14. The Second Vatican Council declared: “If the media are to be correctly employed, it is essential that all who use them know the principles of the moral order and apply them faithfully in this domain.”21 The moral order to which this refers is the order of the law of human nature, binding upon all because it is “written on their hearts” (Rom. 2:15) and embodies the imperatives of authentic human fulfillment.
For Christians, moreover, the law of human nature has a deeper dimension, a richer meaning. “Christ is the ‘Beginning’ who, having taken on human nature, definitively illumines it in its constitutive elements and in its dynamism of charity towards God and neighbor.”22 Here we comprehend the deepest significance of human freedom: that it makes possible an authentic moral response, in light of Jesus Christ, to the call “to form our conscience, to make it the object of a continuous conversion to what is true and to what is good.”23
In this context, the media of social communications have two options, and only two. Either they help human persons to grow in their understanding and practice of what is true and good, or they are destructive forces in conflict with human well being. That is entirely true of advertising.
Against this background, then, we point to this fundamental principle for people engaged in advertising: advertisers — that is, those who commission, prepare or disseminate advertising — are morally responsible for what they seek to move people to do; and this is a responsibility also shared by publishers, broadcasting executives, and others in the communications world, as well as by those who give commercial or political endorsements, to the extent that they are involved in the advertising process.
If an instance of advertising seeks to move people to choose and act rationally in morally good ways that are of true benefit to themselves and others, persons involved in it do what is morally good; if it seeks to move people to do evil deeds that are self-destructive and destructive of authentic community, they do evil.
This applies also to the means and the techniques of advertising: it is morally wrong to use manipulative, exploitative, corrupt and corrupting methods of persuasion and motivation. In this regard, we note special problems associated with so-called indirect advertising that attempts to move people to act in certain ways — for example, purchase particular products — without their being fully aware that they are being swayed. The techniques involved here include showing certain products or forms of behavior in superficially glamorous settings associated with superficially glamorous people; in extreme cases, it may even involve the use of subliminal messages.
Within this very general framework, we can identify several moral principles that are particularly relevant to advertising. We shall speak briefly of three: truthfulness, the dignity of the human person, and social responsibility.
a) Truthfulness in Advertising
15. Even today, some advertising is simply and deliberately untrue. Generally speaking, though, the problem of truth in advertising is somewhat more subtle: it is not that advertising says what is overtly false, but that it can distort the truth by implying things that are not so or withholding relevant facts. As Pope John Paul II points out, on both the individual and social levels, truth and freedom are inseparable; without truth as the basis, starting point and criterion of discernment, judgment, choice and action, there can be no authentic exercise of freedom.24 The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting the Second Vatican Council, insists that the content of communication be “true and — within the limits set by justice and charity — complete”; the content should, moreover, be communicated “honestly and properly.”25
To be sure, advertising, like other forms of expression, has its own conventions and forms of stylization, and these must be taken into account when discussing truthfulness. People take for granted some rhetorical and symbolic exaggeration in advertising; within the limits of recognized and accepted practice, this can be allowable.
But it is a fundamental principle that advertising may not deliberately seek to deceive, whether it does that by what it says, by what it implies, or by what it fails to say. “The proper exercise of the right to information demands that the content of what is communicated be true and, within the limits set by justice and charity, complete. … Included here is the obligation to avoid any manipulation of truth for any reason.”26
b) The Dignity of the Human Person
16. There is an “imperative requirement” that advertising “respect the human person, his rightduty to make a responsible choice, his interior freedom; all these goods would be violated if man’s lower inclinations were to be exploited, or his capacity to reflect and decide compromised.”27
These abuses are not merely hypothetical possibilities but realities in much advertising today. Advertising can violate the dignity of the human person both through its content — what is advertised, the manner in which it is advertised — and through the impact it seeks to make upon its audience. We have spoken already of such things as appeals to lust, vanity, envy and greed, and of techniques that manipulate and exploit human weakness. In such circumstances, advertisements readily become “vehicles of a deformed outlook on life, on the family, on religion and on morality — an outlook that does not respect the true dignity and destiny of the human person.”28
This problem is especially acute where particularly vulnerable groups or classes of persons are concerned: children and young people, the elderly, the poor, the culturally disadvantaged.
