The Roman Catholic Church has never failed to issue out to the faithful catechisms useful for holy instruction. As the word ‘catechism’ means ‘teaching’, we can be sure that whatever form we receive a catechism from the Catholic Church, we know that we are embarking on a holy journey toward greater knowledge.
As new generations come and go the Church has always provided a compilation of teachings for that generation to better grasp the Catholic faith. Today, the most common catechism used by the average Roman Catholic would be the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is product of the Second Vatican Council
Under the Papacy of John Paul II, this Catechism was promulgated by the Vatican in 1992 which was largely the product of the Second Vatican Council. So it would make sense that if one wished to know more about the Catechism of the Catholic Church, one would need a basic understanding of what the Second Vatican Council was.
The Second Vatican Council was a Pastoral Council
The Second Vatican Council or better known as Vatican Two was understood as an Ecumenical Council however it was the first of its kind to NOT condemn any errors that may have existed in those days nor did it define a single Doctrine or Dogma. For those who know even a little bit about the Church’s history concerning Ecumenical Councils, this is very odd! No, instead from the very mouth of the Pope John XXIII, “…this council is to be a Pastoral council!” as well as Pope Paul VI who echoed the same statement as he was the Pope that saw the Council to its close.
But what does ‘Pastoral’ mean?
Well, as stated before, the Second Vatican Council was not a Dogmatic/Doctrinal Council per se as it was a Pastoral Council On the Dogmas and Doctrines of the Catholic Church (See Nota Praevia in Vatican 2’s Lumen Gentium).
In other words, this council was meant to apply different methods of application to the faithful while attempting to maintain the same infallible Dogmas and Doctrines. Therefore, most of what was taught Pastorally by this Council belongs to what is called, the Ordinary Magisterium.
The Ordinary Magisterium is actually binding to every Catholic unless something within the Ordinary Magisterium conflicts with the Extra-Ordinary (Solemn) Magisterium, then what conflicts is not recognized nor binding. Much like laws in the United States of America in a situation where a State law must work in juncture with Federal law otherwise is not binding.
The ‘Spirit’ of Vatican Two was as Pope John XXIII said, “To let the world in the Church” so as to bring a new springtime of the faith among Catholics and the world at large.
Now, there is within the Church a great debate as to whether or not this council brought more confusion to the faithful than clarity but this is not the topic at hand. Rather, this short summary of what the Council was will help us better understand its product, the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Understanding that the Second Vatican Council was merely a Pastoral council and not Dogmatic, we now have a better view of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. For within the Catechism, are brief summaries of Doctrines and Dogmas of the Church but with a Pastoral understanding of these teachings.
Some pastoral teachings are quite striking as what seems like completely novel ideas were introduced into Catholic teaching.
For example, Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 841 concerning the Church and Non-Christians, it reads:
The Church’s relationship with the Muslims.
“The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”
This is a very new concept by which makes an incredible statement which seemingly overlooks basic theological and Dogmatic differences between Christians and Muslims. Such differences such as Islamic denial of the truth of the Blessed Trinity, the Incarnation of Christ, Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, etc.
For in denying the Son, you deny the Father (1 John 2:23). But this is another example of a pastoral teaching however it fails to make the necessary distinctions between Act and Potency as well as Objective and Subjective.
For example, in Act a professing Muslim does NOT worship the same God as Catholics do as the basic premise of both faiths differ in the most fundamental ways, namely the Divinity of Jesus Christ.
However, in Potency, (meaning what is possible) an individual Muslim may come to know and understand that Jesus is God and may convert. And Objectively speaking, such a comment that Muslims and Christians worship the same God flies directly in the face of the Church Fathers and constant teaching of the Solemn Magisterium but Subjectively, we do not know the condition of the soul of a Muslim in that they may be given graces by God to come to the knowledge of the truth so that they may adore with us the on merciful God.
But this is only one example of what you will find in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that does make mention of Catholic teaching as a basis of outline but more often than not filled with pastoral teaching which may or may not render a clear explanation on what is Apostolic teaching.
Therefore, to make sure that no misleading or misunderstanding may befall the reader of this particular catechism, it would be first better to consult a 100% Dogmatic/Doctrinal catechism first for clarity sake.
Such a catechism which is most relied upon for its absolute lack of Doctrinal confusion would be that of the Roman Catechism also known as the Catechism of the Council of Trent. You may also have heard about a similar catechism called, ‘The Baltimore Catechism’ which is a question and answer format catechism derived from the Council of Trent which also is Doctrinally sound. By first consulting what is binding and Dogmatic/Doctrinal, you may find the Catechism of the Catholic Church more easily understood as pastoral and therefore easier to navigate its contents without losing sight of what has been passed down.