Using the Compendium in Catholic Education 1: The Value of Questions

Dr Leonardo Franchi (Lecturer, School of Education, University of Glasgow)

Photo by Max Fischer on Pexels.com

Catholics schools best fulfil their mission with teachers who are committed heart and soul to their own faith tradition.

All teachers are called to develop the ‘Catholic culture of the school. The successful integration of a Catholic worldview into the school curriculum is one of the great challenges facing Catholic educators.

How can this be done?

Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church remain the principal reference document for all who are involved in Catholic education. Since 2006, the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church has been available: what advantages, if any, does the Compendium have over the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and does it matter?

The first point to note is that they cannot be viewed as mutually exclusive documents. Such a distinction would not fit with the reasons behind the publication of the Compendium (see the Motu proprio at the beginning of the text). The Compendium’s proper locus can be summarised as follows: the Catechism of the Catholic Church contains the broad range of Church teaching arranged according to four traditional pillars of: The Creed; Liturgy and Sacraments; Moral Life and Prayer. In a sense the Catechism encapsulates the deposit of faith which has been passed down to the current generation of Catholics. The Compendium is an accurate summary, in a different format, of the teaching contained within the main Catechism.

The Compendium’s principal benefit lies in its succinctness. Without minimising the content of the Church’s teaching, it presents in a reasoned manner the essential elements of Catholic belief and practice with minimal use of references and footnotes. In other words, the Compendium provides a neat ‘entry –level’ course in Church teaching. I will look at it through three lenses.

The Value of Questions

Ask, and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7)

The Compendium is organised in a question and answer format. This ‘traditional’ approach to catechesis reminds us that, as children of God, we will always need to seek answers. As in the Passover supper a young child will ask questions of those assembled, so too will the Christian constantly ask God for guidance and enlightenment in questions of faith.

If it is to be effective, the dialogical format depends very much on humility. If we think that we know all the answers already, or if we prefer ‘proper theology’ ( so to speak) to immersing ourselves in the Magisterial teachings of the Church, then we run the risk of allowing pride and ‘what I think’ – the ego – to interfere with the transmission of Sacred Tradition. This is not to denigrate the role of the theologian in the life of the Church but rather to challenge those who would make overly sharp distinctions between theology and the teaching of the Magisterium.

It is also helpful to use our imagination when reading the Compendium: as we read the ‘questions’ in the text, we can imagine that we ourselves are asking God for guidance and, in turn, receiving His response in the ‘answers’. The Introduction to the Compendium, written by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, suggests that this ‘imaginary dialogue between master and disciple’ is a worthwhile aid to the deepening of the faith of the reader (no.4).

The Jewish tradition in which Jesus was reared would have made this approach –dialogue between teacher and pupil based on questions and answers – very familiar to the young Jesus. We read in Luke’s report of the event known as ‘The Finding in the Temple:

After three days they found him in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions (Luke 2:47).

The image of the young Jesus sitting with the Jewish teachers is one that should guide and inspire us in Catholic education. The relationship between teachers and students should be such that questions are welcomed and encouraged as aids to deeper learning. A Catholic educational institution is called to foster that climate of openness and trust in which solid human relationships are indicators of a sense of ecclesial communion.

Later in His ministry, Jesus frequently used questions to deepen His Apostles’ understanding of His message; these questions pushed the boundaries of their human understanding so as to show that we depend on God’s grace to deepen our faith. See for example Matthew 16: 13-20 in which Jesus teases out of Peter a profession of faith. The question ‘Who do men say the Son of Man is’ allows Jesus to set in motion a series of sub-questions in which Peter, guided by the Father (verse 17), professes the divinity of Jesus.

Practical Exercise: Invite students to research the Gospels for episodes where Jesus used questions as part of His teaching. More advanced groups could be encouraged to categorise them in a database. What can we learn from this?

A version of this paper was published in The Sower, July-September, 2007.

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