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The Divine Service (German: Gottesdienst) is a title given to the Eucharistic liturgy as used in the various Lutheran churches. It has its roots in the Pre-Tridentine Mass as revised by Martin Luther in his Formula missae ("Form of the Mass") of 1523 and his Deutsche Messe ("German Mass") of 1526. It was further developed through the Kirchenordnungen ("church orders") of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that followed in Luther's tradition.

The term "Divine Service" is popularly used among the more conservative Lutheran churches and organizations of the United States and Canada. In the more progressive denominations, such as The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the terms "Holy Communion" or "the Eucharist" are much more commonly used.

Other Lutheran rites are also in use, such as those used in the Byzantine Rite Lutheran Churches, such as the Ukrainian Lutheran Church and Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovenia. In these Churches, the term "Divine Liturgy" is used.

Definition and origins

In the parts of North American Lutheranism that use it, the term "Divine Service" supplants more usual English-speaking Lutheran names for the Mass: "The Service" or "The Holy Communion." The term is a calque of the German word Gottesdienst (literally "God-service" or "service of God"), the standard German word for worship.

As in the English phrase "service of God," the genitive in "Gottesdienst" is arguably ambiguous. It can be read as an objective genitive (service rendered to God) or a subjective genitive (God's "service" to people). While the objective genitive is etymologically more plausible, Lutheran writers frequently highlight the ambiguity and emphasize the subjective genitive.[1] This is felt to reflect the belief, based on Lutheran doctrine regarding justification, that the main actor in the Divine Service is God himself and not man, and that in the most important aspect of evangelical worship God is the subject and we are the objects: that the Word and Sacrament are gifts that God gives to his people in their worship.

Although the term Mass was used by early Lutherans (the Augsburg Confession states that "we do not abolish the Mass but religiously keep and defend it"[2]) and Luther's two chief orders of worship are entitled "Formula Missae" and "Deutsche Messe"—such use has decreased in English usage except among Evangelical Catholics and "High Church Lutherans". Also, Lutherans have historically used the terms "Gottesdienst" or "The Service" to distinguish their Service from the worship of other protestants, which has been viewed as focusing more on the faithful bringing praise and thanksgiving to God.[3]

United States

The Lutheran liturgy currently used in the United States traces its development back to the work of Beale M. Schmucker, George Wenner and Edward Horn. Their work took place in the context of a wider North American confessional revival. Between 1876 and 1883, various Lutheran synods expressed an interest in creating a common worship service. This led to the creation of a Joint Committee in 1884 which included representatives of the General Synod and General Council, the two dominant pan-Lutheran groups. This committee appointed Schmucker, Wenner and Horn who began their work in April 1884. A year later, they brought a draft to the General Synod's convention which modified and approved the following order: Introit, Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Collect, Epistle, Gradual with Alleluia Or Tract during Lent), Gospel, Nicene Creed, Sermon, General Prayer, Preface, Sanctus and Benedictus qui Venit, Exhortation to Communicants, Lord’s Prayer and Words of Institution, Agnus Dei, Distribution, Collect of Thanksgiving, Nunc Dimittis, Benedicamus Domino, Benediction. In 1887, the three men presented their final draft to the Joint Committee. This final draft used the King James Version language and Anglican (Book of Common Prayer) translations of the Kyrie, Gloria, Creeds, Prefaces, Lord’s Prayer, and Collects. It also included the Nunc Dimittis as an option. The final draft, with minor edits, was approved by the various synods in 1888 and has become known as The Common Service and formed the basis for every major Lutheran hymnal and worship book into the late twentieth century.[4][5]


Preparatory Service

Pastor: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Congregation: But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

(moment of silence for personal examination)

Pastor: Let us then confess our sins to God our Father.

All: Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved You with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways to the glory of your Holy Name. Amen.

Pastor: Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. .[9]

All: Amen.

However, this form is older and more widely used:

Pastor: Almighty God, merciful Father,

Congregation: I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment. But I am heartily sorry for them and sincerely repent of them, and I pray You of Your boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to be gracious and merciful to me, a poor, sinful being.

P Upon this your confession, I, by virtue of my office, as a called and ordained servant of the Word, announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

C Amen.

