The introduction explains three important features about the Compendium:
First, the Compendium is reliable because its contents are based exclusively on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which Pope Benedict has identified as a guiding text for the Year of Faith. The Compendium is “not a work that stands alone” or “intended in any way to replace” the larger Catechism, first published in 1992. What the Compendium seeks to accomplish, with unequivocal clarity but more briefly, is to “reawaken interest in and enthusiasm for” the universal breadth and spiritual depth found for millennia in Church teachings and traditions. Toward these two ends, the Compendium employs margin number references to and maintains the four-part structure of the Catechism: “The Profession of Faith”, “The Celebration of the Christian Mystery”, “Life in Christ”, and “Christian Prayer.”
Second, the Compendium is readable because it formats the teachings of the Church like a conversation. Cardinal Ratzinger explained that such formatting reflects the desire “to reproduce an imaginary dialogue between master and disciple, through a series of incisive questions that invite the reader to go deeper in discovering ever new aspects of his faith.” The structure translates into a noticeably smaller product – the Compendium is 204 pages, the Catechism 904 – but one that still speaks authoritatively about the treasury of the faith. It also results in a process that provides a timeless lesson important to remember for 21st century evangelization: effective teachers ask deep questions and, regardless of posing them personally in the flesh or through the media of their era, challenge their students to seek true answers.
Finally, the Compendium is representative because it communicates the faith beyond mere words. Full-color icons printed throughout its pages seek to share the joys of Catholicism to a world increasingly believing only what the natural senses can comprehend. Cardinal Ratzinger observed how religious images “have offered the principal facts of the mystery of salvation to the contemplation and wonder of believers” throughout human history by “presenting them in the splendor of color and in the perfection of beauty.” The Icon of Christ and Adoration of the Magi, for example, make the Compendium “an extremely effective and dynamic way of communicating the Gospel message.”
When done well, an introduction establishes context, defines purpose, presents a plan, and prepares the reader for what awaits ahead. The preliminary section to the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church not only meets but exceeds these criteria. By describing the text as reliable, readable, and representative, the future pope gives a faith introduction that meets us wherever we are on our journey of faith today. And, ultimately and importantly, the wisdom found within its pages provides a resource for us to go out and walk with others in their journeys of faith for many tomorrows to come.
Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas. You can find him on Facebook here.