Liturgical Forms in Lutheran Theology
 The Sunday Service
This section will offer contributions on the history and theology of the Sunday worship service in Lutheran theology.
 What Happens on Sunday Morning -- and How Shall We Call It?
There are various names out there in reference to the regular Sunday service of a congregation. The individual terms seem to be more or less associated with certain church bodies today. Catholics, e.g., will speak preferrably of the Mass. Eastern Orthodox Christians will refer to the (Divine) Liturgy.
In the Protestant camp, the situation is a bit more complicated. This, no doubt, has to do with the fact that at the time the Protestant churches came into being as institutions distinct from the Catholic Church, Luther and other reformers often simply adopted the current terminology (there was no real alternative to it if you wanted to be understood) and spoke, e.g., of the Mass when speaking about the Sunday service consisting of preaching and the Lord's Supper. Later generations of English-speaking Protestants, however, desiring to give an expression to the significant theological differences between Protestants and Catholics in the understanding of the Sunday service and its component parts, now typically speak about worship (service).
Within this larger group of Protestantism, some use or modify the terms used by Catholics and Eastern Orthodox churches. This seems to be done, among other reasons, in order to express a certain sense of theological continuity to the church prior to the 16th century and in order to express a certain sense of theological discontinuity to contemporary (and / or historic) forms of Protestantism. These people then speak also of the Mass, the Liturgy, or the Divine Service. The latter term can be a simple translation of the Eastern Orthodox term, divine liturgy; it can also be a translation of the German Gottesdienst, which, literally translated, means God's Service. The genitive could be understood as either subjective or objective or both: the service God offers or is offered to God. This can mean the same as divine liturgy or service, but can also have a different meaning.
Does it matter how one calls what is going on on a given Sunday morning at a given congregation, or are the above-mentioned options just names, from which one may choose according to whim and taste? In the Preface to the 1580 Christian Book of Concord, those who pledge themselves to it promise "not to manufacture anything new through this work of concord nor to depart in either substance or expression [weder in rebus noch phrasibus] to the smallest degree from the divine truth, acknowledged and professed at one time by our blessed predecessors and us" (para. 23). "Expression" is here clearly distinguished from (doctrinal) "substance," but this does not make expressions simply meaningless and interchangeable. A certain doctrinal substance is preserved in a certain doctrinal expression. An innovative or restorative deviation from agreed-upon expressions always raises questions as to the status of the agreed-upon substance. -- In short, it does matter how we call the Sunday service.
 Worship / Divine Service (Gottesdienst, cultus divinus)
How, then, does the Book of Concord call the Sunday service, and how does it define what goes on there? In the Large Catechism on the Third Commandment, Luther speaks of "Gottesdienst" (I, 84), which is translated into Latin as "cultus divinus" ("divine service"), which an English translation of the Large Catechism renders as "worship services." This term is then defined by a description of what ought to happen in such divine service: not having to work on the day of rest, Christians come together "to hear and deal with God's word and then praise God with hymns, psalms, and songs." Clearly, this brings to mind Luther's explanation of the Third and Second Commandments in the Small Catechism. Hearing God's word and praising God -- these are then the two divinely mandated components of the "worship service" of the Christian church.
While the Third and Second Commandments are thus about the outward actions that ought to happen in terms of "Gottesdienst" or "worship service," the First Commandment is about the "Gottesdienst" of man's heart. In his exposition of the First Commandment in the Large Catechism, Luther describes the "rechte Ehre und Gottesdienst ... so Gott gefällt" (verus Dei cultus [et] honor ... Deo gratus et acceptus sit; the true honor and worship that please God) as follows (I, 16): "that the heart should know no other consolation or confidence than in him, nor let itself be torn from him, but for his sake should risk everything and disregard everything." The heart's "true honor and worship" of God is thus summarized by Luther's explanation of the First Commandment in the Small Catechism: "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things."
The English term "worship" nicely fits in this definition of the meaning of the First Commandment, although it does not cover its full gospel-centered breadth. It is derived from the Old English term "weorthscipe," which means "worthiness, respect," in Middle English this is specifically referred to a divine being: "worshipe" means also "reverence paid to a divine being." As seen above, "divine service" is a more direct translation of the Latin "cultus divinus," which clearly does not have a bi-directional meaning, as suggested by some it should have. The "cultus (Dei / divinus)" is always the service rendered to God, not the service rendered by God according to Matt. 20:28 (Vulgate: ministrari / ministrare) etc. It is therefore a synonym to "worship."
The inward and outward "worship" do not simply coexist in some parallel, unrelated form. For, as Luther teaches in the Smalcald Articles, faith -- the true worship of the heart -- is created by the Holy Spirit. Genuine faith does not "naturally" arise in man's heart and is thus not identical with sinful man's longing for some "higher being" that is at the bottom of all non-Christian religions that have to be qualified as "false worship" (LC I, 17). This Holy Spirit works faith only by means of the external word, that is, by the Scripture and Word of the apostles (SA III, VIII, 6-7), more specifically, the gospel concerning Christ's life and death for the sins of the world. This means, the external worship of the church is there to create and sustain the internal worship of the Christian by proclaiming the apostolic gospel of Christ. And, as Luther teaches most simply in the Small Catechism's explanation of the Second Commandment, where there is genuine faith in God, there also genuine prayer, praise, and thanksgiving will be offered to God. The gospel creates faith that alone saves; this faith is active in love, beginning with praising God.