Much advertising directed at children apparently tries to exploit their credulity and suggestibility, in the hope that they will put pressure on their parents to buy products of no real benefit to them. Advertising like this offends against the dignity and rights of both children and parents; it intrudes upon the parent-child relationship and seeks to manipulate it to its own base ends. Also, some of the comparatively little advertising directed specifically to the elderly or culturally disadvantaged seems designed to play upon their fears so as to persuade them to allocate some of their limited resources to goods or services of dubious value.
c) Advertising and Social Responsibility
17. Social responsibility is such a broad concept that we can note here only a few of the many issues and concerns relevant under this heading to the question of advertising.
The ecological issue is one. Advertising that fosters a lavish life style which wastes resources and despoils the environment offends against important ecological concerns. “In his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and grow, man consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive and disordered way. … Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray.”29
As this suggests, something more fundamental is at issue here: authentic and integral human development. Advertising that reduces human progress to acquiring material goods and cultivating a lavish life style expresses a false, destructive vision of the human person harmful to individuals and society alike.
When people fail to practice “a rigorous respect for the moral, cultural and spiritual requirements, based on the dignity of the person and on the proper identity of each community, beginning with the family and religious societies,” then even material abundance and the conveniences that technology makes available “will prove unsatisfying and in the end contemptible.”30 Advertisers, like people engaged in other forms of social communication, have a serious duty to express and foster an authentic vision of human development in its material, cultural and spiritual dimensions.31 Communication that meets this standard is, among other things, a true expression of solidarity. Indeed, the two things — communication and solidarity — are inseparable, because, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, solidarity is “a consequence of genuine and right communication and the free circulation of ideas that further knowledge and respect for others.”32
In 1985, our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, summoned an extraordinary session of the International Synod of Bishops. This was to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, which concluded in 1965. The purpose of this extraordinary assembly was to see what effect the Council had on the Universal Church in the twenty years that had passed since its closing. In the course of that extraordinary assembly of the International Synod of bishops, a proposal was made by Bernard Cardinal Law, the Archbishop of Boston, to issue a universal catechism, a compendium of the Catholic Faith.
In his remarks, His Eminence, Cardinal Law, pointed out that young people in Boston, St. Petersburg (at that time called Lenigrad) and Santiago in Chile, all enjoyed the same culture. They wore blue jeans and listened to the same kind of music. There was no reason then, the Cardinal pointed out, why they could not also have a certain uniformity in their appreciation and acceptance of Catholic doctrine.
The Cardinal was picking up on a very strong suggestion made in several learned papers delivered in Paris and Lyon in France by Josef Cardinal Ratzinger in 1983, in which His Eminence focused attention on the breakdown of organic catechetics which has taken place since the late 1960’s. Cardinal Ratzinger said, “One no longer has the courage to present the Faith as an organic whole in itself, but only as selected reflections of partial anthropological experiences founded in a certain distrust of the totality. It is to be explained by a crisis of the Faith, or more exactly, of the common Faith of the Church of all times.”
On June 22, 1994, the English-speaking world began to enjoy the fruit of the intervention of Cardinal Law in 1985, and of the far-sighted and fore-sighted speeches of Cardinal Ratzinger in 1983.
Pope John Paul II, in issuing the Catechism stated:
A catechism must present faithfully and organically the teaching of Sacred Scripture, the living Tradition of the Church, and the authentic Magisterium, as well as the spiritual heritage of the Fathers and saints of the Church, in order to allow the Christian mystery to be known and to revive the faith of God’s people. It must take into account the presentations of doctrine which the Holy Spirit has entrusted to the Church over the centuries. It must also help to illumine with the light of faith the new situations and problems which have not been posed in the past. The Catechism, therefore, contains both the new and the old, for the Faith is always the same and the source of ever new lights (Apostolic Constitution, Fidei Depositum, no. 2).
The text of the Catechism itself says:
This Catechism stresses the presentation of doctrine. Its aim is to aid in deepening the knowledge of the Faith. By doing so, it is meant to increase the maturity of the Faith, to root Faith in life, and to make it evident through personal witness.
The Catechism with which we are, perhaps, most familiar in pre-Vatican Council days, is known as the Baltimore Catechism. This catechism was collaborated on by the Bishops of the United States in the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, which took place in 1884. It was put together and finally issued in 1885 by Cardinal Gibbons who, at the time, was the head of the American hierarchy. It took the American Bishops from 1829 to 1885 to put together the Baltimore Catechism, which in turn, derived from what was called the Roman Catechism or the Catechism of the Council of Trent. This document, similar to the Catechism of the Catholic Church which came out on June 22, 1994, was issued in 1565 by Pope Saint Pius V, and was to be the basis of various national catechisms and textbooks.
The Baltimore Catechism was set out in a question-and-answer format, and while its focus and emphasis was not necessarily that which contemporary pedagogues would appreciate, or for that matter, some theologians, liturgists, Scripture scholars and others, it did have the great advantage of being a more or less complete skeletal outline of the Catholic Faith. Although it was often presented in books that lacked illustrations and were dry – both in the graphic presentation of the material and in the way it was presented – the Baltimore Catechism should not be faulted since it also had many advantages, and it certainly formed and trained many generations of Catholics in our country in a correct knowledge of our holy religion.
The Baltimore Catechism, which was issued in 1885, was revised by a committee of American Bishops in 1941, and it was set out in a formula that geared it to various educational levels. It also was, at that time, permitted to be a basis for other catechetical presentations in the United States, and, consequently, enjoyed a more vigorous revival in the decades immediately preceding the Second Vatican Council.
The history of catechisms in the Catholic Church goes back to the very earliest days of the Church. There is a document called the Didache, which sets out in a rather systematic way the beliefs, practices, and moral imperatives of the early Christians. The Didache dates from the end of the first century, and so, it is an extraordinarily ancient type of catechetical document.
The earliest Fathers of the Church frequently set out a series of catechetical instructions to be used mainly in pre-baptismal preparation; that is to say, in the first centuries of the Church, most people who became Catholics were already adults, and, as a result, they had to undergo a catechumenate or a preparation for Baptism which included instruction in belief, in practice, in prayer and in Christian life, before they were accepted into the Church. It was generally presumed that the children of such converts, who were themselves baptized in infancy, would be instructed by the families who had received a thorough catechetical preparation for Baptism.
Among the Fathers of the Church, the most significant in the development of catechetics and catechisms was St. Augustine, who wrote a classic work called, De Catechizandis Rudibus, or “How to Catechize the Ignorant,” linking salvation history to faith, to hope, and ultimately to charity. It was presumed in St. Augustine’s work that ignorant people who were instructed in the Faith would themselves provide home instruction to their children, and that this instruction would be supplemented by liturgical homilies in church.
St. Gregory the Great, the first Pope who bore that name, also was an important figure in catechetical development. He wrote a series of “Books of Dialogue” which expressed to pastors, parents, and teachers the proper way of handing down the Faith, as well as giving to these people the content of the Faith. He also wrote a book of pastoral regulations for Bishops and for priests, and a long series of pastoral homilies which contain catechetical material of great significance.
It must be remembered that the art of printing with movable type was invented by John Gutenberg in approximately 1450, and until that time books were extremely rare, and frequently were only in manuscript form, and extremely expensive. As a result, illiteracy was far more widespread than even today in the Third World. This meant that for many people their catechetical instruction came, not so much from books, but the living word passed on in families, and also, passed on in the liturgy. The readings from Scripture in liturgy and the sermons of great length were, in the pre-television, pre-entertainment, pre-radio age, a source of fascination and enjoyment for large numbers of people, as well as a source of instruction.
