During this Year of Faith, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, is encouraging everyone to read and study the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Even though I have read the Catechism cover-to-cover a number of times, and teach the Catechism, I will be trying to read a little bit each day during this year of faith. I’d encourage you to join me in this endeavor. If you already know the Catholic faith very well, I think you’ll find as I do that the most important truths in life are good to review again-and-again. If you don’t know your Catholic faith very well, then there’s no better place to begin learning it better than the Catechism. If you’re not Catholic but you’d like to know more about and better understand what Catholics believe and what Catholicism teaches, there’s no better source.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church [the full text of which is available online here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM] can be said to be in truth a Catechism of the Second Vatican Council, reading Catholic doctrine in light of the Council and of the Council’s spirit.1 It is divided into four parts: (1) the Creed; (2) the Sacraments; (3) Morality; (4) Prayer. Cardinal Ratzinger (who is now Pope Benedict XVI), when he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Christoph Schönborn (now Cardinal Schönborn)—the Catechism’s general editor and former Ratzinger student, sought bishops to be in charge of these various sections. Ratzinger explains, however:
“After having resolved to add a distinct fourth part on prayer to the first three, we looked for a representative of Eastern theology. Since it was not possible to secure a bishop as author, we settled upon Jean Corbon, who wrote the beautiful concluding text on prayer while in beleaguered Beirut, frequently in the midst of dramatic situations, taking shelter in his basement in order to continue working during the bombardments.”2
Indeed, I can recall Scott Hahn telling me how Cardinal Ratzinger related the incident of calling Corbon on the phone and speaking with him about the progress on his section of the Catechism, when Ratzinger stopped for a moment and asked something like, “What’s the noise I hear?” Corbon responded with something along the lines of, “Those are bombs exploding outside.”
The Catechism is a deeply scriptural document. It is a compendium of the official teachings of the Catholic Church and thus a sure guide for discovering and getting to know better what the Catholic Church officially teaches. As the University of Notre Dame theologian and patristic scholar John Cavadini notes, in the Catechism, “we find Scripture not only cited but actually woven into the text….”3 Scripture provides the very language which the Catechism speaks. As Cavadini elsewhere makes clear:
“It does not use Scripture primarily to back up or to corroborate doctrinal statements, but rather it incorporates Scripture into the very articulation of the doctrine. Scripture is not only cited as a Catholic doctrine is actually articulated in scriptural terms and language.”4
Again, Cavadini explains:
“The Catechism, as did the [Second Vatican] Council in general, very clearly states the basic and necessary doctrines of the Catholic faith. But it does so with the help of a language drawn heavily from Scripture—pressing into service the richness and beauty of scriptural language in an attempt to make those doctrines appeal to the imagination and ideals, to the ‘joys and hopes,’ of people in the modern world, believers and seekers alike.”5
The Catechism embodies the “symphony of faith” that Blessed Pope John Paul II described in his apostolic constitution on the Catechism, Fidei Depositum (no. 2). It is a beautifully rich document that is systematic and holistic in its approach. I encourage you to read through the Catechism bit-by-bit as we continue our journey during this Year of Faith.
- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, “Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” in Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Christoph Schönborn, 9-36 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1994), 11 and 26. [↩]
- Ratzinger, “Introduction,” 23. [↩]
- John C. Cavadini, “The Use of Scripture in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” Letter & Spirit 2 (2006): 46. [↩]
- John C. Cavadini, “Scripture, Doctrine, and Proclamation: The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Renewal of Homiletics,” Letter & Spirit 4 (2008): 245. [↩]
- Cavadini, “Use of Scripture,” 54. [↩]