WASHINGTON (July 25, 2006)—Beach reading? Perhaps not. But the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults is both history making and full of local color.
Its availability on July 31 by USCCB Publishing will mark the first official catechism produced by the Catholic Bishops of the United States since the creation of the Baltimore Catechism. Unlike the Baltimore Catechism with its 421 questions and answers so familiar to many generations who used it as children, this catechism is aimed specifically at adults and does not require rote memorization. Instead, it promotes a command of Catholic faith, prayer life and morals through a more accessible writing style and numerous, often unexpected, features.
The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults is an adaptation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1992. At that time the Pope urged that local catechisms be developed to better address specific situations in different countries. The adult catechism is meant to present Catholic teaching comprehensively and authoritatively but with a view to American culture and experience. The intended audience includes those who are preparing for the Sacraments of Initiation through the RCIA process, young adult Catholics, Catholics who may have drifted away from the practice of the faith or lost sight of its treasures, and all who may seek to know more about Catholic belief and practice.
Six years in the making from start to finish, the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults was authorized by the American Bishops in June, 2000, as a project of the USCCB Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism. Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, at that time Bishop of Pittsburgh and himself the author of an adult catechism, was chairman of the five-bishop editorial oversight board that handled the writing. Development of the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults entailed three national consultations and drafts, and the processing of more than 10,000 suggested amendments. The adult catechism was approved overwhelmingly by the bishops at their November, 2004 general meeting and received the necessary recognitio from the Holy See in November of 2005.
The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults follows the universal catechism's arrangement of content: "The Creed: The Faith Professed"; "The Sacraments: The Faith Celebrated"; "Christian Morality: The Faith Lived"; and "Prayer: The Faith Prayed." It teaches the Trinity, Jesus Christ, the Sacraments, moral principles, and the heritage of the Doctors and saints of the Church. As the Introduction puts it, "it is an organic and systematic expression of the Apostolic Tradition, expressed in an inspired way in Sacred Scripture and authoritatively interpreted by the Magisterium of the Church." The text also provides basic information on the sacramental language, practice, and discipline of the Eastern Churches.
Each chapter in the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults includes a Story or Lesson of Faith; Teaching: Its Foundation and Application; Sidebars; Relationship of Catholic Teaching to the Culture; Questions for Discussion; Doctrinal Statements; Meditation and Prayer.
The Preface and each of the 36 chapters opens with a story about a saint, a biblical figure or other exemplary Catholic, most of them American, both to invite reflection and to demonstrate the contribution of American Catholics to U.S. society. These brief biographies include, among many others, Archbishop John Carroll, the first Catholic Bishop in the United States; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, foundress of the parochial school system; Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, daughter of novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, who founded an order of nuns to care for terminally ill cancer patients; John Boyle O'Reilly, 19th century editor of the Pilot, Boston archdiocesan newspaper, who spent years helping Irish immigrants through the process of cultural assimilation while vigorously defending the rights of African Americans and Native Americans; Sr. Thea Bowman, convert, singer, and educator, who proclaimed in song and speech the black spiritual culture of the rural south; the Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who edified millions by his faith-filled acceptance of suffering and death; Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and a candidate for sainthood; labor leader Cesar Chavez; St. Katherine Drexel, the Philadelphia heiress who founded a religious congregation to serve the disadvantaged and who spent her personal fortune building schools in the rural U.S. West and South; and Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, philosopher, author, unrivaled television preacher, and head of the Propagation of the Faith.
Following the section of each chapter that addresses aspects of faith as applied to U.S. culture are questions that allow readers to explore personal and communal ways of internalizing the teachings of the Church.
Each chapter contains a review of points of doctrine covered in the chapter. Chapters conclude with meditations drawn from a saint or spiritual writer. "A catechism needs to be more than a summary of teachings," it says. "God has called all of us to prayer and holiness. Doctrines are distillations of prayer and thought made possible by the Holy Spirit's guidance of the Church. Prayer is the gate that leads us to a deeper understanding of the Word of God and to the hidden treasures of doctrinal teachings."
NOTE: The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults is available from USCCB Publishing (No. 5-450, 664 pp. $24.95).