To embrace the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we need to understand the basics, to see it as a whole before delving into specific subjects. This article presents the Catechism’s basic 4-part format and helps you memorize it in ten minutes or less. Don’t worry, this will be fun… using a common nursery rhyme to do it.
The Catechism contains a prologue and four major parts. Those four parts break down into sections, articles, and numbered paragraphs. We’ll come back to the prologue after describing the four parts, also called “pillars.” (If the Catechism were a cathedral, these four pillars would uphold the weight of the entire structure.)
Here are the four parts of the Catechism using their official titles from the text (with my brief explanations in the parentheses):
- The Profession of Faith
(Part One explains the capacity we all have for God, plus the major beliefs of the Faith, as found in The Creed. It is the largest part.)
- The Celebration of the Christian Mystery
(Part Two explores our redemption and the grace we find in the Seven Sacraments.)
- Life in Christ
(Part Three pertains to the Christian’s vocation, and modern applications of the Ten Commandments.)
- Christian Prayer
(Part Four describes what prayer is and its importance. Special emphasis is given to The Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father!”)
Its okay if don’t remember the names of the four parts. Here’s a shorter list of four summary words to remember the content of four parts: beliefs, sacraments, life, and prayer.
Now for the memory task: You are about to be treated to how brilliantly, er, rather, how simply my mind works. (At my tender middle age, if I can conjure up mnemonic devices to trigger my recall of certain subject matter, so much the better! My apologies to the more sophisticated minds among us.)
Start with the names given to your hand’s thumb and four fingers by the children’s nursery rhyme and finger game “Where is Thumbkin?” as sung to the tune of “Frère Jacques.”
Hands in position? Ready? Go!
“Where is thumbkin? Where is thumbkin? Here I am! Here I am!” (Don’t know this rhyme? Relive a joy of childhood here:http://www.kididdles.com/lyrics/w010.html.)
Just how does this benefit our memory, you ask?
Where is thumbkin?
“Who” comes first in the song? Thumbkin. Who comes first in the Christian life? God. Right. Always remember: God is first in all things. (God is also the end of all things, but that’s another article!)
Better to know God first, rather than a million details about the Catechism. So, thumbkin gives the first lesson: In the beginning… there was God.
Thumbkin reminds us there is a prologue to the Catechism. In cosmic terms, HIS story came before our own story; God’s goodness brings us into existence and invites us into relationship. We find this out in the very first numbered paragraph of the Catechism’s Prologue:
God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life. [See Catechism, paragraph 1 or CCC 1.] [Emphasis mine.]
Our American culture gives thumbkin some familiar sign language: “thumbs up!” Thumbs up means “yes” or “it is good” or “I approve.” In spiritual terms—saying “yes” to God—indicates our positive direction: to be “heirs” of God’s “blessed life.” It can also remind us of the positive attitude we need to embrace the Catechism, and church teaching in general.
Finally, the thumb acts as a metaphor for the unity of Trinitarian content throughout the Catechism. The central Truth of theCatechism is the three Persons of the Holy Trinity and the life of love they share. All other truths flows from that core. While the four fingers can and do touch one another in certain alignments or combinations, only the thumb most easily extends and flexes to the fingers and makes them function smoothly as a unit. Between the four parts of the Catechism, there is interconnectedness and overlap between certain doctrines, just like the four fingers on a hand. But, this central Trinitarian truth permeates and unifies all four parts, much like the thumb. All of the Catechism makes sense with, in, and through the Trinity.
Moving from prologue to parts… we utilize our four helpers: “pointer”, “tall man”, “ring man” and “pinky.”
Where is pointer?
Pointer “points” to beliefs in Part One of the Catechism. Think of your index finger as pointing to the index, or list, of beliefs.
What is the first and primary listing of what the Church believes and professes? The Creed! Based on the Trinity, the Creed’s twelve Articles of Faith shape the foundation of our Faith.
Another memory aid: first finger starts with “f” which stands for “faith”. Or this: first finger = faith = foundation = beliefs.
Where is tall man?
When discussing “the middle finger” in American culture, one needs the innocence of a child. We’ll get there with the help of our nursery rhyme.
The middle finger, otherwise known as tall man in our rhyme, stands distinctively above the rest. Its tall placement is unique.
This second finger stands for the second part. Here’s how: What defining practice makes the Catholic Church unique and distinct in the eyes of the world? What makes Catholicism stand out among world religions? The sacraments.
Remember, the second finger starts with “s”, or second finger = sacraments.
Where is ring man?
Ring man, the third finger, commonly called the ring finger denotes Part Three of the Catechism, our life in Christ.
American culture identifies the ring finger as signifying to whom we may be betrothed or wed. For Catholics, it denotes vocations. In short, ring man proclaims our “life” to the world: the way we live our life of love.
Another memory hint: ring = marriage = life. Or use this idea: the word “r-i-n-g” has four letters, as does “l-i-f-e.”
Where is pinky?
You’ve got the idea by now… the fourth finger—pinky—stands for prayer, the fourth part. Both pinky and prayer start with the letter “p”, (and not to be confused in meaning with “pointer.”)
The pinky might seem a humble little finger… but certainly not the last nor least. Incidentally, Part Four on “Christian Prayer”, like pinky, is the Catechism’s smallest part.
If you cannot remember anything else about the Catechism, know that it contains a deep call to prayer in your life. Always put God first, even if you don’t know or understand the rest of the Catholic doctrines.
In coming before the Lord God each day in prayerful humility, you will hold more wisdom in your little pinky finger than an entire catechism could hold.
©2009 Patricia W. Gohn
This article originally appeared at CatholicExchange.com.