Sunday Service

The Sunday Worship Service: Where Did it Come From?

The early Christians continued to use the parts they were accustomed to from the Jewish synagogue service: scripture readings, a sermon, prayers, and Psalms. They added a time for Holy Communion, for Jesus had said “This do in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)

Although the Jewish synagogue service was on Saturdays, Christians from early on began to worship on Sundays. This quote is from a document of the year 150: “It is on Sunday that we assemble, because Sunday is the first day, the day on which God transformed darkness and matter and created the world, and the day on which Jesus Christ rose from the dead.” (see Justin in References Used at bottom.) 

The other songs that are now repeated week after week, such as Lamb of God or Lord Have Mercy, were added at the command of various popes from the 300’s to the 1100’s. (The details are in appendix 1)

This resulting order of service, the traditional European Sunday service, is called “the mass,” and a service using these elements is called a “liturgical service.”  (A chart of the service with each part labeled is found below. You will notice that each part is still found in the Lutheran hymnals of today). 

Over the centuries and in different countries, the words of the mass have been sung to many styles of music. A service is termed “liturgical” based on whether it uses the words of the mass, not based on any particular style of music. 

Throughout history, when famous composers such as Bach or Schubert composed a “mass,” they were providing music for the five main songs in the liturgical service: Lord have mercy, Glory to God on high, Creed, Holy Holy Holy, and Lamb of God.

A similar process was going on in the Eastern Orthodox Church. They have the same core from the synagogue, but different sets of songs that they sing every week.

Martin Luther translated the traditional European service from Latin to German, omitted the prayer at communion, and expanded the importance of the sermon. Lutheran theologians call the Lutheran version of the mass “The Divine Service.” This name puts attention on God, who serves us by his Word and in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and by bestowing forgiveness. 

The Church of England (Anglican Church) also became Protestant, and translated the traditional European service into English. In 1963, the Roman Catholic Church allowed the translation of the mass from Latin into the local language.

When American Lutherans began to switch from German to English worship services in the late 1800’s, they did not translate the service directly from German, but simply used the translations from Latin that had already been made by the Church of England. That is why the well-known version of the “Glory be to God on High” is in Shakespearean English (we praise Thee, we bless thee, etc.) . (A new set of English translations was made by an international committee in 1988. See Appendix 2 for more about it.)

Luther also promoted adding additional hymns into the liturgical structure. These hymns could be different each Sunday. The hymns prepared by him and his associates are called “Lutheran Chorales,” and through using them the Lutheran Church became known as the “singing church.” 

Hymns and Christmas carols already existed before Luther, but were not often sung during the church service. They were sung at home, during outdoor processions, and in the monasteries. One hundred years before Luther, though, John Hus had introduced the singing of hymns for the Czech people.

The melodies written by Luther used the most up-to-date musical style of the day. Many of his melodies were based on tunes he had used in the monastery, but he then set them to a beat, in accord with the music of his day. His original melodies, such as “A Mighty Fortress,” had beats and off-beats that made it energetic, though some versions in our modern hymnals have smoothed out the tune to fit a later taste.

Elements like hymns that are added to the traditional service are termed “extra-liturgical.” That means that if they are absent, the service is still called “liturgical.” A Lutheran chorale version was also provided for each of the songs of the mass: the one you may be familiar with is “Lamb of God Pure and Holy.”

When the American Lutherans borrowed the translations from the Church of England in the late 1800’s, they also borrowed the music that the Anglicans were singing. In today’s hymnals, when you sing a part of the liturgy that has long-drawn-out notes without a beat, and has 4-part harmony, you are singing “Anglican chant.” Other tunes, such as for “Create in Me,’” were German chorales.

While Luther allowed continued use of the traditional European service, John Calvin and his associates omitted the songs that had been added after the year 300, and kept only the core from the synagogue service (readings, sermon, etc), so it would be correct to call their service a “non-liturgical service.”

The Calvinists did not allow hymns at first, but did allow Psalms. They translated the Psalms into rhyming lines and created hymn-type melodies for them. The well-known “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” uses one of those melodies. The Puritans who immigrated to America were Calvinists, and the first book published in America was a book of Psalms meant to be sung to hymn-type tunes.

