This past October was the 25th Anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, commissioned by Pope St. John Paul II and the Bishops at the 1985 Synod. At the time, few people thought they would live to see its completion, but on October 11, 1992, it was officially promulgated by Pope John Paul II.
Many were expecting a Q & A format, much like the Baltimore Catechism. Instead the Catechism was modeled on the Catechism of the Council of Trent. The Catechism’s four parts reflect the four pillars of Christian initiation: the “Profession of Faith” (the Creed); the “Celebration of the Christian Mystery” (the Sacraments); “Life in Christ” (Christian Morality); and “Christian Prayer.”
Each of these four parts is then subdivided. Part One begins with a reflection on divine revelation and our response to it before examining the twelve articles of the Apostles’ Creed, the baptismal creed of the ancient Roman Church. Part Two is structured around the seven sacraments. Part Three begins with the Beatitudes and our vocation to blessedness, or happiness, which sets the framework for the exposition of the Ten Commandments. Part Four begins with a meditation on Jesus and the Samaritan woman, explaining the Lord’s “thirst” for souls as the beginning of prayer, before illustrating Christian prayer through the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.
Parts One and Two of the Catechism illuminate God’s action in seeking us out. The Catechism’s very first section speaks of the divine invitation to communion, and the sacraments are described at the beginning of Part Two as the extension of Christ’s earthly life in us. Parts Three and Four then outline our response to God’s action through the moral life and prayer. Part Four speaks forcefully of “the battle of prayer,” the fight “against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God.”
The Catechism subsequently has been adapted for different audiences. The U.S. Bishops have issued a version for adults and more recently the YouCat version for young people. All in all, the Catechism has been instrumental in our times in clearing up confusion about Church teaching and providing a solid foundation for our catechetical programs for our Schools, Religious Education Programs, RCIA and Seminary formation.
Pope Francis on the anniversary said this: “For this reason, our Catechism unfolds in the light of love, as an experience of knowledge, trust, and abandonment to the mystery. In explaining its structure, the Catechism of the Catholic Church borrows a phrase from the Roman Catechism and proposes it as the key to its reading and application: “The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No.25).”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides a profound exposition of Christian belief and Church teaching. Parts of that teaching are challenging and difficult, no doubt. But as Pope Francis rightly points out, when we divorce Christian doctrine from love, namely the love of Jesus Christ, it often becomes unintelligible.
I hope that every one of you has a Catechism in their home and that you take time to read it and reflect on its words. Pope St. John Paul II left us a great legacy and perhaps none better that the Catechism. On this Silver Jubilee, take time to treasure that gift.
Fr. John B.