Baltimore Catechism

Let’s face it. Many professional religious educators do not want home schooling parents using the Baltimore Catechism. Such officials and educators, while not exactly fond of the new universal Catechism, may use the new Catechism as an unwitting “club” against the Baltimore Catechism.

They know that all publishers have to give at least lip service to “updating” their materials in light of the universal Catechism. So they may say that parents must use such “updated” materials because they are in “conformity” with the Catechism. However, if parents are faced with this situation, they should understand that they still have a right to use the Baltimore Catechism.

It is clearly spelled out in Canon Law that parents have the right to use any means that is in keeping with the doctrine of the Church, the moral law, and their particular situation. The Baltimore Catechism and the materials associated with it all have been approved by the bishops in the past. How could such materials suddenly no longer be acceptable?


Parents who reject new materials have a reasonable basis for doing so. A committee of bishops recently issued a report saying that there are grave and widespread deficiencies in most catechetical materials in use today. The bishops identified ten areas of grave deficiency, including such fundamental areas as the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the nature of sin, and the Christian moral life.

New materials from mainstream catechetical publishers, even if they are allegedly based on the new Catechism, must necessarily be suspect. How can parents trust them to suddenly produce good Catholic materials when they have been producing bad catechetical texts for the last thirty years?

In contrast to these new materials, the Baltimore Catechism is a known quantity. Parents can trust that it gives the basics of the Faith. It has the same four-fold catechetical structure as the new Catechism: Creed, Sacraments, Commandments, and Prayer. Parents should be able to use a time tested catechism that was approved by all the bishops of the United States and was widely used for almost 100 years.

Many Catholics fondly remember the Baltimore Catechism. Usually when the Baltimore Catechism was taught in a Catholic school and a student came from a devout family, it had a positive effect. If there were any complaints against the catechism, these complaints were from perhaps teachers who had to deal with students who did not come from devout families or from these students themselves.

Such teachers and students would, indeed, give the impression that it was a useless and boring exercise to study the Baltimore Catechism. That sense of uselessness and boredom, however, does not come from the Baltimore Catechism, but from students who have not been nurtured in a true atmosphere of faith.

Certainly the Faith would appear boring and useless if a student has witnessed parents who do not show in the way they live a reverent adherence to the doctrines of the creed, a regular and devout reception of the sacraments, earnest attempts to live the commandments and beatitudes, and daily prayer. In addition, where parents do not show their children that faith is more than a social routine and a convention, and where parents do not talk positively about Catholic things in the home, the Baltimore Catechism, as well as any other program or text for that matter, is simply not going to work.

Some say that faith is caught, not taught. This statement is true if it is understood properly. Faith first comes, not through a transfer of information, nor an entertaining game, nor an artificial “faith” experience in a classroom, but through the witness and testimony in everyday life of those who already have faith. Children are going to first see everyday life with their parents. Through the importance that devout parents give the Faith in the way they live and speak, they show it is a great good of life, a valuable thing, a grace.

Through their earnest attempts to live uprightly, devout parents show their children that certain ways of living and acting are unacceptable. Such ways are under judgement; they are wrong. Children “catch” the Faith by the parents exuding an atmosphere of grace and judgement. Once the children catch the Faith, then they can be taught the Faith. However, if the Faith is not first “caught” through parents’ everyday witness and testimony, no amount of teaching, no amount of creative methodology, no amount of slick packaging in colorful audiovisual formats is going to make much difference.

Teaching the Catholic Faith is not like teaching many other subjects, such as medicine and science, that have rapid and continual advancements in knowledge. The doctrines of the Faith do not change! No, they don’t! At most, there are developments of doctrine, but they occur very slowly and, more often than not, have little to do with the basics of the Faith—the Creed, the Sacraments, the Commandments, and Prayer—which are the concerns of the Baltimore Catechism.

Yes, there are some modern issues in the new Catechism that are not treated by the Baltimore Catechism, but most of them need not be taught to children and youth preparing for Holy Communion and Confirmation. Yes, there are new and worthwhile ideas in theology, and there is a time to learn them. However, shouldn’t the catechesis for children and youth stress the fundamentals that come from the 2,000-year teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Church?

It would be most helpful as well if the professional educators in the Church stopped implying that whatever is “Vatican II and post-Vatican II” is so much different and better than “pre-Vatican II.” This encourages those who want to substitute the latest -ism (feminism, multiculturalism, globalism) for the True Faith.

