The Lutheran Liturgy

The Lutheran Liturgy — Its Biblical Roots

An Outline of 
the Order of Holy Communion*

* the following presentation corresponds to the order of the Communion Liturgy 
from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941), pp. 15-31, The Service Book and Hymnal (1958) pp. 1-14, or Lutheran Service Book (2006), Divine Service 3, pp. 184-202 

The service of preparation 





The Prelude


Music helps draw us into an attitude of prayer and praise.

The Ringing of the Bells (when applicable)

This is a call to Gods people “to enter the Lord’s gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4).

A Hymn of 

We are a “singing church,” so we follow the advice of the apostle Paul to teach and admonish “one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16).  This hymn may be one of praise, prayer, or reflection upon the season of the church year.

The Invocation

We call upon God to be present with us.  We worship the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), remembering our Baptism in his name*.  Amen means “So be it, it is true!” 
* Matt. 28:19;  Matt. 18:20;  Eph. 2:18.

The Confession of Sins

We examine ourselves and publicly confess our sins.  Such a confession at the beginning of the service provides a climate of acceptance.  In spite of our sins, God accepts us, and in turn we can accept each other.
* I John 1:8-10 [Rom. 7:14-8:4].

The Absolution or  
Declaration of Grace

Christ said to his disciples, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven”*.  The pastor speaks for God according to his command, and announces God’s cleansing forgiveness to those who made confession.
* John 20:23.

The Service of the Word

From the time of the apostles down through today, an important part of the service has been the reading of the Scriptures, including the First Lesson (usually from the Old Testament), the Epistle Lesson from the New Testament, and the Gospel Lesson.  The reason for including these readings is the Scriptural principal that God’s Word is the only rule and guide for Christian faith and living.  The Service of the Word continues with the church’s confession of faith in response to God’s Word, and concludes with the sermon (which is the preached word), and the prayers of God’s people. 



The Introit or Psalm of the Day

Introit is a Latin word meaning “he enters into.”  The Introit is a Psalm or a short series of verses that announce the theme of the day and begins the Service of the Word.  Many years ago the faithful would meet outside and then proceed into the church.  The pastor and the people would chant psalms as they entered the sanctuary. 

The liturgical Introit traditionally consists of an Antiphon, or refrain, a Psalm or a series of Psalm verses, and concludes with the Gloria Patri* (Glory be to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost).
* Rom. 16:27;  Eph. 3:21;  Phil. 4:20;  Rev. 1:6, 8.

The Kyrie


Kyrie is a Greek word meaning “O Lord.”  It is a cry to the Lord for help and strength*.  In ancient times, the crowds would shout, “Lord, have mercy” as the King entered their town.  The Church has taken over this prayer to greet its King, Jesus Christ in the church service.  As the people so long ago expected help from their King, so we Christians know we will receive help from our Saviour Jesus Christ.
* Matt. 9:27;  Matt. 15:22;  Matt. 20:30-31;  Luke 17:13.

The Hymn of Praise

The hymn of praise, “Glory to God in the highest” repeats the song the angels sang at Christ’s birth.   It gives the congregation the opportunity to praise God and express joy because Jesus is our victorious Saviour.  Other seasonal or appropriate hymns of praise (such as “This Is The Feast Of Victory For Our God”) may be used as well.  During the seasons Advent and Lent, the hymn of praise is either omitted or a hymn reflecting the penitential season is used.
* “Glory to God in the highest,” Luke 2:14;  “This is the feast of victory,” Rev. 5:12f.

The Salutation

In the Salutation, the pastor and the congregation great each other in the Lord’s name.
* Ruth 2:4;  Luke 1:28;  II Thess. 3:16;  II Tim. 4:22.

The Collect of the Day

The main thoughts of the day are collected, or summarized in this short prayer.  The collects for the reason of the church year have come to us from the rich treasury of the church’s heritage.

The First Lesson

The first reading is from the Old Testament, except during the Easter season when it is from the Book of Acts.  This reading usually relates to the Gospel of the day.
* I Tim. 4:13.

The Epistle Lesson

The second reading is from one of the epistles (letters) in the New Testament, generally those written by the Apostles Paul; or sometimes Peter, John, James, or the Epistle to the Hebrews. 

The Gradual
and Hallelujah

Gradual (either spoken or sung), a Latin expression meaning “step,” is a Scripture or liturgical passage for each season of the church year.  It is a response to the Epistle Lesson and a bridge to the Gospel Lesson.  There are general verses* as well as specific verses for the seasons of the church year.   

In response to the Gradual, the congregation responds by singing “Hallelujah!” (which means “Praise the Lord!”).  During Lent, the Hallelujah is omitted, and sometimes replaced with a seasonal verse or hymn.
* John 6:68; Joel 2:13 (through lent). 

The Holy Gospel


The Gospel Lesson is a selection from the accounts of the life of our Lord recorded by the four evangelists, St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. John.  Because Christ is with us in the Gospel reading, we stand to honor his presence.  We also sing versicles (short verses) “Glory be to thee, O Lord” before, and “Praise be to thee, O Christ” after the reading of the Gospel.  On certain festival days the Pastor may read the Gospel while standing amongst the people.  Acolytes carrying candles who proclaim Jesus and his Word as the “light of the world,” and a processional cross may accompany him.

The Creed

After hearing the word of God, the worshipper responds with his or her confession of faith in the words of the Nicene Creed.  It is customary for the Nicene Creed to be confessed when Holy Communion is celebrated and on major festivals.  The Apostles’ Creed is used at other times.  When celebrating the Festival of the Holy Trinity, the lengthier Athanasian Creed is frequently used.
* I Cor. 15:1ff;  I Pet. 3:18ff;  I Tim. 3:16.