Since the Church of England was under the influence of Calvinist theology, the use of hymns during their church service crept in only gradually, until it was finally officially authorized in 1820. Late in the 1800’s the Church of England translated many Lutheran Chorales into English, and placed them into their hymnal. When the American Lutherans made the transition from German services to English services, they sometimes borrowed these translations rather than translating from German themselves. That’s why “Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates,” which is a German Chorale translated into English, has a “ye” in it.

In the 1700’s the traditional European service began falling into disuse among Lutherans. Here are some of the reasons. Because it was the age of enlightenment, the sermon took up more time, so the liturgy was shortened. Because it was also the age of pietism, songs that stressed heart commitment were more popular than the historic doctrinal hymns that made up the liturgy.  Choirs, which had formerly helped the congregation sing the liturgy, began to sing additional songs that were not in the liturgy (sych as anthems and cantatas); these made the service longer, leading to the need to make the liturgy even shorter. In America, many German Lutherans wanted services more like their American friends were holding: non-liturgical in format, using gospel songs from the frontier revival meetings, and having an informal feel (for example, without congregational responses). That desire was called “Americanization” by those who opposed it. 

The lowest point was around 1830, when even some Lutherans were preaching sermons that included only content that was fully in accord with reason. The little bit of the liturgy that was left was the only place people could hear about things like atonement by Christ’s blood.

From that point, a renewal in Lutheran theology began. It was called the “confessional revival,” because it was restoring the biblical truths about salvation that are summarized in the Lutheran “confessions.” (These are documents written in the 1500’s that presented the Lutheran theological positions). The Lutheran Church-Missouri synod has played a leading role in the “confessional revival.”

Those who were restoring the Lutheran churches to the theology of the time of Luther also shared the feeling that correct theology should be accompanied by a return to the liturgical type of service. By the 1880’s American Lutherans had constructed a “common service” adapted from the German services of Luther’s time, which were themselves adaptations of the traditional European service, the mass; this implies that they had gotten the upper hand over those in the “Americanization” movement.

As each new American Lutheran hymnal has been published, deeper scholarship into the origins and intent of the parts of the mass has led to more and more options in the service. For example, The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941 started the service with a short Psalm selection called “The Introit.” This was taken by the Germans from the Roman Catholic tradition. But by the time of the 1978 Lutheran hymnal, scholars had realized that before there were introits, the churches sang the entire Psalm, so they allowed either singing the introit or singing an entire psalm. By the time of  the Lutheran Hymnal of 2006, the scholars had realized that the reason the early church sang Psalms was so they could begin the service with music, and the instructions say to begin with “Introit, Psalm, or Entrance Hymn.” As a result, changes in the newer hymnals that congregations thought were “innovations” were actually more authentic as far as the intent in the liturgy than they ways they had been accustomed to.

Liturgical renewal in the 1960’s took the form of “folk services.” The idea was that the earliest Christians would have sung music that was in a style familiar to them, and so when we sing styles that are familiar to us, we are actually being closer to true tradition. These folk services used all the words of the traditional liturgy, but sang them to folk-type music. They are correctly called “liturgical services.”

In the 1990’s, the idea of Praise services was developed in non-liturgical churches. These services began with lots of contemporary songs, had extemporaneous prayers, and ended with a long teaching. This approach was also seen as a good one for what was called “seeker services,” where those attending might not have much church background, and might be reticent to do more than sit and listen.

In the 21st century, another way of holding a worship service, associated with a movement called “the emerging church,” was created in the hopes of reaching the “postmodern generation,.” Stress was placed on building community life and doing service projects. Worship gatherings are informal, may involve group discussion, and may present a video to involve people in the topic. 

Some Lutheran congregations agreed that providing a simple service that did not require any knowledge of the “sitting and standing and responsive readings” that were found in a liturgical service could make a contribution toward reaching the unchurched. Moreover, they also felt that even the current members, though they were already accustomed to a liturgical service, would also benefit by being able to worship with new songs in today’s styles. By the 2000’s, it was common to find Lutheran churches that offered a choice of services, one based on the historic liturgy and another using contemporary songs and a structure different from the historic mass. 

Typically in Lutheran churches, certain parts from the liturgical service were deemed so essential that they could hardly be omitted. Chief among these would be the Creed and the formal “absolution of sins.” Holy Communion would commonly be celebrated more frequently in a Lutheran church than in an evangelical church. 

While one often hears that these “non-liturgical” services are important to reach youth, in fact, there are people of all ages who enjoy these services. 

