Critical Keys for Catholic Catechesis: Discipline and Content

Almost no one in the Church would claim today that we have done a good job of handing on the faith to our children. Depending on how we reckon it we have lost two or three generations to an ignorance and inability to articulate the  faith. Even the most basic teachings are unknown to the young.

A few years back I was talking to Catholic sixth graders about Adam and Eve and it became clear to me that they had little idea of who Adam and Eve were except that they were “in the Bible or something.” That was it. I collected all the glossy page religion books and instituted a “back to basics” curriculum at every grade level. We started with creation and the fall of man  and used the Biblical narrative along with memorized questions and answers and culminated  the year with a “religion bee” wherein the children were expected to demonstrate their mastery of the material for prizes. The  kids did well and they whooped their parents. The following year we instituted a parallel program for the parents. While their kids were in Sunday school class the parents were being instructed in the same material by yours truly.

I am no expert in pedagogy (educational theory) but it seems rather clear to me that we seriously lack in two major areas of catechetical instruction: discipline and content. Pretty devastating gaps it would seem! Not much is left over except self-esteem and slogans like “God loves you.”

In terms of content, it seems we have made improvements. The publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and stricter standards that our Catechetical materials conform to it,  has been the single greatest reform. Our materials are more orthodox, and the content is more substantial than the darkest years of the 1970s and 80s. Several good series have been published as well which have good content and are visually pleasing as well. I will not mention them by name since this is a blog of the Archdiocese and it is not appropriate for me to single them out. (It seems to me that you are free to speak of series you like in the comments since the Archdiocese does not endorse every comment that appears here). So I think content is improving.

But content is not enough. Academic discipline is also required. All the best material and visually beautiful as well cannot alone help children master the faith. Stronger and more rigorous academic discipline must be reasserted in the catechetical process. There are a number of elements of this academic discipline that I would like to mention and perhaps you will add more.

  1. Repetition – There is an old Latin saying: Repetitio mater studiorum (repetition is the mother of studies). Learning requires a lot of repetition for it to sink in and become second nature. One of the major flaws in the current catechetical process in most parishes and Catholic Schools is the way the curriculum is divided up. In second grade we talk about Holy Communion and Confession (but never again). The fourth graders are talking about Commandments – but never again. In fifth grade we talk about the Church (history and structure) – but never again. The sixth graders are talking about the life of Jesus – but never again. And so forth. The catechetical process is compartmentalized and doesn’t always seem to build on mastery of what came before. To discuss things but once hardly seems effective, especially if the material does not build on what came before. Back in public school, at least in my day,  mathematics did a great job of a kind of spiral curriculum which combines repetition with increasing mastery as new material was introduced. First we learned numbers. Then we used numbers to count. Then we used numbers and counting to go backward and forward by adding and subtracting them. Then we used numbers and counting and adding and subtracting to learn multiples and divisions. Then we used numbers and functions to realize that whole numbers can be fractioned and that numbers could have negative values and we learned how to count in fractions and to add and subtract them, multiply and divide them. And the material continued to build and the mastery of what went before was not left behind but folded into the new material and was used in an upward spiral. It is true that faith is not so simple as Math but the narrative of the faith does build in a spiral way. From God to creation to fall to promise of salvation to paschal mystery, to the life of grace by the sacraments to ultimate restoration with God forever in the paradise of heaven.  These basic elements must be reviewed over and over in an ascending spiral that respects human development at its various stages. But just talking about creation and the fall in the early grades and not at all later is bound to lead to a forgetful and confused student. If the wound of original sin and the loss of a relationship with God is forgotten, how will redemption make sense? No wonder it all seems “irrelevant” to many of them.
  2. Memorization –mastery of material is almost impossible without good old fashioned memorization. We just have to know things like the seven Sacraments, the Ten Commandments, the seven deadly sins, the basic prayers, the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Further, basic definitions like grace, redemption, Mortal and venial sin, incarnation, etc have to be memorized and understood. Answers to basic questions like why God made me, who were our first parents, what is the Church, who were the prophets etc. Answers like these need to be committed to memory. Without these basic building blocks being committed to memory very little building is going to go on. These basic memorized things are like hooks on which many other things hang. Without the hooks, everything falls flat. Early in school I memorized my ABCs and then many words and how they are spelled. So much depended upon my simply committing these basics to memory. The same was true with my multiplication tables. My parents and teachers were clear, just memorize them! Do the work now and everything else will be easier and make sense as you go. I struggled but I got it and I have never lost them. Give me any two numbers between 1 and 12 and I’ll give you their product instantly. Memorizing those tables opened a whole world for me and simplified life enormously. Why should the faith be any different? In memorizing and knowing the seven deadly sins I am greatly assisted in examining my conscience, grasping the deeper drives of sin in my life, understanding and anticipating the moves of the world, the devil and the flesh, and helping others understand the negative drives in their life. It all starts with simply memorizing and grasping basic concepts.
  3. Time – Most people spend barely an hour a week trying to master their faith. This is not enough. Mastery of any discipline requires something more than one hour a week. We cannot expect magic. If we only ask kids to spend an hour week with no homework or expectations in between, we should not expect any mastery of the material. Another time related problem is that catechetical instructions in parishes are not year-round. Most Protestant Churches I know would never think of cancelling Sunday School  for the summer. They attach the same priority to Sunday School that we attach to mass. Sunday School is every Sunday almost without fail. In the Catholic Church we call the whole thing off from May through mid September. And every single three day weekend also seems to get lumped in as well. In many parishes the children have religious instruction only half the weeks of the year when summers, holidays and snow days are subtracted out. In my parish we are gradually increasing the coverage with the goal of making Sunday School year round.
  4. Accountability– at some point we need to expect young people to demonstrate mastery of the material. Things like tests, religion bees, presentations etc. should be used. Why should children take religious education seriously if they will never have to render an account for what they have done or failed to do? Things like religion bees can be fun and challenging. Rewards can be offered. Religious “It’s Academic, or Trivial pursuit formats can be fun but serious ways of assessing mastery of the material. Things like this and tests also impose certain deadlines for mastery of  the material. Deadlines are really lifelines since they awaken urgency and discipline. In the end both student and teachers must be accountable. Accountability must be returned to the catechetical process.
  5. Resourcefulness – In school I could not learn everything. But one of the disciplines I learned was how to find answers. I remember trooping off the school library and being taught the Dewey Decimal System and how to use a card catalogue. We were introduced to encyclopedias, journals, and later in College, to abstracts. Today things are easier with the Internet but we sill have to teach young people how to find answers. Sites like ; The EWTN Libraries; and the Bishops Website and many others are places where answers can be found. In the end, one of the best fruits of my education was how to be resourceful.

