The Divine Service
An Explanation of Liturgical Worship
We welcome you to Our Savior Lutheran Church in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. This booklet will help you understand worship at Our, or what we call the Divine Service. The two highlights of the Divine Service are theWord and the Sacrament of the Altar, two means our Lord has chosen to bestow His gifts upon us. We generally observe the pattern described in this booklet every Sunday, believing that this is the way our Lord has provided us to worship Him by receiving His gifts of forgiveness, peace, and life everlasting.
The dictionary defines “worship” as an action whereby people honor or revere a supernatural being with appropriate acts, rites, or ceremonies. Many Christians and all non-Christians believe that worship is an action on our part that pleases a deity, but the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod believes a scriptural understanding of worship is just the opposite. In true worship, God does the action and we are the receivers of God’s action on our behalf. God is not the audience and we are not the performers.
In the Introduction to Lutheran Worship we read, “The pattern of true worship is from God to us, and then from us back to Him. Our Lord speaks and we listen. His Word bestows what it says. Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise. God gives His gifts, and together we receive and extol them. We build one another up as we speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. How best to do this we learn from God’s Word and the way His Word has prompted worship through the centuries. (Colossians 3:15-17).”
As you face the front of the church at Our Savior you will notice a cross above the altar. This reminds us that Jesus is bodily present among us and that He took on Himself the sins of the world. The cross teaches us that Jesus is the Lord of His church. All that the people do, including the pastor, is done as servants under the Lord of the church, Jesus Christ. And the cross teaches us that Jesus serves us in and through the Office of the Holy Ministry.
A pastor is called and ordained into the Office of the Pastoral Ministry to proclaim the love of God in Jesus Christ. A pastor’s clergy shirt reminds us of two things. First, that he is a sinner just like everyone else. Second, the white collar around his voice box reminds us that he is here to proclaim the word of Jesus Christ which delivers the forgiveness of sins. The Alb a pastor wears symbolizes his forgiveness in Christ and it covers him so that we know that he is not what is important here. A pastor is not here to tell us what he thinks. He is here to preach Christ. The stole a pastor wears around his neck was given at his ordination when he was given “orders” to say what the Lord says in this office, nothing more and nothing less. Martin Luther once said that in the Lord’s Supper Jesus is at the same time “the chef, the butler, the host, and the food itself.”
The altar is directly below the cross. In the Old Testament, the altar was the place where sacrifices for sin were made. Jesus made the sacrifice to end all sacrifices for sin at the cross. The benefits of that sacrifice, the very body and blood of Jesus Christ, are now on the altar by virtue of the Lord’s own words that make it so. The two candles on the altar remind us that Jesus is both God and Man. The candle hanging in the chancel remains lit 24/7 to remind us that Jesus is always present in His church through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Paschal Candle, near the baptismal font, reminds us that the light of Christ given to us cannot be snuffed out in death. The Paschal Candle is lit on three occasions, the 40 days of Easter, a baptism, and a funeral to show that Jesus’ victory over the darkness of sin and death has been made ours through our baptism into Christ.
The Baptismal font has eight sides. There are two meanings for this. First, there were eight people on Noah’s ark. In baptism, we are put on the boat of the church that sails over the troubled waters of sin and death to the other side called heaven. The place where you sit in the pews is called the Nave which in Latin means “boat.” The apostle Peter reminds us of this when he talks about Noah and his family, eight persons, who “were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you” (1 Peter 3:20b-21a). Second, eight is the number of eternity. In baptism we are given eternal life in and through Jesus Christ.
The altar, lectern and pulpit are “clothed” with paraments. The word parament, from the Latin term paramentum, means to adorn. The altar, lectern, and pulpit are adorned with different paraments of color that highlight what Jesus has done for us.
White is the color of joy and purity that become ours in Christ. It is used during the Church’s most joyful times: Christmas, Epiphany, Maundy Thursday evening, Easter, and the Ascension of our Lord. It is also used during the feasts of those saints who were not martyred.
Red is the color of fire, blood, and the Holy Spirit. As such, it is the color of the Church. It is used for Pentecost, feasts of martyrs, church dedications, anniversaries, ordinations, and installations.
Violet is the color of royalty and repentance. Therefore it is used during the penitential season of Lent. Jesus, our King, comes not to be served, but to serve and to give His life for us.