Having both traditional and contemporary services is an expression of Luther’s thinking. On the one hand, Luther did permit churches to continue to use the service they were used to, and he made sure it was translated into their language so they would understand it. On the other hand, he writes that using this service should not be made into something that would bind the conscience. That may sound like a contradiction, but what the two statements have in common is Luther’s “pastoral” approach — that is, he cared about the needs of the people that he actually had.

 In his major document on worship services, he gives three alternatives. First, he goes through the Latin service part by part, leaving most parts in, while removing the communion prayers because they gave the impression that Christ was being sacrificed over again.He was fine with leaving the service in Latin for the universities, where the students had to learn Latin anyway.  Second, he provides a simple service in the German language that was an adaptation of the familiar service, providing German Chorales as ways to sing the major songs in the mass, and some ideas that were so creative that they did not catch on, such as saying the Lord’s Prayer as a paraphrase. 

Luther then continues, “The third kind of service should … not be held in a public place for all sorts of people. But those who want to be Christians in earnest  … should sign their names and meet alone in a house somewhere to pray, to read, to baptize, to receive the sacrament, and to do other Christian works.  … here one could set up a brief and neat order for baptism and the sacrament and center everything on the Word, prayer, and love.”   He then says he realizes that he did not have people at that time who were ready for this. (See Luther in “references used” after Appendices.)

Having both traditional and contemporary services also is an expression of Lutheran thinking. For example, the Handbook of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod at Point 7 of Article III, begins, “Encourage congregations to strive for uniformity in church practice.” This is fulfilled by providing the liturgical service. Now note how the sentence continues: “but also to develop an appreciation of a variety of responsible practices and customs which are in harmony with our common profession of faith.” This is provided by those who are creating non-liturgical services.

In addition, in the authoritative document on Lutheran theology called the Augsburg Confession, article VII includes this line: “nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike.” Despite these official statements, there are those whose judgment is that it would be preferable if services were everywhere alike. While they should be respected, their viewpoint should be seen as a judgment call, not as theologically necessitated. There are those whose judgment is that services using guitar and drums are disrespectful. While they should be respected, their viewpoint should be seen as personal preference, not as theologically necessitated. 

Here are some characteristics of the historic worship service.

One characteristic of the mass format is its balance between repetition and variety. The idea of having  “balance” is important so that the congregation stays attentive while avoiding the discomfort of too much unfamiliarity. In the traditional European service, repetition is provided by the songs that are sung week after week, which are called “the Ordinary,” and variety is provided by the parts that have different words every week, which are called “the Propers.” The chart below shows the service with the parts it had by the year 1200, and is pretty much the same as the outline still in use today. 

CHART: The traditional European Sunday Service (the Mass):

 Opening song (in 1200, a Psalm portion)
Lord Have Mercy 
Glory be to God on High 
 Prayer on the day’s theme (called “collect”)
 Scripture readings, interspersed with music
Offering, but …Music during offering might differ each week
Responses to introduce communionWith phrases appropriate to the season
Holy, Holy, Holy 
Lord’s Prayer 
Words of institution 
The Peace of the Lord be with you always 
O Christ Thou Lamb of God 
Distribution of communionMusic during communion
 Song after communion, often “Let servant depart.”
Reponses and prayer after communion 
Benediction. Could be Aaron’s or Paul’s 

*Luther restored the early church’s practice by using the offertory song (often “Create in me”) with the bringing of offerings; in the Roman Catholic church it had become the opening prayers of communion.

Do you notice anything missing from the list above? 

1.No confession of sins – because when the liturgy was created, confession was private, so adding public confession is an “addition to the liturgy.”  Private confession remained common among Lutherans well into the 1800’s. Many medieval churches had set aside a section when the liturgy paused temporarily so the people could hear the readings, creed, and Lord’s Prayer in their own language. This sometimes included a call to repent of sins and a pronouncement of absolution. Also, the priest did say a confession of sins softly as he prepared to begin the service. When Lutheran hymnals added a public “confession of sins” portion for the service during the 1800’s, some phrases were taken from these existing models.

2. This chain of events permits us to say 1) A service can be still called “liturgical” even if the confession part is not included; 2) we would not be unliturgical if we placed the confession in various parts of the service; 3) we would not be unliturgical if we used various types of wording for the confession part. For Luther the valuable parts of confession, whether private or public, were the encouragement of faith and the pronouncement of forgiveness “in the name and in the stead” of Christ. 

