Knowing the Authentic Teaching of the Church


The Synod of Bishops on the Family, like the preceding Synod on the New Evangelization, universally recognized that many people either do not know or do not fully understand what the Church teaches. As a result, they are impoverished and they journey through life in darkness or twilight, without the light that shows the way. Thus, key to the pastoral initiatives urged by Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia is the desire to help people in their personal situations to better know, understand, appreciate and appropriate their Catholic faith.

In many ways, it has always been this way. Precisely what the Lord reveals to us – what the Church teaches – was a fundamental concern of the various ecumenical councils of the Church, including the Council of Trent (1545-63), which was called in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. To remedy the widespread confusion regarding the faith that existed at that time, the Council called for the production of a systemic digest for use in broadly instructing people in the beliefs and teachings of the Church and as a guidebook for leading a Christian life. The result was the Roman Catechism, also known as the Catechism of the Council of Trent.

This year marks the 450th anniversary of the publication of that monumental document by Pope Saint Pius V, whose feast day is today. Despite his fairly short pontificate of six years (1566-72), the legacy of Pius V would influence the Church for the next five centuries. It largely fell to him to begin the implementation of the decrees of the Council, which had closed a little more than two years before he became pope. In addition to the Roman Catechism of 1566, Pius V began a renewal of the Church, undertaking reforms of Church life and the liturgy, enacting the Roman Missal and bringing unity into worship, erecting the seminary system, and defending the faith.

When the Catholic faith came to these shores, the bishops here looked to the Roman Catechism to produce a question-and-answer instructional resource known as the Baltimore Catechism, published in 1855. In time, however, as circumstances changed and in the light of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, it became necessary to envision a fresh articulation of our ancient faith.

By the late 60s and early 70s, it became clear that there was a need for a new publication that could serve as a touchstone for what the Church teaches and which presented our faith in an intelligible and inviting manner. It was a privilege then to have the opportunity as a young priest in the early 1970s to work with Capuchin Father Ronald Lawler and a handful of others to help produce The Teaching of Christ: A Catechism for Adults. Now in its fifth edition, many people have said that they found this work to be helpful in learning the faith.

Later, in response to a proposal of the 1983 Synod of Bishops, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1993) was published for use by the entire Church Universal. Following the same basic format of the Roman Catechism, this work is an indispensable tool for anyone who seeks to arrive at a comprehensive and systematic intellectual knowledge of the content of the faith. Pope John Paul II said that “it is offered to every individual who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us (cf. 1 Peter 3:15) and who wants to know what the Catholic Church believes” (Fidei Depositum, IV).

Another good source is the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. A Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church (YouCat), both in question-and-answer format, have also been produced.

Each of these sources are complete and they are authentic. Their content is not someone’s subjective opinion about what the Church believes or should believe. Here we can find the true teaching of the Church proclaimed with authority by those who are responsible for guarding the integrity of the faith.

We all need to know more about our faith for several reasons – one, so that we can live it more fully; and two, so that we can share it more effectively with others. The faith that comes to us from the Apostles still has the power to brighten our path and transform our life and the lives of everyone in the world. The more we know and the more we understand about Jesus Christ and what the Lord reveals to us in and through the Church, the more our lives are enriched and the more we can be a light to the world.