Review of Praying Luther’s Small Catechism by John T. Pless

Luther’s Small Catechism is a prayer book. It is “a spiritual companion on a man’s journey from cradle to grave; the Christian’s daily prayer and meditation.”[1]  “First and foremost the catechism is meant to be prayed, as a daily exercise, as Luther wished it to be.” [2]

John T. Pless rediscovers this for our time. In his new book, Praying Luther’s Small Catechism (at CPH, at Amazon), Pless reveals how you can pray the Small Catechism. You can speak to God about the most important things in life and death, in time and eternity. You can do it with simplicity and with a sound form of words.

Amazingly, this is much easier than one would think, because in catechetical prayer, God takes the initiative and puts into our mouths the very words He loves to hear. In this kind of prayer, even the commandments are promises, and we pray with faith in God’s promises to give us all things, especially his promises to give us himself.

In chapter 1, Pless introduces the basics of praying the catechism. In chapters 2 through 9, he moves through the Six Chief Parts, Daily Prayers, and the Table of Duties. Four appendices treat the Catechism as the handbook for the vocation of the laity in worship and prayer, Luther’s morning and evening prayers as reflections of the Our Father, the Psalms organized according to the Lord’s Prayer, and preparation for Confession and Absolution according to the Ten Commandments.

Each section begins with material from the Small Catechism followed by a prayer developed out of that material. Then commentary on the teaching of the passage shows how the teaching shapes praying.

Here are a few example prayers in the book.

On the Third Commandment:

By Your Word and Spirit, draw us away from our restless labor that we might find rest in You alone, merciful God. Grant that, fearing and loving You above all things, we may never despise the preaching of your Word of Life, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it; through Jeus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

On the Second Question concerning Baptism:

Lord Jesus Christ, by Your death You have purchased and won for us forgiveness of sins, rescuing us from death and the devil and obtaining eternal salvation which You now work in Baptism. Give us Your Spirit that we may believe what You have said, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,” and so receive these gifts of forgiveness of sins, victory over death and the devil, and eternal salvation, as Your words and promises declare. Amen.

On how bodily eating and drinking of the bread and wine can do such great things:

Lord Jesus Christ, as we eat Your holy body and drink Your holy blood, draw our hearts to trust in your promise that Your body and blood were given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Give us the confidence that whoever believes Your words has exactly what they say: “forgiveness of sin”; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God. Amen.

Praying to God from the catechism also turns out to be God speaking from the catechism to you. Through praying and meditating on the Small Catechism, insights from the catechism come to light. One such insight is how the first three parts gel together. For example, the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer request nothing else but the fulfillment of what is commanded in the Ten Commandments.

Pless presents a table showing how the parts gel. For example, the command and promise of the First Petition (Hallowed be thy name) correspond with the command and promise of the Second Commandment (You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God). The Fifth Petition (forgive us) corresponds to the Third Article (how the Holy Spirit sanctifies us).

While pastors and teachers will find great uses for this book, some of the most powerful uses will be in the home. Husbands and wives, read this book together. Sit down for 10 minutes and read a selection aloud to each other. You almost certainly will find yourselves commenting to each other about what you’ve read. This is a supreme and ready-made form of marriage enrichment and of mutually building each other up in our most holy faith. Bringing enlivened, enlarged, and shared understandings from home to the Divine Service, you will find yourself more in communion with your spouse during and following congregational worship.

There will be dozens of ways to use this book. Buy it and begin a new, breathing chapter of your life.


[1]  Gottfried Krodel as quoted by Charles P. Arand, That I May Be His Own, p. 27.

[2]  Werner Klän, forward in John T. Pless, Praying Luther’s Small Catechism, p. vii.

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