3. No hymns — except the repeated hymns of the ordinary. Additional hymns were not part of the traditional liturgy – they were added starting with the Reformation. Since one can call a service “liturgical” with or without hymns, it follows that there is not a “liturgical” place to put a hymn: it is not unliturgical to place a hymn wherever it would be useful in a given service.

4. No choir anthems — in the traditional service, the choir sang the liturgy. Since a service is still “liturgical” with or without an anthem, it follows that it is not “unliturgical” for the choir to be utilized by singing a song wherever it would be useful in a given service.

5. No general prayer – there was a general prayer in the early centuries, but it was removed around the year 600 and then added back in by the reformers in the 1500’s.

6. No sermon – actually, there was a sermon at times, but a service without a sermon would still be called “liturgical.” For Luther, no gathering should be without God’s Word, so the sermon became a chief characteristic of Lutheran services starting in the 1500’s. What this means for today is that if we occasionally place the sermon in a different part of the service, we are not being “unliturgical.” For example, Luther liked the idea of putting the sermon at the very beginning.

The balance between repetition and variety in a traditional service is enhanced when the repeated parts are expressed in a variety of ways. Using variety in this way focuses attention on the meaning of the words. Today’s hymnals include many ways, based on historical precedent, for the congregation to express the five main songs of the ordinary. Various melodies are provided both for the older English translation and for the new international translations. The option is also provided singing any of these five songs using one of the German chorales that were written for the purpose. Each could be read, in unison or as a responsive reading. 

Or, another responsive reading could be substituted to fill the purpose. For example, a responsive reading termed a “call to worship,” which is not found in the historic liturgy, is sometimes used today to fulfill the function of opening the service. Sometimes it includes Psalm fragments. Often it helps introduce the theme of the service. 

A good balance between repetition and variety is also found in the non-liturgical service. Since there are usually not songs that are repeated every week, repetition is provided by such methods as keeping the  sequence of events constant and familiar,

Besides providing a balance between repetition and variety, another characteristic of the liturgical service is interplay between pastor and people. This is seen in the “verse” and “response” format, such as “The Lord be with you” followed by “and also with you.” This goes back to the early centuries. Another interplay possibility is the responsive reading. This traces back to the way the early Christians sang the Psalms – the left hand side singing a verse, and the right hand side signing another verse. One criticism of some praise services is that it can be too much like entertainment, with no involvement. For the non-liturgical service, participation is provided by selecting enough familiar songs each week so that the members can sing along, and to allow for group participation by methods such as having people say the creed together. The pastor often speaks in an informal style that invites spontaneous responses.

Another characteristic of the Traditional European service is that there is a set system of readings. For each Sunday of the year there is a reading from the Old Testament, a reading from one of the four gospels, and another reading, usually from the epistles or the book of Acts. The roots of this system go all the way back to the synagogue service, and it continued to develop through the next 2000 years. The readings were the same each year. Eventually each Sunday had a theme, which was shown most clearly by the Old Testament and the Gospel lesson: the readings from the epistles were independent, and generally went sequentially from chapter to chapter. When Psalms were added to the service, they were selected in order to be in harmony with the theme. That would apply particularly to the opening Psalm and the Psalm in between the readings. While the Christians read from both Old and New Testaments during the earliest centuries, the Old Testament lesson was dropped around the year 600, possibly because the service was getting too long. That lesson was not returned to the church service until the 1950’s. In 1969 the Roman Catholic Church produced a list of readings based on a three-year cycle rather than the historic one-year cycle. The Protestant churches produced a version of the three-year cycle called the “revised common lectionary” in 1994. Each Lutheran hymnal uses its own version of this three-year cycle. 

The set system of readings is defended by those who say it allows a congregation to hear a broad selection of readings over a three-year period, and that it places a discipline on the pastor to prepare sermons on topics he might not otherwise have chosen. Already in the synagogue, the systematic reading of scriptures, repeated year after year, gradually formed the conception of God and His will in the worshippers.  It is clear that Gentiles in the Roman and Persian areas were positively impacted by the presence of Jews and were drawn to attend synagogue worship. Acts 13:43 refers to them as “god-fearing proselytes (NASB).” Other English translations say “devout converts to Judaism (NIV),” “religious proselytes (KJV),” and “Gentiles who worshipped God” (CEV).  Because there were synagogues in their midst, gentiles were attracted to the idea of monotheism and to the ethical principles of the Jews. The centurion in Acts 10 seems to be an example of such a person. By continuing the practice of systematic reading of scripture, Christian churches become beach-heads for bringing the concept of God into a community, move believers further toward maturity, and equip the believers to bring the message of God to their neighbors.

