Sservice 05



In early Christian worship, as in the synagogue service, there was other music besides psalms.  Ephesians 5:19 mentions “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”.  There is no way to prove how Paul meant to differentiate these terms, but one common convention is to use the term “hymn” to designate a song of praise to God which particularly mentions God’s qualities; spiritual songs would then designate other songs.




One hymn, used in the synagogue, and then carried over into Christian worship, was a verse of scripture set to music: Isaiah 6:3. Isaiah had a vision of heaven in which he saw angelic creatures singing to God, and recorded the words they were singing.  The third of the eighteen synagogue prayers introduces it as follows:

The multitudes of heaven crown you, together with the congregations here below.  Together they will thrice proclaim your holiness,  as the prophet says, “They were crying to one another and singing:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth

The earth is full of His glory.” 1


Putting scripture verses to music then is a practice that goes back to Jewish worship.  It is interesting that Jews and then Christians would both place high value on “singing along with the angels”, by selecting the actual words of angels as the text for a major hymn in the worship service; later in this chapter, another instances where Christians brought angel’s songs into worship will be cited.  And of all the terms the angels could have used as they worshipped God, it is noteworthy that they picked the word “Holy,” and that this was deemed significant enough by both Jews and Christians to bring it into the public worship form.  By calling God “holy”, we are confessing that He is totally other than we are: He is creator, while we are only created; He is awesome and perfect, while  we  are flawed.  By thus praisinghim as sinless, we are struck by our own sinfulness, as Peter was after Jesus did the miracle in which the nets were filled with fish:  Peter said, “Depart from me, Lord, I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8).


We are also reminded of God’s greatness, so that we are encouraged to believe that he is able to save us.  This greatness is also indicated by the word “Sabaoth”.  The meaning is “armies”, and while the original picture might have been suggested by the massiveness of the Israeli army, by  extension it also has come to mean the vast numbers of angels who constitute God’s heavenly army.  They are a visible indication of God’s greatness, just as the courtiers around  a secular king display his greatness, and they carry out God’s commands.  The term “glory” means the visible ways God chooses to make his greatness known.  Examples are the cloud which led the Israelites as they escaped from Egypt and the smoke which filled Solomon’s temple on the day of its dedication.  Psalm 19:1 tells us that “the heavens declare the glory of God”, which means that as we look at creation we can get an idea of how tremendous God is.  Christians see  “the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).  Therefore, though it is short, this Isaiah quote carries deep significance.


This idea of “singing along with the angels”, using the
words of Isaiah 6, along with this same approach to introducing
the hymn by referring to its context, was carried over from the synagogue into the early Christian worship forms, as shown in this quote from a
fourth century church service:

“With the thousand thousands of archangels and the myriad myriads of angels they sing without respite an uninterrupted song.  And let all the people say with them: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Sabaoth. Heaven and earth are filled with his glory.”

Jewish prayer was chanted, and in early Christian services also the leader sang the introductory words and the scripture quote itself was (at first) sung by everyone.

The churches in different locations used different combinations of the synagogue portions and new hymns. The five songs described in this chapter became the standards for the European church by the middle ages. Uniformity for the church service throughout Europe happened gradually as countries accepted the practice of Rome as the standard. The eastern orthodox churches did not accept the primacy of the pope and therefore their services have a different selection of standard hymns interspersed with the basic elements borrowed from the synagogue.

The  church at Rome placed the Isaiah 6 hymn in the context of the communion prayer, and it may have been in order to welcome Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist that they later added a quote from Psalm 118:25-36, the same Psalm which the multitudes sang to Jesus as He entered Jerusalem on a donkey the week before he was crucified:  “Hosanna in the highest.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 21:9).


