How (NOT) to Use the Catechism

The best way to not use a Catechism is to play Irish Super Heavy Two Handed Catechism Throw. Grab a few of those hefty green ones, get a bunch of friends together, put on some kilts, and then have everyone toss those suckers as far as they can.

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If that doesn't work, and you still want to not use the Catechism, you could use some of these excuses:

It’s only for Priests, not us normal ppl! (lolz #ew like srsly errmahgerd)

The Catechism of the Council of Trent, or Roman Catechism of 1566, was written primarily for the use of Priests. This was back before organized seminary systems were in place like we have today. This Catechism of the Counter Reformation was an attempt to get the Priests of the Church all on the same page doctrinally in order to properly form their parishioners. 

But the NEW Universal Catechism (the one published in 1990’s by the Vatican) was written for EVERYONE. So this argument doesn’t exactly work. When Pope John Paul II revealed the Catechism to the world he said in his letter “Deposit of Faith” (found at the beginning of any copy of the Catechism worth its snuff) that the catechism is “offered to all the faithful who wish to deepen their knowledge of the unfathomable riches of salvation (cf. Ephesians 3:8).” 

Actually, he says that it is for Bishops, Priests, all the faithful, AND even Protestants or people of any other faith or otherwise. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church, lastly, is offered to every individual who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us (cf. 1 Peter 3:15) and who wants to know what the Church believes.”

In fact, since the Catechism contains the Deposit of Faith, or everything revealed by God to be believed by man, we all have a responsibility to read, know, live, and breathe the entire Deposit of Faith, aka the Catechism.

It’s only for Theologians!

Sometimes the Catechism uses big unfamiliar words. Other times it feels as if the language is clunky. For the big words, there is a fantastic glossary of terms in the back of the Catechism (compiled by a Bishop from the United States. Yay. We got to do something!) The language appears clunky sometimes because it is so precise and often chock full and loaded like a doctrinal baked potato. The reason for this is the literary style of this book. Contained in every word, sentence, and paragraph (with the exception of the small print) is ONLY what is authoritatively and infallibly taught by the Catholic Church. This is the Deposit of Faith: all that has been divinely revealed by God to be believed by man.

What's most important is that we are soaked in the language of the Faith, even if right now we might not fully understand all of it. Latent in every word of the Catechism is a profound attention to the guarding of this Sacred Tradition that has been handed down to us since the first Apostles. And as we immerse ourselves in the language, we develop an ability to see the Faith through the eyes of the Church.

It’s too long. I gots tweets to tweet.

Sure, that huge Catechism can be intimidating to pick up. (Although there is a slimmer looking version that contains the same content, just published in a more approachable layout.) But you don’t need to plow straight through the entire Catechism, just like you don’t plow straight through reading the entire Bible. Cardinal Arinze says he reads one page out of the Catechism every day as part of his prayer. Take time with the faith. Soak it in. Meditate on it.

At the end of most sections are little "In Brief" sentences that summarize the section before it. A fantastic and easy way to start using the Catechism is to just read 3-5 of these "In Brief" paragraphs a day and work your way through the entire Catechism reading only those. Bring them to prayer. Meditate on them. Return to them often throughout the day. Memorize them. Tweet them.

It’s not relevant to my life.

It's tempting to think of the Catholic faith as a big Chinese buffet line. Stay away from the strangely unidentifiable skewered meat, don't even think about squid, and focus on the good stuff like General Toes and the donuts. We can often times believe that a lot of the Faith is "unessential". "What do I care if Mary was a virgin or not? Aren't the commandments self-explanatory? And don't even bring up the Trinity I hate math already." In doing this we often get trapped into caring only about the periphery of the faith: marriage and abortion laws, liberal versus conservative Catholics, to be Extraordinary or not to be Extraordinary, etc etc.

When Pope Benedict was just a budding theologian, the field of theology was popularly interested primarily with the controversial and pressing questions of the time. Caught up in the same focus, Pope Benedict, then just Joseph Ratzinger, sent a small theological paper of his to Hans Urs von Balthasar. Balthasar replied with a short card that simply said: "Do not presuppose the faith but propose it."

This left a lasting impression on Benedict. He comments, in the book "Gospel, Catechesis, Catechism": "Faith is not maintained automatically. It is not "finished business" that we can simply take for granted. The life of faith has to be constantly renewed. And since faith is an act that comprehends all the dimensions of our existence, it also requires constantly renewed reflection and witness. It follows that the chief points of faith - God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, grace and sin, sacraments and Church, death and eternal life - are never outmoded. They are always issues that affect us most profoundly. Faith cannot be presupposed; it must be proposed. This is the purpose of the Catechism. It aims to propose the faith in its fullness and wealth, but also in its unity and simplicity."

The truth is that the fundamentals of our faith - the doctrines and dogma - are so fundamental and important that they shape and inform EVERYTHING else. If we don't have a grasp on the Trinity, how can we ever hope to understand marriage? If we don't understand the Incarnation, how could we ever understand the Sacraments? If we don't know the difference between the Commandments and the Beatitudes, how could we ever apply "Thou shall not kill" to our lives? The Catechism is most imminently practical because what we believe informs how we live.

No Excuses

So it seems that at the end of the day, you really just gotta start reading it.


91 All the faithful share in understanding and handing on revealed truth. They have received the anointing of the Holy Spirit, who instructs them and guides them into all truth.

92 "The whole body of the faithful... cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals."

93 "By this appreciation of the faith, aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth, the People of God, guided by the sacred teaching authority (Magisterium),... receives... the faith, once for all delivered to the saints... The People unfailingly adheres to this faith, penetrates it more deeply with right judgment, and applies it more fully in daily life.