This Denominations that do not make use of the international set of readings either let the pastor select whatever topic for the week that he thinks is suitable for the congregation, or select a book of the Bible and preach through it verse by verse, no matter how long it takes.

The challenge in a liturgical service is to make sure the readings are not done in a rote fashion, but fully introduced and explained. The worship planning committee for a liturgical church would determine what theme is implied by the Old Testament and Gospel readings, and plan ways for that theme to be expressed in many different ways on that Sunday, including the choice of hymns and of banners.

A non-liturgical service by definition would not be bound to the use of the international set of readings, but can follow the principle that the verses and themes chosen do not leave out important concepts of scripture. Non-liturgical services in Lutheran congregations often do use at least one of the readings in the international system for that week.

The traditional service makes wide use of Psalms. In the middle ages, Psalms were used during four functions in the service: opening, between readings, in association with the offering, and during communion. In today’s hymnals, hymns or choir pieces are also acceptable at any of these four points. 

Because the Psalms are part of the inspired Word of God, they are great models to help us understand how to express praise, so they are valuable both in their own right, and for the principles found in them that can be applied to writing new songs of praise. The Psalms do not merely use terms of praise, but express that praise to God by extolling His characteristics, and by listing great things He has done. The Psalms remind us of the trustworthiness of God by pointing us back to His promises, as in His covenant, and to the help He has given in the past. Other Psalms provide models for prayer and for lament.

We cannot help but find ourselves reading the Psalms through Christian eyes. We note the Psalms that mention the Messiah (Psalm 2) and we can have Jesus in mind as we worship with the kingship Psalms (Like Psalm 45). We notice the verses that were specifically associated with Messiah in the New Testament, such as the verse that God would not leave his soul in Sheol (Psalm 16:10 with Acts 2:27.) The places that the gospels specifically say are fulfilled by Christ , especially in the passion accounts, claim our attention. We believe that many if not all of these connections were revealed to the disciples by Jesus Himself (Luke 24:27). Hebrews quotes certain Psalms saying they were specifically said to Jesus (1:9 and 2:5-9). In the Psalms about the righteous man, we can see them as true of Jesus, and we know that they can be true of us only because of Jesus. We see Jesus when we read Psalms about the innocent victim, and we rejoice that God remembered his promises and delivered Jesus, as God still delivers us. The Psalms with particular geographic or historic references can be used to appreciate God’s intervention in history, and we are aware that He is still the same kind of God, who cares about our problems. Christians through the centuries have been queasy about the deprecatory Psalms since they are in contrast to Jesus’ command to love our enemies. Some, like C. S, Lewis, use them to speak against the unseen sources of evil. In times of war, though, they can remind us that God is a practical God who does care about our physical deliverance, and I believe that I would have prayed them with Hitler in mind during World War II.

Since the Psalms have so much to offer, your use and understanding of the Psalms will help you grow in your worship life. Fortunately many ways have been found throughout the centuries to use the Psalms in the Sunday service. If the congregation finds chanting to be unsuitable, the Psalms can be read, in unison, responsively, or by alternating groups, such as left to right or men to women. In the early centuries, Psalms were typically sung group-to-group. We can make use of the Psalms that have been set to hymn tunes, our legacy from the Calvinist churches. The choir can sing the setting of a Psalm. The ideas here is not only to use the choir as an extra in the service, but to use it occasionally to sing a part, such as a Psalm, that is part of the basic liturgy. 

As we get to know more about worship through using the Psalms, we will become better at writing new songs and selecting existing songs. Psalms include expressions that are both objective (describing God) and subjective (describing my feelings.) Each of these has a place in the service. For example, objective songs fit readily into the praise and instruction parts of the service, and subjective songs fit readily into the response parts of the service. 

Another feature of the liturgical service is the prevalence of God’s Word throughout; this is also a good principle for those creating non-liturgical services. Obviously the Propers consists primarily of quotes from God’s Word, in the form of readings and Psalms, but we are not always aware that the Ordinary, except for the Creed, is composed of biblical quotes (so we could call them “scripture songs).