Service of the Word

Martin Luther celebrating the Divine Service (predella of the 1547 altar by Lucas Cranach the Elder and Younger in St. Mary's Church, Wittenberg, Germany)
Martin Luther celebrating the Divine Service (predella of the 1547 altar by Lucas Cranach the Elder and Younger in St. Mary's Church, Wittenberg, Germany)

Service of the Sacrament

Main article: Eucharist in the Lutheran Church

Pastor: You are indeed holy, almighty and merciful God; you are most holy, and great is the majesty of your glory. You so loved the world that you gave your only Son, that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Having come into the world, he fulfilled for us your holy will and accomplished our salvation. Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, 'Take; eat; this is my body, given for you. This do in remembrance of me.' In the same way, also, He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying, 'Drink of it all of you. This cup is the New Testament in My Blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.'

Remembering, therefore, his salutary command, his life-giving Passion and death, his glorious resurrection and ascension, and his promise to come again, we give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, not as we ought, but as we are able; and we implore you mercifully to accept our praise and thanksgiving, and, with your Word and Holy Spirit, to bless us, your servants, and these your own gifts of bread and wine; that we and all who share in the + body and blood of your Son may be filled with heavenly peace and joy, and receiving the forgiveness of sin, may be + sanctified in soul and body, and have our portion with all your saints.

People: Amen.

Pastor: As often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.

People: Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Pastor: O Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, in giving us Your body and blood to eat and to drink, You lead us to remember and confess Your holy cross and passion, Your blessed death, Your rest in the tomb, Your resurrection from the dead, Your ascension into heaven, and Your coming for the final judgment.

In dismissing the communicants, the pastor commonly says, "The body and blood of our Lord strengthen and preserve you steadfast in the true faith to life everlasting." The communicants may say "Amen". Silent prayer is appropriate after being dismissed. "The Dismissal reassures communicants of the efficacy of the Lord's Supper in creating life-saving faith in Christ."[8]

The Benedicamus Domino is sung:

Celebrant: "Let us bless the Lord."

People: Thanks be to God.

Eastern Rite Lutheran liturgies

Ukrainian Lutheran Church of the Cross of the Lord in Kremenets, which uses the Byzantine Rite
Ukrainian Lutheran Church of the Cross of the Lord in Kremenets, which uses the Byzantine Rite

The predominant rite used by the Lutheran Churches is a Western one based on the Formula Missae ("Form of the Mass") although other Lutheran liturgies are also in use, such as those used in the Byzantine Rite Lutheran Churches, such as the Ukrainian Lutheran Church and Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovenia.[16]


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See also


  1. ^ E.g., John T. Pless, 1987, "Six Theses on Liturgy and Evangelism," Archived December 23, 2005, at the Wayback Machine, Conference on Liturgy and Outreach, Concordia College: "[I]n worship God is at work to serve His people with His Word and Sacraments. Evangelical worship is Gottesdienst (subjective genitive), Divine service."
  2. ^ Article 24 Archived 2008-09-15 at the Wayback Machine of the Augsburg Confession, Book of Concord.
  3. ^ LMCS[permanent dead link]
  4. ^ The History of the Common Service (RTF), WELS.
  5. ^ The Common Service: 1888–1988, WELS.
  6. ^ Processional Cross from
  7. ^ a b The Conduct of the Service by the Rev. Dr. Arthur Carl Piepkorn Archived 2009-05-28 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y How Lutherans Worship Archived 2011-03-24 at the Wayback Machine, Lutherans Online.
  9. ^ (Lutheran Service Book, Divine Service I)
  10. ^ 2 Timothy 2:15.
  11. ^ (Lutheran Service Book, Divine Service I,III, Lutheran Book of Worship)
  12. ^ Olson, Oliver K. (2007). Reclaiming the Lutheran Liturgical Heritage. Minneapolis: Bronze Bow Publishing. pp. 65–66. ISBN 1-932458-55-7.
  13. ^ Luke 24:36 and John 20:19
  14. ^ Lutheran Worship, Divine Service I
  15. ^ Catholic Communion process from the Roman Rite Mass Archived January 10, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Hämmerli, Maria; Mayer, Jean-François (23 May 2016). Orthodox Identities in Western Europe: Migration, Settlement and Innovation. Routledge. p. 13. ISBN 9781317084914.