McBrien, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, commissioned more than 4,500 entries on Catholic doctrine, worship, history, culture, art, literature, and biblical scholarship. There are entries on Catholicism in various countries, biographies, information on other religions, and discussions of complex moral and social issues. Such diverse subjects as Transubstantiation, the Shroud of Turin, Mother Teresa, Limbo, the Soviet pseudosynods of the 1940s, and various apparitions of the Virgin Mary are covered, along with such nonreligious topics as Romanticism, Big Bang Theory, Relativity, and Phenomenology. All entries are signed, and pronunciation is provided when necessary. Bibliographies conclude lengthier entries. Parallel time lines of world history and of Catholicism open the book. Black-and-white photographs and line drawings accompany some entries; there are two inserts of color photographs. Maps and tables (e.g., "Liturgical Calendar" ) are also featured. There is no index, but see also references direct the reader to related articles.
While this is not an official publication of Notre Dame, a large number of contributing editors are faculty members there. There is representation from other religious authorities, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. Information is presented objectively, and controversies are handled in a straightforward manner. Such heretical movements as quietism and simony (the buying and selling of church offices) are defined in historical and social context. The lengthy article Women in the Church acknowledges that "The Church gets mixed reviews for its treatment of women over the centuries." Entries such as Birth Control and Ordination of Women note that there is division within the church on these topics.
This work will be helpful in providing answers for reference questions that range from the relatively trivial (Seven Deadly Sins) to the complex (Bioethics, God). With the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Doubleday, 1994) and John Paul II's Crossing the Threshold of Hope (Knopf, 1994) on recent best-seller lists, there will be a large audience for this excellent encyclopedia.