Sservice 04


Music in the synagogue service included the singing of Psalms.  Through the ages, the Psalms have provided a pattern for devotion.  They express a wide range of human emotions, from joy to despair, and express the heartfelt faith that, no matter what happens, God is with us and will remember his promises.  The Psalms also serve as patterns for praise.  In expressing praise to God, they often add reasons to praise him, and these fall into two categories: praising God for what he is (You are great), and praising God for what he does (You save us).  Planning worship services certainly involves considering how to make use of the Psalms: how to help people understand them , and how to help people learn to sing them.  This book later will make many suggestions about using the Psalms.

Early Christian worship also included Psalms, and eventually Psalms were used in four places in the service.  Each Psalm accompanied an action.  It is worthwhile even today to base service planning on the principle that music should be chosen to fulfill a function.  The four functions that Psalms filled in early Christian worship were:

Music at the beginning, during entry of the worship leader

Music between the readings

Music during collection of the offering

Music during distribution of Holy Communion
Since these four functions are still found in today’s services, it is worthwhile to plan the music for these functions thoughtfully, and to consider whether it is still possible to use psalms at these places.




The entrance Psalm was termed “Introit,” a word that means entrance.

Since Psalms were used in both Jewish and Christian worship services, the Christians often added a line at the end of a Psalm to show their confession of the triune God:

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is shall be, forever, Amen.


This line was typically sung to the same music as the Psalm
preceding it, and thus formed a single unit with that Psalm.  It
is known in Latin as the “Gloria Patri”; these two words mean/
“glory be to the. Father”    This kind of statement is also called
“doxology.” (from the Greek; “dox” signifies glory, and “logy” signifies words,
so doxology means “words of glory”).


The CUSTOM of putting the “Gloria Patri” at the end of a Psalm is still used today. 


In order to strengthen further the Psalm’s relationship to the day’s theme, an additional sentence, usually from scripture, was sung before each Psalm verse and at the very end; this added portion is called the “antiphon”, which means it originally was sung as a response by one group of singers to another group who was singing the Psalm.  The Psalm was gradually shortened until it was only one verse long.  The resulting classical form of the introit can be seen in the following example from the first Sunday after Easter. The antiphon is from I Peter 2-2 and Psalm 81:8; then only one verse of the Psalm, Psalm 81, is sung.  The “Gloria Patri” is sung after the Psalm, and then the entire antiphon is repeated again.  There is a colon in the middle of every sentence, because that indicated where the first phrase of music ended and the second phrase was to begin.

As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word. Hear, 0 my people, and I will testify unto thee: 0 Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me.

Sing aloud unto God, our strength: make a joyful noise
unto the God of Jacob.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost•- as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.

As new-born babes’- desire the sincere milk of the word. Hear, 0 my people, and I will testify unto thee: o Israel, if thou  wilt, hearken unto me.5

The Lutheran Book of Worship provides the option of singing a complete Psalm for the Introit, and also between readings.




In early centuries, there were three readings: from the Old Testament, from the epistles, and from the Gospels. The Old Testament lesson was dropped early in the Middle Ages. The Psalm sung between readings therefore had a complicated development.  When there were three readings, the Psalm was sung between the Old Testament and the epistle lessons; between epistle lesion and gospel lesson, another musical interlude was used, based on the word “Alleluia” plus scripture quotes, that were appropriate for the day.  (Alleluia is the Latin spelling for a Hebrew word usually transliterated into English as Hallelujah”.  The “jah” at the end represents God’s name, Jahweh, the name that means “I am that I am”; the “hallelu” part means “praise”; so Hallelujah means “praise God”).


Later when the Old Testament lesson was dropped, the two music portions were placed together.  The Psalm gradually was shortened until it was only one verse long.  The technical term for this Psalm verse which leads up to the gospel lesson is “the gradual and Alleluia”.  The word “gradual” It is based on the Latin word “gradus”, which means “step”, because at this point the book of lessons was carried up the steps to the place where the gospel would be read.  Following is a gradual and alleluia verse for the eighth Sunday after Trinity:

Be Thou my strong rock, for an house of defense to save me.     In Thee, 0 Lord, do I put my trust: let me never be ashamed. Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!4


During lent, an Alleluia verse was not sung. The verse used instead is called’ a “tract”.


The usages described above were used in The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) and in The Service Book and Hymnal (1958). The usages in more recent hymnals are described at the end of this chapter.


Certain Psalms began to be associated with particular Sundays, and the readings and Psalms for that day tended to revolve around a single theme.  In this regard, Christian worship was continuing a practice already used in the Jewish synagogue, which had definite themes and readings for different times of the year. You may have noticed that the gospel of John often indicates the season of the year when Jesus presented a certain teaching. We now know that the synagogue reading for that time corresponds to the theme Jesus taught about. For example, Christ’s proclamation of himself as “The Good Shepherd” took place “in winter, on the Feast of the Dedication.” In the synagogue, 1 Samuel 17 was read, where David recounts his life as a shepherd, and Ezekiel 34 was read, which talked about the descendent of David who will lead his people as a shepherd,, and that God will gather the flocks. When Jesus says that He will gather his sheep, those who had heard the synagogue reading would have realized that here Jesus was claiming to be the God who will do this gathering.


