The Glory Has Departed

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a third one has been sent now.

Norma Boeckler, Artist-in-Residence

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Luther's Sermons, Lenker Series
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I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Dan Baker - Ecclesia Augustana - Excellent Summary of the Liturgy

Ecclesia Augustana: Dan Baker

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Divine Liturgy: A Compendium

A few months ago, I presented the following explanations of the Divine Liturgy in four separate posts.  I wanted to put all four together here for ease of reading.  As I said in the introduction to the first post, "my previous articles "Liturgy is Anything but Indifferent" and "Using the Propers is Proper!" [. . .] introduced the concept of the Divine Liturgy."  Those might be a good place to start, if you haven't done so already.  Without further ado, here is the compendium:  


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.  

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.


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.”

Scripture Lessons: Prophecy and Epistle
After the Collect has honed our attention on the theme first set by the Introit, we are ready to hear the reading of the Holy Scriptures.  No one may teach or preach the Scriptures in the Church unless he is the servant of God called and ordained for the task.  The proclamation of the Scriptures is one of the highest points of the Divine Service and should not be taken lightly.  In ancient practice, the first reading was known as the “Prophecy” and was taken from the Old Testament.  However, by the time of the Reformation, there were only two readings - Epistle and Gospel.  This two-reading model mimicked the Jewish synagogue service, which also had set readings from the Law and the Prophets.  

Lest one thinks that the Reformation-era model led to a neglect of the Old Testament, however, it should be noted that the Proper chants of the congregation are almost always from the Old Testament.  In addition, while the prescribed Epistle lessons on Sundays were almost exclusively from the New Testament, the “Epistle” prescribed for weekdays was usually from the Old Testament.  So the Old Testament was kept in regular use.  Still, due to shifting social paradigms, the Sunday Service has become one of the only worship opportunities in most regions.  In this light, the Common Service allows for a reading from the Old Testament.  

Since the days of the Jewish synagogue, believers have chanted Psalms between the various Scripture lessons.  In the earliest days of the Church, two whole Psalms were chanted between the three separate readings.  Over the ages, the Psalms were shortened (likely to accommodate the extended chants to which they were set); by the time of the Reformation, the remnant of the first Psalm became known as the Gradual.  Its name is drawn from the Latin word gradus, meaning “step,” because it was sung from the steps of the lectern from which the Gospel was read.  The Gradual is usually comprised of two or three verses that specifically highlight the theme of the day.  

The remnant of the second responsorial Psalm became known as the Alleluia, because it was preceded and followed by the ancient word “Alleluia,” a Latinization of a Hebrew word meaning “praise the Lord.”  In medieval practice, the Alleluia verse became little more than an extension of the Gradual; in fact, in many missals it is listed with the Gradual.  However, as previously mentioned, it was initially an entirely separate Psalm and should be viewed as a unique chant in its own right.  In the Common Service tradition, where a Prophecy reading is often retained, the Alleluia verse is chanted after the Epistle and completely separated from the Gradual (which is chanted after the Prophecy), thus mimicking the ancient practice.
In the seasons of  Septuagesima and Lent, the Alleluia Verse is replaced by the Tract, a chant which is comprised of selections from the Psalms (or other Scriptures) that usually take on a more somber tone.  This “alleluia fast” is a symbol of our repentance in preparation for Passiontide.  In contrast, the season of Easter sees the reinstatement of a second Alleluia verse, which displaces the Gradual; together, the two Alleluia verses of Easter are known as the “Greater Alleluia.”

Holy Gospel and its AcclamationsThe Alleluia verse also serves as a segue into the acclamation of the Holy Gospel.  The reading from the Holy Gospel is the pinnacle of the Service of the Word, because it represents the direct words and actions of our Lord during His time on earth.  Before the reading of the Gospel, the people rise in due deference to Christ; following the ancient practice, they may also use their thumbs to make the sign of the cross three times - once over the forehead, once over the lips, and once over the heart - silently praying: “the Holy Gospel be in my mind, on my lips, and in my heart.”  After the pastor introduces the book from which the Gospel shall be read, the people are unable to contain themselves and exclaim: Gloria tibi Domine, “Glory be to Thee, O Lord!”  So too, after the reading, in unbridled joy they proclaim Laus tibi Christe, “Praise be to Thee, O Christ!”

