I’m working on a project for my vicarage congregation which will be a booklet placed in the narthex explaining the parts of the liturgy and “why we do the things we do” as Lutherans. I’m going to post the parts as I complete them, and if you’re so-inclined, post your thoughts on the various parts. I appreciate the different perspectives of the commenters here. Note: we use The Lutheran Hymnal, and there are some things unique to our congregation, so some things may not apply to all congregations.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:19-25)
I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD!” (Psalm 122:1)
Welcome to First Lutheran Church! We rejoice that you have decided to participate with us in the Divine Service of our Lord Jesus Christ! This booklet is designed to help you understand more deeply and meaningfully what happens when we, as God’s people, gather to receive His gifts and “praise God in His sanctuary” (Psalm 150:1).
The format or means by which God gives us His gifts in this place and we thank Him for them is what we call the Lutheran liturgy. What is the liturgy? “Liturgy” comes from the Greek word leitourgia. This word originally meant either an act of public service, or it described the one who performed the public service. In a religious context, liturgy described the rites and ceremonies of the religious service. Lutherans call this time of liturgy, hymns, worship, and prayers the Divine Service. We do not say this because we believe the order and the musical forms dropped directly from heaven. It is the Divine Service because the most important thing about this time is that the almighty and absolutely holy God desires to meet with us! It is the Divine Service because not only does He come to meet with us, He serves us forgiveness of sins in the good gifts of His Word and holy Supper. Hebrews 8:2 says that Jesus is “a Priest of the holy place, even the true tabernacle, which the Lord set up, not man.” As Pastor John T. Pless writes, “Jesus Christ is our servant and liturgist in the Divine Service as he bestows the fruits of his death and resurrection by means of Word and Sacrament.”
While God’s gifts to us in Jesus Christ are the most important reason to gather in His house, the other aspect of the liturgy is our worship of God. Lutherans recognize that our worship is secondary and always a response in faith to what God has done for us. In our worship of God, we bring not only our songs and prayers declaring His glory and mercy, but we bring our time, our offerings of money and possessions, indeed, our entire selves. All of these we offer back to God with thanksgiving, since they are all His gifts to us in the first place! This is our part, our leitourgia, in the service.