We could therefore put it in a circular fashion like this: Passively participating in the external service by hearing God's word thus creates the internal worship of the Christian, which shows itself in actively participating in the external service by praying and praising God "with hymns, psalms, and songs." Since faith, having to struggle with man's sinful nature, is an "endangered species," this circle is a perpetual one while the Christian lives on earth. Faith needs to be recreated and sustained always, so that God is given in man's heart and voice his true honor and worship despite man's sinful, idolatrous nature. True worship from the inside out starts with God speaking to man and man listening to God's word.
Having made a beginning in actively serving God in the divine service by praising God for his grace in Christ, the Christian is called to serve God on a daily basis by keeping all his commandments. Luther expresses this truth by introducing the explanations of all the commandments by "We should fear and love God, so that we ..." Faith shows itself active in all good works, that is, works done in accordance with the Ten Commandments. This is, in the broadest sense of the term, the Christians' external worship (see AC XXVII, 57; Ap. XXIV, 27).
In his 1523 treatise On the Adoration of the Sacrament, Luther also distinguishes between inward and outward worship, yet without explicitly mentioning the preaching of the word as the necessary connection between the inward and outward worship of a Christian. In a fashion similar to what he stated in the Large Catechism on the Third Commandment, Luther again took up the topic "worship" when dealing with the Third Commandment in his 1544 sermon for the dedication of the Torgau castle church. The teaching of the Large Catechism on worship, therefore, is not isolated but well integrated in Luther's teaching throughout his life and work as reformer of the Christian church.
 Mass and Liturgy
Having thus carefully defined "worship," it seems that it, according to the confessions of the Lutheran Church, is a quite appropriate term for the Sunday service. This is not to say, however, that the understanding of worship as including both God's word, man's faith, and man's praise and life, is shared by all who use this term. One therefore does well to state always clearly what is meant by "worship." Yet what about the other terms, such as mass and liturgy? The confessions speak to this question because they had to contend against an erroneous understanding of the terms, and of worship itself, that sought to put the emphasis on man's work, not on God's word.
On the one hand, the Lutherans are eager to point out (AC XXIV, 2): "no noticeable changes have been made in the public celebration of the Mass, except that in certain places German hymns are sung alongside the Latin responses for the instruction and excercise of the people." On the other hand, they are equally eager to point to the ways in which the Mass was misused: either by the practice of buying masses and by the more fundamental error that led to the buying of masses in the first place, namely, "the teaching that our Lord Jesus Christ had made satisfaction by his death only for original sin and had instituted the Mass as a sacrifice for other sins" (XXIV, 21).
Against this misunderstanding of the Mass -- here taken synecdochically for the chief part of the Mass, the Lord's Supper -- three things are asserted: first, there is only one atoning sacrifice for all sin, namely, "the one death of Christ" (XXIV, 25); second, grace before God is obtained by faith, not works, including "sacrificing the Mass" (ibid., 28f.); third, the Lord's Supper "was not instituted to provide a sacrifice for sin--for the sacrifice has already occurred--but to awaken our faith and comfort our consciences" (ibid., 30).
The misunderstanding of the Mass as a sacrifice was reflected in the etymology that was given to this word by those who adhered to the error: the Latin term "missa" was said to be the translation of the Greek word λειτουρία, which was said to mean "sacrifice" (Ap. XXIV, 78). It is shown, however, that the Greek term means "public service:" "This agrees quite well with our position, namely, that the one minister who consecrates gives the body and blood of the Lord to the rest of the people, just as a minister who preaches sets forth the gospel to the people;" both the administration of the sacrament and the preaching of the gospel are done by the pastor as God's servant and steward and ambassador (ibid., 80). In other words, if the worship service is called a liturgy, then Lutherans have in mind specifically the action of the pastor who, as Christ's representative, publicly serves Christ's body and blood and his word to the people.
The term "missa," on the other hand, is derived, not from the Hebrew term for altar (מזבח) which would suggest a sacrificial meaning in the Catholic sense (that is, one performed by a priest on behalf of others), but from the offerings given by the people in the time of the Old Testament and during the early church (ibid., 85f.). Then it is concluded (ibid., 87f.): "[The Mass] can be called an offering for the same reason it is called a Eucharist: here are offered prayers, thanksgiving, and the entire act of worship [et totus ille cultus]. ... The Greek canon also says a lot about an offering; but it clearly shows that it is not talking about the body and blood of the Lord in particular, but about the entire service [de toto cultu], about the prayers and thanksgivings. ... and by 'reasonable service' [Rom. 12:1] Paul meant the service of the mind, fear, faith, prayer, thanksgiving, and the like ...".
A few paragraphs earlier (ibid., 35), it had been said: "We are perfectly willing for the Mass to be understood as a daily sacrifice, provided that this includes the entire Mass, that is, the ceremony together with the proclamation of the gospel, faith, prayer, and thanksgiving. For these things are joined together as a daily sacrifice in the New Testament; the ceremony was instituted for the sake of these things, and must not be seperated from them," cf. 1 Cor. 11:26. These are, then, "eucharistic sacrifices," "performed by those who are already reconciled:" "preaching the gospel, faith, prayer, thanksgiving, confession, the afflictions of the saints, and indeed, all the good works of the saints." They are not atoning sacrifices, of which there is, as seen above, only one: "the death of Christ" (ibid., 22, 25).
