Adult Catechesis relies on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This edition of the Catechism was essentially written with adults in mind and John Paul II published it for the first time in November 1992.
Only time and history will be able to determine the greatness of Pope John Paul II. It cannot be denied that the individual sees greatness from a personal perspective. To compound the matter, more than one perspective and achievement is possible, especially if a pontificate such as John Paul II’s has lasted for more than twenty-five years. But still, in hindsight, the greatness of Pope John Paul II is that he offered the Church the Catechism of the Catholic Church, whatever some may say to the contrary!
In fact, if we only examine the case superficially we can say the following:
1- that he didn’t personally ask for the Catechism to be re-written, but rather that he endorsed the request of the Bishops gathered for the Synod in 1985 to celebrate twenty years of Council Vatican II, and
2- that he himself didn’t write the Catechism.
However, if we examine the situation more closely we will see that this is by no means the truth of the matter.
One of the most important aspects of the mission of John Paul II is a Doctrinal mission, laying the foundations of human life and Faith for the post-modern world. He relentlessly published document after document, letter after letter. In fact, we could say that he was given to the Church when all sorts of opinions were being dealt with, when teaching was hesitant, and even heresies were circulating. Various catechisms had already been published! Some with good doctrine, new approaches, some with more diluted contents, and some with simply non-orthodox teaching in them. Then, from roughly 1968 onwards, theology and theologians began taking great freedom to do and say whatever they wanted. This created a very difficult atmosphere of doubt, suspicion, a feeling that fundamental things had changed, that anything was possible not to mention the opposite. Pope Paul VI suffered greatly because of the “constestation” (rebellion) within the Church and fought it with all his strength. He will be seen one day as a Martyr of this “contestation” and blood-letting in the Church. He wrote the “Creed of the Church” a beautiful and deep reaffirmation of the Creed in more modern vocabulary words. Even so, faith – the doctrinal foundations of our faith – were shaken to the roots.
What people forget is that this state of things could have continued very well for ever had Pope John Paul II not put an end to this Doctrinal chaos and haemorrhaging. He did this in different ways: teaching prolifically (Ordinary Magisterium), writing important documents on the important aspects of our faith, and by ordering the writing of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.This so abundant and powerful Doctrinal Mission offered to the Church, to the Faithful and to the Theological Faculties a great stability and clarity on the foundations of our Faith. All was done in the correct interpretation of Vatican II, which means, following the intentions of Council Vatican II which were to offer the same teaching in a more understandable way.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992, bears not only the blueprint of Council Vatican II, but is also the blueprint of a renewed way of doing Theology, and comprises mostly the teaching itself of Pope John Paul II. This is of the utmost importance.
In this sense, the Catechism, offering a solid substantial and condensed exposition of our Faith, embodies a real renewal (and it was done in a collaborative way with all the bishops of the world: collegially). Certainly, it is not always an easy read for Joe-public, but with a little bit of formation or explanation, one can enter into it and find great lights and nourishment for one’s Faith! It is a veritable solid Castle that not only illumines faith from within but offers words to protect it from the outer world’s thoughts and ways. It is a powerful tool of Evangelisation as we will see below in John Paul’s words.
In this sense this Gift to the Church and the World is of such greatness, that only time will tell to which extent it helped to right many misinterpretations. The Doctrinal mission of Pope John Paul II is absolutely essential, and it is because of this that the Church was able to resume its journeying. Otherwise, it could have headed straight for an implosion. Very few want to remember the state of Theology, theologians, exegetes, their publications and some catechisms and teaching that were around at that time. Very few want to remember the state of Philosophy in the 1970s and the years that followed when the foundations of our faith were powerfully shaken, and in some areas in the Church even destroyed, when the voice of theologians was greater than the voice of the Gospel.
Yet even now, do we realise the number of documents, letters, homilies that Pope John Paul II published during his very long Pontificate? Here is a succinct list of only his “Encyclical Letters” and “Apostolic Exhortations” published before the Catechism of the Catholic Church which was presented in June 1992 and published first in November 1992.
Redemptor Hominis 4 March 1979, his Programmatic Encyclical.
Catechesi Tradendae 16 October 1979, on Catechesis.
Dives in Misericordia 20 November 1980, on the Mercy of God the Father.
Laborem Exercens 14 September 1981, on Work.
Familiaris Consortio 22 November 1981, on the Family.
Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 2 December 1984, on Conversion and rRconciliation.
Dominum et Vivificantem 18 May 1986, on the Holy Spirit.
Redemptoris Mater 25 March 1987, on Our Lady. Followed by a letter to Women, one of his most beautiful letters.
Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 30 December 1987, on the Social Doctrine of the Church.
Redemptoris Custos 15 August 1989, on St Joseph.
Redemptoris Missio 7 December 1990, on the Mission in the Church.
Centesimus Annus 1 May 1991, on the Social Doctrine of the Church.
