Raffaello Martinelli


         Especially in this Year of the Faith, the CCC offers an excellent and indispensable aid to our priests in the fulfillment of their mission - whether in terms of deepening their own personal experience of the Christian mystery, or in terms of their parochial pastoral duties: catechism, preaching, homilies, preparation for the various sacraments, primary and ongoing formation of the lay faithful, of the catechists, of the pastoral workers, as well as for their own ongoing formation and for their own communal and personal prayer.

         The CCC can provide this service, given:  (a) the nature of the text and (b) the way it is presented.  I will now explain these considerations which can be useful as a model and a stimulus, both in formation and in the priestly ministry.


A)                  THE NATURE OF THE TEXT


The nature of the text is dealt with in the Constitution of approval of the Catechism Fidei depositum, 1992, and in the apostolic letter Laetamu magnopere, upon the promulgation in 1997 of its Latin edition.


a.1. - The veritative dimension


         The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in transmitting the revealed mystery in its fullest form, devotes particular attention to the truth, the Christian truth, which Christ revealed and entrusted to His Church.  Its intent is to repropose the faith in all its “objectivity”, in its everlasting “doctrinal identity”:  presenting “what” has been announced - or, more correctly, “who” has been announced:  Jesus Christ. 

         This is why it has been justly and generally recognised that the CCC is infused with the veritative dimension of the announcement, which must also emanate from the announcement of the priest in his widely varied pastoral ministry.

         For the Catechism, which enables the systematic doctrinal exposition of the substance of faith (the “deposit of the faith”) actually belongs more to the category of veritative announcement (“fides quae”; faith as belief; the truth of the announcement), rather than the category of communicative announcement (“fides qua”; belief as faith; understood more as the act of communicating the faith, focussed on the recipients and on the pedagogical methods).

         It must, therefore, be an authoritative, synthetic, and organic presentation of the substance of that which is announced - “ut id teneamus quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est”, to use the words of Vincenzo of Lerins).  So the catechism of the Catholic Church, focussing on the veritative dimension, offers the announcers of the Word the fundamental and essential truths of the Catholic faith, as it is to be announced, received, lived.

         This is what the Holy Father writes in the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, with which he approved the CCC.  As a matter of fact, in presenting the CCC as “an exposition of the faith of the Church and of the Catholic doctrine, witnessed or illuminated by the Holy Scriptures, by Apostolic Tradition and by the Magisterium of the Church”, the Pope invites the Pastors and the faithful to “receive it in the spirit of communion and to use it assiduously in the fulfillment of their mission of announcing the faith and of calling the faithful to the evangelical life”.  He thus recognises the CCC “as a valid and legitimate instrument in the service of the ecclesial communion, and as a reliable standard for the teaching of the faith” (n.4).




a.2. - The CCC as an instrument of study, of consultation, of comparison, of reference, of proclamation of the faith of the Church


The CCC, therefore, is a valid instrument of study, consultation, comparison and reference for all those whose task it is to announce and to teach the Catholic truth.  It is also a valuable source for those who are in search of a systematic and complete presentation of the substance of the Christian faith and morals - as well as for those who wish to deepen their own personal formation and that of their communities.

         It is an instrument for “knowing” the faith; of course not exhaustive, but certainly valid, genuine and truthful.

         “A major problem for today’s Church is the lack of knowledge of the faith; religious illiteracy...  We must do everything we can for a Catechistic renewal, in order that the faith may be known, and so God may be known, Christ may be known, the truth may be known and unity may grow in the truth” (BENEDICT XVI, meeting with the priests of Rome, lectio divina, Aula Paolo VI, February 23, 2012).

         The Catechism announces that truth; the truth which the Catholic church believes, which it celebrates, which it lives, which it prays.

         It presents the truth the Church proclaims  - the whole Church, the universal Catholic Church (not solely a single Christian or a single local church); yesterday, today and tomorrow.  It celebrates the faith of the Church.  It contains the Catholic doctrine of the Church (indeed, its title is the Catechism of the Catholic Church), it is the genuine and complete presentation of the Catholic faith.  It is this truth that “the Catechism of the Catholic Church maintains and transmits, the truth which is genuine in its meaning, entire in its content, and systematic in its explanation”. (CEI, Message for the Publication of the Catechism, December 5, 1992).   The Catechism proclaims that which the Church possesses as everlasting heritage of its being and of its action.  It is a “text of faith” of the Catholic reality.  It proclaims the truth, that is Christ, as the Church lives in its preaching, in its celebration, in its moral life, in its prayer.