Sequence and Hymn of the Day

In the Middle Ages, elaborate Latin hymns were often used to recapitulate the theme of the day on chief festivals of the Church year.  These hymns were called Sequences (Sequentia), named after the Latin for “following.”  They were called “what follows”  because the texts of the earliest sequences were created to fit into the elaborate chants sung on the last syllable of the word “alleluia.”  Hence, the Sequence is “what follows” the Alleluia verse and is liturgically an extension of the same.  While only the Sequences for Easter and Pentecost (which were inspirations for Luther’s famous hymns “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands” and “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord”) officially made it into the Roman Missal, there were numerous Sequences composed before and after the Reformation.  The Lutheran Church took many of these Sequences and used them as inspiration for creating hymns in the vernacular, which are now known as the “Hymn of the Day.”  Like its ancestor the Sequence, the Hymn of the Day is a Proper in its own right that is based on the theme of the day, recapitulating the Scripture lessons and chants.    Unlike the Sequence, however, the Hymn of the Day is sung after the Credo in the Common Service tradition.

Jesus raised Lazarus with the Word.
Painting by Norma Boeckler.

The Credo (meaning “I believe” in Latin), also known as the Nicene Creed, is the great Confession of the Christian faith professed by every sect claiming the Christian moniker, including the Papal church, the Eastern churches, and the Protestant denominations.  In the Lutheran Church, as part of the Church Catholic, we hold the Nicene Creed as the second Confession or Symbol of our faith in the Book of Concord.  The Creed originated at the First Council of Nicea (c. A.D. 325) and was finalized at the First Council of Constantinople (c. A.D. 381), which are respectively known as the First and Second Ecumenical Councils of the Church (because, like the Creed, they are universally accepted by all Christian sects).  The Creed itself was crafted in opposition to the Arian heresy, which denied that Christ and the Holy Spirit are God.  As such, it specifically focuses on the person of Christ and His “being of one substance with the Father;” that is, “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.”  It likewise emphasizes the Holy Spirit and His being the true “Lord and Giver of life,” Who “in unity with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,” as only God should be.  The Creed follows the reading of the Gospel in the Divine Service as the people’s profession of the fundamental truths revealed in Holy Scripture.  While the Nicene Creed is universally used on Sundays and high feasts, in some regions the Apostles‘ Creed may be used instead, especially at non-Eucharistic Services.  In the Lutheran tradition, the Athanasian Creed may also be used on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, because it specifically focuses on the nature and doctrine of the Most Blessed Trinity.

Sermon and Pax Votum
After reciting the basic truths of the Christian faith in the Nicene Creed and focusing on the specific theme of the day in the Hymn of the Day, the pastor ascends the steps of the pulpit for the preaching of the Sermon.  The Sermon should be the highest point of the Service of the Word, because in it the Pastor brings together all of the day’s various Scripture lessons and chants and exposits them through the Gospel in the context of the primary teachings expressed by the Creed.  The Sermon also serves to tie the Service of the Word into the Service of the Sacrament, causing the people to hunger for Christ’s gifts in the Holy Supper.  While the Divine Liturgy can still present Word and Sacrament without the Sermon, the lack of a good Sermon can result in an out-of-context and misunderstood Liturgy and a people who fail to understand the full ramifications of the day’s theme.  As such, the public preaching of the Gospel represented by the Sermon is one of the most important functions of the Pastoral Office.  Likewise, it is one of the oldest biblical traditions in the Christian Church, with its first Sermon being preached by St. Peter on Pentecost - the day of the Church’s birth (albeit that Sermons were preached before the Church’s birth, especially by Moses, the Prophets, and the Lord Jesus Himself).   The Sermon concludes with the Pax Votum, the “Word of Peace,” which is a verbatim quote from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (4:7).

