I want us all to read through Martin Luther’s shorter preface to the Large Catechism this month. Since we have three youth being confirmed on Palm Sunday, it is important that we recognize what is necessary to know in order to be prepared to receive the Sacrament. The multiple years of confirmation instruction can confuse us in this matter. All of that instruction is good, but it is more than our Lord commands us to know and believe in order to begin receiving the Lord’s Supper. Luther writes about this below.
This sermon is designed and undertaken to be an instruction for children and the simple folk. Therefore, in ancient times it was called in Greek catechism (i.e., instruction for children). It teaches what every Christian must know. So a person who does not know this catechism could not be counted as a Christian or be admitted to any Sacrament, just as a mechanic who does not understand the rules and customs of his trade is expelled and considered incapable. Therefore, we must have the young learn well and fluently the parts of the catechism or instruction for children, diligently exercise themselves in them, and keep them busy with these parts.
Therefore, it is the duty of every father of a family to question and examine his children and servants at least once a week and see what they know or are learning from the catechism. And if they do not know the catechism, he should keep them learning it faithfully. For I well remember the time—indeed, even now it happens daily—that one finds rude, old persons who knew nothing and still know nothing about these things. Yet they go to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and use everything belonging to Christians, even though people who come to the Lord’s Supper ought to know more and have a fuller understanding of all Christian doctrine than children and new scholars. However, for the common people we are satisfied if they know the three “parts.” These have remained in Christendom from of old, though little of them has been taught and used correctly until both young and old (who are called Christians and wish to be so) are well trained in them and familiar with them. These parts are the following:
FIRST: GOD’S TEN COMMANDMENTS
- You shall have no other gods.
- You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.
- You shall sanctify the holy day.
- You shall honor your father and mother ‹that it may be well with you and you may live long upon the earth›.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his cattle, or anything that is his.
SECOND: THE CHIEF ARTICLES OF OUR FAITH
- I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
- And in Jesus Christ, His 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 into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.
- I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
THIRD: THE PRAYER, OR “OUR FATHER,” WHICH CHRIST TAUGHT
Our Father who art in heaven.
1. Hallowed be Thy name.
2. Thy kingdom come.
3. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
4. Give us this day our daily bread.
5. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
6. And lead us not into temptation.
7. But deliver us from evil. [For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.] Amen.
These are the most necessary parts of Christian teaching that one should first learn to repeat word for word. And our children should be used to reciting them daily when they rise in the morning, when they sit down to their meals, and when they go to bed at night. And until they repeat them, they should not be given food or drink. Likewise, every head of a household is bound to do the same with his household, manservants, and maidservants. He should not keep them in his house if they do not know these things or are unwilling to learn them. A person who is so rude and unruly as to be unwilling to learn these things is not to be tolerated. For in these three parts, everything that we have in the Scriptures is included in short, plain, and simple terms. For the holy fathers or apostles (whoever first taught these things) have summarized the doctrine, life, wisdom, and art of Christians this way. These parts speak, teach, and are focused on them.
Now, when these three parts are understood, a person must also know what to say about our Sacraments, which Christ Himself instituted: Baptism and the holy body and blood of Christ. They should know the texts that Matthew [28:19–20] and Mark [16:15–16] record at the close of their Gospels, when Christ said farewell to His disciples and sent them forth.
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. [Matthew 28:19]
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. [Mark 16:16]
This is enough for a simple person to know from the Scriptures about Baptism. In like manner, in short, simple words, they should also know the text of St. Paul [1 Corinthians 11:23–26] about the other Sacrament.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”
In the same way also, He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: “Drink of it, all of you; this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
Then we would have all together five whole parts of Christian doctrine. These should be taught constantly and be required learning for children. You should hear them recited word for word. For you must not rely on the idea that the young people will learn and retain these things from the sermon alone. When these parts have been well learned, you may supplement and strengthen them by also setting before them some psalms or hymns, which have been composed on these parts of the catechism. Lead the young into the Scriptures this way, and make progress in them daily.
However, it is not enough for them to understand and recite these parts according to the words alone. The young people should also be made to attend the preaching, especially during the time that is devoted to the catechism. Then they may hear it explained and may learn to understand what every part contains, so that they can recite it the way they have heard it. Then, when asked, they may give a correct answer, so that preaching may not be useless and fruitless. For the reason we exercise such diligence in preaching the catechism often is so that it may be taught to our youth, not in a high and clever way, but briefly and with the greatest simplicity. In this way it will enter the mind easily and be fixed in the memory.