OK. That’s enough from me. How say you? You will surely have some thoughts to add to this discussion on Catechesis, particularly in terms of  content and discipline. Especially helpful are things you have found to work. What further disciplines would you add to the list?  We can all stipulate we’ve done a poor job in the Church of late. Content and resources are improving but what of discipline?

This video is a good commentary on the problem of content which I did not develop as fully here. Msgr. in the video does mention a Catechetical series. Again I must issue a disclaimer that posting this video does not amount to an official endorsement of the series. I am not empowered to make such endorsements on the part of the Archdiocese. But the video is a good reflection on the need for content as well as technique and discipline. (Hat tip to Patrick Madrid for the video)

44 Replies to “Critical Keys for Catholic Catechesis: Discipline and Content”

  1. Oh, Monsignor, you’ve hit a hot button with me here! Where to start…

    When I began teaching in my parish 9 years ago, I ended up with a group of pre- and post-Confirmation kids that knew nothing. Well, that’s not strictly true – they did know some about what you called in an earlier post, ‘social gospel’ I think it was. Mostly that means they felt free to consider themselves my equal. Didn’t actually take too long to disabuse them of that notion; interestingly enough, insisting that they refer to me as “Mrs. Last Name” was enough.

    With that particular group I started a core of bare-bones basics: most common prayers, ten commandments, apostles, sacraments, 7 deadlys, 4 marks, etc. What they didn’t know was staggering. But, I’ve had three classes Confirmed so far, and they at least knew what it was all about and they knew the fruits and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The previous classes didn’t. They learned that from me, after the fact.

    One big problem is that in a rural parish like mine, there is a lot of difficulty getting the parents to take religious ed seriously enough to actually get their kids to class, much less, Mass. And still, the pastors just shuffle them through with the excuse “If we don’t get this done now we will lose them.” Our current pastor is not of that mind frame – thank the Lord. We are not Confirming this year, nor are we having Reconciliation or First Holy Communion.

    We are now at a place in the parish where our pastor sees a need for some basic adult education, which we used to sort of combine with RCIA. So, we are going to try something else to get more people involved, and judging from the limited feedback we’ve had already, seeing as how this is as yet unannounced, there is a desire for it. People want to learn ~ especially those who are just older than I am.