Lord Have MercyPsalm 51:1, Matthew 17:13
Glory be to God on HighThe song the angels sang to the shepherds in Luke 2:14. Also quotes the “lamb of God” song.
Holy Holy HolyThese are the words of Isaiah 6:3. The song continues with Psalm 118:25-26, which is quoted in Matthew 21:9 at Palm Sunday: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest”
Lamb of GodThe words said about Jesus by John the Baptist in John 1:29.
Various versicles and responsesUse phrases from the Psalms. The sequence that includes “lift up your hearts” (following Lamentations 3:41) is attested already in a document from 215 AD.
Confession and Absolution from the PastorThis is done by the authorization that Jesus gave in Matthew 16:19 when he gave the keys of the kingdom:  “whosoever’s sins you forgive, they shall be forgiven.”
Offering of moneyThis a continuation of the custom already started by Paul in 1 Corinthians 16:2 when he asked them to assemble money for a collection for the needy inn Jerusalem, “on the first day of the week, let each of you put aside and save, as he may have prospered,,,”
CommunionBecause of Jesus’ words in Luke 22:19: “This do in remembrance of me.”
The Lord’s PrayerBecause of Jesus’ words when the disciples asked him in Luke 11:1, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Other prayersBecause of the command to pray for pray for all in 1 Timothy 2:1-2.
The BenedictionIn Number 6:22-27, the LORD told Moses what words to have Aaron and his descendants use to bless the people of Israel: “The Lord bless you and keep you ,,,etc.”   
Another common benediction:the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 13:19: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ …etc.”

There are many other scriptural injunctions that may have been possible to fulfill when Christians were meeting in small house churches or in the catacombs, but now that churches are bigger, they can be done more effectively in home sharing groups. Some of these would include:
• Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
•Encourage one another to show love and do good (Hebrews 10:24)
•Confess your sins to one another (James 5: 16)
•Teach and admonish one another with Psalms, Hymns, and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:14).


Essentially this is the story of the development of the service used in Rome, which then spread throughout Europe wherever the pope was able to bring his influence to bear.

The story begins in the year 250, when the church service in Rome changed from Greek to Latin. At that point the service would have had the same elements from the Jewish synagogue that the Eastern Orthodox Church had. The service began with readings.  The service also included a sermon, a long general prayer which used the response Lord have Mercy, an offering, communion, and a benediction. There were three readings (Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel). Psalms would have been sung in between the readings. Here are the additions made over the years:

383DamasusAdded the word “alleluia” to the Psalm sung after the Epistle. Added words about the season of the year to the beginning of the communion prayer (now called “proper prefaces.”)
432Celestineplaced a Psalm at the beginning of the service.
440SixtusAdded the Holy Holy Holy (had also been in synagogue service)
494GelasiusMoved the general prayer from the second half of the service to the beginning of the service, after the opening Psalm.(1)
514Symmachusallowed the singing of the “Glory be to God on High.” 2
600Gregory IShortened the Opening Psalm to one verse.  3
Removed the Old Testament reading (it was restored in the mid-20th century)
Moved the Psalm that had been sung after the OT reading and combined it with the Psalm sung before the Gospel.” 4
Removed the petitions from the prayer at the beginning, leaving only the response “Lord Have Mercy.”  5
Added the Lord’s Prayer to the service. 6
687Sergiusadded the song “Lamb of God” to the communion section.
1000Sylvester 2Shortened the Lord Have Mercy portion. 7
1014Benedict 8Added the Creed to the Sunday service. 8
1050Leo 9Made the “Glory to God on High” into a regular part of the Sunday service. 9
1198Innocent. 3Shortened the “Lamb of God.” 10

1.The “general prayer” had often been said in Litany form, that is, with the words “Lord have mercy” used as a response. The petitions would have been different each Sunday. From that point that it was moved to the beginning of the service, there was no general prayer in the second half of the service until it was restored by Luther at the time of the Reformation. When it was restored, the singing of “Lord have mercy” at the beginning of the service was not removed, so in effect there was duplication.

2.The Gloria was sung at evening prayer and only at Christmas time in the mass. It did not become a permanent part of the Sunday service until 1050.

