In his apostolic constitution The Deposit of Faith of October 11, 1992, promulgating the Catechism of the Catholic Church Pope John Paul II asserted:
In thirty six chapters, the adult catechism applies the four pillars of the CCC of creed or doctrine, sacraments or liturgy, moral life, and prayer or spirituality to the American cultural context. Beginning with a short preface on the role of first U.S. bishop, John Carroll, replete with a side bar on Spanish, French and Native American Catholics, the text’s introduction places this work in the context of past catechisms including the Roman Catechism following Trent, the famous or, maybe, infamous Baltimore Catechism, and the reference work for the present piece, the universal catechism or CCC. The seven part structure of each chapter is then carefully reviewed.
Each chapter begins with a story or lesson of faith. The focus here is mostly on a saint or Christian hero or heroine, often American, whose life illustrates the specific teaching covered. For example, chapter one, concerning the human desire for God, begins with “one woman’s quest,” that of St. Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton. After the introductory story, the chapter presents a specific teaching and its application, expanding on the universal desire for God as experienced in creation and human beings. This section of the chapter utilizes sidebars which may include paragraphs from the CCC or other official statements and occasionally questions that may arise for the reader. For example, in chapter five, “I Believe in God,” the text, in distinct black and gray format, sets off paragraphs from the CCC as well as remarks from John Paul II’s address to Pontifical Academy of Sciences in October 1981.
The Catechism for Adults subsequently relates the teaching to the particular culture of the local Church. In chapter four on the obedience of faith for instance, the text considers American culture as influenced by Enlightenment Deism while chapter eight addresses lay ecclesial ministry as an application for the marks of the Church in the United States. Questions for discussion follow this cultural application in each chapter, offering the reader the opportunity to further explore and internalize the teaching in his or her life. Such questions can be used for individual reflection or within a communal setting such as R.C.I.A sessions or inquiry classes.
A concise, yet somewhat comprehensive summary of doctrinal statements follows, often referencing the universal catechism and scripture. Each chapter concludes with a meditation related to the topic and a prayer drawn from the rich resources of the common prayers of the Church, liturgical and ritual texts, hymns, scripture or the writings of the saints. Each meditation and prayer encourages personal application or integration of the lesson and reminds the reader that catechesis entails more than the learning of doctrine. It must also call us to deeper communion with God. The meditations, drawn from many official documents and writings of the saints, provide a particularly rich appreciation of the topic addressed. For instance, the reflection on the “Eight Commandment: Tell the Truth,” (chapter 32), cites Paul VI who proclaims the “inherent attractiveness of Gospel truth,” and a selection from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola addressing the scriptural passage on speaking the truth with love for the sake of the salvation of one’s interlocutor.
The bishops offer us a very user friendly application of the major pillars of the universal catechism in their United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. The text may be most useful for catechesis of young adults, or as a supplement to the experiential emphasis of the R.C. I. A. and adult inquiry classes. The format is visually appealing and includes three useful appendices: a glossary of terms; prayers of the tradition; and suggested works for further reading. The prose, however, as often found in committee document, is stiff at times; more effective choices for the sidebars from the CCC would better illustrate the doctrine or theme under consideration in each chapter.
The stories or lessons of faith, usually drawn from the life of an officially canonized saint or other holy man or woman, represent a significant cross section of ecclesial life. Some, such as John Boyle O’Reilly, may be new to readers. This nineteenth century Irish émigré came to the United States via an Australian penal colony to which he was sentenced for advocating independence in his homeland. He later became a reporter and the editor of the Boston Catholic newspaper, Pilot. I found it disappointing however that such a prominent influence in the United States as Thomas Merton was not included perhaps due to his political leanings. Another personally disappointing omission was Flannery O’Connor, my favorite American Catholic writer.
Overall, United States Catholic Catechism for Adults provides the young adults, and the not so young, with an excellent reader friendly application of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to the particular cultural context. Therefore, the Adult Catechism, given its format, thoughtful questions, and primary source sidebars encouraging further reading, could well serve as a textbook on Catholicism in secondary schools for upperclassmen and as a supplementary work in introductory classes at the college undergraduate level.