Understanding Worship: Service of the Word

Have you ever wondered why there are so many aspects of Lutheran worship? What about the style of music, the order of service, or even the weekly lectionary readings? Lutheran worship follows an ancient tradition that dates back hundreds of years. This includes the practice of incorporating the Service of the Word into regular services. Keep reading to learn more about this special part of Lutheran worship.

Service of the Word

The Service of the Word begins with a song of entrance. This song marks the actual beginning of the Divine Service and the entrance of the pastor to the altar. The altar is the center and symbol of the Lord’s presence among His people. There is where the body and the blood of Jesus are distributed under the consecrated bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins. While an Entrance Hymn or Psalm may be sung, a common beginning is to sing the Introit.


The Introit, one of the Propers (the verses chosen are different each Sunday), is sung by the congregation or choir. The Introit is a collection of passages from the Psalms that sets the tone for our worship and introduces the rest of the Divine Service, in which Christ comes to us in His Word and His Sacrament.


As we move toward the reading of God’s Word, we join with all believers through the ages, in heaven and presently on earth, and ask the Lord for mercy. The Kyrie is the first prayer of the gathered congregation. It is a cry for mercy that our Lord and King hear us and help us in our needs and troubles. This prayer is encountered frequently in Scripture, for example, it is used by the Canannite woman (Matthew 15:22), blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46­–47), and the ten lepers (Luke 17:12–13).

Hymn of Praise

Confident that the Lord is merciful, we join the whole Church in singing the Hymn of Praise. In the traditional Hymn of Praise, the Gloria in Excelsis, the pastor begins with the angelic hymn in Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth.” In the Gloria, the Church celebrates Christmas all year long, and we, along with the shepherds, are invited to go and see Jesus in the Scripture readings that follow.

The Divine Service also offers a second Hymn of Praise, “This Is the Feast.” This Easter hymn to the crucified and risen Savior is based on passages from Revelation 5:12–13 and 19:5–9. Because of its resurrection theme, this hymn is used more frequently during the Easter season and on the festivals of Christ celebrated throughout the Church Year.

Salutation and Collect of the Day

The Salutation is a special greeting between the congregation and its pastor. The Salutation announces the Lord’s coming to us in the readings that follow and makes us aware that important things are about to happen.

The Collect of the Day “collects” in a concise and beautiful manner the Gospel message for the day. Most of these prayers have been in continuous use in the Church for more than 1,500 years. In the Collect, we join with the great body of believers, the communion of saints, and with the generations yet to come. The congregation makes the Collect its own with its “amen.”

Hearing God’s Word

The Service of the Word makes a transition from prayer and praise to the hearing of God’s Word. The bestowal of God’s grace, which was announced in the Introit and prayed for in the Collect, will now take place in the reading and preaching of God’s Word. Reading God’s Word is the high point for the Service of the Word because wherever God’s Word is, there our Lord has promised to be (Matthew 18:20).

The words of the Holy Scripture are read to “make [us] wise for salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15). They do this by not only telling us about Jesus but also by giving us Jesus, who was crucified for our sins and raised to life for our justification. The Word of God is the Word of life.

Old Testament Reading and Epistle

The first reading is typically from the Old Testament. Through the history of Israel and the words of the prophets, the Old Testament Reading teaches us about God’s work in the time before Christ. There we hear the prophecies of the Messiah who would come to men that all people might once again be brought back to God. The Old Testament Reading prepares us to hear the Holy Gospel, which is the fulfillment of the prophecies and promises made in the Old Testament.

Hearing the Word of God, the people respond with words of praise. The Gradual is a Proper. It is a portion of a psalm or other Scripture passage that provides a response after the Old Testament Reading.

The Epistle gives us God’s counsel on how His gracious Word is applied to the hearer and the Church. Often in this reading, we hear how God’s Word accomplishes what it says—creating faith, bestowing forgiveness, strengthening God’s people in their struggles against sin, and enlivening in them the hope of eternal life.

Holy Gospel

Like the Gradual, the Alleluia and Verse provide a transition between the readings. The word alleluia is Hebrew for “praise the Lord.” The Verse prepares us to meet the Christ of God in His Word, hearing of His life, ministry, death, and resurrection for the salvation of all.

The Holy Gospel always contains the very words or deeds of Jesus. This makes the reading of the Holy Gospel the summit of the Service of the Word, and we recognize this by surrounding our Savior’s words with songs of glory and praise and by standing to receive His gracious words.

Hymn and the Hymn of the Day

God’s people have been encouraged to sing their prayers, praise, and thanksgiving to God. The Word of God not only creates faith but teaches us, God’s children, His gracious will toward us. God has freely given us His own righteousness. In our hymns we respond to this Good News with singing, reciting back to God the great acts of our salvation in thanksgiving and praise.

Taking cues from Scripture’s own songbook, the Psalms, the Church’s hymns give us a variety of ways to thank, praise, and proclaim the God who has done all good things for us. In the Divine Service, our singing is related to the readings from Scripture. Hymns enable everyone to join together in proclaiming the scriptural truths read at the lectern, preached from the pulpit, and spoken before the altar.

The Hymn of the Day is the principal hymn of the Divine Service and relates to the theme of the day from the Holy Gospel.


Our Lord sent His apostles into the world to preach that forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are found through Him. In the preaching of the Sermon, that apostolic Word is proclaimed among us today.

The Sermon is dependent on all that has gone before it in the Divine Service—the liturgy, the hymns, and the readings. Therefore the message of the Sermon is the fullest expression of the theme of the day. In the Sermon the pastor speaks God’s words of judgment and grace to the current situation. In this way, the Sermon also prepares the hearer for the celebration of the Service of the Sacrament. Like the Absolution, the Sermon delivers the forgiveness of sins earned by Christ on the cross. The Divine Service, then, becomes for us grace upon grace (John 1:16).

Post adapted from Worshiping with Angels and Archangels: An Introduction to the Divine Service, copyright ©2006 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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