Thursday, May 19, 2011

Looking at the Liturgy of the Divine Service

Introit really just means “entrance,” and calls for the use of an entire psalm during the entrance of the clergy (Pope Celestine, early fifth century).  It marked the beginning of the service, and took place during the procession as clergy approached the altar.  Many times either clergy traveled and entered the church at that time (urban liturgy) or the sacristy was located near the narthex.  It is now more common to have the sacristy near the sanctuary itself, which slightly changes the practical need for a processional.  Nevertheless, many churches make use of the processional during the Introit.  The carrying of the processional cross and the singing is edifying for the congregation, as they confess that the living Christ, fresh from the grave comes among them to distribute his gifts and redeem them.  

It was common for the introit to be sung antiphonally between two choirs alternating choirs.  Otherwise clergy may chant, while choir repeats a response or antiphon.   The structure proceeds from antiphon, psalm verses, Gloria Patri, and antiphon.  It is a common practice in many Lutheran churches to simply sing a hymn out of the hymnal. 

               The Holy Scriptures are filled with the cry of eleison (Mt. 9:27, 20:30, 15:22; Mk. 10:47; Lk. 16:24, 17:13).  Usually it is the full Kyrie eleison me, or eleison hemas.  The liturgical use is shortened simply to Kyrie eleison.  It is hard to think of a more lovely and shorter prayer than Kyrie eleison, for it is rich in its liturgical and theologically meaning.  Throughout Jesus’ ministry sinners in need of his mercy cry out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk 10:47).  It seems fitting that the Divine Service begins with a Kyrie Eleison, that the church would respond to the Lord in desperate need of mercy and the gifts He brings.  The sinner comes before God as a beggar, with a boldness of faith, that desires that which the Lord has – namely his righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.        
               Apart from the biblical narrative, historically it is common for a prince or king to process into a town, while the people would say ‘kyrie eleison.’  While historically there is a secular usage here, the expression receives its truest significance and meaning with the advent of the true king and priest, Jesus Christ who comes into the midst of the worshipping congregation.  The Gallic Pilgrim Etheria details the Jerusalem liturgy in 390, starting the at the end of Vespers, “The bishop rises and stands before the rails, that is, before the cave, and one of the deacons makes the customary commemoration of individuals one by one. And as the deacon pronounces each name the many little boys who are always standing by, answer with countless voices : Kyrie eleyson, or as we say Miserere Domine? And when the deacon has finished all that he has to say, first the bishop says a prayer and prays for all, then they all pray, both the faithful and catechumens together.”[1] 
Pope Gelasius is credited (492-496 AD) with introducing the Kyrie-litany.  The list of petitions in this litany correlates closely with the themes of the general prayer prior to Gelasius, “We are justified in concluding that Gelasius had removed the general prayer for the Church, and had substituted the Kyrie-litany.”[2]  This original text, known as the Deprecatio Gelasii is exceedingly rich in scope, the 15th petition begging our Lord, “That our flesh may be free of blemish and our souls living in faith, Hear us, Lord, hear us.”  In the Rule of St. Benedict the litania (or supplicatio litanie ed est Kyrie eleison) was part of the ending of every Daily Office and was used to introduce the Lord’s Prayer (true also for the LSB).  In Lauds and Vespers, priest prayed a fuller litania, like that in the Deprecatio.

During the reign of Gregory the Great, the longer Kyrie was reduced to the simple threefold bid: “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.”  This is what we commonly use for our Divine Service.  A great treasure of the Lutheran Service Book is its Litany (the Altar Book offers a musical setting).  There is a ninefold invocation of Christos and Kyrios which serves as a prelude to the public orations prayer.  The litany plumbs the depths of the marks and holy mysteries of the church – incarnation, nativity, baptism, precious death and burial, and of course the resurrection.  The eleison is orated as “Have mercy,” “Spare us, good Lord,” Hear us, O Lord,” and “Help us, good Lord.”  The congregation asks for help in the hour of death, and mercy and deliverance for woman, children, and infants.  The Lutheran Litany when prayed by a congregation sounds like a swelling symphonic prayer.  Even when spoken, the varieties of eleisons have a deeply harmonious quality about them, given the lyrical rhythm and drama which moves from pestilence and bloodshed, then concluding with a threefold Agnus Dei.  Alternative settings of the Kyrie include LSB 942-944.  The Kyrie is also commonly used in Matins and Vespers. 