In other words, here we again see applied to the central issue of the Christian faith what Luther laid out in simple fashion: Considered from the perspective of the people, the worship service has a passive element that is well designated by the term "liturgy," understood as the pastor's service, as Christ's mouth and hands, to the people. Yet the worship service, logically preceded by the passive element, also has an active element that could be designated by the term "offering," "eucharist," "sacrifice," and even "Mass."
Interestingly, preaching comes into view both in an active sense (as a sacrifice) and in a passive sense (as God's word): for the pastor preaching, it is, as a good work commanded him by God, his sacrifice of thanksgiving; for the parishioner hearing, it is God's work on him. And because it creates faith, preaching the gospel is called the "chief worship" (Ap. XV, 42f.). Faith also can be considered both actively, as a good work (sacrifice) of the believer commanded by the First Commandment, and passively, as means to appropriate the all-sufficient merit of Christ's atoning sacrifice (Ap. IV, 56f.; SD III, 13). Faith and good works thus cannot be seperated from each other, since faith itself is also a good work besides being active in love (SD IV, 10-12). However, they need to be clearly distinguished: Here too the passive, saving aspect logically precedes the active, serving aspect. And in its passive-receptive-saving aspect, faith is "the hightest way to worship Christ," namely, when one seeks "the forgiveness of sins from him" (Ap. IV, 154), not from one's own actions.
There is no perfect fit to name the gathering of Christians to hear God's word and praise God with hymns, psalms, and songs. It is remarkable that all terms, both the general terms "worship" / "divine service" and the more specifically Christian terms "mass" and "liturgy," have a certain man-centeredness to them in that they, in their natural meaning, focus on our activity that we ought to perform toward God. In other words, they do not take into account man's inability to do anything worthwhile toward God due to man's sinfulness that spoils even, or especially, man's best efforts, his activities toward God. Due to this sinful nature, man ultimately does not worship God but himself by nature. Unless touched by the Holy Spirit in law and gospel, man cannot escape his sin, that is, his own gravitational field that makes everything and everyone, including God, circle around his self as the center of the universe.This is why, God's work and service toward man always has to come first. God first has to create genuine repentance and faith in man's heart by his word; by faith, man gives God the honor that is due him by letting him be what he desires to be: not our demanding Master, but our giving God who, for Christ's sake, freely bestows on us all good thing for this life and the next.
Faith is that worship [λατρεία, see Rom. 12:1] which receives the benefits that God offers; the righteousness of the law is that worship which offers God our own merits. God wants to be honored by faith so that we receive from him those things that he promises and offers. (Ap. IV, 49)When it is said that man was created to serve God, then this is, in a sense, true, but in another sense it is utterly false. When it is said that man was created to worship God, then this too is, in a sense, true, but in another sense utterly false. It all depends on how serving and worshiping God is defined. It is wrongly defined if God is not first and foremost taught as the gracious Giver who offers all things, including himself, to us. Man is -- first and foremost, though not exclusively -- created to receive good gifts from his gracious God. Man's basic sin against the First Commandment is then not to want to receive gifts from God, because this sin does not let God be the God he wants to be, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. In the Large Catechism (I, 22f.), Luther called this "another false worship" (falscher Gottesdienst, falsus et erroneous Dei cultus) which in reality is "the greatest idolatry" (Abgötterei, idololatria). It takes place in the
conscience that seeks help, comfort, and salvation from its own works and presumes to wrest heaven from God. ... [It is] unwilling to receive anything as a gift of God, but [desires] to earn everything by itself or to merit everything by works of supererogation, just as if God were in our service or debt and we were his liege lords. What is this but to have made God into an idol ... and to have set ourselves up as God?
What terms, then, should be used to designate the gathering of Christians to hear God's word and to sing his praises? The confessions suggest, in addition to the terms already discussed, "the old term" synaxis, gathering (Ap. XXIV, 79), which, in addition to the communion reference mentioned in the confessions (see 1 Cor. 10:16f.), also has nice biblical connotations, not the least of which is its relation to the synagogue and certain eschotological aspects (see Matt. 3:12).
The term "mass" suggests indeed a continuity to the church in existence before the reformation, which the reformers never denied but always affirmed. As seen above, the mass is not an abuse in itself; having been made into a sacrifice only, it had been abused and needed to be reformed with the gospel in hand. Today, however, this term seems to be misleading at best, when used for a non-Catholic service. While used positively by Luther and in the confessions, "Mass" now is a term commonly understood not to refer to a Lutheran service.
The term "liturgy" hearkens back to the Greek church. Some confessions argue with the Greek church against the papacy; it seems to offer to Lutherans a "traditional" term not associated with the Church of Rome. Later generations of Lutherans, however, had to realize that Eastern Orthodoxy shared many theological errors with the papacy. These errors certainly include a legalistic and, as seen in Cabasilas, synergistic understanding of the traditional orders of service that is contrary to evangelical freedom (rightly understood) and thereby to the gospel itself, since it turns them into idolatry.
