The Small Catechism: A Treasury of Daily Prayer


Good prayer books are hard to find.  While good prayer books are available, [endnote 1] most people are after convenience.  Just as many people “nourish” their bodies with whatever they can find at the local fast food establishment, so also many “nourish” their faith with whatever they can find in the “inspirational” book section at Target or at the local Christian mega-store.  While fast-food places may have a few nutritious items on their menu, most of their stuff is really bad for you.

The same is true with these fast-food style Christian booksellers.  They may sell a few really good things (like the Bible), but most of their books reflect an American evangelical perspective.  Such books teach a purpose-driven (mis)use of the Law, where God’s Law is seen as something to empower the life of faith rather than something that kills. [endnote 2]  The centrality of God’s grace in Word and Sacrament is almost never taught and is often denied outright.  While a few salutary nuggets may be found in these books, they end up getting lost in a sea of error.  Even the worst foods often have some positive nutritional value (however slight it may be), but it is usually better to avoid such foods altogether.  The same might be said about most of these books.

Which brings us back to the original point: good prayer books are hard to find— or so it would seem.  Luther had this same problem in his day.  The Hortulus animae (“a little garden of the soul”) was an early 16th century bestseller, which contained prayers to Mary and the saints, apostles, virgins, and holy widows, just to name a few. [endnote 3]  Georg Domel remarks that many such prayer books,

“were regarded as essential for any layman who wished to save his soul, and often promised forgiveness, and indulgences from the pains of purgatory, as well as other rewards such as protection in childbirth and at the time of death for those who used them.” [endnote 4]

Luther himself found these books were in need of “a basic and thorough reformation if not total extermination.” [endnote 5]  According to Charles Arand, this shortage of good prayer books is what led Luther to write his own. [endnote 6]  His Little Prayer Book (1522) was built around the three texts of the catechism (The Ten Commandments, The Creed, & The Lord’s Prayer).  Luther saw the catechism as a book to be meditated upon and prayed.  The influence of the Small Catechism (structure & content) can also be seen in Luther’s A Simple Way to Pray (1535). [endnote 7]  Luther says we could never know the catechism well enough, but even if we could,

 “there are still many benefits and fruits to be gained, if it is daily read and practiced in thought and speech.  For example, the Holy Spirit is present in such reading, repetition and meditation.  He bestows ever new and more light and devoutness.  In this way the catechism is daily loved and appreciated better.” [endnote 8]



Fortunately, we still have his Small Catechism today, which is a wonderful, lifelong treasury of daily prayer!

The catechism, as a summary of the Scriptures, has the same goal as God’s Word: to create and sustain  faith (John 20:31). The entire Small Catechism can thus be prayed with this goal in mind.  I will give several examples of what this might look like from each of the six chief parts, using the “let us pray to the Lord… Lord have mercy” formula.  I have found this particular pattern of prayer a very easy way of praying the catechism, as it requires little or no change of what the catechism says.  However, the Small Catechism can also be adapted to other formulas, or even used to guide our prayer ex corde. [endnote 9]

In peace, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.

  • For faith, that we might fear, love and trust in God above all things, let us pray to the Lord: Lord have mercy (The Ten Commandments, The First Commandment).
  • For faith, that we might lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do and that husband and wife love and honor each other, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy (The Ten Commandments, the Sixth Commandment).
  • For faith, that we might trust that God richly and daily provides us with all that we need to support this body and life, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy (The Creed, First Article).
  • For faith to live under Jesus in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy (The Creed, Second Article).
  • For faith to believe that we cannot believe in Jesus Christ by our own reason or strength, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy (The Creed, Third Article).
  • For faith, that God’s will might not be done in spite of us but also among us, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy (The Lord’s Prayer, Third Petition).
  • For faith, that we might forgive those who trespass against us as God forgives us, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy (The Lord’s Prayer, Fifth Petition).
  • For faith, that we might cling to God’s gift of Holy Baptism, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy (The Sacrament of Holy Baptism, First Part).
  • For faith, that the Old Adam in us might by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy (The Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Fourth Part).
  • For faith, that we might believe that we receive absolution from the pastor as from God Himself, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy (Confession, “What is Confession?”).
  • For the unrepentant, that God would grant them faith to see the error of their ways, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy (Confession, “What is the Office of the Keys?”).
  • For faith to receive the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation given in the Sacrament of the Altar, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy (The Sacrament of the Altar, “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?”).
  • For faith to receive the Sacrament worthily, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy (The Sacrament of the Altar, “Who receives this sacrament worthily?”).

Apart from Scripture itself (especially the Psalter), it’s hard to imagine a better prayer book than Luther’s Small Catechism. [endnote 10]  In truth, good prayer books are not hard to find.  Maybe you even have this one memorized!  If you do, you already have a rich prayer vocabulary, one that is thoroughly grounded in God’s Word and keeps the cross at the center.  If not, praying the catechism daily in the manner described above is a great way to learn it.  Not only will it enrich your prayer life, it will enrich your reading of God’s Word.


Endnotes —  

[1] Some publishers of prayer books and other theological materials that are faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions can be found at Concordia Publishing House (, Emmanuel Press (, Pax Domini Press (, Repristination Press (, Concordia Catechetical Academy (, and Lutheran Press (

[2] The classic expression is lex semper accusat (cf. e.g., Apology V (III) 46).

[3] Arand, That I May Be His Own (St. Louis: CPH, 2000), 68.

[4] Domel, as cited in Arand, 68.

[5] Luther, as cited in Arand, 68.

[6] Arand, 68.

[7] Arand, 69.

[8] Luther, preface to Large Catechism, 9.

[9] “from the heart.”

[10] This is not to drive a wedge between Scripture & the catechism.  Everything found in the Small Catechism is either direct quotation from Scripture or a clear and direct explanation of it.  Where not quoting directly, Luther’s explanations are saturated with Biblical language and imagery (e.g., the “not with gold or silver…” of the Second Article comes from 1 Peter 1:18-19).  The hymnal is also an excellent resource for prayer.  For more on this, see my post, “Do I Have Torah Written on My Forehead?” (

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