         “It is a true gift; a gift, that is, that presents the truth which God revealed in Christ and which He entrusted to His Church.  The Catechism displays this truth, in the light of the Vatican II Council, exactly as it is lived, believed, celebrated, and prayed by the Church. And it does this in order to aid in the indefectible approach to the Person of Christ.” (John Paul II, Promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, December 7, 1992, n.4).

         “With the aid of such a Catechism, it is the Catholic Church itself, the Church as it is today, on the threshold of the twenty-first Century, which presents its own belief in, celebration and experience of, and prayer to Him, to Him who is its founder and its model, its center and its  culmination: Christ the Lord.  And in doing so, it draws deeply upon that immense heritage of the past - our Biblical, liturgical, Councilar, magisteral, our spiritual heritage. And it tries to give a new voice and fresh expression to that heritage, that truth, at the same time as bringing out its immutable freshness and rich vitality.” (J. RATZINGER, Report to the Eighth Plenary Session of the International Council for Catechesis - COINCAT, in: Regno, anno XXXVII, n.692, November 1, 1992, pp.588).

         Now it is true that this faith of the Church takes on different comprehensive and expressive forms, in various different times and places, and depending upon particular persons, liturgical characteristics, and so forth.  But it is also true that the essential and fundamental substance of the Christian faith is, was, and always will be the same.  No matter where, no matter when.  This faith is contained and expressed in the “Sacred Deposit” of the Bible and of the Tradition.  This ecclesial truth is witnessed by and in the Catechism.

         That “depositum fidei”, which has forever been the heritage of the Church, and which over the centuries, through the generations, has always been clarified by the special aid of the Holy Spirit - that timeless heritage is witnessed in and by the Catechism.




b.1.  Presentation of the Christian mystery in its indivisible unity


         “Reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we can perceive the marvelous unity of the mystery of God, of his design for salvation, and we see the centrality of Jesus Christ, the One and Only Son of God, sent by His Father, become man in the womb of the Holy Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, come to be our Savior.  Dead and resurrected, He is always present in His Church, and particularly in the Sacraments.  He is the wellspring of the faith, the model for Christian life, and the Master of our prayers” (Fidei Depositum, n.3).

         The four parts of the CCC are woven together, as harmonically synchronised as a symphony, closely assembled as the tiles in a mosaic.  Evidence of this are the many cross-references in the margins.

         Such an interconnection among the parts of the Catechism, and the fundamental rapport of the various topics presented therein, are an expression - an embodiment - of the deep and symphonic unity of the Christian mystery itself.

         “The four parts are linked together: the Christian mystery as the object of our faith (first part); as it is celebrated and communicated in liturgical acts (second part); as it accompanies us to sustain and illuminate the children of God in their/our lives (third part); as it is the foundation of our prayers, whose highest expression is the “Our Father”, and as it is the object of our supplications, of our praise, of our intercession (fourth part).

         The Liturgy is prayer as well; confession of faith is at home in the celebration of the cult. 

         Grace, the fruit of the sacraments, is the ineluctable condition for Christian action, just as participation in the Liturgy of the Church requires faith.  If faith does not develop in action, it is dead and can no longer offer the fruits of eternal life.” (Fidei Depositum, n.3).


b.2.- Conjugation of the various different and complementary languages of the faith: biblical, patristic, liturgical, magisteral, testimonial.


         This requirement emerges very clearly in the CCC, where these different languages clarify and complete one another in intimate and complementary circulation - and all the while they are leading us forward to an ever deeper and clearer understanding of the Christian mystery.

         This deeper and clearer understanding ought also to be the commitment of every priest in his announcing of the Word of God, and especially in the celebration of the liturgy and in the catechesis in a wide range of places and with a wide range of different people.

         So the enunciated Catholic catechism, steeped in the sources of faith, is thus expressed through a skillful conjugation, an enriching symbiosis of continuity and novelty of language.

         The truth of faith also comes to us through many other channels of communication of the unitary Word of God (and not only through the Bible).  In the same way, the globality and plurality of the voices (languages) express the profound and multiform richness of the People of God.  These voices renew and refresh the unitary Word of God, in both the dimensions of time and of space (think of the difficult but impelling process of inculturation).

         Naturally these various languages do not all carry the same weight; they are not all of equal value.  Our primary source is of course the Bible, and the Apostolic Tradition takes precedence over “ecclesial traditions”.


b.3. Synthetic announcement of the Christian truth


         This is the general stance of the CCC, which lays out the essential and fundamental substance of the Christian truth.  The CCC is, in fact, an instrument for the transmission of the essentials and fundamentals of the Christian faith and of Christian morality (ʻtam de fide quam de moribus”), in a complete and concise manner (“non omnia sed totum”).  The aim is to present, in a concentrated and schematic format, that which is essential and fundamental to ensuring the unity of a sure and secure faith, maintaining the systematic, organic and harmonious interconnections of the very substance of faith.

