Singing the Catechism

In 2006, we introduced Concordia Publishing House's new Sunday School curriculum, Growing in Christ, to our congregation in California. We did that for several reasons, but probably the biggest reasons were that it followed the flow of the church year and that it was distinctly Lutheran. One of the ways that the curriculum is distinctly Lutheran is its regular connections to Luther's Small Catechism. As a part of that, I was so pleased to find that on the CDs which accompany the student materials in the lower level there were newly composed tunes for singing the words of the Small Catechism. The first quarter had sections from the first article of the creed. The tunes were catchy and memorable.

The one downside, I thought, was that the translation used for these recordings is just a little different from the catechism translation published by Northwestern Publishing House and generally in use in the WELS. When we are dealing with texts to be memorized, consistency and uniformity is usually a plus. It makes me think of Luther's comments in his preface to the Small Catechism:

In the first place, let the preacher above all be careful to avoid many kinds of or various texts and forms of the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Sacraments, etc., but choose one form to which he adheres, and which he inculcates all the time, year after year. For [I give this advice, however, because I know that] young and simple people must be taught by uniform, settled texts and forms, otherwise they easily become confused when the teacher to-day teaches them thus, and in a year some other way, as if he wished to make improvements, and thus all effort and labor [which has been expended in teaching] is lost.

Also our blessed fathers understood this well; for they all used the same form of the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. Therefore we, too, should [imitate their diligence and be at pains to] teach the young and simple people these parts in such a way as not to change a syllable, or set them forth and repeat them one year differently than in another [no matter how often we teach the Catechism]. From bookofconcord.org

On the other hand, I realize that our translations must adjust over time so that they might remain understandable and memorable. I know that I learned the words of the catechism slightly differently than I teach them today (but I've re-learned them in the new version). And both are different from the way my parents learned them, and in a completely different language than my grandparents learned them. So while the translation issue is something I'm aware of, I'm not too concerned about it. I have thought that if a student of mine were able to learn the words of the catechism by heart and they happened to use a slightly different wording, I wouldn't make them re-learn it using the official WELS translation. 

790004.jpg So I haven't made much use of these recordings—yet. But I'm now thinking that perhaps I should. In the most recent quarter of Growing in Christ, the section of the catechism on the kids CDs is The Sacrament of the Altar. The CD has been playing in our van's stereo for about 10 weeks now. And Lydia, our three year old, loves to sing along with it and pretty much has the whole section memorized. It's like pulling teeth to get my 7th and 8th graders to memorize these words, but a three year old sings without hesitation, "What is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ…" She will even sing these words outside of the car, while playing around the house. And if I start singing a phrase, like, "Where is this written?" She will sing, "The holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and St. Paul write…" (I just tried it and that's exactly what she did.) Even Isaiah, our two year old, will sing along with parts.

And then, just this morning, I was teaching Bible Class on the Lord's Supper and when I started reading a section on Communion from the Small Catechism, I could hear the melody in my head as I read the words. This has even helped me.

So I decided that it would be worth it to purchase the whole collection and to encourage others to do the same. You can purchase the recordings on CD from Concordia, as well as in a printed songbook. Or, you can download the whole thing or piece by piece (much more expensive) in iTunes or on Amazon.com. For just $7.99. That's really nothing when I think of how much it is worth to me to have these words of faith imprinted on the minds and hearts of my children.