It also undermines the authentic enrichment and updating the Second Vatican Council wanted to achieve. If the alleged dualism and dichotomy between “pre-Vatican II” and “post-Vatican II” is always stressed, then people begin to think: if the Church were so wrong before Vatican II, what makes one think it suddenly got everything right after Vatican II?

The Catholic Information Center has included the following quotes by several American bishops when the Baltimore Catechism was published. You may be interested in reading about their opinions about this great American catechism and a supplement called The Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism, which helped teach children by adding questions, exercises, and Scripture references, as the St. Joseph edition does also.

His Eminence Cardinal Gibbons:

“I thank you for the copy of the Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism which has just reached me. A Religious spoke to me in very high terms of your book. I regard the opinion as of great value.”

Most Rev. M.A. Corrigan, D.D., Archbishop of New York:

“I congratulate you on the good which it is likely to do.”

Most Rev. William Henry Elder, D.D., Archbishop of Cincinnati:

“I think the work will be a very serviceable one. I hope it will meet with great success.”

Most Rev. Thomas L. Grace, D.D., Archbishop of Siunia:

“Your book entitled An Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism supplies a want which is generally felt by the clergy and others engaged in teaching Catechism. Apart from the very satisfactory development of the answers to the questions and apt illustrations of the subjects treated, the additional questions inserted in your book give it a special value.”

Most Rev. P J Ryan, D.D., Archbishop of Philadelphia:

“Your explanation of the Baltimore Catechism is excellent and must be of very great service to teachers of Sunday schools and to all who desire a clear explanation of Catholic doctrine, either for themselves or to communicate it to others. We give the work our cordial approval.”

Most Rev. William J Walsh, D.D., Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland:

“I have had a copy of your admirable work for some weeks past, and on several points it has been of very great use to me and to the committee [a committee of professors of theology, moral as well as dogmatic; priests of long and of wide experience in the work of instructing children in the Catechism; experienced examiners of children; accomplished scholars and writers of English; members both of religious and of secular collegiate communities; and representatives of the missionary priesthood, secular and regular, appointed to draft a new Catechism].”

Right Rev. D.M. Bradley, D.D., Bishop of Manchester:

“I am sure this ‘Explanation’ will be welcomed by the teachers in our schools and indeed by all whose duty it may be to instruct others in the teachings of the Church.”

Right Rev. Thomas F Brennan, D.D., Bishop of Dallas:

“I like the book very much and will not only recommend it to the priests and good sisters of my diocese, but will also use it myself at catechism every Sunday in the Cathedral. The list of questions and general index render it use very easy.”

Right Rev. M E Burke, D.D., Bishop of Cheyenne:

“Your Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism is excellent, and it supplies a much needed means of useful and necessary catechetical instruction for our Sunday schools. It will be found an excellent textbook for Catholic schools and academies throughout the country and a most useful manual for all who are engaged in the instruction of our children.”

Right Rev. L. De Goesbriand, D.D., Bishop of Burlington:

“I consider your book, the Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism, as an admirable work. Nothing can be found more clear, more satisfactory.”

Right Rev. John Foley, D.D., Bishop of Detroit:

“I congratulate you upon producing a work so useful to those having charge of souls in such clear, concise, and instructive a style. I shall gladly commend it to the Rev. Clergy.”

Right Rev. H. Gabriels, D.D., Bishop-elect of Ogdensburg:

“Your book will furnish solid material to priests who wish to preach at low Masses the catechetical instructions prescribed by the council of Baltimore. A rapid perusal of some of its pages has convinced me that it is just what was often looked for in vain in this important branch of the holy ministry.”

Right Rev. N. A. Gallagher, D.D., Bishop of Galveston:

“Having read your Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism, I wish to say that it is in my opinion a very useful book for priests as well as for teachers; and that it is a valuable book to place in the hands of those who wish to become aquatinted with the teachings of Holy Church. I have just ordered ten copies from the Publishers for my own distribution.”

Right Rev. Leo Haid, O.S.B., D.D., Vicar Apostolic of North Carolina:

“I am very glad you gave us such a sensible, simple, and complete explanation of the Baltimore Catechism. I wish it were in the hands of every teacher of Christian doctrine. In this Vicariate, where priest are few, and often obliged to receive converts into the Church without that thorough instruction which resident pastors can give, your book will be hailed with joy. I will do my utmost to make it known. Please send me one dozen copies.”

