Good for More than Preaching: Liturgical potential in the Heidelberg Catechism

What part, if any, does the Heidelberg Catechism play in your liturgy? If you are Presbyterian, probably none at all, since it is not part of the Scottish and English tradition. If your roots are Reformed and from the European continent, you are probably familiar with the Catechism as it is used in preaching.

But, as some congregations are discovering, the Catechism is good for more than preaching. Recent translations have given new life to this historical document, and many churches could benefit from its use as a liturgical resource.

Carol Veldman Rudie describes ways in which a catechism might be used more meaningfully and integrally in worship. Although most ofRudies ideas are expressed in terms of the Heidelberg Catechism, many of them could be adapted for use with the Westminster Catechism and other confessions as well.

Although our surveys have shown that a large number of RW subscribers use the Heidelberg Catechism in their worship services, they also have revealed that many have not given much thought to creative and meaningful ways of making this confession come alive for the congregation. With a bit of thought, many possible options come to mind.

New Ways of Responding

Variations on the familiar responsive-reading approach (the minister reads the question and the people respond with the answer) are the most obvious. For example, for a change of pace have the congregation ask the question and the pastor or elder give the answer. The Lord's Day units that best lend themselves to this method are the more expository ones on the Lord's Supper and baptism (for an explanation of the division of the Catechism into Lord's Days, see p. 38).

Another variation reflects the structure of the congregation's response. If the answer has two parts, the congregation can be divided in half, each group reading part of the answer. Question and Answer 70 is an example of an answer that lends itself naturally to such a division.

If your church has the capability for a voice choir, a choral reading of the answer by a special group of readers would be an interesting option. When preparing such a reading, consider interspersing the Scripture references throughout the text of the answer.

Note also that speaking the answer is no longer the congregation's only option in responding to the Catechism. The 1987 Psalter Hymnal provides some singing options as well. Question and Answer 1 (PsH 549), Q&A 54 (PsH 507), as well as an expanded version of the Lord's Prayer (PsH 562), the Commandments and their summary (PsH 153), and two settings of the Apostles' Creed (PsH 519) are set to music. These can be used by congregation or choir either in place of or as a complement to the usual responsive reading. They can also be used effectively as a repeated musical theme during a catechism series on these topics.

A Variety of Uses

Another way to vary the use of the Catechism is to alter its liturgical function. For instance, after the sermon, the concluding prayer can incorporate the language of that Lord's Day answer and can be prayed either by the pastor or in unison by the congregation. An example of such a prayer, based on the three answers of Lord's Day 3, might read as follows:

Our great and good God, you have created us to be good and in your own image. You have intended us for true righteousness and holiness. You want us to truly know you, our Creator, to love you with all our heart, and to live with you in eternal happiness for your praise and glory.

But we have been poisoned. We are bom sinners. Send us your Spirit so mat through your power we can be bom again. Amen.

Or build on the themes introduced in the Catechism Q&A through appropriate Scripture and hymns. The scriptural and thematic indices included in most hymnals make it easy to find appropriate hymns that develop the Catechism's themes or that are based on the same Scripture as the Catechism Q&Ak A few words on how the Catechism, hymn, and/or Scripture are connected can be part of your introduction to the hymn or Scripture reading.

Another idea is to try using specific Q&As on the Ten Commandments during the time of confession to focus on a particular commandment. Or save these same Catechism readings for the "Response" section of the service, just before or after the offering. Something similar can be done for the Apostles' Creed. Rather than reciting the Creed each Sunday, read parts of it responsively from the Lord's Days that deal with the Creed at the appropriate time in the service.

When the Catechism Q&A serves as the basis for the sermon, pastors have traditionally read the Q&A before the sermon, along with the Scripture. Here again it makes sense to vary the approach from time to time. Surprise listeners by concluding a sermon with words like these: "Today's Scripture text has been summarized in Lord's Day..." Then have the congregation read the answer responsively as their confessional response to what they have discovered in the Scripture.

Or consider interspersing the Catechism throughout the sermon. This method works well when the Lord's Day has several Q&As that cover different aspects of a single topic, such as in Lord's Day 10. As the sermon progresses, the pastor simply asks the congregation to confess to the answer that summarizes that part of the sermon.

Most Lord's Days offer a variety of possibilities for themes. When the sermon focuses on one theme, the rest of the liturgy supplies ample room to choose among the others. Sometimes the Scripture references in the Catechism also help the worship leader to locate appropriate Scripture passages for other parts of the service: a call to worship, benediction, or litany of praise can often be selected from those references. So can hymns of confession or praise, calls to worship, or doxologies.

Appropriate Any Sunday

So far we have been talking about using the Catechism in a service that has a particular Lord's Day as its main focus. But with a bit of thought the Catechism can be used in meaningful ways in any service.

In his new book A Mighty Comfort, Fred Klooster illustrates such a use for the Catechism Q&As that focus on the Lord's Prayer. His responsive arrangement of the Lord's Prayer includes the words of Jesus, spoken by the worship leader, and the words of the Catechism, read by the congregation. A similar arrangement of the Ten Commandments is printed in the sidebar.

With some forethought, the Catechism year can complement the liturgical year. For example, appropriate parts of the Apostles' Creed can be used for the Christmas and Easter cycles (the Q&As can be adapted as litanies on those days without using the Catechism as sermon material). Or, consider the following Catechism-based possibilities:

  • Preach a series on the names of Jesus during Advent.
  • Use the Ten Commandments to make a post-Pentecost series on living a life of thankfulness.
  • Use Lord's Days on communion and baptism on the Sundays when those sacraments are administered.

The Catechism can be a meaningful liturgical instrument in the hands of a thoughtful worship planner. Its usefulness to God's people is limited only by our ability to find places where its words can be meaningful expressions of worship.



I am the LORD your God,
who brought you out of Egypt,
out of the land of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me.

I sincerely acknowledge the only true God, trust him alone, look to him for every good thing humbly and patiently, and love him, fear him, and honor him with all my heart.

In short, I will give up anything rather than go against his will in any way.

You shall not make for yourself an idol
in the form of anything in heaven above
or on the earth beneath
or in the waters below.

We will in no way make any image of God nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his Word.

You shall not misuse the name of the
LORD your God,
for the LORD will not hold anyone
who misuses his name.

We will use the holy name of God only with reverence and awe, so that we may properly confess him, pray to him, and praise him in everything we do and say.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

I will regularly attend the assembly of God's people to learn what God's Word teaches, to participate in the sacraments, to pray to God publicly, and to bring Christian offerings for the poor.

Every day of my life I will rest from my evil ways, let the Lord work in me through his Spirit, and so begin in this life the eternal Sabbath.

Honor your father and your mother.

I will honor, love, and be loyal to my father and mother. I will obey and submit to them, as is proper, when they correct and punish me; and I will be patient with their failings—for through them God chooses to rule us.

You shall not murder.

I will not belittle, insult, hate, or kill my neighbor—not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds—and I will not be party to this in others; rather, I will put away all desire for revenge. I will not harm or recklessly endanger myself either.

You shall not commit adultery.

God condemns all unchastity. We therefore thoroughly detest it and, married or single, will live decent and chaste lives.

You shall not steal.

I will do whatever I can for my neighbor's good, I will treat others as I would like them to treat me, and I will work faithfully so that I may share with those in need.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

I will love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it. And I will do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor's good name.

You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

With all my heart I will always hate sin and take pleasure in whatever is right.

For additional material from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, click here.

Carol Veldman Rudie ( is a freelance writer and a member of Calvary Christian Reformed Church, Edina, Minnesota.


Reformed Worship 26 © December 1992, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.