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Evolution of the Modern Catechism

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The need for a catechism is something that was sorely lacking for years within the Catholic Church. In 1992, Pope John Paul II commissioned the official Catechism of the Catholic Church. He with the help with Joseph Ratzinger, now know as Pope Benedict XVI, put together a comprehensive encyclopedia type reference book aimed at bishops, Pastors and catechists. It was not designed for the individual to use, even though it has been purchased by many Catholics globally.

Some may remember the old Baltimore Catachism that was available here in the US. Many may find it hard to believe that it was not sanctioned by the US bishops and surely not approved by the Holy See. Ultimately, it’s the Holy See who is responsible to designate what is the proper ‘rules’ of the church actually is. Most of all they stressed that this was NOT to be a text book. It was an encyclopedia.

After the release of the Catechism, the Vatican challenged the Bishops of each country to form their own catechism that addressed not only the concepts in the main Catechism of the Catholic Church, but also the social situations in their own countries. For example Countries such as the Netherlands has far bigger moral issues than does the United States, even though there is some cross over. They again urged that their reference book was not to be used as a textbook and thus why they wanted this to be done.

In addition to the main catechism there as a compendium of the Catechism of the catholic church. It took many of the concept of the main catechism and make them in to 598 concise questions and answers that  covered the most popular topics and questions. Things like What is the transubstantiation or what is the biblical basis for the sacrament of anointing of the sick. Each of these questions had brief one paragraph answers that give an overview but also the line number in the catechism which further explains the topic of the original question.  

With this task in mind the United States Bishops set about the task of writing a Catechism that was based on the main Catechism of the Catholic Church but also addressed the social issues in the United States, making it uniquely germane to the United States. The Bishops took that challenge set before them very seriously and put together the United States Catechism of the Catholic Church. It took them six years to produce the book we now have in front of us.

The book from the beginning was so perfect to what the Vatican wanted the Bishops to do it only took them three revisions to get the Vatican’s seal of approval. The understanding was their revisions were very small and it did not deviate from the original meaning and this book holds very true to the encyclopedia version of the catechism. The extra time and effort the bishops took put forth a valuable and extremely well written text book for the American Catholic Church to use.

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This article was published on Wednesday 14 May, 2008.

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