Every year, on the first day of our Sunday School students, I love asking this question to my Sunday school students – Why should we learn Catechism? I do get many answers, the root of all these answers is the very reason for which the Catechism was written. We are all so excited about the Catechism in a Year Podcast that will begin next year, but before that I believe, we should all know about the know how of Catechism.
It all began with an idea – The Idea for a Catechism
At the 1985 Synod Intervention, Cardinal Bernard Law first publicly suggested the drafting of a catechism:
“I propose a commission of cardinals to prepare a draft of a conciliar catechism to be promulgated by the Holy Father after consulting the bishops of the world. In a shrinking world, global village-national catechisms will not fill the current need for clear articulation of the church’s faith.”
In response to this proposal, Pope John Paul II commissioned twelve cardinals to oversee the work. The chair of this commission was none other than Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and future Pope Benedict XVI. These twelve were charged with drafting a catechism for the Universal Church. It was to act as a “point of reference for the catechisms or compendiums that are prepared in various regions” and to clearly and concisely articulate the Catholic Faith after the Second Vatican Council.
The Writing of the Catechism
The twelve immediately organized a group of 44 consultors worldwide and picked a committee of seven bishops to compose the Catechism. The collaborators met, consulted, drafted, and edited. The texts and drafts were sent to all the Catholic bishops in the world and all of the main Catholic Universities and Institutes. The various backgrounds and differing expertise resulted in over 930 replies and 24,000 suggestions. Pope John Paul II later said that “the harmony of so many voices truly expresses what could be called the ‘symphony’ of the faith.”
The final text was completed by the commission and presented to the Holy Father in February of 1992. On October 11th, 1992, Pope John Paul II presented the Catechism of the Catholic Church to the world.
Bible vs. Catechism
The Catechism deeply reflects Scripture. Its purpose is to open the Word of God more fully. Pope John Paul II, in his Fidei Depositum says:
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church. . . is a statement of the Church’s faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition, and the Church’s Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.”
Scripture is the first principle of Faith. For us to expound on this Faith and present a clear depiction of the beliefs of the Catholic Church, we must first and foremost ground our work in the Word of God. We see this throughout the entirety of the Catechism. Every topic contains various Biblical references. The bishops cite Deuteronomy while discussing the proliferation of sin; Corinthians helps to explain Baptism; and the Psalms bring light to our understanding of conversion.
The Power of the Catechism
In this way, the Catechism is grounded in God’s Word and filled with truth. This book offers answers to the questions that the faithful—and the non-faithful—might have. It is a work of love, worthy of reading and learning more about. The bishops wanted to guard the Faith and present its rich beauty. This is why they relied heavily on Scripture, Church Doctors, and various Papal Documents and Councils that offer insightful commentary.
What had been an arduous, time-consuming task is now a book that rests on the shelves of teachers, students, parents, and clergy. It holds the answers to the queries of both eight-year-old girls and the most renowned theologians of our time.