Some, no doubt, will point out that in the US, a country shaped by non-Lutheran Protestantism, all these considerations should take second place to attempts to distinguish genuine Lutheranism from other Protestant churches and their preferred term (and understanding of) "worship." Especially Eastern Orthodox churches are a rarity and therefore widely unknown. Borrowing from their terminology seems to offer a solution for the problem. "Liturgy," in common usage, is definitely broader than "mass." While the former, known in English since 1560, refers to "a eucharistic rite" or "a rite or body of rites prescribed for public worship," the latter refers more specifically to "the liturgy of the Eucharist esp. in accordance with the traditional Latin rite," "a celebration of the Eucharist," or "a musical setting for the ordinary of the Mass." While "mass" is not a biblical term, "liturgy" appears quite often in the OT (specifically of the services performed by the priests) and in the NT (priestly and not related to worship, see, e.g., Rom. 13:6; Phil. 2:25, 30).
As seen above, when the confessions speak of liturgy, they have specifically the service of the pastor (preaching the gospel, administering the sacraments) in mind. This, to be sure, is the most important thing going on in a worship service, but it is by no means the only thing. Additionally, this specific Lutheran understanding of the term is not shared by those outside this church; when used, it therefore must be carefully explained as to its evangelical meaning.
"Worship" (and its synonym "divine service"), on the other hand, is understood as "reverence offered a divine being," "an act of expressing such reverence," but also as "a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual." Prescriptive connotations, present in both liturgy and mass, are apparently absent from "worship," while also "worship" contains an element of order ("ritual"). It is also the least specifically Christian term, a fact which, however, could also be brought to bear against the use of the term "God." Yet due to the proximity of worship to the First Commandment seen above, that might make the term actually perhaps especially suited to lead a person to answering the decisive question: who is your God? Unlike "mass" but also "liturgy," "worship" is perhaps better suited to start a conversation with natural man (everybody worships something, but not everybody follows a liturgy; fewer people yet participate in a mass), in the course of which he evidently must be killed by faith in the gospel if he is truly to worship the one true God with "heart and mouth and deed and life".
 Week Day Services of Prayer and Preaching at the Church
Lutherans inherited also services that were held in the morning and evening during the week. While traditionally focused on prayer, Luther insisted that God's word be preached at these services as well. Therefore, here we will present material on these services.
 Prayer Services at Home
According to the Small Catechism, the Christian begins and ends his day with a simple form of prayer. Before and after a meal, he asks for God's blessing and thanks him for his goodness. The alternative for Lutherans is thus not "formal prayer at church" OR "informal prayer at home." There are brief forms available also for use at home. Clearly, these are to be used in Christian liberty, that is, not as a new ceremonial law. Yet they can have the great benefit of taking the burden of creativity off the shoulders of the Christian seeking to establish a simple yet true and profound prayer life. They also can serve the purpose of schooling the Christian in praying rightly, so that, when he prays freely, he prays according to the will of God. In fact, Luther suggested the use of the entire Catechism as a guideline for free prayer. In this way, the biblical teaching and confession of the church shapes the prayer of the individual member of the church.
If prayer is not only an expression of a person's faith, but also a teacher of a person's faith, then one can see how using similar forms of prayer, even at home, would be important for maintaining and strengthening the church's unity in the one true faith, once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
 Morning and Evening Prayers
 Mealtime Prayer
 Praying the Catechism
 Other Forms
 The Litany
In 1529, when the armies of the Ottoman-Turkish rulers were at the gates of Vienna, thereby threatening all of Western Europe, Luther wrote a small booklet, On War against the Turk. In it, he analyzes the spiritual crisis in Germany: people don’t care about the gospel; they live lives that don’t honor God’s law; they don’t pray. This is why God uses the Turkish armies to discipline his lukewarm church. Luther exhorted all preachers to call their people to repentance, faith, and holiness, but also to exhort them to earnest, diligent prayer that trusts in God’s promises. He realized that not all would heed such call to repentance and prayer; rather, this call would make the true Christians become apparent.
While advising against public processions as too pompous, Luther writes (AE 46:172-173): “It might, indeed, be of some use to have the people, especially the young people, sing the Litany at mass or vespers or in the church after the sermon, provided that everyone, even at home by himself, constantly raised to Christ at least a sigh of the heart for grace to lead a better life and for help against the Turk. I am not speaking of much and long praying, but of frequent brief sighs, in one or two words, such as, ‘O help us, dear God the Father; have mercy on us, dear Lord Jesus Christ!’ or the like.”
The prayers at church and at home go hand in hand to ask God for mercy and grace. The litany is the recommended prayer at church; the simple prayer-sighs at home are brief, concentrated litanies. At his own church in Wittenberg, he put his own advice into practice: as early as February, 1529, the litany was used in both Latin and German. In March, 1529, Luther published the German litany; in the summer of that year, the Latin version followed suit (cf. AE 53:153-170).
Luther didn’t invent this prayer. As all of his liturgical forms, Luther inherited this special prayer from his mother, the church. Luther didn’t throw all his mother’s things away and start from scratch. Instead, whenever possible, he carefully restored their good, ancient substance based on God’s word by reforming what had become deformed due to false teaching. The truth is never outdated.
The litany goes back to the brief prayer we find frequently in the gospels: “Lord, have mercy” (Matt. 17:15; 20:30-31). It also appears in similar forms (see Matt. 9:27; 15:22; Luke 17:13, for the OT see only Ps. 6:2; 27:7; 41:4; 51:1; 56:1; 57:1; 86:3; 123:3). This is how the litany begins and ends, by calling upon the Lord to have mercy and help us poor sinners.