The great cathedrals of the Middle Ages were in themselves a living catechism. The statuary and the magnificent stained glass windows were books of the Bible as well as books of catechism for the people who regularly attended Mass in these beautiful and splendid buildings. By simply going about buildings such as the Cathedral of Cologne, or the Cathedral of Milan, or the Cathedral of Bruges, or the Cathedral of Brussels, or the Cathedral of Rouen, one could find an entire compendium of the Catholic Faith and of the story of salvation history centered on Jesus Christ. As printing came into vogue and paper was more widely and readily available, books of catechetical material became widely diffused throughout the Church.
Great missionary saints, such as St. Bede, St. Alquin, and St. Boniface, were extraordinary catechists. Even great geniuses who worked in the theological sciences, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, also popularized the content of our faith and were known for writing and diffusing catechetical instructions. The Mendicant Orders, that is, the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and similar groups that arose in the high Middle Ages, were particularly effective in spreading the Faith, and in assisting those who already believed, to have a better grasp of their faith through catechetical knowledge.
It was in the Middle Ages where the distinction became blurred between what we might call “evangelization” and “catechetics.” In Scripture, one can see a very clear line between what is called kerygma and didache, kerygma being the proclamation or announcement of faith to those who do not yet believe. This proclamation must be done, of course, in a fascinating, interesting, and coherent way, so that logic and beauty coincide and help bring one to belief. Didache, on the other hand, is something that succeeds kerygma. Once one believes and accepts the Faith, then examination of that Faith in its entirety – its implications and its history, and so on – must be set forward in a systematic and regular way.
These two concepts of kerygma and didache correspond, more or less, to the concepts of evangelization and catechetics, evangelization being the initial approach to people with the Gospel of Christ, and catechesis being the completion and crowning of the work of evangelization. These distinctions, even in our day, are not always well-maintained, and perhaps, they should not be, since obviously, evangelization must contain catechesis and catechesis must be deeply involved in the structure of evangelization.
One of the deplorable developments in the history of the Church was the decline in religious knowledge in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. Clergy were frequently unworthy of their calling and were often selected, at least in the lower ranks, from ignorant classes, education of the clergy being sometimes of a minimal sort, and occasionally being more worldly, secular, and profane than theological and doctrinally complete. Lay people themselves oftentimes walked in ignorance and superstition. This matrix or soil was very fertile for the Protestant Revolution, and when attacks against the Faith were made by the so-called “Reformers,” large numbers of bishops, clergy and lay people were led astray for many reasons, not in the least because of their failure to grasp in a systematic, organic and complete way, the realities of our Catholic Faith.
The need for catechisis became very acute at the time of the Protestant Revolution. This was particularly the case because Martin Luther was a very skilled propagandist, as well as an excellent user of the newly-invented art of printing. He was also a good pedagogue and a master of the German language. This enabled him to propagate his ideas by means of catechetical instruction. The Catholic answer in catechetics came from such people as St. Peter Canisius. He was the paramount Catholic catechist of the 16th century, and he formulated what later became the standard procedure for catechetical activity: he issued under his studious care a large catechism, also called “a major catechism,” which was a rather exhaustive compendium of the teaching of the Catholic Church. Then he issued, deriving from the large catechism, a smaller catechism which was put in question-and-answer form, and which was meant to be a popular textbook, intended to be widely diffused among the laity for their instruction. The major catechism was intended mainly for teachers, catechists and the clergy; the smaller catechism was meant as a summary or precis of the larger catechism and intended for wider diffusion.
The Council of Trent, which was summoned to confront the crisis that the Protestant revolt brought about in Christianity, intended to draft two catechisms – one for the learned, and one to be for the unlettered and children. Only the first was completed in 1566. The purpose of this catechism was to communicate the realization “that all Christian knowledge and eternal life is to know Jesus Christ, that to know Christ is to keep His commandments, and to know that charity is the end of the commandments and the fulfillment of the law.”
