13 The plan of this catechism is inspired by the great tradition of catechisms which build catechesis on four pillars: the baptismal profession of faith (the Creed), the sacraments of faith, the life of faith (the Commandments), and the prayer of the believer (the Lord’s Prayer).
Paragraph 13 introduces a section on the scheme or breakdown of the material in the Catechism. This format parallels the catechetical process fairly well. The editors cite the “great tradition of catechisms;” which strongly suggests the Roman Catechism for Priests produced shortly after the Council of Trent (1547-1563). I checked the text of that catechism, and indeed the Roman Catechism employs a four-point outline of (1) Creed; (2) Sacraments; (3) Decalogue or Ten Commandments; and (4) the Our Father.
The key point to remember, of course, is that in this context terms like “Creed” and “The Decalogue” are umbrellas for vast amounts of material—within the catechisms themselves (my present-day Tabor Press Catechism runs to 803 pages in hard cover—and within the greater Catholic academic and seminary worlds as well. To illustrate the scope of the topics, I am going to try a little experiment. I will take each of the four “pillars” described in para. 13 and break down how a graduate or seminary program would address them by means of individual courses. Remember that there will be significant overlap.
Part I: The Creed (would encompass courses in);
Hebrew Scripture (multiple courses)
Soteriology (the study of salvation)
Pneumatology (study of the Holy Spirit)
Eschatology (study of the future or last things, such as heaven, hell, judgment)
Ecclesiology (nature and structure of the Church)
Church History (multiple courses)
Part II: The Sacraments
Sacraments: an Overview
Anointing and Pastoral Care of the Sick
Sacraments of Christian Vocation:
Part III: The Decalogue or Ten Commandments
Foundations of Moral Decision Making
Formation of the Virtuous Life
Part IV: The Our Father
An overview of Christian Mysticism
Writings of the Church Fathers
The Christian Life of Prayer
Formation of the Virtuous Life
Click here and scroll down to the class offerings of St. Vincent’s Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida, to see how its curriculum corresponds to the above outline. Seminarians include the study of Spanish and several pastoral field experiences during their formation. I would say that on paper the curriculum of courses appears more challenging than the one I faced in 1971.
Some important points demand attention here. While para. 13 singles out the four pillars, the Catechism does not use these titles in its own master outline, using instead (1) The Profession of Faith; (2) The Celebration of the Christian Mystery; (3) Life in Christ; and (4) Christian Prayer. Had there been more input from contemporary Catholic scholars at the time of the planning, points three and four might have been consolidated, the moral life with the spiritual, given that the avoidance of sin and the development of prayer and virtuous acts are in fact one process.
Second, the scope and size of the Catechism gives the catechist—and all of us in the Bark of Peter—a faint idea of the richness of our Catholic heritage. One of my great frustrations is that those presently involved in Catholic formation have little idea of this, nor do they trust the sources and narrative of Catholic theology to inspire and create interest in their students. In fairness this problem has been around for a long time, and there are probably countess Catholic business executives today who never had the benefit in their teen and college years of hearing Pope Leo XIII’s teachings on private property and the rights of workers enumerated in Rerum Novarum (1891).
Third, one thing you quickly learn in college is that despite the best efforts of your professors, the formal courses one takes in school, and this is true in every discipline—are the tip of the iceberg in any field of Christian study. It is no secret that our Protestant brethren have understood this for many years, that collective and individual study is part and parcel of growth in the faith for every baptized adult. Catholicism has never quite grasped this, preferring instead to “tank up the kids” and hope they are gassed enough to make it to the finish line. Catechetics must always be taught provisionally, in the sense that we are providing roadmaps and blueprints for further exploration of Christian truth, and in fact traveling with our people on that quest.
Fourth, there are a number of areas in the Christian heritage that as a rule are either poorly taught or not addressed at all. An immediate subject which comes to mind is “Christian Anthropology.” It is the entire issue of human identity and the process whereby a God who is “totally other” communicates with us finite beings. What is it about us that makes us capable to even conceive of an inconceivable God? Coupled with that is the irresistibility of grace or God’s favor: why do some people open their minds and hearts to some aspects of Revelation while others do not? Is there such a thing as predestination? Can a man damn himself, so to speak? What constitutes human freedom in a baptismal context? Gaining some grasp of these questions has significant implications in developing our own dignity and worth, and enlightens our attitudes about social justice and abortion, among many other things.
Finally, it bears repeating that the final section of the Catechism is devoted to the formation of a virtuous life sustained and nourished by the life of prayer. It is true that the text of the Our Father is employed, but as in the discussion of the Decalogue, the texts are jumping off points for more detailed discussions of the spirituality of the human being.
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