Practical advice given for worship services
by Gracia Grindal (Hymnist and Professor of Rhetoric, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN)
This is an age in which people are looking for new liturgies, ones that are also responsible to the traditions from which their congregations came. WordAlone is offering some help and suggestions to congregations who are searching for good liturgies. Our Theological Advisory Board has prepared a helpful document on worship, "Christian, Evangelical Worship," for those who want to know what Lutheran theologians think about worship. It can be found it the Worship Resources section of the Resources page on the WordAlone web site (www.wordalone.org/index.html#worship).
This article assumes those understandings, but offers practical advice to those engaged in the actual preparation of a service. The following are some assertions that may be helpful
- The Lutheran church is not a liturgical church, we are a confessional
church. We happen, however, to have a liturgy.
- Martin Luther chose not to radically revise the Roman Mass as he
inherited it, but to take out those pieces that implied that we bring
anything but a repentant heart to the Lord's Supper.
- We use our Confessions to evaluate the language of the liturgy.
- Thus, we are more likely to use "testament" than "covenant"
in the Words of Institution, because if the grace of the Lord
Jesus Christ depends on my keeping part of the deal, I'm really
lost. Jesus instituted the supper "in the night in which he was
betrayed" by us.
- The Eucharistic Prayer (parts of the Canon of the Mass) in
which we pray the words of institution to God needs to be
excised because it mixes up the direction. Are we praying these
words upward to God, who doesn't need to hear them, or are we
proclaiming from above the good news of Jesus' last will and
testament to those sinners-we betrayers-gathered to hear it.
- We expunge the offertory, because it implies that our gifts
give something for God to work with thus making us co-creators
of the sacrament with God.
- We do not make water holy, or sanctify it. It is the Word
and simple water that baptize, and it is God's Word that makes
the baptism a sacrament, not the water.
- There is no more holy a day or hour in the Christian
calendar than any other. God is not closer to us at any time or
place. Our Lord promised to be with us wherever two or three are
gathered in his name, not at special times during the year, or
at special services, such as the Easter Vigil.
- There is no set order for a Lutheran liturgy. There are, however, things one
usually does in a Lutheran service.
- First of all, as our Theological Advisory Board makes clear, Christ
is the Word whom we preach, He always must be central. Lutheran Sunday
mornings should always involve preaching of the Word of God, which is
found in Holy Scripture.
- Second, there should be some form of confession and absolution.
- Thirdly, there will be prayer and praise. Martin Luther finally
succumbed to the repeated requests from his followers to provide an
order of service. It has since been called the German Mass, hymn Mass,
or chorale Mass. In it he used much of the order of the Roman Mass, but
took out those things that he considered to be unhelpful to the faith,
such as the canon of the Mass. He also paraphrased the major parts of
the service so they could be sung as hymns, which were much easier for
congregations to sing than was prose set to music.
- The language of the liturgy is more important to consider than the music,
because, when sung, these words become the theology of the people regardless of
whether these words are rank heresy. If people like the music, they tend not to
pay attention to the words. Thus, we check the words carefully before we set
them to music
- The music of the service should be appropriate for the community. While
there is a considerable body of sacred music attached to the Lutheran tradition,
there is no "Lutheran music." One rule might be that the music has to be good
enough to bear the strong word of God. It is, however, an earthen vessel that
may break under the strain, and not survive. To worship the music is as bad as
worshiping the tradition, or the vessel.
As you plan new liturgies, you could use the elements of Luther's German Mass
to help you think of what should be included in the service:
- German Psalm
- Kyrie Eleison (three times)
- Collect (chanted)
- Epistle (eighth tone)
- German hymn ("Nun bitten wir" or any other)
- Gospel (fifth tone)
- Creed ("Wir glauben all")
- Lord's Prayer (public paraphrase)
- Words of Institution
- Distribution of bread
- German Sanctus ("Isaiah in a Vision Did Behold" or other)
- Distribution of wine
- Agnus Dei
- Aaronic benediction
You will find on the website my suggestions for hymns that preach and teach
the faith in our current hymnals, plus links to hymns from a variety of musical
traditions so that the sound of the service would work in any cultural setting.
The Holy Spirit is always making and breaking traditions, thus Luther's
harsh, but evangelical note at the end of the instructions on the German Mass.
Even the brass serpent became something the people idolized and it had to be