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The Catholic Catechism

November 17, 2009

The current Catechism of the Catholic Church was published in 1994 and revised in 2000. On the 20th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council in 1985, Pope John Paul II called together an extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops. It was at this assembly that the need for a new catechism was discussed, and the pope commissioned twelve Cardinals and Bishops to prepare a draft of the catechism. The chair of this commission was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is today Pope Benedict XVI. After many rewrites and theological consultations the Catechism of the Catholic Church was finalized on October 11, 1992.

The Catechism encompasses all of the “Catholic doctrine regarding both faith and morals… and the presentation of the doctrine is biblical and liturgical.” (CCC pg.3)

The Catechism has four main parts:

  1. The Profession of Faith
  2. The Sacraments
  3. Life in Christ
  4. Christian Prayer

The first part, The Profession of Faith, outlines our creed, what we believe as Christians. Firstly, we have the desire to know God; and God has revealed himself to us in two ways, by Divine Revelation (the Apostolic Tradition) and by Sacred Scripture; and man responds with obedient faith which includes the Creed. Secondly, the Creed is explained line by line in great detail. (That’s a whole post in itself.)

The second part is the Celebration of the Christian Mystery which is the Sacramental Economy and the Seven Sacraments of the Church. The Sacramental Economy explains Christ’s work of salvation through the liturgy of his Church, i.e. the Mass. This includes the work of the Holy Trinity, how each Person of the Trinity guides us to salvation. Then it tells us who can celebrate Mass, and how, when and where it can be celebrated. There is also a discussion on the diverse unity of the celebration of the Mass; Mass is the same all over the world, but differences in culture are allowed as well.

The second half of the second part details the seven sacraments. The first three are the sacraments of Christian Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. The next two are the sacraments of healing: Penance and Reconciliation, and the Anointing of the Sick. The final two sacraments are at the service of communion: Holy Orders and Matrimony.

The third part of the Catechism outlines our Life in Christ, which covers a lot of ground. First is the Dignity of the Human Person. We are born in the image of God. The Beatitudes are Jesus’ promises to us, provided we respond obediently, just as freedom has responsibility. Morality, the Virtues and Sin are also outlined here. We are all part of the human community. We must participate in the social life, working toward the Common Good for all. We must respect one another. God’s salvation comes to us through both the law and grace. We must do good and follow the moral law. The Holy Spirit has the power to justify us (cleanse us) when we fail, and it is purely by the grace of God that he does so; we do not deserve it.

Part Three continues with the Ten Commandments. The first three commandments are focused on love of God, worshipping only Him. The remaining seven commandments focus on love of neighbor.

The last part is on Christian Prayer. What is prayer? What kinds of prayer are there? And most important, pray always, God wants us to pray to him unceasingly. The Catechism ends with an explanation of the Our Father.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is over 800 pages, a very detailed presentation of our faith. If you want to start out a little slower with a smaller volume, there is also the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. You can also find the entire Catechism on-line on the USCCB website.

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