Week 2: The Year of Faith – What is the Catechism?

This post is part of a year-long series exploring a specific aspect of the Catholic faith every week through the writings of Vatican 2 and the Catechism: Welcome to the Year of Faith.

What is the Catechism of the Catholic Church (often abbreviated as CCC)?

Back in 1985 Pope John-Paul II assembled all of the Bishops in the world and they asked him for an official collection of the teachings of the faith. Why would they do this? Well, the last time we had a Catechism (the only other one besides this one) was in the 16th century, just a few years after Christopher Columbus sailed to the Americas. The last time a Catechism was released, at the council of Trent, there was no electricity!

The Catechism is the official compendium of everything we believe as Catholics. It is systematic (deliberate structure) and organic ( coherent interlinked structure) synthesis of everything we believe as Catholics. It is essentially scriptural exegesis.

And it does not just cover the basics of the faith. It was written in the 80’s so it addresses issues that were not even around a hundred years ago. Organ donation? Stem-cell research? Just War? Cloning? Baptism? Salvation? Prayer? It’s all covered in there.

“What is presented here is no theory but an encounter with a Person who lives within the Church.” – Pope Benedict XVI on the Catechism

Structure of the Catechism – The Four Pillars 

Lets cover some basic ways of navigating the book. The CCC is composed of four primary “Parts”, and sub parts called Sections, Chapters, and Articles. And every few sentences there is a big number in the column that marks a single thought. There are almost three thousand of these in total. So you can browse through the names of these to find what  you want, or you can go straight to the number. The most typical way of seeing a CCC reference is the “CCC” followed by a number 1-2865. So you may see something like “… like it says in CCC 1077 the blessing given during the liturgy…” yatta yattta.

The four primary parts of the CCC are The Creed, Liturgy and Sacraments, Morality, Prayer. Below are explanations of what is in each part…

  1. The Profession of Faith – Those who belong to Christ through faith and Baptism must confess their baptismal faith before men.16 First therefore the Catechism expounds revelation, by which God addresses and gives himself to man, and the faith by which man responds to God (Section One). the profession of faith summarizes the gifts that God gives man: as the Author of all that is good; as Redeemer; and as Sanctifier. It develops these in the three chapters on our baptismal faith in the one God: the almighty Father, the Creator; his Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour; and the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, in the Holy Church (Section Two).
  2. The Sacraments of Faith – The second part of the Catechism explains how God’s salvation, accomplished once for all through Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit, is made present in the sacred actions of the Church’s liturgy (Section One), especially in the seven sacraments (Section Two).
  3. The Life of Faith – The third part of the Catechism deals with the final end of man created in the image of God: beatitude, and the ways of reaching it – through right conduct freely chosen, with the help of God’s law and grace (Section One), and through conduct that fulfils the twofold commandment of charity, specified in God’s Ten Commandments (Section Two).
  4. Prayer in the Life of Faith –  The last part of the Catechism deals with the meaning and importance of prayer in the life of believers (Section One). It concludes with a brief commentary on the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer (Section Two), for indeed we find in these the sum of all the good things which we must hope for, and which our heavenly Father wants to grant us.

The primary sources are the Sacred Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church, the Liturgy, and the Church’s Magisterium. The CCC is intended primarily for those responsible for teaching the faith (Bishops), and to priests, and other teachers of the faith. (source) So, while it is meant for everyone to read, it is a universal norm for teaching the faith. Get yourself one.

“On page after page, we find that what is presented here is no theory, but an encounter with a Person who lives within the Church. The profession of faith is followed by an account of sacramental life, in which Christ is present, operative and continues to build his Church. Without the liturgy and the sacraments, the profession of faith would lack efficacy, because it would lack the grace which supports Christian witness. By the same criterion, the teaching of the Catechism on the moral life acquires its full meaning if placed in relationship with faith, liturgy and prayer.” – Pope Benedict XVI on the Catechism (emphasis mine)

You can buy a new paperback copy for $10 and a used paperback copy for around $4 on Amazon.

What the Catechism is NOT:

  • The Catechism is not an adaptation of doctrine required by differences in culture, age, spiritual maturity, or social condition.
  • It is not just a compendium of catholic words to memorize.
  • It is not a replacement for the Bible. (It is biblically saturated!)
  • It is not a book that you should delay acquiring and reading.

The CCC prologue ends with this jewel regarding the pastoral principles of catechesis (emphasis mine).

“The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love.” – via

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