Re: The Baltimore Catechism and Blue-Collar Catholics

A reader responds to my post about the Baltimore Catechism by wondering why I would want to dumb down Church teaching:

I am over 71 years of age and have only a high school education. I remember the Baltimore Catechism but believe the new comprehensive catechism is far more informative. Why lower the bar? Better to encourage the reading than telling folks they are not smart enough to read and understand the new catechism. If they really want to know their faith and what the church teaches they need to make the time to learn and to read the new catechism. It can be done in bits and pieces.

Some of these points are fair. The new catechism is far more informative than the old Baltimore Catechism, and encouraging Catholics to read the comprehensive catechism would be great. (For what it’s worth, I gave a speech almost two years ago in which I explicitly endorsed the reading of the new catechism).

But my point was not that Church teaching should be simplified for adults. It was that the old Baltimore Catechism provided a strong foundation for children and young people of all economic backgrounds. Being poor, working class, or upper class did not matter. If you were Catholic, you got a solid catechetical foundation regardless of economic circumstance. In the words of the new catechism itself,

“Catechesis is an education in the faith of children, young people and adults which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life.”

Can those without four-year college degrees dip into the new catechism and learn the faith in its fullness and nuance? Of course they can. St. Therese of Lisieux did not go to college, and she is a Doctor of the Church. But can middle- and working class Catholics be expected to read the new catechism? In this day and age, I don’t think it’s realistic. This is not the 19th century, an epoch in which people waited on the docks for the latest installment of Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop to arrive by ship.

Being Catholic means not only following the Church’s teachings and rituals but also being catholic. Catholics are taught to appeal to everyone, including those who are content to learn the basics of the faith and apply them with the advanced skill of The Little Flower.



  • Pingback: A White-Collar Church? » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

  • EmilyS

    Thank you for making this point! I whole-heartily agree with you. I find the CCC very helpful, but it is not very accessible to those who were not well catechized, or for those who just want a simple answer to a question. This makes sense since the CCC was primarily written for bishops, so that they could then break the information down in a suitable way for the faithful.
    My family started home schooling when I was in 4th grade. We used Seton Home Study, an excellent program that uses the Baltimore Catechism for its grammar school religion. My parents, being products of the 60s and 70s, learned even more from the BC than us kids did, and it changed all of our lives by making them much more interested and serious about their faith. I don’t think, at the time, that the CCC would have accomplished nearly as much for their catechesis.
    Also, though I am now a college graduate, I still find myself thinking back to the BC questions I learned in school. The BC did a superb job of giving simple answers to important questions in such a way that further study easily builds on and fleshes out those answers. It provides an organized framework in which to study more.
    It makes me sad to see today such great catechesis tools like the BC being passed up for trendy, heterodox material that is often required in modern CCD programs. I had to attend CCD when I was ready to receive Confirmation, and I was, at the time, scandalized by the errors that were in those books, especially concerning other faiths (Episcopalians having valid orders and sacraments), and our sacraments (awful presentation of things like Confession). We would do well to return to the BC, or books like the BC. Young people would know their faith and be more likely to stay Catholic.

  • vpokorny

    What’s your take on the Youcat? I know it’s in Q&A style, and directed toward youth. Obviously it’s not the equivalent of the Baltimore Catechism, but do you think it could fill some of the objectives you point out in terms of making the basic tenets of the faith more accessible?

    • Bob

      YouCat is great for the middle schoolers and older. The younger students need foundation first. I will tell you that I’ve introduced the Quinque Viae to middle school students and they are not intimidated (I don’t go into great detail on this, but are more than capable of grasping the main ideas). I have had former students tell me that their first year in high school religion have been easier as a result of what I’ve been able to do.

    • EmilyS

      Avoid YouCat completely. It has some absolutely horrible answers. It is proximate to heresy concerning the inerrancy of Scripture; it is extremely wishy-washy about homosexuality and masturbation; and has this weird statement that the creation of the world is not yet complete, but is still moving toward perfection, which is an erroneous evolutionary ideology. Also, one of those cartoon pictures shows a stick-figure man masturbating in front of the TV. Bizarre.

  • Bob

    As a Catholic school teacher, I have used the Baltimore Catechism at different times throughout the year – much to the dismay of principals (there is a collective effort by many administrators – principals primarily to prohibit or inhibit the use of the Baltimore Catechism). They easily force young teachers to comply because most have only a passing knowledge of it, but they have a harder time with those of “age” who were weened on it. I can assure you that most of the current religion texts are, in a word, terrible: they are trite and “touchy feely” and students don’t remember the lessons because of it. The Baltimore Catechism is direct and to the point, but each chapter also had a list of questions that were very germane. For the older students, the catechism is a good starting point to remind them of what we believe and then launch into whatever area the teacher intends. We have to have the administrators to “get over it” and think of our students first.



Receive our updates via email.