Originally written in Italian, the book became so popular as to be translated into Spanish, French and Portuguese.
The publisher of the English-language edition is New Hope Publications in Kentucky. Its director, Theo Stearns, gave ZENIT insight into the publication.
Q: What exactly does this book touch on?
Stearns: The idea of a little catechism is interesting -- it really is a tremendous book as it is a catechism that focuses on the Church's greatest treasure of the Blessed Sacrament. It's divided into three sections and is richly illustrated to help understanding.
The first section teaches the authentic doctrine of the Eucharist and does so in a way that is not dry at all, but in a manner that really appeals to faith, to reason, and to the heart.
It interweaves the teaching of the Church, especially placing the Eucharist in the context of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation. It does a beautiful job, in a very brief and simple manner, of setting out all doctrines surrounding the Eucharist.
Q: Do you think that in Western society, especially, there is some confusion surrounding the Blessed Sacrament?
Stearns: We have two cardinals who have written prefaces -- both James Stafford and Cardinal Francis George. They both point to the reality of religious ignorance.
In 25 years of teaching, I also see that a catechist has to really struggle in order to transmit this mystery so that we can draw young people to love and adore the Eucharist. And it's not that easy.
When John Paul II [called for] the Year of the Eucharist, he wrote on the need there is to restore amazement. And as a teacher I've discovered that if children aren't going to Mass or if they're not really being formed in the great mystery of the Eucharist, or even if they are going to Mass and don't understand it, they can't seem to progress in learning and then living their faith -- let alone finding the sacrament as a source of hope and joy for their lives.
So, I can't see, at this point in our history, any task more important for a catechist than to transmit this message.
Q: Looking at the book, I can see it's absolutely exquisite; beautiful to the adult eye too. Maybe it could be equally as effective for the parents of these kids?
Stearns: I believe the book, though it can be used with children and is especially good for adolescents -- it's great for anyone, any adult who really wants to understand the Eucharist.
It really has a tremendous appeal to both faith and reason. And following the section on the doctrine of the Eucharist and a beautiful section on the Mass and how to receive Communion worthily, there are two more parts: one on Eucharistic miracles and the other on the saints and the sacrament.
As I say, these appeal to the heart and bring in illustrations of how important this devotion is and how central it is to our Catholic faith.
So, I think if parents sat down and used this book with their children, they would have a tremendous grasp of the reality of the Eucharist and their devotion would be greatly enhanced or restored, especially if they haven't understood it properly themselves.
Q: What exactly have been the initial reactions to the book over this first month of release?
Stearns: It's all been very enthusiastic. It has just really come into print but we have a lot of dioceses inquiring about obtaining multiple copies and we hope it will be used in many catechetical programs.
It is a catechism on the Eucharist but I think that particular focus, to lay down the fundamentals of the Eucharist, should and can become the heart of a catechetical program.
And I think for young people, for adolescents in particular, the book is tremendous. It explains the doctrine so clearly; it integrates Scripture; the illustrations are so well designed as to assist with the understanding of the text.
Q: Do you feel that there needs to be more children-friendly Catholic publications?
Stearns: I think the need in United States has been illustrated. There are still many struggles in bringing catechetical texts up in line with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is a primary source for this book.
And too often there is a lack of real focus on the essentials. One of the things that is so appealing about this book is that it was accomplished focusing on the fundamental doctrines which include teachings on the Trinity, the Incarnation, the mission of the Church -- these are drawn in so beautifully, in such a concise way, that the book is not dry or boring and I think that understanding that we must produce texts to teach children has to be worked at.
We must integrate those fundamentals of our faith and teach them or fix them in the minds and hearts of children while making them beautiful and appealing.
Q: How did the idea come about?
Stearns: Last October I saw a small article on ZENIT about a little catechism on the Eucharist that had been distributed at the Eucharistic Congress in Mexico.
I asked my assistant who speaks and translates Italian -- the book's original language -- to track it down and we found the source in Bologna -- a Dominican priest was the author and it was produced with the help of the institute of St. Clement there.
We asked him and them about the possibility of getting the book in print into English and after some work we finally were able to accomplish that and are very pleased with the results.
Q: Did this year's theme have any influence over the launch now?
Stearns: That was the central reason for it. I was especially moved when Pope John Paul said that the Eucharist is a glimpse of heaven as, when you've taught young people, you notice how many have not been set on fire by their faith.
My belief more and more, after 25 years of teaching, is, where they need to be set on fire is their understanding of the Eucharist and that experience of the celebration of the Sunday Mass.
It is central to restoring the amazement that even recently, our Holy Father Benedict XVI, spoke of when he addressed people on the importance of attending Mass.
Q: Where is the book's primary distribution and how can people get a copy?
Stearns: The primary distribution is through our Dominican Community and they can call and inquire about getting a copy and a catalogue of our other publications by calling, in the U.S., 800-764-8444, or, for those outside the U.S., 1-270-325-3061.
Just ask for the new "Little Catechism on the Eucharist" for the English copy.