Catecheticals are characteristic of Western Christianity but are also present in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. In 1973, The Common Catechism, the first joint catechism of Catholics and Protestants, was published by theologians of the major Western Christian traditions, as a result of extensive ecumenical dialogue.
Before the Protestant Reformation, Christian catechesis took the form of instruction in and memorisation of the Apostles' Creed, Lord's Prayer, and basic knowledge of the sacraments. The word "catechism" for a manual for this instruction appeared in the Late Middle Ages. The use of a question and answer format was popularized by Martin Luther in his 1529 Small Catechism. He wanted the catechumen to understand what he was learning, so the Decalogue, Lord's Prayer, and Apostles' Creed were broken up into small sections, with the question "What does this mean" following each portion. The format calls upon two parties to participate, a master and a student (traditionally termed a "scholar"), or a parent and a child. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) is an example:
Q. What is the chief end of man?
A. To glorify God and enjoy Him forever!
Q. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him?
The catechism's question-and-answer format, with a view toward the instruction of children, was a form adopted by the various Protestant confessions almost from the beginning of the Reformation.