Patores Dabo Vobis 25 March 1992, on Formation of Priests.
His weekly extensive Wednesday Catechesis on the Creed must not be forgotten either. It is a fundamental body of teaching that we constantly need to refer back to.
These Doctrinal Documents offered the Church contents of truly solid subject-matter, sounder philosophical foundations, and above all a new theological way of addressing issues. Indubitably it is more biblical, closer to the word of God, and even more certainly, closer to the concerns of the average Christian. Solid food was given and also reassurances on the doctrinal level! It is certain that the constant presence of the then Cardinal Ratzinger in the background, did certainly play a very important role – only time will tell to what extent! He was the choice of Pope John Paul II.
Bearing in mind, then, the state of teaching in the Church, catechesis and the Faith, in hindsight we can say that very probably the greatest contribution of Pope John Paul II to the Church of the Third Millennium is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is not everything: he himself pointed, in “Novo Millenum Ienuente” and his Letter on the Rosary, toward new horizons of greater contemplation and holiness. But the new foundations according to the Spirit of Vatican II, intellectual (philosophical) and theological foundations were given by Pope John Paul II.
He gave us the clear point of reference for the Church – Adult Catechesis: The Catechism.
Publication of the Catechism
Let us now look at some historical facts: what follows is partly taken from Wikipedia. The decision to publish a catechism was taken at the Second Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that was convened by Pope John Paul II on 25 January 1985 for the 20th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council, and in 1986, a commission composed of twelve bishops and cardinals was put in charge of the project. The commission was assisted by a committee consisting of seven diocesan bishops, experts in theology and catechesis. Here is how Pope John Paul II tells the story of the beginning of the Catechism:
“In this spirit, on 25 January 1985 I convoked an Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the 20th anniversary of the close of the Council. The purpose of this assembly was to celebrate the graces and spiritual fruits of Vatican II, to study its teaching in greater depth in order the better to adhere to it and to promote knowledge and application of it.
On that occasion the Synod Fathers stated: “Very many have expressed the desire that a catechism or compendium of all Catholic doctrine regarding both faith and morals be composed, that it might be, as it were, a point of reference for the catechisms or compendiums that are prepared in various regions. The presentation of doctrine must be biblical and liturgical. It must be sound doctrine suited to the present life of Christians”. After the Synod ended, I made this desire my own, considering it as “fully responding to a real need both of the universal Church and of the particular Churches”. For this reason we thank the Lord wholeheartedly on this day when we can offer the entire Church this reference text entitled the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for a catechesis renewed at the living sources of the faith!” (John Paul II, Fidei Depositum)
The text was approved by John Paul II on 25 June 1992, and promulgated by him on 11 October 1992, the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, with his apostolic constitution, Fidei depositum. Cardinal Georges Cottier, Theologian Emeritus of the Pontifical Household and now Cardinal-Deacon of Santi Domenico e Sisto the University Church of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum was influential in drafting the encyclical.
It was published in the French language in 1992. Later it was then translated into many other languages. In the United States, the English translation was published in 1994 and more than 250,000 copies were pre-ordered before its release, with a note that it was “subject to revision according to the Latin typical edition (editio typica) when it is published.”
On August 15, 1997 — the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary — John Paul II promulgated the Latin typical edition, with his apostolic letter, Laetamur Magnopere. The Latin text, which became the official text of reference (editio typica), amended the contents of the provisional French text at a few points. One of the changes consisted of the inclusion of the position on the death penalty that is defended in John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae of 1995. As a result, the earlier translations from the French into other languages (including English) had to be amended and re-published as “second editions”.
How John Paul II Sees the Cathechism
“Together with the reformed liturgy and the revised Code of Canon Law, the new Catechism constitutes the firm foundation of the ecclesial renewal which the Council initiated.” (Address to the Bishops of Wales, 17 December1992)
“I invite the clergy and faithful to make frequent and assiduous use of this Catechism, which I entrust in a special way to Mary most holy, the feast of whose Birth we celebrate today. And I pray that as the Blessed Virgin’s birth was, at the beginning of the new era, a fundamental moment in the plan foreordained by God for the Incarnation of his Son, so may this Catechism, prepared on the threshold of the third millennium, become a useful tool for leading the Church and every member of the faithful to an ever deeper contemplation of the mystery of God made Man.” (John Paul II, Presentation of the Latin Version, §4)
“[…] I ask the Church’s Pastors and the Christian faithful to receive this catechism in a spirit of communion and to use it assiduously in fulfilling their mission of proclaiming the faith and calling people to the Gospel life. This catechism is given to them that it may be a sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine and particularly for preparing local catechisms. It is also offered to all the faithful who wish to deepen their knowledge of the unfathomable riches of salvation (cf. Jn 8:32). It is meant to support ecumenical efforts that are moved by the holy desire for the unity of all Christians, showing carefully the content and wondrous harmony of the Catholic faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, lastly, is offered to every individual who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us (cf. 1 Pt 3:15) and who wants to know what the Catholic Church believes.” (John Paul II, Fidei Depositum)
“Catechesis will find in this genuine, systematic presentation of the faith and of Catholic doctrine a totally reliable way to present, with renewed fervour, each and every part of the Christian message to the people of our time. This text will provide every catechist with sound help for communicating the one, perennial deposit of faith within the local Church, while seeking, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to link the wondrous unity of the Christian mystery with the varied needs and conditions of those to whom this message is addressed. All catechetical activity will be able to experience a new, widespread impetus among the People of God, if it can properly use and appreciate this post-conciliar Catechism.
