FIRST draft of a new official catechism, which presents the faith in a new and vital way, will be submitted to the Bishops of England and Wales in a few months.
Fr. Francis Somerville, S.J.,
who heads the 11-man committee preparing the book,
announced this in the Clergy
The authors decided to write the catechism for 11to 15-yearold secondary school pupils, he said, in order to "keep to essentials, aim at clear presentation, choose simple language". But he expects it will also be used by adults. "As for children under II, they do not need a catechism". Unlike the "penny" question and answer booklets that have followed the same basic pattern for two centuries, the new catechism will completely rearrange the essentials of Catholic doctrine in terms of salvation history, "God's call and man's response '. The faith will be presented not as knowledge but as a personal relationship between God and man.
Like the new catechisms in Germany and Australia, it will draw on the most recent developments in theology, some of which were expressed during the Vatican Council.
The virtues of faith, hope and charity, for instance, will not be treated separately. In the old catechism faith is taught in the same section as the Apostles' Creed. implying that it is limited to the "12 articles". Hope .is taught with prayer, tending to over-emphasise the prayer of petition and to neglect the ec more important prer of praise and thanksgiving. Charity is taught with the commandments which by themselves "do not provide a sufficiently Christian character to our moral teaching".
And while the old arrangement placed the sacraments after the commandments, implying that their function was to help keep the commandments, Fr. Somerville says "theologians now insist that the sacraments are far more than helps to be good. They are the very stuff and substance of the Christian life".
So the new catechism will he a complete rearrangement. Each section will start with a quotation from Scripture ("God talks to us"), followed by a doctrinal dcvelopmeqt and an example from the Church's life, usually related to the liturgy. A few questions and answers will be included, because the committee did not feel "the widespread abuse of rote learning of formulas" justified leaving them out altogether.
The book will be divided into four main headings. Under the first: God is Love and saves us will he a description of God the Father, the work of Christ and the Spirit sent "to give us life".
The beginning of the Church, the Sacraments and Mary will come under the second heading: God is with us in Christ.
Prayer, faith, hope, love and moral guidance ("We live by love — commandments and beyond") come under the third heading: Christ is our way to God.
And the last heading God is our happiness will include a study of Christian life, death, eternity and Christ's second coming.
Fr Somerville stresses that an official catechism is not intended to be a complete textbook of religion, but only "a brief, accurate summary of the essentials". Methods, private devotions and lessons for particular age groups will have to be found in other books.
A number of new books are already being published. Though not based on the catechism, of course, they follow similar principles. During the past year Macmillan has produced Four Catholic Workbooks, and Fallon of Dublin is publishing revised versions of the American On Our Way series.
The new approach to religion teaching, encouraged by the National Catechetical Centre, has created a tremendous demand for new hooks. London's Catholic booksellers have found it impossible to keep supplies on hand. Until now, most of the books have had to be imported.