This catechism of the Council of Trent was the basis for the Roman Catechism issued by Saint Pius V in 1565, and later revised and issued again in 1583 by Pope Gregory XIII. The Catechism of the Council of Trent particularly, because of its completeness and its doctrinal orthodoxy and integrity, was strongly recommended by Pope Leo XIII, Pope St. Pius X and Pope Pius XI.
Many catechisms, especially those issued by great saints such as St. Vincent de Paul, St. John Baptist de la Salle, and St. Robert Bellarmine, were based on the Roman Catechism, as were the various national catechisms issued through the centuries, such as our own Baltimore Catechism.
Furthermore, the Roman Catechism remains of great value and has a great deal in common with the new Catechism of the Catholic Church which Pope John Paul II has issued.
Around 1770, Bishop Richard Challoner, an English Catholic Bishop, issued an “Abridgement of Christian Doctrine” which is a summary of the Catechism of the Council of Trent in simple, direct English, and this was the basis of what was called for many years the “Penny Catechism.” It was intended for ordinary people written in a way that could be easily understood, and was widely diffused, not only in Great Britain and the British Isles, but throughout the English-speaking world, including the United States.
Beginning in the 1930’s, but gaining momentum and reaching a climax in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, something called “the catechetical renewal” took place in large areas in the Church. There was a new and revised interest in certain areas of ecclesiastical life. There was a “Scriptural renewal” and “liturgical renewal” with efforts to revive, renew, and reinvigorate many aspects of Church life, particularly catechetics. Social justice teachings were also particularly vivid in the minds of many people.
It was clear by the 1930’s that large areas of the working classes of Europe, the environs of the great cities such as Paris and Madrid, had been lost to the Church through Marxism, socialism, secularism, and growing materialism. Large numbers of people found the catechetical instruction, as it was given, to be irrelevant, uninteresting, and monotonous. Ardent people with pastoral zeal – sometimes correct and sometimes misguided – attempted to make catechetical instruction more interesting, beautiful, enticing, so that the intellectual content of the catechisms could be more easily apprehended. There began to grow, unfortunately, a certain dichotomy or separation between what was called “content” and “presentation.” Some people in the Church began to question whether the “nicer presentations” were not being done at the expense of content and integrity, whereas other people were questioning whether people were grasping the content of the Faith because of the dry presentations that were being made of it. Obviously, content and presentation can be done together so that the presentation can be done beautifully, wholesomely, and appealingly at the same time that the content is integrally presented.
The Second Vatican Council made an impact on the Church, and much of the inspiration of the liturgical, Scriptural and catechetical renewal was incorporated into the sixteen documents of the Council. Almost immediately after the Council catechetical revisions began to be made wholesale. There was widespread discarding, frequently by teachers, of the previously sound catechisms. These were exchanged throughout the entire world for catechisms that were of a different nature and sometimes of questionable quality.
This changeover, along with the cultural shock that came from the vernacular in the liturgy and other “innovations,” unleashed many people from their moorings, and caused them to question even essential doctrines, beliefs, and practices of the Faith. Many began to say “I do not know what I am to believe anymore.” Unfortunately, the bishops and other clergy were also sometimes infected by certain kinds of slogans and shallow thinking. Occasionally, especially in America, the slogan “new and better” became an outlook in religious matters, so that everything that was “new” was thereby declared to be “better.” Some bishops and pastors of the Church were concerned about this matter, and consequently there was a great deal of interest in regularizing and systematizing the general situation of catechetics.