Knowing about the practice of assigned readings in the synagogue helps us to understand the gospels more clearly, shows us the roots for the idea of the Christian series of designated readings, and even clears up the sources of some of the readings we use today: for example, Ezekiel 39 is still used in the liturgical year’s cycle of readings, and it is paired up with the reading from John 10 about Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

The theme for the day is usually most clearly seen in the entrance Psalm, the Old Testament reading, and the Gospel lesson. This correspondence was close enough that at one point many Sundays were named according to the first few words of the entrance Psalm. For example, in the propers listed in The Lutheran Hymnal, the opening Psalm for the fourth Sunday after Easter begins with the words “0 Sing unto the Lord” (Psalm 98:1) The first word of this Psalm in Latin is “cantate”, which means “sing”.  The Sunday is therefore known as “Cantate Sunday”. Since the Old Testament reading often sheds light on the gospel, it is unfortunate that it is one of the first readings to be left out when the service is shortened.


The epistle lesson was usually independent of the theme. Paul’s letters were passed around from church to church to be read already in New Testament times, as Colossians 4:16 indicates. Paul there says, “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans…” Even after the other readings had been brought into harmony with a theme, the epistles continued to be read straight through from beginning to end, a practice known in Latin as “lectio continuo.”




In the Christian service, a prayer was placed before the readings to underscore the theme; this prayer, the designated readings, and the designated Psalms are together termed the “propers”. One can remember this term by noting that it tells us which texts are the “proper” ones to use on a given Sunday. Although this tendency to have a theme was never thoroughly and consistently carried out, yet it is a clear enough tendency to be regarded as a characteristic of traditional worship.

This thematic prayer came to be written in a certain style: prayers in this style are called “collects”.  The predominant influence on worship services in the western church was the practice of the church in Rome, which favored literary styles that were noted for their brevity and simplicity.1 The style of a collect is quite simple: one type, for example, starts by invoking God, then adds one phrase about Him or His work (often starting with the word “who”); a single request is then made (often starting with the word “grant”), followed by a standardized formula referring to the Trinity.  This style is illustrated in the following collect, for the fourth Sunday after Easter:

0 God, who makest the minds of the faithful to be of one will, grant unto Thy people that they may love what Thou commandest and desire what Thou dost promise, that among the manifold changes of this world our hearts may there befixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with the Father and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. 2

As we prepare thematic prayers for our church services, we must face the question as to whether the terse style of Roman Latin is necessarily the best way to communicate today, or whether we prefer to create or search for new prayers in a style more natural to us.




A one-year cycle of readings has been used and refined through the years.                             ‘

In the mid-twentieth century, churches that use the traditional service form have published a revision which presents a three-yearcycle of readings and Psalms; it is called the “three-year lectionary.”6  The purpose is that over the three year period, church goers will be able to hear a well-thought-out selection of the important teachings of the Bible, and the impact is further increased when the preacher uses these same themes for his sermon.  This tradition challenges all worship planners to consider the benefit of using such a prepared sequence of readings – is it more likely to result in a comprehensive and balanced sharing of God’s word than if there is no plan? Pastors must weigh the benefits of the discipline of preaching according to the prescribed readings, versus the idea of preaching straight through a book of the Bible (expository preaching)versus the idea of selecting their own themes.



What has happened to the four Psalm functions over the  years? The last function, music during communion, continues to have its specified Psalm (termed “communio”) in the Roman Catholic service, but in Lutheran usage it has become more common to sing hymns during communion.  This is the clearest precedent in the tradition of allowing a hymn to take over the function of a Psalm.

By the Middle Ages, the Psalm which was sung during the offering came to be regarded as the beginning of the Holy Communion ceremony, and was seen as an offering of one’s self. At the height of its development, a different Psalm was selected every week.  The Lutherans separated the concept of the offertory from Holy Communion (in fact, Luther even advocated not having an offertory), and used a wide variety of hymns or Psalms at this point.3  Singing Psalm 51:10-12 (Create in me a clean heart) was one popular usage which is preserved in The Lutheran Hymnal (page 22).

Since the most recent Lutheran hymnals have put the Old Testament reading back into the service, they have also restored the possibility of using the Gradual after that lesson, and then an “alleluia” after the epistle lesson. The hymnals of 1941 and 1958 have a different gradual and alleluia for each Sunday. The hymnals of 1978 and 1982 have a different gradual for each Sunday, but have the same alleluia for every Sunday.

For the entrance psalm, The Lutheran hymnals of 1978 and 1982 have allowed several options: an introit is provided, or a complete Psalm may be used, or a hymn may be substituted.


Summary: At the core of the western traditional worship service are the items which together are called the propers- four Psalms with definite function, two or three scripture readings, and a short prayer, with most elements tending to relate to a common theme each Sunday.


Entrance Psalm Introit
Theme prayer Collect
Old Testament lesson Old Testament lesson
Reading from Paul’s letters Epistle lesson
Psalm between readings Gradual,
with alleluia verse
Reading from life of Jesus Gospel lesson
Psalm during offering Offertory
Psalm during communion Communio


1.  Bradshaw, op. cit. , p. 174.

2.       The Lutheran Hymnal p. 70

3. ‘Walter E. Buszin, “Offertory”, in Lutheran Cyclopedia (St. Louis: Concordia, 1954) p. 756.

4. The Lutheran Hymnal p. 76

5. The Lutheran Hymnal p. 69

6. The three-year lectionary was prepared by Roman Catholic scholars after Vatican Council II (1962-5)and Protestant churches that wanted to use the cycle have based their’s on the Catholic version with varying degrees of change.

Go to Next Chapter (5)                    Go to Sunday Worship Menu