Right Rev. John J Hennessy, D.D. Bishop of Wichita:

“From what I have seen of your book I am delighted with the method which you have adopted for explanation. It makes the Catechism easy and interesting to both teacher and pupil. I shall heartily recommend your book to our clergy for introduction into our schools.”

Right Rev. A. Junger, D.D., Bishop of Nesqually:

“I am sure your work will not fail to obtain its object. There is not the least doubt that it will be of the greatest and best use for Sunday school teachers and advanced classes who will make use of it, and to whom we highly recommend it. Such a work was needed, as our Baltimore Catechism does not and cannot contain all the necessary explanations.”

Right Rev. John J Keane, D.D., Rector of the Catholic University, Washington:

“The character of the work speaks for itself.”

Right Rev. W.G. McCloskey, D.D., Bishop of Louisville:

“What I have already seen of it gives me the impression that it is a meritorious work which ought to be encouraged.”

Right Rev. James McGolrick, D.D., Bishop of Duluth:

“I think you have prepared a thoroughly practical work in your Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism. You have in well selected and plain English enabled teachers to give useful lessons from the text itself without the need of resort to other books. Your book will find its way to the desk of every Catholic teacher, and we hope to the home of every Catholic family. I am glad you marked the Scripture references, for the higher classes after Confirmation can unite their Scripture lessons with such study of your book as to prepare themselves for teaching. Your series of questions and good index are certainly very useful.”

Right Rev. Camillus P Maes, D.D., Bishop of Convington:

“I have examined your Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism on some of the most important points of doctrine and morals. I find its teachings sound and the manner of presenting them practical. I take pleasure in commending your book to priests and teachers, and in congratulating you for having bestowed so much time on the greatest of all pastoral work: viz: giving children a thorough and sound knowledge of Holy Church and of her divine teachings.”

Right Rev. C.E. McDonnell, D.D., Bishop-elect of Brooklyn:

“I beg you to accept my hearty congratulations.”

Right Rev. R Manogue, D.D., Bishop of Sacramento:

“We have ponderous works from distinguished authors on the Catechism in general, but yours—An Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism—is the simplest, most concise, most natural and instructive I have yet encountered. It is good not only for advanced pupils, teachers, preachers and priests, but also for the sacred precincts of every Catholic family.”

Right Rev. Tobias Mullen, D.D., Bishop of Erie:

“Your book appears to me a very meritorious production. In your preface you observe it has been designed for the use of Sunday school teachers and that it ‘should do good in any Catholic family.’ I think you might have added that any clergyman having the care of souls, whether giving private instructions or preparing for the pulpit, would derive great benefit from its perusal.”

Right Rev. H. P Northrop, D.D., Bishop of Charleston:

The Explanation of the Baltimore Catechism, plain and practical, clear and comprehensive, was a work very much needed. From a general examination, I think you have done your work well, and you deserve the thanks of all teachers of catechism and those who have charge of our schools. You have simplified the work of the teacher by putting in his hand such a ready handbook and commentary on the text he is supposed to explain. If they do what they expect their pupils to do—study the lesson—with such a help as you have furnished them, the work of the Sunday school will be much more satisfactory. I hope the hearty appreciation of those for whom you have labored will crown your work with abundant success.”

Right Rev. Henry Joseph Richter, D.D., Bishop of Grand Rapids:

“The aim of your book is excellent. To judge from the portions which I have read, your labor has been successful. I recommend the book to all Catholic adults, but especially to teachers and converts, as a convenient handbook of appropriate, plain, and solid instructions on the doctrine of the Catholic Church!”

Right Rev. S. V. Ryan, D.D., Bishop of Buffalo:

“I think your work fully meets all you claim for it. It will serve as a good textbook for an advanced catechism class, and a very useful handbook for catechists in instructing converts or our own people what they should know and what they are bound to believe in regard to our holy faith. The book will, I think, do good in any Catholic family.”

Right Rev. L. Scanlan, D.D., Bishop of Salt Lake:

“I consider it a most useful if not necessary book, not only for Sunday school teachers and for advanced classes, but for all who may desire to have a clear, definite knowledge of Christian doctrine.”