The Gloria has its origins in Luke’s Christmas story where an army of angels appears, praising God saying “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those who have his good will!”  The worshipper may see a connection with the proper preface during the service of the sacrament, “together with angels and arch angels and all the company of heaven…”  Therefore, this is a Christological hymn that points clearly to the incarnation and long expected Messiah that has now come.  He is the Son of God, the true Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.  It is significant that the Christmas story and the doxological praise applied to incarnation is linked with the Lamb of God who atones for the sins of the world.  The celebration of the birth of the child by angels means that this child is in fact born to die as a human sacrifice for sin.  Therefore in the Gloria, placed at the beginning of the service, we are already pointed toward the Lord’s Supper, which is the sum and substance of the Gospel, accompanied with the preached Word.  His resurrection is in view given that He sits at the right hand of God the Father as the crucified one – interceding before His heavenly throne.  In this simple hymn one can see a restoration of all things in heaven and on earth (Eph. 1:10).  The hymn also has a great deal of emphasis on the relationship of the Trinity in the Son’s redemptive work, for we see each Person of the Trinity addressed.  It is helpful for a beginning hymn of praise to understand that all praise is doxological and Trinitarian in shape. 

Jungmann notes that the Gloria, like the Kyrie was not created originally for the liturgy of the Mass, but was rather an heirloom from the treasury of ancient Church hymns.[3]  It seems to me however, that given the frequency of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the first two centuries, it is hard to imagine that this hymn was not intimately linked with the Supper.  The Gloria is always a song of the congregation and not a special choir or t be done by the clergy.  This hymn is indispensible in the liturgy, though it is often omitted during advent and lent.  Besides that which is commonly sung in the hymnal setting, LSB 946, 947, or 948 might alternatively be used. 

In ancient liturgies, that which preceded the Collect was considered part of the entrance rite.  The Salutation marked the beginning of the actual service itself.  It is a pastoral greeting common in both the old and New Testament (Judg. 6:12; Ruth 2:4; Luke 1:2; 2 Tim. 4:22).  It has also been considered a sort of “little ordination,” calling to mind the Christological nature of the holy ministry.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus, resurrected from the grave stood among the disciples and said, “Peace be with you,” showing them his pierced hands and side.  The Salutation is used practically to reorient the congregation to the collect, Gospel reading, preface, post-communion collect, and the Benediction. 

The erroneous way to see the Salutation is to see it as a mere “Hi, how are you doing…nice to see you” sort of greeting, which it is often made to be.  The Salutation indicates a very special relationship between the pastor and people that is provided by Jesus Himself – who comes to preach and feed his people.      

The Collect is prayed to gather together the petitions of the congregation, presenting them to God.  I have also heard that the collect serves as a sort of summary for all the prayers.  After the “let us pray” (Oremus), a congregation often observes a brief period of silent prayer, where each worshipper prepares himself for the service and prays for his specific need.  The collect, which is prayed after this brief and individual silent prayer, serves as a unified petition on behalf of the whole congregation.  The historic collects have been retained by Lutherans and placed to coordinate with the lectionary readings.  The collects are always brief, closing with a Trinitarian praise.  It is a preparation for the readings of Holy Scripture and the Service of the Sacrament.  I am interested in restoring some of the historic collects (particularly certain feast and festival days) for use in the home for prayer.  The collects are simple and can be internalized by use in catechesis and the daily office of prayer.  

The offertory and offering take place after the sermon, and should be seen within the liturgy of the sacrament of the altar, and in the Divine Service as a whole.  The offertory hymn is taken from Psalm 51, the most well known of the penitential psalms.  This psalm is likely the most significant psalm in the Church’s liturgy, being in the opening vesicles for Matins and Vespers, as well as the Introit for Ash Wednesday.  Though this hymn plumbs the depths of despair and is often categorized as a psalm of lament, it is certainly a song of praise and great delight.  “Cast me not away from your presence” is a desperate plea for mercy that indeed knows that God delivers on His promises.  To be cast away from the presence of God and His mercy is the worst of all possibilities.  This prayer is a confession that God will forgive sins and create a clean heart through the blood of Christ.    

