Anyone concerned about the religious future of our children and the Church itself should see the importance of this "Religious Education" issue. It is for parents, grandparents, pastors, all religion teachers. It gives reviews of the most popular catechetical series which have been used in many of our Catholic schools and CCD parish programs in recent decades. Some series were updated in recent years; often improvements were noted. Yet, many deficiencies remained and escaped the notice of many parents, even teachers.
A brief historical account of catechesis in the Church will be found together with the reviews. To summarize our present situation and offer positve suggestions, we have a section called "What to do."
The reviews of this issue, although greatly abbreviated, will help you appreciate what pastors have been up against in trying to find a suitable catechetical series to use in their parishes. The reviews are the result also of our own observations from teaching children and teenagers for over 40 years. I have a rural parish where I am quite busy. How could a pastor of a big city parish, much less a bishop of a diocese, have time to review personally and thoroughly all the series he hears about?
Many parents have not found the time to review even one series in depth. Many do not have the expertise to recognize the failings with possible harm to young minds. Many look through a series, recognize some basic truths with which they are acquainted and conclude the series must be OK. They ask, "Why all the excitement? It must be coming from a few extremists." Not so fast.
For over 40 years I've taught catechism to grades one through twelve weekly. I've followed closely reviews of the various series, been in contact with countless numbers of parents from every state and other countries, with CCD coordinators and teachers, pastors, some bishops and the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome which is responsible for catechetics worldwide. The catechetical problems we have in the United States are also prevalent in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, in short, in many parts of the world. That's why the pope finally issued the universal Catechism.
The late John Cardinal Wright of the Congregation was in frequent communication with me on teaching youth. I've followed the efforts of the Church all the way from the Vatican's 1971 General Catechetical Directory which Cardinal Wright encouraged me to "keep writing" on, to our 1973 U.S. Bishops' Basic Teachings for Catholic Religious Education; also the 1977-78 National Catechetical Directory for Catholics of the United States for which I worked in some small way at least, on its committees.
Finally, I've studied the recent universal Catechism of the Catholic Church. In promulgating this universal Catechism in his Apostolic Constitution, Fidei Depositum (Deposit of Faith), Pope John Paul II wrote: "This catechism is given to them that it may be a sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine and particularly for preparing local catechisms."
What we must be aware of is that the popular series will soon offer new editions, claiming to be guided by the universal Catechism. Will they have the same pitfalls as before? Study well the reviews given in this issue so you have some idea what to look for in reviewing a catechism. Better still, obtain the more lengthy reviews we noted are available.
There is reason why so many "Catholics" today have lost touch with the Catholic faith as regards the Holy Eucharist as Sacrifice and Sacrament. Many no longer realize our Catholic faith is that Jesus perpetuates His sacrifice of the Cross at each Holy Mass and He is really present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in this Sacrament.Parents in many cases have been exposed to poor catechetics and also have had their faith weakened.
It is no accident that the percentage of Catholics attending Mass weekly, in recent decades, has fallen to less than half of what it was 30 years ago. There is reason why youth entering their teens too often discontinue Mass attendance. I do not think it is so much a matter of rejecting the faith but having had the faith distorted in religious education classes and too often even in sermons.
There is an association between the crisis of family life and the shortage of priestly and religious vocations.
Families, according to the universal Catechism, are to be "islands of faith" and parents must evangelize their own children. Both parents and children must develop a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. At the same time, they must respect the "Body of Christ" which is the Church. The Church is the only way we can come into personal Eucharistic contact with Christ in Sacrifice and Sacrament and render perfect worship.
Keep this issue for future reference.