Immediately following the Sermon is the Offertory (Latin: Offertorium), which goes hand in hand with the “offering.”  In modern practice, the “offering” is often understood as monetary; historically speaking, however, the primary elements that the people “offered” were the bread and wine for use in the Blessed Sacrament.  As such, at this point in the Service the Pastor prepares the elements for use in the Holy Supper.  While this is being done, the people sing the Proper chant of the Offertory.  The Common Service of 1888 allowed for the singing of the proper Offertory; however, it also provided two options as a sort of “ordinary” offertory: Psalm 51:10-12 and Psalm 51:17-19.  However, making use of the Proper Offertory offers the congregation a broader exposure to the Scriptures - ones that specifically bring out an aspect of the day’s theme.  

General Prayer
After the Offertory, the people rise for the General Prayer.  Standing for prayer on Sundays is an ancient practice with a variety of symbolic meanings.  During the week, the people traditionally knelt for prayer.  On Sundays, however, we rise, just as our Lord, Whose resurrection is commemorated every Sunday, rose from the dead.  Likewise, it is a reminder that we are to always look forward to the life to come, the “eighth” and endless Day of eternity, which Sunday also represents.  On that Day we shall rise from the dead and die no more.  Although we kneel during the week in recognition of our sinful unworthiness as mortal creatures of this world, we rise on the “eighth day” to remind ourselves that we are bound for the immortality of heaven.
The General Prayer is a Lutheran restoration of the ancient practice of having general intercessions prior to the Service of the Sacrament.  In the Papal church, the abomination known as the “Canon of the Mass” was used in place of the General Prayer; the Papists imagined that their Canon actually helped to effect the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament.  Lutherans abolished Eucharistic Prayers on this account (though orthodox Eucharistic Prayers have been retained in some regions) and replaced them with the General Prayer, which retains the best elements of the Eucharistic Prayer and omits its unsavory papal elements.  The General Prayer used by the Common Service predates the Reformation and is based on a form of prayer that has been used by Christians since the earliest days of the Church.

Preface: Sursum Corda and Vere Dignum
The Service of the Word now complete, the pastor turns toward the people with the familiar greeting, Dominus Vobiscum.  After the people’s response, he intones the Sursum Corda, which means “lift up your hearts” and comes from Lamentations 3:41.  After the people assent, he bids them to make eucharist; that is, to give thanks to God.  The people respond by saying Dignum et iustum est; that is, “it is meet and right.”  This dialogue between pastor and people has been used in a multiplicity of liturgical traditions since the 3rd Century.  It leads directly into the Proper Preface, also known as the Vere Dignum.  Notice the people’s last response also began with Dignum ("meet"); the pastor draws from the people’s response and affirms that “it is truly meet, right, and salutary” to give God thanks.  In this way, the Sursum Corda serves as a formal assent to the pastor's "making eucharist" on the congregation's behalf, indicating that with one mind we lift our hearts before the Lord in gratitude and humility.  

The Proper Preface also serves to hone our thanksgiving into the context of the theme of the day; each season of the church year has a unique Preface that accompanies it.  The Preface concludes with a sort of doxology, saying that with Angels and Archangels and the whole company of the heavenly army we praise and magnify God’s Name with the song of heaven:  the Sanctus.

Sanctus with Benedictus
The Sanctus (meaning “holy”) is an ancient hymn that comes from the Old and New Testaments.  It is the song that the Prophet Isaiah heard the Blessed Seraphim singing before the Throne of God (as recorded in Isaiah 6:3).  St. John also heard the “four creatures” that surround the Throne of God singing a version of the Sanctus (Revelation 4:8).  In a sense, then, the Sanctus is the Song of Heaven - that which the Angels sing before the very presence of God.  It is most fitting to sing this hymn directly before the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament, at which point heaven deigns to be on earth.  This is where, with Angels and Archangels, we laud and magnify the Lamb Who - though He sits upon the Throne - in wondrous mystery sits upon the Altar in the Holy Supper.

