Last October the Church celebrated the 25th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, although the English-language edition did not become available until two years later in 1994. I remember like it was yesterday the joy that filled my heart when I first held it in my hand. It was the first universal catechism published for the whole Church since the Catechism of the Council of Trent, issued in 1566. That was a long wait!

After 25 years of some confusion in the Church following the Second Vatican Council regarding catechesis and what the Church actually taught and believed, we finally had a definitive, reliable and authoritative compendium of the official teaching of the Church. In promulgating the new Catechism, Pope St. John Paul II wrote:

“[The Catechism of the Catholic Church] … is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illuminated by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church’s Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for the teaching of the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument of ecclesial communion.” 

The new Catechism of the Catholic Church was written for our time, incorporating the important insights of Vatican II. In fact, “one of our own,” Cardinal William Levada (then Archbishop of Portland), was a member of the commission appointed by Pope St. John Paul II to oversee the drafting of the Catechism. The commission was chaired by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI.

I wish to draw attention to this special anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church because its importance and relevance for the time in which we are currently living has not lessened but has only increased. There still is present in the Church confusion at times concerning the official doctrine of the Church on matters of faith and morals. When in doubt, turn to the Catechism for an authoritative presentation of the Church’s faith.

I have often said in my own preaching and teaching, that if I ever inadvertently teach something that contradicts the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the mistake is mine and is unintended. I hold myself, and the flock entrusted to my pastoral care, to the teaching of the Church as articulated in the Catechism. Pope St. John Paul II pointed out (as quoted above) that the Catechism is an “instrument of ecclesial communion.” We are all bound together in unity and communion through the faith that we commonly profess.

We have a current example where the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a very useful tool for settling all doubt about what the Church teaches. A worldwide ruckus was created recently when Pope Francis was quoted in an interview with an Italian journalist (no notes were taken!) as saying that hell does not exist, and that souls that die in mortal sin do not go to hell but “disappear.” The Vatican made an attempt to clarify things, but it did not quell the confusion for many. I know, because we are still getting calls at the pastoral center.

So what do we do with confusion such as this? Go to the Catechism of the Catholic Church! On the existence of hell: “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.” (CCC, 1035. See also CCC, 1033-1037)

On the immortality of the human soul, i.e., that it cannot disappear: “The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God — it is not ‘produced’ by the parents — and also that it is immortal: It does not perish when it separates from the body at death … .” (CCC, 366).

This is just an easy and current example to use to illustrate my point about the continuing relevance and importance of the Catechism as a clear exposition of the teachings of our beloved Catholic faith. There are many other examples current in our day that many of you could point out.

So let’s celebrate the great gift of the Catechism of the Catholic Church with renewed vigor and joy. Does your home have a copy? If not, it is also available online at www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM.

Pope St. John Paul II, pray for us!