The Divine Service in Lutheran Service Book

Lutherans believe that worship is an act of receiving God’s gifts. That’s why the worship service we use is called the Divine Service. It’s a time during which God comes to us through His Word and Sacraments. Lutheran Service Book includes five different versions, or settings, of the Divine Service. There is only one Divine Service, but there are different settings. Some of the music and language differ between the settings, but the core of them all is the same—God delivering to us His forgiveness and salvation.

Sacramental and Sacrificial Rhythm

Lutherans use the terms sacramental and sacrificial to distinguish (1) the parts of the service in which God serves us with His Gospel gifts from (2) those in which we respond with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. In true Christian worship, God’s gifts should predominate over our feeble response.

The Lutheran Divine Service has a particularly well-tuned balance between the two. This comes fundamentally from building the service around those two great gifts of Word and Supper. The service then provides appropriate ways for us to respond to the gifts.

It’s vital not only to keep the balance right but also to keep the order right. Wouldn’t it be absurd to proclaim the forgiveness of sins before we speak our confession? It works the other way around. So, also, God speaks to us in the Scripture readings before we respond to Him by confessing the Creed, which is taken from those Scriptures. We proclaim the promises of God in Scripture and sermon before we take up those promises and beg for His help in the Prayer of the Church. And we pray our thanks and say our Amen chiefly after we have received the Lord’s precious body and blood.

The careful rhythmic heartbeat of the Lutheran Divine Service saves us from the sort of me-centered worship that we might otherwise invent if left to ourselves. Whenever we’re tempted to say, “Look what I can do for You, God!” the Divine Service trumps our selfish claims with His overwhelmingly gracious gifts.

Nothing but Scripture

God not only comes to us first in worship, but He also actually gives us the words to say when we respond. God teaches us to worship Him the way a father teaches a child to speak. He patiently repeats a word and then waits for his young child to mouth the same word back. And when he hears “Dadda” for the first time, a father’s face beams with joy!

So, also, the Divine Service is drawn almost entirely from Scripture. This has always been true, but it is highlighted in LSB by the inclusion of Scripture references next to nearly every part of the liturgy. We can respond to Him with confidence, using the very words He gives us.

Differences between the Five Settings in LSB

LSB provides five settings of the Divine Service. Each setting is a version of the Western rite in Lutheran dress. The minor variations in the order of elements and texts, as well as the different musical settings, are designed to give congregations healthy variety. The settings also have different historical origins. The LSB liturgy committee wanted every church in the LCMS to find a setting familiar to them, whether they came from The Lutheran Hymnal, Lutheran Book of Worship, or Lutheran Worship.

Setting Three preserves the Common Service (1888), which was familiar to LCMS Lutherans as “page 15” in The Lutheran Hymnal. The music is a mix of old German Lutheran tunes with roots in the Middle Ages and four-part Anglican chant tones. The traditional language of the canticle texts comes from the Book of Common Prayer. In places where the words are not sung, they have been subtly modernized.

Settings One and Two have identical texts, but different music. These new versions of the Lutheran rite were prepared in the 1970s for use in a new hymnal. The settings include new canticles (“This Is the Feast,” “Thank the Lord”) and an expanded version of the Kyrie. The modern translations of the canticles come from an ecumenical committee.

Setting Five is based on Luther’s German Mass (1526), using classic Lutheran hymns in place of the canticles. The order of service is filled out so that it more closely resembles the other settings in LSB.

Setting Four is a simpler setting of the service, originally prepared for Hymnal Supplement 98. Following the example of Luther’s German Mass, it uses hymns in place of the canticles, though these are more modern hymns. As in Setting Five, there is no chant music provided for dialogue between pastor and people.

Blog post adapted from Lutheranism 101: Worship by Thomas M. Winger, pages 81–84 © 2017 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

A Guide for Introducing Lutheran Service Book

Are you or your congregation new to Lutheran Service Book? Use this free guide to learn about the services, hymns, and lectionaries in the hymnal.

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Peter Reske

Peter C. Reske, senior editor of music/worship at Concordia Publishing House, holds degrees in English literature and historical musicology from Marquette University and The Pennsylvania State University. He was the editor of Lutheran Service Book and its attendant resources.

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