The Catechism lays down in accurate terms what Catholics believe, but its 610 densely packed pages make a formidable prospect for teachers who are planning a RE lesson. Murray White speaks to Bishop Daniel Mullins about a new guide which makes life just that little bit easier.
Who made you? God made me...
Why did God make you?
God made me to know Him, love Him and serve Him in this world, and be happy with Him forever in the next...
AND SO THE PENNY Catechism which most Catholics over the age of 25 and certainly all over the age of 35 will recall intimately began to take us through what we should believe.
Scores of primary school RE lessons were spent thumbing this thin, red pocket book and learning its simple question/answer contents by rote, eventually emerging triumphantly at secondary school armed with at least a modicum of basic Catholic knowledge to our names.
It took a long time for some of us to begin to dwell upon whether we actually believed the statements we had learned by heart.
Despite the best efforts of the Church's general catechetic director, who declared in 1971 that learning the catechism by rote was not the only way of learning the faith, it also took a long time for educationalists to come up with a good alternative.
Bishop Daniel Mullins, chairman of the Welsh and English bishops' catechetics committee, although he retains a fondness for the simplicity of the Penny Catechism, was among those who recognised its shortcomings.
Indeed he recalls Cardinal John Heenan, predecessor to Cardinal Hume at Westminster, calling, in the 1970s, for a more effective way of teaching the catechism. His concern that its study should be more than an academic exercise, eventually found a response in Pope John Paul's efforts to complete a catechism that was just as much "an encounter with Christ" as a compendium of Catholic teaching.
There is little doubt that The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was finally published earlier this year, has the potential to be a crucial teaching tool in the coming decades.
Apart from one or two moral incidentals, and casting aside the lingering doubts over inclusive language, few can argue that it does indeed provide the perfect textbook of Catholicism.
If only it were not, well to put it bluntly, written in a such a stodgy style, indeed one that would be guaranteed to put the most excitable class straight into slumber-land.
Of course, it was never its purpose to be thrust straight into RE lessons, but even the teacher needs a few signposts to help pick out this new good book's most salient points.
Bishop Mullins, the genial bishop of that most Welsh of dioceses, Menevia, is very well placed to tackle the problem. As the bishops' catechetical advisor, whose pedigree includes the primary RE resource package Here I Am, he has spent the last year pouring through first the Catechism's original French edition, then the long-awaited English, to pick out and prepare those signposts.
Next week, the fruits of his labours appear in the form of a much condensed 31-page document, What Are We To Teach?, endorsed by the Bishops' Conference and with a preface by Cardinal Flume.
It will summarise the basics of Catholic faith: the Creed, the sacraments, Christian life and worship, and how to pray. It offers solid, unambiguous advice on the minimum basic requirements for what young Catholics should be taught.
The document calls for a set of essential prayers to be "known by memory". They include the sign of the Cross, the Glory Be, the Hail Mary, a grace before and after meals, the responses to the Mass, as well as the Angelus and the Rosary.
The Lord's Prayer is to be explored in detail and not just learned as a formula. But beyond that there is much scope for exploring many forms of prayer from group to individual, vocal to contemplative.
In the section of Christian life, teachers are urged to promote the common good of society and social justice. The booklet sets out a framework for morality based not just on what we feel to be right but also on our actions, reasons and circumstances, although it stresses that actions such as murder and adultery can never be good.
A section recommending study of the Ten Commandments, brings them up to date by stressing the sacredness and right to life from conception onwards, the rights of authorities and citizens, a right to legitimate self defence while remembering God's gift of life to all. Sunday Mass is a central and essential part of Catholic life on what is a special day.
This is all clear, unambiguous stuff, a sort of Catholic back-tobasics, which should quieten critics of recent RE resources, such as the controversial Weaving the Web, which were thought to be too soft on essentials.
Bishop Mullins, speaking in his Swansea offices, puts the debate in context: "Weaving the Web and other similar resources started as a method to get 14-18-year-olds interested in RE and ethical issues. It was also particularly designed to fulfill obligations laid down by the Education Act, which has different requirements from Catholic teaching."
He believed that schools which saw the resource as a whole curriculum were providing inadequate RE teaching. In the same way, What Are We To Teach? will not fulfill the whole of the curriculum, but its solid markers make a good starting point.
In forthcoming months the Catholic Education Service will look at how the Catechism can be adapted within National Curriculum requirements, eventually publishing recommended learning at each of the four key stages of the Curriculum.
More than that, the document also marks a new optimism among the hierarchy.
In his preface, Cardinal Hume believes we are "beginning a new era in the teaching of the Faith and in the catechesis of our youn people".
Bishop Mullins agrees: "Fo 400 years we Catholics saw ourselves as something different. now we recognise our place as part of the local community.
"A document like this provides a concise and accurate guide for teachers and parents especially teachers who are at the sharp end of things to help them pass on the essentials of the Faith in that setting."
Rather than less resource programmes, the Bishop sees the Catechism being the spur for greater numbers. Various local catechisms may be forthcoming, and possibly a "simplified" version for teenagers.
"That is certainly one area we need to think about. And I would also like to see suitable material that could be memorised." , Perhaps, then, a new Penny Catechism or rather a Pound Catechism, to allow for inflation is not so unlikely a possibility after all.
What Are We lb Mach? is available from the Catholic Education Service, 41 Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2DJ.