May 22, 2012
Since the earliest days, the Church has made good use of catechisms to pass on the faith. In first century Syria, the cradle of Christianity, the
Doctrine of the Apostles) was used. It was a compendium of the apostolic teachings on doctrine, morality, and liturgy. In the fourth century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem gave twenty-four
Catechetical Lectures. In a clear and logical style, he provided the basics of the faith for new converts.
Undoubtedly, the most famous catechism with far-reaching effects was
The Roman Catechism. At the time of the Protestant Reformation, it became necessary to help Catholics understand their faith and respond to the challenges of their day. Thus, under the authority of the Council of Trent,
The Roman Catechism was published. Using the four pillars of the Creed, the Sacraments, Morality and Spirituality, this catechism became the doctrinal and methodological paradigm for all catechisms for years to come.
In the United States, up until the second half of the twentieth century, millions of Catholics were raised in the faith with
Baltimore Catechism. This catechism contained 421 questions and answers in thirty-seven chapters. It presented a unified and clear teaching and understanding of the faith. Children memorized the catechism and had, at a minimum, the basic language of our faith.
In our own day, Pope John Paul II published the
Catechism of the Catholic Church. This was the first new edition of the catechism in four hundred years. Using the same four pillars as
The Roman Catechism, this new text explains the Creed, the Sacraments, the moral life and prayer. With Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, Liturgy and the magisterium, the catechism not only presents the truths that Catholics believe, but explains why we hold to these truths.
This monumental and much needed work has served as the basis for other catechisms, such as the
United States Catholic Catechism for Adults and the catechism
Youcat. Individuals and small groups can use the adult catechism to deepen their faith. Young people can use
Youcat (Youth Catechism) for an age-appropriate understanding of the faith.
Youcat is graphic and easy to read. It gives definitions of key terms used to express Catholic doctrine; and, it includes a question-and-answer format. This catechism draws deeply on Sacred Scripture and the Saints. It has the advantage of being keyed to the
Catechism of the Catholic Church so that the user can study the faith more deeply.
The word “catechism” comes from the verb “to catechize,” which literally means “to echo back.” Good catechesis is the handing on of the faith from the one teaching, who can “echo back” what he or she has learned, to the one learning, who can also “echo back,” that is, repeat the teaching. It is worth noting, therefore, that the very idea of a catechism includes the imperative of memorization.
Already within the Sacred Scriptures, this use of memory is extolled. Immediately after giving Israel the Ten Commandments, Moses gives a long exhortation. In laying down the foundation for Israel’s loyalty to the covenant, he does not fail to emphasize the role of memory. He says, “You shall lay up these words in your heart and in your soul” (Deuteronomy 11:18). A basic element of religious life in the Old Testament is remembering God’s words and his actions. Thus, with a certain sense of satisfaction, the psalmist can say, “Your word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
In the New Testament, the word of Jesus is alive with power in the disciples through their recollection or remembering (cf. Mk 14:72; Mt 26:75; Lk 22:61). The Church makes her important decisions by remembering the sayings of Jesus (cf. Acts 11:16). The believer remains faithful to the apostolic tradition by remembering them (cf. 2 Pt 3:1-3). Thus, the essential facts of the faith are truly passed on in as much as they are remembered (cf. 1Cor 11:2).
The catechism is a most useful resource in the faithful transmission of the Catholic faith. However, it is not, in and of itself, the answer to the growing lack of knowledge of the faith among Catholics. No catechism, no matter how well written, can ever replace the use of memory in appropriating the faith that comes to us from the apostles.
This article is a sequel to the article Memory and Handing on the Faith: Is there a Connection?
originally published in the Beacon on May 10, 2012
. It is the second in a three part series on the role of memory in catechesis.