The Role of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a teaching tool. It is a concise explanation of Catholic beliefs. The Catechism includes quotations from many papal encyclicals, church council documents, and the Scriptures. It refers to these as reference points for Catholic teachings. Although it is important, the Catechism is not considered a sacred text like the Bible. In fact, the Catechism we have now is fairly recent, although it describes ancient beliefs. The catechism helps to consolidate all of the Church’s teachings 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. It would have been impossible for the average person to have a copy of the Bible or Church documents. 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. It 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 have produced catechisms, such as the Baltimore Catechism of 1885. However, 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 explain the teachings of the Catholic faith. It is an excellent reference for the Catholic faithful. It is also a great resource for non-Catholics interested in learning what the Church really teaches. Many misunderstandings about the Church’s teachings on controversial issues can be resolved by looking at what the Catechism says about Catholic beliefs.

The Catechism can also help our spiritual life because it is a clear, systematic, and comprehensive presentation of the essentials of the Christian faith. By meditating on the teachings of the Church, we can grow closer to God the Church proclaims.

Is there only one Catechism?

Not only can individuals learn about Catholicism from the Catechism, but also the Catechism can serve as a source for the creation of other teaching materials. Many RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) programs rely on the Catechism as the basis of their instruction for those seeking to learn more about the Catholic Church. Study materials can also be created based on the Catechism. These might include textbooks for use in Catholic schools or commentaries on the Bible in light of the Catechism.

The Catechism can also be adapted for specific audiences. There is only one official Catechism of the Catholic Church, but it has been adapted in many different ways. Some adaptations seek to simplify the Catechism to make it easier for different audiences to read and understand it. YOUCAT is an effort to bring the Catechism to a teenage audience and put the sometimes technical language of the Catechism into terms young adults can easily understand. 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, as though it is equal to the Bible. When this happens, it seems as though the Catholic Church has multiple sacred and inspired books, instead of the Bible being the only inspired book. In reality, Catholics do not believe that the Catechism is sacred writing. The Catechism is not a holy book in the sense that the Bible is. If it were, the Church could not make a new Catechism.

The Church can choose a new official Catechism, but not a new Bible. The Catechism we have now is not the same one as at the Council of Trent. On the other hand, even though the Bible we have now is translated into modern English, unlike the Bible at the Council of Trent, it has not been rewritten. The same Bible the Church had at the Council of Trent cannot be rewritten as the Catechism was rewritten. Our current Catechism is in keeping with the doctrines of the Roman Catechism, but it is not just a translation of the Roman Catechism into modern English. Rather, it is a new Catechism.

It is useful for unpacking the Bible and understanding the truths of the Bible. Through the Catechism we can learn more about Jesus and about God’s will for our lives. We can also see how the Holy Spirit has guided the Church when we read the Catechism, because the Catechism shows how Catholic belief builds on Scripture and the teaching of the Church over centuries.

Why update the Catechism?

You might wonder why the Church would update the Catechism at all. After all, doesn’t the Church claim that its teachings don’t change? Yes! However, our understanding of the revelation of Jesus Christ can develop. St. Paul would have said that Jesus is “consubstantial with the Father” if he were writing a Catechism. But at the Council of Nicea in 325, the Church discerned that saying Jesus is consubstantial with the Father is the best way of expressing the truth St. Paul knew: that Jesus Christ is God. “Consubstantial” showed exactly what we mean when we say Jesus is the Son of God. Likewise, the Church has developed new ways of understanding old teachings since the Council of Trent.

Furthermore, the current Catechism addresses issues that were not of concern at the time the New Testament books were written, or even at the Council of Trent. Issues like widespread abortion, nuclear warfare, and many others are specific to the modern era. The Church has things to say about these issues, and so a new Catechism was necessary to show what the Church teaches about these things.

How can I read the Catechism?

The Vatican website makes the Catechism of the Catholic Church available to read for free. You can also download the Catechism for your Kindle. It is easy to find hard copies of the Catechism, too, if you prefer to read a traditional book. Just as the Church wants to make the Bible available to every Catholic, so also it wants to make the Catechism available to all.

7 thoughts on “The Role of the Catechism of the Catholic Church”

  1. I fell in love with a Catholic man and I am go to the united Methodist Church in Hudson and we want to get married July 16 2016 what do I need to do. I was wondering do I need to turn Catholic and if so I want to.

    1. Dear Miss Brewer,

      It is most excellent that you believe in God and his Son Jesus Christ. Profession of faith is the first steps in the faith: to believe in the Son and the one whom sent Him. However, believing alone is not enough (for even the demons believe… does believing alone save them?). Therefore there is more to learn, to make your faith more perfect and whole, and I would encourage you to investigate.

      The main point I wish to set upon for consideration in your marriage to a Catholic Christian is that “a house divided cannot stand”. By its very nature, marriage brings about Children, The unhappy result about a mixed marriage as is being proposed is that the Children arrive at abandoning faith altogether or arrive at being very confused by the disharmony of the parent’s faith and their disunion in it. I have personally witnessed this happening too many times.

      Indeed, love is a very lovely thing, yet difficult at the same time. Because marriage is to bring together two as one union; which becomes very complicated when two do not agree on very fundamental values; that include a common religious outlook.

      It is for good reason then that when choosing a spouse, that one make a careful and considered decision, and to be sure that they share the same faith. For it is written that we are to “Bear not the yoke with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14), and God forbids mixed-faith unions because unbelievers will turn the believer away from God (Deuteronomy 7:3-4).

      In this regard, either your proposed husband will lose his Catholic Christianity, or you will lose your non-catholic position, or worse, you will both lose faith altogether (not being able to agree on anything). So it is therefore urged to settle the matter of faith on a solid basis before entering into this union of marriage. This really is no small matter to take lightly.

      Naturally, I do encourage you to learn more about Catholic Christianity, and it’s historical/biblical unbroken lineage from the time of Christ until present day.

      Kindly in Christ,

      Mr. Lopez.

    2. Congratulations on your engagement! You should contact the Catholic Church your fiance attends, or the one where you plan to live once married and let them know you’re interested in leaning more about the Catholic Church. You will most likely need to go through the RCIA, Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, which takes about 9 months depending on the church. Then you would be received into the Catholic Church at Easter. Becoming Catholic isn’t a short process but it is very much worth the wait!

    3. Firstly congratulations and good luck on your marriage adjusting to it can be tough at times but I am sure you will be fine. You mentioned that you want to become Catholic well that makes it easier plus and not to sound crass but there are other benefits such as I imagine there would be more Catholic Churches to visit the Catholic Schools and Universities are second to none just not as expensive so there are those real conveniences PLUS you just became apart of a huge family gaining over a billion brothers and sisters.
      Welcome to the family… 😉

  2. This article was very informative, is this believed by all catholics, for it seems like it is not though?
    If we could have some email discussions, that would be great!
    Thanks,
    Ronald Van de Bruinhorst

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