    There is also really an odd paradigm here in Utah – for all the sense of urgency there is in having the children receive their sacraments, there really is no effort made beyond that to instill a Catholic identity. We are, in fact, less ‘Catholic’ than we are ‘not Mormon.’

    1. Thanks for standing up for the faith. I have news for you though. Parent not bothering to get kids to CCD is not just a rural problem. It’s urban and suburban too 😉 As said, we’ve lost at least two generations. GLad to hear that adult ed compliments the ed. of youth in your parish!

  2. I say spot on Mgsr. One series our parish recently adopted for its CCD program is “The Apostolate’s Family Catechism” I believe (without getting out of my chair to get the books) that they were endorsed by Pope John Paul for family study. I cannot say enough about this series. It breaks down into “questions” which is basically a chapter. The “question” is stated at the beginning of the chapter like “Who was Adam and Eve?” and then the chapter goes on answering the question and giving “supporting” evidence to back up the answer. There are also references and additional reading from the Bible and Catechism of the Catholic Church given at the end of each chapter. This has not only helped us as a family study our faith together, but it has helped me go over things that I knew, but not necessarily “knew” where they came from or the why behind it. Definitely an enrichment to my own faith walk and that of my husband’s but also helps me to guide and direct my four young minds given to me 🙂

    1. Thank you for the link to the Family Catechism website. This will be a great help to me. I am a HS Religion Teacher, but I also feel as though I am learning about the faith along with my students in many ways. This will be a great asset to me in answering those “tricky” questions that students sometimes ask. Often with these questions, it is not so much that I do not know the answers, as that I do not know how to answer the questions. This will be a great resource in that area. Thank you!

  3. Msgr. Pope. Thanks for the article. And for encouraging suggestions of which curriculum people have found useful. I thought you might like me to point out an error in your article (it’s the aspiring catachist in me). In the paragragh numbered 1.) Repitition, you accidently wrote: The narrative builds, has negative developments and positive responses and an ultimate and dramatic question: will you and I be saved through a life of sin or lost through a life of refusing God’s offer? I’m sure nobody reading your excellent blogs would be confused by this. But I thought you would like to make the correction none the less. And please, if you have a minute, send me your curriculum suggestions, via email. Thank you again.

  4. What we need is real and deep comprehension of the content. All the information/content in the universe will fall on ‘rocky soil’ if comprehension is not produced in the mind. We need to leave the ‘John Dewy’ age of education behind and teach our catholic children basic reasoning rooted in solid logic as was the case when scholasticism first prepared and cultivated the mind before implanting information. I’m not opposed to memorization, but if ‘repetition is the mother of studies’, then comprehension is surely the Father. I attempted to teach 10th grade Conformation a few years ago, as an assistant to the regular teacher. He insisted that we only give the students information as to what the Church teaches and nothing more, so they could decide for themselves. I explained that if we do not also show them WHY the Church teaches these things we are doing more damage than good, puffing them up with empty words and sending them out completely unable to defend their faith: Like training them to fight the very real fire-breathing dragon with a paper sword! They get roasted and burned alive and look back at us with resentment and a deeper hatred for the Church who made them look like fools! I got fired for explaining WHY the Church teaches that abortion is wrong! (I live in Vermont, it’s particularly anti-Catholic, anti God around here these days, the most atheistic state in the Union according to a recent poll).
    The Sacrament of Confirmation has become the Great Exodus for 99% of our children, because they have nothing substantial to keep them here, as they have no REAL comprehension of WHO the Church is or WHAT and WHY She is. Public education, and increasingly even our own Catholic schools, are propagating a VERY secular, even atheist curriculum from contorted history and vulgar literature that intentionally bashes and puts the Church in the worst possible light as the sinister overseer of superstition and intellectual repression, to ‘science’ which has become the new ‘god’ to every ‘real intellectual’. Science is the New Religion and our youth are flocking to the altars of the new priests like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking and the rest of the atheist antagonists of God, Creation, Truth and Beauty. We need to counter this with good old-fashioned scholastic comprehension, bring our children into the fullness of ‘relationship’ with the Church because they COMPREHEND what and Who She is and Her mission of Love for them, calling them and aiding them to rise above the persistent, tempting and empty voice of Death that bombards them every second of their waking lives.
    It’s time we started listening to the prophetic voices in the Church again too, as many of us lowly laity have been waving the Red Flag about poor catechism/catechists and the damage it will cause for many years, only to be pushed aside and overruled by those too afraid and too comfortable in their positions of authority to actually change course. If we continue to wait until the damage is done before we wake up and make changes, we are doomed! We’ve already lost 2 generations to this shortsighted cowardly approach to ‘leadership’. Real leaders navigate and command as to avoid the ‘reefs and rocks’; too many Catholic navigators seem to think it’s better to suffer shipwreck and even mutiny before they make changes in the course, which is negligent and irresponsible at best and more often suicidal.
    It’s encouraging that some of our Bishops here in the U.S. seem to have remembered that they are Apostles and leaders first, so having re-installed their backbone are leading again. Now when they throw out Tom Zanzig (?) feely good approach and cultivate comprehension and a scholastic approach to catechism they will begin the arduous task at hand: Healing and Rebuilding The Body of Christ—The Church, which is after all their charter from Christ Himself.
    The Church doesn’t need more benign administrators wearing the Bishop hat, She needs Benevolent LEADERS ‘catching men’ again.
    Here’s a News Flash for our Bishops: The buck stops right on your shoulders! It’s your ‘baby’ gentlemen, so stop pandering to those who would have you be anything less than who you are—APOSTLES of The GREATEST LEADER of all Creation. Start pandering to Him and it will be springtime for the Church again.