The Sermon Hymn

This hymn usually follows the theme of the readings, and sets the stage for the sermon. 



The Sermon

The Pastor proclaims God’s Word and applies that word to modern life and problems.  He stresses both what God demands of us (the Law) and what God does for us through Jesus Christ (the Gospel).

The Offertory


As the worshippers prepare to give their gifts of tithes and offerings, they sing the offertory* to express gratitude for all God’s blessings, to dedicate themselves to God, and to request his continued blessings.
* “Create in me a clean heart”, Ps. 51:10-12.

The Offering


The gifts of God’s people are a response to God’s blessings “as God has prospered them” (1 Corinthians 16:2).  Our free-will offerings are for the support of the church.  They enable the church to provide the written and spoken word of God, Christian education, and pastoral care, as well as food, clothing, shelter, and a helping hand to those in need.  This may be followed by the Doxology, or another offertory hymn verse. 

The Prayers 


This prayer in the service follows the directive of the Apostle Paul to young Timothy, a pastor: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone–for Kings and all those in authority, that we may live in peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness”*.  For this reason, the General Prayer (or Prayer of the Church) consists of: “prayers…for the whole church, the nations, those in need, the parish, and special concerns.  The congregation may also request special petitions and thanksgivings.
* I Tim. 2:1-2.

The Service of the Sacrament

The church has confessed its sins and been forgiven, and its faith has been nurtured through hearing the Word.  The church now reaches a climax of the worship experience in the celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion, also known as “The Lord’s Supper,” “The Eucharist,” “The Lord’s Table,” or “The Sacrament of the Altar.”  The following parts of the liturgy are designed to help the worshippers partake of the holy meal thoughtfully, thankfully, and joyfully.



The Preface


Preface means “introduction.”  The pastor and people get ready to celebrate the Holy Meal by greeting each other and with an exhortation as how to celebrate the meal. 
* Cf. “Salutation”;  Lam. 3:41;  Ps. 86.4.

 The appropriate  
(or Proper) Preface

These words state why we should give thanks using words and ideas appropriate for the season of the church year.
* Pss. 69:30;  95:2; 100:4;  107:22; 116:17;  147:7.

The Sanctus


Sanctus is a Latin word meaning “Holy.”  The Sanctus contains words from Isaiah’s vision of God (Isaiah 6:3) and the crowd’s response on Palm Sunday when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem (Matthew 21:9).  We join them in spirit by singing their words “Hosanna, Lord save us” as we anticipate Christ’s coming in the sacrament. 
* Is. 6:3;  Matt. 21:9 (Mk 11:9);  Ps. 118:25-26.

The Lord’s Prayer

We pray to God as our Father using the prayer of the family of God* because the Lord’s Supper is our family meal.
* Matt. 6:9ff;  Luke 11:2ff.

The Words of  

The pastor speaks the words that Jesus spoke when he instituted the Supper with his disciples in the Upper Room.  With these words, the bread and wine are consecrated; that is, set apart for God’s use in the special meal.
* 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20.

The Peace

The greeting of peace that Jesus spoke on the first Easter is shared before we approach the altar to receive his true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins, and to strengthen our faith.  In the Lord’s Supper, the body and blood of Christ are truly present in, with, and under the bread and wine.
* John 14:27;  John 20:19-21.

The Agnus Dei


Agnus Dei is a Latin phrase meaning “Lamb of God.”  John the Baptist spoke these words as he pointed to Jesus coming toward him (John 1:29).  As Christ comes to us in the Holy Supper, we recognize him as the Lamb of God, sacrificed for us to free us from the bondage of sin and death.
* John 1:29; Is. 53:7.


The Administration
of the Supper


As we come to the Lord’s Table, the pastor invites us, “Take, eat; this is the true body of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, given into death for your sins.  Take, drink, this is the true blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”  After we receive the Sacrament we hear the following (or similar) comforting words spoken by the pastor, “The body of our Lord Jesus Christ and his precious blood, strengthen and preserve you in the one true faith unto life everlasting.”  We respond, “Amen,” for this is our sincere desire.  It’s a good practice to offer a silent prayer of thanks upon returning to our pews.  During Communion, the congregation and/or choir may sing one or more hymns, or there may be soft background music.

The Post-Communion 

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,” or an appropriate post-Communion hymn is sung.  The purpose is to offer our thanks and express our faith in what God has done for us, and has promised to do for us in the future.
 * “Lord, now you let Your servant go in peace”, Luke 2:29f.

The Thanksgiving

This consists of several parts.  The Pastor invites the worshippers to give thanks to our gracious and merciful God for giving us this Holy Meal through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.  An appropriate prayer of thanksgiving then follows this.

The salutation, or greeting between the Pastor and congregation in the Lord’s Name, and the invitation to “Bless (or praise) the Lord” prepare the worshippers to depart God’s house with joy, knowing that they are redeemed and forgiven children of God.
* Pss. 107:1;  118:1; Ruth 2:4;  Luke 1:28;  II Thess. 3:16;  II Tim. 4:22.

The Blessing


The blessing spoken by the pastor is the Aaronic benediction, which is the blessing God first gave to Aaron and the other priests to speak to the people of Israel.  Jesus Christ, our High Priest, has come to us in a special way through this Holy Meal.  The blessing is God’s promise that Christ will go with us as we leave the church and return to the world to serve Him.  We sing “Amen” to affirm the blessing; “So be it — it is true!” 
* Numbers 6:23-27.

The Closing Hymn


The divine service is concluded in much the same way as it was begun, worshipping our Lord through song.  During this time, the candles are extinguished, and the worship leaders may also leave the chancel.  Following the singing of the hymn, the accompanist will often softly play through the hymn again to give the worshipper a time of silent prayer and personal reflection.