April 28, 2006

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Compendium, Catechism for Adults are
valuable formation resources

In one of my messages during Lent, I stressed the importance of formation in our faith. I made a point of the responsibility of parents in overseeing the catechetical instruction of their children.

Two valuable resources for adult formation in the Catholic faith should be available for use in the United States as I write this column. They will be family friendly.

Last June, the Vatican issued the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is a shortened and simplified version of the catechism which was commissioned by the late Pope John Paul II in 2003. The Italian version was presented by Pope Benedict XVI in June 2005. It is a 200-page synthesis of the original 800-plus-page Catechism of the Catholic Church.

During an international catechetical congress held in Rome with representatives from episcopal conferences around the world in 2002, there was a lot of discussion about making the Catechism of the Catholic Church more accessible. This compendium is the result.

The compendium is intended to be user friendly for most Catholics, but it is not a new catechism. The compendium faithfully reflects the teaching of the more extensive Catechism of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict noted that the catechism “remains the source to draw from when looking for a harmonious and authentic explanation of Catholic faith and morals.”

When the original catechism was published, it was meant to be a source for other catechetical tools that would help implement it. Our national bishops’ conference was responsible for translating the compendium from the Italian version. The English edition is published by the U.S. conference.

The compendium is a chapter-by-chapter, section-by-section summary of the content of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It presents the essential teaching, and it continually encourages the reader to refer to the catechism for further study.

When asked to comment on the compendium, Bishop Donald Wuerl, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Catechesis, said, “We must remember that many of the people we are trying to reach today were under-catechized or poorly catechized during the 1970s and 1980s. There is the need to engage them in taking a second look at the faith. While the catechism can do this, other tools such as the compendium can serve to invite people back into an examination of the faith” (Columbia magazine, March 2006, p. 19).

A second resource will be available shortly. It is the United States Catechism for Adults. This catechetical tool has been approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Holy See. When Pope John Paul II promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992, he pointed out that it “is meant to encourage and assist in the writing of new local catechisms, which take into account various situations and cultures while carefully preserving the unity of faith and fidelity to Catholic doctrine” (in Fidei Depositum, the apostolic constitution of promulgation).

Subsequently, the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy—which oversees catechesis in the Church—encouraged our national conference of bishops to develop a national catechism that addressed the culture in the United States. The bishops made the decision to pursue a national catechism geared to the adult and young adult level. It was to be user friendly and readable. It was to reflect that structure of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that is, the “four pillars” or sections of the catechism—Part I: The Profession of Faith; Part II: The Celebration of the Christian Mystery; Part III: Life in Christ; and Part IV: Christian Prayer.

The catechism’s section on the profession of faith deals with the manner in which God revealed himself to the world and with the articles of the creed. The second section on celebration of the Christian mystery deals with the liturgy and the seven sacraments instituted by Christ. Section three, Life in Christ, deals with our vocation to holiness, our human dignity, teaching on the moral conscience, individual and social morality, including reflections on the Ten Commandments. The final section on Christian prayer treats the Church’s tradition of prayer with extensive reflection on the Our Father.

In the national adult catechism, the chapters of each of the four sections begin with the story of a saint or exemplary Catholic that leads one into the doctrinal content in concise and straightforward language. There is a brief statement about how the particular teaching is challenged in our contemporary culture—especially in the United States—and how the Church’s teaching addresses our culture. Reflection and discussion points are given. A prayerful reflection concludes the chapter.

The adult catechism went through several drafts of consultation with the bishops of the United States, experienced catechists and theologians. I am confident you will be really pleased with this new resource and the compendium. †

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