The problem of inculturation also came to bear on catechetics. The Second Vatican Council was sensitive to the variety of cultures in the world, and although human nature is the same, the culture in which this human nature is lived is quite different in one part of the world or another. It is quite one thing to live in the culture of the aeronautical and space technology laboratory of California, and to live in the jungles of Rwanda and Burundi in Central Africa. Cultural variations came to bear rather systematically on catechetics, and the baby was sometimes thrown out with the bath water, i.e., some persons who were involved in catechetical matters maintain that this or that is not pertinent or relevant to a particular culture. That might be agreeable if “this or that” were an accidental or superficial aspect of our religion; but when it became essential or basic to our religion, it was quite another issue.
In Africa, for example, monogamy was sometimes discarded because people maintained that one man having many wives was part of the African culture, and therefore the Gospel had to adapt to the ways of Africa. In the United States, many people maintained that contraception and contraceptive sterilization are a basic part of our American culture, and that we must discard that aspect of catechesis which teaches the inherent evil of such practices.
This confusion resulted in the issuance by the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome, which is the department of the Holy See in charge of catechetics, of a General Catechetical Directory, and then each country was invited to issue a national catechetical directory, adapting the General Catechetical Directory to the culture of the country. These catechetical directories were designed principally for the people involved in catechesis; catechetical content was also contained in the directories.
Many people used the occasion of the Second Vatican Council to spread abroad a whole series of ideas, some of which were far removed from the Council and far removed from the Catholic Faith itself. Alarmed by these developments, our present Holy Father summoned the Bishops of the world through the International Synod of Bishops, to gather in Rome and consider the entire matter of catechetics. Following that session of the International Synod of Bishops, the Pope issued a document called Catechesis Tradendae, which summarized, synthesized and presented very clearly what the bishops and the Holy Father agreed upon, as necessary structures in regard to catechetics.
The new Catechism of the Catholic Church should be read and understood in the light of its history, especially Catechesis Tradendae and the General Catechetical Directory.
What is the structure of the Catechism of the Catholic Church? There is a four-fold structure following what has been since the earliest days of the Church the way in which the catechism is presented. The first part sets forth the mystery of faith, that is, what Catholics believe. This is based on the Creed. The second part is based on the celebration of that faith, and the way in which the grace and salvation of Jesus is mediated to the world. This has to do with the Sacraments. The third part of the catechism concerns the Faith working through love as it is expressed in Christian life, that is, what we must not only believe and celebrate, but what we must do in order to be saved, and the basis of this is the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments. The final part of the Catechism’s structure is about how we are related in our belief, our celebration, and our action to God Himself, and this is based on prayer. The prayer structure that is used for this final section of the Catechism is the Our Father.
Thirty-nine percent of the text of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is devoted to the Creed, twenty-three percent is devoted to the Sacraments, twenty-seven percent to the Commandments, and eleven percent to Prayer.
The doctrines of the Catholic Church are founded and rooted in God, Who is absolutely perfect and totally unchangeable. Consequently, the Catholic Faith is, as St. Jude tells us in the Bible, that which is “delivered once and for all to the saints” so there is a completely unchangeable element in the Catholic Faith.
Contrary to what popular press reports have sometimes indicated, the Catechism is not a revision of the Faith or some sort of list of new sins that have recently been discovered and invented. Rather, the Catechism does serve the purpose of applying the unchangeable Catholic Faith in its basic and essential elements to the new conditions and situations of our world.
The new Catechism of the Catholic Church is what would be called in old parlance a major catechism or larger catechism. This kind of greater catechism is not meant to be a catechetical textbook to be put in the hands of children and ordinary people on a regular basis. It is intended for bishops, for priests, and for catechism teachers. The Holy Father says, in presenting the Catechism:
This catechism is not intended to replace the local catechisms duly approved by ecclesiastical authorities, the diocesan bishops, and episcopal conferences, especially those that have received approval of the Holy See. It is intended to encourage and assist in the writing of new local catechisms which take into account the different situations and cultures, but which carefully guard the unity of faith and fidelity to Catholic doctrine.