Hosanna is Hebrew for “save us”, and was an idiom of  praise. This hymn (Isaiah 6 plus Psalm 118) has continued in use in the traditional European worship form up to the present.  It is termed the “Sanctus”, which is the Latinword for holy. Sometimes it is given its longer title “Sanctus and Benedictus,” the second word indicating the beginning of the phrase “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”





Another hymn that became a regular part of the European traditional service is the phrase “Lord have mercy.” This thought can be seen in the 16th of the 18 synagogue prayers:

Hear our voice, Lord our God; in your mercy and good will accept our prayer. For from eternity you are a God who hears our prayer and our petition.3


Note that the request for mercy is associated with prayer, and that this request is based on the nature of God.  Both these themes were retained in the Christian use of the phrase.  The Jewish idea of using the phrase “Lord have mercy” in connection with prayer can be seen in the words of the blind men who cried out to Jesus for help in Matthew 9:27: “Have mercy on us, Son of David”. The phrase was also used by King David in Psalm 51: “Have mercy upon me O God.”
The phrase “Lord have mercy” had an additional connotation in early Christian times.  Luther D. Reed explains that the phrase:

…was known throughout the Greek-speaking world. Persian and Egyptian sun-worshippers had first used it. Later it passed into common use in connection with emperor worship …Sun-worshippers cried, “0 Helios (Sun), have mercy.”  Pagan emperor-worshippers cried, “0 Lord (Emperor), have mercy”.4


Used in this way, the phrase had the effect of a shout of praise and dependence; Reed uses the term “acclamation”.  Because the Christians purposely applied to Jesus a term of worship which was usually reserved for the emperor, they showed their belief that it was not valid for the emperor to expect the kind of worship that should be accorded only to the creator God and his Son Jesus. Could it be that because he heard them using this phrase addressed to Jesus, the Roman official Pliny was able to report with accuracy and surprise:  “They worship one Chrestus as though he were a God.”5


The phrase “Lord have mercy” first came into the Christian worship form as a response to petitions in a prayer.6  This method of praying is called a “litany”.  A document from the fourth century includes an example.  After giving examples of several petitions, the document continues: “To all these intentions which the deacon announces, let the people, especially the children, reply ‘Kyrie eleison’.” That last phrase is Greek for “Lord have mercy”; Accordingly, this element of the service is termed the “Kyrie”. The original purpose was to beseech God to answer prayer by using an expression of dependence and praise.

In the early church, this litany was said as the major prayer in the second half of the service, after the non-members were dismissed. Around 590, Pope Gregory the Great removed the petitions and left only the response, Lord have mercy, which was to be sung nine times.  The middle three times were changed to the phrase “Christ have mercy”. He also moved these words toward the beginning of the service, leaving the major prayer spot vacant. When Lutherans added the general prayer back in again, they still left the Kyrie in the first half of the service. It was not until the twentieth century that some hymnals restored the petitions and turned the Kyrie back into a litany (details in chapter 9), still near the beginning of the service.




Another hymn that came to be used regularly in the European service was at the communion part of the service, just before the  distribution.  Acting on the belief that Christ is present in the bread and wine, the song is addressed to him, and the words are thoseused by John the Baptist as he pointed out Jesus in John 1:29 “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

As they sung this phrase each Sunday, Christians were reminded that the idea of of an animal dying in man’s place, which God had commanded in the Old Testament, explains the significance of Christ’s death for us, and reaffirms that the Old Testament blood sacrifices are no longer necessary. Referring to these Old Testament ceremonies, Hebrews 9:25 reminds that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness,” and explains that while animal sacrifice was used in the Old Testament, how much more then will be blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences … (verse 14).


Just as the cross has become a visible symbol of the Christian message, focusing attention on the sacrificial death of Jesus, so this phrase “Lamb of God” serves as a short verbal reminder of the core of Christian teaching.


In this hymn, Christ is first identified as the lamb: “O Christ, thou lamb of God,”


Then the second part of John the Baptist’s announcement (you that take away the sin of the world) is sung, followed by the Kyrie refrain (Lord have mercy). John’s phrase is sung again, this time with a different refrain (receive our prayer), and finally another phrase, this one acknowledging Christ’s authority, is sung, followed one more time by the Kyrie refrain:

You that take away the sin of the world


You that take away the sin of the world

You that sit at the right hand of the Father







Another hymn, composed in the Eastern Orthodox area and later incorporated into the European service, begins by quoting another angels’ song, this one the song which the angels sang to the shepherds when Jesus was born, recorded in Luke 2:14:  “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will towards men.” The technical term for this hymn is “Gloria,” the Latin translation of the first word; sometimes a fuller title is used, “Gloria in Excelsis,” which means “glory in the highest.”