Yet we also see that the litany prays the individual petitions of the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4): from the hallowing of God’s holy name by right teaching and living all the way to the deliverance from all evil, including the evil one, the devil – it’s all right there in a more detailed fashion than in the Lord’s Prayer itself. Early Lutherans therefore called the litany an “exposition of the Lord’s Prayer.”
Moreover, by praying the litany we state clearly what makes our prayers pleasing to our heavenly Father: not our fervor, not our creativity, not certain magic formulas, not our good Christian life, but only the holy life and death of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
It seems that in an earlier form the litany was used first in the 4th century in Antioch in Syria, where the disciples were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26). In the 5th century, this prayer – via Constantinople (Istanbul) – came to be used in Rome. From there it spread in all of Europe. By Luther’s time in the 16th century, there were a number of different litanies in use in the church. However, unbiblical additions had been made, such as calling on the saints. Luther used the so-called Great Litany, the Litany of the Saints, but cut out the prayers to the numerous saints and for the pope.
Real need (Turks and lukewarm Christians), God’s word, and purified tradition thus came together for this rich, timely-timeless prayer of the Lutheran Church.
 A Devotional Reading of the Sunday Worship Service for Congregational Use
Here we offer a devotional reading of a Lutheran order of service that is found in the 2006 Lutheran Service Book and, in a very similar form, in other contemporary Lutheran hymnals, e.g., The Lutheran Hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, Lutheran Worship, and Lutheran Book of Worship.
 Invocation, Confession and Absolution
We participate in liturgies every time we come to church for worship; and we do so according to our specific holy vocations in the church – as God’s people, as pastor. Our Lutheran liturgies give a meaningful order to our corporate worship. Our liturgies on Sundays, e.g., are the entire Small Catechism in action. Our liturgies help us stay connected to those who share our Lutheran faith, while they separate us from those who believe differently (every church follows some liturgy). Our liturgies, although they slowly change over time and space, also connect us to those who’ve gone before us in the faith. Our liturgies are filled with the gospel of Christ who comes to make us rich, but they’re also an opportunity to practice Christian love in humility. Liturgy matters because it always states and shapes what a person or church believes. That’s why we here focusing on individual parts of our Sunday morning order of worship to explain some of its important elements. In this way, all can grow in joint understanding and appreciation of what is heard, sung, and prayed together on a weekly basis.
Every Sunday we gather in the name of the Triune God who baptized us. This is why the pastor blesses God’s people in the invocation by pronouncing on them again the gospel of His saving name given them in baptism: “In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The sign of the cross he makes drives home our baptism again: since our baptism, we’re all marked by the sign of the cross on our forehead and breast as those who belong to Christ, the Crucified. The worship service is chiefly a public assembly of baptized Christians; it takes place according to the word of the God whose name has just been called out over those gathered, the holy Trinity. So, it’s neither a private club meeting according to our rules nor an evangelism rally.
Christians are those who believe and are baptized, but Christians are not without sin. In fact, we come to church chiefly to be given Christ’s forgiveness, life, and salvation. This saving grace is not something we find in our hearts or in nature. It comes to us only by way of the means of grace, the gospel in word and sacraments. They connect us to Christ’s cross in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. Back then, Christ won our salvation. Today, the Holy Spirit delivers this full and free salvation through the gospel. This is why we begin the service by confessing why we’ve come before God this day: not to socialize, network, or brag about our gifts and accomplishments, but because we’re by nature sinful and unclean (original sin) and have sinned in thoughts, words, and deeds (actual sins) against God and our neighbor; because we deserve to die; because we’d like to be forgiven by God; and because we’d like to live in such a way that gives glory to His holy name given us in baptism.
God immediately answers our confession by speaking the gospel. He does so through the pastor as his ordained spokesman in the absolution: that’s why the pastor forgives all our sins, not in his own name or in the name of the church, but in the name and by the authority of the Triune God who once for all baptized us. The pastor’s forgiveness is Christ’s forgiveness. It’s been earned once for all by Christ’s perfect life and death, not by our sorrow over our sins, our prayers, or other good works. The pastor’s words of absolution give us Christ’s absolution. Believing this man’s forgiveness to be Christ’s, our faith receives what his words give: Jesus Christ, our salvation and life.
Confession and absolution – that’s a return to our baptism once again (which is why, when there is a baptism, this takes place in the stead of confession and absolution at the beginning of the service). It sets the rhythm and tone for the remainder of the service (certainly not “casual” or “entertaining”). It sets the rhythm for our daily lives as Christians: we daily return to our baptism by repentant faith that in the power of the Holy Spirit strives against the sin that still remains in us. And confession and absolution also sets the blessed tone for dealing with fellow sinners: not self-righteous grudge-bearing and careless gossiping, but confession and absolution according to God’s law and gospel. Forgive as you have been forgiven.
