The words and actions through which Lutherans
worship God are many and varied. Representing a variety of ethnic groups
and patterns of piety, Lutheran congregations are seldom identical in the
way they worship. Still, for most Lutherans, certain facts hold true:
(1) Lutheran worship is liturgical, following
a common order of service adopted by the Church.
(2) Lutheran worship is biblical. It has
roots in the life of the Old Testament people and of the New Testament
Church. It uses the language of Scripture and celebrates the biblical message.
(3) Lutheran worship employs the historic
heritage of Christian worship common to major branches of the Church, as
it has developed over 20 centuries.
(4) In the spirit of the Reformation,
Lutherans worship in the contemporary language of the people. Lay persons,
as well as the clergy, participate actively in appropriate leadership roles.
(5) Lutheran worship employs the arts
- musical and visual - as gifts from God to be used to his glory and for
the instruction of his people.
Most North American Lutherans use the Lutheran
Book of Worship as their liturgical guide. It provides resources for a
rich life of congregational and personal prayer, centered in the Service
of Holy Communion. This leaflet will help you understand and participate
in this central Service of Word and Sacrament.
In most churches, an organ prelude begins
the worship. This is not just to establish a "mood," but is itself an offering
- a creation of artistic talent for God's glory. The music is often related
to the liturgical theme of the day or season, such as a chorale prelude
on one of the hymns to be sung. During this time, worshippers may listen,
offer personal prayers in silence or meditate on appropriate literature,
including the psalms and lessons for the day.
A brief order of spiritual preparation
frequently precedes the Service proper so that with "clean hands and a
pure heart" we may "stand in the holy place" of the Lord (Psalm 24). We
remember our Baptism by invoking the Name of the Triune God, and perhaps
by making the sign of the cross which was first given us in the baptismal
rite. In response to a scriptural invitation, we confess our sin and ask
for pardon. The presiding minister reminds us of divine mercy and declares
us forgiven in the name of God who made us his children in Holy Baptism.
MINISTRY OF THE WORD
THE ENTRANCE RITE
We begin the Service with a Hymn or Psalm
while the leaders of worship (and often the choir) go to their places.
Then the presiding minister greets the assembled congregation in words
similar to those used by the apostles in addressing early Christian churches
(see Romans 1:7). Because worship is not a solo performance by the minister,
but an activity of the people, here and elsewhere in the liturgy, the congregation
responds to the greeting.
In the Kyrie, we greet our Lord as people
of old greeted a king when he came to their city. In a series of petitions,
a minister asks for peace and salvation for ourselves and the world, the
people joining in the response, "Lord, have mercy" (in Greek, Kyrie eleison).
The Hymn of Praise which follows expresses
our joy for the gifts which our Lord brings. "Glory to God in the highest"
is an ancient song which begins with the angels' Christmas carol (Luke
2:14) and swells into a profound adoration of the Holy Trinity. An alternate
is "This is the feast," a modern song based on phrases from the Book of
The Prayer of the Day marks the conclusion
of the entrance rite. It is brief, focusing on a central theme for a particular
Sunday or holy day. Like several other prayers in the liturgy, it is introduced
by a greeting and response in which minister and people ask the Lord's
presence upon each other. We make this prayer our own by responding "Amen."
The Word of God in Holy Scripture has always
been a major element of Christian worship. Several Christian bodies, Lutherans
among them, use a three-year lectionary. Three Scripture lessons are usually
read at each service, interspersed with other biblical passages. The First
Lesson is usually a selection from the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures.
This is followed by a Psalm, one of the hymns of the Old Testament.
The Second Lesson is usually a portion
of one of the New Testament epistles or letters to the churches. It is
followed by the Verse, a brief poetic excerpt from either Old or New Testament.
The climax of the readings is the Gospel,
a section of the books that record the words and deeds of Jesus. Each of
the first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) is primarily associated with
one year of the three-year cycle of lessons, while the fourth Gospel (John)
is found among the readings during all three years. We stand to hear the
Gospel, for our Lord's own words are spoken. An acclamation of praise to
Christ precedes and follows it.
The Church's response to and interpretation
of the Word of God follows the Scripture readings. The Sermon, usually
based on one or more of the lessons, is a living witness of the Gospel,
expounding the Word and applying it to our own times and conditions.
