40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic-#37 The Catechism of the Catholic Church

At first blush, the Catechism of the Catholic Church may seem like an imposing book.  First of all, it’s BIG.  The one on my desk is over 800 pages.  Second, the margins are full of strange numbers.  Plus, every paragraph is numbered.  How are we supposed to read a book like that?  Third, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of footnotes.  But all things considered, the writers have done a remarkable job of covering our very complex faith in an understandable, not-so-hard-to-use book.

Let’s start with those numbered paragraphs and the numbers in the margin.  I’m looking at paragraphs 554-556, The Transfiguration. In the margin alongside these paragraphs are the numbers 697, 2600, 440, 2576, 2583, 257, and 1003.  The numbers refer you to other paragraphs in the Catechism that speak to the same topic.  See, that’s not so hard.

In order to prove that they’re not pulling this stuff out of thin air, the writers use copious footnotes  For instance, this section on the Transfiguration has 14 footnotes.  If you don’t want to take the Catechism’s word for it, you can check out the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Saint Paul’s letter to the Phillipians, the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, or the Byzantine liturgy.

If you want to dig even deeper, you can start looking at those other chapters listed in the margin.  But be careful!  Paragraph 697 references three more chapters and has seven footnotes.  You could spend all day on just this one topic.  If you’re a scholar, or maybe a preacher, all of this information is invaluable.  But if you just want to know what the Church teaches about the Transfiguration, the original sections are probably all you need.

The book is divided into four major sections:  THE PROFESSION OF FAITH, THE CELEBRATION OF THE CHRISTIAN MYSTERY, LIFE IN CHRIST, CHRISTIAN PRAYER.  Take a look at the table of contents.  Each of the main sections are broken down by articles, then by paragraphs, then by subheadings.    Each paragraph concludes with an IN BRIEF section, sort of a Cliff’s Notes summary.

Rather than make this post as long as the Catechism itself, I’ll wrap this up with a look at the “back of the book”.  First is the INDEX OF CITATIONS.  If you want to know what the Catechism says about the Scriptures, look here.  For example, Genesis 1:1-2:4 is treated in number 337.  If you want to learn about Church Councils and Synods, there’s an index for that.  If Pontifical and Ecclesiastical Documents are more your cup of tea, they’re there too.  The list goes on and on.

Last but not least is the INDEX index.  That’s where you can find references by topic.  Wondering what the Church has to say about tobacco abuse, that’s number 2290.  Wondering how to deal with the Lutheran who lives next door?  Try Ecumenism, 820-22.

Here’s the thing.  How great is it to have a single book to answer our faith questions?  Obviously, if you really want to dig deep, you can collect a whole library of books.  The Catechism even gives you a list.  But for 99% of the questions you may have about the Catholic Church, you can find the answer in one volume.  It’s not something you’ll want to curl up with in front of the fire on a snowy night.  (Even though priests and deacons in formation are often called to do just that.)  But for quick answers to your questions, there’s nothing like it.

And another thing…..if you’re away from home and don’t have your Catechism with you, there’s an online searchable version.

How cool is that?

2 Responses


  2. […] in this series we’ve discussed The Code of Canon Law and The Catechism of the Catholic Church.  These two books contain the nuts and bolts of our faith.  To paraphrase the late Ed McMahon, […]

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