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Agenda · Divine Service
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The Divine Service (ger. Gottesdienst) is one name for the liturgy as used in the various Lutheran churches, which is used during the celebration of the Eucharist. It has its roots in the medieval Latin mass as revised by Martin Luther in his Formula missae ("Form of the Mass") of 1523 and his Deutsche Messe ("German Mass") of 1526. It was further developed through the Kirchenordnungen ("church orders") of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that followed in Luther's tradition.

The term "Divine Service" is popularly used among the more conservative Lutheran churches and organizations of the United States and Canada. In the more liberal denominations, such as The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the terms "Holy Communion" or "Eucharist" are much more commonly used.

Divine Service

The Divine Service has equal participation from the congregation as well as from the pastor, so there are hymns to be sung by all.

Confession and Absolution

First a hymn of invocation may be sung. It is up to the pastor and congregation if a hymn of invocation is sung before the Divine Service. Next is the Invocation where the pastor stands in front of the congregation and says the Trinitarian Formula (In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit) and makes the sign of the cross. The congregation is encouraged to do so also. "The Invocation is addressed to God. It is by these same words that we were called to faith and life in Holy Baptism so we are reminded here of our baptism. In these words, we affirm our faith in the Triune God, formally expressing our awareness of the Presence of God, placing ourselves in that Presence and invoking the Divine blessing on the Service."[1]

After the Invocation is the Confession of Sins. This consists of a pastoral Exhortation, a Versicle and Response, followed by the Confession of the congregation. In former times the Confession was often omitted, as it was usual for Divine Service to be preceded by a Confessional Service, held some time the day before. Where Confession and Absolution did appear, it was usually immediately before the Preface to Holy Communion. In the Common Service Book of 1917, the pastor recites the Exhortation as follows:

"Beloved in the Lord! Let us draw near with a true heart, and confess our sins unto God our Father, beseeching Him, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to grant us forgiveness."

The Versicle begins with the pastor or assisting minister chanting:

Our help is in the Name of the Lord.

The congregation responds,

Who made heaven and earth.

The pastor or assisting minister continues,

I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord.

The congregation responds,

And Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.

The pastor then recites the first half of the confession:

Almighty God, our Maker and Redeemer, we poor sinners confess unto Thee, that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned against Thee by thought, word, and deed. Wherefore we flee for refuge to Thine infinite mercy, seeking and imploring Thy grace, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The congregation then says, with the pastor:

O Most Merciful God, Who has given Thine Only-begotten Son to die for us, have mercy upon us, and for His sake grant us remission of all our sins: and by Thy Holy Spirit increase in us true knowledge of Thee, and of Thy will, and true obedience to Thy Word, to the end that by Thy grace we may come to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then the pastor pronounces the Declaration of Grace:

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, hath had mercy upon us, and hath given His Only Son to die for us, and for His sake forgiveth us all our sins. To them that believe on His Name, He giveth power to become the sons of God, and bestoweth upon them His Holy Spirit. He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved. Grant this, O Lord, unto us all.

In more modern hymnals, the Declaration of Grace is said only when there is no celebration of Holy Communion. When Holy Communion is celebrated, the Pastor recites the absolution, one form of which is as follows:

Upon this your confession, I, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God to all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Lutheran Worship, Divine Service I)

The Declaration of Grace is not an absolution. In the historic liturgy, the corporate rite of confession and absolution was its own separate service, and private confession was expected before partaking of the Holy Supper. The corporate rite of confession and absolution is still contained in modern Lutheran hymnals. "Before beginning the Service of the Day, it is fitting that we seek a purification of spirit, that we turn from ourselves to God and that in penitence and prayer we receive God's assurance of mercy and grace. The Exhortation calls us to do so. In the Confession (Lat. "Confiteor"), we kneel humbly before our God, acknowledging our sin and seeking purification of our Spirit. In the Declaration of Grace that follows, we receive from God Himself the assurance of God's mercy and grace that enables us to focus on our loving God."[1]

The Service of the Word

Next the Introit for the day is sung, chanted, or spoken. This can be together or half verse by half verse. "The Introit (Lat. "entrance") marks the actual beginning of the Service of the Day. It strikes the keynote theme of the entire Service, recognizing the glory of God and announcing God's grace using pertinent verses, usually from the Psalms. The Introit consists of an Antiphon, followed by a Psalm verse, followed by the Gloria Patri (below). The Antiphon is then repeated for emphasis." (HLW).

After the Introit the Kyrie is sung. "In the Kýrie Eléison (Gr. "O Lord, have mercy"), we pray to God for grace and help in time of need. It expresses our humility and appreciation of our own weakness and need in a sinful world." (HLW).

Then the Gloria in Excelsis is sung. During Advent and Lent the Gloria in Excelsis is omitted. In its place in Advent, Veni, Emmanuel may be sung. And in Lent, Vexilla regis is sung in its place. "The Gloria in Excelsis (Lat. "Glory to God in the highest") is the angelic hymn announcing the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ to the shepherds. In it, we join in the hymn of the angels in celebration of the Father's gift of His Son." (HLW).

