The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (C.C.D.), which is a recent and modern organization formed to provide the systematic presentation of the Catholic Faith in catechetical form to children, youth, and adults, reflects nevertheless a practice and undertaking that appear to have been in the Church from her beginnings. This derives from the very mouth of our Savior, who instructed His Apostles to preach His Good News to every creature (Mark 16:15) and to teach and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). The initial, exciting, and joyful proclamation of the Faith and the announcement of the consequent hope of salvation it offers, (in the Greek language the kerygma), was always succeeded throughout Church history, it seems, by a further and thorough catechetical teaching of those who had been converted by the kerygma. This was usually called in the Greek language the didache or the didascalia, that is, "the teaching of the Twelve Apostles". As a matter of fact, there is an ancient Christian document, from about the year 60, called by that very name, the Didache, and another from about the beginning of the third century called the Didascalia.
Although catechetical work in the Church always and regularly continued, there were times in the Church's history when it was not as intensive and complete as it should have been. The 14th through the 16th centuries was such a time. At the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the Council Fathers realized that one of the factors which caused many Catholics to fall away from the faith and to join one or the other of the new sects and denominations invented by the numerous Protestant personages of that era was the poor state of their catechetical training and their inability, given their religious ignorance and sometimes religious illiteracy, to refute the doctrinal errors and moral falsehoods being spread among them. This is why, after that Council, Pope Saint Pius V issued a new Catechism, containing the Council's teachings to provide correct religious instruction for children, youth, and adults in accord with Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
Many great saints of the post-Trent epoch, such as Saint Charles Borromeo, Saint Robert Bellarmine, and Saint Peter Canisius, supported the saintly Pontiff, Pius V, and assisted him in setting up the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, consisting mainly of lay people, to catechize children, and even adults, in parishes on Sunday and Holy Days. This work of promoting the Confraternity was carried out and constantly perfected by subsequent Popes.
Pope Saint Pius X (1903-1914) was one of the most enthusiastic recent Popes in this work, issuing more than twenty pontifical documents to renew and extend the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Noteworthy among these was his encyclical letter Acerbo Nimis (April 15, 1905), mandating the C.C.D. in every Catholic parish in the world, and instructing Catholic parents that, if their children attended public schools, they were morally required to make certain that those youngsters systematically attended Catholic religious instructions. Although the C.C.D., as it is theoretically set up, is an elaborate system of catechetical study for all ages and for all Catholic people, in the United States it almost exclusively is used for elementary and high school pupils who are not able to attend Catholic schools.
Recent Bishops of Rome, including Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II, have done important and significant work in the field of catechetics. Pope John Paul II, for instance, issued The Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992 and 1997, while our present Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, issued a Compendium of that Catechism to make it more approachable for most people. Pope John Paul II also wrote the great Apostolic Exhortation, Catechesi Tradendae, which supplemented the wonderful Exhortation of Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi. Pope John Paul II also promulgated an updated General Directory for Catechesis in 1997, which contains an excellent bibliography of important modern Magisterial Documents related to catechetical instruction. These, of course, should be read and known by all Catholic catechists and others, especially Catholic parents, who might be involved in the catechetical enterprise. These documents are a treasure-trove for the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.
In our modern world all of us, but especially children and young people, are often beset by a constant cacophonous clamor delivered by the secular media regarding religious matters. In addition, the malls filled with enticing merchandise, the easy availability of almost every kind of pleasure-giving material, and the overload of information pouring out of computers, television sets, radios, and DVD-video stores, along with the necessary time and energy needed for everyday existence, make it easy to be distracted from our being concerned primarily about saving our souls and the souls of those who are dependent on us. To be able to sort it all out and place in their proper perspective the values of life requires all the help we can find. For children and youths particularly then should our parish communities unite to provide such necessary assistance by means of our C.C.D. and religious education efforts, which need the vigilance and support of all the members of a parish.
Commended to Mary
When he issued the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II, concluded his Apostolic Constitution Depositum Fidei with a prayer to Mary: "I beseech the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Incarnate Word and Mother of the Church, to support with her powerful intercession the catechetical work of the entire Church at every level, at this time, when she (the Church) is called to a new effort of evangelization. May the light of the true Faith free humanity from the ignorance and slavery of sin in order to lead it to the only freedom worthy of the name (John 8:32), that of life in Jesus Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit here below and in the Kingdom of Heaven, in the fullness of the blessed vision of God, face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12 and 2 Corinthians 5:6-8)."
On Catechetical Sunday, it might be appropriate to make this prayer our own. The American Catholic Bishops have said that in catechetics, "Jesus Christ is at once the message and the messenger, the purpose of the message and the consummation of the message. Only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Holy Spirit. The work of evangelization and catechesis is always through Christ in the one Spirit to the Father." It is Mary who can lead us safely to Christ in this undertaking as well in all others.