Is the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Dependable for Teaching Truth?
“My people don’t need the new Catechism,” the pastor of a parish told me when it first started selling. “I read an article that criticized it.”
“But it’s a wonderful book!” I replied. “It explains what the Church teaches, in a way that’s clear and easy to understand.”
“I admit I haven’t read the Catechism myself, but that article convinced me that I shouldn’t promote it,” he said.
Unfortunately, this kind of distrust of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church was widespread when it was released in 1992. Article writers and public speakers who found in the Catechism contradictions to their own beliefs naturally assumed that the book is just an expression of human beliefs. And they passed their errors on to others. [Author’s note, 2015]
Here’s why we can be sure the Holy Spirit was active in the writing of the Catechism:
We know that when the Bible was written, the Holy Spirit directly inspired the books’ authors. But Sacred Scripture is not the only source of divine revelation. Just as God is a Trinity of divine Persons, so, too, has He given us a trinity of sources for divine revelation, which includes Sacred Tradition and Church Magisterium.
Through these, the successors of the apostles (popes and bishops) were — and are — led by the Spirit of Truth. This is a charism given to them when God ordains them to guard and spread the truth. “These successors can in their preaching preserve this Word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known,” states the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum). This “is the power given by Christ to the Church together with infallibility by which the Church teaches authoritatively the revealed truth of the Scripture and holds forth the truth of Tradition for salvation” (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986).
The new Catechism uses all three sources of divine revelation: It belongs to Sacred Tradition, quotes Sacred Scripture, and bears the authority of the Church Magisterium. It has been carefully scrutinized to be free of error, and therefore can be completely trusted.
What if they didn’t listen to the Holy Spirit?
Let’s suppose that a critic of the Catechism believes its compilers rejected the guidance of the Holy Spirit and then wrote their own interpretations of truth. How do we know that critic is wrong? We know by the way the book was written.
In 1985, bishops around the world sensed that the time was right for a new major (i.e., global) Catechism. The Holy Spirit was saying, “Now is the time.” So a Redaction Committe was formed, made up of 12 bishops and numerous consultors who were leaders in religious education from many countries. These served as the editorial board for the Catechism, chaired by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Ten drafts of the Catechism were written and scrutinized for error. During draft number four, the board asked bishops everywhere to give input. In turn, the bishops listened to their diocesan religious education offices and others who understood the catechetical needs of the faithful, and then sent back more than 28,000 letters. Each line of each response was carefully studied, and the Redaction Committee discussed and debated them, openly and honestly.
As a result, some major shifts and additions were made in the direction and content of the document to more accurately reflect the concerns of the whole Church. Thus, the new Catechism is a common statement of the faithful, not the opinions of an elite few “who don’t live in the real, everyday world.”
Who was the Catechism written for?
One error being passed around is: “The Catechism is not intended for lay people. It’s only for bishops.” Some say it’s just for clergy, and others go as far as to include catechists. But what does Pope John Paul II say?
On Page 1 of the Catechism, the pope speaks to the Church hierarchy “and to all the people of God” to promulgate the book. That includes you! Then he says, “Guarding the Deposit of Faith is the mission which the Lord entrusted to His Church.” Since the new Catechism is a Deposit of Faith, and since we, the lay people together with the clergy and religious, are the Church, the Holy Father is telling us that it’s OUR responsibility.
But how can we fulfill this responsibility if we’re not sure what the truth is, or if we believe errors? The Catechism spells the truth out to us clearly and completely. We must read it, believe it, guard it and spread it.
In his opening letter, the Pope assures us that the purpose of the Catechism is to make “the truth of the Gospel shine forth to lead all people to seek and receive Christ’s love which surpasses all knowledge.” That means that, as guardians of the Gospel message, you and I are being called to make good use of this new tool. We have been commissioned by Jesus Himself to evangelize those around us and bring them to the truth of God’s love. We become better equipped to do so when we study the Catechism to find out what errors we’ve accepted, weed them from our thinking, and begin to live out the truth. As we live it, so will others be converted.
The Pope also points out that “this Catechism will make a very important contribution to the work of renewing the whole life of the Church.” That explains the value of the Catechism very poignantly: For the sake of the sanctification of the Church, which then attempts to sanctify the whole world, we must actively use this Catechism.
How can we best use the Catechism?
1. Don’t let anyone or anything stop you from getting your own copy of the Catechism and reading it.
2. Use a highliter to mark passages that stand out for you as especially interesting or enlightening.
3. If you come across something you disagree with, by an act of your will, choose to believe it, then ask the Spirit of Truth to help you understand it. It may take a while, but He will explain it to you.
4. Read only small portions at a time. Don’t try to digest too much too quickly, but read it regularly so it doesn’t take forever to finish.
5. Instead of reading from page 1 to page 800 in order, use the index or table of contents to locate topics that you want to know more about.
6. Pick a topic, then use the cross-referenced paragraph numbers in the margins to follow that topic from one part of the Catechism to another.
7. Pray for help in living out the truth. Go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation whenever you discover an error that’s been influencing your life, in order to receive God’s grace for becoming more like Christ.
8. Use bookmarks or index cards to make note of passages that you might need to repeat to others when trying to explain the truth to them.
Is God speaking through this Catechism?
The Catechism is the most valuable tool we’ve been given in this age, next to the Bible. It comes at a time when there is much uncertainty. Anyone who reads its paragraphs with an openness to the Holy Spirit will find no reason to criticize it or accuse it of error.
After all, it’s not just the bishops and the Pope who have given it to us. God Himself has called for it, guided it and spoken through it, for two reasons. One, He wants us to become more familiar with what is the truth so that we are not led astray and we grow closer to Him. Two, He wants us to become so certain of the truth that we share it with others and bring them closer to Him.
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© 1993 by Terry A. Modica
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