  5. Thank you, Msgr. Pope, for this fine column. I’d just add one point…

    The content of faith can’t be transmitted solely via a classroom. Yes, parents have to play a role, but just as important a role is played by the parish. If the children in religious education or even in a parish school attend a church which is stripped of iconography; in which saints’ and other feastdays are not celebrated; in which the liturgy is centered on the community gathered in the present moment rather than pulling us into the richness of the Body of Christ as it has manifested itself through history via the rich liturgical and devotional tradition of the Church…well, then, 26 hours of religious instruction isn’t going to make much of a dent, particularly in the context of the broader culture.

    As I said, I think every one of your suggestions is important and correct – there is just a broader issue, as well. Organized classroom religious instruction was not the norm for Catholics until the 19th century (and then only in certain parts of the Catholic world).

    (By the way, your experience re/Adam & Eve reminded me of a time I was teaching 8th graders in a Catholic school. I was re-telling the story of Cain & Abel, and I ended, rather dramatically with “And then Cain killed Abel” – and the entire class audibly gasped. Most of these kids had been in Catholic school for 8 years and they were surprised at the end of the Cain & Abel story…..

  6. “Yes, parents have to play a role, but just as important a role is played by the parish”

    We joined our current parish about 10 years ago and enrolled our children in the school here. In those first few years, there were many parish family events. In kindergarten, my daughter came home and recounted terrific stories- a man was swallowed by a whale and animals went two-by-two (cool stuff to a 5 year old). I’d routinely bring in treats for a number of different feast days. Then something changed. The schools set its sights on the Blue Ribbon for educational excellence and redefined what excellence should incorporate in Catholic education. Some of what had been celebrated was now identified as “excessive” and even “ridiculous.” Funding for family events gave way to upgrading the library’s cataloging system, (though they eliminated the library aide, which meant the library would only be open “part time” during the school day and not at all after school). The wonderful bible stories were sacrificed to more time for math facts. When that shift occurred in the school, something seemed to also change in the wider parish.

    In working with youth faith formation, I learned that their budget was slashed, but that’s happening everywhere. Beyond the budget, the importance of faith formation seems to have taken a back seat to many other things. A number of Faith Formation events were actually cancelled because the rectory gave the space we booked away to other groups. After several years of begging, the Jr. High kids were allowed to have a youth group, but the parish would not fund it and the youth minister on staff would not work with it. From September to March, there has been one social event sponsored by the parish, but there have been a number of fundraising events for things like sending the choir to Rome and paying for a pastor appreciation gift. All this comes on the tail of sibling discounts for tuition being eliminated and the resounding buzz is that our parish’s lacks a general commitment to its families.

  7. We are a homeschooling family who is enrolled in the Classical Liberal Arts Academy course called Classic Catechism course ( This course (among many others in the Academy) has all of the features and characteristics you propose. As reverts, we can’t say enough, how important prayer and Catechesis is for the development and establishment of truth in the lives of our kids.

    Thank You for very good article.

