Ramblings from us as we strive to live a holy life in the world, not of the world.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

My Grandmother's Catechism

I'm very fortunate to have my grandmother's catechism.

My grandmother was born in 1900 and was the youngest of 11 children. The copyright of the book is 1882!

I'm sure that my great-grandparents bought the book to teach their children the faith. Their oldest child was born in 1878, so I can almost imagine my great-grandparents as parents of young children wanting to share the faith with their family and purchasing this book to instruct them, in much the same way that I buy books to teach my children about their faith.

My grandmother didn't have much of an education. She was raised on a farm in the north hills of Pittsburgh, but she was a very devout Catholic who instilled the faith in her own six children, despite being widowed at the age of 32 during the depression.

When I look at this catechism, I'm struck by how 'no frills' the book is.

And yet, it's as straight forward as it gets.

I love the Baltimore Catechism. Questions and answers. No fluff.

In the 15 years that I was a catechist and the 22 years that I've been a parent, I've seen some really BAD religion textbooks and have dealt with some DREs who have pushed for texts that were visually entertaining at the expense of substance. "Faith must be caught, not taught," a few would say. Yes, but religious education should be about teaching the faith and 'catching the faith' should happen when children see how we live our lives. Children should see how their parents, catechists, and peers live out their Christian faith in love and catch the faith, if you will, from those experiences. If they have to catch it from a textbook, it ain't gonna happen.

Those fluff religious texts? If it lacks substance, then we're just setting up our children to be entertained and not educated and the result will be adults who don't come to Mass because they "don't get anything out of it." What they are saying, without realizing it, is that they aren't being entertained at Mass and they don't understand what is really taking place.

I've taught using textbooks that instructed students to make dream catchers every year and Native American beliefs were emphasized. I've heard about high school kids who spend their class time rewriting the Beatitudes or Psalms in modern language and youth group classes where students aren't learning the faith but are asked touchy feely questions like, "Would you die for God?" Our children aren't dumb, why do we treat them like they are?

I was a catechist for a while in a different diocese than I live now. We had a good textbook, but we also were required to review the Baltimore Catechism. Just my opinion, but the children there seemed to know their faith better. Of course, more was expected of the parents as well, but parish life was very vibrant. Coincidence? I don't know but children who don't properly learn the faith become adults who don't know the faith and probably won't practice the faith.

I've used quite a few resources with my children including textbooks, but I still like the question and answers catechism. Both of these are part of a series and are great:

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for Catholic picture books, picture Bibles, websites, magazines and whatever else gets children excited about their faith. But, for learning and reinforcing the faith, you really can't go wrong with the basics. I'm sure that Grandma would agree.


  1. This is a wonderful treasure to have from family. We have a *lot* of great and very old Catholic books, and I'm so grateful to have our own little "library." It's hard to find many modern ones that just tell it like it is! Our kids are still too young for them, but we have all the Baltimore Catechisms, and I definitely plan to make use of them :-)

    1. I love old books too! I also have my great-grandmother's Bible with all her family information. It's truly a treasure as well.

  2. What a beautiful tool to pass on the faith!

    We are blessed with a DRE that understands our choice to "opt out" of the books chosen for CCD and use those we believe to be more instructive, including the Baltimore Catechism.

    I totally agree with your conclusion regarding "being entertained". It troubles me even more when adults say "I left that parish because I wasn't getting anything out of the Mass."

    Sometimes simple is better, as your grandmother was raised. When we were in Slovakia the people had many fewer "things" but the faith was strong.

    Thanks for the post. Great thoughts. Hope all is well with your brood :0)

    1. Thanks Sue! I agree that there are some wonderful texts out there and some that are not so good. It's good that you are able to opt out of and use what you think is appropriate. What I found, at least here, is that many of the DREs in the district like to use the same texts to be consistent so all of the neighboring parishes use the same books. I really wish that they would use the Baltimore Catechism at least as a supplement.

      I was just thinking about you because you hosted that pretzel party last year at your house and that was the day that Pope Francis was chosen. I can't believe how fast a year goes by.