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Reflection on the Catholic Catechism: Introduction

By Michael Terheyden
July 2nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

I hope to inspire greater interest in reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I believe it is one of the greatest books written in the 20th century and a life-changing experience for anyone who reads it with care and an open mind.

KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - Over the years, I have read the Catechism of the Catholic Church at least twice. It was a grace-filled experience each time. It's theology was so beautiful that it felt like I was praying as I read it. And its understanding of human nature was absolutely profound. Now, years later, I plan to recap part of it and share some of my reflections. I will begin by mentioning a few introductory bits of information about the Catechism.

This is the first major catechism that the Catholic Church has given us in over 400 years (not including lesser, regional catechisms such as the Baltimore Catechism which was popular in the United States between 1885 and the late 1960's). The last major catechism was a product of the Council of Trent, which closed in 1563. This new one is a product of the Second Vatican Council.

Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council. It is commonly referred to as Vatican II. It convened between 1962 and 1965. The purpose he gave for opening another council is worth looking at, in part, because this new catechism helps continue and fulfill the purpose of Vatican II.

According to the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum written by Pope John Paul II, "The principal task entrusted to the Council by Pope John XXIII was to guard and present better the precious deposit of Christian doctrine in order to make it more accessible to the Christian faithful and to all people of good will. For this reason the Council was not first of all to condemn the errors of the time, but above all to strive calmly to show the strength and beauty of the doctrine of the faith."

Then in 1985, on the 20th anniversary of Vatican II, John Paul convoked an extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops to study its teaching in greater depth, so that all the Christian faithful could better share in its grace-filled fruit. Many bishops took this opportunity to ask for "a catechism or compendium of all Catholic doctrine regarding both faith and morals" which could be used as a reference for regional catechisms throughout the world. 

John Paul agreed. In 1986 he established a commission of 12 cardinals and bishops and placed Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, in charge of the commission. It took six years to complete and entailed extensive collaboration among the bishops around the world.

Referring to this collaboration, John Paul writes, "This response elicits in me a deep feeling of joy, because the harmony of so many voices truly expresses what could be called the 'symphony' of the faith. The achievement of this Catechism thus reflects the collegial nature of the Episcopate; it testifies to the Church's catholicity."

The final form of the Catechism is based on the tradition which builds catechesis on the four pillars: "the baptismal profession of faith (the Creed), the sacraments of faith, the life of faith (the Commandments), and the prayer of the believer (the Lord's Prayer)."

Part One presents the profession of faith. It begins with God reaching out to man and giving Himself to man, and man's response to God. It then summarizes the gifts that God has given to man: as the Father, Author and Creator of all that is good; as His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus, the Redeemer; and as the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, in the Holy Church.

Part Two of the Catechism ". . . explains how God's salvation, accomplished once for all through Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit, is made present in the sacred actions of the Church's liturgy. . . , especially in the seven sacraments. . . ."

Part Three ". . . deals with the final end of man created in the image of God.: beatitude, and the ways of reaching it -- through right conduct freely chosen, with the help of God's law and grace. . . , and through conduct that fulfills the twofold commandments of charity, specified in God's Ten Commandments. . . ."

"The last part of the Catechism deals with the meaning and importance of prayer in the life of believers. . . . It concludes with a brief commentary on the seven petitions of the Lord's Prayer. . . ." The Lord's Prayer is also known as the Our Father. (Of course, the greatest prayer of the Church is the Liturgy of the Mass, which was instituted at the Last Supper and is united to Christ's sacrifice on Calvary.)

Together, these four parts constitute ". . . an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards both faith and morals, in light of the Second Vatican Council and the whole of the Church's Tradition. Its principal sources are the Sacred Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, the liturgy, and the Church's Magisterium." 

Given the relativistic rubbish that many Western secular leaders in education, culture, media, law, and politics are trying to pawn off on the people these days, the organic synthesis we find in the Catechism is refreshingly intelligent and edifying. Moreover, I believe it continues to show the incredible strength and beauty of the doctrine of the Catholic faith that Pope John XXIII wanted the Second Vatican Council to show the people. And it does so with charity toward all, as he wanted, without condemning the errors of our time.

The final words in the prologue are as follows: "The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love."

Although I cannot hope to do justice to the lofty ideals of the Catechism or the teaching of the Catholic Church, I hope that my upcoming reflections will give readers greater insight into the Catholic faith and inspire them to read the Catechism. I believe it is one of the greatest books written in the 20th century and a life-changing experience for anyone who reads it with care and an open mind. 

 
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Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. However, he knows that God's grace operating throughout his life is the main reason he is a Catholic. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.

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