  8. “Faith and Life” series from Ignatius Press is unconditionally the best thing out there! Don’t take my word for it, contact them as they will provide review packages. These faithful, Catholic instructional materials beautifully inform both teacher and student–just cannot say enough good about them.

  9. I’ve seen CCD students run the entire spectrum, from knowing not much to being fairly knowledgeable. They have at least known who Adam and Eve were, but in the area of morality, they still see the teachings of the Church in negative terms, just a bunch of prohibitions, “don’t do this, don’t do that,” with sin – Original and personal – being a matter of crime and punishment, rather than seeing the teachings in positive terms, e.g. love God and one another. None, or almost none, have actually read one of the Gospels, and few could give a basic “biography” of Jesus. But then again, many of them (7th and 8th grade) have appallingly poor reading skills.

  10. well, then, 26 hours of religious instruction isn’t going to make much of a dent, particularly in the context of the broader culture

    Your point is well taken Amy, especially since we have been talking recently about how the world can seek to keep us off the path. But — let’s not forget that we are planting seeds. Sometimes very tiny seeds. Notwithstanding everything else, it is possible for those seeds to take root and grow. As I’ve said to our DRE, we can’t do everything ourselves, we need to allow the Holy Spirit do some of the work. Besides, He is usually a little better at being able to get through all the noise of the world.

    p.s. I’m glad to see you back in blogdom.

  11. I remember back in the day when I was in CCD, we couldn’t advance to the next grade/level until we passed a series of tests that required us to memorize the 7 sacraments, the 12 apostles, the 10 commandments, etc. For our confirmation interview, we had to memorize at least half, if not all of the Nicene Creed. When we attended church we had to fill out a form of sorts that asked questions such as “What color are the vestments? What feast day is it? What was the Gospel about?” We also had to get the forms signed off by a priest or deacon to prove that we went to mass, and we got graded on how well we payed attention (let’s just say my old church didn’t play around when it came to catechesis).

    On memorization, I am actually taking Memory and Cognition now (a really awesome psych course for my degree), and working memory (short-term) can be improved by practice and reading stuff over. What I do to help me learn and memorize things, since my working memory was slightly damaged in a horseback riding accident, I write down key points from each chapter or passage I read. Writing things down forces me to look at it and memorize what I am reading. It’s very time consuming, but I have noticed a big difference on my tests when I take the time to do this rather than trying to speed read over and over. With math, practice makes perfect. I am very OCD on my school notes – I color code things and make sure my handwriting is perfect.

    I will be honest – I could always use a refresher on my catechesis. There are many things I remember, but also many things I could re-learn, or review in some way. If I had the time I would totally sit in on RCIA just to get a new perspective and review on stuff.

  12. As a convert, i sadly report that most of the younger Catholics, and many of the older ones, have no REAL knowledge of the Rosary. They may (or may not) know the prayers, but if they know the mysteries (the lessons from scripture and religion) that are the “meat and potatoes” of this form of meditative prayer, its rare.
    I have never heard the Rosary TAUGHT, or preached.

    It was truly named “The Little Summa” because all the core of Church teachings is right there…. the doctrinal basics in the Creed, the lessons in the life of Christ and the essential doctrines taught by those lessons(completed now in the “luminous Mysteries” thanks to Pope John Paul II)… the petitions to prayers, the need to consider your sinful state, and the longing for heaven…

    If any Catechists out there are listening, i beg you: Preach the Rosary. there are many excellent books on the subject that can help you, but it involves all the senses, focuses the mind, and teachings nothing that isnt good sound doctrine.

  13. I’ve bemoaned before the fact that (at least in my parish) hymns are used primarily as a mechanism to get the priest in and out of the nave and as a time-killer during Offering and Communion rather than as a form of catechesis. Research has shown that music can be an effective mnemonic – how man of us did NOT use the tune to learn the alphabet or teach it to our own children?

    An accomplished musician himself, Martin Luther freely filched tunes from Latin hymns and folk songs and set to them lyrics intended to teach the basic tenants of faith and to reinforce lessons from Biblical texts. Below is his hymn about the Ten Commandments, in German and in English (thank heavens for cut-and-paste):

    Dies sind die heil’gen Zehn Gebot’

    1. Dies sind die heil’gen Zehn Gebot’,
    Die uns gab unser Herre Gott
    Durch Moses, seinen Diener treu,
    Hoch auf dem Berg Sinai.

