Martin Luther wrote his Catechisms in 1529 after visits to several parishes revealed the people knew very little content of their faith. “Catechism” simply means “repeat back.”
The goal in composing the Catechisms was not to explain the far reaching depths of Christian theology, but rather to provide the basics for everyday people to put their faith to good use in their lives. Through short questions and answers, Luther hoped the people could learn to repeat back Christian basics. He wrote two Catechisms – the “Small” version for parents to teach their children at home, and the “Large” for parents, teachers and parents to use to teach the smaller version. The contents were simple: The Ten Commandments, the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, along with explanations to help clarify what was being said and taught, along with some explanations of Baptism, Confession, Eucharist along with some daily prayers and Bible verses that he thought might be helpful for people to draw strength from for their daily work and relationships.
In practice, Luther’s Catechisms have been the standard texts for teaching Christian faith among Lutheran Christians for close to five hundred years. His question, “What is this?” or more familiar among English speaking Lutherans, “What does this mean?” has been discussed, internalized and memorized by generations.
This summer I went on a mission trip to Uganda.* I was amazed by the rich faith of the girls who resided at the St. Kizito school in Bethany where my group stayed. Not only did they gather around the Eucharist daily, but they also gathered to pray the Rosary. I found it a powerful witness to observe how they prayed those texts from memory, which are so central to their identity as Roman Catholics.
I had two initial thoughts. First: we Protestants don’t really have anything like this; we pray freely or use prayer books, but other than the Lord’s Prayer we don’t have something we say over and over like the Rosary. Second: Actually we do – we have just forgotten it. Luther thought we should pray the Commandments, Creed and Lord’s Prayer, so these essential elements of our faith not only be explored intellectually, but be also explored by the heart.
When the girls at St. Kizito School gathered to pray, I joined them by praying the Catechism. I also started inserting some Bible verses by way of introducing each section, and I have incorporated those into my daily devotional life ever since. I’ve had some time to work on it and clean it up a bit.
I offer it to you below as a resource.
AN ORDER FOR PRAYING THE CATECHISM:
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
“Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mathew 22:36-39)
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS**
There is one God.
Use God’s name right way.
Remember the Sabbath.
Honor your parents and those in charge of you.
Work on keeping your family together.
Help others take care of their things.
Tell the truth about others in the most helpful way.
Be thankful for the people in your life.
Be thankful for what you have.
“Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)
THE APOSTLES CREED***
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
THE LORD’S PRAYER****
“Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11:1)
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
(Matthew 6:9-15; Luke 11:2-4)
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin…Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your free spirit.” (Psalm 51:1-2, 10-12)
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
WHEREVER WE ARE AND WHEREVER WE GO
“Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:9-11)
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
If you are willing to give it a try, recite the Catechism in the morning and/or before bed. Read it out loud it as a prayer. Commit to praying it for a week or so. Tell me what you think. My hope is that these core contents of the faith will start to embed themselves in your memory, so that “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (Romans 10:8).
Maybe in time we will even commit the Catechism to memory and put it practice in our daily lives.
* To read more about my Uganda trip, click below:
https://sinibaldo.wordpress.com/2014/08/13/my-uganda-journal-2014-part-i/, https://sinibaldo.wordpress.com/2014/08/20/my-uganda-journal-2014-part-ii/, https://sinibaldo.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/my-uganda-journal-2014-part-iii/, https://sinibaldo.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/my-uganda-journal-2014-part-iv/.
Use any version of the Ten Commandments that work for you. At home we have tried to use and teach the Commandments to our kids as positive statements, using this paraphrase listed above. Personally, I find that positive statements are easier to remember and put into practice than negative ones.
THE NICENE CREED
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Use a more modern translation of the Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen