Regarding Catechetics: What do you think, back to the Baltimore Catechism?

An idea whose time has returned?


ED NOTE: I stumbled upon a fine article yesterday at WDTPRS on challenging false teachings within the Church. The original can be found [HERE] at ALIVE–a Catholic news monthly from Ireland. But, I was further impressed with the idea(s) found below concerning catechetics of our Catholic children (and their parents). I hope such ideas receive the serious consideration they deserve from the powers that be… What do you think, back to Baltimore?


Regarding catechetics, I often think of how involved we are with our adult concerns: abortion, the economy, stem-cell research, Notre Dame, the liturgy, etc. Meanwhile growing up all around us are uninstructed children.

How pliable they are, how receptive and docile. They don’t need to be convinced of anything, only taught. Yet we do not teach them.

Virtually every concern of Bp. O’Donoghue used to be addressed by the Church in this country (the USA) in a massive and systematic way, so that a typical Catholic child of age 8 was infinitely better instructed in the faith then than a person with 12 yrs of Catholic education is now. The main instrument of that education was, of course, the Baltimore Catechism.

Of all the tragic ruptures that have happened in the Church after Vatican II, that catechetical rupture seems to me to be the absolute worst. Nuns abandoned the classroom. The Baltimore Catechism was taken away. The religious, moral, political,and social consequences of that lapse have been horrendous.

How to repair this rupture?

As enthusiasts of the Baltimore catechism now entering into dialogue with the catechetical establishment to repair that rupture, let us simply cede that it had many deficiencies. For the life of me, I don’t know what they are, but that is beside the point. Politics is politics. Perhaps it was the rote memorization, perhaps that it was generally disliked by the students, perhaps that it does not take Vatican II theology into account.

Granting all that, we only ask the catechetical establishment to acknowledge that for all its deficiencies, by and large it worked. It produced a devout, well-instructed Catholic people.

So, in the spirit of compromise, acknowledging that there have been many excellent Catholic religious ed texts produced over the past forty years, we only have a few modest requests:

1) That instruction in the Baltimore catechism become the norm in the Catholic home and school only from about age 4 (see The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers) to age 10. Children, especially very young children, love to memorize. The let us give them something substantial to memorize beyond Mother Goose.
2) That this effort be absolutely massive, with parents being encouraged to catechize their children with it at home, that it become the text in Catholic schools through 4th grade. After that, let the children be brought up to speed with post Vatican II religious ed texts. This would round out and fill out any lapses of the Baltimore Catechism, would it not?

It seems to me that this approach would go a long way toward repairing the catechetical rupture, especially if the parents are involved, since they also badly need to be instructed.

Comment by Lee — 15 June 2009


5 thoughts on “Regarding Catechetics: What do you think, back to the Baltimore Catechism?”

  1. For the record, you followed this post of mine on WDTPRS with your own comnent:


    As a catechist here in a small town in Southern Oregon I too share many of the same concerns you’ve mentioned. A question on this statement:

    “As enthusiasts of the Baltimore catechism now entering into dialogue with the catechetical establishment to repair that rupture[…].

    Does this mean that your actively involved in such work? If so, I would like to hear more. My wife and I are pulling our children out of public school and will begin orthodox education through Seton this fall. Your catechetical suggestion caught my attention and will (in some form) be used in our home; but I’m thinking about our mission and its needs, especially here:

    “It seems to me that this approach would go a long way toward repairing the catechetical rupture, especially if the parents are involved, since they also badly need to be instructed.”

    Bottom line: 2.5 hrs. of CCD per week doesn’t cut it against the spirit of this world, and parents do badly need to be instructed and involved.

    I’m going to post your comment on my blog at Fratres (Google it if not found here) and invite you to follow-up if you would. I support you in this work…

    Comment by james mary evans — 16 June 2009 @ 3:54 am

    And here is my reply:
    James Mary Evans,

    No, actually that statement about entering into dialogue with the catechetical establishment was only a way of advancing my argument within the post itself.

    However, it seems worth pursuing. If only I had the slightest idea how to go about it.

    When our children were very young we threw out the TV. Eventually we developed a kind of “night school” that included half an hour of reading good secular literature such as the Chronicles of Narnia, the Swiss Family Robinson and the like; half an hour of reading the life of a saint, usually a chapter from a full length bio. To give you an idea we read The Cure of Ars by Trochu when my son was 12 and my daughter 10. This was followed by 15 to 20 minutes of the Baltimore Catechism. Originally we placed it first because of its importance, but the children were very restive and wanted to get into the stories. One night when we were very short of time, we only did the stories. At 9 o’clock it was time for bed. Then happened that jaw dropping incident I shall never forget with the children jumping up and down saying, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy can’t we please, please, please stay up and study catechism?” So, incredibly, catechism became the end of the day treat!

    In preparation for his First Holy Communion my 6 yr old son learned (as I recall now) at our insistence something like 26 questions and answers about the Mass as a sacrifice. But the astounding discovery was that his 4 yr old little sister had learned them as well by listening in. Incredible! For an explanation and ratification of this method at this age see Dorothy Sayer’s The Lost Tools of Learning.

    My daughter entered into first grade knowing far more about her faith than most graduating Catholic high school students.

    How did this pan out? Well, my son at age 31 still practices the faith fervently. On Saturday we travel out to Nebraska for my daughter’s simple profession as a cloistered Carmelite nun.

    Comment by Lee — 16 June 2009 @ 11:19 am

    We are located in Milwaukie, OR -also in the Portland Archdiocese. This could be the basis of engaging the catechetical establishment here in the archdiocese if we can find sufficient numbers of like minded people. Here I am not envisioning a petition or anything necessarily “political.” What then? Possibly drawing up a report of the status of catechetical instruction here in the archdiocese; possibly doing an audit of Catholic grade school and CCD graduates to find out whether they are practicing the faith and living good Catholic lives; possibly drawing up a report of alternate approaches to catechesis within the archdiocese, within homeschooling community, for example and doing an audit of that approach. Which method is producing vocations, happy marriages., etc. Similarly, we could investigate the receptivity of the ordinary Catholic couple to using the Baltimore Catechism in their own homes. We could promote Family Evenings Together, a program that exists nowhere but in my own head, but was our approach to raising our kids, find out if couples and families might be interested in that approach.

    In other words, we could take some leadership in revolutionizing the catechesis of our children. It is too important to leave to the experts.

    My e-mail is

  2. James Mary Evans,

    Could you please resend your e-mail to me. Somehow I accidentally deleted it before reading. Thanks!

    Lee Gilbert

  3. You have some good points. One thing I think is vital to children learning the Faith is parental involvement. Parents need to be able to bring aspects of the faith into everyday teachable moments. That that means we’ve got to equip parents to be able to do so. God Bless!

  4. I couldn’t agree more woleary. Two generations of poor catechism reflects in the faith knowledge (and practice) of their children. I’ve been shocked this year teaching confirmation class. Yes, that’s the word, shocked!!!

    The best thing the USCCB could do at this very moment in time (for Christ) is to concentrate all their efforts on taking back Catholic Education–in all its manifestations–from the error prone, and reestablish Catholic truth within the hearts of parent and child alike… The future depends on it.


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