Green is the color of vegetation, of growth. It is used for Sundays after Epiphany and after Trinity Sunday, because in these times we learn about spiritual growth.
Black is the color of mourning. Therefore it is used on Good Friday.
Blue is the color of hope and heaven. It is used during the season of Advent to remind us that Jesus comes to give us the certain hope of heaven.
On Festival Sundays like Christmas, the Baptism of our Lord, the Transfiguration of our Lord, Palm Sunday, Easter, Pentecost, and the Ascension of our Lord, we process into the church following the cross. The procession into the church reminds us that we follow Jesus into His sanctuary where we receive His forgiveness, life, and peace through the proclamation of the Gospel. The Gospel procession highlights the fact that Jesus is among us as one who serves us the gifts of heaven. The recessional out of the church highlights the fact that Jesus leads us out into the world where His gifts bear fruit in us for the life of the world. What follows is a detailed explanation of the service itself.
The high and holy worship of God is faith in Jesus Christ. Such faith is created and sustained by God’s Service to us. In the Divine Service, the Lord comes to us in His Word and Sacrament to bless and enliven us with His gifts. The Service is not something we do for God, but His service to us received in faith. The liturgy is God’s work. He gives; we receive. (John 4:20-26; Hebrews 8:1-6).
The Divine Service begins as soon as we enter the nave, or the main part of the church. Pre-service music helps us tune our hearts to seek God in humility and penitence. The ringing of the bells calls the faithful to gather together for the Divine Service.
An invocation is calling upon God. From God’s Word we know that wherever God puts His Name, there He is to bless. God has put His Name-Father, Son and Holy Spirit on us in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Therefore we invoke, or call upon, God, “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Every Divine Service is for the hallowing of the Lord’s Name, which Luther’s Small Catechism reminds us is done “when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it.” (Matthew 28:18-20; Luther’s Small Catechism is found on page 321 of our hymnal, Lutheran Service Book).
CONFESSION and ABSOLUTION
It is only through the forgiveness of sins that we enter into the life of heaven. Confession is to admit our sins and our sinfulness, speaking the truth about our lives. God seeks that truth in the heart and on the lips. To confess our sin is to say “Amen” to God’s just verdict that we have sinned against Him and so deserve only death and hell. (1 John 1:8-10).
The truth of our sinfulness is answered by the truth of God’s forgiveness for the sake of the suffering and death of His Son. From the lips of a man called and ordained as a servant of the Word, we hear God Himself speaking absolution, that is, the complete forgiveness of sins. This helps us see the richness of Jesus’ grace and that we need not fear the judgment of God because our Savior redeems us from our total corruption. To that forgiveness faith says, “Amen,” that is, “Truth.” Amen is the great word of true worship; it indicates that the gift has been received. (John 20:19-23; 2 Corinthians 2:10).
INTROIT, PSALM, or ENTRANCE HYMN
Having received the Lord’s forgiveness, we are glad to enter into His courts with praise and thanksgiving. The Introit, or entrance, is made with the Lord’s own words, most often drawn from the Psalms. The Introit provides a meditative step between confession and receiving the blessings of God’s word. The thoughts expressed in its opening lines usually constitute the general focus or theme of the day.
KYRIE and GLORIA (HYMN OF PRAISE)
Kyrie eleison is a Greek phrase meaning “Lord, have mercy.” In the Kyrie we come before the King of mercy with the prayer of blind Bartimaus, whom Jesus healed. We approach our merciful Savior and King as citizens of heaven, seeking His mercy for our salvation, the peace of the whole world, the well-being of his church, our worship, and our everlasting defense. (Mark 10:49).
In the Gloria, or hymn of praise, we join with the angels who announced to the shepherds at Bethlehem the coming of our Savior in the flesh the night He was born by proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth.” In this hymn, we acclaim and extol the Son of God Who humbled Himself to be our Brother and now reigns over us as Savior from the right hand of His Father. Another hymn of praise is “This Is the Feast of Victory” taken from the Book of Revelation. This hymn proclaims the victory of the Lamb Who was crucified for us (Luke 2:14; Revelation 5:11-14).
SALUTATION and COLLECT OF THE DAY
The Pastor stands in the congregation as Christ’s servant. The vestments he wears indicate that he is not speaking on his own but as one sent and authorized to represent Christ Jesus. As the authorized representative of the Lord, he pronounces the Salutation, saying, “The Lord be with you,” a greeting repeated many times in Scripture. The congregation responds, “And also with you” or “And with your spirit.” Pastor and congregation are bound together in this salutation, or greeting, as the pastor prays the Collect of the Day on behalf of the gathered congregation.