         On those occasions when the CCC points out secondary aspects, it does so in order to better illuminate the fundamentals, as when certain individual tiles of a mosaic enhance our perception of the beauty and completeness of the whole.

         This primacy of the “essential” is particularly apparent in the formulae used in the catechism, in that these are distilled propositions, summarizing truly important material in simple and concise terms.  These formulae stand as the “memory” of the faith of the Church, in that - over the centuries and in so many different places and situations - they have helped, and continue to help the expression, the memory, the very experience of the unitary faith.

         The Catechism attends to the fundamental and essential elements, and tries to avoid theological opinions, pronouncements emanating from a particular theological school; individual interpretations which have not been sufficiently ratified by the sensus fidei of the People of God; the mixing up of Biblical revelation, dogmatic explanations, theological conclusions, without regard to rank or importance.

         All of this offers considerable exemplary material, for the homily in particular, whose task it is to illustrate the Word of God to the congregation of today, in a clear and concise manner.


b.4. Announcement employing an attestative language

         The CCC employs a type of language that can stand as a model - or at least a point of reference - for the language which the priest uses in his daily work in fulfillment of his mission.

        The type of language used in the Catechism is referred to as “attestative” language.  On the subject, the then Cardinal J. Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) observed: “In response to the urgings of the majority in the consultations with the worldʼs Bishops, the drafters of this Catechism chose to employ “attestative” language, rather than “argumentive” or “apologetic” formulations.   In this way they have been able to express the truth in a more positive and serene manner (“narratio mirabilia Dei”), never neglecting the magisterial nature of the text, nor the need to better correspond to the expectations of todayʼs world”  (J. RATZINGER, Report to the Eighth Plenary Session of the International Council for the Catechism - COINCAT, in: Regno, anno XXXVII, n.692, November 1, 1992, p.589).

         So it is a more kerigmatic type of language; more proactive, expositive, ostensive, declarative of the good news of the Gospels, rather than an intellectual or apologetic type of language.  It is a form of words which does not follow the schemata of professional theology (dialectical/probative) but which is expressive of the serene affirmation of and prayerful ecclesial meditation upon the revealed truth.

         This type of language seems to be very appropriate and harmonious with the very nature of faith itself: faith has its own logic, its own way of proceeding and revealing itself.  This brings us not so much to disputation as to testifying; it is the language of witness. 

         So the Catechism has chosen the path of serene revisiting; of positive, not polemical, meditation; of the Christian truth in its entirety, in its totality and its harmony.  Its intention is to bring the Good News as a gift, as a blessing, as an act of love which fills us to completion.

         The Catechism is, therefore, a good model to follow - for every priest, in the fulfillment of his difficult mission as catechist, homilist, proclaimer of the faith!


b5 - Magisterial text

         But it must not be forgotten that the Catechism is a Magisterial text, in that it was proposed by a Synod of Bishops, willed by the Holy Father, drafted by Bishops, fruit of consultation with the world-wide episcopate, and approved by the Holy Father, as his ordinary magisterium.

         It outlines the Catholic identity, and carries therefore the degree of authority, of validity, of authenticity appropriate to the ordinary magisterium.

         Naturally, being a Catechism it does not propose to identify new truths; it puts forth those truths which are already in the possession of the Church; this is why its affirmations enjoy that degree of certainty which is proper to them in the overall system of Catholic doctrine.

         Nevertheless it is necessary to evaluate them, item by item, paragraph by paragraph, and check the conformity of every single affirmation with Catholic doctrine, as well as the degree of accuracy, the place that every single statement occupies in the architecture of the Christian mystery.

         But while focusing more on content, on the veritative dimension, the CCC does not forget that faith is life: it engages the entire person, throughout life in its every dimension. The announcement can therefore never be separated from the life witness of those who make the announcement and those who receive it. Every testimony is especially a testimony of love.  And that is why the first part of the CCC is intimately connected to its third part, which presents moral life which is centred on charity in its twofold dimension, descending and ascending, vertical and horizontal.  Faith and moral life feed each other, explain each other, are experienced in prayer, both liturgical and personal. Divine truth, known and accepted, become praise and worship; light and beacon in man’s daily labours; commitment and service in building up the Kingdom of God.