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Understanding Worship: Service of the Sacrament

The Service of the Sacrament is the celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar. The Sacrament was instituted by Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. It is to be celebrated by all Christians until Christ comes again on the Last Day. Read this excerpt from Worshiping with Angels and Archangels: An Introduction to the Divine Service below to learn more about this part of the Lutheran worship. 

Because Jesus instituted it, the Sacrament of the Altar is also called the Lord’s Supper. In the Service of the Sacrament, those who have been instructed in the faith come to the altar to receive the precious body and blood of Jesus under the forms of bread and wine. Here in the Lord’s Supper, Christ comes to be with his holy people and to give forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Christ’s body and blood go into our mouths and into our souls. United with Jesus in this wonderful Sacrament, we are made one not only with Him but also with all Christians throughout the world and with all the saints of heaven. For this reason, the Sacrament is also called Holy Communion.

Preface

The Service of the Sacrament begins with the Preface, an ancient dialogue or conversation between the pastor and the people.

This first part of the Preface is a part of the Ordinary [they are ordinarily present each week in the Divine Service and reflect the changeless and timeless texts of the liturgy] and does not change. It serves as an introduction to the Proper Preface, which changes with each season or festival day of the Church Year. At the close of the Preface, the pastor says, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven. . .” With these words, we are reminded that our worship is not limited with time or by space. Every time we worship we join in the angelic choirs and saints of every age in their ongoing heavenly worship of the Lamb who was slain.

Sanctus

As a Hymn of Praise was sung at the beginning of the Service of the Word, so now a song of praise is sung before the Sacrament. The Sanctus is the angelic hymn described in the heavenly vision of Isaiah 6. In this vision the seraphim are gathered around the throne of God, proclaiming His holiness and glory.

By singing this hymn in the Divine Service, the congregation participates in the heavenly chorus. For a time, the division between heaven and earth is gone. Heaven has come down to earth, and all stand together around the throne of almighty God. The confidence that this unseen reality is true comes from faith in Jesus Christ’s presence in the Sacrament. In the hosannas of the second half of the Sanctus, we worship Jesus who comes in His Holy Supper (Matthew 21:9).

Prayer of Thanksgiving

In the Prayer of Thanksgiving, the congregation is led in prayer to thank the Lord for what is about to be received. First, we praise God for the gift of Jesus as the incarnate Son whose death on the cross is the once-for-all sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. Second, we ask God to deliver what He has promised and that the Spirit would strengthen the faith and prepare the hearts of all those who will receive Holy Communion.

The Words of Our Lord

Sometimes called the Verba Domini (Latin for “the words of our Lord”), the pastor speaks The Words of Our Lord to consecrate, or set apart, the bread and the wine for God’s special use.

In the Sacrament of the Altar, Christ gives His true body and true blood under the forms of consecrated bread and wine. Once again, God’s grace comes to us in the Divine Service. Jesus Himself is present and forgives our sins. This is Good News because Jesus’ Word does what it says.

Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer is the chief prayer of the Christian Church, and it is prayed here at the chief event of the Divine Service. As children of God, we call upon “our Father” as we prepare to encounter Jesus in His Supper, acknowledging that in the Sacrament He will answer our petitions. The congregation prays, “Thy kingdom come,” then receives the kingdom of God in the coming of Christ in His body and blood. We pray, “Thy will be done,” then witness salvation being distributed. We pray for forgiveness of sins and hear Christ’s own Word proclaiming that in His death He has accomplished everything needed to “forgive our trespasses.”

Pax Domini

The pastor holds the body and the blood of Jesus before the congregation and speaks the Pax Domini as Christ Himself did on that first Easter when He stood in the midst of His disciples.

The Pax is the voice of the Gospel announcing the remission of sins through its called minister, the pastor. Being at peace with God, those who have been instructed in the faith are called to dine on the Lord’s life-giving Supper.

Agnus Dei

Standing in the presence of Christ, we sing to Him in the great Communion hymn the Agnus Dei.

John the Baptist foresaw Jesus’ death on Calvary and at Jesus’ Baptism, John cried out, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). In Jesus’ presence we, too, cry out and sing the praise of Christ, the “Lamb of God,” who in His death on Calvary bore our sins, even the sins of the whole world. It is this Christ who has washed us clean by His blood, bringing us His merciful salvation and peace (Revelation 7:14).

Distribution of the Lord’s Supper

At the altar, the pastor distributes first the body and then the blood of Jesus. After all have communed, the pastor dismisses those at the altar by making the sign of the cross and saying: “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting. Depart in peace. Amen.”

Post-Communion Canticles

At the close of Holy Communion, as the pastor closes the sacred vessels and covers them with a veil, the congregation stands to sing the Nunc Dimittis. The Nunc Dimittis is Simeon’s prayer of thanksgiving for being allowed to see the Messiah before he died. With the incarnate Christ in his arms, Simeon rejoiced and made his confession (Luke 2:25–32). 

One of the great hymns of Scripture, the use of Simeon’s Song as a Post-Communion Canticle is a unique element of Lutheran liturgy. Having seen Christ in the Sacrament—receiving Him in our mouth and so into our souls—we join Simeon in his inspired song.

Post-Communion Collect

We have received God’s good and gracious gifts of Word and Sacrament. However, before we leave and take up our vocations again, we pause and thank God for all that He has done for us.

The Post-Communion Canticle “collects” our grateful thoughts into one prayer, asking that the gifts received in the Divine Service, and specifically in the Lord’s Supper, would strengthen our faith toward God and would carry into our lives and callings as we deal with one another.

Benediction

In the Old Testament, God gave Aaron and his sons who followed him in the priesthood His very name to use as a blessing for the Israelites (Numbers 6:22—27). So also today in the Benediction, the Lord blesses His people with His holy name.

We end the Divine Service as we began—in the name of the Lord and with a threefold speaking of God’s holy name. Thus:

  • We depart from God’s house with His name upon us;
  • We depart fed and nourished by Word and Sacrament, having Christ in us;
  • We go in peace and with God’s blessing.

Worshiping with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven—that is our great privilege as the children of God. In the Divine Service, we come before God with nothing to offer but the magnitude of our sin. But out of His great love for us, by the sacrifice of His only Son, the Lamb of God, we do not receive what we deserve. Instead, God grants us his gifts and gives us blessing upon blessing.

Forgiveness. Life. Salvation. These are the gifts given by the Holy Spirit, who calls, gathers, and enlightens the whole Christian Church on earth. These are the gifts given abundantly in the Divine Service—in the Absolution, in the Word of God, and in the Lord’s Supper. These are the gifts given in God’s holy house, in God’s holy name, and in His holy presence for now and for all eternity.

This post is adapted from Worshiping With Angels and Archangels: An Introduction to the Divine Service copyright © 2006 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.


To continue learning about the Divine Service in Lutheran Service Book, order Worshiping with Angels and Archangels below. 

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