As a convert who went through the RCIA process in 2003, the focus was on the study of the Catechism and we were encouraged to get our own copy; and being the bookish person that I am, I’ve wound up with several copies—including that of the Council of Trent, a copy of the first edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church—and recently purchased the pocket version of the second edition for reading in those quiet moments right before mass, a copy of the United States Catechism for Adults, and I also have a hardbound and paperback copy of the full-size standard second edition….yes, I truly love the Catechism.
It is in the Catechism that the full teaching of the Church is most clearly revealed and this article from Homiletic & Pastoral Review reminds us of why it is crucial to study it regularly.
“I want to raise my voice in defense of dogma. Since the Vatican Council dogma has been neglected, downplayed and even reviled by some theologians. This has been the result of the emphasis on Holy Scripture, because the Council urged preaching at all Masses—mainly with preaching on the readings in the form of a homily. So in a short period of time the scriptural homily replaced the sermon which, before the Council, was primarily an explanation of the Catechism—Creed, sacraments, commandments, with explanations of the Mass and prayer.
“Articles from the Creed were common topics, as also were explanations of how to go to confession and the need to do penance. In those days often Catholics went to confession before they would dare to receive Holy Communion. Basically, priests preached material from the Catechism of the Council of Trent. Scripture was used to prove points, but it was not the main focus of most Catholic preaching.
“What has happened is that, for many theologians and priests, the Bible has replaced the Catechism as the center of concern for both theology and preaching. Recently I heard a Catholic theologian say at a public meeting that theology is interpreting Scripture. There was no mention of the Magisterium of the Church or Tradition.
“Before Vatican II dogma was Ace, moral theology was King, canon law was Queen, and Scripture study was Jack. That certainly was the case at Innsbruck, Austria, where I studied and where both Rahners taught and also the famous liturgist, Josef Jungmann. In the USA before the Council in some theologates moral theology was Ace because priests were being prepared to hear confessions, while preaching was a secondary goal.
“As a result of the emphasis in the seminary on the importance of dogma and morals, priests were well-schooled in those subjects and were prepared to preach on them. There was emphasis on dogma, and also morals, because of the certitude connected with them. Each thesis had a “note” of doctrinal certainty, with the authority of the Church behind it from defined definitions in the previous twenty ecumenical councils.
“Catholic dogma gives the student certitude about what the Church holds and also offers different levels of certitude, for example: a defined dogma, a matter of Catholic faith (de fide catholica), theologically certain, common opinion and so forth.
“Scripture study, on the other hand, does not offer the certitude that dogma does. Yes, the text of the Bible is without error, but every text has to be interpreted and that is where the problem is. As you know, there are thousands of different interpretations of the meaning of passages in the Bible. The “sola scriptura” of the Protestants has resulted in thousands of different Protestant groups. Books on the Bible offer the opinions of the author, but they do not give you certitude. And the famous scholars often disagree with each other about the meaning. Only the Magisterium of the Church can give you certitude and the Church has defined the meaning of only a few passages of the Bible, such as Rom. 5:12-21 and James 5:13-15. Perhaps the problem here is that too many Protestant opinions have crept into the Catholic Church and too many Catholic scholars are seeking approval from Protestants.”