29 October 2003

The Importance of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Prof. Michael F. Hull, New York

Of the many fruits of Pope John Paul IIís pontificate, the Catechism of the Catholic Church cannot be overestimated in its importance. Nothing of its kind had been published since the 1566 Catechism of the Council of Trent (or Roman Catechism) under Pope Saint Pius V. With the Catechism of the Catholic Church, John Paul fulfilled the 1985 Synod of Bishopsí desideratum for a compendium of Catholic doctrine in light of the Second Vatican Council.

John Paulís swiftness in responding to the Synodís call for a new catechism highlights the Episcopal collegiality and pastoral zeal of his pontificate. Twenty years after Vatican II, the worldwide need for a standard reference work that reiterated timeless doctrine with the insights of the Council was acute. Along with the good generated by the Council, significant confusion arose in its aftermath both within and without the Church as to her fundamental tenets. Cognizant of the Churchís need, John Paul moved deftly to produce the Catechism: only seven years after the Synod, he promulgated the first edition on October 11, 1992, the thirtieth anniversary of the opening of the Council. And the second edition, the Latin typical edition, promulgated on August 15, 1997, demonstrates John Paulís ongoing commitment to expound accurately and thoroughly the deposit of faith entrusted to the Church.

The theological acumen of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is extraordinary. Following the general structure of the Catechism of the Council of Trent, the Catechism of the Catholic Church presents the faith clearly and cogently under four headings: "The Profession of Faith"; "The Celebration of the Christian Mystery"; "Life in Christ"; and "Christian Prayer." The Catechism is replete with citations to Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Sacred Magisterium. With its lucid prose, scores of notes, and plenteous cross-references, the Catechism is a theological tome to which a reader may turn again and again for enlightenment. With the Catechism, both neophyte and expert have at their fingertips a resource of the greatest depth. The Catechism offers an integrated and succinct arrangement by which the truths of the faith are illuminated and systematized in all their richness.

The pastoral usefulness of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is astounding. It is a vademecum of the Catholic faith. It allows the believer the opportunity to know his faith better and, at the same time, to explain that faith more eloquently. In one volume, clergy, catechists, and laity have at their disposal a powerful catechetical tool. With the Catechism in hand, they are assured of a trustworthy guide to faith seeking understanding. Moreover, they have a compelling presentation of the faith for the evangelization of the Churchís separated brethren and an unambiguous summary of the deposit of faith to offer those outside the Church.

Once again, the theological and pastoral tour de force that is the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the result of the pastoral vigilance of Pope John Paul II. On the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of his election, we give thanks to God for our Holy Father and the legacy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Ad multos annos.