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Ever wonder why we Lutherans use the form of worship we do?
In this series we examine the depth and meaning of the various elements of our Lutheran worship service.

(Note to the reader: There are many liturgical variations used in our fellowship, including some which eliminate the Gradual as part of the regular service. This article will deal with the liturgical forms found in The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941, which is used in many of our congregations. Nothing in this article is meant to disparage other liturgical forms used among us.)

“Have a good day at school, Billy.” Billy walks out the door without replying. “Jane, enjoy your visit, and don’t forget to call me when you get to Aunt Millie’s house.” Jane just picks up her suitcase and leaves. “Hi, Fred. Did you like the movie?” Fred simply rolls his eyes and walks away. By not responding when spoken to, Billy, Jane, and Fred were rude. Rude behavior reflects an attitude that is the opposite of reverence, and reverence for God calls for us to respond when He speaks to us.

Has it ever occurred to you that up until the Epistle (or sometimes the Old Testament lesson) for the day, our regular worship services involve our speaking rather than God’s speaking directly to us?

Think about it. After a hymn, we begin with the Invocation , in which the pastor opens the service in the name of the one true God—the only proper object of our worship. Then we have the multi-part Confession of Sins , in which we admit our personal sinfulness—sinfulness which requires forgiveness based on what Christ has done. After that is the Absolution , in which the pastor comforts us with the promise of forgiveness and adoption as God’s own children based on the finished work of Jesus. Following the Absolution is the Introit , a word which means “beginning” or “entrance.” As Pastor Klatt explained in the September article on the Introit, “With assurance of God’s grace in Christ we are able to enter into God’s presence and begin our service of prayer, praise, and instruction in His Word.” In the Gloria Patri we express our praise for God, in the Kyrie we ask for His mercy, and in the Gloria in Excelsis we praise, bless, worship, and glorify God and ask that He would hear our prayer and have mercy on us. The pastor then presents the Salutation and the Collect for the day.

Up to that point, it has been the pastor and the congregation speaking, and not God; but in the reading of the Epistle lesson (or the Old Testament reading) God speaks directly to us in His sacred Word. What should follow that? Remember the rudeness of Billy, Jane, and Fred when they did not respond after being spoken to? Reverence calls for us to respond when God speaks to us. That is why the Gradual follows immediately after the Epistle lesson (or the Old Testament reading). It is our response to God’s having just spoken to us from His Word.

Luther D. Reed, in The Lutheran Liturgy , defines the Gradual this way: “The Gradual is a liturgical arrangement of portions of psalms originally sung entire and from a step ( gradus ) of the altar. The first part constitutes the Gradual proper and reflects the thought of the Epistle.”

Sometimes the connection between the Epistle and the Gradual is not obvious. Ideally, however, the Gradual expresses our response to the thoughts of the Epistle. Don’t be like Billy, Jane, and Fred. Whether the Gradual is sung by the choir, spoken by the pastor, recited by the congregation, or some variation of those, make it your personal and reverential response to God having spoken to you, His child.

Gradual Ps. 117:1-2a; 96:8
			Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles!
			Laud Him, all you peoples!
			For His merciful kindness is great toward us,
			And the truth of the Lord endures forever.
			Give to the Lord the glory due His name;
			Bring an offering, and come into His courts.

Craig Owings is a retired teacher and serves as assistant editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. He lives in Cape Coral, Florida.