Traditional Catholic Catechism

How and why to choose Baltimore Catechism memorization as faith formation for your children.

After purchasing and perusing several different Catholic religious education programs, I finally landed on memorization of the Baltimore Catechism as the faith formation we will use for our family. Our children attend a classical school where they are accustomed to memorization as the basis of education. Therefore, to ask them to do memorization and recitations wasn’t unrealistic. In fact, at the start of her second grade year, it was my then 7-year-old daughter who taught me how to teach the catechism to her!

Let’s start with why

Since memorization of the Catechism has been basically dead since the mid-60s when Vatican II rocked the Church, it is customary practice for a Catholic to thumb his nose at the very idea of memorizing the Catechism. My chief reasons to support a return to memorization catechism are these:

  1. Memorization is natural. When we learn poems, rewatch and quote movies, sing pop songs without realizing it, reread emails we send to others… it’s all memorization. Some of this memorization becomes more permanent than others, such as songs with catchy beat. And as Catholics, it is our practice to have routine prayers in the Mass and private devotions. These can become rote, not a good thing. But on the other hand, if these memorization becomes fodder for deeper thought, it’s done its work for our souls. So, memorization becomes a challenge to stay focused on what we’re doing and have custody of our thoughts.
  2. It’s economical. It doesn’t cost a lot to get the Baltimore Catechism, it’s even available on and some other websites if you are super strapped for money and must access it for free. But a paper book is invaluable and helps children to stay focused. You won’t have to purchase any additional texts, tests, teacher manuals or programs. But rather, you can use those dollars on other enriching materials such as prayer books, music programs, etc.
  3. It side-steps learning disabilities. If your child struggles to read or write, then memorization catechism is a life-saver for you. It’s not an adaptation, but simply the way the catechism is taught to the child.
  4. All ages at once. When we do catechism, all of my children line up. And the baby thinks this is pretty cool, and stands there just like a big kid! The little kids hearing catechism taught will naturally pick it up, just like language.
  5. Mom gets to learn along side the children. I didn’t grow up learning this; none of us did. We’re all ignorant of basic teachings of our church, including the whys. That’s why Catholics right now are mostly atheists pushing the woke agenda. But with Catechism memorization, I am also learning, and I love that. It’s making me a better person.
  6. It doesn’t get outdated. There are no cultural references or fad liturgical or moral topics that are over-emphasized in the traditional catechism. Rather, it’s the core teachings that build the foundation for being able to think more deeply about topics relevant for our times.
  7. Builds a strong academic foundation in the Faith. Theology can’t properly be done if there is no catechism. If a child learns his catechism well, he will be able to engage in further study of the Faith without struggle.

What does “Baltimore Catechism” mean?

If you are baffled by the tremendous variety of books called “Baltimore Catechism,” it’s not you. There are many different books with this very same name, and the insides are about as different as two different books can be! The most widely available are:

  1. St Joseph series of Baltimore Catechisms which have the benefit of beautiful art and comprehension activities built in. Because of this, some people use these as texts, not memorization. This series is available in…
    • 0 or St Joseph First Communion Catechism with a blue cover, intended for children in grades K-2. The questions are over simplified, and if a child memorizes this catechism, he will have to re-learn new questions and new answers when he goes on to…
    • 1 with a pink cover, intended for children in grades 3-6. The questions are generally similar, but not identical to the original BC One (below).
    • 2 with a gray cover, intended for children in grades 7-12. The plus of this is that it has excellent graphics and explanations, however it’s too different from 1 to be a reliable memorization catechism, therefore it’s really just a text book.
  2. TAN Books paperback series of Baltimore Catechisms in…
    • One containing half of the original questions, with original numbering, meaning it skips numbers. This is a memorization catechism suitable for young children through grades 5. Contains approx 200 questions, broken up into chapters. (This is what we are using)
    • Two which is the original Baltimore Catechism word-for-word as it was published in the late 19th century. It has 420 questions and answers, and it is meant for memorization. I suggest this for grades 6 and up.
    • Three which is NOT meant as a memorization catechism and doesn’t follow the chapters or number of 1 or 2. It is meant to be a more advanced book (in question-and-answer format) for reference for students in high school and college.
    • Four which has all of the original questions (BC Two) with explanations that are intended for the catechist/parent to read beforehand in order to explain things as needed to the children. It’s helpful for parents to have on hand to reference.
  3. Baronius Press series… identical in content to the TAN series, but in handsome hard-cover editions with a ribbon marker. Durable and dignified!

Getting started with memorizing the Baltimore Catechism

Catechism memorization is a form of classical education, and no one does that better than Memoria Press. Start off by subscribing to their free periodical “The Classical Teacher“, which comes out about 3 times a year. You will find yourself encouraged and equipped in all areas of teaching your children. Here are articles from past issues that deal specifically with memorization and recitation:

How to Conduct a Recitation and Why

A Lesson in Memorization – Disappearing Line Technique

Always start catechism with the Sign of the Cross and the Come Holy Spirit prayer. If you are going to introduce a new question that day, do it first. Say to the children: “We are going to learn a new question today, and afterwards we’ll review everything we’ve learned so far.”

