Luther’s Small Catechism
From 1526-1528, about ten years after the beginning of the Reformation and the posting of the 95 Theses, Luther and others visited churches throughout his area, called the Saxon Visitation. Luther found that both pastors and people alike lacked basic knowledge and understanding of many of the most foundational elements of this Christian faith, especially that of the Ten Commandments, the Apostles Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. To help these churches, Luther wrote the Small Catechism as a guide for pastors and people alike to learn the very most basic elements of the faith and what they mean.
Luther’s intention for the Small Catechism was that it would be taught to all people, not just the young, and would be taught “year after year.” As it includes the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith in six chief parts: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles Creed, the Lord’s Prayer,Baptism, Confession, and the Sacrament of the Altar, it is not something to be learned in our youth or at one time in our life and put down and left alone,but learned by heart so that it is continually on our heart, mind, and tongue.Much of this is included in Luther’s Preface to the Small Catechism as well as a very stern and harsh warning to those who would refuse to learn the catechism or who would not seek or desire the Sacrament at least four times a year.
In his preface, Luther also says, “Therefore, I beg you all for God’s sake, my dear sirs and brethren, who are pastors or preachers, to devote yourselves heartily to your office (1 Tim. 4:13). Have pity on the people who are entrusted to you (Acts 20:28) and help us teach the catechism to the people.” In an effort to fulfill Luther’s desperate plea, we will undertake to recite the whole Small Catechism every two years, focusing on different portions each month, in an effort to learn it by heart and always have it on our hearts, minds, and tongues.