What is a catechism?
A catechism is a text which contains the fundamental Christian truths formulated in a way that facilitates their understanding. There are two categories of catechism: major and minor. A major catechism is a resource or a point of reference for the development of minor catechisms. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an example of a major catechism. The Baltimore Catechism is an example of a minor catechism.
What is the Catechism of the Catholic Church?
The Catechism presents the history and tradition of the Church's doctrine in a complete yet summary way. It draws heavily from Scripture, the Church Fathers, liturgical texts and the lives and writings of the saints and numerous Church Councils, including the Second Vatican Council, and many papal encyclicals (through those of John Paul II) as well as other papal documents. The witness of these sources, especially the words and example of saints and scholars, underscores the Church's ongoing, living tradition.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church originated with a recommendation made at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985. In 1986 Pope John Paul II appointed a Commission of Cardinals and Bishops to develop a compendium of Catholic doctrine. . . . On June 25, 1992 Pope John Paul II officially approved the definitive version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. On December 8, 1992 Pope John Paul II promulgated the Catechism.
Using the usccb.org Online Version of the Catechism
First, go to the usccb’s online Catechism: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/epub/index.cfm
For instance, entering the word “marriage” and clicking SEARCH brings up the first 10 of 93 occurrences of the word “marriage” in the catechism.
Read the brief selections of the retrieved paragraphs and select one that intrigues you. Clicking on it reveals the entire paragraph with an option to read more. (Note that the left panel on each of these screens lists the Catechism's Table of Contents from Cover page to appendices. You can use the left panel scroll bar to find and select chapters, indices, abbreviations, etc.)
If you click on Paragraph 1603, you see this screen:
Note the superscript numbers (which are the source) and the numbers in parenthesis (which indicate other paragraphs of the Catechism). Clicking the “read more” option at the bottom enable you to see the content of the superscripts and additional referenced paragraphs.
(Reference Notes use abbreviations. To identify the source, scroll in the left panel to the Abbreviation section which is after the A-Z Index. You will find that the “GS” in the screen below refers to Gaudium et spes. A Google search will show you that this is a document of the Second Vatican Council and will have a link to the actual document in the Vatican website.
How to Get the Most Out of Reading the Catechism
The best use of the Catechism is to let God and your current understanding, or lack thereof, lead you to a deeper understanding of an item of faith that may not appeal to you or that you thought you understood but found the words you read "struck a chord" deep within you. Here is an example of something striking a chord. But to give yourself a chance to experience this, you must read the words slowly, sort of like savoring good wine or good food. Do not speed read; rather, read slowly, letting your body and spirit interact with what you are reading. Read and re-read sentence by sentence these passages of the Catechism. (It may help if, before beginning, you place yourself in the presence of God. God is always present; it is we who are often too busy to notice and acknowledge our ever-present God.) Stop after phrases to let the deep meaning of the words sink into your heart and mind.
For instance, the first words of 1603 are "the intimate community of life and love." What do the words mean separately and together? 1603 goes on the say the this is what "constitutes the married state." Do you agree with this? What was your definition of the married state prior to reading this? What is it now? Share this with God. Continue reading, re-reading and talking to God in your own words.
1603 “The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws.... God himself is the author of marriage.” The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity, some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures. “The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life.”
1604 "Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man."