5 thoughts on “Singing the Catechism

  1. Thanks for writing about this. We’ve had that CD for several months, and it’s a great teaching tool. My kids listened to it in the car with interest. Then I got all conflicted about them memorizing the catechism with different wording than the current WELS version, so I put the CD away for a while. But I think I’ll get it back out and use it. The advantages of having the catechism memorized outweigh the disadvantages of having a few words changed. As you point out, the wording our churches use changes from generation to generation anyway. And I like what you said about not having a problem with a confirmand of yours knowing a slightly different version of the catechism. Hopefully most pastors would share that sentiment.
    You may also be interested in “My First Catechism,” an illustrated catechism sold by CPH. Again, there’s the wording issue, but it’s a wonderful book. It contains the full text of the Small Catechism, and alongside each segment is a retelling of a related portion of Scripture and an illustration. Families can get a lot of mileage out of this book. The illustrations are not cartoonish, so there’s no reason older children or even adults couldn’t use it.
    It would be nice to see our children memorize the catechism before they start confirmation class. The classical education model of the trivium could be applied here. First, children up to 5th grade or so find memorization fun, natural, and easy. Have the kids memorize the catechism during this time. Second, around 7th and 8th grade, children’s interest and mental ability turns toward logic and analysis. This is perfect for the type of confirmation instruction they receive with the Kuske catechism. Third, at the high school stage, they are most concerned about expressing themselves and communicating, so this is the time to focus on writing and speaking effectively. Their minds are trained by first obtaining facts to think about, then figuring out what it all means, and then learning how to express that knowledge to others.

  2. Hans,
    You’ve touched on one of the advantages of contemporary music in this post, and you’ve said it much better than I can. The thing is that people will listen to this stuff in their leisure time and in so doing, glorify God. Since we started a monthly contemporary service at our church, I’ve been approached by members who tell me that their children dance to contemporary Christian music (CCM) on the “Dance Revolution Machine” and know all the lyrics, others workout to CCM on their MP3 devices and others listen to it whenever they are in their cars. I know that you love hymns enough that you probably listen to hymns in your spare time but this is not the case for the average parishioner. Thanks for sharing this post.

  3. I’m not sure I would find a very strong comparison between singing the catechism and CCM. The strength of the catechism is that it is a text that teaches and summarizes the central truths of the Christian faith. The same thing could be said for our teaching hymnody, but the catechism is a more concentrated text. God may be glorified in everything that we do (1 Cor 10:31), but it is in the clear and direct truths of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ that we are built up in faith. It has not been my experience that CCM does that (in general—I realize that there are probably exceptions).
    What we have pointed out is an advantage that music has in general. It aids memory (“I have hidden your word in my heart” Psalm 119:11) and allows us to take these texts with us wherever we are. It’s true that some tunes may be more memorable than others, but the critical thing is the texts, the truths. It may or may not be something that you can dance to, but the songs I want to sing are songs that sing the faith.

  4. Steve,
    Thanks for posting your comments. As the composer of Sing the Faith!, I’m pretty sure you haven’t actually listened to my songs. They are FAR from CCM. My songs, like good church music, are text-driven. So the lyric element if predominent.
    CCM is beat-driven. The rhythmic element predominates. “DANCE MACHINE”. I used to be in that world, and can assure you that words are usually retro-fitted on to ‘hooks’ and ‘grooves’. Your members may report enjoyment of such music, as it does generate a psycho-motor response, but its value is simply music-as-music rathan than music-as-proclamation.
    This is why CCM is a better fit for the Reformed and the Enthusiasts. And why my songs are in a whole different, Lutheran world.
    I hope you will reconsider your ‘contemporary’ worship service. It is great that you have parishioners memorizing songs – but it would be better for them to memorize psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph 5, Col 3). Traditional Lutheran worship – done well – will have your parishioners memorizing and rejoicing in much better texts than you’ll find in CCM. Lutheran texts, dripping with the Gospel. And psalms & canticles (‘spiritual songs’) that are the very Word of God. You just don’t find that with the music of “Dance Revolution Machine”.
    I am convinced that the solution here is to improve your Lutheran worship – not to import an alien piety into your parish and pride yourself into thinking you can keep folks Lutheran through preaching and reading alone. Music reaches the heart, and people who sing Bapticostal music WILL become Bapticostals. You may keep members for a generation, but your Dance Revolution kids will leave confessional Lutheranism by-and-large for New Life Praise Tabernacle or the local “Bible” church.
    Not trying to beat you up, pastor. Just hoping you’ll give this some thought. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to further this discussion.
    There is a better way!

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