The Collect (pronounced COLL-ect) is a short prayer that “collects” in one short petition all it is that we are asking God to do for us on the basis of the Word that we are about to hear-both read and preached. (Philippians 4:6).
Now we enter upon the first of two highlights in the Divine Service, the reading and preaching of God’s Word. Throughout this part of the Divine Service, God speaks to us in His spoken and written Word.
First we hear God’s Word from the Old Testament. The reader, upon completion, proclaims, “This is the Word of the Lord.” The Lord’s Word is embraced by the congregation’s response of thanksgiving, either spoken or sung, “Thanks be to God.” In this way, the church confesses Holy Scripture for what it is-the Word of God.
Next we hear God’s Word from a New Testament epistle, or letter written by one of the apostles. The reader again proclaims, “This is the Word of the Lord,” and the congregation again responds, saying or singing, “Thanks be to God.”
The Alleluia, from John 6:68 may be sung at this time. This Alleluia Verse is our anticipation of the Lord Who comes to us in His Words, Words that are spirit and life. Alleluia is the Hebrew word meaning “Praise the LORD.”
Third, we hear God’s Word from the Holy Gospel. The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are four New Testament books, all written by apostles and evangelists that most directly speak to us the words of Jesus Christ Himself. In the words of one of these evangelists we are given the Word of Life, Jesus Christ. The congregation acknowledges the Lord’s Presence in His Gospel by standing and extolling His glory and praising Him. After the Pastor announces the Gospel passage, the people respond by saying or singing, “Glory to You, O Lord.” After the Pastor finishes reading the Gospel passage, he proclaims, “This is the Gospel of the Lord.” The people respond by saying or singing, “Praise to You, O Christ.”
Having heard the Word of God, we confess our faith in His Name. The Creed, from the Latin word credo, meaning “I believe,” is our saying back to God what He has first said to us. The three creeds used in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are called the three ecumenical creeds: The Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. These may be found in our hymnal, Lutheran Service Book, on the inside back cover and pages 319-320.
The Apostles’ Creed gets its name not because the apostles wrote it but because it reflects the sum of their teaching. This creed arose from an early form of pre-baptismal questioning.
The Nicene Creed was written in 325 AD, during the first great assembly of Christian bishops. They gathered and wrote the creed to combat the false teachings of Arianism that tried to say that Jesus was not really God. The Nicene Creed was written to affirm that Jesus is both true God and true man. We have established a practice of confessing this Creed on Sundays when the Lord’s Supper is served.
The Athanasian Creed was written about 500 AD although its author is unknown. It is named for Athanasius, an Egyptian bishop, who strongly defended the faith against the false teachings of Arianism. This creed is a strong defense of Christ’s divinity and is traditionally said each Church year on Trinity Sunday.
HYMN OF THE DAY
Praise for God’s Word continues in the singing of the Hymn of the Day. As the Word of God dwells in us it calls forth songs of faith and love. This hymn reflects the particular theme of the Scripture readings that have just been proclaimed.
In continuity with the prophets, apostles, and evangelists, our pastor stands in our midst to deliver the Lord’s Law and Gospel in the Sermon. He is God’s mouth for the congregation as through him the Good Shepherd’s voice sounds forth to call, gather, and enlighten His flock. (Ephesians 4:11; Colossians 3:16; John 6:63; Luke 10:16).
Another important function of the sermon is seen in its location in the Divine service. The sermon comes just prior to the beginning of the “Service of Holy Communion” in the liturgy. This is significant. It means that the sermon forms a kind of bridge in the worship connecting the proclamation of the Gospel (Service of the Word) to the reception of Christ’s body and blood for our forgiveness. The preacher prepares God’s people in the sermon to rightly receive Christ’s body and blood and feed on the forgiveness of sins that the Savior offers.
OFFERING and OFFERTORY HYMN
Having received from the generosity of the Father Who is the Author and Giver of every good and perfect gift, we now give of the gifts that we have been given. TheOffering is often accompanied by an Offertory hymn that teaches that the highest offering is to receive, in faith, the cup of salvation from the Lord’s Hand. (Psalm 116).
