What is Catechesis?
God’s way of teaching to convert sinners to the new life of faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Teaching the Word of God and passing on the language of our holy faith, so that the baptized learn how to receive God’s gifts in the Divine Service, how to pray, how to confess, and how to live where God has called them—in the freedom of the forgiveness of sins, with faith in Christ and love to the neighbor.
Catechesis is the life-giving teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ which accompanies all who are baptized. Jesus said to the apostles, “Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you ….” The Church continues this saving work today as her ministers baptize and catechize young and old alike in the Christian faith. Those who “gladly receive” the saving Word and are baptized into Christ “continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42 NKJV).
Catechesis is, therefore, much more comprehensive than classroom instruction and involves the actual doing of things that Christians will continue to do for the rest of their lives: attend Divine Service, listen to preaching, receive the Lord’s Supper, confess their sins, receive absolution, pray, confess their faith, forgive one another, live as husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children, workers of every kind, etc.
What is the Catechism?
The Small Catechism preserves for us the “pattern of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13) so that it functions as both a prayer book and a handbook for the Christian faith and life. The chief reason why the Catechism is memorized or “learned by heart” is so that it can shape the faith and understanding of the catechumen and be used by him throughout his life as he learns to interpret Scripture, listen to preaching, receive the absolution, pray, confess, and live in his vocation.
The Catechisms are both comprised of six chief parts. The Ten Commandments teach us what we are to do and not do, and how we are to live. The Creed teaches us what God has done to save us from sin, death, and the devil. The Lord’s Prayer casts us upon our gracious Father for all our needs of body and soul. Baptism makes us God’s own child and washes away our sins. Absolution is the Word of God Himself who forgives our sins and bespeaks us righteous in Christ. The Sacrament of the Altar is Christ’s crucified and risen body and blood, given under bread and wine for us Christians to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of our sins.
While the content of the Catechisms is the same, their individual forms are tailored for different purposes. The Large Catechism reads like a book of sermons. It is intended for pastors and the the head of the Christian household to read and study so they can impart the faith in preaching and home instruction. The Small Catechism is written to be memorized. And not just by children. All Christians should know the basic texts of Christian doctrine. Luther led by example: “But for myself I say this: I am also a doctor and preacher; yes, as learned and experienced as all the people” who think they have no need of the Catechism. “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.”
What is a catechumen? What is a catechist?
The Small Catechism was printed not only as a booklet, with each chief part outlined “As the Head of the Family Should Teach It in the Simplest Way to His Household,” but also as broadsheets (posters), convenient for hanging in Church and home for study. “Catechism” comes from the Greek word, katecho, from which we also get the word “echo.” The Small Catechism is written to be echoed. The catechist (pastor, head of the house) asks a question, and the catechumen (student of the Catechism) answers with a prepared answer. As the saying goes, “Repetition is the mother of all learning.” Luther says “the Holy Spirit is present in such reading, repetition, and meditation. He bestows ever new and more light and devoutness.” Read, repeat, meditate. Then do it all over again. That is how we learn the faith, as “children… begin to learn their alphabet.”
What is Confirmation?
Confirmation is a rite of the Church which declares of a catechumen: “Here is a Christian — he has been baptized, confesses the faith, and is communion with Christ and His Church.” This rite is usually accompanied by the prayer of the Church and a blessing from the Word of God. Parents and sponsors of a baptized child bear the responsibility of teaching this child God’s Word so that the child’s faith may remain alive and grow (Matt. 28:18-20).
Confirmation is a time-honored church tradition (not given by God’s Word, but useful nonetheless) in which the child baptized as an infant is given the opportunity to confess for himself or herself the faith that he or she was unable to confess as an infant. Faith is not “created” at confirmation, but it is rather confessed for all to hear so that the church can join and rejoice in this public confession, which has its roots in the faith which God Himself created in Baptism and strengthened and encouraged through regular, on-going catechesis.
See the Christian Cyclopedia (LCMS) for a summary of the history and practice of Confirmation: http://cyclopedia.lcms.org/display.asp?t1=c&word=CONFIRMATION
NOTE: In the Lutheran tradition, thorough catechesis in the six chief parts of Christian doctrine typically precedes confirmation. See Lutheran Service Book Agenda pp. 3-4 and 25-31 for further information on the rites of First Communion and Confirmation. See Lutheran Service Book Pastoral Care Companion pp. 664-671 for “Guidelines for Pastoral Examination of Catechumens Before the Rite of First Communion or Before the Rite of Confirmation.”