The Divine Liturgy: Part 1 (Introduction through the Collect of the Day)
In my previous articles "Liturgy is Anything but Indifferent" and "Using the Propers is Proper!," I introduced the concept of the Divine Liturgy and promised future articles highlighting the individual parts of the Liturgy. My original goal was to dedicate a unique article to each segment of the Divine Service. However, over the course of the past week I put together a document highlighting the various aspects of the Communion Liturgy from the Common Service for St. John Evangelical-Lutheran Church's new website (as of right now, the old site is still up, but eventually you will be able to find the new website at http://www.stjohnsmke.org). Rather than duplicate my efforts, I'm going to cross-post the explanations in four parts at this blog as well. I hope you find these tidbits interesting. And be sure to check out St. John's new webpage when it's up!
The Common Service, as its name implies, is the compilation of worship orders common to all of American Lutheranism. It was published in 1888 as a joint effort between various Lutheran Church bodies and is (or was) widely used by members of the ELCA, LCMS, WELS, and ELS, among others. As such, it represents an expression of Lutheran solidarity that is almost unparalleled. But the Common Service was not created in 1888; in reality, it represents an English (and Lutheran) version of the Latin Mass and Divine Offices, which in one form or another are the continuation of a liturgical tradition that predates the time of Christ. Its chief elements are Word and Sacrament; it exists to present them as a golden ring might present a priceless diamond. At its core, the Common Service is nothing other than the Psalms, prayers, and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19) found in the Holy Scriptures. In this context, it is rightly called the “Divine Service,” because it is the medium through which we receive God’s gifts.
A Note on Terms
While the Common Service was originally an umbrella term for three different orders of worship - the Communion Service, Matins, and Vespers - it has come to be associated most closely with the former of these three. This Communion Service is often called the “Divine Service” in Lutheran practice, coming from the German word Gottesdienst. The term developed as an acknowledgment of the Lutheran belief that the true worship of God is not focused on what we do, but rather on what God does for us, as the Apology of the Augsburg Confession says: “Faith is the latreiva [divine service], which receives the benefits offered by God; the righteousness of the Law is the latreiva [divine service] which offers to God our merits. By faith God wishes to be worshiped in this way, that we receive from Him those things which He promises and offers” (IV:49).
However, insofar as the term “Divine Service” can rightly be applied to any order of worship that presents the gifts of God, the Communion Service is often distinguished with the title “Chief Divine Service.” It was historically known as the Mass in the Western Church, the Divine Liturgy in the East, and the Eucharist (coming from the Greek word εὐχαριστία, meaning “thanksgiving”) in both. The Eucharistic Service can be divided into two parts: The Service of the Word and the Service of the Sacrament. The Service of the Word has its origins in the ancient Jewish synagogue service, which was marked by readings from the Law and Prophets (prefiguring the Epistle and Gospel lessons) and interspersed with Psalms. In turn, the Service of the Sacrament is prefigured by the Jewish Passover Seder, from which the Lord Jesus instituted the Most Holy Supper of His very Body and Blood. In this way, the Eucharistic Liturgy predates Christian use, since it was used by Hebrew believers even before the time of Christ.
Finally, there are two terms worth mentioning that refer to the congregational portions of the Chief Divine Service: Ordinary and Proper. The Ordinary refers to those portions of the Service which are “ordinarily” used week after week without change. In the Common Service tradition, these are the Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Credo, Agnus Dei, Sanctus, and Nunc Dimittis. In contrast, the Proper refers to those portions of the Service that vary from week to week and are “proper” to the given day; these are the Introit, Gradual, Alleluia or Tract, Sequence and/or Hymn of the Day, Offertory, and Communio. The history and liturgical use of these canticles and chants will be explained in the paragraphs that follow.
PreparationThe Preparatory or Penitential Rite exists to prepare our hearts for the Divine Service. Its chief part is the Confiteor (meaning “I confess”), during which we confess our general sinfulness and particular sins that make us unworthy to stand in God’s presence. Before the Reformation, this Rite was prayed by the clergy alone. In the Common Service tradition, it is a rite of corporate confession that points us back to Holy Baptism. Starting with the words of St. Matthew, “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (28:19) and ending in the words of St. Mark, “whoever believes and is baptized shall be saved” (16:16), the rite is a stark reminder that Baptism provides both the basis for Christian repentance and the assurance of our forgiveness. This is all made possible through our baptismal crucifixion, burial, and resurrection with Christ, through which we have received the “full right of sons” (Galatians 4:5) as redeemed children of God.