    2. Ich bin allein dein Gott, der Herr,
    Kein’ Goetter sollst du haben mehr;
    Du sollst mir ganz vertrauen dich,
    Von Herzensgrund lieben mich.

    3. Du sollst nicht fuehren zu Unehr’n
    Den Namen Gottes, deines Herrn;
    Du sollst nicht preisen recht noch gut,
    Ohn’ was Gott selbst red’t und tut.

    4. Du sollst heil’gen den Feiertag,
    Dass du und dein Haus ruhen mag;
    Du sollst von dein’m Tun lassen ab,
    Dass Gott sein Werk in dir hab’.

    5. Du sollst ehr’n und gehorsam sein
    Dem Vater und der Mutter dein,
    Und wo dein’ Hand ihn’n dienen kann,
    So wirst du lang’s Leben hab’n.

    6. Du sollst nicht toeten zorniglich,
    Nicht hassen noch selbst raechen dich,
    Geduld haben und sanften Mut
    Und auch dem Feind tun das Gut’.

    7. Dein Eh’ sollst du bewahren rein,
    Dass auch dein Herz kein’ andre mein’,
    Und halten keusch das Leben dein
    Mit Zucht und Maessigkeit fein.

    8. Du sollst nicht stehlen Geld noch Gut,
    Nicht wuchern jemands Schweiss und Blut;
    Du sollst auftun dein’ milde Hand
    Den Armen in deinem Land.

    9. Du sollst kein falscher Zeuge sein,
    Nicht luegen auf den Naechsten dein;
    Sein Unschuld sollst auch retten du
    Und seine Schand’ decken zu.

    10. Du sollst dein’s Naechsten Weib und Haus
    Begehren nicht noch etwas draus;
    Du sollst ihm wuenschen alles Gut’,
    Wie dir dein Herz selber tut.

    11. Die Gebot all’ uns geben sind,
    Dass du dein’ Suend’, o Menschenkind,
    Erkennen sollst und lernen wohl,
    Wie man vor Gott leben soll.

    12. Das helf’ uns der Herr Jesus Christ,
    Der unser Mittler worden ist;
    Es ist mit unserm Tun verlor’n,
    Verdienen doch eitel Zorn.

    1. That man a Godly life might live,
    God did these Ten Commandments give
    By His true servant Moses, high
    Upon the Mount Sinai.
    Have mercy, Lord!

    2. I am thy God and Lord alone,
    No other God beside Me own;
    Put thy whole confidence in Me
    And love Me e’er cordially.
    Have mercy, Lord!

    3. By idle word and speech profane
    Take not My holy name in vain
    And praise but that as good and true
    Which I Myself say and do.
    Have mercy, Lord!

    4. Hallow the day which God hath blest
    That thou and all thy house may rest;
    Keep hand and heart from labor free
    That God may so work in thee.
    Have mercy, Lord!

    5. Give to thy parents honor due,
    Be dutiful, and loving, too,
    And help them when their strength decays,
    So shalt thou have length of days.
    Have mercy, Lord!

    6. In sinful wrath thou shalt not kill
    Nor hate nor render ill for ill;
    Be patient and of gentle mood,
    And to thy foe do thou good.
    Have mercy, Lord!

    7. Be faithful to thy marriage vows,
    Thy heart give only to thy spouse;
    Thy life keep pure, and lest thou sin,
    Use temperance and discipline.
    Have mercy, Lord!

    8. Steal not; all usury abhor
    Nor wring their life-blood from the poor,
    But open wide thy loving hand
    To all the poor in the land.
    Have mercy, Lord!

    9. Bear not false witness nor belie
    Thy neighbor by foul calumny.
    Defend his innocence from blame;
    With charity hide his shame.
    Have mercy, Lord!

    10. Thy neighbor’s house desire thou not,
    His wife, nor aught that he hath got,
    But wish that his such good may be
    As thy heart doth wish for thee.
    Have mercy, Lord!

    11. God these commandments gave therein
    To show thee, child of man, thy sin
    And make thee also well perceive
    How man unto God should live.
    Have mercy, Lord!

    12. Help us, Lord Jesus Christ, for we
    A Mediator have in Thee;
    Our works cannot salvation gain;
    Thy merit but endless pain.
    Have mercy, Lord!

    Hymn 287, The Lutheran Hymnal
    Text: Ex. 20: 1-17
    Author: Martin Luther, 1524
    Translated by: Richard Massie, 1854, alt.
    German melody, c. 1200

      1. The tune reference says merely “German Melody” which isn’t necessarily a particular tune. I’ve scanned and can email to you the pages from my grandmother’s hymnal.

