Here's what the Prayer Book says on page 844 about the catechism (emphasis added):
The catechism is primarily intended for use by parish priests, deacons, and lay catechists, to give an outline for instruction. It is a commentary on the creeds, but is not meant to be a complete statement of belief and practice; rather, it is a point of departure for the teacher, and it is cast in the traditional question and answer form for ease of reference.
The second use of this catechism is to provide a brief summary of the Church's teaching for an inquiring stranger who picks up a Prayer Book.
It may also be used for form a simple service; since the matter is arranged under headings, it is suitable for selective use, and the leader may introduce prayers and hymns as needed.
By providing an outline for instruction, a commentary on the creeds, and a brief summary of the Church's teaching, the catechism is a gift to the Episcopal Church. And yet, how many Episcopalians are familiar with its contents? Indeed, how many even know that we have a catechism? And how many parish priests, deacons, and lay catechists actually use the catechism in their teaching ministry?
Such questions may have been on Fr. Tony Clavier's mind when he wrote a blog posting entitled "Our Forgotten Catechism." Emphasizing the authority of the catechism, he writes:
When a bishop, priest or deacon takes an oath to be faithful to doctrine, where may we find a convenient summery of what that means? When a lay person wants to know what a Christian should believe, where is that to be found? Well yes, the Bible, the Creeds, the writings of the Fathers, the General Councils, but what does that all mean? None of us, even a theologian, has time to mine the teachings contained in those authorities. Our Catechism is bound up in the Prayer Book to give us an authoritative summary.
Yes, the Catechism has authority. It forms part of the ‘teaching law’ of the Episcopal Church. It should form the backbone of all instruction in enquirers’ classes and confirmation courses. However in my experience, our Catechism is largely forgotten or ignored. To some, as with all doctrinal formularies, its contents form a challenge to be argued with or dismissed. Such hubris makes Republican individualism sound tame.
If we believe we have progressed beyond accepting doctrine on faith, then perhaps we should be honest and drop all the oaths to abide by doctrine? To do so would transform what Anglicans have been. Our Prayer Books would be cheaper and smaller without the Catechism and Historical Documents. However until and unless we transform ourself into a religious organization in which every person is free to make up their own 'personal faith', we need to resurrect our neglected Catechism and take that which it teaches seriously.
Fr. Tony's emphasis on the "resurrect[ing] our neglected Catechism" dovetails nicely with the call to preach and teach basic doctrine about Jesus that Leander Harding and Christopher Wells issued back in 2010. Here's part of what they wrote in an essay entitled "Teaching Jesus and the Unity of the Church":
The Episcopal Church needs a movement among a critical mass of leaders, especially priests and bishops of the church, to place the teaching and preaching of basic Christian doctrines about the person and work of Christ at the center of their ministry. This could take the form of line-by-line exposition of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. Perhaps the House of Bishops could undertake together a study of 'the scandal of particularity': that through the Incarnation, atoning death, and glorious resurrection of the Son of God, the Father has provided the point of unity and reconciliation — salvation — for the warring children of the world. As a result of this common study the bishops could direct a teaching to the church on Jesus Christ today, Lord of the Church and Lord of the world. ...
Such a movement would per force refocus the life of our church on that which is truly central, and help to frame a way forward in Christ with respect to our continued disagreements. The center of the Church is not the midpoint between extremes but the Incarnation, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, the Messiah of God. A renewed consensus about the person and work of the Lord might not immediately dispel our disagreements which are grave, wounding the body of the Church. It would, however, properly locate those disagreements, and mark the way to their resolution.
In a time of increasing theological incoherence and anomie within the Episcopal Church, resurrecting the catechism would go a long way towards answering Harding and Wells' call by helping us refocus on what is, indeed, truly central to our faith and practice.