Pope John Paul II blesses a crowd of about 40,000 gathered for Mass in the central city of Santa Clara, Cuba, Jan. 22, 1998. He presided over a two-hour liturgy during which he urged Cubans to turn to Christ to bolster family life. CNS photo/Reuters

Launching the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Internet

Publication of the Catechism brought unanimity to the field of catechesis

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Father Robert J. HaterThe 1990s brought the development of the internet and the building of the World Wide Web. Both profoundly influenced the Church. They afforded new ways to proclaim the Word of God and new avenues for administration and governance as the Church moved into the next millennium.

In addition, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the thwarted attack on the U.S. Capitol with Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 11, 2001, brought challenges to the world and the Church. In one way or another, this act of violence affected everyone.

It struck home to me because a priest-friend was killed when the plane in which he traveled slammed into one of the Twin Towers. This priest pioneered using modern media to proclaim God’s word. I remember him when considering the Church of the 1990s, most specifically the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Firm Direction in Catechesis

To appreciate the need to establish a firm direction for future catechesis, I recall the chaos occurring in religious education after the Second Vatican Council. My thoughts turn to an event in my childhood.

In my home, an old statue sits in the dining room. It is a traditional St. Joseph statue about 12 inches high, with a brownish tinge, and an image of Joseph holding the Baby Jesus. It’s been there since I was in the third grade, when Sister Mary, my teacher, gave it to me as a prize for winning a catechism contest. It was a reward for getting all the Baltimore Catechism answers.

The statue symbolizes a bygone era when Catholic students often stood in a large circle around the classroom and answered questions presented to us. This way of catechizing children worked until after Vatican II, after which time, its widespread use ceased. New directions, liturgical norms and theological changes rendered obsolete many answers contained in the catechism. For a generation, instructing children and adults became chaotic. By the early 1980s, this began to change, and the time was ripe to establish more definite norms for catechizing.

As a refocus on catechesis intensified, the Church published the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It was a catechism parallel to the Roman Catechism published shortly after the Council of Trent in 1566. From this Catechism of the Council of Trent, other smaller catechisms were published, such as the Baltimore Catechism.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church was intended to serve as the basis and guide for bishops, priests, religious educators and publishers of religious books to follow.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church was promulgated Oct. 11, 1992. It provided the foundation for the content for the materials of future religious education. After its publication, catechetical books for use in parishes and Catholic schools needed to comply with the language of the Catechism and be approved by the bishops’ Committee on the Catechism, which was to bring unanimity to the field of catechesis.

With the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, an opportunity to focus on the teachings of the Church became handily available, but the return to traditionalism intensified. This new catechism was no Baltimore Catechism, and it was initially not received well by many religious educators, who were used to teaching according to what was often determined by the parish or school where the catechists ministered. Until then, flexibility existed as to how and what was taught. The search for consistency was met by the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The need for this effort was summed up by Pope John Paul II in its Introduction. He says,

“I declare [the Catechism of the Catholic Church] to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion. May it serve the renewal to which the Holy Spirit ceaselessly calls the Church of God, the Body of Christ, on her pilgrimage to the undiminished light of the Kingdom!” (Catechism, No. 3).

FATHER ROBERT J. HATER, Ph.D., a Cincinnati archdiocesan priest, is an internationally known author and lecturer. He is professor emeritus at the University of Dayton and resides at St. Clare Parish in Cincinnati.

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