This catechism is suited to the needs of the day, and may either be placed in the hands of the people, or employed as a manual for the use of priests and catechists. The small print is the part adapted for popular reading or for catechetical instruction. The author thinks it is necessary to give the following explanation of the plan of the book.
This catechism is divided into three parts: the first part treats of faith, the second of morals, the third of the means of grace. In the first part our Lord appears in his character of teacher; in the second in his character of Kings; and in the third in his character of high priest. And since this catechism proposes as its primary object to answer the question, for what purpose are we here upon earth, thereby emphasizing and giving prominence demands high calling in destiny, it is especially suited to the present-day, when the pursuit of material interests, self-indulgence and pleasure, engrosses the attention of so many. This catechism is in fact nothing more nor less than an abstract of our Lord’s teaching, and maybe called a guidebook for the Christian on the road to heaven. First the goal of the traveler is indicated, and then the means whereby he is to reach his destination. In the first part we are told what is to be done by the use of the understanding: we must seek to attain to the knowledge of God by believing the truths revealed; in the second part we are told what is to be done by the aid of the will: we must submit our will to the will of God by keeping the Commandments; in the third part we are told what we must do in order to enlighten our understanding and strengthen our will, which have been respectively obscured and weakened by Original Sin: we must obtain the grace of the Holy Spirit through the use of the appointed means of grace, for by the grace of the Holy Spirit the understanding is enlightened and the will strengthened. Thus a close connection exists between the different parts of this Catechism. Each part is subdivided and arranged to form a whole, so that the connection between and the coherence of all the truths of religion are plainly apparent. This is a very important point. For the more clearly we perceive the manner in which the truths of religion are linked together, the easier will it be for us to apprehend each one singly. The Catechism is a marvelously connected system of revealed truth. If Catholics were thoroughly acquainted in their childhood with the fundamental truths of religion; if they were taught to see how all the different parts of this divine edifice combine to form one beauteous structure, the darts of hell would have no power to injure them.
[Headings and Major points are typeset like this.]
2. The large print in this Catechism is the scaffolding, or skeleton; it contains all the essential truths of religion. [this is large print, and will appear the same through all these pages].
The small print might, as a matter of fact, be omitted; but in that case there would be nothing calculated to touch the heart and kindle the flame of charity towards God and one’s neighbor, and is not this the effect which every good hand-book of religion, every good sermon, every good catechetical instruction ought to produce? We already possess in abundance catechisms and religious manuals which appeal only to the intellect; books which do not aim at the warmth of expression and the fervent, persuasive eloquence which appeal to the heart, the force and vivifying power which affect the will through the influence of the Holy Spirit.
3. This Catechism aims at cultivating, to an equal extent, all the three powers of the soul: the understanding, the affections, and the will. It does not therefore content itself with mere definitions. The principal object proposed in it is not to teach men to philosophize about religion, but to make them good Christians who will delight in their faith. Consequently questions of scholastic theology, doctrines debated among divines, are either omitted altogether or merely receive a passing mention. The author has endeavored to divest religious teaching of the appearance of learning, and to present it in a popular and simple form. Technical terms, in which almost all religious manuals abound, even those intended for children, are carefully eliminated from his pages since, while useful and necessary for seminarians and theologians, they are out of place in a book intended for the laity. Popular manuals of religion ought to be couched in plain and simple language, like that used by Our Lord and the apostles, easy of comprehension; for what we need is something that will touch the heart and influence the will, not cram the mind with knowledge unattractive to the reader. The present book is, moreover, not an adaptation of catechisms already in use, but an original work, intended for practical purposes. Attention may also be called to the fact that the teaching of the Church is not presented in a dry, abstract form, but is rendered attractive and interesting by illustrations, comparisons, and quotations from well-known writers. Thus there is no danger that it will be thrown aside as unreadable. The extracts from the writings of the Fathers are not always given verbatim, the idea alone being in many cases borrowed, as a literal rendering of the language employed, beautiful and forcible as it is, might prove rather misleading than edifying to the young and unlearned. The same may be said of some passages taken from Holy Scripture. What is of paramount importance in a book of this nature is to make use of expressions that are clear and intelligible. The writings of the Fathers are quoted mainly to elucidate and illustrate, not to prove the truths that are enunciated.