The offering which accompanies the offertory chant has been expressed in numerous ways throughout the centuries.  Bread and wine has been a common offering to be brought forth, with the bread being brought forth to the altar in a linen cloth or basket.  Material gifts might also be brought forth from among the faithful, though those gifts are not brought to the altar.  I am told from those who have visited Lutheran churches in Africa, that it is common to bring forth chickens or small game as offerings for the congregation.  At my field work congregation in Wolf Lake, Indiana I once saw an elderly woman bring vestments that she has sewed up to the pastor during the offering.  I was very much touched by the remarkable work of piety and devotion.  Even more remarkable is that she understood that her gift was an act of worship to take place in the Divine Service.

It is most common simply to offer gifts in the form of money to sustain the congregation.  These gifts support the parish pastor and go towards the upkeep and activities of the congregation.  These gifts that are offered are not given out of compulsion nor out of fear but out of a joyful and thankful heart.  Christ has come into the flesh to offer Himself as the sacrifice for sin, that we poor sinners may be redeemed and forgiven.  Out of faith toward God and love toward the neighbor, the Christian offers the sacrifice of thanksgiving and tithes the gifts that God has given Him for the benefit of the congregation.    

The prayers which precede the preface often call upon God for a right use of the Sacrament, certain blessings associated with the season of the church year, as well as for good government and special needs of the congregation.  These prayers form a sort of bridge which leads to the communion liturgy itself.  Saint Paul writes to Timothy, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people” (1 Tim. 2:1).  These prayers stand in some contrast to the Roman Mass, where the priest begins to inaudibly pray as a unilateral work, apart from the participation of the congregation.      

The Sanctus is derived from the prophet Isaiah’s vision and has long been sung in the church’s liturgy.  The emphasis on the holiness of God as the Holy One of Israel is significant.  The word holy in Hebrew literally means “separate.”  After the fall man has been separated from God by his sin.  To stand before the presence of God meant death for the sinner, for sin cannot live before the holiness of God.  Everything changes however, with the advent of Christ.  Through his sacrificial death, which cleanses men from their sin, they can now access God’s holiness – come before Him and commune with holy things.  Those who approach in the name of the Lord are blessed and holy because of the intervention and mercy of Christ.  The threefold repetition is a confession of the three persons of the Trinity.  All of creation bows to God’s holiness which fills earth and heaven.  The word Sabaoth, which remains untranslated, can be rendered as “Lord of armies” or “heavenly hosts.”  There is no doubt a sense of awe and wonder at the singing of the Sanctus, and a great deal of mystery is involved.  Heaven is joined to earth through the person of Jesus who comes to forgive and bless His people.  There is a sense of movement that the congregation is approaching (or being approach) by God and the holy things – namely the body and blood of the risen Christ. 

Because the congregation may enter into the presence of God, through holy baptism and the mediation of Christ, the congregation can pray, “Our Father.”  This is the prayer for the baptized and for those who can be admitted to the Lord’s Table.  The holiness of God is reiterated as heaven meets earth in Jesus.  Where the Sanctus evokes heavenly armies and the multitude and the incomprehensible holiness of God, the Lord’s Prayer makes it clear that God is indeed for me, in fact, that He is “Our Father,” or my Father.  His supreme holiness is not in that He is far from me, or separated from me, but rather that He deigns to be close to me and with me.  He desires to do so in an intimate and merciful way, through eating and drinking.  His presence is not terrifying for me, but is good for me through the giving of His Son, along with His work and benefits.  The Lord’s Prayer therefore can be seen as a Eucharistic prayer through the fourth petition, along with the prayer for forgiveness and deliverance from temptation.  It is helpful to consider that daily bread also includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body and all that which is included in Luther’s explanation.

The Words of Institution immediately follow the Lord’s Prayer.  The Verba is not a word for word reading of any particular Gospel or epistle text.  It includes a number of texts and this might help suggest the fact that the Lord’s Supper was taking place in the church before any written Gospel or epistle text.  We know that the church was “continually devoted to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42).  There is therefore an oral tradition that has a pre-biblical tradition.  For Lutherans the emphasis is no doubt on the forgiveness of sins which is what it’s all about.  For where there is forgiveness of sins there is life and salvation and heaven itself.  The Supper is no mere reenactment or memorial meal for Christians.  There is no need for the Christian to ascend by faith to commune with a Christ who is far off in a distant heaven.  Christ has come near and His true Body and Blood is eaten and drunk for the forgiveness of sins. 