All this seems even more important today with the approach of the third millennium. For an extraordinary commitment to evangelization is urgently needed so that everyone can know and receive the Gospel message and thus grow “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13).
I therefore strongly urge my Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate, for whom the Catechism is primarily intended, to take the excellent opportunity afforded by the promulgation of this Latin edition to intensify their efforts to disseminate the text more widely and to ensure that it is well received as an outstanding gift for the communities entrusted to them, which will thus be able to rediscover the inexhaustible riches of the faith.
Through the harmonious and complementary efforts of all the ranks of the People of God, may this Catechism be known and shared by everyone, so that the unity in faith whose supreme model and origin is found in the Unity of the Trinity may be strengthened and extended to the ends of the earth.” (John Paul II, Leatamur Magnopere)
“For the third millennium which has just begun, the Lord has given us a special instrument for the proclamation of his Word, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved 10 years ago. It has the nature of a privileged gift, at the disposal of the whole Catholic Church and offered “to every individual who asks us to give an account of the hope that is in us (cf. I Pt 3,15) and who wants to know what the Catholic Church believes”, is what I wrote in the Apostolic Constitution Fidei depositum for the publication of the original edition of the Catechism.
As a complete, integral exposition of the Catholic truth, of the doctrina tam de fide quam de moribus (the teaching on faith and morals) that is always valid for all peoples, in its essential and basic content, it enables people to know and to know more deeply in a positive and serene way what the Catholic Church believes, celebrates, lives and prays.
By presenting Catholic doctrine genuinely and systematically, though in a synthesis (non omnia sed totum: not everything but the whole), the Catechism leads the entire content of catechesis to its vital centre, the Person of Christ the Lord. The ample room given to the Bible, the Eastern and Western Tradition of the Church, to the Holy Fathers, to the Magisterium, to hagiography; the central place given to the rich content of the Christian faith; the interconnection of the four parts that are the framework of the text and highlight the close connection between the lex credendi, lex celebrandi, lex agendi, lex operandi (the law of belief, celebration, acting and behaving), are but a few of the merits of the Catechism which allow us once again to be filled with wonder at the beauty and richness of the message of Christ. (Address of John Paul II to the International Catechetical Congress held to observe the 10thanniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Friday, 11 October 2002, §4)
From the texts quoted above we can sense how Pope John Paul II saw the Catechism, in the different phases of its life: before, during, after and then a few years after its publication. We can see how he sees it as the main important tool for Evangelisation and Adult Catechesis.
As mentioned at the beginning of this text, it looked as if Pope John Paul II was not the one who wanted the Catechism or asked initially for it, it also looked as if he didn’t write it himself! In fact, the reality is very different, to the point that one day we will consider that this book is his greatest legacy for the Church, for, in fact, Adult Catechesis.
Pope John Paul II had to lay the foundations of the renewed Church, the true Vatican II Church, as the Holy Spirit wanted it. Through his Doctrinal Mission, the Body of his Teaching, we can easily understand his efforts in this field. One cannot Evangelise, Catechise or even introduce deeper spiritual dimensions if the foundations are not clear, solid, comprehensible and more importantly implemented.
If today we can talk about Adult Catechesis it is because of all the Doctrinal Work of Pope John Paul II, all his teaching. Without it, Adult Catechesis would be still in the hazy fields of the 1970s, left to any opinion, direction or interpretation. Philosophically, Ethically, Morally, Biblically, and Theologically, today we have greater clarity, determined direction knowing where to go and therefore greater strength with which to engage in Adult Catechesis.
Any student in Catholic Theology can very easily see how the Catechism in its four parts, is in a way an excellent summary of all the initial years of Theological Study. In a way, there is a direct relationship and silent interaction between the initial years of Theological Catholic Studies and the contents of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In this sense at least, all future priests – who undergo these studies – are enabled by them to present the Catechism, comment on it and explain it to their fellow Baptised.
Finally, one must end on a note that underlines the necessity of putting all efforts today into Adult Catechesis, and especially into reconnecting all the first three parts of the Catechism (Creed, Sacraments, Commandments) with the fourth part (Prayer). This is what Pope Benedict worked for relentlessly, and it is this kind of “integrated theology” that is the future of the Church.
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