  14. I wanted to put in an updated plug for the Apostolate for Family Consecration’s Consecration in Truth Catechetical Series. My sisters and I grew up using this and we do know our faith! It contains all the points Father said a good catechis needs. The pictures used in the catechism illustrate theological truths so that even the youngest child can easily learn the faith. Most importantly the catechism is now online. The online version is a veritable treasure chest. Not only is there the questions and written answers but the answers are also given by Sr. John Vianny for Children, Cardianl Francis Arinze for teens and adults, and Fr. Pablo Strub in Spanish. Plus right on the website you can connet to scripture passages, passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Curch, Vatican II documents and Papal documents that pertain to specific question. This is a wonderful resource for faimlies as it is free online at
    Enjoy this wonderful resource for the whole family!

  15. i am catholic but have attended non-denominational protestant services and bible studies, i think there is a lot the catholic institution can learn from their model of learning and sharing. from my experience, the catholic approach in practice is still very intellectual/academic/theoretical (not necessarily intended this way, but this is how it appears to me), whereas the protestant one is more practical/experiential, which actually stimulates and reinforces learning (in a relatively painless and even entertaining manner to boot).

    in my experience the protestants are “aggressive” in reaching people – this particular group is very organized, almost like a multinational corporation, and apply and share best practices, from church services, to kid’s church, to media, to ministry in various areas, to bible study groups/fellowship, to seminars on various topics (marriage, finances, children, leadership, etc)… they are living their faith (or at least attempting to with some effort), and sharing it, instead of focusing on studying it…this makes it a lot more accessible and palatable, and in this particular case, the church body takes a concerted active role in fellowship and ministry… in this kind of scenario, memorization becomes less of an effort or intellectual exercise and more of a consequence of the exposure and the experiences that one gets and goes through in their daily walk…

    of course there is the content part to consider – the richness of catholic teaching is not that accessible or easy to impart… and for some, may even seem irrelevant in their daily walks… i think there is room for both approaches for effective learning…

  16. Mgsr; I can only repeat what others have said above: spot on. I could write a lengthy email about my experiences in “CCD” (why does it have that horrible name anyway???). Run by an ex-nun, no control/input by the priests of the Parish, no selection criteria of the parents who volunteer to teach (I shudder at the thought what some of these parents might be teaching the kids!), a maximum of 20 weeks of trying to convey the life of Jesus and teachings of the Church, arts and crafts, the classical “let’s be nice to each other and tolerant of our differences”… Ooohh, it’s all so sad…
    But, Mgsr., it is also the fault of the Church itself: why aren’t there any more stringent rules? Why doesn’t the Archdiocese impose Cathechism all year long, or controls, or trainings of the volunteer teachers? I tell you why: they are afraid! Afraid to loose kids, to loose volunteers, et cetera, while in reality, it would be just the opposite!
    In the mean time, I just do what I can with the help of the Holy Spriti!
    Please keep writing about what you do with your Parish.
    Eddy B.

  17. When I took a position as a junior high Director of Religious ed. I was told I had to use the same book as the school used. You know, 7th grade was New Testament and 8th was Church History. I found, not only poor attendance, but a sever lack in the basics. They could not focus on one topic for an entire year and the book seemed to put in a lot of filler so that it would last a year. Added to that was an almost total lack of interest. I searched and searched for a good book to use, but never found one. It seemed there was a universal edict that 7th grade was New Testament and 8th was Church History. Even books that were orthodox in their teaching followed this pattern (as you mentioned when writing about repetition). So, I did away with the 1 hour a Sunday model in favor of a block schedule. The students would take a class on one topic of their choosing (with their parents help, hopefully) and it would last 2 hours for 4 consecutive Sundays. Students were asked not to sign up if they did not intend to make all 4 classes. These classes were offered 4 times through the year. If a child took all four he received more hours of instruction than in the Sunday model. I spent the time writing all of the classes because there was nothing else available. While the cycle of classes did not offer a complete catechises, it did cover many of the basics. All the classes used a pre-test and a post test, study guides were provided, and the bible and the CCC were used quite a bit. Classes included a Bible Timeline (based on a class I took in college from Jeff Cavins), The Four Gospels, Angles and Demons, The Sacraments, Who Do You Say That I AM, Defending the Faith – Apologetics, Morality, Christian Prayer, Lives of the Saints, etc. I had trouble finding teachers who knew enough to teach the classes, so the outlines I wrote had to be very detailed. In fact, many adults came to me asking if they could take the classes. I kid really took to the format and the classes. We made sure there was plenty of time for discussion as well. While the post tests were not quite what I would have liked, I saw marked improvement. I think they really stretched their thinking and their living out the faith. However, in a parish of 3,000 families, I had about 50 families sign their kids up. Not a great number, but at least they were not wasting their time. When I was put in charge of confirmation (done in high school) I wrote a program for that as well as there were none that were both orthodox and effective for the youth. So, I agree whole heartily with the article. Most do not have a theology and philosophy background and simple cannot resort to writing their own material. One thing I learned from the experience was that writing a program for K – 8th grade and expecting it to work for multiple parishes is absurd. Catechises is not a cookie cutter sort of affair. One needs to assess the situation in their parish and then work accordingly.