The Salutation and Response follow next. "The Salutation/Response are a reciprocal prayer of the Pastor for his people and of the congregation for its Pastor before we together offer our petitions to God. They reflect the special relationship of love between the Pastor and congregation." It goes as follows, Pastor: The Lord be with you. Congregation: And with your spirit. Pastor: Let us pray.

After the Collect of the Day is chanted or said. "The Collect sums up, or "collects", all the prayers of the church into one short prayer and suggests the theme of the day or season." (HLW).

Next is the Old Testament reading, it nearly always directly relates to the Gospel lesson for the day. During Easter and its season a passage from the book of Acts of the Apostles is read. After the reading the pastor chants or says "This is the Word of the Lord." To which the congregation replies "Thanks be to God."

The Gradual for the season is sung or said next. "The Gradual, so-named because it was originally sung from a step (Lat. "gradus") of the altar, provides a musical echo to the passage just read and a transition to the next lesson." (HLW).

The Epistle is announced, and read. After the pastor says again "This is the Word of the Lord." "The Epistle (Gr. "letter") is usually taken from the letters of the Apostles. Frequently, this lesson does not relate directly to the Gospel. Usually, it bears practical and serious thoughts for daily living." (HLW).

The Alleluia verse is then sung. During Lent the Alleluia is omitted. "The Alleluia (Heb. "Praise ye the Lord") is a song of joy at the hearing of the Word of God. The accompanying verse usually reflects the mood of the day." (HLW). All rise at the singing of the Alleluia and remain standing until the after the creed is said.

The Holy Gospel is then announced, followed by the Gloria Tibi. "At the announcement of the Gospel, we sing the Gloria Tibi (Lat. "Glory to you"), joyfully affirming our recognition of the real presence of Christ." (HLW). Then after the Gospel lesson the pastor says "This is the Gospel of the Lord" the congregation responds with the Laus Tibi. "After hearing our Savior's Good News, we respond with words of praise in the Laus Tibi (Lat. "Praise to you")." (HLW).

On Sundays with Holy Communion and other major festivals the Nicene Creed is said, on other occasions the Apostles' Creed is said. "The Creed (Lat. "I believe") is our individual, public confession of faith, spoken with the "one, holy, Christian and apostolic Church". It is a statement of Christianity's most basic and fundamental beliefs, witnessing to the unity and universality of the Church." (HLW).

After is the Hymn of the Day, this hymn outlines the theme of the day and is the chief hymn of the Divine Service, so it is chosen very carefully.

Next is the Sermon. "In the Sermon, the preacher "rightly divides (or interprets) the Word of truth". 2 Tim. 2:15. The Sermon contains elements of the two great doctrines of the Bible: the Law, which tells us how we are to live, and the Gospel, which proclaims forgiveness of our sins, by grace, through faith, for Christ's sake. The Gospel predominates in the Sermon. The Sermon usually relates to the lessons of the day." (HLW). After the sermon the pastor says the Votum.

After the sermon is the Offering is collected. After it has been collected it is given to the pastor, who presents it at the altar. "We joyfully offer to God a portion of His gifts to us, as an outward response of our faith in Him." (HLW). After that the Offertory is sung, the text for the Offertory is Psalm 51:12. "In the words of David, we ask God to cleanse our hearts, to keep us in the one true faith and to grant us the full joy of salvation." (HLW).

Then is the Prayer for The Church (or Prayer for the Faithful). "In the Prayer of the Faithful, the Church performs its priestly role (which is communal and not individual) by representing the people of the world before God in prayer. The Prayer of the Church is therefore not the prayer of individuals for themselves nor the congregation for itself but is indeed the prayer of the Church for the world, the work of the Church, and the Church itself." (HLW).

The Service of the Sacrament

Next is the Preface, which may be chanted or spoken. "The Preface begins the Office of Holy Communion. It begins with a simple but powerful dialogue between the pastor and the congregation, which unites the whole body of believers in reverence, adoration, joy and thanksgiving in anticipation of the Sacrament. This is followed by the Common Preface, which begins ‘It is truly meet, right and salutary’ and ends with ‘Therefore with angels and archangels,’ thus uniting the Church with angelic host. In between is the Proper Preface, which is variable." (HLW).

After the Preface, the Sanctus is sung. "In the Sanctus (Lat. ‘Holy’), we join with the ‘Angels, Archangels and all the company of heaven’ in proclaiming the glory of the Father (first sentence), praising Christ our Savior (second sentence) and singing the song of the children of Jerusalem as they welcomed the Messiah on the first Palm Sunday (third sentence). Hosanna means ‘save now.’" (HLW). The Sanctus is an ancient part of the liturgy. Jesus would have sung an ancient version of the Sanctus.

Since the use of eucharistic prayers remains controversial amongst some Lutherans, considerable variation may be found in what follows the Sanctus. Although Luther "deleted the medieval Roman Eucharistic Prayer from his adaptation of the Mass ... most modern Lutheran Communion services now include adaptations of ancient Eucharistic prayers with which Luther was unfamiliar."[2] Such eucharistic prayers include the Words of Institution and the Lord's Prayer follows.

