One of the common features to all of the Christian traditions that have direct ties to the Reformation is that they all developed simple catechisms. By-and-large, these “short” or “small” catechisms all follow the same basic format: question-and-answer lessons that teach the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the basics of the Sacraments, with brief explanations of each. This was an expansion of the late Medieval practice of simply memorizing the Creed, Prayer and Commandments, but was intended for the same general purpose: to prepare children for Confirmation and reception of Holy Communion. This was (and is) well and good, as we want to make sure our youngsters are prepared for the Lord’s Table, lest they eat and drink “unworthily” and “shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27, KJV).
It is undeniable that parents, grandparents, and godparents have a duty to teach their children the basics of the faith: “You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Dt. 11:19). We cannot expect our children to learn what they have not been taught, and effective catechesis cannot be limited to Sunday School. No one should be brought before the bishop for Confirmation if he has not been effectively catechized.
The problem, however, is that we often treat Confirmation as a “graduation,” of sorts, that brings our period of learning to an end so that we can get busy with the “real work” of adulthood. In fact, at my own confirmation a friend gave me a pen with a cap and gown motif to symbolize my religious “graduation.” Such an attitude would be scandalous to the Reformers, the Fathers, and to the Apostles themselves. Part of our Christian duty is to constantly be learning about the Lord, the Scriptures, and our Faith. St. Paul admonishes St. Timothy to “give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13). Our catechisms are great tools to facilitate such learning. Though they are simple enough for children, one could spend a lifetime plumbing the depths of these basic teachings of the faith. Indeed, Martin Luther advised that we should incorporate the Catechism and the Psalms into our daily devotional exercises. “I cannot master it as I wish,” he wrote, “but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and am glad so to remain.”
In our American 1928 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, we find the Catechism presented in two overt ways. On pages 283-295, we find the Offices of Instruction. The First Office is a direct presentation of the Catechism. The Second Office discusses what it means to be a member of the Church. The Catechism itself is found on pages 577-583 and is the classical form of the Catechism in the Anglican tradition. While larger catechisms exist (including the newly-published ACNA book, To Be a Christian: An Anglican Catechism), they are typically tools of discipleship or reference rather than of simple catechesis. Discipleship is also necessary, but it will not be effective without a solid foundation that is often lacking.
The bottom line is this: don’t stop learning, don’t stop teaching your kids, and don’t stop reviewing the basics of the faith. We are never too old or learned for the Catechism. Lest we look down our noses and think of it as being only fit for children, remember that Jesus said, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3). I recently read a claim that Catechesis has been tried and it has failed, so we should look to new things. I submit that Catechesis has not been tried in recent decades, but has been ignored or relegated to children’s church. It’s time to crack open those neglected pages of our Prayer Book.
So, have you read your Catechism today?
Posted on February 4, 2015
by Fr. Isaac Rehberg filed under