Silver anniversary: Making the catechism shine in the 21st century

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As the church marks the 25th
anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, promoting
it as a means of teaching the truth about faith remains a challenge and a priority.

Since its publication in 1992, the catechism has been
translated into 50 languages, including Swahili, Japanese and Gaelic, and it is also available
in Braille, video and digital editions.

Nevertheless, in today’s digital age, when people have limitless access to information
with the click of a mouse or the swipe of
an app, opinions and even “fake news” can either inform or misinform
Catholics on the principles of the Catholic faith.

“Society is changing in a very massive way, and it’s
much more difficult to reach people,” especially in the digital age, Katharina Karl, professor of
pastoral theology and religious education at the Philosophical-Theological University in Muenster,
Germany, told Catholic News Service Oct. 11.

This ongoing
challenge was what prompted the Catholic Church a quarter of a century ago to create a go-to
reference that synthesized church teaching and serve as a guide for the faithful.

The idea of a compendium of Catholic doctrine was one of
the fruits of the 1985 Synod of
Bishops marking the 20th anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican

After requests from participants for a point of reference
“for the catechisms or compendiums that are prepared in various
regions,” St. John Paul II accepted their proposal, “considering it
as fully responding to a real need, both of the universal church and of the
particular churches.”

“The presentation of doctrine must be biblical and
liturgical. It must be sound doctrine suited to the present life of
Christians,” St. John Paul wrote in his Apostolic Constitution “Fidei Depositum”
(“The Deposit of Faith”) Oct. 11, 1992.

Entrusting this task to 12 cardinals and bishops, St.
John Paul chose Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, to
lead the commission responsible for the drafting of the catechism.

While the need for a text that clearly explained the
church’s teachings was welcomed, some criticized it for being too static or dogmatic and
not in line with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

“It was said that the catechism failed to take into
account the theological developments of the last century, particularly
exegetical developments; it was not ecumenical; it was not dialogical” as it made affirmations
as established beyond dispute, Cardinal Ratzinger said Oct. 9, 2002, during an
address commemorating the catechism’s 10th anniversary.

The future Pope Benedict responded to those opinions by seeking to explain
“what a catechism is and what is its specific literary genre,” as
well as its proper purpose and doctrinal relevance.

catechism is “a proclamation of faith,” of witness,
for the teaching of the faith, he said. It presents a “given that precedes
us,” but whose doctrinal formulation develops in the church, he said.

After his
papal election, Pope Benedict continued to urge Catholics to use the
Catechism of the Catholic Church as a handbook to rediscover the truths of
faith and a deeper knowledge of church teaching.

“Read the Catechism
of the Catholic Church and rediscover the beauty of
being Christian, of being church, of living as part of the great ‘we’ that
Jesus formed around him to evangelize the world,” Pope Benedict said in 2012.

In his speech marking the 25th anniversary of the
Catechism of the Catholic Church Oct. 11, Pope Francis said the
catechism is not only an important tool for believers to understand the faith, but
also provides concrete answers to new challenges.

Just as the challenges people face evolve, so does the
Christian response since
“the word of God cannot be preserved in mothballs as if it were an old
blanket to protect against
insects,” he said.

In fact, “the word of God is a dynamic reality that
is always living, that progresses and grows, because it is stretched toward a
fulfillment that men and women cannot stop,” Pope Francis said.

Cardinal Christoph Schonborn
of Vienna, who served with
then-Cardinal Ratzinger as co-editor of the catechism, told Vatican
Radio Oct. 12 that while the development
of church teaching evolves over time, the church and the Gospel don’t change.

“We must change. This catechism is only 25 years
old. The previous one — the Council of Trent — lasted 400 years. Therefore, I
hope this catechism is at the beginning of its work for the church,”
Cardinal Schonborn said.

Despite the catechism’s accessibility and continuing
development, “there is still a lot to do,” Karl told Catholic News

In her Oct. 11 talk, Karl emphasized the need for
Catholics to have a formed conscience — rooted in the teachings of the
catechism — that will allow for a “dialogue with God.”

“The catechesis today needs to create a space for
people to enter into dialogue with themselves in the first place. It’s
something they need to be taught in such a way that in the end it may become a
dialogue with God,” she said.

Expanding on her speech, Karl told CNS that before
catechizing, the church should embark on a “pre-journey with people”
and reach out to them, given that, in today’s digital world, many people no longer
socialize face-to-face or
“go to catechism classes automatically.”

The use of Twitter by one group of Catholics from around
the world who use the social network to pray together is one of many examples
of how the church can use social media to engage people and “bring the
catechism to them,” she noted.

“I think the sign of the times is to be
creative,” Karl told CNS.

“The church is already going toward that path, but I
think it’s a chance to enter the digital world not as something foreign to us
but as something native to our times,” she said.

– – –

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

– – –

Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Original Article