  18. Hi Bender:

    I think you’re absolutely right! Seeds *are* planted – it’s what religion/theology teachers and catechists tell themselves at the end of every day…I planted seeds…I planted seeds today….please water them, Lord!

    But my perception of what was going on in much of parish religious ed in the late 90’s, when I was last involved on a diocesan level, was a general sense of giving up. I mean – aside from a lack of conviction and faith – even those who had kept the faith were just worn out by the challenges of trying to impart some content to children in the context of a secular culture when (and this hasn’t been brought up yet, I don’t think) – they don’t even go to Mass, much if at all.

    I worry about my own parish, honestly, because the schedule is so packed int he morning and the parish is so big that the only time they can have religious ed is during one of the Mass times, and I know the DRE is concerned that parents are using religious ed as a babysitting service and a great number of the children are not being taken to Mass at all.

    So what I heard DRE’s and others settling for was this: “Well, at least we can give them a positive feeling about the Church so that when they decide they need spirituality in their lives, they’ll have good associations and maybe be more likely to come to us.” Which is better than nothing I suppose…

    1. My boys have told me that they have found mass to be confusing for them because it was set up for the adults to understand. I truly believe if the kids could go to religion classes during mass, that they would get more out of it as the information would be brought down to their level. It is hard for kids to sit still for 45 minutes to an hour listening to a priest speak and going on with the regular routine of church and the kids get nothing out of it. Why is church pushed so much onto them without any form of explanation or why certain things are done in the church? For kids, they are just going through the motions just to satisfy some attendance rules, etc.

  19. “The following year we instituted a parallel program for the parents. While their kids were in Sunday school class the parents were being instructed in the same material by yours truly.”

    Bingo! The parents are *key* – and we need to apply both discipline and content to adult catechesis, the primary form of catechesis. This, IMHO, is an endeavor that calls for priority among the numerous goals that play tug-of-war with the time, budget, and energy of pastoral staff.

    I created a *free* 30-episode podcast that follows the “Understanding the Scriptures” Didache textbook at – which may be a helpful resource.

  20. Why do Catholic schools and CCD programs use the same textbooks? One catechizes with 120+ hours a year and 5 days a week. The other catechizes at most 30 hours a year, one day a week. This is illogical that we use the same books. But the problem is that we do not have a CCD edition. There is a parish edition to most books, but it is only differentiated by organization, not by amount of content. If you are going to catechize and evangelize, the amount of time that you have is going to be important in deciding what you are going to cover. To catechize is to teach the deposit of faith. If you have more time, you can go into other areas. Why does CCD 8th grade cover church history? Church history is important, but it is not part of the deposit of faith. You can teach the faith with historical markers, but to teach church history without a proper understanding of the faith is backwards. The problem is that we are also working with false presumptions. Publishers have a spiral curriculum which does not work when the years are not connected for the student. The publishers assume that the material is remembered from year to year. What we have is what happens when you assume.

  21. “Why do Catholic schools and CCD programs use the same textbooks? One catechizes with 120+ hours a year and 5 days a week. The other catechizes at most 30 hours a year, one day a week.”

    I suppose there’s no demand for a 30-hour-year textbook, but I share your frustration:

    I had to take the textbook, and using highlighters and a pencil, seriously edit the heck out of the material, and do a lesson plan based on that reduced content:

  22. For those who love the Catholic Church Stay strong. Do all that can be done to defend Christs true church. If possible get involved in the RE program in your parish. We can with the help of the Holy Spirit Win .No matter how tough things might be. Stay firm in the true faith…………

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