Etymologically speaking, the word catechism does not signify a book of questions and answers. As a matter of fact, we might almost say that the word is internally contradictory since, in the original Greek, catechesis means oral instruction. But for centuries the word catechism has meant to Catholics a book of questions and answers about the basics of our faith. As any undergraduate in the history of pedagogy should easily be able to demonstrate, there is no reason to be ashamed of teaching through question and answer. From Mediterranean classical times even to the scientific age in the New World man's acquired knowledge has been passed on to future generations partly through the question and answer method. Today, specialists in internal medicine, engineering, and chemistry arm themselves with question and answer manuals to check themselves on recent developments in their respective fields. Far from lagging behind the pedagogical times, therefore, the Catholic Church is in the forefront of teaching technique when she espouses the use of question and answer as one of the more successful means of passing on the faith to generation upon generation.
Good catechetical style requires precision and brevity. Vague authors, therefore, eschew it, either because their thoughts are muddled or because they are wily enough not to put down what they really hold in black and white. Prolix authors avoid a question and answer approach because its success depends on succinct, incisive replies which are beyond them. Father Hardon, who is neither obscure in his theology nor wordy in its presentation, proves himself in this present book to be a master of catechetical pedagogy.
The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism could hardly be more timely. Today's Catholics, particularly the most faithful among them, need to know the latest developments in the Church's teaching and, above all, to be reassured that the faith has not changed. If the teachings of Jesus were to fluctuate from Church Council to Church Council, they would no longer be the teachings of Jesus, nor would the Church be any longer the Church of Christ. It is clear that Father Hardon has striven successfully to expound the authentic teaching of Holy Mother Church. Readers will find in the book an up-to-date, reliable presentation of the same dogmatic, moral, ascetical, and liturgical truths which the Catholic Church has always taught. Those yearning for heterodox novelty will not find it here.
Apart from doctrinal fidelity and theological precision, the scope of the book sets it apart from many of its genre. For example, there is a brief treatment of the Divine Office, which many laymen may consider a mysterious book. But even more important, The Question and Answer Catholic Catechism revives consideration of such notions as human act, sin, formed conscience, Sunday obligation, sacrifice, spiritual life, and some others which have been widely ignored in too many religious texts of recent years. Captious critics have objected that the faith is not a series of answers to contrived questions but a way of life. The answer to this objection might well be another question: How can we live a Christian life until we first "know the truth" (John 8:32). It would be the uncommon man or woman who would attempt to commit to memory the answers to the hundreds of questions found in this work, nor obviously was this intended by the author. The purpose of the work is clearly to refresh the Catholic mind on the essentials of the deposit of faith. It is the work of the Church to teach the truth, for, as Pope John Paul II said to the American theologians gathered at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., on his visit in 1979, "the faithful have a fight to the truth."
The present work is rich in quotations from Sacred Scripture and in citations from the Magisterium. The reader is consequently assured that he is being offered not the personal opinions of one man, but the tradition of Catholicism." - Silvio Card, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy (From the Foreword)
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