Rest assured of my lack of bias; I’m not even Catholic, I’m Greek Orthodox. In exchange for an honest review, Ascension Press sent me an advance copy of their new Foundations of the Faith edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I’m glad they did! Simply put, this Catechism is one of the most beautifully and cleverly designed books I’ve ever seen. Let’s talk about what makes this indispensable volume truly shine, and why it deserves a prominent place on every Christian bookshelf.
Construction and Design
First, the product’s cosmetic aspects are exceptional. Design and practicality are met together; durability and beauty have kissed each other. Ascension Press’s Catechism features an exquisite, leatherlike white cover with floral embellishments, gold foil stamping, and on the corners, etched Borromean rings, a chi rho, a heart cross anchor, and an illumined candle. The binding appears to be smyth-sewn. I’m not sure of what material the cover is made, but it’s pleasing to the touch and tough – tougher than many of my bonded leather Bibles!
White is an especially bold color choice for a book of this size and importance as it tends to quickly show wear, tear, and dirt. Somehow, however, Ascension Press has achieved the impossible, because even after a week of moderate use, the volume still looks pristine. The paper is thick, and not glossy, and four silky, color-coded ribbons that align with the book’s Foundations of the Faith approach guide readers through Catholicism’s normative teachings.
Contents and Supplements
Ascension Press’s Foundations of the Faith approach uses a color-coding system to show how topics of the Catechism of the Catholic Church fit into four broad categories: what Catholics believe (teal); how Catholic worship (red); how Catholics live (green); and how Catholics pray (purple). This organization scheme extends downward from parts to sections to chapters to individual paragraphs, contextualizing every bit of the Catechism in view of the whole. Thanks to the Foundations of the Faith approach, the Catechism is transfigured from a disjointed puzzle of paragraph numbers into a harmonious mosaic that conveys unity of faith and vision.
Other supplemental aids include: an appendix, “Sources from Scripture and the Church,” that overviews everything cited by the Catechism and gives background details; vocabulary words to know, with a glossary containing thorough definitions; and helpful introductory materials that explain exactly how to use the book. For Catholics looking to learn about and understand the teachings of their Church, there truly is no better reference volume than Ascension Press’s Foundations of the Faith edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Use by Non-Catholics
But why should non-Catholics care about the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Ascension Press’s edition in particular?
For starters, the Catechism is one of the most influential documents of 20th century Christianity and has been referenced by everybody from the New York Times to Neil deGrasse Tyson to the humble team who put together the Eastern Orthodox Bible. As a Greek Orthodox Christian, setting aside a few paragraphs about papal authority and the treasury of merits, 95% of the Catechism aligns exactly with what my own Church teaches and what I believe and practice – and there simply is no better summary of the entirety of the Christian religion.
In fact, in preparing for this review, I learned from Paragraph 1032 that St. John Chrysostom held up Job as an example of how prayers for the dead can be beneficial: “Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.”
If you’re a non-Catholic like me, one of the primary ways you’ll use the Catechism is to help navigate source documents across Christian history. Ascension Press’s Foundations of the Faith approach and “Sources from Scripture and the Church” are invaluable aids in this endeavor. You’ll probably only ever need to own one edition of the Catechism for reference, and this one is the most useful one to have. Online searches alone on the Vatican’s Web site won’t provide the same context and won’t offer anything close to the research value of Ascension Press’s supplemental aids.
Anyone who is serious about understanding and engaging Catholicism in an academic or informal context, or friends or family who are Catholic, needs this book. It perfectly weds beauty with utility and a reliable and complete presentation of Catholic belief and practice. The price tag of $64.95 USD is a bargain, and the supplemental aids like “Sources from Scripture and the Church” are worth the price of admission.
The team that put it together this Catechism edition should be commended!