The decision to publish a catechism was taken at the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that was convened by Pope John Paul II on 25 January 1985 for the 20th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council, and in 1986, the pope put a commission composed of 12 bishops and cardinals in charge of the project. The commission was assisted by a seven member committee including diocesan bishops and experts in theology and catechesis.
The text was approved by Pope John Paul II on 25 June 1992, and promulgated by him on 11 October 1992, the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, with his apostolic constitution, Fidei depositum.
It was published in the French language in 1992 and was then translated into many other languages. In the United States, the English translation was published by the U.S. bishops in 1994, with a note that it was “subject to revision according to the Latin typical edition (editio typica) when it is published.”
On August 15, 1997—the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary—Pope John Paul II promulgated the Latin typical edition, with his apostolic letter, Laetamur Magnopere. The Latin text, which became the official text of reference (editio typica), amended the contents of the provisional French text at a few points. One of the changes consisted in the inclusion of the position on death penalty that is defended in John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae of 1995.
As a result, the earlier translations from the French into other languages (including English) had to be amended and re-published as “second editions”.
In Fidei Depositum, Pope John Paul II declared that the Catechism of the Catholic Church was “a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith, and stressed that it “is not intended to replace the local catechisms duly approved by the ecclesiastical authorities, the diocesan Bishops and the Episcopal Conferences”.
A catechism has been defined as “a summary of principles, often in question-and-answer format”. Documents of religious instruction have been written since the beginning of Christianity and the catechism is typically an assemblage of these smaller documents into one large compilation of Church doctrine and teachings.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for which the usual English-language abbreviation is CCC, is instead a source on which to base such catechisms (e.g. Youcat and the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults) and other expositions of Catholic doctrine, called a “major catechism.” It was given, as stated in the Apostolic Constitution Fidei depositum, with which its publication was ordered, “that it may be a sure and authentic reference text for teaching catholic doctrine and particularly for preparing local catechisms.” The CCC is in fact not in question and answer format. What corresponds the more common idea of a catechism is perhaps the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
CCC is arranged in four principal parts:
- The Profession of Faith (the Apostle’s Creed)
- The Celebration of the Christian Mystery (the Sacred Liturgy, especially the sacraments)
- Life in Christ (including The Ten Commandments in Roman Catholic theology)
- Christian Prayer (including The Lord’s Prayer)
This scheme is often referred to as the “Four Pillars” of the Faith. The contents are abundantly footnoted with references to sources of the teaching, in particular the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, and the Ecumenical Councils and other authoritative Catholic statements, pri
ncipally those issued by recent Popes.
The section on Scripture in the CCC (nos. 101–141) recovers the Patristic tradition of “spiritual exegesis” as further developed through the scholastic doctrine of the “four senses.” This return to spiritual exegesis is based on the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation”, which taught that Scripture should be “read and interpreted in light of the same Spirit by whom it was written” (Dei Verbum 12). The CCC amplifies Dei Verbum by specifying that the necessary spiritual interpretation should be sought through the four senses of Scripture (nos. 111, 113, 115–119), which encompass the literal sense and the three spiritual senses (allegorical, moral, and anagogical).
The literal sense (no. 116) pertains to the meaning of the words themselves, including any figurative meanings. The spiritual senses (no. 117) pertain to the significance of the things (persons, places, objects or events) denoted by the words. Of the three spiritual senses, the allegorical sense is foundational. It relates persons, events, and institutions of earlier covenants to those of later covenants, and especially to the New Covenant. Building on the allegorical sense, the moral sense instructs in regard to action, and the anagogical sense points to man’s final destiny. The teaching of the CCC on Scripture has encouraged the recent pursuit of covenantal theology, an approach that employs the four senses to structure salvation history via the biblical covenants