For the full text of the Catechism, connect here to the USCCB website and label in your favorites file.
Paragraph 3 continues the Prologue phase and specifies the contemporary responsibility of handing down the Church’s faith tradition. Although relatively brief, the paragraph embraces several historical and present day theological issues of considerable note. The phrase “those who with God’s help” welcomed Christ’s call opens the door to a conundrum that will be addressed again in the Catechism, free will versus the irresistibility of God’s grace. It is stated here that the mission of spreading the Word assumes two conditions: one has been helped by God’s grace, and has “freely responded to it.”
Is the phrase “with God’s help” superfluous in this paragraph? In the present wording it is possible to argue that there are some who have come into this world, and/or grown up in this world, without God’s help, and thus without the means of welcoming Christ’s call. The precise nature of God’s initial call has led to multiple controversies throughout the history of Christendom, at least as far back as the early fifth century when St. Augustine accused the British or Irish theologian Pelagius of an overabundance of confidence in the power of human nature to embrace the grace of conversion and forgiveness. A more modern chapter of this controversy is John Calvin’s teaching of predestination. In the twentieth century the noted Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, S.J., introduced the concept of Anonymous Christianity as another possible solution to the dilemma of access and response to Christ’s call. The Vatican II document Lumen Gentium (see John Moffitt’s 1976 excellent treatment) and even the Catechism itself (para. 847, citing Lumen Gentium) are influenced by Rahner’s thinking that those who embrace good will and charity as a way of life are de facto Christian and thus earn its rewards.
The paragraph is an exhortation to all Christians to proclaim the Good News everywhere in the world. It is safe to say that the authors intended “everywhere” as a social as well as a geographic qualifier. As of this writing there has been no indication from the teaching Church that would discourage its members from bringing Catholic moral teaching, for example, into the public forum on matters such as same-sex marriage, contraceptive funding, immigration reform, etc.
There is a subtle change in midstream whereby a delineation of responsibilities appears. “This treasure, received from the apostles, has been faithfully guarded by their successors.” The term “successors of the Apostles” is routinely applied to bishops. It is not quite clear why there is a shift from proclaiming in the previous sentence to guarding in this sentence and back to proclaiming in the following sentence. My guess would be that office of bishop—entrusted with protecting the Apostolic Tradition—is also entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing the life and efforts of the Catholic faithful in the handing on process. Canon 386, which identifies the diocesan bishop as the primary catechist of his diocese, would certainly imply this. The editing here is a bit choppy.
The final sentence indeed returns to the Christian family as a whole and the action of handing on the content of the Faith. The term “handing on” is a highly technical and exalted New Testament phrase: “I received from the Lord what I handed on to you…” (1 Corinthians 11:23) opens Paul’s description of Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper. That all the baptized faithful are called to the “handing on” process, and that the faith of future generations depends upon faithful execution of this charge, is a statement of the sacred importance of every baptized Catholic, a point that rarely gets the emphasis it should.
The paragraph closes with a delineation of the three ways in which the handing on process takes place: (1) by professing the faith; (2) by living it in fraternal sharing, and (3) celebrating it in liturgy and prayers. The wording here is nearly parallel to the post-Pentecostal idyllic life described in Acts 2:42, which is cited as the source. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ instruction and the communal life, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” It is worth noting that Acts 2:47 comments upon the impact of this common life: “Day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” What is envisioned by the authors of the Catechism is the power of formation by example as well as by proclamation.