What is a Catechism?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
In general, catechisms are used most often by adherents to Christianity.
In general, catechisms are used most often by adherents to Christianity.

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I was fortunate to have my Dad be my catechism teacher growing up. He knows a lot about the Catholic religion, Christianity, and faith in general because he went to the seminary and was going to be a catholic priest. He obviously changed his mind about becoming a Catholic priest though. He is very intelligent and loves to learn, read, and educate himself and others, so he studies a lot of material. He was a catechism teacher for a few years at the Catholic church we grew up going to.

We would have our catechism sessions the opposite of the traditional way though, my Dad would let his at-home "students", me, my siblings, and also sometimes my friends whom were not Catholic, ask him any and all questions we wanted, and he would actually answer them all to the best of his knowledge.

I miss those catechism lessons a lot, because I learned a lot, and it was time I got to bond with my Dad and God. I have many memorable childhood memories of my Dad teaching me, my siblings, and my friends Catholic catechism and really anything we wanted answers to. My Dad will still teach me and my siblings catechism and life lessons to this day, which I love and cherish.


I grew up going to public school, but since my parents are very traditional Catholics, we had to go to Catholic Catechism classes every Wednesday night after school, at the Catholic church we attended every Sunday for church. I honestly do not remember learning too much, unfortunately. I mean I am sure as a young child I learned some things, but as I got older it became more of a social time than a learning time.

I do remember some things about my last year of Catholic Catechism, which was in my eighth grade year. We did more hands-on stuff, like doing community service, and a research paper on our favorite saint. My favorite year of catechism was eighth grade year, mostly because I loved helping others, especially the less fortunate; which was a real eye-opener for me. We delivered presents to needy children on Christmas eve, and it is one of my most cherished moments.

It was also very exciting to become a soldier of Christ, which was how our teachers explained the sacrament of confirmation to us. My Mammaw was my sponsor for confirmation, whom I loved and adored, and it gave me a chance to spend time memorable time with my Mammaw. I also got to meet the Arch-Bishop of our city, which was a kind of like meeting a local celebrity.


I know catechism is often associated with those of the Catholic faith, but I also have some friends who attend Lutheran catechism classes.

These classes are an important part of their church and all the kids go through these classes to learn more about the history of their church and how they believe.

Though I am sure there are many valuable lessons to be learned, it seems like it is usually the parents who are more interested in their children attending catechism classes than the kids.

I remember most of my friends who went to catechism classes often wished they were doing something else.

Hopefully they learned some things that they have been able to apply to their lives even though they weren't too excited about it at the time.


@Comfyshoes -I agree with you. I know people whose children attended Catholic school for the catechism education and because the parents relied on the school and did not reinforce the teachings at home, their child really did not value the catechism education because their parents only gave it lip service.

These kids later got into trouble and the parents were shocked because they had a false sense of security and thought the school was like a magic wand.

In fact, there was a girl that was in the news the other day that went to an exclusive private all girls’ Catholic school that was later charged with vehicular homicide because she was under the influence of drugs and alcohol when she got into a car accident and killed someone.

Catechism offers wonderful lessons but if the parent’s don’t reinforce it the education is of little value because children get the message that these Catholic values are not important.


@Moldova- I wanted to add that my kids attended catechism classes once a week at our church because they went to private school that was not religiously affiliated. If my children had gone to Catholic school, then they would have received their catechism classes as part of their religion curriculum.

The church decided to offer catechism classes like this so that more children could learn and experience the Catholic religion. I am glad they did because I would not trade my children’s school for any other school and this way I don’t have to make a choice between my children’s education and their religion.

There are some people that disagree with me and feel that you cannot compartmentalize religion that way and it should be a part of your everyday life, but I disagree. I feel that you can experience your religion by daily prayer and attending a catechism class once a week can offer the grounding that you need. While this is not as comprehensive as what a student in a Catholic school would experience I also feel that the parents have to educate their children and not rely totally on an outside institution to do it all.


@Magicsoul- Catechism is really a preparation for participating in rituals of the Catholic Church.

Roman Catholic catechism really has three significant rituals.

The first is the baptism in a Roman Catholic Church which is a requirement in order to enter the communion education program.

The first Holy Communion is done over a period over two years and usually begins when the child is in first grade. Sometime during their second grade year, the child learns about confession and actually prepares for his or her first holy confession which is a prerequisite to eventually receiving communion.

Confession is required because according to Roman Catholic teachings before you can receive the Eucharist or the body of Christ as in a communion setting you really have to repent your sins and confess them to the holy father which is the priest.

The next ritual is the confirmation which is also a two year program and it normally begins when a child is in seventh grade. This is the final step in the teaching of catechism. I hope that answers your question.


How long does it take to complete classes for communion or catechism and what is the difference

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    • In general, catechisms are used most often by adherents to Christianity.
      In general, catechisms are used most often by adherents to Christianity.