Upon the “amen” of the church’s prayer, the Divine Service moves from “The Service of the Word” into “The Service of the Sacrament.” In ancient times this transition marked an entirely separate service as the catechumens (individuals whose instruction in the faith was not yet complete) were dismissed and the “faithful” were invited to share the body and blood of Christ.
The Sacrament of the Altar was for those confirmed in the faith—those who were willing to be martyred for the sake of Christ. For them the Lord’s Supper was not a matter of hospitality; it was a matter of faithfully honoring the Savior’s last will and testament. It was to be observed and kept with due diligence among those willing to die for a shared confession.
In his Small Catechism Luther writes about this Sacrament. He first asks, “What is the Sacrament of the Altar?” He answers, “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.”
Then he comments on the benefit and blessing of the Sacrament by asking, “What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?” “These words,” he answers, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”
Because of the great benefits of this God-given Sacrament it is surrounded with several important liturgical elements in the Divine Service. In the present article, we’ll discuss the introductory invitation and the prefacing prayer. The minister begins:
P: The Lord be with you.
This is a common greeting throughout Scripture. It not only is a tremendous blessing but also a reminder that the Lord initiates movement toward us. We, in our sin, cannot move toward Him. God, in His mercy, moves toward us in Christ.
This greeting reminds us that our God lovingly pursues us. The natural response, then, is:
C: And also with you.
The minister continues:
P: Lift up your hearts.
Here worshipers are invited to “ponder nothing earthly minded,” but to direct their hearts and minds heavenward as they prepare to join heaven’s worship of Christ in the soon-to-be sung Sanctus. In response they reply:
C: We lift them to the Lord!
With our hearts lifted heavenward the minister invites worshipers:
P: Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God.
To which they respond:
C: It is good and right so to do.
The pastor acknowledges the congregation’s response and begins praying what has been called the “Eucharistic prayer.” The heart of the prayer changes in accord with the church season, but in every season this prayer is designed to acknowledge and give thanks to God for all His benefits, most especially His gift of salvation in Christ which worshipers are preparing to receive in the Sacrament.
With the Sanctus in mind the prayer invites the gathered worshipers to join heaven’s saints and angels in praise of Christ—a truly remarkable moment in the Divine Service where we worship Christ with the whole host of heaven! In the next article we’ll examine the substance and significance of the Sanctus.
Pastor Jonathan Conner of Zion Lutheran Church in Manning, Iowa, is a former board member for the Hausvater Project.