The quote from the angels was followed by a portion which praised each member of the Trinity in turn. First, many words of praise, in quick succession, are heaped upon God the Father:

We praise you, we bless you, we worship you, we glorify you, we give thanks to your for your great glory. O Lord God, our heavenly Father, God the Father Almighty.

This listing of one praise expression after another is similar to the heavenly worship recorded in Revelation 5:13: “to him who sits on the thrones, and to the lamb, be praise and honor and glory and power, for even and ever.”

The “lamb” here refers to Jesus, and the next portion of the hymn uses the same words as the Agnus Dei, quoting John the Baptist as he pointed out Jesus in John 1:29 “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world..” In the Gloria, Christ is identified more completely than in the Agnus Dei: “0 Lord, the only-begotten son, Jesus Christ, 0 Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father…”, and the words “Have mercy upon us” are added, just as in the Agnus Dei.

The Gloria hymn ends by praising the entire Trinity:
Thou only, 0 Christ, with the Holy Ghost, art most high in the glory of God the Father.  Amen.

The “Gloria” was written before the fourth century and was first used in the Eastern Orthodox Church; it apparently was first used in the western worship order as part of the Christmas service, and later became a regular part of the Sunday service, sung after the opening Psalm and the Kyrie.9

In the twentieth century, a new hymn called “This is the Feast” was written which is intended as a substitute for the historic “Gloria”.  It is also based on an angel’s song, the hymn to Christ in Revelation 5:9ff: You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and  people and nation..


The fifth and final song used regularly each Sunday was not originally intended as a song: it is the Nicene Creed, a document adopted in 381, based on ideas agreed to in 326 in a city called Nicea, from which the creed gets its name.  The idea of including a statement of faith during public worship originates in the synagogue. The Jewish statement of faith includes Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which begins:

Hear 0 Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

The formal Christian creeds were organized around the three persons of the Trinity.  Versions of the The Apostle’s Creed can be traced back to the second century.  It was used as a profession of faith by those about to be baptized.  It was the Nicene Creed that was brought into the Sunday church service, and when used in the service, it was sung.  The technical term is the Latin word “Credo”, which means “I believe”.

The first section is about God the Father, and in stressing
that he made all things, countered the idea that evil had a      ‘
separate existence.

The second section is about the Son, and marks the end of more than a century of debate about how best to express therelation of the Son to the Father, especially in  opposition to the view that Christ was somehow less than the Father, or that he even was a created being rather than creator.  The term “begotten”, a word found in Psalm 2, is used of Christ with the meaning that this means something different than “created” .  The word “substance” had become a technical term meant to indicate what Christ and the Father had in common.  And three expressions of Christ’s relationship to the Father were added to underline His status as tuly God:

“God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God” (The word “of” here means “from”).  This was followed by a section similar to the Apostle’s Creed, in which the earthly life of Jesus is outlined, thus affirming that he was a historical figure.

The third section makes clear that the Holy Spirit is to be regarded as God in the same sense as the Son and the Father. In speaking of their inter-relationship, the term “proceed” is used: “Who proceeds from the Father.”  To this phrase, the church in the west added “and the Son”, and this became a matter of disagreement between the eastern and western churches.

Later in in this third section, the church is described with these four adjectives : one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.  The term “catholic” here means the church is universal, for all.


The five hymns described above (Sanctus, Kyrie, Gloria, Agnus Dei, and Credo) were sung regularly Sundays in the western (ie., European) church from the seventh century on.  Collectively, they are called the “ordinary”, in distinction from the “propers”, which change every Sunday.  Musical compositions called “masses” by composers such as Mozart and others are musical settings of these five texts.

The Manual for the Lutheran Book of Worship however notes that the idea of using them every single Sunday without exception is a recent mis-understanding: “The Gloria in Excelsis was…never intended to be the invariable feature of the Holy Communion that our practice has assumed it to be.” l0
The  manual  includes a chart which suggests a plan for variety in the use of the Kyrie and Gloria:

Season:             Usage:
!     Advent               ! Kyrie      !   —                      !

