One thing I did right starting out as a DRE (Director of Religious Education) was include an annual budget line for books. For catechetical leaders, books are the tools of the trade and a library is our toolbox. If you’re just getting started building yours, here are my pick for the top five reference books, listed in the order I would suggest getting them if you cannot get them all at once.
Sacred Scripture (The Bible)
All Catholics need a Bible – but which one? I wrote a separate article on this, so I will be brief: Get one you’ll read and that isn’t going to lead you astray with a theologically-biased canon, translation, or study notes. I prefer the RSV translation over the NABRE, and my favorites for study notes are the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible and the Didache Bible.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed.) is an extremely valuable resource for understanding Catholic theology. It is “conceived as an organic presentation of the Catholic faith in its entirety” (CCC 18). The Catechism is presented under four major headings (“pillars”): Creed, Sacraments, Morality, and Prayer. It can be used as an Encyclopedia of Catholic theology, or read straight through. While not itself infallible, it’s the most trustworthy compilation of Catholic theology available.
Also Handy: The Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Also of value is The Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church which gives the texts cited in the Catechism (even Bible passages) in order of reference. It is like having a librarian running around opening books to the correct page in front of you as you read the Catechism so you don’t have to get up and find them yourself.
The Code of Canon Law
The Code of Canon Law (1983) sounds intimidating, it’s actually quite helpful. Where the Catechism focuses on Catholic theology, the Code presents Catholic practices. Canon Law is a code of ecclesiastical laws governing the Catholic Church, so if you have questions about how to receive the sacraments, choose Godparents, deal with divorce, become a priest, serve at Mass, etc., this book has it all. One caution: the Church actually has trained Canon Lawyers to deal with tricky situations, so don’t try to be a hero!
Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma
Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Ludwig Ott is not only a handy listing of Catholic doctrines, it is a well-written explanation of them as well. One of the most outstanding features of Fundamentals is that it lists the sources of Catholic theology as well as each doctrine’s grade of theological certainty.
The Sources of Catholic Dogma / The Christian Faith / V2 Docs
Tough call here, but you need access to a good compilation fo Church documents. Here are the two best, followed by a useful supplement.
Heinrich Denzinger’s work The Sources of Catholic Dogma (aka Enchiridion Symbolorum) is an historical compendium of official church documents and theological source texts. It is a standard resource, and indispensable for scholarly theology work. Its classic nature is shown in that other theological works use Denzinger’s numbering system for their own citations.
Neuner and Dupuis’s The Christian Faith is a more recent resource that contains much of the same material as Denzinger, but arranges it topically rather than historically (it also includes a convenient concordance to Denzinger).
(You might also want to supplement these with The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II for faster reference.)
The Church has created a massive library of texts over her 2,000 year lifespan, and it can be overwhelming to even contemplate attaining them all (much less reading them!). The good news is that among the millions of volumes of writing the Church has produced, many of them are summaries or collections of previous writings. While specialists will require numerous particular texts, a few basics will cover the majority of typical needs. With a small armful of such resources, one can be prepared to meet nearly any need. There are a lot more books that faithful Catholics will want to get over the years (as future posts will indicate), but these reference materials will go a long way toward one’s preparation for Catholic thought.
Also note that much of this material is available online. Books are more saintly than screens; however, if you must, here are the best links I have found to the above sources: