I’m sure everyone will remember this conversation from Beetlejuice:
Barbara: I hate this. Just… can you give me the basics?
Adam: Well, this book isn’t arranged that way. What do you wanna know?
Barbara: Well, why did you disappear when you stepped off the porch? Are we halfway to heaven? Are we halfway to hell? And… how long is this gonna last?
Adam: I don’t see anything about heaven OR hell. This book reads like stereo instructions. Listen to this: “Geographical and temporal perimeters. Functional perimeters vary from manifestation to manifestation.” Oh, this is gonna take some time, honey.
You know, I can kind of sympathize with the ghosts of Adam and Barbara as they struggle with The Handbook For The Recently Deceased. Why? Because I’ve spent my fair share of time trudging through Church documents, that’s why? Apostolic Exhortations, Letters & Constitutions. Papal Enycyclicals. Moto Propios. The Code of Canon Law. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are beautiful. But some of them make stereo instructions seem like the works of Shakespeare. Despite the truths they contain, the dense writing style in some of those documents can be overwhelming, especially for the person who is just beginning to develop an interest in delving deeper into the philosophy and teachings of the Church.
That’s why it was such a big deal when the Catechism first hit the streets in 1992, offering as it did “a statement of the Church’s faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church’s Magisterium.” Pope John Paul II went on to declare the Catechism “a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion.” Given all that, a person could do a lot worse than actually taking the time to read through the thing.