Christmas throughBaptism of Our Lord  Kyrie  Glory to God in thehighest 
Sundays after theEpiphany  — —  Glory to God inthe highest


Transfiguration  Kyrie  Glory to God in thehighest 
Lent  Kyrie  __ 
Sunday of the Passion  __ __  — 
Easter (50 Days)including Pentecost  Kyrie  Worthy is Christ 
Trinity Sunday  Kvrie  Worthy is Christ 
Sundays after Pentecost  — —  Glory to God in thehighest 
All Saints andLesser Festivals  — —  Worthy is Christ 
Christ the King  Kvrie  Worthv is Christ 
Non-festival weekdays                   ——                            — — 


The manual also asserts that flexibility is possible in the use of the creed: “The creed…has traditionally been regarded as a festive element that may be eliminated without damaging the integrity of the Eucharist.11




The structure of the traditional worship used in the west since the seventh century is a combination of theordinary and the propers.  A chart is provided at the beginning of chapter seven. The author suggests that worshipplanning committees reserve the word “liturgical” to refer to services based on this structure. According to this word usage, a service using folk melodies would be termed a “liturgical” service, as long as the texts were the ordinary and propers. The use of elements not found in the traditional service, such as a “call to worship”, would then be termed “non-liturgical”.  The use of additional hymns and anthems could be termed “extra-liturgical”, since they can be added or deleted without changing the structure.


Challenges facing worship planners using the traditional service include: Are the ordinary and propers being given the  prominence they deserve, or are they overshadowed by too many additional elements? How can the propers be clearly understood and highlighted, and not seem to be “something we have to read today because it says so in the book”?  How can the ordinary be done in a way that guards against the thoughtlessness that comes with unvaried repetition?  In chapters 10 and 11, this book will present concrete suggestions for meeting these challenges.

Note how the “Lamb of God” includes the Kyrie, and the “Glory be to God” includes the “Lamb of God”



First line Biblical quotes Technical term
Lord have mercy Psalm 51:1, Mt 9:27 KYRIE (Greek word meaning Lord)
(full name Kyrie Eleison, Lord have mercy)
Glory be to God on high Luke 2:14 GLORIA (Latin word meaning “glory.”)
fully name Gloria in Excelsis, see more below chart
I believe in One God basis Bible teachings CREDO (The Nicene Creed from the year 381. Lutheran services commonly use the Apostles Creed when there is no communion.
Holy Holy Holy, plus Hosanna Isaiah 6:3, plus
Psalm 118:25-26
SANCTUS (Latin word meaning “holy.”). Full name: Sanctus and Benedictus. (the “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” part)
Lamb of God John 1:29 AGNUS DEI (Latin for “Lamb of God.”)

More about the Gloria. The term “Gloria” is used when the five songs are listed together, as when a composer provides these five songs as music for the service. The more complete name of the Gloria is “Gloria in Excelsis” (“in excelsis” means “on high”), to differentiate it from the “Gloria Patri” (Glory be to the father”), which is to be sung after a psalm.


These are the English translations of the ordinary prepared by the English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC) 1988. They are published in Praying Together© 1988 by the English Language Liturgical Consultation, Abingdon Press.


KYRIE. Lord Have Mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
GLORIA.  Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on earth.

Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory.

Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on kus; you are seated at the right hand of the Father, receive our prayer.

For you alone are the Hloly One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.


SANCTUS. Holy, holy, holy Lord, goid of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.


AGNUS DEI. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, grant us peace.




1. Quoted in Deiss op. cit. p. 122.

2. Quoted in Deiss op. cit. p. 232.  From a document called The Apostolic Constitutions, written around 380- A. D. (Part VIII,” 12, 2?b)


3. Quoted in Deiss op. cit. p. 14

4.  Luther D. Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1947), p. 268

5. Quoted in Deiss op. cit. p. 38., This was a letter from Pliny the Younger to Emperor Trajan. 

6.  Reed, op. cit., p. 268

7. Quoted in Deiss op. cit. p. 223. From The Apostolic Constitutions (VIII, 6, 3-9).

8. Reed, op. cit., p. 269

9. Reed/ op. cit., p. 274

10. Manual on the Liturgy (Minneapolis: Augsburg), p. 213

11. Manual on the Liturgy, p. 225

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