 The Service of the Word
Opening the service with a rite of public confession and absolution sets the stage: We’ve come together as body of Christ in one place to confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness. The stage is now set; we move into the service of the word to do and receive more of the same: confession and forgiveness – for Christ’s sake. Our confession of sin, now silently in our heart’s sighs for mercy, will be prompted by the law of God, as it will be proclaimed in the course of the service in readings and sermon. The forgiveness of all sin we will receive by believing the good news of Christ’s life and death for us, as it will be proclaimed to us in the course of the service in readings and sermon. And where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
We start by praying or chanting a psalm together. The psalms are a part of the Old Testament, but, because they are true, they are not outdated. As they were the prayer book of the Old Testament church, so they are the prayer book of the New Testament church, beginning with Jesus Christ. The psalms teach Christ. They give voice to our praise of the Holy Trinity (“Glory be to the Father …”) and to our cries for mercy to that same God. The psalms teach the Christian to know God and himself. We use a different psalm every Sunday; in this way, we pray key psalms of the entire 150 psalms in the OT. You may use the psalm we pray together on Sunday morning for your daily devotions at home during the entire week – we get to know the psalms by spending time with them.
The psalm is thus part of the “propers,” that is, the changing parts of a given service. The biblical lessons and the collect and other prayers belong into this category as well. On the other hand, we have the “ordinaries,” that is, the parts that are there every Sunday. These standard parts of the liturgy have grown together in the service in a process spanning over 1000 years. The Kyrie eleison (Greek for “Lord, have mercy,” see Matt. 17:15 and elsewhere) is the first of the six standard parts of our service. This means the Kyrie is there every Sunday. Every Sunday, we poor miserable sinners cry out to our Lord to have mercy on us. – Is that too often, too depressing? Should we, perhaps except on Good Friday, have a more positive message at the beginning of worship? Some think so and worship accordingly: no need to rub it in; everybody already “knows” that they depend on God.
But do they? Due to our sinful nature, we never “know” God’s word like we know that 1+1=2. There’s nothing in us that denies a simple mathematical equation – no need to rub it in! Yet, regardless of how we might feel at any given moment, everything in us denies and resents being utterly dependent on God’s mercy. Everything in us also resents being reminded of this fundamental truth too often. By nature, we want our mercy to be the source of all good things. We want to have a right to those things. We don’t want things to be just about our sin and God’s mercy. Our liturgy, however, is just about our sin and God’s mercy. It keeps us focused on the gospel. The gospel is just about our sin and God’s mercy in Christ.
Our orders of service offer two different hymns of praise. The one, based on the praise of the angels on the first Christmas Eve in Bethlehem (Luke 2:14), is the older one. Christians have been singing this hymn for centuries, already before the Reformation in the 16th century. Lutherans retained this hymn because it beautifully praises God the Father and the Son for who they are and for what they do. The praise centers on the gospel: Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). If God’s forgiving our sins for Christ’s sake is the most important thing in the worship service, then this hymn is very fitting: We praise God by singing the gospel with the angels. The second, newer hymn focuses on the heavenly worship based on Rev. 5 and 19. It is fitting especially during the Easter season, when Christ’s bodily resurrection is celebrated as the public demonstration of his victory over man’s worst enemies: sin, death, and the devil. – Neither of these hymns is used during Lent because that season is about Christ’s suffering and death, where his divine glory was most hidden.
The three Scripture readings follow an ancient order that brings the entire life and teaching of Christ, with explanations from the prophets and apostles, to our hearing attention in one year. With the sermon on these texts, they are the center of the service of the word. God himself is present in his biblical word. The word of the bible is not the word of men; it is the unchanging word of the Lord. He himself works by means of his word, be it read or preached. He is active by this word in law and gospel to convict sinners of their sin and to forgive the sin of those who repent of their sins. In other words, by means of his word God is at work to save sinners every Sunday. In other words, we Christians don’t believe in a God who’s far away from us. We believe in a God who makes himself present in his word to work repentance and faith.
What does it mean for our behavior in worship that our holy and gracious “God himself is present,” as the hymn says (LSB 907)? Once we sinners realize his holiness, we can only fall on our faces and beg for God’s undeserved mercy, as seen so many times in the bible – and as we do at the beginning of our service when we cry out for God’s mercy. And yet, the unexpected miracle happens: God has mercy on us and by his gospel word wipes the dust off our faces: he forgives us; he clothes us in Christ’s righteousness and holiness; he places our feet on the firm ground of the gospel. So, to stand, even to sit, in the presence of our God is a very high spiritual privilege we should not proudly take for granted as something merely practical or as something everybody deserves. For it is only by faith in the gospel of the Lamb of God that we belong to God’s family and to his kingdom of priests. Only believers have the spiritual right to stand and sit before God because only we believe that God’s Son tasted the dust of death for all (Ps. 22:15). This standing and sitting is done, not casually or proudly, but in a posture (and attire!) of humility, because our sitting and standing before God does not rest on our own accomplishments and merits, but on Christ’s. By our actions, when we understand them in light of God’s word, we powerfully confess our faith that sets us apart from unbelievers.
One of the two ancient creeds is regularly confessed in the service (before or after the sermon) as a summary of the biblical gospel. These creeds are the concrete results of the battles for the truth of the Christian faith in the 2nd and 4th centuries. They remain relevant today, given the wide-spread confusion about God true nature. The Apostles’ Creed is first confessed at one’s baptism, when it is first “handed over” to the new Christian. Confessing the truth about our triune God in communion with fellow believers is thus again a high privilege of baptized Christians, not of random visitors who are not carefully and thoroughly instructed in the Christian faith. Only believers can conclude their confession by saying wholeheartedly “Amen:” “This is most certainly true!” These creeds also indicate that ours is not some new-fangled cult or sect, but a church that stands in continuity to the church of the prophets and apostles whose teachings are the unchanging word of God.
