Luther’s Small Catechism as a Litany

Joe Willmann Teaching the Faith at Home 2 Comments

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Dr. Luther had a way with words. His Preface to the Large Catechism may be one of my favorite things that he wrote. Well, I suppose I appreciate his theological treatises more than this preface. However, the Preface to the Large Catechism puts a smile on my face every time I read it. Read it out loud and try not to smile—I dare you.

The things that we learn in the Small Catechism are the core and basis for all Christian understanding. Read what Dr. Luther said about the first three chief parts:

But for myself I say this: I am also a doctor and preacher; yes, as learned and experienced as all the people who have such assumptions and contentment. Yet I act as a child who is being taught the catechism. Every morning—and whenever I have time—I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, and such. I must still read and study them daily. Yet I cannot master the catechism as I wish. But I must remain a child and pupil of the catechism, and am glad to remain so. Yet these delicate, refined fellows would in one reading promptly become doctors above all doctors, know everything, and need nothing. Well, this, too, is a sure sign that they despise both their office and the souls of the people. Indeed, they even despise God and His Word. They do not have to fall. They have already fallen all too horribly. They need to become children and begin to learn their alphabet, which they imagine they have long outgrown [Mark 10:15]. (LC Preface 7)

Yet I cannot master the catechism as I wish. But I must remain a child and pupil of the catechism, and am glad to remain so.Dr. Martin Luther
Remaining a child and pupil of the catechism can be a challenging task. Fortunately, we have been given this gift to help us in our learning and teaching. The Small Catechism has a certain genius in its design. The order in which it is presented, the way the questions are answered, all of it has a purpose and reason.

As a parent who reads this blog, I’m sure that you value Luther’s Small Catechism and find it important to teach to your family. There are many and various ways of teaching the text of the Small Catechism to our families, and I would like to offer you another tool for your toolbox.

In 2016, Rev. Professor John Pless released Praying Luther’s Small CatechismThis book does a marvelous job of teaching you how to pray the catechism and gives an in-depth look at each part of the catechism’s teachings through prayer.

For Luther, prayer involves spiritual warfare, and the catechism is weaponry for this battle, both defensively and offensively.John Pless
In addition to all of the wonderful teaching that this book presents, it also offers the text of the Small Catechism, followed by a petition for you to pray. As a parent, this gives you the perfect opportunity to utilize this resource as a litany with your family. By responsively reciting the Small Catechism and praying with your family, not only do you allow the catechism to instruct you, but you also come to the Lord with the petitions it drives you toward. Let me give you an example of how this could work in your household.

Father: What is the First Commandment?

All: You shall have no other gods.

Father: What does this mean?

All: We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.

Father: Let us pray:

Lord God, You require us to fear, love, and trust in You above all things. Grant unto us undivided hearts to fear Your wrath and so avoid the evil that You abhor. Instead, help us to love what You command and trust in Your promises; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.

All: Amen.

After doing that, continue on to the second commandment. This practice will help your family not only remember the words of the Small Catechism by heart but also shape your devotional time as a time of prayer.

You may also consider following this schedule throughout the week:

  • Monday – The Ten Commandments
  • Tuesday – The Creed
  • Wednesday – The Lord’s Prayer
  • Thursday – Holy Baptism
  • Friday – Confession, Absolution, the Office of the Keys
  • Saturday – The Sacrament of the Altar
  • Sunday – Divine Service

No matter what you do in your home to teach your family these simple explanations of Christianity, keep after it. Continue to fill your children’s minds, hearts, and souls with God’s Holy Word. Remember that Christ is the sower (Matthew 13) and He spreads the seed of His Word everywhere—not just on the good soil, but everywhere. Allow His Word to continue to do what He says it will (Romans 10:17).

God’s blessings as you teach the faith once for all, delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).

Large Catechism Quotation from Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, copyright © 2005 Concordia Publishing House, Used by permission.
Prayer for the First Commandment from Praying Luther’s Small Catechism, copyright © 2016 John Pless, Used by permission.

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Joe Willmann

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Joe Willmann is the Senior Instructional Designer for Concordia Publishing House in St. Louis, MO. A former teacher and administrator, Joe has a passion for education and learning theory. He earned his Bachelor's Degree from Ball State University and his Master's Degree from Concordia University - Ann Arbor. He lives with his wife, Nicole, his daughter Ava, and his son Carter. You can read his latest posts here.

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2 Comments on "Luther’s Small Catechism as a Litany"

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Darrell Magruder
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Mr. Willmann: Thank You for another terrific article, sir! Your writing of continuing as a pupil and teacher of Luther’s Small Catechism are very valuable in this day and age! Utilizing “Praying Luther’s Small Catechism” by Reverend Professor John T. Pless is definitely a great suggestion! As Pless points out, the benefits of utilizing Luther’s Small Catechism as a defensive and offensive weapon towards fighting the Foe, and maintaining the faith are most certainly evident when one continually mulls over Luther’s works, and finds their roots in the Holy Scriptures. Thank you for continuing to encourage fellow members of The… Read more »
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