A catechism is a sort of religious user's manual, outlining the basic doctrine and beliefs of a religious sect. Catechisms are used most extensively by members of the Christian faith, and the term is particularly associated with the Catholic Catechism, although numerous branches of Christianity have catechisms. As a general rule, catechisms are available from religious bookstores, along with churches, and they can also be ordered through various book suppliers.
Traditional catechisms are organized in a question and answer format, representing the way in which Christianity was originally disseminated and taught. The questions are posed by an instructor or religious authority, while the answers are given by students. In catechism classes, students memorize the text of the catechism and discuss it with instructors, using the questions and answers as a starting point to delve into the nature of faith.
The term “catechism” comes from a Greek word which means “to teach by word of mouth.” In the early days of Christianity, disciples of Christ spread out across the Ancient World, and used a question and answer method to teach, thereby spreading Christianity. Often, a rote format was followed to ensure that people could memorize the basic tenets of Christianity and repeat them, allowing Christianity to remain clearly defined even as the religion became ever larger.
The material in a catechism varies, depending on the sect under discussion. As a general rule, only information which is taken to be basic, fundamental, and truthful is included in a catechism, and the text does not include discussions about religious debates and controversies. The goal is to clearly put forth the doctrine of the sect, and to create an authority which followers can rely on.
Converts to Christianity often study the catechism to learn more about the sect they have chosen, and to create a starting point for discussion with mentors. Young people also study the catechism, typically attending catechism classes or Sunday school to talk about their religion. Even people who are steeped in religious faith may turn to the catechism on occasion, finding it a useful authority and source of comfort.
For people who are just beginning to study a Christian sect, it is generally a good idea to ask a church leader about which catechism the church follows. Even within branches of Christianity, different catechisms are preferred, and it is generally a good idea to read the same catechism followed by your church.