spiritual life and social and ecclesial conditions. The Catechism is “universal,” then, because it is intended for use by the universal Church.

■ What is a brief history of the Catechism?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church originated with a recommendation made at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985. In 1986 Pope John Paul II appointed a Commission of Cardinals and Bishops to develop a compendium of Catholic doctrine. In 1989 the Commission sent the text to all the Bishops of the world for consultation. In 1990 the Commission examined and evaluated over 24,000 amendments suggested by the world’s bishops. The final draft is considerably different from the one that was circulated in 1989. In 1991 the Commission prepared the text for the Holy Father’s official approval. On June 25, 1992, Pope John Paul II officially approved the definitive version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. On December 8, 1992, Pope John Paul II promulgated the Catechism with an apostolic constitution.

■ What is the purpose of the Catechism?

The Catechism serves several important functions:It conveys the essential and fundamental content of Catholic faith and morals in a complete and summary way.It is a point of reference for national and diocesan catechisms.It is a positive, objective and declarative exposition of Catholic doctrine.It is intended to assist those who have the duty to catechize, namely promoters and teachers of catechesis.

■ For whom is the Catechism intended?

The Catechism is intended, first of all, for bishops as teachers of the faith and pastors of the Church. They have the first responsibility in catechesis. Through the bishops, the Catechism is addressed to editors of catechisms, priests, catechists and all others responsible for catechesis. It will also be useful reading for all the faithful.While the Catechism is not intended for direct use by young people or children, Pope John Paul II said that the Catechism “is offered to all the faithful who want to understand better the inexhaustible riches of salvation.”

■ How, then, can children and young people use the Catechism?

Children and young people – under the direction of a catechist, teacher or parent – ordinarily use texts that are developed from a variety of sources, some of which are similar to the new Catechism, such as the National Directory for Catechesis. The Catechism serves as a point of reference for the development of such catechetical texts which in turn are directly used by children and young people with the assistance of catechists, teachers and parents.

■ Does the Catechism contain a methodology for its use by the faithful?

No. The Catechism does not include a methodology. It is a complete and accurate exposition of Catholic doctrine. It does not present methodologies for the communication and study of that doctrine by people of different ages and circumstances throughout the world. Methodology varies according to the developmental levels of those to whom the catechesis is directed and according to the cultural contexts in which catechesis is given. Catechetical directories, such as the General Directory for Catechesis and the National Directory for Catechesis, provide more information on methodology, and local catechisms, such as the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, incorporate a methodology reflecting the audience and cultural context.

■ How is the Catechism a “point of reference?

“The Catechism is a “point of reference” primarily for the development of national and local catechisms. For example, the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults was adapted from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In addition to the new adult catechism, Catholics in the United States ordinarily depend on catechetical materials that present what the Church believes, teaches, lives and prays in a comprehensive and systematic manner within a process that spans many years. The Catechism is a “point of reference” for the development of these kinds of catechetical programs as well as for catechetical materials that will be revised or developed in the future. Secondarily, Catechism is a “point of reference” for bishops, priests, catechists, teachers, preachers, scholars, students and authors. Similar to a Bible commentary or theological dictionary, the Catechism serves as a vital reference work for all those responsible for catechesis.

■ What exactly is in the Catechism?

The Catechism contains the essential and fundamental content of the Catholic faith in a complete and summary way. It presents what Catholics throughout the world believe in common. It presents these truths in a way that facilitates their understanding.The Catechism presents Catholic doctrine within the context of the Church’s history and tradition. Frequent references to Sacred Scripture, the writings of the Fathers, the lives and writings of the saints, conciliar and papal documents and liturgical texts enrich the Catechism in a way that is both inviting and challenging. There are over three thousand footnotes in the Catechism.

■ How is all this organized in the Catechism?

The Catechism, like the Catechism of the Council of Trent, is divided into four major parts. They are referred to as the “four pillars” on which the Catechism is built. In his Apostolic Constitution promulgating the Catechism, Pope John Paul II called them the “four movements of a great symphony.” They are..1) the Creed (what the Church believes), 2) the Sacraments (what the Church celebrates), 3) the Commandments (what the Church lives) and 4) the Our Father (what the Church prays).The Catechism consists of 2,865 paragraphs, each of which is numbered. There is an internal cross-referencing system among the paragraphs which makes it simple to find all the passages in the Catechism which treat a particular subject. In addition, the Catechism provides several indices for ease in locating particular passages. Indices are organized according to themes, Scriptural citations, symbols of the faith, documents of ecumenical councils, documents of other councils and synods, pontifical documents, ecclesiastical documents, canon law, liturgical texts and ecclesiastical authors.