Lutherans not using eucharistic prayers continue with the Words of Institution and the Lord's Prayer alone. The Lord's Prayer may precede or follow the Words of Institution. "As children, we address our God as ‘Our Father,’ praying as our Lord Jesus Christ himself taught us to pray." (HLW). Then the Words of Institution are chanted or said. At the appropriate time in the Words of Institution the elevation may take place, but this is not required. "The reverent, unadorned use of the Words of Institution (Lat. ‘Verba’) focuses all our thoughts on the acts and words or Christ and expresses the Real Presence of Christ's body and blood in, with and under the bread and wine. Here, God is dealing with us in a loving manner, reminding us that Christ died for our sins." (HLW).

Next is the Pax Domini, or Peace of the Lord. "The Pax Domini (Lat. ‘Peace of the Lord’) is the same greeting spoken by the risen Christ on Easter morning. It is the final blessing before we approach the altar to receive the gift of Christ's body and blood." (HLW).

The Agnus Dei follows the Pax Domini, the Agnus Dei is sung by all. "The Agnus Dei (Lat. ‘Lamb of God’) is our hymn of adoration to our Savior Jesus Christ who is truly present for us in the Sacrament. The Agnus Dei recalls the testimony of John the Baptist when he pointed to Jesus and proclaimed: ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’" (HLW).

The Distribution is next. The pastor first receives communion and then "those who will be assisting him" (Lutheran Worship, Divine Service I). "By Christ's own words, ‘Given and shed for you for the remission of sins,’ in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper God offers, gives, and seals for us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation." (HLW). Self-examination before communion is appropriate as those communicating will be receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. If there is a kneeling rail at the altar, the communicants wait for the pastor to tell them when to kneel with a bow of his head. When there is no kneeling rail, the communicants wait for the pastor to bow his head, and the communicants then bow. When the host distributed to each communicant the pastor says "Take eat; this is the true body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, given into death for your sins." or "Take, eat; this is the very body of Christ, given for you." At the distribution of the chalice the pastor says "Take, drink; this is the true blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, shed for the forgiveness of your sins." or "Take, drink; this is the very blood of Christ, shed for you." It is appropriate for the communicants to make the sign of the cross after communicating.

In dismissing the communicants from the altar-rail, the pastor says, "The body and blood of our Lord strengthen and preserve you steadfast in the true faith to life everlasting." The communicants may say "Amen". The communicants bow their heads when dismissed from the kneeling rail, and if there is none, bow when being dismissed. Silent prayer is appropriate after being dismissed. "The Dismissal reassures communicants of the efficacy of the Lord's Supper in creating life-saving faith in Christ." (HLW).

After is a post-communion canticle, often Nunc Dimittis. "In singing the Nunc Dimittis," (Lat. ‘Now you dismiss’), "we stand with Simeon as he looked upon the baby Jesus, in awe of the profound mystery that the Father would give His only Son in the flesh for the salvation of our souls. Having just received the Lord's Supper, we have truly seen ‘Thy Salvation, which [God] prepared before the face of all people.’" (HLW).

Then follows a post-communion collect written by Martin Luther. "The Versicle calls us to give thanks and introduces the Thanksgiving Collect. In the Collect, we thank God for His life-saving Sacrament and pray that His gift of faith offered therein causes us to change our life and enables us to love God and love others." (HLW).

Next is the Benediction, from Numbers 6:24. "More than a prayer for blessing, the Benediction imparts a blessing in God's name, giving positive assurance of the grace and peace of God to all who receive it in faith. The words of the Benediction are those that the God gave to Moses (the Aaronic Blessing) and those used by Christ at the Ascension. The final word that falls on our ears from our gracious God is ‘peace,’ affirming our reconciliation to God through the blood of Jesus Christ." (HLW). The Divine Service ends with the Amen. "We conclude the Divine Service with a triple Amen, that is, ‘Yea, yea, it shall be so,’ which expresses our firm faith in the forgiveness of sins by God's grace through Jesus Christ as heard and experienced in the Word and Sacrament of the Divine Service just ended." (HLW). Silent prayer follows, with a closing hymn after.

Definition and Origins

The term "Divine Service" is somewhat unique to Lutheranism, and it reflects the theology of justification held by Lutherans. The term comes from the German word Gottesdienst ("God-service"), and is significant because it reflects the Lutheran belief that the main actor in the Divine Service is God himself and not man. The connotation of the term is that the Word and Sacrament (the two parts of the Divine Service) are gifts that God gives to his people, and therefore Lutherans emphasize God's work rather than that of man. The term Mass was used by early Lutherans [1] but such use has decreased in English usage. Also, Lutherans have historically used the term to distinguish the Divine Service with Protestant Worship, where often the focus is on the worshipper bringing praise and thanksgiving to God. [2]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 How Lutherans Worship, Lutherans Online.
  2. John Paul Salay, Lutheran Service Book: Liturgical Renewal or Liturgical Stagnation? (originally published in Lutheran Forum, Christmas/Winter (2006), 36-3

External links