The Pax Domini recalls the risen Christ, fresh from the grave, showing his pierced hand and side to the disciples in the upper room.  The peace of the Lord means reconciliation between God and man and therefore also love toward each other.  In some of the ancient liturgies and still common today is the kiss of peace, as a concrete expression of the love toward each other found in the new life in Christ.  The communion that God brings is not simply a matter of “God and me” but is also corporately directed outward toward love of neighbor and congregational life.  The Lord’s Supper, along with the forgiveness of sins, absolves man of his sins before God but also liberates him from sins that stand between him and his neighbor.  There is therefore a vertical and horizontal movement in the Divine Service.  Man is reconciled to God and therefore to his neighbor.  Many Christian churches find the kiss of peace to be a salutary part of the liturgy where the saints express their love for each other as forgiven children of God.  Needless to say, this practice is somewhat culturally determined and Christian congregations are in freedom to observe this practice in whatever way they find edifying.  Many congregations observe a greeting of peace that greatly obscures the simplicity and clarity of the Lord's Supper.  The Peace is not some love fest where we shake hands and ask folks how their weekend is - that is for coffee hour.  If congregations are to observe a greeting among one another during the communion liturgy it ought to proceed from a robust confession of the Verba and the peace that forgiveness and reconciliation offers.  While the interest in kind greetings is itself a pious gesture, the practice can possibly detract from the more important meaning that it is God Himself who is present to serve His people.  The Lord’s Supper is not a community event for all, but is given for baptized and penitent sinners who need the benefits that Christ brings.

The Agnus Dei recalls the words of John the Baptist who confessed Christ as He approached the Jordan to be baptized, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29).  John alludes to the scapegoat who carries the peoples’ sins away (Lv. 16:21-22).  The congregation confesses that Christ is the sacrifice who bears the sins of the world, taking them to the cross.  In this hymn the Lord is present in flesh and blood offering Himself for the life of the world.  Before Jesus can be understood as teacher or example par excellence, He is first to be understood as sacrifice and meal.  Jesus is the spotless Lamb, the Son of God, perfect and holy in every way.  He willingly takes the sins of humanity and places them on Himself.  In the great exchange all that is rightfully Christ’s is given to the sinner – his righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  In the sacrament of the altar the Christian receives a tangible manifestation of that forgiveness – receiving Christ Himself with all His benefits.  The sacrifice is to be eaten and drunk.  There is a sense of wonder and awe in the Agnus Dei as the Lord’s body and blood are being distributed.  The most common confirmation bible verse is best understood here in the liturgy as the true nature of God’s love is seen, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16).

The Nunc Dimitis follows the distribution, recalling the words of Simeon who waited in the temple for the consolation of Israel.  It had been revealed to him that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (Lk. 2:26).  The Christian can likewise say that he has seen his salvation now that Christ has come in His Word and Sacrament to feed His people.  The Nunc Dimittis is a Lutheran contribution to the liturgy and a salutary one.  The hymn confesses that I have everything I need, namely Jesus Himself.  I may now depart in peace knowing that my salvation has been accomplished.  I have received His forgiveness and blessings.  I have communed at the altar of God, being fully reconciled.  The hymn ends with a Trinitarian and doxological praise.  I may go out into the world in the freedom of the forgiveness of sins and the peace which Christ brings. 

The thanksgiving and collect which follow conclude the communion rite with a prayer of gratitude for receiving the sacrament and the benefits it grants.  There is an emphasis on faith toward God and love toward one another, suggesting that liturgy and worship can be taken out into the world where we are enabled to serve God and neighbor with the joy that Christ brings.  The Benediction gives God’s blessing which is gracious.  His face shines on the congregation with love and mercy on account of Christ.     

Artwork at top: Joos van Cleve (1485-1540), detail "The Last Supper"
[1] Full text of Pilgrimmage of Etheria found here
[2] Joseph A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development (Benzinger Brothers, New York, 1959), p. 191.
[3] Ibid., 132.

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