■ Does the Catechism replace other catechetical documents of the Church?

No. The Catechism stands beside the other catechetical documents such as, Catechesi Tradendae, Evangelii Nuntiandi, General Directory for Catechesis and the catechetical documents of episcopal conferences. These documents create part of the context in which the Catechism is received and mediated to the particular circumstances of the local or national Church. The Catechism is intended to be a resource for the continuing renewal of catechesis and the development of future catechetical materials.

■ Is the Catechism simply a list of doctrinal formulations?

No. The Catechism presents the history and tradition of the Church’s doctrine in a complete yet summary way. It draws heavily from Scripture, the Church Fathers, liturgical texts and the lives and writings of the saints to illustrate the doctrinal content. The witness of these sources, especially the words and example of saints and scholars, underscores the Church’s ongoing, living tradition.

■ Is this Catechism intended to be used “as is” in all the pluriform Churches throughout the world that make up the universal Church?

Although it is translated into several languages, there is only one Catechism for the whole Church. The Catechism contains what the Church holds and teaches throughout the world. It is a resource for the development of culturally sensitive catechisms and catechetical materials. By its own acknowledgment, the Catechism does not intend to achieve this cultural sensitivity itself. Rather “such indispensable adaptation, required by differences of culture, age, spiritual life, and social and ecclesial condition among God’s people,” belongs in other catechisms inspired by this work, and is the particular task of those who teach the faith.

■ How is the Catechism “adapted” to the multi-cultural situation of the Church in the United States?

This is the ongoing task for the bishops and for the authors, editors and publishers of catechetical materials which ought to be revised and developed in light of serious consideration of the Catechism’s entire content as well as its general directive for “indispensable adaptation.” Together they have to find ways to communicate the Church’s universal teaching as it is expressed in the experience of the Church in the United States. That experience is multicultural; therefore any catechetical materials developed from the Catechism have to be faithful to particular cultural experiences as well as to the entire content of the Catechism. In the United States, the most recent adaptation of the Catechism on the national level is the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.

■ What is the doctrinal or teaching authority of the Catechism?

The Catechism is part of the Church’s official teaching in the sense that it was suggested by a Synod of Bishops, requested by the Holy Father, prepared and revised by bishops and promulgated by the Holy Father as part of his ordinary Magisterium. Pope John Paul II ordered the publication of the Catechism by the Apostolic Constitution, Fidei Depositum, on October 11, 1992. An apostolic constitution is a most solemn form by which popes promulgate official Church documents. The new Code of Canon Law, for example, was promulgated by the Apostolic Constitution, Sacrae Disciplinae Leges. In Fidei Depositum, Pope John Paul II said, “The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved June 25th last and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, and the Church’s Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.” John Paul II also stated that the Catechism “is given as a sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine.”

■ Is the doctrinal authority of the Catechism equal to that of the dogmatic definitions of a pope or ecumenical council?

By its very nature, a catechism presents the fundamental truths of the faith which have already been communicated and defined. Because the Catechism presents Catholic doctrine in a complete yet summary way, it naturally contains the infallible doctrinal definitions of the popes and ecumenical councils in the history of the Church. It also presents teaching which has not been communicated and defined in these most solemn forms. This does not mean that such teaching can be disregarded or ignored. Quite to the contrary, the Catechism presents Catholic doctrine as an organic whole and as it is related to Christ who is the center. A major catechism, such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, presents a compendium of Church teachings and has the advantage of demonstrating the harmony that exists among those teachings.

■ Is the doctrinal authority of the Catechism equal to the documents of the Second Vatican Council?

Just as the Catechism contains the most solemnly defined dogmas of the Church, it also contains the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. The worldwide consultation of the bishops that preceded the promulgation of Catechism gives it a collegial character. It is, as Pope John Paul II said, “the result of a collaboration of the whole episcopate.” It would seem, however, that the Catechism did not have the benefit of the complete exercise of effective collegiality that accompanies the writing, disputation, revision, consensus, agreement and eventual promulgation of documents of an ecumenical council. But it must be noted that the form of a catechism is distinct from the form of conciliar documents. They are complimentary, but they are not identical.

■ Does this mean that the Catechism can be disregarded?

