Posts with the tag: catechism

The Archivist’s Nook: Curating the Catechism

This week’s post is guest-authored by Mikkaela Bailey is a PhD student at CUA studying medieval history with special interests in women’s history, public history, and digital humanities. You can find her on Twitter: @mikkaela_bailey

Curation is a long, detailed conversation between individuals, offices, texts, and objects, as students from Catholic University’s History and Public Life class learned this semester.

It’s easy to evaluate an exhibit and poke holes in the choices made by its organizers. It’s far more difficult than I imagined to craft an exhibit.

With most of the logistics arranged long in advance by our professor for the class History and Public Life, Dr. Maria Mazzenga, our job as a class was focused on assembling and advertising the physical exhibit itself.

The first thing we had to do was break up the objects into thematic categories so we could decide what should be included in our display. Then, we had to plan how to best demonstrate the common themes between them and also establish continuity in the display. After that, we had to craft captions and marketing materials that communicated why our visitors should care about our work and choose to come see it.

We used minimal materials to set up the exhibit. Aside from the items featured, we added captions and some text as well as stands for the books and weights to keep the books open for display.

One of the ideas about organizing the books rested on the idea that the Eucharist is a central and essential element of the catechism and one’s first Communion is an important life event. Since our audience is likely to be heavily Catholic, there is resonance with their own experiences in the exhibit here. This thematic approach connected well with the objects in the exhibit, and inspiration flowed from that idea as we assembled catechisms aimed at children and teens in the same display case. One thematic element of change over time was the implementation of more children’s catechetical education as the age for first Communion shifted from around 13 to around 7 years of age.

The caption writing process was difficult, and you can see unique touches from the students who collaborated on them. We divided them between ourselves, working in groups of two or three to write them.

But, there were still two more cases to fill and many more objects to consider. In the first case, which we actually finished last, we installed the oldest books, including a Latin catechism from 1566. These 16th and 18th century books were connected by the vernacular languages in which they were printed. Printing educational materials in the vernacular was a very important emphasis of the Tridentine Catechisms, so grouping these non-English catechisms gave emphasis to the importance of the catechism worldwide, outside our own framework, and outside the Latin-based world of the church.

The central case features several interesting pieces, but it also provides context for the cases flanking it. This is where we chose to place the bulk of our textual engagement through questions we are asking the audience and a QR code linked to the digital exhibit.

A sneak peek at the finished display cases that will be on exhibit for the next few weeks!

At the end of this process, I am so thankful for teammates who were engaged from the beginning and expressed great passion for this project. I shudder to think of undertaking something like this alone! In fact, looking at the finished product, I feel as though no idea I had for the display was totally my own and I think almost every decision made was by committee. From the marketing materials to the captions and display case arrangements, this exhibit was completely collaborative and has benefitted from open communication and easy acceptance of constructive criticism. In public history, I think all of these qualities are essential for a successful, cohesive exhibit. This experience has been the highlight of my first semester as a PhD student at CUA!

This is an “insider’s perspective” of what it was like to arrange the items in the case while my co-curators directed me from outside the case. We had a challenging time arranging many of the items and it took a lot of collaboration to put it together.

The Archivist’s Nook: A Paradox of Uniformity – Catechisms in Rare Books and Special Collections

The Rare Books Collection at The Catholic University of America contains many treasures among its 70,000 volumes, ranging from medieval documents to first editions of twentieth century authors. Among these are nearly 300 Catholic catechetical texts: written works containing summaries of the beliefs of the Catholic faith compiled as teaching tools.

“A Catechism for Pastors by Decree of the Council of Trent in 1566,” also known as “The Catechism of the Council of Trent,” or the “Tridentine Catechism,” was first published in 1566. This is Rare Books and Special Collections’ oldest catechism.

In one sense, these texts, which span from 1566 to the 1980s, are remarkably similar. The Catholic catechism has contained the same several parts for nearly 500 years: The Apostles Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, discussion of the seven sacraments (Baptism, Reconciliation, the Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Extreme Unction), and the Lord’s Prayer. But there were slight tweaks to the catechism over time. For example, as Berard Marthaler points outs, a “medieval fascination with numbers” caused theologian Hugh St. Victor to organize doctrine into units of seven as a mnemonic device. Hence, catechetical teaching of the time featured doctrine organized into units of seven: the seven capital sins, seven petitions to in the Lord’s Prayer, seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, seven Beatitudes, and seven virtues.[1]

“Catholic Anecdotes; or, the Catechism in Examples” (New York: 1873) by Mrs. J. Sadlier, also known as Mary Anne Sadlier. Two of the Sadlier family, Denis and James, migrated to the U.S. from Ireland in the 1830s and began publishing Catholic inspirational works. Mary Anne, (also an Irish Immigrant) and James married, and Mary Anne went on to publish more than 60 works related to Catholic devotional life. This volume is comprised of various stories underscoring devotion to Catholicism, but it also contains catechetical material, and is an example of how the basic teachings were sometimes merged with supporting texts.

By the Tridentine Era, so called for the Council of Trent that took place 1545-1563, a basic formula for the catechism was issued by the Council. This was partly due to the rise of Protestantism in Europe in the sixteenth century, but also due to a desire to teach the fundamentals of the faith on a regular basis using a uniform text. The Tridentine Catechism issued by the Council of Trent in 1566 contained the basics of the modern catechism: Apostles Creed, seven sacraments, Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.

 

 

 

 

 

This “Illustrated Catechism” published by the Confraternity of the Christian Doctrine in 1944 aimed at educating younger children in Catholic teaching.

The uniform content of most of the catechisms produced after 1566, however, did not mean they would all look exactly the same. Coinciding with the rise of the printing press in Europe, the catechism could be reproduced in multiple languages, and with a variety of designs.

By the twentieth century, Pius X (Pope from 1903-1914) turned his attention to improving catechetical instruction once again, and emphasized greater uniformity in such instruction, and instruction in the sacraments at younger ages. Certainly, this would be more feasible as literacy spread throughout the Christian world, and as small, portable catechisms became easier to produce. The catechisms, uniform as they are in general content, reflect the cultures and trends from which they emerged.

This image from The Visualized Catechism published by the Trinity Guild in 1947 uses a more unusual style of graphic illustration—stick people—but again, it covers the same basic material.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The catechisms can be viewed by appointment; email: lib-rarebooks@cua.edu or call 202-319-5065.

 

 

 

[1] Berard Marthaler, Catechesis: “A Semantic Evolution”? Liturgical Ministry 18 (Winter 2009), 1-10, 4.