4. In preparing this Catechism for publication, the author has kept in view his purpose of assisting the teacher. To this end he has made it his endeavor to arrange his matter according to a clear and methodical system; to place his ideas in logical sequence, and to clothe them in simple language composed of short sentences. All the several branches of religious teaching the Catechism, Bible history, the liturgy, controversy, ecclesiastical history have been comprehended in one course of instruction, which has unquestionably the effect of enhancing the interest and appealing to the understanding as well as to the heart and the will. The old-fashioned form of embodying the instruction to be given in question and answer has not been followed. That form is not sufficient, and needs further elaboration. Faith comes by hearing, not by questioning only. A knowledge of all the truths of our holy religion is not so universal that they can be thoroughly learned by question and answer: they must be regularly taught by oral instruction. This form of teaching calls for the exercise of more thought; question and answer, moreover, do nothing towards simplifying the truths to be imparted, or rendering them more intelligible to the learner.
5. The state of society and the spirit of the age have also been, taken into consideration in the preparation of this book. The writer has endeavored in the first place to combat the self-seeking, pleasure-loving materialism of the day. This appears in the opening part and also in the fact that the moral law is enlarged upon at great length. It was not deemed sufficient merely to enumerate the several virtues and vices virtue is depicted in all its beauty and excellence, vice in all its hideousness and malice at the same time the remedies for the different vices are added. Furthermore, precepts of great importance, suited to the exigencies of the time, far from being passed over, are elaborately explained. Under the heading of the Third Commandment the obligation of work and the Christian view of labor are treated, in accordance with the directions of the Council of Trent. Under the Fourth Commandment our duty towards the Pope and the ruler of our country, the duty of Catholics in regard to elections is expounded. Under the Fifth Commandment the nature of human life and the sinfulness of injuring one’s health for the sake of vanity or pleasure are shown. Under the Tenth Commandment, a plain statement is made of Socialistic and democratic principles; and after this, the proper use to be made of money and the duty of almsgiving are set forth. Prominence is given to the works of mercy, which Our Lord declares to be essential to salvation, and which are an amplification of the Decalogue; while under the occasions of sin, the evils of the day, the exaggerated craving for excitement and pleasure, love of dress, the desire to be fashionable, besides society papers, objectionable plays, etc., are duly censured. Charity to God and one’s neighbor, a virtue too rare in the present day, is treated at some length, and a considerable space is also devoted to the consideration of the Christian’s attitude in regard to affliction and poverty, the duty of gratitude, the deceitful nature of earthly possessions and earthly enjoyments, and the necessity of self-conquest. Also in matters such as civil marriage, cremation, Catholic congresses, Passion plays, etc., it cannot be alleged that this Catechism is not fully up to date.
6. In its present form this Catechism is intended primarily for the use of Priests and Catechists; it will save them much time in preparing their instructions, as they will find examples, comparisons, and explanations ready to hand. By abridging the small print it will also serve as a school-catechism. When instructing beginners the Catechist must confine himself to the large print; it will be sufficient for children of moderate abilities to know and understand that thoroughly. It is, and ever will be, the basis upon which the whole structure of religious knowledge, raised by oral instruction, will rest. In after years what is wanted will not be so much an increase of theological knowledge, as a lucid explanation of the truths already learned, and further proofs are added for the sake of deepening religious conviction.
The small print may be considerably abridged for use in schools, but it must not be left out altogether, as it will serve to recall to the minds of the children the truths they have been taught. It contains also many useful suggestions for the Catechist on subjects of importance which must hold a place in his instructions. Moreover, parents who go through the Catechism with their children at home will be compelled to read the small print, and thus, with no effort on their part, they will obtain a more intimate knowledge of Christian doctrine.
It is most important in these days of unbelief that the school should be the means of reviving a Christian spirit in the family. Hence it is advisable that the Catechist should take the chief points and the plan of his instruction from a book, and it should not be left to each individual to propound what truths he pleases. Besides, it is desirable that the catechumens themselves should have the essential part of the instruction placed before them in black and white for it is a known fact that what, is not seen by the eye is not long retained by the memory. If the impression received, the feelings excited, the resolutions called forth are to be permanent, they must be re-awakened by reading the Catechism. Thus the Catechism becomes not merely a class-book, but a book of spiritual reading, to be taken up again and re-read in after years. Hence we see what a wide sphere of usefulness the books used in our schools may have. Ought a book whose influence is so extensive, which contains the most important of all teaching, present that teaching in a dry, uninteresting form, or give a scanty outline, the mere framework of the truths of religion?
In publishing an English translation of this manual of Christian truth, it is hoped that it may find as hearty a welcome among English-speaking nations as the original did in the author’s own country. He ventures to hope that it may greatly promote the glory of God and the salvation of souls. In order to secure the blessing of God upon his labors, he dedicated the work to the Immaculate Mother of God; and it cannot be doubted that the blessings of the Most High rests upon it, for although at the out set it encountered formidable obstacles, it has since had an unexpectedly widespread and rapid circulation.