No. The Catechism is part of the Church’s ordinary teaching authority. Pope John Paul II placed his apostolic authority behind it. Its doctrinal authority is proper to the papal Magisterium. In Fidei Depositum John Paul II termed the Catechism a “sure norm for teaching the faith” and “a sure and authentic reference text.” He asked “the Church’s pastors and the Christian faithful to receive this catechism in a spirit of communion and to use it assiduously in fulfilling their mission of proclaiming the faith and calling people to the Gospel life.”

■ As the Catechism sets forth a systematic presentation of Catholic doctrine, does it neglect the context for that doctrine, namely God’s relationship with his people?

The theme of “covenant” is evident throughout the Catechism. It is one of the threads that weaves the Catechism into a unified whole. While it is true that both the German and French catechisms for adults organize their content around the “covenant,” the Catechism emphasizes the central theme of God’s relationship with his people in appropriate ways with frequent references throughout the text.

■ Does the Catechism remove the content of faith too much from the lived Christian life?

The largest portion of the Catechism treats the content of the faith (Book One), but the second largest treats the moral life (Book Three). The relationship between what one believes and consequently how one behaves on account of that belief is very clear and forceful in the Catechism. This is especially evident in the section on the Church’s social teachings. Faith, then, is presented as more than the systematic knowledge of doctrine. In this regard, it is important to remember that each section of the Catechism should be read in light of the whole. In mediating the Catechism within local churches, the relationship between faith and life needs continually to be demonstrated so that the transforming power of the Christian message might be evident.

■ Since the Catechism is written in a declarative and expository rather than apologetic style, does it discourage searching and questioning?

The Catechism sets forth the content of the faith in a comprehensive yet summary fashion and in a positive and explanatory manner. In this sense, it answers many questions about doctrine in a clear and unambiguous way. On the other hand, however, the Catechism recognizes that faith is an ongoing journey on which questions and doubts come naturally and need to be addressed at the opportune moment. The Catechism – far from preempting discussion – provides accurate information with which to carry on informed discussion.

■ Can an individual’s quest for God be helped by the Catechism?

While the Catechism is organized around the four traditional pillars of catechesis, it can be used as a valuable resource for the formation of catechumens in a group or for an individual. Since the Catechism does not intend to offer a methodology for catechesis or impose a single learning pattern, its content can be used in a variety of catechetical methods and settings with equal value. The Catechism has an inherent flexibility that can correspond to the particular faith journeys of all believers.

■ Is the Catechism a spiritual book in any sense?

The Catechism’s spirituality rests on the foundation of Trinitarian life. The relationships among the persons of the Trinity provide the model for human relationships. Some have suggested reading Book Four (Prayer) first to put the rest of the Catechism in the context of prayer. But the frequent references to the saints and the spiritual doctors of the Church throughout the Catechism make this unnecessary. In fact, the Catechism can be read from the point of view of a spiritual journey in which what the Church believes, celebrates, lives and prays combine to yield information, formation and the hope of transformation by God’s grace along the way. The centrality of the Trinity as the organizing principle of the Catechism assures its spiritual orientation.

■ Is the Catechism intended to substitute for local, approved catechisms and catechetical materials?

No. The Catechism is intended to encourage and assist national and local churches in drafting new catechisms and catechetical materials (for example, the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults). As John Paul II said in the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, “It is meant to encourage and assist in the writing of new local catechisms, which take into account various situations and cultures, while carefully preserving the unity of faith and fidelity to Catholic doctrine.”

■ Is the Catechism an expression of inculturation on the global or universal level?

Yes. The Church is not bound exclusively to any race, nation, way of life or custom. The Church enters into communion with all different forms of culture. The Catechism re-expresses the Christian message at the level of the universal Church and therefore represents a successful inculturation of the faith at that level. It reformulates the documentary tradition of the Church within the global culture in an admirable way.

■ Does the Catechism require inculturation on the local level?

Yes. The Catechism does not undertake adaptations of its content nor does it espouse particular catechetical methods required by differences of culture, age, spiritual life and the social and ecclesial situation of those to whom it is addressed. These indispensable adaptations are left to the catechisms which will follow the Catechism and, even more importantly, to those who instruct the faithful.

■ How can this “indispensable adaptation” be accomplished?

Yes. The Catechism uses a straightforward doctrinal style to communicate the content of the Catholic faith. Such a style presents Catholic doctrine in an intelligent and coherent way which can only assist authors, editors, and publishers of national and local catechisms and catechetical materials. It is their responsibility, under the guidance of the bishops, to adapt or mediate the Catechism to the local culture and to use this major catechism as the primary resource in the development of minor catechisms. The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults is one example of how the United States bishops have developed a national catechism based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

നിങ്ങൾ വിട്ടുപോയത്