After readying our hearts in the light of Holy Baptism, we are prepared to enter into God’s presence. The Latin Introitus plays off this theme, meaning just that: “entrance.” The Pastor symbolizes this on behalf of the congregation by approaching the Altar while the Introit is sung. The Introit is the first of the Proper chants that belong to the congregation, so-called because they are selections from Scripture that vary throughout the Church year with themes that are proper to the given day. As the first of these chants, the Introit helps to set the tone for the day’s worship. In fact, the names given to the days of the Church year are taken from the first word or two of their Latin Introit. The Introit follows a standard form, starting with the singing of an Antiphon (from the Greek word ἀντίφωνα, meaning "responsive") followed by the chanting of a Psalm verse and the Gloria Patri (“Glory be to the Father”), and concluding with a reprisal of the Antiphon. Gloria Patri
The Gloria Patri is the little hymn or doxology of praise contained in the larger chant of the Introit, expressing glory to the Triune God. It emphasizes that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. This is true not only in time, but “world without end;” that is, in eternity. It is a hymn truly befitting of the great “I Am” (Exodus 3:14). The Gloria Patri is only omitted during the season of Passiontide (the last two Sundays in Lent), wherein the Church omits nearly all of its joyous hymns and celebrations in solemn remembrance of the Lord’s suffering and death. Kyrie
The Kýrie, Eléison (Greek for “Lord, have mercy”) is an ancient prayer that is repeated throughout the Psalms (Psalm 123:3, Psalm 86:3, etc.). After entering into God’s presence, we implore Him to bestow His grace upon us. Historically, the Kýrie, eléison was used as a congregational response similar to “Amen.” The pastor would pray a series of intercessory petitions, after each of which the congregation would respond Kýrie, eléison. Over time, the pastoral petitions were phased out and only the congregational responses remained, making it a prayer or canticle belonging to the people. This prayer has also come to be recognized as a confession of the Trinity, with each of its three petitions (Kýrie, eléison, Christe, eléison, Kýrie, eléison) traditionally repeated three times (3x3). Another unique aspect of this prayer is the fact that it was one of the only parts of the Latin Mass sung in Greek. In the ancient days of the Church, everyone spoke Greek; the Kyrie is a vestigial piece of evidence testifying to this fact, providing a strong indication that the language of the Divine Service should be in the language of the people. Still, there are some words and phrases that have been continuously used since believers spoke Hebrew (such as “Amen,” “Alleluia,” “Sabaoth,” and “Hosanna,” to name a few); these short phrases are easily explained to the simple and unlearned, so retaining words like “Kyrie” in the original Greek is not inappropriate.
Gloria in Excelsis Following our prayer for God’s gracious mercy in the Kyrie, the Gloria in Excelsis (“Glory be to God on High”) is immediately sung. The Gloria (sometimes called the “Greater Gloria” to distinguish it from the Gloria Patri) is the great angelic hymn that the Holy Angels sang on the eve of our Lord’s Nativity (St. Luke 2:14). It also serves as an emphatic answer to our plea for God’s mercy: “on earth peace; good will toward men.” The “peace” and “good will toward men” are explained by the hymn, in the words of St. John the Baptist, to be none other than the “Lamb of God...that takest away the sins of the world” (St. John 1:29). He is the one Who has “mercy upon us” and “receive[s] our prayer.” And, true to form with the other parts of the Liturgy thus far, the hymn also beautifully confesses the glorious mystery of the Holy Trinity: “Thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost, art most high in the glory of God the Father. Amen.” During the penitential seasons of Advent, Septuagesima, and Lent, the Gloria in Excelsis is omitted as the Church’s worship takes on a more somber tone.
Salutation With our entrance into God’s presence, our prayer for mercy, and God’s gracious answer having all taken place, the pastor greets the people with the ancient ecclesial greeting or “salutation,”Dominus Vobiscum (“the Lord be with you”), which has its basis in various passages of Scripture (Judges 18:6, Ruth 2:4, 1 Samuel 17:37, 1 Chronicles 22:11, 2 Thessalonians 3:16, etc.). The people respond with “and with thy spirit,” a response which may have its basis in 2 Timothy 4:22, where St. Paul specifically applies the response to St. Timothy, a pastor. Collect of the Day
The pastor then bids the people with the Oremus, “let us pray,” after which the Collect of the Day is spoken or chanted. The word “collect” comes from the Latin collecta and is a term meaning “prayer,” but is distinct from the more common Latin word for prayer, oratio. Collecta implies a corporate prayer - a “collective” prayer of the people. This is an important distinction, because the pastor is not praying on his own behalf, but on behalf of all the gathered saints of God. Through the pastor, the congregation approaches God with one voice.
The structure of the Collect of the Day follows the same basic pattern throughout the Church year, but the theme changes to corroborate with the Propers and Scripture lessons. The Collect typically includes 1) an invocation of God, 2) a declaration of one of one of God’s Divine attributes, which is usually related to 3) the request being made, 4) the reason or reasons the request is being made, and 5) a doxology, which, in the Common Service Tradition, usually takes the form of: “through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God: world without end. Amen.”