Water for the Catechism's Rich Soil

Living the Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Sacraments by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (translated by John Saward) Ignatius Press, 2000. 160 pages, $10.95.

I was listening to Dr. Laura Schlessinger's radio program recently when a caller asked for advice about her search for a spiritual base to her life. As is her wont, Dr. Laura began by suggesting that the caller look first to the religion she was brought up in. The caller demurred, saying she had been raised a Catholic and was not interested in a religion that was just “a lot of rules and guilt.” Dr. Laura urged the caller to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church before dismissing the Church in this way. “I've read the Catechism cover to cover,” she said. “Let me tell you, that is a truly profound book.”

“Way to go, Dr. Laura,” was my first thought. This was quickly followed by the blushing realization that I couldn't make the same claim as the Jewish radio psychologist. Some time after I finished part one, my copy of the Catechism found its way to the bookcase. I've taken it down to check various points from time to time, but I've never read it all the way through — much less studied it. It seems so academic, so daunting.

I no longer have that excuse, for now there's a series of short reflections on the Catechism written by the historic work's main editor, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. The essays originally appeared in his diocesan newspaper (in Vienna, Austria); Ignatius Press is reprinting them in English in a multivolume series. Volume One, dealing with the Catechism's explication of the Creed, was published in 1995. This present volume, covering the liturgy and the sacraments, was released in 2000.

What a favor the cardinal has done for busy lay people like this hard-working housewife! By breaking the Catechism's comprehensive explanation of the liturgy and sacraments into 52 short sections, he has made it possible for me to thoroughly digest this section in a year's time.

And getting there will be half the fun. In the foreword, the cardinal describes the wonder and privilege of the sacramental life in a way that will make many a heart leap: “‘Power came forth from him and healed them all.’ That is how St. Luke the Evangelist describes the effect of Jesus on the many people who tried to touch him. … What happened then to men in Galilee takes place today whenever men are touched by the sacraments of Christ. For, as the Catechism says, the sacraments are ‘powers that come forth from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1116).

These commentaries could be used as friendly guides to the corresponding sections in the Catechism. Alternatively, one could read the Catechism first, and then turn to Cardinal Schönborn afterward. Either way, the cardinal's comments make the Catechism more accessible and, in many cases, applicable to daily life.

So engaging and informative are these commentaries that the temptation may be to skip the Catechism and use them as a kind of abbreviated version — a kind of CliffsNotes to the work they are drawn from. Don't cheat yourself. These are two great tastes of doctrine that taste better together.

Daria Sockey writes from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.