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Catechesis for Dummies?

31 May

Ever since its publication in 2006, I’ve thought the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a godsend to all who are involved in teaching (and learning) the Catholic faith.

Of course, being a document of the Holy See and published in the United States by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) isn’t necessarily the recipe for becoming a bestseller! Surely, the book’s title is accurate, as a “compendium” is a brief summary of a larger work, but the title is not as accessible or endearing as The Catechism for Dummies or Cliff Notes for the Catechism. I have found it shocking that many Catholics are still unfamiliar with the Catechism itself, let alone its “compendium.”

Such marketing concerns aside, I want to provide five reasons why everyone who is interested in teaching (and learning) the Catholic faith should own a copy of the Compendium

(1) It is a compendium.

My hardbound copy of the Catechism has over 900 pages. The Compendium, counting the appendix and index, is barely 200 pages. Yet the Compendium closely follows the Catechism’s presentation of the four pillars of catechesis (creed, sacraments, morality, and prayer), and has an easy-to-use cross-referencing system that makes it very easy to find a fuller presentation of the teaching in the Catechism.

(2) Dialogical format.

The Compendium follows a question-and-answer format. This format sadly fell out of favor among the generation of catechists who rejected the Baltimore Catechism. Yet, this type of presentation, as Pope Benedict notes in the introduction, is an ancient catechetical genre that allows the reader to enter into an imaginary discussion between teacher and disciple. This encourages the reader to actively engage the text.

(3) Brevity of the teaching.

This format also allows for brief answers to specific catechetical questions. The way of the Vatican II documents and the Catechism itself–not to mention the way of recent popes–has been to provide more detailed discussion and explanation of Church teaching, which has truly been a gift to the Church. While “faith seeks understanding” (St. Augustine), we first need to have a handle on what the faith is. For that reason, the Compendium’s concise expression of Catholic doctrine, which even lends itself to memorization, provides a wonderful framework on which catechumens can build a solid understanding of the faith. 

(4) Traditional art.

The Compendium makes use of classical religious art to enhance its presentation of the Catholic faith. As Pope Benedict has stressed, the art produced over the centuries by the Church is one of the most effective catechetical tools in the Church’s catechetical arsenal, given the power of beauty to draw people to God.

(5) Check out the back of the book.

In the back of the book, there is an appendix with an ample selection of Catholic prayers in both English and Latin, as well as formulas of Catholic doctrine that should be known by all believers, young and old alike. This section goes a long way toward bridging the “generation gap” by reminding us of our shared patrimony and giving us a common language of prayer.

The Compendium is available through the USCCB, or may be purchased at any Catholic bookstore.