The Hymn of the Day, which may be sung
before or after the Sermon, fits the theme of the lessons and sermon. It
is taken from the Church's rich treasury of poetry and music by which many
generations of believers have offered praise to God and witness to their
The Creed embodies the Church's ancient
and universal confession of faith in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Nicene Creed or the Apostles' Creed may be used, depending upon the
season of the church year.
Prayers of thanksgiving and intercession
for the needs of the Church, of society and a wide variety of individuals
form a fitting conclusion to the Ministry of the Word. These prayers vary
from service to service according to circumstances of time and place. The
people enter into the petitions through the frequent response: "Hear our
prayer," or "Lord, have mercy."
MINISTRY OF THE SACRAMENT
In an upper room in Jerusalem Jesus ate
the Passover meal with his disciples and instituted the Lord's Supper,
saying "Do this for the remembrance of me."
(1 Cor. 11:24). After Easter, the risen
Christ "was known to them in the breaking of breed" (Luke 24:35). We are
brought together by our obedience to his command and our need for his continuing
presence in his Sacrament. As we begin the communion rite, ministers and
people share the Peace with one another through words and gestures. The
Book of Worship notes, "The peace which enables people to live in unity
and the spirit of mutual forgiveness comes only from Christ whose Word
has been proclaimed. Without the intention to live in such unity, participation
in the sacramental celebration is a mockery."
The Offering of the people is gathered
as the altar table is made ready for the Lord's Supper. Offerings of money
are given as an expression of love and gratitude for God's blessings. Along
with these gifts, bread and wine for Holy Communion are frequently brought
forward and presented. An Offertory canticle, hymn or psalm is sung by
congregation or choir. Ministers and people join in a brief prayer of offering.
THE GREAT THANKSGIVING
Just as Jesus at table with his disciples
offered thanks in accordance with Jewish practice, so we embody in our
celebration of his Supper a great prayer of thanksgiving. It begins with
a Preface in which the presiding minister bids us lift our heeds to God
and give thanks. Then a Proper Preface states the particular reason for
thanksgiving appropriate to the day or season. This leads to a climax in
which we join in the canticle "Holy, holy, holy." Here we unite with the
heavenly hosts (Isaiah 6:3) and with the Church on earth (Matthew 21:9)
to adore God and to welcome the Savior who came for our redemption and
who now comes to us in the Sacrament.
The Great Thanksgiving may continue with
the Eucharistic Prayer in which the history of God's salvation is recounted.
The scriptural words which tell of Jesus' institution of the Sacrament
are recited, in order to consecrate the Bread and the Cup. We pray for
the coming of the Holy Spirit that we might be prepared rightly to receive
the Body and Blood of Christ which, according to his promise, are now truly
present in Holy Communion. Then we say our distinctive prayer of fellowship
in Christ, the Lord's Prayer, which is here also our table prayer.
All is now ready for our Holy Communion
with Christ and the members of his Body the Church. As the consecrated
elements are distributed to the communicants, we sing a hymn, "Lamb of
God" (John 1:29) as a confession of who it is we are receiving and as a
prayer for the blessings of forgiveness, life and salvation which he has
promised to give us. Other hymns may also mark our communion devotion.
"The Body of Christ given for you; the Blood of Christ shed for you," the
ministers say as they give the Sacrament to the people.
THE POST COMMUNION
As the Lord's table is cleared, we sing
a ) song of rejoicing. This may be the biblical "Lord, now you let your
servant go in peace" (Luke 2:2932), in which Simeon rejoiced that he had
seen Christ, a joy we share because we have received him in the Sacrament.
A final Prayer asks that we may carry out in our lives the implications
of Holy Communion. The presiding minister pronounces a Blessing using either
a formula similar to the one that began the Service or the Aaronic benediction
from the Old testament (Numbers 6:24-26). A minister speaks words of Dismissal,
telling us to "Go in peace. Serve the Lord" in daily life which is also
a worship of God. We respond with a shout: "Thanks be to God."
This, very briefly, is how Lutherans worship.
The Service points us consistently to the saving work and resurrection
presence of Jesus Christ. In it God speaks and gives to us; we respond
with thanks and praise. Such worship links us in the fellowship of the
saints through the centuries. We use forms developed by believers in various
periods of history, all of them growing out of the saving ministry of Jesus
Christ and designed to be appropriate vehicles of his Word and Sacrament.
American Lutheran Publicity Bureau Publisher
of the Lutheran Forum and Forum Letter
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