And it is then as true believers in the one true God that we, again in all humility, dare to pray to God in all confidence and bring our offerings to him in keeping with our vows made at our baptism and renewed at our confirmation: We don’t pray or offer our treasure to win God’s favor. We pray and offer as those for whom Christ has won God’s favor once and for all. Praying and offering to God in this way, in faith, is again only possible for those who believe in the gospel; all other people pray and offer to earn God’s favor. God continually needs to cleanse our hearts by faith in Christ (Acts 15:9) before the words of our mouth and the gifts of our hands are acceptable to him. For there to be true prayer and offering on our part, there needs to be God’s action in and by his word. That’s why the faith-creating and faith-sustaining gospel is always the most important word spoken in a Christian service.
 The Service of the Sacrament
The third major component of our order of service is the “service of the sacrament.” It is the part centered on the Lord’s Supper, the “sacrament of the altar,” as it is called in the Small Catechism. Lutherans, with the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, are actually the only churches today that believe that the Lord’s Supper gives more than mere bread and wine. Lutherans believe that the recitation of the words of institution makes Christ’s true body present in the true bread and his true blood present in the true wine to be received by the mouths of all who are given bread and wine. As we believe, so we pray and worship. In other words, our way of worship will be different than those who view the sacrament differently.
This part of the service is opened by the “Preface.” It starts out with an ordinary part, that is, a part that is always the same. And it concludes with a part that is proper to the changing seasons of the church year. The preface gives us the unchanging gospel as it is unfolded in the changing seasons. It praises God the proper way: by declaring what he has done to save mankind (see only Ps. 9:11; 107:22). Praising God is thus not done by fervently repeating words like “Praise the Lord” or, in Hebrew, “alleluia.”
This is followed by the “Sanctus,” which is the Latin word for “holy.” The Sanctus, one of the ancient standard (“ordinary”) parts of the full worship service, combines the words of the cherubim praising the Lord in Isaiah 6:3 with the words of welcome shouted by the people of Jerusalem when Jesus came to town just days before his death on the cross (see Matt. 21:9). What do these words teach us in this combination? They teach us that Jesus of Nazareth is The Lord: This humble man is the God who spoke and appeared to his people in the Old Testament (see John 12:41!). The Sanctus also teaches us: This God-man now comes to us. He comes to us as he came to Jerusalem 2000 years ago: not to be served but to serve. Jesus humbly comes to us in his word. Like a lowly slave, he meekly comes to take care of our filthy rags: taking away our sin and to give us forgiveness in the gospel. He comes to give us his true body and blood to seal to us individually the forgiveness given us in the gospel. We don’t believe in an exalted God who rules us by remote control. We believe in a God who was made man to serve, and thereby save, us sinners up-close: taking our place under God’s just judgment on the cross; coming now into the tough spots of our daily lives by his gospel in word and sacrament. So it’s not just Christ’s divine nature that is “somehow” with us. His human nature, by which he is our Brother, that nature is also with us in the one undivided Jesus Christ. As we believe, so we worship and pray.
The prayer of thanksgiving takes up what the Sanctus has given: It praises the Father for sending the Son to lost and condemned sinners to redeem us “by the all-availing sacrifice of His body and His blood on the cross.” What the Son’s (not our!) sacrifice on the cross won for us, this the Lord’s Supper now distributes: salvation and strengthening for our daily battle in the trenches of our spiritual warfare against the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature. The Lord’s Supper, like other forms of the gospel, delivers this double dose of grace: it saves and it empowers us to live like Christ – humbly serving our neighbor. It is thus like real food, food for the soul: just as our body can’t function for a long time without physical food, so our souls soon waste away and fall back into the ways of our sinful nature when we don’t “eat” and “drink” the gospel, be it the word, be it in the sacrament of the altar. We “eat” and “drink” the gospel word by believing it, in this way “remembering” that Jesus saved us from all our sins by his life and death. We eat and drink the Lord’s Supper with our mouths, but not without remembering his word that announces to us the good news that Christ’s body and blood were once “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Now we turn to the actual consecration and distribution of Christ’s true body in the bread and of his true blood in the wine of the Lord’s Supper. This is certainly the most comforting part of the entire service because here we not only hear the good news that Christ’s body was given for us into death and that his blood was shed to pay for our sins on the cross. Here we also have this wonderful news sealed to us by a most special gift: Christ’s own human body, Christ’s own human blood all communicants are given into their mouths. When others talk about being “touched by God” and must add a vague “somehow” to this bold thought because they don’t believe that Christ’s human nature (the nature he shares with us) is anywhere near us on earth, we can safely think of the Lord’s Supper: here our lips and tongues truly and certainly touch God’s real body and blood.
The Lord’s Supper is most comforting, but it is also most controversial among Christians today: what is it? We have that reliably and clearly summarized and explained for us in the Small Catechism based on God’s own word: “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.” After all, Christ said about the bread: “This is my body.” And concerning the wine in the cup he said: “This is my blood.” We don’t need to worry about how this can be; we can simply believe that Christ cannot and will not lie to us, and that his words are still as powerful today as they were 2000 years ago. So, when the pastor (as Christ’s representative and mouthpiece) recites the words of institution, then Christ by these words makes his body and blood present in such a way that we eat and drink them with the bread and the wine – whether we believe it or not! Faith, strengthened by the recitation of the same words, is necessary to receive the sacrament “worthily,” that is, to our salvation. Yet faith doesn’t make Christ’s body and blood present.
