Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"A rich tradition"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Sept. 14, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

For the Catholic Church in the United States, Catechetical Sunday falls on Sept. 16 this year. Traditionally, the observance reminds us of the importance of our responsibility for catechetical formation within the Church. We are a society that is flooded with information and images. The knowledge and appreciation of the teaching of our Church has become very important to be faithful and keep our sense of balance and perspective.

In 1992, Pope John Paul II promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). The work, several years in preparation, has become a fine summary of the Church’s teaching. The 900 pages of the CCC were never meant to be a textbook, but rather, a resource of the Church’s teaching – truly a wealth of information. The CCC is well notated and cross-referenced, so that it has become a very practical and popular book for finding quickly certain themes and topics.

The history of the teaching of the Church, and how that teaching was shared with the faithful in years past, is quite different from today. In the early centuries of the Church, before the advent of the printing press in the mid-1400s, learning was accomplished through oral experience. Even before the coming of Jesus into the world, Jewish teachers taught the Scriptures by asking the students to repeat the verses, again and again. The root meaning of the word catechism comes from the Greek word meaning “to echo.” So the method of teaching was “to speak and echo.”

The printing press made possible a dramatic expansion in how the teaching of the Church was to be shared. Within 100 years of the invention of the printing press, two catechisms by Sts. Peter Canisius and Robert Bellarmine were published, using a question-and-answer format. In 1563, the Council of Trent undertook the task of publishing a comprehensive presentation of Catholic teachings. This effort resulted in the Roman Catechism of 1566. This seminal work became the mainstay of Catholic teaching; in fact, its last edition was published in 1978.

In the United States, Catholics became accustomed to utilizing the Baltimore Catechism, approved by the Third Council of Baltimore in 1884. The Baltimore Catechism contained 421 questions and answers in 37 chapters.  Those of us who might be a little older remember the effort we made to memorize the questions and their answers, especially as we prepared to celebrate our Confirmation. Some folks still hanker for the days of the Baltimore Catechism, but that teaching tool now is very limited, given the Second Vatican Council and the continued development of our theology, liturgical practice, and spirituality.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is arranged in four parts: “The Profession of Faith,” “The Celebration of the Christian Mystery,” “Life in Christ,” and “Christian Prayer.” The CCC shares with us our rich tradition of teaching and belief, including the heritage of the Doctors, Fathers and saints of the Church. Yet, it also reflects upon our contemporary situation, problems, and questions. More than ever, we need that guidance and wisdom in our complex world.

Several years ago, given the complexity of the CCC, the U.S. Catholic bishops decided that we should publish a catechism for adults. The result of this decision, the United States Catechism for Adults, was published last June. The theme of this follows that of the CCC, but is structured somewhat differently, with constant references to the CCC. In a certain sense, it is also more readable.

The structure of its 36 chapters is arranged in a very practical manner: 1) Story or lesson of faith; 2) Teaching: its foundation and application: 3) Sidebars; 4) Relationship of Catholic teaching to culture; 5) Questions for discussion; 6) Doctrinal statements; and 7) Meditation and Prayer. One of the stories of faith is about Mother Joseph of the Sisters of Providence, who served here in the Northwest.

The work is well indexed and contains a conclusion with a reflection on “A Source of Meaning and Hope,” a glossary of terms, traditional Catholic prayers, and a list of additional resources.

As we reflect upon our mutual responsibility of growing in the knowledge of our teaching and tradition, I find this work to be an excellent resource for continuing our formation and learning. At the conclusion of the book’s introduction, the bishops write, “It is our hope that this United States Catechism for Adults will be an aid and a guide for deepening faith. It may serve as a resource for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and the ongoing catechesis of adults. It will also be of interest for those who wish to become acquainted with Catholicism. Finally, it can serve as an invitation for all the faithful to continue growing in the understanding of Jesus Christ and his saving love for all people.”

I also want to bring to your attention two other important recently published works you might find helpful. The first is the Compendium, Catechism of the Catholic Church, approved by Pope Benedict XVI. This is a 200-page summary of the CCC, in the question-and-answer format. The second is the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published by the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice of the Holy See.

Happy reading and studying! Blessings and peace to all!

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