“Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.” Psalm 95:6
Eighth in a Series–
The Gloria In Excelsis and Instruction from God’s Word
This conclusion of Part I of the liturgy was often referred to as the “Angelic Hymn” because its opening lines are taken from the words of the heavenly choir above the fields of Bethlehem on the night our Savior was born.
Together with the Magnificat (Mary’s song of praise at the annunciation), the Benedictus (the utterance of Zacharias concerning the exalted mission of his son, the forerunner of the Christ), and the Nunc Dimittis (the prayer of thanksgiving that came from the lips of the aged Simeon as he held the Christchild in his arms in the temple), The Gloria in Excelsis comes to us from the earliest days of the Christian Church. All of these expressions of praise have become a permanent part of the liturgies of Christianity and have resounded in its sanctuaries down through the centuries.
In our regular order of worship we often substitute hymn 237 (“All Glory Be To God On High”), which is a metrical version of The Gloria In Excelsis. The Gloria In Excelsis was and is more of a chant. Likely this style of singing was carried over from the Hebrew worship of the Old Testament.
While many of our churches use substitute hymns for The Gloria In Excelsis, this ancient, meaningful hymn should not be cast aside and forgotten. Let it be used at least periodically, and perhaps on special occasions (a lower key can be used for easier singing).
“Glory be to God on high: And on earth peace, good will toward men. We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we worship Thee, we glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee, for Thy great glory. O Lord God, heav’nly King, God the Father Almighty. O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ; O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us. Thou that takest away the sin of the world, receive our prayer. Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father, have mercy upon us. For Thou only art holy; Thou only art the Lord. Thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost, art most high in the glory of God the Father. Amen.”
“The Lord be with you: And with thy spirit.”
Having confessed our sins unto God, having received His gracious assurance of forgiveness, and having responded with praise and adoration to our loving and forgiving God, we now begin Part II of our Worship Service, which is the section made up primarily of instruction from God’s Word.
We begin with a greeting. That is why it is called The Salutation. The worship leader greets the people: “The Lord be with you.” The people respond: “And with thy spirit.”
Though this is not an every-day greeting among Christians today, perhaps it should be. Similar greetings were common among the believers whose words are recorded in Holy Scripture. For example, in the book of Ruth we read that Boaz came to his reapers in the field and greeted them with these words: “The LORD be with you!” And they answered him: “The LORD bless you!”
After The Salutation the worship leader invites the worshipers to pray. Then follows . . .
The Collect For The Day
The Collect is a short prayer which is to briefly refer to the principal point being stressed in the worship service on that day. There are Introits (described previously), Collects, and Graduals (to be spoken of later) assigned for each Sunday and for some special days of worship. They are all found in The Lutheran Hymnal (pp. 54ff). However, some worship leaders write their own Collects to coincide with the primary thought of the day. After this short prayer the worshipers respond with an “Amen,” signifying their desire to make this prayer their own.
The Epistle Lesson
The first instruction from the Word is generally taken from one of the epistles of Holy Scripture. The word epistle simply means “letter.” All of the books of the New Testament except the four Gospels are epistles–letters written by inspiration of God to individuals or to various groups of Christians in approximately the first 50-60 years after Jesus Christ died, arose, and ascended into heaven. From that time on these letters have been faithfully read by the people of God, realizing as the Apostle Paul puts it: “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches” (1 Cor. 2:13).
Worship services from the earliest times included chosen readings from the epistles. Initially entire books were read, often continuing on from one service to another. As time went on, the church year as we know it today developed. The epistle readings were shortened, and these shortened sections of the epistles became designated readings for each Sunday of the church year.
The references for these are found in the liturgical appointments for each Sunday on pp. 54ff. in The Lutheran Hymnal. Other series of readings for each Sunday are found on pp. 159ff. However, since these assigned readings may not emphasize the central point of a particular worship service for a given Sunday, the thoughtful worship leader will choose an epistle lesson to coincide with the focal point of the worship service (usually driven by the sermon text).
Following the Epistle Lesson is the . . .
The word gradual comes from the Latin “gradus,” which means “step.” It is so named because at this time in early liturgies a small choir positioned on steps to the pulpit sang or chanted a psalm. As with the Introit, the Gradual eventually was shortened (the choir no longer sang or chanted it), and finally it was reduced to a few verses from the psalm. From time to time a hymn may be sung in this place in an attempt to restore some of the original purpose of the Gradual.
The Gradual often begins and always ends with a “hallelujah.” This signals a responsive “hallelujah” from the worshipers. Joyful praise is found in the word “hallelujah” (“Hallel,” praise, plus “jah,” Jehovah–“Praise the LORD!”) This word is used again and again in the psalms. For example, it is the first word in Psalms 106, 111, 112, 113. “Praise the LORD!” is a deep and heartfelt response to the words of God just read and received with a heart of faith.
–Pastor L. Dale Redlin