As we believe, so we pray and worship: In our order of service, the words of institution are recited over bread and wine. Thereby bread and wine are “consecrated” and “blessed,” that is, they are set apart by the words as they make Christ’s body and blood present in them. The distribution and reception follows the consecration, as the consecration happened for this purpose alone: that Christ’s body and blood might be consumed by God’s people, not so that consecrated elements might be paraded around, stored away, or worshiped. Our mouths receive what Christ’s words put in the bread and the wine. The Agnus Dei (Latin for “Lamb of God,” see John 1:29), another ancient and gospel-centered part of the service, comes in between as a prayer to our present Savior from all sin to have mercy on us and to give us peace. The cry for mercy at this point takes up our earlier cries for mercy in the opening part of the service in the Kyrie and Gloria. The distribution is followed by the Post-Communion Canticle. The Nunc Dimittis (Latin for “Now you let go”) is the traditional and superior song at this point as it thanks God for having allowed us, like Simeon (see Luke 2:25-35), to see and touch again Jesus Christ, God’s salvation and light for the nations. As Simeon was ready to die at this point in his life, so we are ready to die as well: we’ve seen and tasted that the Lord is good to us in Christ. Our Lutheran worship service makes us ready to die – what a wonderful thing when we consider that we, both old and young, can be surprised by death at any time. The Communion Collect praises God for what just happened: he strengthened our faith by putting Christ’s body and blood into our mouths; and it asks God to continue to do that so that we might grow in faith and thereby in love for one another. The blessing of our Triune Lord concludes the service.
As you’ve noticed, there is familiar regularity in the Lutheran liturgy that is beneficial especially for the weakest members of the church, the very old and the very young; and there’s salutary change in the Lutheran liturgy as the seasons of the year bring new facets of Christ’s life and death for us to the fore in readings and prayers. We’ll make the most of both without sliding either into mindless rote recitation or into equally mindless confusion by constant novelty, if and when we participate in our church’s corporate and common worship knowledgeably, consciously, and conscientiously.
- ↑ The adjective "divine" would then simply be an equivalent of "God's," as in "divine word" vs. "God's word."
- ↑ Bekenntnisschriften der Ev.-Luth. Kirche (BSLK), p. 581; The Book of Concord, ed. R. Kolb, T. Wengert, p. 397.
- ↑ Cf. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 2001), 1360 and R. D. Pittelko, "Worship and the Community of Faith," in Lutheran Worship: Theology and Practice, ed. F. Precht (St. Louis: CPH, 1993), 44f.
- ↑ See especially the following quotes:
My dear friends, we are now to bless and consecrate this new house to our Lord Jesus Christ. This devolves not only upon me; you, too, should take hold of the aspergillum and the censer, in order that the purpose of this new house may be such that nothing else may ever happen in it except that our dear Lord himself may speak to us through his holy Word and we respond to him through prayer and praise. (AE 51:333)
Let this be said with regard to the beginning of this Gospel concerning the sabbath and how and why and to what extent we Christians should make use of it, namely, that we are to come together at a time and place which we are agreed upon, deal with and listen to God’s Word, bring to God our ordinary and unusual needs and those of others and thus launch up to heaven a strong, effectual prayer, and also together laud and praise God’s goodness with thanksgiving. And of this we know that it is the right service and worship of God, a service which is well-pleasing to him and in which he himself is present. We know that we need not build any special church or temple at great cost or burden and that we are not necessarily bound to any place or time, but have been granted liberty to do this whenever, wherever, and as often as we are able and are agreed together. We know that, just as we are always obliged in our whole Christian life to use our liberty in these external things in love and for the service of our neighbor, so in this matter also we should be in harmony and conformity with others. (AE 51:338-339)
- ↑ 14th-century Byzantine liturgical commentator, Nicholas Cabasilas (A Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, tr. J. M. Hussey, P. A. McNulty (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2002)), designates, on the one hand the "consecration of the elements" as "the sacrifice itself" (27, 81f.), while he also states right at the beginning of his commentary: "The essential act in the celebration of the holy mysteries is the transformation of the elements into the Divine Body and Blood; its aim is the sanctification of the faithful, who through these mysteries receive the remission of sins and the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven. As a preparation for, and contribution to, this act and this purpose we have prayers, psalms and readings from Holy Scripture ..." (25). Prayers etc. are thus part of the entire service understood as "sacrifice," culminating in the "transformation" of bread and wine; yet this makes them, in typical Byzantine fashion, also contributors, and a necessary preparation (faith plus holiness of life!), to partaking worthily in the sanctifying effect of the real but unbloody sacrifice of Christ's body and blood (26, 29f.). Faith and love, sacrament and sacrifice are thus not clearly distinguished, since atoning power is also ascribed to the liturgical acts of the faithful.
- ↑ "Let this be the summary of this article, that the little word "Lord" simply means the same as Redeemer, that is, he who has brought us back from the devil to God, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, and keeps us there." (LC II, 31)
- ↑ The related term "liturgics," denoting the study of formal orders of worship, appeared in English first in the second half of the 19th century, Merriam-Webster, 680.
- ↑ Merriam-Webster, 680, 712
- ↑ Merriam-Webster, 1360.
- ↑ Cf. J. S. Bach's 1723 cantata BWV 147.