Exploring The Catechism of the Catholic Church – Part I
On October 11th, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed the beginning of the Year of Faith. His choice of this date is auspicious, not only because it marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, but also because it was the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catechism was written as a follow-up to Vatican II, and its publication was significant in that it was the first definitive Catholic catechism to be released since the Council of Trent in 1566. Promulgated by Pope John Paul II on October 11th, 1992 (the 30th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II), the Catechism was the fruit of six years of intense labour on the part of twelve Cardinals and bishops, including their chairman, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI).1 In writing the Catechism, their aim was to respond to an important need in our world today: to make the faith more accessible to the Christian faithful and to help us understand the place of faith in the modern world.
When it comes to catechisms, we often think of elementary school religious textbooks such as the Baltimore Catechism.2 These texts were often written in question and answer form, and they were primarily used in the education of young people. With the publication of the new Catechism, we saw a radical departure from this formula. The Catechism of the Catholic Church was written with a totally different purpose in mind: it is meant to be a reference on which other catechisms can be based,3 a tool to provide real support for the faith.4
Unfortunately, if we polled all of the Catholics in Canada today, I suspect that we would find that only a small percentage of us are familiar enough with the teachings of the Catholic faith to feel comfortable sharing them with others. This is unfortunate, for if there is one thing that we all agree upon, it is that there is a profound crisis of faith in the 21st century. Often we as Catholics do not know what we believe, but equally important, we do not understand the reasons for what we believe. It is not that we lack the ability to go deeper in understanding our faith. After all, Canadians are among the best educated people in the world; a total of 51% of our population have completed their college and university degrees.5 Yet despite our commitment to higher education, we continue to be undereducated when it comes to the study of our Catholic faith. It ought to be the mainstay of our being, a roadmap that helps illuminate and guide us as we go about our daily lives. Instead, we often find ourselves struggling to embrace teachings that are at times difficult or controversial.
We are not surprised when our bodies deteriorate due to a lack of physical exercise, and in the same way, we should not be surprised if we lose our faith when we stop nurturing our spiritual lives. “Use it or lose it” is an axiom that applies to both body and soul. If we are to be able to know and defend our faith against the daily attacks in the media and the secular world, we need to come prepared! The advice given to us by our first Pope, St. Peter, is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. He said, “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15).
St. Jerome tells us, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”6 In the same way, ignorance of the Catechism may leave us in danger of being ignorant of the fundamental truths of our Catholic faith. The Catechism provides Catholics not only with information about what to believe, but it also provides us with an explanation of the meaning of those beliefs.7 The well-known American Catholic theologian, Fr. John A. Hardon S.J. wrote, “This Catechism is of historic importance. Depending on how seriously we take it, the future of the Catholic Church will be shaped accordingly.”8
Check back next week for an overview of the structure and contents of the Catechism.
– Sharon van der Sloot
1 There have been two editions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The first English edition was published in 1994. This early translation was later expanded to reflect changes made in the definitive Latin text published in 1997. The Second Edition also includes some things missing from the earlier edition: a glossary of terms, an index of citations, and in-brief texts on core teachings.
2 The Baltimore Catechism was originally published in 1885 and was used in Catholic schools in North America until the 1960s.
3 Cf. Pope John Paul II, Fidei depositum (October 11, 1992), I; available from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_jp-ii_apc_19921011_fidei-depositum_en.html; Internet; accessed 13 November 2012. Several subsequent catechisms have been based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, including the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (2006) and Youcat (an acronym for Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2011), which was the official catechism of the 2011 World Youth Day.
4 Pope Benedict XVI, Porta fidei (October 11, 2011), 12; available from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/motu_proprio/documents/hf_ben-xvi_motu-proprio_20111011_porta-fidei_en.html; Internet; accessed 13 November 2012.
5 OECD Country Note: Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators 2012, Canada; available from http://www.oecd.org/canada/EAG2012 – Country note – Canada.pdf; Internet; accessed 13 November 2012.
6 CCC, 133.
7 Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., “Understanding the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” EWTN Global Catholic Network; available from http://www.ewtn.com/library/catechsm/qaconf.htm; Internet; accessed 13 November 2012.