Friday, May 11, 2012

Looking in the Attic- The Baltimore Catechism

The Baltimore Catechism, 1885
Ok, here’s a test.  “Who made us?”  If you automatically answered, “God made us,” there’s a 90% chance that you attended a parochial school sometime before 1965.  The Baltimore Catechism was a mandatory text in my years at St. Patrick’s School.  We had to memorize entire tracts of the little blue paperback before our First Holy Communion in second grade and then more Q and As before Confirmation in seventh grade. 
The second grade challenge was a bit overwhelming.  Night after night my parents would ask the same questions expecting a correct response.  How could a seven year old expect to know the difference between a mortal and venial sin?  How many indulgences do you get for an Act of Contrition?    How many types of grace are there?  Then there was the whole thing with angels and cherubim and seraphim?  Are angels boys our girls?  And why doesn’t the Catechism say anything about if pets get to go to heaven?  It was all a mess to me.  My parents questioned if maybe I would be better off being Protestant.  And don’t get me started on the whole Latin thing.  (Even though, if truth be told, I still have entire parts of the Mass memorized in Latin.  I can’t tell you my license plate number, but I can sing Agnus Dei XI in its entirety.)
The Confirmation list went much more smoothly.  Luckily, Sr. Agnes Mary had a daily routine.  She’d open the Catechism and begin asking the questions concerning Confirmation in order going up and down the rows.  Unless someone was absent you’d be ask to answer the same question each day.  What I was most worried about was how hard the Bishop was going to slap me across the face in order to be made a “Soldier of Christ.” 
As I’ve said before, one man’s garbage is another man’s artifact.  One of the prized possessions of the Parish Archives is an 1885 copy of the Baltimore Catechism.  In the 1800s with immigrants all bringing their own brand of Catholicism to the United States, the Bishops wanted a unified code of beliefs.  It took several attempts, but finally in 1885 a Catechism of Christian Doctrine Prepared and Enjoined by Order of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore was published.  What was once headed for the garbage can, is now a piece of our history.

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