The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a teaching tool by which other teaching methods can be derived. It is a concise explanation of Catholic beliefs compiled from many documents written by bishops over the centuries. The Catechism is not considered a sacred text like the Bible.
The foundations of the Catechism are the Scriptures and the lived Tradition of the Church. Catholic doctrine is written in many documents that have spanned the 2000 years of the Church. The Catechism itself references many papal encyclicals, church council documents, and the Scriptures as reference points for teachings. The catechism helps to consolidate all of this teaching into a handy reference.
A Brief History of Catechisms
The word catechism has it roots in the Greek word katechizo meaning to teach by word of mouth. Prior to the invention of the printing press the primary method of communication was oral. An early church catechist would speak a teaching of the Church and instruct the listener to repeat it until it was learned by heart.
The first Catholic catechism was written after the Council of Trent which took place in 1546 and was published in 1566 and called the Roman Catechism. A new catechism was not created until 1994 called The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Other bishops in various parts of the world may have produced a catechism, such as the Baltimore Catechism of 1885, but there was not a universal catechism produced between the years 1566 and 1994.
The Purpose of the Catechism
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is intended primarily to the bishops of the world and the people who assist them in teaching the Catholic religion. Its purpose is our spiritual renewal through a clear, systematic, and comprehensive presentation of the essentials of the Christian faith.
The Catechism was designed to be both a book from which individuals can learn about Catholicism and also a source book from which teaching materials could be created. It was created with the idea that local bishops would adapt it for their particular culture (i.e. local catechisms) and also that textbooks and other resources for teaching could build upon it.
Is there only one Catechism?
There is only one main Catechism of the Catholic Church, but it has been adapted in many different ways. There are adaptations which seek to simplify the Catechism to make it easier to read by different audiences such as youth and even adults. YOUCAT is an effort to bring the depth of the Catechism to a teenage audience. The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults is a more condensed and reader friendly version of the Catechism for adults.
Do Catholics believe the Catechism is like the Bible?
Some people mistakenly elevate the Catechism to a sacred status, one on par with the Bible as though the Catholic Church has multiple sacred and inspired books like the Mormons claim. Unlike the Book of Mormon for the Church of Latter Day Saints, Catholics do not believe that the Catechism is sacred writing nor that it is another testament of Jesus Christ. The Catechism is not a holy book. It is useful for unpacking the Bible and understanding the truths of the Bible and the life of Jesus Christ and God’s will for our lives.