RCIA: Understanding the Catechism

As I have written about previously I have become a co-catechist for the RCIA program at my parish. The program began Sunday although I am still getting my feet wet.

I was thinking this morning that it might be a good idea to use this forum to answer questions that have arisen from the participants. At least the best I can since I am certainly not an expert. With only a limited amount of time in the class I can already see there might be some areas where more detailed explanations will be needed. Since I seem to be able to write clearer than I talk, this will be the place to do it. 

In Sunday morning’s class, all the participants were given several books for use in the class including two rather thick ones: the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) and the New American Bible – Reader’s Edition. There were some rather frightened faces when these books were opened, especially the Catechism.

In the Beginning…

When you are given a copy of the CCC it can be rather intimidating. Opening it up you see numbers, more numbers, footnotes, citations, and on and on. One paragraph will reference one or more others, these in turn will reference more, and, well it can be pretty chaotic at times. And there is nothing in the CCC that really explains it. OK, that isn’t entirely true, the catechism explains how it is structured and Prologue Section IV, Paragraph 13, Section V, Paragraph 17 – 22, and Section VI, Paragraph 23, with footnote 17 directing us to CT 20 – 22, 25. See what I mean? There are footnotes and citations full of strange letters, numbers and symbols. It all makes perfect sense – not!

Let me try to make it a little simpler. For the next RCIA class the participants were asked to read Part One, Section One, Chapter 2, Article 2 – 3. Simple enough unless you have no idea how to find it. The table of contents doesn’t make it easy, although it can be done.  Many times you will see something like CCC 73. This is referencing the paragraph number. If you have this it makes it much easier to find your place since every paragraph has a number and they are in numerical order.

If you don’t have a paragraph number then you certainly can go to the index at the back of the book and look up a topic or specific word or words.. The Catechism is set up in a certain way but that will be explained in another post.

Now for the hard part

Finding what you want is the least intimidating part of this process. Once you find what you are looking for you will see cross references, foot notes, scripture references, and on and on. What does this all mean?

The figure below illustrates the beginning of what my class is supposed to read. You can see highlighted areas and arrows. This isn’t an exact replica of the pages from the printed version as they are screen shots from a web site, sort of.

In the circle is the paragraph number, 74. At the end of the first sentence is the number 29. This is a reference to a scripture passage. At the bottom of the page (not shown here) you will see the number 29  (green highlighted) and the corresponding scripture reference: 1 – Tim 2:4. The number 30 is another passage. You will see 851 (yellow highlighted) in parentheses ( ). When a number is in parentheses it refers to another paragraph in the catechism. In our figure you will see paragraph references to 6 other paragraphs and 2 scripture paragraphs.

When you look at the scripture passage referenced, 1 Tim 2:4, you will notice there is a reference to two other passages, designated by the letter c. There is also another kind of reference in the referenced CCC passage 851. The number 343 sends us to to another Vatican document (sometimes it may send us to writings from the Church Fathers or Doctors of the Church). I didn’t copy the whole passage, it was rather lengthy, but where you see the blue highlighted 6, this is a part of it. 

Want the secret to reading the Catechism?

Don’t go any deeper than you need to, one level is usually plenty.

Can You See Clearly Now?

So is it all clear now? I didn’t think so. Reading the Catechism is like surfing the internet. You can keep going and going and before you know it you are not even close to where you started or even where you wanted to go. So here is the secret: Only go one level deep, which is actually quite simple since chances are you won’t have all the Vatican documents and writings of the Fathers of the Church in your library. If you are like me and are somewhat of a nerd, you can obtain the free Verbum bible study software package where you can then purchase the Catechism and the supporting documents. They will be all linked together and you can click and hover and roll over the references and get the info PDQ. 

In our example above, paragraph 74 references paragraph 851. Paragraph 851 adds some explanation to 74. Paragraph 851 references 6 other paragraphs, including the one that sent you there. In most cases the referenced scripture passage is already in the paragraph. And regarding the the other church documents referenced – the pertinent parts are mostly included in the CCC paragraph. You can look at it like this: The Catechism is a big summary of all the Church teachings and writings with explanations and scripture passages. If you only read from the Catechism, you are still good. Look at all the references etc. as the condiments on the hamburger, they help but you can eat it without them.

One Last Thing…

You may notice there are links here and there for products on Amazon, such as the one for the Catechism of the Catholic Church above. If you buy one of these products or use the link to get to Amazon and do any other shopping, the Wayward Catholic will get a small (very small) piece of this. Any proceeds from these sales are used to pay for the web site hosting fees and the rest will be given to my local parish to be used at the Pastor’s discretion. Winter is coming and it gets pretty cold here in New England and we need to put oil in the furnace, just saying. 

Get your electronics from Amazon here

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