How to Use the Catechism of the Catholic Church
by William C. Michael
As we might expect, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a massive publication that’s sure to intimidate anyone who picks up a copy. It contains over 900 pages and 2865 paragraphs! Nevertheless, once we learn how to use the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we will find that it is quite easy to use.
A Traditional Arrangement
In paragraph 13 of the Catechism, Pope John Paul II explains that the new Catechism follows a traditional arrangement that existed in previous catechisms published by the Church. He writes:
“The plan of this catechism is inspired by the great tradition of catechisms which build catechesis on four pillars: the baptismal profession of faith (the Creed), the sacraments of faith, the life of faith (the Commandments), and the prayer of the believer (the Lord’s Prayer).”CCC 13
Thus, once we learn of this arrangement, it becomes clear how to use the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Part One: The Profession of Faith
The first part of the Catechism contains a detailed exposition of the Apostles’ Creed. This first part begins at paragraph 26 and ends at paragraph 1065. There is a general introduction to the Creed which continues through paragraph 198.
As the Apostles’ Creed is divided into 12 articles of faith, so also is this first part of the Catechism. The explanation of any topics that relate to these articles can be found within the paragraphs under the appropriate article.
- “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.” (Par. 199–421)
- “And in Jesus Christ, His Only Son, Our Lord” (Par. 422–455)
- “He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.” (Par. 456–570)
- “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.” (Par. 571–630)
- “He Descended into Hell; On the third day He rose again” (Par. 631–658)
- “He Ascended into Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” (Par. 659–667)
- “From thence He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” (Par. 668–682)
- “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” (Par. 683–747)
- “I believe…in the Holy Catholic Church.” (Par. 748–975)
- “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” (Par. 976–987)
- “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” (Par. 988–1019)
- “I believe in life everlasting.” (Par. 1020–1065).
So, we can see that we’re not left to almost 3000 paragraphs of doctrinal chaos in the Catechism. The arrangement of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is logical and easy to use.
Part Two: The Sacraments of Faith
The second part of the Catechism contains a detailed exposition of the seven Sacraments of the Church, and all that pertains to them. Pope John Paul II explained:
“The second part of the Catechism explains how God’s salvation, accomplished once for all through Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit, is made present in the sacred actions of the Church’s liturgy, especially in the seven sacraments.”CCC 15
The second part begins with a general introduction to the Church’s liturgy and the sacraments in paragraphs 1066–1212. Then the specific treatment of each of the seven sacraments begins:
- Baptism (par. 1213–1284)
- Confirmation (par. 1285–1321)
- the Eucharist (par. 1322–1419)
- Penance and Reconciliation (par. 1420–1498)
- Anointing of the Sick (par. 1499–1532)
- Holy Orders (par. 1533–1600)
- Matrimony (par. 1601–1666)
Thus, everything that pertains to each of the seven sacraments may be found in the paragraphs related to that sacrament. From paragraphs 1667–1690, the Catechism finishes part two with a treatment of Sacramentals and Christian Funerals
Part Three: The Life of Faith
The third part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church may be considered a full treatments of moral philosophy in light of divine revelation.
“The third part of the Catechism deals with the final end of man created in the image of God: beatitude, and the ways of reaching it — through right conduct freely chosen, with the help of God’s law and grace, and through conduct that fulfills the twofold commandment of charity, specified in God’s Ten Commandments.”CCC 16
This part with an amazing treatment of Christian life in general, with discussions of the principles of morality in general, happinss, virtue, sin and God’s commandments. Then, the Catechism explains all that pertains to each of the Ten Commandments, as follows:
- The First Commandment (par. 2084–2141)
- The Second Commandment (par. 2142–2167)
- The Third Commandment (par. 2168–2195)
- The Fourth Commandment (par. 2196–2257)
- The Fifth Commandment (par. 2258–2330)
- The Sixth Commandment (par. 2331–2400)
- The Seventh Commandment (par. 2401–2463)
- The Eighth Commandment (par. 2464–2513)
- The Ninth Commandment (par. 2514–2533)
- The Tenth Commandment (par. 2534–2557)
Part Four: Prayer in the Life of Faith
The fourth, and final, part of the Catechism contains an exposition of prayer in general (par. 2558–2758), and the Lord’s Prayer in particular (par. 2758–2865). Pope John Paul explains,
“The last part of the Catechism deals with the meaning and importance of prayer in the life of believers. It concludes with a brief commentary on the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.”CCC 17
The exposition begins with a discussion of the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer and the opening words, “Our Father, which art in heaven.” (par. 2759–2802). We then find a treatment of the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer is as follows:
- “Hallowed be Thy Name” (par. 2803–2815)
- “Thy Kingdom Come” (par. 2816–2821)
- “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (par. 2822–2827)
- “Give us this day our daily bread.” (par. 2828–2837)
- “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” (par. 2838–2845)
- “Lead us not into temptation.” (par. 2846–2849)
- “Deliver us from evil.” (par. 2850–2854)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church ends with an explanation of the “Doxology” that traditionally follows the Lord’s Prayer.
It is clear that, while the Catechism is an intimidating book to look at, once we learn of the arrangement of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we can see that it is a reference book that is quite simple to navigate. Once we are able to identify the four divisions of the Catechism, we can narrow our study to the specific content of each part, and find whatever topics interest us. We then know how to use the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
If you would like to join us in studying the Catechism in detail, please see our Catechism of the Catholic Church course.
God bless your studies,William C. Michael, HeadmasterClassical Liberal Arts Academy