The Word
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I am the bread of Life
Wherever two or more are gathered...
The Holy Spirit comes to us in Baptism
Martin Luther's Seal
Lutheran Worship

We do not abolish the Mass but religiously retain and defend it.  Among us the Mass is celebrated every Lord's Day and
on other festivals, when the Sacrament is made available to those who wish to partake of it, after they have been examined
and absolved.  We also keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of readings, prayers, vestments, and other
similar things.
(From the Apology of the
Augsburg Confession, Art. XXIV. 1)

This statement from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the second of the confessional documents of the Lutheran
Church contained in the Book of Concord clearly shows that it was never the intention of Luther and his followers to break
with the Catholic Church in the West but to reform it in order that it might proclaim with greater clarity the Biblical doctrine
of justification by grace through faith.  

Of all the 16th Century reformers, Martin Luther is by far the most conservative.  Unlike Ulrich Zwingli of Zurich and John
Calvin of Geneva, Luther was not an iconoclast.  He retained practically all of the ceremonial of the Church of his day,
removing only those practices which were at odds with the Gospel.

At first, Luther was reluctant to make any changes to the Church's liturgical celebrations despite many requests for an
evangelical Mass made by his supporters.  In 1523, Luther produced the Formula Missae.  This is a very conservative
revision of the Latin Mass; even the Latin language was retained.  Most notable was the removal of the so called "Canon of
the Mass" or consecration prayer which Luther was compelled to remove because of its emphasis on sacrifice.  It was a
widely held belief in the Church of the late Middle Ages that Christ's death on the cross atoned for original sin only, and that
the offering of the Mass atoned for all others sins.  The sacrifice of the Mass was believed to be the sacrifice of Christ on
Calvary re-enacted, as it were, over and over again.  The late Medieval Church was very much attached to the notion that
in the Mass the priest 'offers' Christ to God the Father, and in return the Father offers his grace to the priest, and through
the priest to the faithful.  The Mass degenerated into a meritorious good work which could be offered for certain intentions
and could even be offered for souls in Purgatory.  Few Medieval Christians communed frequently; many received the
Sacrament but once a year at Easter time.  The important thing was that the Mass be "offered" by the priest.  The average
Christian felt so unworthy of reception he refrained from communing with any regularity. He was more concerned with
seeing the consecrated host and chalice at the elevations (the lifting up of host and chalice after the Words of Institution
accompanied by the ringing of a bell). To witness this was believed to be a good work that could merit special favor from
God.  However, it was completely unnecessary for anyone but the priest who was offering the Mass to be present at
Mass.  The Middle Ages saw the development of the phenomenon of the "private Mass," a Mass which was recited by the
priest alone (perhaps an acolyte might be present), and only the priest received Communion.  It didn't matter that there
were no other communicants; as long as the sacrifice of the Mass was offered to God the priest obtained grace for himself
and the people.         

At the heart of Luther's theology is the good news that humans don't merit anything from God by their works no matter how
good.  Salvation is a free gift from God which comes through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  And it is God the Holy Spirit who
gives us this faith through baptism, through the reading and preaching of the Word of God, through confession and
forgiveness, and through the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

Thus Luther came to reject the Medieval understanding of the Mass as a sacrifice which must be offered to God.  For
Luther the Mass is something that God offers to us.  God comes to us in Word and Sacrament forgiving our sins and
offering us the gift of new and everlasting life in Christ Jesus our Savior.  Luther didn't reject the idea that in response to
God's gifts of forgiveness and salvation we offer a Eucharistic sacrifice, that is, a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for
what God has done for us in Christ. However, it is not the priest alone who offers this sacrifice of thanksgiving, but the
whole people of God in Christ Jesus.  The priest's job is to proclaim God's Word, administer the Sacraments, and lead the
people in their offering of praise and thanks to God.  This was his justification for removing the Canon of the Mass with all
its sacrificial language.  He also called for the abolition of the practice of the private Mass without communicants, as this is
unbiblical and contrary to Christ's intention for the Mass as a gift to his people.  Luther stripped off the offertory prayers and
the Canon leaving only the Words of Institution which he believed should be chanted audibly so that the people could hear
them.  To all appearances, however the Mass remained unchanged, since the offertory prayers and the Canon were not
recited aloud anyway in the old Roman Mass.  Luther retained all the other parts of the Mass and most of the ceremonial
including vestments, incense, processions, the elevation of host and chalice, and even the ringing of the bell. Also retained
were the historic liturgical calendar (the Church Year) and the lectionary.

In 1526, Luther introduced a more innovative form of Mass intended for use in the rural parishes where the traditional Latin
would not be understood by most of those in attendance.  This Deutsche Messe (German Mass) was in the language of
the people.  Luther wanted to see the full and active participation of all the faithful at Mass (an ideal expressed 438 years
later by the pope and bishops at the Second Vatican Council!), and so he allowed for the use of the vernacular.  He was
also a strong advocate of hymn singing as a way of encouraging participation in worship.  Luther was a gifted musician
and hymn writer (he sang well and was very accomplished on the lute), and he composed many excellent hymns himself.  
The most famous is "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."  These hymns are very dear to Lutherans, but they have also become
part of the sacred musical repertoire of many Christian church bodies, including the Roman Catholic Church.

