In answer to this question, a key addition to the Documents Library:
Pless, John T., “The Small Catechism: Pattern and Shape of Christian Doctrine,” For the Life of the World, vol, 4, no. 4 (Concordia Theological Seminary Press, October 2000).
The Small Catechism is the handbook for the Royal Priesthood of Believers. As such, it is:
1. User’s guide to the Bible
2. Our prayer book
3. Handbook for the baptismal life.
Professor Pless writes:
The Small Catechism is the handbook for the Royal Priesthood of Believers. As such, the Small Catechism fulfills at least three functions for the Christian. First. the Small Catechism is a “user’s guide to the Bible.” In other words, the Small Catechism is …
Second, the Small Catechism is our prayer book. Not only does the Small Catechism teach us what Christian prayer is by unfolding for us the prayer which our Lord gave His disciples, the Small Catechism provides us with …
Third, the Small Catechism is a handbook for the baptismal life. Writing his treatise on The Freedom of a Christian, Luther notes that a Christian ” lives not …
Those are three tantalizing openings. I could not do justice to Professor Pless’ development of them. Better to give you the full article here, from the Document Library. This is worth printing and placing at the top of your stack of things you want to keep handy for reference. The quiet crisis of catechesis cries for regular reminders of the things written in this article.
As Pless says, “Luther prepared his Catechism as an act of pastoral care for God’s people. The Saxon Visitation of 1528 revealed how deeply both the pastors and people were in need of catechesis.” With that heart concern, Luther prescribed three important teaching practices for using the Small Catechism.
Often overlooked in the Preface is Luther’s threefold outline for catechesis. Much to the chagrin of some contemporary educational theorists, Luther starts with the text. He makes three salient points:
First, don’t be so quick to …
Second, after the text has been learned by heart, then …
Third, after the people have mastered the rudiments of the Small Catechism, go …
He had good reasons, pastoral reasons, reasons of love for strictly prescribing those practices. He was going somewhere with all this. Pless says:
With these principles in place, Luther intended that pastors would catechize their people so that the head of the household would be equipped to teach his family.
At that point, the crisis of catechesis is resolved. That is where we are heading with this. We must keep ourselves constantly in mind of our objective.
Print his article and keep it as a handy reminder.