Catechism Conection
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Catechism Connections

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Many of our lectionary readings can be cross-referenced to The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). When CCC came out in 1992, it was hailed by many to be an "adult contemporary synthesis by the Catholic bishops of the world of what the Catholic Church has believed, practiced and taught in its two thousand year history to the present."(1).  Pope John Paul II wrote in the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum on the Publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Guarding the Deposit of Faith is the mission to which the Lord entrusted to his Church, and which she fulfills in every age”.(2) The Second Vatican Council had attempted to do that with its documents, released in the 1960s. That council unleashed a tremendous amount of energy for the Church. So, in 1985, Pope John Paul II called together a Synod of Bishops for the 20th anniversary of that Council to evaluate how that was going and “to study its teaching in greater depth in order that all the Christian faithful might better adhere to it and promote knowledge and application of it” (3) At that Synod, the bishops requested a catechism or compendium of all Catholic doctrine, and at the end of the synod, John Paul II took that task as his own. He wrote that:

A catechism should faithfully and systematically present the teachings of Sacred Scripture, the living Tradition of the Church and the authentic Magisterium, as well as the spiritual heritage of the Fathers, Doctors, and saints of the Church, to allow for a better knowledge of the Christian mystery and for enlivening the faith for the People of God (4).

The Catechism went through nine drafts and followed the traditional order of previous catechisms, dividing it into four parts: 1) the Creed, 2) the sacred liturgy and the sacraments, 3) the moral life explained by the Ten Commandments and Beatitudes, and 4) prayer, especially the “Our Father”. At its release, Pope John Paul II wrote:

For this reason we thank the Lord wholeheartedly on this day when we can offer the entire Church this “reference text” entitled The Catechism of the Catholic Church for a catechesis renewed at the living sources of the faith. (5)

A new catechetical tool had been fashioned.

Criticisms

     As soon as it was released, however, Scripture scholars began to criticize how Scripture was used in the Catechism, claiming its Christology was too high (emphasizing the divinity of Christ over his humanity), its understanding of authorship was too focused on revelation rather than the communities out of which they arose, and its concept of original sin was too simplified. (6) Our Church has a two thousand year history, however, and throughout those centuries, one often sees a pendulum swing in regard to the great mysteries. For instance, with our finite minds, it is impossible for us to wrap our minds around someone who is fully human and fully divine, true God and true man. So, different centuries have emphasized one over the other, sometimes focusing on Jesus’ divinity and other centuries focusing on Jesus’ humanity. We try to understand how Jesus could be like us, to try to understand him as our brother. And then we try to understand him as our Creator God, all powerful and all knowing, and we bow before him. And the pendulum continues to swing since the truth lies in both. The historical critical method, which is the usual methodology applied to Scripture study today, often focuses on Jesus’ humanity over his divinity, and the communities out of which revelation occurred, but that does not mean Jesus is less divine or that revelation is any less valid. God chose to reveal God’s self through human authors and human processes. Scores of theologians and saints have also tried to understand our fallen nature against the backdrop of Imago Dei, the fact that each of us is created in the image and likeness of God. Our theological anthropology must concede that even though we may have been fashioned in Imago Dei, we do not live like that. Our nature is severely flawed and was sorely in need of redemption before the Christ. Original sin is one way to explain that. The biblical stories of Adam and Eve and the serpent and the tree of knowledge are mythological, but myths pointing to the truths. If Jesus Christ is truly fully human as well as fully divine, we must pay attention to his development as a human knower as well as well as his divine omniscience. We can learn more about ourselves as human knowers and human actors if we pay attention to the Christ in those capacities. Conversion to the Christ and acceptance of salvation are ongoing decisions each of us must live out day to day.

     All that said and done, even acknowledging that the Catechism is an imperfect work, The Catechism of the Catholic Church is still a marvelous summary of Catholic belief. It is worth our attention.

 

Basic organization of the Catechism

     Like many of the Christian creeds that preceded this Catechism, it bears the same organizational format and structure. There are four parts to the Catechism: first, the formal statements of belief (in this case, the Nicene Creed dating back to 325 CE) that begins with man’s capacity for belief, man’s belief in God and the understanding that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Holy Spirit completes the Trinitarian character of God, and that Jesus left behind a Church or ekklesia (gathering of believers). Part Two is about the Church’s sacramental system and the nature of its liturgical celebrations, especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Part Three is the life in Christ or the moral character believers strive to imitate, utilizing the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. Part Four is about prayer, especially the prayer that Jesus gave his followers, the “Our Father”. The Catechism is also written in short paragraphs or statements. Each paragraph is numbered from #1 to #2865. When citing a particular statement, one uses paragraph numbers, not page numbers. Various translations might have different page numbers, so everyone uses paragraph numbers. Throughout The Catechism, there are numerous references and footnotes to the Scriptures, Church Councils, Church fathers and mothers, saints and theologians and two thousand years of understandings.

Catechism Connections

     When we gather for liturgy each weekend, we normally hear four Scripture readings: usually a passage from the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, a passage from the Book of Psalms (the prayer book of the Bible) a letter to one of the early Christian communities, many from St. Paul, and a Gospel reading. The Catechism is cross-referenced to the Bible, so if a particular catechism statement has some scriptural underpinnings, it is cited in the footnotes. At the end of The Catechism is an appendix which lists all the Scripture used in The Catechism, book by book. If we read that in reverse, starting with the Appendix of Scripture passages and then find out if there is any Catechism references to particular passages, we can sometimes see what two thousand years of history have done to the understanding of a particular Scriptural passage. That is the aim of "Catechism Connections". Each week, one Catechism paragraph will be chosen that is somehow cited from the readings of the lectionary that Sunday (some weeks have just a few; some have many) and we will try to see just one connection. That way, over the course of a year, we will gain a little more familiarity with The Catechism, and we will begin to see how the church understands Scriptures alongside beliefs. Let’s begin!

NOTES

  1. 1. Willaim S. Kurz and Kevin E. Miller, “The Use of the Scriptures in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” Communio: International Catholic Review, Fall, 1996. Also available at: http://www.ewtn.com/library/CATECHISM/USEOFSCR.HTM
  2. 2. Pope John Paul II, “Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum on the Publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church” in the opening pages of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Minneapolis, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996), 1.
  3. 3. ibid., 2.
  4. 4. ibid., 4.
  5. 5. ibid., 3.
  6. 6.Kurz and Miller article.

 

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