Both the Formula Missae and the Deutsche Messe served as models for liturgical reform in all the territories where the
Lutheran reformation was embraced.  Luther's liturgies are the basis for all the services used in German states where the
ruling princes were Lutheran, as well as in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland.  In these countries, the Lutheran
Church became the established Church of the realm. In England, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury under
Henry VIII and Edward VI, relied heavily on Luther's liturgies for his edition of the first Book of Common Prayer.  

Unlike Zwingli and Calvin (the founders of the Reformed churches), Luther insisted that the Lord's Supper is not merely a
memorial of Christ, or that Christ is somehow 'spiritually' received with elements of the bread and wine of Communion, but
that his true body and blood are present in the Holy Supper.  Though he rejected "transubstantiation" as an unnecessary
intrusion of philosophy on the Church's theology, he nevertheless insisted that Christ is "in, with, and under, the bread, and
wine." This is the teaching of the Augsburg Confession (Article X).  Lutherans not only believe that Christ's true body and
blood are present, but we believe that his presence is objective.  That means that he is not present on account of the faith
of the recipient.  He is present whether an unbeliever or a believer receives the Sacramentthe believer to his salvation
and the unbeliever to his damnation.  

Luther also insisted that private confession be retained.  He taught that it shouldn't be compulsory, but should be available
to those who are burdened by their sins and need the comfort of the certainty of forgiveness in Christ which comes
through absolution. Though Luther retained private confession, he was not opposed to the introduction of a form of general
confession and absolution, provided that it did not take the place of private confession.  

After Luther's death and well into the 18th Century, the Lutheran liturgy was celebrated with beauty and splendor inspiring
many artists and musicians, the most prominent among them is J.S. Bach (1685-1750) who adorned the Lutheran liturgy
with some of the greatest musical compositions in human history.  In the 18th Century, the Latin Formula Missae and the
vernacular Deutsche Messe existed happily alongside one another; the former being used in court chapels, university
churches, and prominent city churches. The Liturgy during the period known as the Age of Lutheran Orthodoxy was
defended and celebrated with great dignity and solemnity.  Any Roman Catholic at the time would have recognized the
liturgy of the Lutheran Church as very close to his own. Reformed (Calvinist) Christians found Lutheran worship to be
scandalous and papistical.  Lutherans, for their part, wanted nothing to do with Calvinist worship which was plain,
austere, and iconoclastic by comparison.  However, two movements would eventually work to erode Lutheran liturgical
practices by the middle of the 1700's: Pietism and Rationalism.

Pietists believed that the Lutheran Church had become too intellectual and had neglected holy living in favor of theological
correctness. They insisted that true Christians had to be converted by the Holy Spirit, and had to show signs of this
conversion experience through a changed life.  They gathered frequently for Bible study in small groups (or conventicles)
which became the focus of their Christian experience.  They cared little for, and were often hostile to, the historic liturgy
and elaborate church music and art.  They did find hymn singing useful, however, and many of their hymns are near and
dear to Lutherans and other Christians.  But their hymns are more sentimental and individualistic than the hymns of Luther
and other orthodox Lutheran hymn writers which are more corporate, doctrinal, and instructional.  Henry Melchior
Muhlenberg, the Lutheran pastor who came to America in the 1740's, though not strictly speaking a Pietist, was greatly
influenced by Pietism.  Muhlenberg came to America at the request of the Halle Mission Society (a Pietist institution) to
organize the fledgling Lutheran Church in the Thirteen Colonies.  He mainly employed the worship services that were in
use in his native Germany, though he did experiment with a Lutheran liturgy in the English language which relied heavily on
the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.  

Rationalism was an intellectual movement associated with the Age of Enlightenment. Rationalists believed that God
created the universe according to the laws of science.  They rejected anything supernatural or miraculous.  They believed
the value of any religion, including Christianity, was to make good citizens out of people.  They rejected the traditional
liturgy as superstitious, and viewed the Lutheran ceremonial as a leftover from a less enlightened more superstitious age.  
They were also disinterested in Sacraments as these too, they believed, were vestiges of an unenlightened time.  
Rationalist worship services were highly moralistic, focusing on the need for Christians to be good people.  Little emphasis
was placed on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sin.  Private confession virtually disappeared
around this time.

Both of these movements have had a negative impact on Lutheran liturgy.  Also, the effects of Protestantism have also
had an erosive effect.  In Germany, the Lutheran and Reformed (Calvinist) churches were forced into a union for the sake
of political expediency.  Lutherans were required to give up much liturgical ceremonial which was rejected by the
Reformed.  Reformed worship has historically been much more stark and austere than Lutheran worship with art and
music restricted to a minimum.  In the United States (where anti-Catholicism was rampant in the 18th and 19th Centuries,
and lasted even into the 20th Century) Lutherans have been greatly influenced by their Protestant neighbors (most of them
in the Reformed camp).  Not wanting to appear too Catholic, they abandoned much of their great heritage.  In colonial
times, Lutheran pastors often rode on horseback between several congregations, and so the frequent celebration of the
Lord's Supper envisioned by Luther and taught in the Augsburg Confession gave way to infrequent celebrations (as little as
four times a year in some places). Infrequent communion was also the practice of the Reformed.  All this led to the
impoverishment of Lutheran worship. In time, Lutherans lost touch with their heritage and settled for impoverished worship
simply as "the way we do things." The word Mass, though used by Luther and the Confessions of our church, had become
almost taboo (and sadly remains so among most Lutherans).  

