I was recently in conversation with a convert to Catholicism and he told me that he was reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). Now, I read a good portion of the Catechism in my theological studies, and my copy is riddled with small margin notes and the rainbow’s worth of highlight colors. But because I was curious, I asked why; why read the Catechism when there are countless other spiritual readings?
He responded that he is reading the Catechism because it is challenging. His introduction to it in RCIA opened a humbling and life-changing door. Every question that he has had was answered in the Catechism. He said that it made him question his faith, and the answers he found helped strengthen it. He saw all of the connections in the Catechism, like how Scriptural interpretation has been carried out and how the ancient Church is present in Vatican II documents. For him, reading the Catechism has been a journey of conversion, an increase in wisdom, and a return to the heart of the Church.
What is the Catechism?
Pope St. John Paul II’s Laetamur Magnopere (“We Rejoice Greatly”) says that the Catechism is a “genuine, systematic presentation of the faith and of Catholic doctrine.” A systematic presentation simply means that the Catechism provides an organized and understandable treatment of the faith. It answers a comprehensive question that is both historical and sociological in nature, and one that lingers in the hearts of the baptized: What do Catholics believe?
The Catechism is organized by its four major divisions that have to do with the Faith, the Liturgy, the Christian life, and prayer. Within these is outlined the Creeds, the sources of Christian teaching, the Christian moral life, the sacraments, and so much more. Even further, it answers all of the questions that Catholics probably don’t know to ask, such as “What are the ‘sins that cry to heaven?’” and “What are indulgences and how are they used or abused?”
The 1992 Catechism is not the first catechism, nor is it the first systematic presentation of the faith. The 1st century Didache, Thomas Aquinas’ 13th century Summa Theologiae, and the 18th century Catechism present teachings and aspects of the faith and Christian life. But these older texts are neither common on an average bookshelf nor easy to read, and they lack the specificity that many feel necessary to encounter modernity.
The 1992 Catechism was a very necessary response to a rapidly changing world. Consider the 100 years leading up to the promulgation of the Catechism. Global relations were tumultuous at best and fiercely and irrevocably deadly at worst. Technological advances saw the invention and popularization of machines including the automobile and the television. Both the Civil Rights Movement and the sexual revolution permanently altered the cultural landscape of the United States and Western Europe. These are few among many changes which completely transformed modernity and made the individual subject to an amalgam of transient cultural, political, national, and religious identities.
The members of the Church underwent an additional shift. The nature of the Second Vatican Council and its timing in a postwar European society left local churches searching for uniformity amid reform. The Vatican II call for universal holiness, ecumenism, and a return to the sources of the Catholic faith required that individual Catholics understand their faith identity. Thus, the Catechism became the mode of synthesizing two millennia of Church teaching into an accessible book, while simultaneously responding to modern innovations and ideas like organ donation and mass media. The Catechism affirms the Church’s perennial identity in an ever-changing world.
Why Should You Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church?
For the same reason that I should wipe the dust off of mine. Because we are called to both deeper intimacy with Christ and to tell the world that Jesus is Lord. Our world has often, in all of its changes and empty promises, forgotten who Jesus Christ is. It looks at broken members of the Church and sees an invention of history, an institution belonging to the past. But we know that the Church is alive, so we must learn the truth and then share it with others. We must show the world how to look at brokenness and see the promise of the Redeemer.
Reading the Catechism will only enrich your spiritual life. With the help of Fr. Mike Schmitz, we have the opportunity to read the Catechism together, and I encourage you to take that opportunity. I pray that we utilize the Catechism and The Catechism in a Year podcast to come to know, love, and believe in the teachings of the Church. Even more, I pray that we use this opportunity to seek her bridegroom, Christ Jesus, and come to love him through our study.
Listen to Fr. Mike’s new podcast, The Catechism in a Year!
If you have ever wanted to understand what it means to be Catholic and allow those truths to shape your life—this podcast is for you!
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Brady Beckerman is passionate about evangelization, C.S. Lewis, the liberal arts, and locally sourced coffee. She has a master’s degree in Theology from Ave Maria University and spends her free time traveling, studying, and talking about Thomas Aquinas.