… only by this means can there be a bonding of families with the Catechism, agreement between educated and uneducated, or a closing up of the vast gulf between elite Christianity and Christianity for the common folk …, the fact that the rift can only be healed by way of a discipline which treats the one as the other with the same elemental portions of God’s Word, that is, the Catechism, makes it the severest task of the office of shepherd first to proceed evenhandedly with this discipline, without respect of rank, educated or not.
A.F.C. Vilmar, The Theology of Facts versus the Theology of Rhetoric” (Lutheran Legacy, 2008), 103.
There are certain topics of discussion / debate that tend never to go away among confessional Lutherans. One of them is the age of first communion. In almost all Lutheran churches, first communion is linked closely or inextricably to confirmation—for what can only be described as pragmatic rather than dogmatic reasons. After all, confirmation is a churchly rite, not a biblical one. Tradition dictates that confirmation is preceded by detailed instruction, often lasting up to two years, in the early years of secondary education. I was confirmed at 15. In my church body, 13-14 is more common. Now, there are all sorts of historical, theological and especially pastoral issues linked to delaying (yes, I mean that) first communion to the teenage years.
Now, as I said, this debate is probably here to stay. Both sides of the argument make a fine showing in this Cyberbrethen blog post. To cut a long story short, I align myself with Pastors McCain and Cwirla in this particular debate.
I was confronted by this question in a very practical way yesterday. About half-an-hour after the last of my young children had gone to bed and grown-up time was about to start, my wife and I heard a familiar pitter-patter of little feet coming down the stairs. Yet again, my eldest daughter couldn’t get to sleep. A common occurrence, usually for no particular reason.
Well, this time it was different. H (age 7) was visibly upset, with tears flooding down her cheeks. What on earth was the matter?
“I have been asking Jesus into my heart, but nothing seems to happen, and it makes me really sad.”
Turns out, she has been reading the books of Patricia St.John, one of her favourite authors. And in almost every book, some child or another gets to the point of asking Jesus into its heart, with wonderful transforming consequences. And now little H was desperate for the same experience, and was desperately disappointed, and a little worried, that nothing was happening, despite her prayers.
As is often the way with God’s children, this misunderstanding led to a wonderful conversation about what makes us Christian. As the opening of Olaus Svebilius’Explanation of the Small Catechism puts it so simply:
Q1: Are you a Christian?
A: Yes, I am.
Q2: Why are you called a Christian?
A: Because I have been baptised in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and in baptism I have put on Christ. I believe and confess Him to be my Saviour and my Redeemer.
There. It’s that simple. Turns out, H has had Jesus “in her heart” for over 7 years already. No need to ask for anything more, except faith to see what she already has.
Except one thing. There will come a day when she will not only have Jesus in her heart but also on her tongue and in her stomach. And she can’t wait! She knows what she needs, she knows that she wants it, and she knows where to get it from—but for the time being, she can’t have it, because she is not yet in secondary school and so can’t go through secondary-school-style instruction. She’s missing out, and she knows it, and you can tell.
Let the little children come—let’s not hinder them.
God has many ways to create, support, and increase faith in us: when we hear the Word, either publicly or privately; when we are baptized; when we are fed with the body of our Lord . . . He himself know what is good and profitable for us. (Martin Luther at the Margburg Colloquy, 1529. H. Sasse, This Is My Body, 201.)
The phrase “praying the Catechism” is at least as old as Luther’s writings on the subject. I don’t know if the following contribution to the subject is original, but I haven’t come across it before.
The Catechism (in the narrower sense: The Commandments, Creed and Lord’s Prayer) can be prayed very simply and very quickly by praying the Lord’s Prayer. Conversely, the Lord’s Prayer is merely a summary of the Catechism – and thus can form the basis of an extended prayer life.
The Lord’s Prayer is simply the rest of the Catechism in prayer form. Let me demonstrate:
1st petition: Our Father who art in heaven
1st commandment: I am the Lord your God
2nd pet: Hallowed be Thy name
2nd comm: Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God
3rd pet: Thy kingdom come
3rd comm: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy
4th pet: Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
4th-10th comm: Love your neighbour as yourself
5th pet: Give us this day our daily bread
1st article: I believe in God … the maker of heaven & earth
6th pet: And forgive us our trespasses…
2nd art: And in Jesus Christ … was crucified, died … and rose again
7th pet: And lead us not into temptation but deliver…
3rd art: And in the Holy Spirit
This becomes even clearer when we read the Commandments and the Creed through the lense of the Small Catechism.