Also befitting this mystery is the text of the Benedictus (“blessed”), which comprises the second half of the Sanctus.  The Benedictus, originally based on Psalm 118:26, is the song (“Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord!”) that people of Israel sang as the Lord triumphantly entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, as recorded in St. Mark 11:9-10.  It is surrounded by the refrain “Hosanna in the highest” (hosanna is a Hebrew word that is related to “Savior” and was probably used as an expression beseeching Divine aid).  It is appropriate for these words to be used as we beseech the good graces of Him “that cometh in the name of the Lord.”
Even more symbolic is the fact that the Benedictus represents the people of God’s earthly song of acclamation, while the Sanctus represents the heavenly song of acclamation.  In a very real sense, the Sanctus with Benedictus represents the meeting of heaven and earth - the ultimate expression of the fact that heaven and earth become indistinguishable as we progress toward the celebration of the Holy Supper, where Saints and Angels regardless of time and space join together in adoration of the King of kings.

Pater Noster with Doxology
Following the Sanctus, the pastor begins chanting the Pater Noster, also known as the “Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer.”  It is the prayer our Savior taught us and has long been used in the Service of the Sacrament.  In it, we specifically pray for God to “give us this day our daily bread,” which is none other than Christ Himself - that Bread of Life we are about to receive in the Blessed Sacrament.  But in a real sense, all the petitions of this venerable prayer find their completion in the Holy Supper.  God’s Name is hallowed by the work of His Son, in Whose presence we are soon to dwell.  God’s Kindgom most literally comes to earth as the Communion of Saints is manifested in the Body and Blood of Christ.  And His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.  How is it done?  By the giving of this wonderful bread from heaven, which surely forgives our sins and empowers our Christian living as we forgive those who sin against us, are led away from temptation, and are delivered from evil.

In joyful response to these blessed truths, the Common Service tradition has the people respond by happily singing the doxology; for the Kingdom, Power, and Glory truly belong to God for ever and ever, Who has bestowed upon us these wonderful gifts, the work of His hand alone.

Verba Christi and Pax Domini
With our minds focused on the gifts about to be received, the pastor chants the Verba Christi, the Words of Institution that are recorded in the three synoptic Gospels and St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.  Beyond all human comprehension, when the Pastor recites these Words of consecration, the powerful Word of God effects the Sacramental Union by which the earthly elements of bread and wine become the very Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We leave to Him alone how this can be; His Word alone is sufficient.  It is historically appropriate - and endorsed by the blessed Dr. Luther himself - for the pastor to elevate the consecrated elements in recognition of the Lord’s sacramental presence.  After the consecration, he turns toward the people with the host and chalice in hand and speaks the Pax Domini - that is, the “Peace of the Lord” - to the people.  Luther recognized this little saying as one final, comforting form of absolution before the reception of the Sacrament, to which the people emphatically respond "Amen."

Agnus Dei
After receiving Christ’s peace, the people sing in humble adoration the Agnus Dei, the great hymn to the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world (based on St. John the Baptist’s acclamation in St. John 1:29).  In this canticle, we beseech Christ’s mercy and peace before approaching His Altar to receive the gifts He has prepared for our benefit.  The text takes us to Good Friday, the day on which the Lamb of God completed the task for which He was sent by suffering and dying - taking away the sins of the world.  The only time of the year that this canticle is omitted is during the great Paschal Vigil; the day the Church celebrates Christ’s victorious resurrection from the dead.


