Something deeply rooted in human nature pushes us to seek understanding. We want to know why we exist, how we find happiness, and what happens when we die. St. Augustine understood that the answer to our questions lies in God. He believed faith in God brings a constant desire for deeper understanding. As we begin to know our purpose, more and more questions pop up. We Christians want to understand what we believe and why we believe it. Our desire to learn is good because it leaves us seeking the Lord and opening ourselves to love him more deeply. As we know God better, we can then come to love him more.
In her wisdom, the Early Church established various ways to pass knowledge down to the faithful. The Church’s magisterium uses Scripture and Tradition to explain our faith’s “whys” and “hows.” They interpret the meanings of dogma and doctrine and explain how the Catholic Faith applies to us today. One of the ways the magisterium works to encourage knowledge of the Faith and increase the love of God is through the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The Purpose of the Catechism
The Second Vatican Council called for a return to the sources of the Catholic Faith. At that time, Catholics were faced with many questions on how to navigate the tumultuous modern world. People wanted to know what returning to faith’s sources looked like. They wanted to understand how they should react to the culture and live faithfully in a time when modern ideas seemed to defy all fundamental teachings of Catholicism.
As more and more Catholics sought answers, bishops found they needed a clear articulation of the Catholic Faith. Parishes were attempting to respond to the current issues by writing their own catechisms without any formal guide. The older texts they had to work with, including the 1st Century Didache and the 18th-century Catechism, weren’t easy to read and didn’t respond to modern concerns and issues.
In 1985, Pope John Paul II commissioned 12 cardinals to oversee the drafting of a universal Catechism of the Catholic Church. They were to form a “genuine, systematic presentation of the faith and of Catholic doctrine.” The purpose of the Catechism is to explain the Catholic Faith in an organized way so that the faithful—and the non-faithful—might understand the tenets of Catholicism contained in Scripture and Tradition and interpreted by the magisterium of the Church. It provides answers to questions posed both by children and renowned theologians.
How the Catechism is Organized
The authors organized the Catechism into four main “pillars,” which focus on faith, sacraments, life in Christ, and prayer. These parts contain numbered paragraphs concerning various themes and topics related to each pillar. The writers wanted to simplify the content of this work and clearly articulate the vital knowledge people were searching for.
12 Cardinals, 44 consultors, every Catholic bishop in the world, and all the leading Catholic universities and institutes contributed to the work that we now know as the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The various backgrounds and differing expertise guarded the Faith and ensured the truth of the work. Pope John Paul II later said that “the harmony of so many voices truly expresses what could be called the ‘symphony’ of the faith.'”
Why You Should Read the Catechism
In humanity’s constant changes, much of the world has forgotten Christ and his Church. We need to remember why we desire to know at all. When we read the Catechism, we open our hearts and minds to renewal and transformation. We return to our foundations as we question the “whys” and “hows” of our faith. Our questions remind us that we aren’t made for a temporary world but an everlasting one. We encounter God’s plan of sheer goodness for us and can pass this life-changing knowledge to others. Reading the Catechism will transform your relationship with the Church that Christ himself founded.
We now can read the Catechism and live out the truths of the Faith in a unique and significant way through Ascension’s The Catechism in a Year (with Fr. Mike Schmitz) podcast. This work tells the story of our faith. It offers joyful answers to questions you might find painful. All you have to do is press “play.” You can share this gift with those around you, learn alongside tens of thousands of fellow Catholics, and read the entire Catechism in 365 days. As you seek a greater understanding of your faith, I pray that you find this journey enriching and unforgettable.