the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer (1662)
in modern language
One of the oldest traditions of the Christian Church is the catechumenate. In the early church, people who wanted to become Christians were taught the core beliefs of the church over an extended period of time — as many as three years — before being allowed to take Holy Communion with the rest of Christ’s people. This tradition eventually lapsed, but the Reformers of the sixteenth century brought it back, and in each of the great Reformation traditions there is a Catechism or Confession which young people, or those new to the church, were expected to learn and recite. (This usually happened as part of the rite of Confirmation, which is an episcopal rite, that is, one presided over by a bishop.) One of the briefest, yet most beautiful and meaningful, of these great catechisms is that of the Anglican Church, which appeared [in a form quite similar to what you see here] in the very first Book of Common Prayer 1549. The concluding section, on the Sacraments, was added in the 1662 revision of the Prayer Book.
What follows is an adaptation in modern English of that Catechism, along with links to relevant passages from Scripture. Though the primary purpose of this document is to train young people in the Christian faith, it is useful to any believer as a wonderful summation of the life that followers of Jesus are called to. Pay particular attention, if you would, to the way that this Catechism draws on the Anglican liturgy — on units of that liturgy familiar to every Anglican — and then feeds us back into the rich life of our common prayer.
Part 1: What Happened When You Were Baptized
Question. What is your name?
Answer: [this one you know!]
Question. In the eyes of the Church, you were given your name by some special people. Who are they?
Answer. My Godfathers and Godmothers gave me my name for my Baptism; and when I was baptized I was made a member of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27), the child of God (Romans 8:16), and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 25:34).
Question. What did your Godfathers and Godmothers do for you at your Baptism?
Answer. Because I was too young to make promises for myself, they made three promises on my behalf. First, that I should renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanity of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh. (James 4:7; (Ecclesiastes 1:2); (1 John 2:16) Secondly, that I should believe all the Articles of the Christian Faith. (Romans 10:9) And thirdly, that I should keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of my life. (John 14:21); Deuteronomy 6:2)
Question. Do you now have an obligation to fulfill, as best you can, the promises your godparents made for you?
Answer. I do, and with God’s help I will. And I thank our heavenly Father that he has called me to salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. And I pray that God will give me the grace to continue as a Christian all the days of my life.
Part 2: The Creed
Question. As a Christian, what do you believe?
Answer. I believe in God the Father Almighty (Matthew 6:9; Genesis 17:1), Maker of heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1): and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord (John 3:16, Romans 1:4), who was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35), born of the Virgin Mary (Luke 2:7), suffered under Pontius Pilate (Matthew 27), was crucified, dead, and buried (John 19); He descended into hell (Ephesians 4:9, 1 Peter 3:19); the third day he rose again from the dead (John 20); he ascended into heaven (Acts 1), and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty (Hebrews 10:12). From there he shall come to judge the living and the dead (2 Timothy 4:1). I believe in the Holy Spirit (John 16:13; Acts 2); the holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:14; 1 John 1:9); the resurrection of the body (1 Corinthians 15:35-49); and eternal life (John 3:16). Amen.
Question. What are the most important points you learn from this Creed?
Answer. I learn to believe first in God the Father, who has made me and all the world (Genesis 1). And second, in God the Son, who has redeemed me, and all mankind (Titus 2:14). And thirdly in God the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies me, and all the elect people of God (John 16; Acts 1:8; Romans 15:16).
Part 3: The Law
Question. You said that your Godfathers and Godmothers promised for you that you should keep God’s commandments. Tell me how many there are, and then please name them.
Answer. There are ten, and God named them in the twentieth chapter of Exodus. He began by saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
- You shall have no other gods before me.
- You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
- You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
- Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
- Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Question. What are the most important points you learn from these Commandments?
Answer. I learn two things: my duty to God, and my duty to my neighbor.
Question. What is your duty towards God?