After the Agnus Dei, the people of God take part in the Distribution of the Holy Sacrament.  This is the highest point of the Service of the Sacrament, where the people of God literally and physically receive forgiveness by receiving the Body that was broken and the Blood that was outpoured for their sins.  They also experience the Communion of Saints; for where Christ is, there His members are too.  In the Blessed Sacrament, all the saints of God - living and dead - are united as one.  In the Holy Supper, death has no power over us and we are given a brief foretaste of the Endless Day, wherein all who have been made one with Christ in Holy Baptism live and reign with Him forever.  In short, at the Altar we experience heaven on earth with all who are in Christ.

Nunc Dimittis
As is the case with a foretaste, the Holy Supper comes to an end.  Refreshed and renewed, we rise and sing the Nunc Dimittis.  This is a uniquely Lutheran addition to the Divine Service, as it was not part of the Ordinary prior to the Reformation.  Still, it is an immensely fitting canticle to sing after the Distribution of the Blessed Sacrament.  The Nunc Dimittis, also known as the Song of Simeon, is the song that St. Simeon sang after seeing the Infant Lord Jesus at His presentation in the temple (cf. St. Luke 2:29-32).  Through it, with St. Simeon we proclaim that the Lord lets us, His servants, “depart in peace, according to Thy Word.  For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people.  A Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of Thy people Israel.”  In the Holy Supper, we have literally seen, felt, and tasted the Light of Gentile nations and the Glory of Israel.  Having received Christ and His forgiveness, we are truly ready to depart in peace - whether to our earthly vocations or from this veil of tears.


After the Nunc Dimittis, the Common Service prescribes the singing of the versicle “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endureth forever.”  This versicle takes the place of what was historically known as the Communio chant, the last of the Proper chants that the people sing throughout the Divine Service.  In ancient practice, this antiphon was accompanied by a longer Psalm that was chanted during the Distribution of the Sacrament.  By the time of the Reformation, however, the Communio was relegated to a shorter verse that was sung after the Distribution.  Luther recommended the retention of the Communio (along with all the Propers), so it is highly fitting to sing the Proper Communio verse.  It also serves to remind us that the Services of Word and Sacrament are not two separate entities, but rather are two halves of one whole Service.  In short, the Communio gives us one final thought pertaining to the theme of the day, bringing our reception of the Sacrament into that same context.

Post-Communion Collect
After the Communio verse, the pastor prays the Post-Communion Collect.  In the Roman Missal, this prayer varied according to the day.  However, Dr. Luther wrote a beautiful form of this collect, which the Common Service utilizes in place of a variable prayer.  In it, we thank God (“make eucharist”) for the gift of the Blessed Sacrament and ask Him to use it to strengthen our faith in Him and love toward one another.  It concludes with the familiar doxology that was previously used in the Collect of the Day.

After the Post-Communion Collect, the pastor greets the people a final time with the familiar Dominus Vobiscum.  He then proceeds with the Benedicamus, proclaiming to the people: “Bless we the Lord!”  Before the Reformation, the Benedicamus was only used when the Gloria in Excelsis was omitted (i.e. the penitential seasons).  On other Sundays, the phrase Ite, missa est (“Go, the Mass is ended”) was used.  However, Lutherans adopted the practice of using the Benedicamus throughout the year, regardless of season, following a suggestion made by Dr. Luther.  This reflects the more ancient practice of the church and ends the Service with a reminder of the fact that we are unable to do anything but bless or "praise" the Lord for the gifts he has bestowed.  In point of fact, it is His gifts that - by their own power - cause the praise that is due to Him.  Regardless of the phrase used, however, this statement marks the official end of the Divine Service.  The people respond with one final making of eucharist: Deo Gratias; “Thanks be to God!”

After the conclusion of the Divine Service, the Common Service tradition instructs the pastor to bestow the Aaronic Blessing upon the people.  The Aaronic Blessing is the great blessing that the Lord instructed Moses to teach Aaron and the Levite priests;  it was the form they were to use when they blessed the Hebrew people (cf. Numbers 6:22-27).  Since by faith we are the true children of Abraham, it is appropriate that the Church’s ministers should bless us with the same blessing.  

Jesus appears to the disciples,
by Norma Boeckler.

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