In the 20th Century, Lutheran liturgical scholars began to look back to the rich liturgical life of the first three centuries of
Lutheranism.  Through the work of such great liturgists as Paul Strodach, Luther D. Reed, Arthur Carl Piepkorn, Philip
Pfatteicher, Frank Senn, Gordon Lathrop, and many others, the Lutheran Church has rediscovered its heritage and much
that was lost to Lutheran worship has been recovered.  Also, Lutheran worship has been greatly enriched by the
ecumenical movement; we have learned much from our Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox brothers and
sisters. Great strides have been made in our relationship with the Church of Rome, and we have benefited from one
another's liturgical scholarship.  

The Lutheran Book of Worship, (1979) is a remarkable achievement of liturgical scholarship, theological fidelity, and
musical excellence.  Once again the Mass (Lord's Supper, Holy Communion, Eucharist) has been restored as the
principle Christian liturgical celebration, ideally celebrated every Lord's Day and on other Feast Days of the Church. Full
Eucharistic vestments are not uncommon, and much ceremonial has been recovered. Most remarkably, the Eucharistic
Prayer has been reintroduced in forms that are truly evangelicalunlike the old Roman Canon with its emphasis on
propitiatory sacrifice and meritorious works. Liturgical recovery among Lutherans, however, has been a slow and
painstaking process, and one can still find many congregations which cling to the notion that weekly Communion is
something that only Roman Catholics do.  There is still a good deal of liturgical impoverishment among Lutherans, but
happily there are many signs of healthy change and a return to a richer, splendid, more participatory worship envisioned by
Martin Luther and expressed in the Lutheran Confessions.  At its best, Lutheran worship is truly catholic, laying claim to
all the historic liturgical practices that are evangelical and good.  Lutherans are heir to the great catholic tradition, and our
liturgy is a gift that has been handed down to us from Apostolic times and enriched by contributions from Christians of
every generation.  Undoubtedly, we will make our own contributions, while remaining faithful to Apostolic usage and our
catholic and confessional heritage.  Ideally, a Christian from the 2nd Century (or 9th Century or the 16th Century) should
be able to attend our worship service and recognize it as a Christian Eucharist. For even though every generation has
made its contributions (and sometimes accretions have been added which must be removed, as was the case in the 16th
Century), the basic shape of the Rite remains unchanged since Apostolic times. The Christian people have always
gathered to hear God's Word read and proclaimed in preaching, have prayed for the Church and the world, have offered
their gifts for the poor and the work of the Church, have given thanks for God's gifts (most especially the gift of His Son),
have received Jesus body and blood in the Holy Supper, and have been sent out into the world to share God's love in
anticipation of his coming Kingdom. The following is the basic outline of the Lutheran Liturgy in
The Lutheran Book of

       Corporate Confession and Forgiveness
       Entrance Hymn or Introit (or both)
       Apostolic Greeting ("The grace of Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the
communion of the Holy Spirit be with you.")
       Gloria in Excelsis (or other Hymn of Praise)
       Salutation ("The Lord be with you.")
       Collect (Prayer of the Day)
       Old Testament Lesson
       New Testament Epistle (or reading from Acts or the Book of Revelation)
       Alleluia (or Lenten Verse)
       Holy Gospel (with responses)
       Hymn of the Day
       Nicene Creed (or Apostles' Creed)
       Prayers of the Faithful
       Offertory Hymn or Verse followed by a brief prayer
       Sursum Corda
       Proper Preface
       Eucharistic Prayer (or Words of Institution alone)
       The Lord's Prayer
       Agnus Dei
       Distribution of Holy Communion (during which hymns may be sung)
       Nunc Dimittis or another post-communion canticle or hymn of thanksgiving
       Post-Communion Prayer

If you would like to read more about the Lutheran Liturgy, Pastor Frank Senn's Christian Liturgy Evangelical and Catholic
and Pastor Philip Pfatteicher's Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship are excellent resources.  They are both in
print and available at and  

Reverend Jack R. Whritenour
Trinity Lutheran Church, Shelton, CT
January 14, 2005 A.D.
183 Howe Avenue
Shelton, CT 06484
(203) 924-4128
Sunday School: 9:00-10:15
Adult Forum/Bible Study: 9:00-10:00
Holy Eucharist: 10:30-11:45
Fellowship Hour: 11:45-12:45
Holy Eucharist: 7:00
Bible Study: 7:45-9:00

Summer Schedule (July and August):
No Sunday School or Adult Forum
Holy Eucharist:
Holy Eucharist: 7:00
Bible Study: 7:45-9:00