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Practical advice given for worship services

by Gracia Grindal (Hymnist and Professor of Rhetoric, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN)

Date Unknown

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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")
  • Sermon
  • 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
  • Collect
  • 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 smashed.