This does not mean that the new catechism is not and should not be accessible to all the faithful. As a matter of fact, I would urge all to go to your Catholic bookstore and procure a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, to read it carefully, to study it, and let it be along with Sacred Scripture itself, a great source of nourishment for your Catholic beliefs, establishing and helping you to intellectualize and conceptualize on a more secure basis what the Lord reveals and teaches us in and through His Catholic Church. It is not an exclusive book for bishops, priests, and catechists, although they are the focus of the publication.
There is no doubt that the Church intends the Catechism of the Catholic Church to be the criterion against which local catechisms must be judged and understood.
What are the characteristics of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church? As I mentioned before, it is structured in the basic and traditional catechetical way, that is, the Creed, Sacraments, Commandments, and Prayer. Archbishop Christoph von Schoenborn, who is the principal editor of the Catechism, which in its original language was in French, but which in its official text is to be in Latin, sets down several characteristics that mark this catechetical effort at this time in the Church’s history.
The first thing that characterizes the Catechism of the Catholic Church is its principle of unity. The Catechism presents an organized synthesis of the foundations and essential content of Catholic doctrine as regards both faith and morals. Unity is a most important principle and is one of the marks of the Church itself. This does not mean dull uniformity, but that perfect kind of unity that makes us one both in time and in space.
In other words, despite our historical and cultural differences, we, approximately one billion Catholics throughout the world, believe the same essential doctrines, and when culture and the Gospel conflict, it is the culture that must be changed and evangelized. This does not mean that Western European or North American culture is to be imposed on other peoples any more than Mediterranean culture is to be imposed on us. What is does mean is that while the Gospel can wear various cultural clothes, in itself it is not meant to be transformed by culture but to be the transforming agent of culture.
The new Catechism not only unites us who are Catholics at the present time, but unites us with all those Catholics who have gone before us. Stretching back in our historic continuity the Catechism puts us in touch with the integral and complete Catholic Faith as it was given to the apostles as they have conserved and preserved it through the centuries, and as they have passed it on to us.
The second principle that guides the Catechism of the Catholic Church is what the Second Vatican Council calls the “hierarchy of truth.” This does not mean there is some kind of principle of subtraction, namely, that there are some essentials in the Faith and the rest is left to free discussion or can be dismissed as not significant. What the hierarchy of truth means is that there is a principle of organic structure in the intellectual formulation of our faith. The mystery of the Blessed Trinity and the central place of Christ as well as the Creed, Sacraments, Commandments, and Prayer are the way in which the Catechism forms a common structure.
The Christocentric emphasis of the Catechism is clear from what it says:
Christ, the Incarnate Word and Son of God, is taught. Everything else is taught with reference to Him and it is Christ alone Who teaches. Anyone else teaches only to the extent that he is Christ’s spokesman, enabling Christ to teach through his lips. Every catechist should be able to apply to himself the words of Jesus, “My teaching is not Mine, but that of Him who sent Me.”
Again, the Catechism says:
The first and last point of reference for a catechesis will always be Jesus Christ Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. By looking to Jesus in faith, faithful Christians can hope that He will fulfill His promises in them.
Cardinal Ratzinger, speaking about this Trinitarian and Christocentric focus of the Catechism said:
The structure of catechesis appears through the principal events in the life of the Church which correspond to the essential dimensions of Christian existence. Thus is born from the earliest time a catechetical structure, the kernel of which goes back to the origins of the Church.
This was the structure that the authors of the Catechism of the Council of Trent used. That was possible because it was not a question of an artificial system, but simply of the synthesis of mnemonic material indispensable to the Faith which reflects at the same time elements vitally indispensable to the Church. The Creed, Sacraments, Commandments, and the Our Father, these four classical and master components of catechesis, have served for centuries as the depository and résumé of Catholic teaching. They have also opened access to the Bible as the life of the Church. They correspond to the dimensions of Christian existence: the Creed says what we should believe and hope, the Commandments tell us what we are to do, the Sacraments and the Doctrine of the Church itself tell us how to accomplish and celebrate these things, and the Prayers tell us how to go from hope into charity.