Answer. My duty towards God, is to believe in him, to fear him, and to love him with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul, and with all my strength; to worship him, to give him thanks, to put my whole trust in him, to call upon him, to honour his holy Name and his Word, and to serve him truly all the days of my life (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Matthew 22:35-38).
Question. What is your duty towards your neighbors?
Answer. My duty towards my neighbors is to love them as myself, and to do to everyone, as I would want them to do to me (Matthew 7:12; Matthew 22:38-39); To love, honour, and care for my father and mother Exodus 20:12); To honor and obey those who are put in authority over me, whether in the government or the church or at school (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Timothy 5:17); To hurt nobody by word or deed (Colossians 3:17); To be true and just in any business; To bear no malice or hatred in my heart (Leviticus 19:17); Not to steal, lie, or speak maliciously (Exodus 20:16); Not to abuse my body through any kind of sin (1 Corinthians 6:15-20); Not to desire what others have; but to work hard to earn my own living (Exodus 20:17); and to do my duty in whatever way of life that God calls me to.
Part 4: The Lord’s Prayer and the Grace of God
Catechist. My young friend, please understand this: that you are not able to do these things with your own strength, or to walk in the Commandments of God, and to serve him, without his special grace. So you must learn at all times to call for that grace through prayer. Let me hear, then, if you can say the Lord’s Prayer.
Answer. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Question. When you pray this prayer, what are you asking from God?
Answer. I am asking the Lord my God, our heavenly Father, who is the giver of all goodness, to send his grace to me, and to all people (2 Corinthians 13:14); so that we may worship him, serve him, and obey him, as we ought to do (Matthew 4:10). And I pray to God, that he will send us all things that we need, both for our souls and bodies; and that he will be merciful to us, and forgive us our sins (Psalm 51:1); and that he will save and defend us in all spiritual and physical dangers (Romans 8:35-40); and that he will keep us from all sin and wickedness, and from our spiritual enemy, and from everlasting death. And this I trust he will do of his mercy and goodness, through our Lord Jesus Christ. And therefore I say, Amen, So be it.
Part 5: The Sacraments
Question. How many Sacraments has Christ ordained for his Church?
Answer. Two that he wishes every Christian to receive, if at all possible: Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper (also known as the Eucharist or Holy Communion).
Question. What do we mean by the word Sacrament?
Answer. We mean an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given to us, ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive that grace, and a pledge to assure us that God is truly gracious to us.
Question. How many parts are there in a Sacrament?
Answer. Two: the outward visible sign, and the inward spiritual grace.
Question. What is the outward visible sign in Baptism?
Answer. Water, in which the person is baptized in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Question. What is the inward and spiritual grace?
Answer. Death to sin, and a new birth to righteousness: though we were born in sin, and were the children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), in Baptism we are made the children of grace.
Question. What must a person have in order to be baptized?
Answer. Two things: Repentance, or turning away from sin, and Faith, or truly believing the promises that God makes in that Sacrament (Acts 2:38).
Question. Why then are infants baptized, since they are too young to repent or have faith?
Answer. Because their godparents make the promises on behalf of the infants; and when the baptized ones come to maturity, they take on those promises themselves.
Question. Why was the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper ordained?
Answer. So that we might remember the sacrificial death of Christ for us, and receive the benefits of that sacrifice (Luke 22:19).
Question. What is the outward visible sign in the Lord’s Supper?
Answer. Bread and Wine, which the Lord commanded us to take.
Question. What is the inward and spiritual grace?
Answer. The Body and Blood of Christ, which are truly taken and received by the faithful in the Lord’s Supper.
Question. What are the benefits that we receive from participating in this Sacrament?
Answer. Our spirits are strengthened and refreshed by the Body and Blood of Christ, just as our bodies are by the Bread and Wine.
Question. What is required of those who come to the Lord’s Supper?
Answer. To ask ourselves whether we truly repent of our sins, and truly intend to lead a new life; have a lively faith in God’s mercy through Christ, and a thankful memory of his death; and be at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).