I’m a little late in the game, but I’m also right on time for the Year of Faith: I finally took a deeper look into the YOUCAT*. Released to coincide with the last World Youth Day (WYD) and distributed to all official pilgrims, the YOUCAT was written to transmit content based from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) in a format and in language directed at youth. As WYDs have shown, particularly to the surprise of many Americans, the definition of “youth” varies globally. At WYD, the “youth” tend to be ages 16 to 30, not just teens in the American sense or, as in “youth ministry,” as young as third grade. Indeed, the YOUCAT is not just for young people. It presents itself as a way to help young people in particular understand the crucial questions of faith without the theological weightiness and richness of the CCC. Theology and beautiful language aren’t bad per se, but they don’t always reach people where they are. The YOUCAT is down-to-Earth, and just like Earth, it’s not perfect, but it’s quite good and hopefully very useful.
Throughout the YOUCAT, topics are addressed in greater or more depth in terms of their relevance to the lives of youth. Scripture and revelation (a topic I am very fond of teaching in the RCIA) takes approximately 200 paragraphs in the CCC. In the YOUCAT, the corresponding sections take about 30 paragraphs. Sacraments covers about 60 pages; morality nearly 100 (one-third of the complete volume). I don’t think these differences are an attempt to de-emphasize essential elements of the faith but a focus on questions that youth commonly ask. For young people, how to behave and why is likely more important than the specifics of the Anointing of the Sick. To non-Christians, our morality seems arbitrary and unfair. To help young people (or any people) understand the beauty of the truth of Catholicism, the YOUCAT meets them where they are, but it doesn’t leave them there.
The crown jewel of the YOUCAT is its question-and-answer format. Most of the questions are asked exactly as young people might ask them: “What happens to us when we die?” (154) “What is the Church’s stance on people who are divorced and remarried?” (270) “What is a sin in the first place?” (315) Many questions are phrased in a way that suggests the importance of community: “How can we respond to God when he speaks to us?” (20) In other questions, the English admittedly turns out awkwardly; “pious tales” stands where “legends” or “myths” might fit better (90). No translation is ever going to achieve the natural diction of a native speaker, but I do love little theological notes like those. In addition, and quite unusually, the question-and-answer format lends the YOUCAT to cover-to-cover reading. Section titles are minimized and page numbers shifted to the edges of a margin filled with delightfully stark stick figures, quotations and definitions. With so much to look at, I almost didn’t want to stop reading. I found it difficult to look up topics for reference, so to speak, as I do with the original CCC, but the YOUCAT itself refers to the CCC for more direct, high-level information. The YOUCAT seems to offer itself to the reader who wants to have fun and be engaged while learning.
As with other reviewers, I do wish more care had been taken in some of the finer details, though. Definitions of terms don’t always appear on the pages you’d expect. There’s so much to see on each page that it’s easy to get lost and forget what you were looking for (which could be a good thing or a bad thing). A more discerning choice of which photos to display (one stock photo features a hand gesture you don’t want explained if you don’t recognize it; others show young women who probably need different clothing) could help with turning away some parents. Non-Catholics and non-Christians are featured via quotations, but I think it points less at the incorrect conclusion that “all religions are the same” and more at the point that truth can be found in the strangest of places (see YOUCAT 136). As with every book, I recommend that parents either preview it or prepare themselves for possible questions. Parents are children’s first teachers in the faith, and every good teacher at least reads the book with the student.
No book can save us (not even the Bible—Jesus saves us). The YOUCAT may be imperfect, but it is highly original in terms of items produced under the direction of the highest officials. It may not be as direct as the CCC, but sometimes people run away from directness. As Blessed John Paul II writes in Redemptoris Missio (The Mission of the Redeemer), “The Church proposes; she imposes nothing.” The proposal of the YOUCAT aims at an audience a little lower than professional theologians, but it calls them to the same and highest end: heaven.
*It is debatable whether the proper title is “YOUCAT,” in all caps, as is commonly used and is written on the cover, or “Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church,” as is also displayed on the title page, or even “Youth Catechism,” the short name used in the instructions on page 3. I would abbreviate “Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church” as “YCCC,” but I haven’t seen that anywhere.
This review was written as part of the Tiber River Reviewer Program. I received points toward free or discounted merchandise in exchange for my honest review of this book. For more reviews of Catholic books, visit Tiber River. To purchase Catholic products of all kinds (not just books), visit Aquinas and More Catholic Goods.