The long-awaited Compendium of the Catechism is now available in an English translation and will provide a shot in the arm for teaching and preaching on the faith, as well as for Catholics wishing to brush up on the fundamentals. It would also be an ideal gift for anyone of whatever religious persuasion interested in learning more about the Church.
The Compendium was certainly needed, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church is more like an encyclopedia of the faith, essential as a reference point, but rather too comprehensive and technical for use in some situations as a day-to-day teaching or preaching resource.
In his Motu Proprio for the approval and publication of the Compendium, Benedict XVI says, "The Compendium, which I now present to the Universal Church, is a faithful and sure synthesis of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It contains, in concise form, all the essential and fundamental elements of the Church's faith, thus constituting, as my Predecessor had wished, a kind of vademecum which allows believers and non-believers alike to behold the entire panorama of the Catholic faith".
The Compendium, as Benedict assures us, provides the same essentials of the faith in briefer, simpler language while following the Catechism's four-part structure of Creed, Sacraments, Commandments and the Lord's Prayer.
In the tradition of older catechisms, the Compendium presents the Church's teachings in conveniently numbered question/answer form. The final question, numbered 598, asks in the section on the Lord's Prayer, "What is the meaning of the final Amen?"
Aside from the Compendium's accessibility, there are additional attractive features, notably the beautiful examples of sacred art - fourteen in all - which illustrate particular facets of the faith covered in the Compendium. For example, at the start of part four on the Lord's Prayer, there is an El Greco painting, "Prayer of Jesus in the Garden".
Each painting is identified and accompanied by a commentary which discusses its subject matter while using references from the Scriptures and the great writers of the Church like Aquinas and Augustine.
Each question/answer has the original reference numbers from the Catechism of the Catholic Church alongside it in the margin and, as well, there is a detailed index. An appendix contains a large number of Common Prayers - thankfully using their familiar, traditional wordings - together with the Formulas of the Catholic Faith, such as the Five Precepts of the Church. The Common Prayers have their Latin texts alongside them.
Copies of the Compendium should be in every Catholic home and put to use in Catholic classrooms. If some have hesitated, finding the bulk and complexity of the Catechism somewhat intimidating, there is no excuse with the Compendium. In the face of widespread religious ignorance, it is indeed a timely publication.