Sunday, July 23, 2006

Encountering Christ in the Catechism

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, promulgated by the late Holy Father Pope John Paul II in 1992, is a brilliant summation of all that the Church is and teaches. If a situation were ever to present itself (as it often does in the life of every Catholic Christian) in which a Catholic was asked what forms the Church’s body of teaching, one could point to the Catechism for a sure answer. The Catechism presents to us the fullness and totality of the depositum fidei, the deposit of faith which was handed “once and for all to the saints,” (Jude 1:3) delivered by our Lord Jesus Christ to His Apostles, and then in turn to their successors, the bishops. While the totality of what we believe has been handed down definitively, with public revelation ceasing upon the death of St. John the Apostle, the fully developed understanding of that deposit continues to grow as the centuries pass on. But there is more to our faith than just the doctrines we are called to believe as being divinely revealed; there is the faith which is lived, in which those doctrines take root within the liturgies, prayers, councils, and life of the Church.

“Through Tradition, ‘the Church, in her doctrine, life, and worship perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes (CCC 78, Dei Verbum par. 8).’ “Sacred Scripture is written principally in the Church’s heart rather than in documents and records, for the Church carries in her Tradition the living memorial of God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives her the spiritual interpretation of the Scripture (CCC 113).”

The Catechism captures the whole heart and soul of Catholic Christianity, presenting the faith undefiled and in its entirety, for the desired end of a more stringent unity among Catholics worldwide in both this age and in generations to follow. Indeed, our Lord’s commission to His Apostles to go into the world and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe what He commanded them (Matthew 28:19-20), is brought to amazing fruition with the promulgation of the first universal Catechism given to Christ’s faithful since the Council of Trent in the 16th century. Much has developed with the passing of over 400 years, not the least being a renewed desire to heed St. Paul’s charge that no divisions exist among Christians (1 Corinthians 1:10; as well, since Trent’s Catechism, at least three dogmas have been defined (the Immaculate Conception of Mary, Papal infallibility, and Mary’s Bodily Assumption). In that regard, the Catechism also serves the purpose of listening and responding to our Lord’s desire for unity amongst all His disciples and followers, that we might all be one (John 17:21). Pope John Paul II wrote, “To believe in Christ means to desire unity; to desire unity means to desire the Church; to desire the Church means to desire the communion of grace which corresponds to the Father’s plan from all eternity (Ut Unum Sint, par. 9).” This desire for unity finds a helping hand with the promulgation of this Catechism, since it is the task of the Catechism to clearly proclaim the faith we hold to, and to do so in a coherent way so that bridges can be built between Catholics and other Christian communities which exist apart from the visible Body of Christ.

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church is to serve the guardianship and the transmission of the deposit of faith. The Church has the duty, but also the right, to express the fullness, the riches and the beauty of the faith (Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Ratzinger and Schonborn, pgs. 56-57).”

The Catechism faithfully presents to the Christian faithful the teachings of Jesus Christ as they have been transmitted from generation to generation through apostolic succession, guided and sustained by the intervention and protection of God the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 2:2; John 16:13). The Catechism serves this transmission through clearly laying out all that the Church professes to be hers in matters of doctrine, discipline, and worship. All that Christ revealed to His flock is contained within the Catechism, as well as the fruit of 2,000 years of doctrinal development in relation to that revelation. As the Church grows, so too does her understanding and application of the teachings of Jesus Christ. “This catechism is conceived as an organic presentation of the Catholic faith in its entirety (CCC 18).”

In reading through the Catechism, I humbly encounter the Risen Lord. Since Scripture must be interpreted in light of Tradition, and since it is the aim and goal of the Catechism to deliver only what has been entrusted through Tradition, then the person and message of Jesus Christ becomes more personal and intense upon studying this Catechism. “It is intended to stress that at the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth... the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ (Catechesi Tradendae, par. 5).” The purpose of a catechism is to faithfully and systematically present the teaching of the faith in its entirety in order to allow a better knowledge of the Christian mystery and for enlivening the faith of the People of God. This is precisely what Pope John Paul II notes has happened with the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Fidei Depositum, no. 2). He declares it to be, “a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion... a sure and authentic reference text for teaching catholic doctrine (Fidei Depositum, no. 3).”

In summary, the purpose of promulgating this Catechism is so that we may be presented with, “an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards both faith and morals, in the light of the Second Vatican Council [the great catechism of modern times] and the whole of the Church’s Tradition (CCC 10-11).”