Parish Resource - Sr. Catherine Dooley

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CatecheticalMaterials as Faithful Resources for Church Teaching

by Sr. Catherine Dooley, OP, PhD
Dominican University

The Year of Faith promulgated for the Universal Church by Pope Benedict XVI offers a new opportunity for faith communities to revisit and renew the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. The apostolic letter Porta Fidei of Pope Benedict XVI,which introduces the Year of Faith, is in itself an important resource for catechists. In the letter, the pope lists the documents of Vatican II and writes that the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council is a good opportunity to revisit the spirit and content of the documents. "They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church's Tradition" (Porta Fidei [PF], no. 5, pope has described this Year of Faithasthe time fora renewal of a relationship with Jesus, and for reopening the "door of faith," which was first opened at one's Baptism. "To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime" (PF, no. 1), but now is a good opportunity to "open it again" and renew the relationship with Christ and his Church.     

For catechists, religious educators, study groups, and individuals, the call to reread and study the documents is not only a "good opportunity" but also a necessary one. Some adult faith formation groups choose to read the four Constitutions and begin with The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1963), because it was the first document promulgated and had a major impact on community worship. Other groups may choose to begin with the Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium, 1964),devoting particular attention to Chapter 2, which focuses on the People of God. It may not be easy reading for some, but it is important that, even when an overview or introduction to a document is provided for the group, the participants read the actual documents. Some questions for discussion might include the following:  

  • What do I understand by faith? What role does faith have in my life? How do I hand on my faith?
  • The purpose of the Council was fourfold: "to impart an ever-increasing vigor to the Christian life of the faithful; to adapt more closely to the needs of our age those institutions which are subject to change; to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ; and to strengthen whatever can help to call all humankind into the Church's fold."
    • Which of these goals do you think has been most adequately achieved? What is the reason for your choice?
  • What insight did I get from the document into the meaning of the Council? What aspect of a document was the most interesting to me? What is the significance of this document in today's world/Church/my own life?

The promulgation of the Year of Faith and the admonition to review the spirit and content of the documents has produced a number of resources for the study of Vatican II. It has also renewed interest in earlier studies such as the classic four-volume series edited by Joseph A. Komonchak and Giuseppe Alberigo, The History of Vatican II:volume 1, Announcing and Preparing Vatican Council II;volume 2, Formation of the Council's Identity; volume 3, The Mature Council: Second Period and Intercession;and volume 4, Church as Community (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996). Another fine commentary is by Matthew L. Lamb and Matthew Levering: Vatican II—Renewal Within Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Among the many other resources that offer insight into the profound meaning of the Second Vatican Council for the Catholic community today are the following: 

  • Pope Benedict XVI, Theological Highlights of Vatican II (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2009). This book is both a report and a theological commentary on the debates and struggles that made up each of the four sessions of Vatican II (1962-1965).
  • Massimo Faggioli, True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012). Faggioli asserts that Sacrosanctum Concilium not only discusses reform of the liturgy but also offers an ecclesiology for the Universal Church.
  • Rita Ferrone, Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium in the Rediscovering Vatican II series (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2007). Ferrone outlines the major concepts of the document, their implementation and importance, and whether they have been accepted in today's Church.
  • Maureen Sullivan, The Road to Vatican II: Key Changes in Theology (Mahwah, NJ: PaulistPress, 2007),and John O'Malley, et al., Vatican II: Did Anything Happen? (New York: Continuum International Publishing, 2011). These authors discuss the contexts of the Council that were important for the interpretation of the Council.
  • William Madges and Michael J Daley, eds., Vatican II: 50 Personal Stories (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003, 2012). In this publication, fifty distinguished scholars offer their assessments of Vatican II.

Together with the documents of Vatican II, Pope Benedict XVI named the witness of believers, whose presence and profession of faith implies public testimony and witness, as another important source in the renewal of the church (PF, no. 6). Knowledge of the content of faith is essential for giving one's own assent, that is, "for adhering fully with intellect and will to . . . the saving mystery revealed by God" (PF, no. 10). It is for this reason that Pope Benedict XVI recommends the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which the pope calls "aprecious and indispensable tool" for teaching the faith and as an "instrument for ecclesial communion" (PF, no. 11).

A helpful resource for studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (USCCA) (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2006). The USCCA follows the outline of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:Creed, Sacrament, Christian Life, and Prayer. Jem Sullivan's Study Guide for the USCCA (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 2006) is a practical catechetical counterpart to the USCCA. The Guide presents a process for catechetical sessions rooted in the Scriptures, offers participants an outline for studying the doctrinal aspects of faith, and addresses current situations in society, both affirming the positive in the culture and challenging the negative. Each chapter also includes suggestions for further reading and study. Another resource is the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (, which offers family resources for the Year of Faith as another way of "strengthening faith in the family."

The following sources provide excellent guides for adult faith study:  

  • Father Robert Barron, Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of Faith (New York: Image Books, 2011). This book, which offers insight into the content of faith, is also published as a ten-part DVD with study guides.
  • Berard Marthaler, OFM Conv, The Creed: The Apostolic Faith in Contemporary Theology, 3d rev. ed. (Twenty-Third Publications, 2007). This expanded edition provides a helpful commentary and analysis of the context and content of the Creed.
  • Luke Timothy Johnson, The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters (New York: Doubleday, 2003) offers a history of the Creed and an exposition of the articles of the Creed. 
  • The papers delivered at a symposium at the Irish College in Rome have been published under the title Faith, Word and Culture: Forty Years after Vatican II (Columbia Press, 2005). The four themes of the conference were the salvific value of other religions (Gavin D'Costa); the Bible in Catholic life (Joseph Fitzmyer, SJ); the Irish experience regarding the Council (Dermot Lane); and the controversial area of liturgical change (Liam Bergin).

Many publishers, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), RCL Benziger, W. H. Sadlier, and Our Sunday Visitor, have developed materials that not only explore the documents of the Second Vatican Council and teach about the importance of faith but also seek to deepen the faith life of individuals, families, and parishes:  

  • In conjunction with the Year of Faith, the USCCB Office of Evangelization and Catechesis has prepared a series of short videos and provided links to a variety of resources that are tools for studying and understanding the documents of Vatican II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (
  • Benziger has five 60-minute DVDs that cover some of the most significant aspects of Vatican II. The videos also include online study guides and participant handouts. Another Benziger publication helpful for the Year of Faith is Exploring our Catholic Faith by Fr. Louis J. Camelli, which "aims to engage adults in a process of learning, reflection and prayer that leads to action." The text is correlated with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults.
  • Sadlier offers a wide variety of resources for the Year of Faith: articles, links to other websites, webinars, a Gather in My Name event, and a correlation of the themes of the Year of Faith to We Believe with Project Disciple, and more.
  • The Growing Faith Project from Our Sunday Visitor is "for adults of all ages to continue their faith journey and grow in love and understanding of the Church." The program consists of a facilitator's guide and a series of forty-eight books that focus on major teachings of the Catechism. Each book opens up one important dimension of faith.

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that "'the door of faith' . . . is always open for us. . . . To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime" (PF, no. 1). Part of that journey is to come to a greater understanding of the texts bequeathed by the Council Fathers as an important part of personal renewal and the renewal of the Church. Faith "is the lifelong companion that makes it possible to perceive, ever anew, the marvels that God works for us. . . . faith commits every one of us to become a living sign of the presence of the Risen Lord in the world" (PF, no. 15).

Copyright © 2013, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to duplicate this work without adaptation for non-commercial use.  

Excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI, Porta Fidei, copyright © 2011, Libreria Editrice Vaticana (LEV). Used with permission. All rights reserved.