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Catechism & Catechesis

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The following is an excerpt from:

The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The Roman Catechism

There is a one-volume synthesis of Catholic faith and practice that deserves to be better known. Sometimes called the Catechism of the Council of Trent, it is better known as The Roman Catechism.

This is no ordinary catechism. Years in the making after being decreed by the Council of Trent, the Roman Catechism is an authoritative synthesis of what Catholics should believe, how they are to live, and how they are to worship God through the sacraments and prayer.

The Roman Catechism has for more than four centuries been the single most authoritative one-volume, carefully organized, easily readable, and clearly expressed synthesis of Roman Catholicism.

Immediately intended for "pastors and all who have the duty of catechetical teaching," it is an indispensable source of information for anyone who wants to know what the Catholic Church believes and how she expects her members to practice their religion.

Although The Roman Catechism was published only three years after the Council of Trent, as early as 1546, when the council first convened, the assembled bishops were told about the people's dismal ignorance of even the rudiments of their faith. "There are few authentic teachers," the report declared.

"As a result the children are growing up without instruction and without formation, either by their parents or their teachers, in the Christian way of life, which they began to have and to know when they were baptized."

It was to meet this grave need for sound instruction in the basics of the true faith that The Roman Catechism was finally issued. Pope St. Pius V promulgated the new book to all the hierarchy with instructions to have it translated and made available to all who are responsible for religious instruction in the Catholic Church.

One Pope after another repeated the completeness and authenticity of the Roman Catechism as a repository of the Church's doctrine. Pope Clement XIII said it contains "that teaching which is the common doctrine of the Church, from which all danger of doctrinal error is absent." Pope Leo XIII spoke of "that golden book, the Roman Catechism," which is a "precious summary of all theology, both dogmatic and moral." Pope John XXIII said it was "the Summa of pastoral theology." Pope John Paul II explained that "the Council of Trent . . . lies at the origin of the Roman Catechism, which . . . is a work of the first rank as a summary of Christian theology [and] gave rise to a remarkable organization of catechesis in the Church."

The four parts into which the Roman Catechism is divided correspond to the divisions followed by the Church since early Christian times:

  1. The essentials of Catholic belief are treated in explaining the twelve articles of the Apostles' Creed.

  2. The seven sacraments are explained at length as the means instituted by Christ for living up to the hard demands of the faith.

  3. The Ten Commandments are put into their New Testament setting to show that Christ did not destroy the Old Law but brought it to perfection.

  4. After a detailed analysis of the nature, necessity, and practice of prayer in general, the seven petitions of the Lord's Prayer are given a full-scale treatment. There is a short concluding chapter on the meaning of the word "Amen," which closes the Pater Noster.

There have been several excellent English translations of The Roman Catechism, notably the one published at Maynooth in Ireland in 1829 and in New York in 1923 and 1958. The most recent and definitive translation, done by Rev. Robert I. Bradley, S.J., and Monsignor Eugene Kevane, and published by the St. Paul Editions, is thoroughly updated, with Second Vatican Council and postconciliar documents and the New Code of Canon Law.

Printed with permission of
The Grotto Press
4237 Kinfolk Court
Pinckney, MI 48169
C.R. Inter Mirifica

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