“That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things that have actually happened (or have been made, created)” (Luther, 1518).
Day: 2 June 2005
Liturgy in the Local Congregation VI
[See previous entries: I, II, III, IV, and V.]
Salutation and Collect of the Day (p. 19)
Pastor Hermann Sasse wrote, “Christ prays for us, and His prayer is heard. This comes to expression in the liturgy when, before the Collect, we chant: ‘The Lord be with you’—and then the response, ‘And with your spirit.’ [We are saying:] ‘May the Lord be with you as you now pray—and may He be with your spirit as you now speak out our prayer.’ Jesus Christ is praying along with us. The church prays together with her Head. And this pray is heard ‘through Jesus Christ, our Lord’” (We Confess the Church, 15).
The Salutation is a greeting, but it is so much more. The Pastor is saying what Boaz said to the reapers in Ruth 2:4: “Yahweh be with you!” It is a blessing of the Pastor to the people, and the people return that blessing by saying, “And with your spirit.” Pastor Wilhelm Loehe put it this way, “The bonds of love and unity between pastor and people are tied anew” (Reed, 262). Following this blessing, the Pastor says, “Let us pray,” indicating that the Collect is the prayer of the entire congregation. In fact, the nature of the Collect is indicated by its name. It “collects” the prayers of the people into one short, focused prayer emphasizing the theme of the day. The Collect is one of the most ancient parts of our liturgy, and may even go back as far as 180 A.D., to the prayer book of Serapion, Bishop of Antioch.
Collects have been written for every Sunday and festival of the Church year. Some are very old, while others have been written more recently. But the structure of a Collect changes very little. The structure of a Collect is actually very simple: an address, usually directed to God the Father, but sometimes to the Son or the Spirit; the basis for the petition, usually recalling an aspect of the character of God; the petition, or what we are asking in the particular Collect; the purpose or benefit we seek, which usually begins, “so that…”; and the ending, or doxology, usually beginning, “through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord….”
The Lessons: Old Testament, Epistle, Gradual, Gospel (p. 20-21)
“In all of this we have spoken. We now pause in reverent silence while God speaks” (Reed, 273).
At First Lutheran, we use a 3-year lectionary. A lectionary contains the assigned readings for each Sunday and festival in the Church year. We use one that rotates through the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) once every three years, along with the Old Testament and Epistle readings that also rotate during the 3-year cycle.
These sections from the Biblical books are called pericopes (per-i-cō-pē) from the Greek word for “to cut around.” The Old Testament lesson is, of course, always from the Old Testament. The Epistle lesson comes from Paul’s letters, unless it is from Acts (during Easter), Hebrews, or Revelation. The Gospel lesson is from Matthew, Mark, or Luke primarily, and from John during certain parts of the year.
Though not always used, it is common after the first two readings for the lector (reader) to say, “This is the Word of the Lord” and the congregation to respond with, “Thanks be to God.” According to Luther Reed, “Thanks be to God” served as a “watchword or sign…as worshipers sought admission to the assemblies of the faithful in days of persecution” (282).
The Gradual is the “song of passage” that takes us from the Epistle (the words of the servants of Jesus) to the Gospel (the words of our Lord Himself). St. Augustine, at the beginning of the fifth century, refers to the Gradual as an established custom.
It has been the common practice of the Church to stand at the reading of the Gospel. We do this in reverence for the words of our Lord, and with the responses (“Glory be to Thee, O Lord” and “Praise be to Thee, O Christ”) we recognize and confess that Jesus is truly present with us, and that the words of the Gospel are His words to us.