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
God’s Word is always primary in worship. The Prayer of the Church comes at the end of the Service of the Word as a sign that our prayer is possible only because God has first spoken to us. Because prayer itself is broad and comprehensive, the Prayer of the Church is as well. It tends to be longer than other prayers offered during the worship and includes petitions for many people and many needs. The scope of these prayers is massive, all the way from encompassing the whole world down to the needs of individual congregational members. After the Pastor presents each petition, he says, “Lord, in your mercy,” or “Let us pray to the Lord;” the congregation responds, “Hear our prayer,” or “Lord, have mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9; 1 Timothy 2:1-2). At Our Savior, we have a list of those who have requested our prayers that you can take home to include in your personal prayers.
THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY COMMUNION
The second highlight of the Divine Service is the Sacrament of Altar, the receiving of Christ’s very Body and Blood in the earthly forms of bread and wine.
In the Preface we acknowledge that the Lord is indeed with us in His Body and Blood. We lift up our hearts to give Him thanks and praise. This is an ancient part of the liturgy being traced back to the 4th century or possibly earlier. It is a valuable way of directing the devotions of the congregation toward the Sacrament.
The first series of the three phrases with responses is fixed in form. It is the same at every reception of the Sacrament. The final part, known as the “Common” or “Proper” Preface, changes depending on the season of the Church year. Such seasonal focus helps us see the broad scope of Jesus’ work of redemption. The salvation He brings us was accomplished by more than just His death. It includes His birth, His whole life and passion, His resurrection, ascension and sending of the Holy Spirit. We are thus reminded in every season of the way Christ gave Himself for our salvation. This helps us prepare to receive His body and blood in the Sacrament with thanksgiving and understanding.
Drawn toward the gifts of Jesus’ Body and Blood, our hearts are lifted up in thanksgiving and praise as we anticipate the reception of the gifts that carry with them our redemption. The Sanctus, meaning “holy,” brings together the song of heaven’s angels in adoration of the holy Three in One and the acclamations of Palm Sunday: “Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” In prayer we give thanks to the Lord for the redemption that He has secured for us by His Cross; we ask Him to prepare us to receive that redemption in living and joyful faith.
The origin of the Lord’s Prayer is found in Christ who taught it to His disciples after they asked “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1).
The use of the Lord’s Prayer prior to the Words of Institution reinforces its place as the “Prayer of the Faithful”—the children of the heavenly Father whom He tenderly invites to call upon Him as beloved children approach their dear father. Here, as we pray the family prayer of the Church, we are reminded who we are and our special relationship to our God as we come before Him. Since it so clearly proclaims the Gospel, it is especially suited to remind communicants of the richness of Christ’s goodness which they are about to receive in His body and blood.
From about the third century onward, Christians have reverently acknowledged a special relationship between the Fourth Petition (“give us this day our daily bread”) and the bread now on the altar to be consecrated for the Sacrament. It is bread above all bread … bread in which we, the children of God, are fed the Bread of Life. Dr. Luther also recognized that the main focus of this petition is on the person of Christ, who is the true heavenly bread.
WORDS OF INSTITUTION and PEACE OF THE LORD
The Pastor speaks the Lord’s own words, the Words of Institution:
Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; This is My + body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.” In the same way also, He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My + blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
These words give what they declare, the Body and Blood of Christ. Through this Sacrament of Jesus’ Body and Blood we receive forgiveness. Forgiveness of sins means peace with God. The same peace Jesus declared to His disciples Easter evening is given to us with the Lord’s Body and Blood. By sharing the Peace of the Lord with each other, we lay aside everything that stands in contradiction to this forgiveness.
With the words of John the Baptist, the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) confesses the mercy and peace that we receive from the Lamb of God, sacrificed once for all, in His Supper. We come to the Lord’s Table hungry and thirsty, and He feeds us with His Body and refreshes us with His Blood. It is the Lord’s Supper. As Luther reminds us, “Our Lord is at one and the same time chef, cook, butler, host, and food.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; John 20:21; John 1:29; Hebrews 9:26-28).
Standing with the ancient Church and on the clear words of Christ,“This is my body … this is my blood” (Matthew 26:26, 28), Lutherans believe, teach and confess that Christ is truly present in the Sacrament—giving His actual body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.
