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Martin Luther chaosandoldnightwordpresscomOver the past several days, I have been delving into Church history with regard to liturgy and Communion frequency.

Those who missed the previous instalments on early Christian liturgy, that of the East, changes during the Dark Ages and Mass during the Middle Ages might find them helpful in understanding the services which emerged during the Reformation.

Today’s post looks at Martin Luther’s early liturgy.

Source material is taken from W.D. Maxwell’s 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form, available to read in full online (H/T: Revd P. Aasman). Page references are given below.

Martin Luther’s principal liturgical achievements were providing a service in the vernacular (local language), developing hymnody, restoring both Bread and Wine for distribution to communicants and bringing our Lord more fully into the hearts and minds of worshippers through Scripture, sermons and communal prayers.

Church services were no longer a spectacle but truly participative worship.

Pared-down liturgy

Luther’s work of 1520, Babylonish Captivity, called for services in the vernacular, repudiated transubstantiation whilst affirming a Real Presence and disparaged the Catholic notion of the Mass as a sacrifice (pp 75, 76).

By 1522, priors and other clergy translated the liturgy of the Mass into German with amendments to the Canon according to Lutheran teaching. However, Luther himself took issue with these attempts and published his Formula missae in 1523 (p. 77).

Essentially, the result was a truncated Mass — oddly enough — in Latin. Also of note is Luther’s retention of vestments and ceremonial aspects. Incense, to be used during the Gospel reading, was made optional.

His Deutsche Messe appeared in 1526, after he had used it for a year at Wittenberg.

The main characteristics of the Deutsche Messe were as follows (pp. 77, 79):

– A choice between the Introit or a new German hymn;

– A shortened Kyrie, now threefold instead of ninefold recitation;

– Omission of the Confiteor (confession of clergy to one another) as in his originally revised Mass;

– Two Scripture readings: one from the Epistles and the other from a Gospel;

– Preparation of unconsecrated bread and wine — the only aspect of the Offertory remaining — could be done during the Apostle’s Creed;

– The Words of Institution, to effect the consecration, became part of the Preface to the Prayer of Consecration; the latter part of that prayer — the Canon (the Prayer of Consecration itself) — was omitted;

– The Elevation of the consecrated host was retained;

– The Aaronic Blessing (Numbers 6:24-26) concluded the service:

24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

My Lutheran readers can give us more of an indication how this liturgy has changed over the centuries.

Communion policy

Luther took Communion very seriously. Whilst he wanted his followers to receive both Bread and the Cup, he also advocated certain preparations on their part (p. 78).

Communicants needed to notify the celebrant that they wished to receive Communion. They also had to demonstrate to the celebrant they understood the Christian faith in light of Lutheran teachings. Luther also encouraged private confession before the Communion service.

As every service was to have Communion, where there were no communicants, no Mass was said.

Cultural differences accepted

Luther understood that his followers in Germany and Scandinavia had different cultural traditions.

To that end, he allowed variations in different regions and countries. The Swedish and Norwegian services have ended up being the most ‘creative’ and this influence spread to American liturgy as well (p. 80).

Regardless of regional differences, the Lutheran service remained identifiably so until recent decades.

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