To introduce the new question, you will say the question, then put up your hand or finger to designate “stop.” Your child will become accustomed to this, but as you start your catechism journey, it may not seem too obvious. Children might begin to make up an answer, and you don’t want this. Tell the child that you are going to say a question, but he is not to try to answer it, but only listen for the answer, then repeat it. Repeat orally the newly presented question and answer five times, and also give the children a chance to ask questions about it, or read them the explanation from BC Four.

And then here are some of my tips…

  1. Don’t rush. It takes time to memorize. Slow and steady definitely wins the race here. It should be nearly a daily activity for you and your children. Take. Your. Time. It is just fine for your memorization of the catechism to take several years. Be sure that your children understand it well, not just have it memorized.
  2. Have a block of time. At first, it will take just 5 or 10 minutes, but as your children memorize more and more questions, it will naturally take longer as you review everything learned every time. So, if you’re up to reciting 100 questions, don’t expect to do this before breakfast. Rather, give the children adequate time so nothing is rushed.
  3. Smile. I think that showing our children that catechism is joyful, not a teeth cleaning, is very important. During recitations, the children ought to be looking directly into your eyes, and you should make eye contact with each child, all with a loving smile on your face.
  4. Sometimes, take turns. For example, you could say, “Now the girls will do these questions”… “Now the boys will do these questions.”
  5. Don’t accept sloppy answers. If it says “supreme and infinite,” don’t accept your child saying “supremely infinite.” Be sure he answers exactly as is in the book. See Matthew 5:17-19. Perhaps this is one of the things Christ is referring to.
  6. Pair it with copy work and illustration. Purchase for your child a copybook that has area for illustration, such as Memoria Press’s “Composition and Sketchbook” One 5/8″ ruled; Two 1/2″ ruled; or Three college ruled. When copying, the child should write both the question and the answer. This should be done in the neatest handwriting. And the illustrations should be thorough, detailed, complete, and in full color. Illustrating work is a big part of the MP curriculum, so again my children are very accustomed to it. At first, your child may be shy about drawing or insist that he doesn’t know how. Tell him that simple is okay, but it has to be neat and thoughtful, and then colored in. He will rise to the occasion. Whether you are a full-time homeschooler or only homeschooling religious education, this will also be a record to show at your parish of having completed religious education in the home (along with the recitation evening, below)
  7. Sing or pray sometimes. I have to admit, we haven’t done too well with this, but it’s on my bucket list. In the Baltimore Catechism, there are both a treasury of prayers and a list of Catholic hymns! So, every once in a while, memorize a new prayer or sing a new hymn. The hymns don’t have the music, only the words, so you’ll have to do some research, but maybe this can be a project for an older child whose musical.
  8. Stop to explain beforehand or afterwards. Do not interrupt the recitation to explain something. As you introduce a new question, refer to BC Four for an explanation that your children will probably appreciate. It may seem too elementary to you, but read it anyhow.
  9. When you’re done… start over! Catechism is meant to be a cumulative thing. After you’ve spent several years memorizing One, then start over again. Once your child as reached grade 6, then start over with BC Two, so you can insert the questions skipped in BC One.
  10. Have a formal recitation evening. This recitation at your home will showcase your children’s accomplishment for Dad, grandparents, godparents, and your pastor. Put them in Sunday best (maybe Christmas or Easter outfits) and recite what they’ve learned. Make a big deal of this and serve special treats afterwards. Put out the children’s notebooks so the guests can peruse their illustrations and admire penmanship. Invite the pastor, other priests, the deacons and the DRE of your parish also, if you are able, so they can see the positive outcome of memorization catechism. Give a little speech congratulating the children.

If you do decide to use the St Joseph editions of the Baltimore Catechism, there is a guide to covering the material on the Elizabeth Clare blog.

Here is a resource I only lately found that applies to the use of the TAN/Baronius BC Two: Our Lady of the Rosary Family Catechism. Since it covers all 420 questions, but we are memorizing BC One right now, I’ll begin to use this in a few years. This resource is free and produced by a Catholic organization in England who traveled to Fatima, Portugal to film. It’s top quality filming and presentation.

If you have found yourself very interested in the world of Catholic catechisms, definitely consider investing in the Tradivox project from Sophia Institute Press. They are reprinting English-language Catholic catechisms from around the time of the protestant revolution until today. It’s slated to be 22 volumes by the time it’s done. It is very beautiful to see the continuity of Church teachings over time and in different countries, yet each catechism is presented in a slightly different manner to appeal to different audiences.

Wishing you the best with this holy work!

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