Generations of children learned the basic tenets of their faith through the Baltimore catechism. The word "catechism" comes from a Greek word with means "to speak so as to be heard, hence to instruct orally." During the patristic era (the times of the early Fathers of the Church) and during the medieval period, catechisms were traditionally pre-baptismal and adult in orientation. Later St. Augustine was the first to deal with the life of the Church as sacred history. Later St. Peter Canisius produced three handbooks of Catholic faith. These works were composed of 124 questions and two appendices, one of Scripture against heretics, and the other a quotation from St. Augustine on steadfastness in faith.
When the Council of Trent adjourned in 1563, the Council Bishops asked for and were ready for a Catechism that would embrace all things from the Sacraments, through the Creed, Scripture and the Commandments. It was designed to be a manual for priests from which pastors and others who held authority and the office of teachings could seek sure doctrine and then set it forth for the building of the faithful. The Trent catechism, then, became the major source of teaching religion for three centuries.
On December 18, 1828 the First Council of Baltimore was held, the first gathering of all the bishops in the country still smarting from the effects of the War of 1812. During the first session of the Council it was announced that a uniform catechism would be prepared, and what came out of the Council was the basics of what we came to know as the Baltimore catechism. Unfortunately, the format of the catechism, too, was intended for bishops, priest and other teacher, not for young children. It was not until the Second Vatican Council that there was the appearance of textbooks reflecting the new methodology and, for many classes, the importance of service such as the Souper Bowl for Caring which is reported in the Religious Education notes this week.
Fr John R. Mulvehill