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Scott P. Richert

Welcome to Sunday School!

By January 10, 2009

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As I mentioned in my post on Epiphany, some changes are coming to the About.com Guidesite to Catholicism. I've already introduced Forum Friday; today, I'm presenting the first installment of a feature I'm calling Sunday School.

Sunday School is based on the traditional Baltimore Catechism, the most famous catechism ever published in the English language. For almost a century, the Baltimore Catechism was the basis for virtually all Catholic religious-education classes in the United States.

In recent decades, the question-and-answer approach of the Baltimore Catechism has fallen out of favor, but it's hard to argue that Catholics have a more complete grasp of their faith today than they did during the heyday of the Baltimore Catechism. Because it encouraged the memorization of a series of questions and answers, the Baltimore Catechism was seen by some as discouraging intellectual enquiry about the fundamentals of the Faith.

That was never the aim of the Baltimore Catechism, however--quite the opposite. By covering the same material at different grade levels (the questions retained the same numbering in each volume), with additional material added as children grew older, the Baltimore Catechism was designed to help students come to a progressively more complete understanding of the Catholic Faith, and to provide them with a framework within which they could pursue further study.

And that's how we're going to use it in our Sunday School series. Each week, I'll provide a link to one lesson from Catechism No. 2 (commonly known as the "Confirmation Catechism") along with the corresponding lesson from Catechism No. 1 (the "First Communion Catechism"). The questions in the lesson from the First Communion Catechism are a subset of those in the Confirmation Catechism. You can use the former with younger students and the latter with older students and adults.

The questions and answers are designed to be memorized, and most lessons contain a dozen questions (or fewer)--an easy pace at one lesson per week. In addition, I'll offer a short commentary at the beginning of each lesson, and, as time goes on, I'll fill out the pages on each individual question with commentary on that question and links to appropriate passages in the current Catechism of the Catholic Church for further study.

This week, we'll start at the very beginning, with Lesson First, "On the End of Man." Lesson First from the Confirmation Catechism has twelve questions; Lesson First from the First Communion Catechism as eight.

You'll note that the latter lesson lacks questions 4, 5, 7, and 8, which are present in the former lesson. That illustrates how new material was added to each successive volume, while maintaining the numbering of the questions, so that students could come over the years to a more complete understanding of the Catholic Faith.

So check out this week's lesson, and if you'd like to share your thoughts or your plans for how you'll make use of our Sunday School, please leave a message in the comments!

January 13, 2009 at 8:38 am
(1) cmss says:

I understand why you would choose the Baltimore Catechism to teach the faith because the children will know the answer. However, I have found those who were educated in the Catholic Faith via q&a often are unable to explain what those answers mean. In reality, there are far too many Catholics whose education ended at their confirmation. Did you consider using the more recent Catechism?

January 13, 2009 at 2:17 pm
(2) Scott P. Richert says:

In reality, there are far too many Catholics whose education ended at their confirmation.

You’ve put your finger on the problem there, cmss. The Baltimore Catechism method, as I pointed out in the post, assumes that Catholic education is ongoing. That’s why it starts with a subset of questions in the First Communion Catechism, works up to the full set of questions in the Confirmation Catechism, and adds supplemental material for post-Confirmation classes.

The method works, as 80 years or so of Catholic education in the United States proved. As a father of seven, I know firsthand how well it works, but I also know that you cannot stop with memorization. The point of the Q&A is to begin the education, not to end it.

That’s why, as I mentioned in the post, I’ve introduced each lesson with a short commentary, and, as time goes on, I’ll fill out the pages on each individual question with commentary on that question and links to appropriate passages in the current Catechism of the Catholic Church for further study. I also plan to write some “hands on” articles about ways to integrate catechetical studies into your daily life with your children. The dinner table is a great place to start.

I’m a big fan of the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, but it is more of a resource for research rather than a tool for study. Memorization is both useful and necessary–if we didn’t teach our children to memorize something until they could understand it, they’d never learn anything. Take the Apostles’ Creed, for instance–the current Catechism of the Catholic Church devotes (in the first edition, which is the one I have close at hand at the moment) 264 pages to explicating the clauses of the shortest of all Christian creeds. To expect children or even adults to learn all of that material before memorizing the creed is to go about the process of education backward.

January 14, 2009 at 4:23 pm
(3) Charles Hodges says:

You do a marvelous job, but I would like to encourage you to consider man as tri-par-tite: Body and soul and spirit. This is substantiated throughout the Bible and is significantly supported in 1 Thessalonians 5:23: “And may the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly,and may your spirit, and soul, and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

The Lord told the woman at the well (John 4:19-24) to worship God, Who is Spirit, in spirit (our human spirit)and reality (truthfulness).

Likeness is in soul and spirit. Image is in divine attributes lived out through human virtue.

Keep up the good work and ministry. I always enjoy reading.

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