Considering the magnitude of just Who is received in the Sacrament, and in view of Saint Paul’s warning, “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord,” one should “examine himself” before communing (1 Corinthians 11:27, 28). Lutherans reserve reception of the Lord’s Supper for those who have been baptized, properly instructed, and are united in a full confession of the Gospel in all its articles (the whole Word of God). Those wishing to commune at a Lutheran church are advised to first speak with the Pastor of that congregation.
During the Distribution, the congregation sings the Distribution Hymns, all of which speak of the grace given to us through this most holy sacrament.
COMMUNION BLESSING, NUNC DIMITTIS and PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
The Pastor pronounces a Communion Blessing upon the congregation that the Lord’s most holy Body and Blood will strengthen and preserve us to life everlasting.
Having received the Lord’s Body and Blood for our salvation, like Simeon who held in his arms the Savior of the world, we go in peace and joy, singing Simeon’s song from Luke 2, the Nunc Dimittis (Now dismiss) or perhaps anotherHymn of Thanksgiving. Before we leave the Lord’s Table, we give thanks through the Prayer of Thanksgiving, asking that the salutary (healthful and beneficial) gift of Jesus’ Body and Blood would have its way in our lives, strengthening us in faith toward God and fervent love toward one another. The Sacrament draws us outside ourselves to live in Christ by faith and with our neighbor by love. (Luke 2:29-32).
BENEDICTION and CLOSING HYMN
The Name of the Lord is the beginning and the end of the Divine Service. We are now marked with the Lord’s Name in the Benediction, that ancient Word of God’s blessing from Numbers 6 in which He favors us with His grace and peace. With the Lord’s Name given us in Holy Baptism, we were drawn together. Now, with that same Name, He sends us back into the world, to the places of our various callings, to live by the mercy we have received as living sacrifices to the praise of His glory and the good of our neighbor. (Numbers 6:22-27; Romans 12:1-2).
We begin the service in the name of the Triune God and we end with a Trinitarian blessing. Both Invocation and Benediction form a kind of Trinitarian bracket around the worship. They witness to the fact that all which comes inbetween these brackets are gifts of the Triune God to His people. Our worship is not a blessing to us as a work we do for God but as a work the Triune God does for and in us. The glory is all His and the joy of salvation with which we leave church is His gift to us.
We end with a Closing Hymn of joy and thanksgiving for all God has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ. We observe a moment of prayerful, joyful silence as we finish singing the hymn. We exit to the triumphant sounds of an organ postlude, reminding us that our Lord Jesus Christ has conquered sin and the grave, and that we share with Him eternally in His victory.
A FINAL WORD ABOUT THE DIVINE SERVICE
We pray you have been blessed by the Divine Service here at Our Savior. We hope that this Divine Service is what God intends it to be: Scriptural, liturgical, and confessional–and therefore distinct from the world.
God’s Word tells us that true worship belongs to God; true worship is not doing something for God to receive His favor; true worship is receiving what God has done for us through His Son Jesus Christ. Therefore the Divine Service here at Our Savior is scriptural, based firmly and only upon God’s Word, not on what we think might be right worship.
Because it is scriptural, worship at Our Savior is liturgical, that is, worship is carefully written down in a form that is purposeful, correct, and timeless. Liturgy, which means “service,” is actually God’s service to us, as you have seen.
Finally, worship here at Our Savior is confessional. A confession is a public acknowledgement of belief. In the Divine Service, our primary reason for gathering together is not for fellowship or enjoyment or to “reach people” — although those things take place at other times. In the Divine Service, we gather together to confess our common faith in Jesus Christ, using God’s Word and the ancient confessions of faith. This confession is more significant than you may think. What forms the church is neither its activities nor its people nor its outward appearances, but the Word of God preached and embodied in the Sacraments. The church comes into being when it confesses–when it speaks the Word by which God creates, redeems, and produces faith in those who hear it. Because of our confession of faith, we receive in worship the gifts of grace provided for us by Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. That is why we call it Divine Service; it is God’s service to us through His Son.
Concordia Self-Study Bible, New International Version (Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1984)
Lutheran Worship (Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1982.
Lutheran Service Book (Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 2006).
Nestigen, James A., Martin Luther: A Life (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Books, 2003), pp.83-83.
Pittelko, Roger D. Worship and Liturgy: God Speaks, We Respond(Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1995).
Pless, John T., “A Narrative Commentary on the Divine Service,” in Craig A. Parton, The Defense Never Rests (Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 2003).
Precht, Fred L., ed. Lutheran Worship: History and Practice (Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1993).