The next characteristic of the Catechism which Archbishop von Schoenborn mentions is that of realism, realism in approaching the content of Faith. The Catechism says, “This Catechism stresses the presentation of doctrine. Its aim is to aid in deepening the knowledge of the Faith. By doing so, it is meant to increase the maturity of the Faith to root faith in life, and to make it evident through personal witness.”
The Catechism also states:
We do not believe in formulas but in the realities they express and which allow us to grasp them. Still, we do approach these realities with the help of formulations of the Faith. These permit us to express and to transmit the Faith, to celebrate it in community, to assimilate it, and through it to live ever more fully.
What the Holy Father wants, then, with this new Catechism of the Catholic Church, is that all of us, his children, children of God and people of God, will have the opportunity to possess in its fullness what is called “the Deposit of Faith.” In First Timothy, St. Paul says, “Guard the deposit.” In Second Timothy, he says, “Guard the noble deposit.” In introducing the Catechism, Pope John Paul II says, “Guarding the deposit of Faith is the mission which the Lord entrusted to His Church and which He fulfills in every age.”
This is why the Pope says, “The new Catechism of the Catholic Church is the Church itself calling on us to entrust to young Catholics once more the deposit that is their rightful inheritance.”
Now, the new Catechism of the Catholic Church is a book that should be on the shelf of every Catholic family that wants to be current in ecclesiastical matters. Ofcourse, it is not the kind of book with which one curls up on a cold winter night and reads in one or two sittings. It is a book of reference, and a book that requires a considerable amount of thought and discussion.
The way the Catechism is arranged is particularly useful because at the end of each significant section, there is a brief summary of that section, in short, encapsulated statements. This enables the larger text to be somewhat compressed and synthesized. Obviously, it would be a loss simply to refer to these brief summaries at the end of each chapter rather than to the fullness of the Catechism itself, which has an incredibly rich content.
Owning and using a copy of the new Catechism will enable an educated Catholic to obtain once more a grasp of the Faith, and an authentic interpretation of Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and I might add, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. We all know quite well that not only Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, but the teachings of the Council itself have been subject to considerable distortion, mutilation, and even serious misinterpretations by many people, some with malicious and some with benign intention.
The Catechism will enable one to look very carefully at questionable expositions of the Faith with a measuring rod by which such expositions can be judged orthodox and Catholic, or something less and other.
In Catechesi Tradendae, as well as in the new Catechism, our Holy Father is particularly concerned that the Faith be presented in its integrity and its fullness. Beauty and splendor are part of the Faith, but the beauty and splendor of the Faith are seriously marred if the Faith is not presented as an organic whole. To leave out aspects of our Catholic belief and practice because they may not be appealing to certain areas of contemporary society is a grave disservice to our fellow human beings. This is why those charged in a special way with passing on the Faith (the hierarchy of the Church – bishops and their prime collaborators, the priests and deacons – and then, all those who work in the field of education, especially parents, teachers, catechists and religious educators) would be doing a serious disservice to their vocation were they to fall short of an integral presentation of the Faith.
From constant discourses, it is clear that the Holy Father considers the Catechism of the Catholic Church to be in many ways the primary work for which his pontificate will be noted in history. He considers the Catechism to be a gift to the Church, to be an ecclesiastical event, without comparison, that manifests the Church in her first divine mark, which is to say, her oneness. The Church, we know, is one in doctrine as well as one in worship and government. It is the Catechism of the Catholic Church which will enable her to shine forth in her unity with renewed splendor and beauty.
The Holy Father writes, in introducing the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, that it is a:
…sure and authentic source book for the teaching of Catholic doctrine, especially for the composition of local catechisms. It is also offered to the faithful who want to understand better the inexhaustible riches of salvation. It seeks to give support to ecumenical efforts, motivated by the desire for the unity of all Christians, by demonstrating with precision the content and harmonious coherence of the Catholic Faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, finally, is offered to everyone who asks the reason for the hope that is in us and who would like to know what the Catholic Church believes.