3. A verse pertaining to the theme for the day was added to the opening Psalm verse, and this combination is what we call the Introit. In the mid-twentieth century, the option of using complete Psalms was restored, and some liturgies also allow the options of hymns rather than Psalms.

4. The time of pope Gregory I was 590 to 604.  The Psalm that had been sung after the Old Testament was combined with the Alleluia verse that had been sung after the Epistle, and this combination is called the “gradual and alleluia.” The term “gradual” comes from the “gradus,” that is, the step that the reader walked up to read the gospel. During Lent, the “alleluia” was not sung, and the verse without alleluia is called a “tract.” Gregory organized and codified the traditional music for singing the Psalms, and that is why this music is called Gregorian Chant. 

5 Gregory removed the petitions from the opening litany, so that it now consisted only of the refrain “Lord have mercy,” thus creating the section we term the “Kyrie.” In the middle of the twentieth century, petitions were restored to the Kyrie, though not the idea of having different petitions each Sunday. This implies that if a congregation has a general prayer and is using the response “Lord have mercy” with it, it is not “unliturgical” to omit singing Lord Have Mercy near the beginning. Also, the “terseness” of the Latin language in the Roman service is credited to Gregory. This writing style is seen in the theme prayers, called “collects,” that are attested in services starting in the 700’s. These prayers followed a pattern: addressing God, giving some description of him, making one request, and then adding a reference to the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

6. Gregory wrote, “it seems to me unfitting that we should not say over the body and blood that prayer that is handed down as our Redeemer’s own composition.”

7. Around 1000 the number of times to sing the Kyrie was limited to three times, to be followed by the phrase “Christ have mercy,” also sung three times, and then the opening phrase was sung three times again. This “9-fold Kyrie” was standard throughout the middle ages. At the time of the Reformation, Luther shortened it to only one repetition of the phrase, creating the “3-fold Kyrie.”

8. The Nicene Creed had been adopted by the church in 381, based on the terminology agreed on at the Council of Nicaea of 325, but it was not at first used during the worship service. The Eastern Orthodox church added it to its worship service after 553, the church at Toledo, in Spain, added it to its service in 589, and it was in Charlemagne’s service in 800, but the Roman church did not add it until 1014. In that year, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Henry IV, chided the pope for not including the creed in his church service, and it was then added. The popes might have held off until then to avoid irritating the Eastern Orthodox church, who objected to the addition of the phrase “and the son” which had been included by the church in Toledo. [About the other creeds: the apostles creed was developed from the statements recited at baptisms in Rome, known from as early as 145; it had reached its present form by 725. It was commonly used in American Lutheran churches on Sundays when there was not communion. The Athanasian Creed was written in 428 in Spain, and contains many statements about the divine nature of Christ, because at that time the heresy that Christ was not equal with the Father was a big concern. It is named after the scholar Athanasius (296-373), who had played a major role in the Council of Nicea in 325, which was fighting that same heresy.

9. In 1150 the Glory to God in the Highest was added to the Sunday service (it had been written back in the 300’s, but was generally sung at the Matins (a morning service in the monasteries), and seldom in the Sunday service.

10. Around 1198 Pope Innocent III shortened the Agnus Dei by limiting the number of times to sing the phrase “Lamb of God” to three times, and added the phrase “grant us thy peace” as the final refrain.


A new set of English translations was published in 1988 (Listed as Praying together in the references below). As an example, the Old English translation “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth” appears as “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of pow’r and might.” (The word “Sabaoth” refers to the heavenly armies.) Your hymnal probably has some services using the old and some using the new translations.


Fischer, Eugene, The Jewish Roots of Christian Worship (New York, Paulist Press, 1990)

Found, James, Planning Tomorrow’s Church Service by Understanding Yesterday’s, © 1992, 2007. go to Sunday Worship History

Handbook 2010 © 2010 by the Lutheran Church – Missouri synod. The statement about worship is on page 14.

Justin Martyr, Apologia I. The quote is from part 67, quoted in Lucien Diess, ed., Springtime of the Liturgy, Collegeville MN Liturgical Press, 1979, page 93.

Luther’s Works, Volume 53 Liturgy and Hymns (Philadelphia: Fortress Press 1965). Luther’s statement about “the third kind of worship” is on page 63.

Peterson, Susan Lynn, Timeline Charts of the Western Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House © 1999) Church developments can be looked up year by year.

Praying Together © by the English Language Litiurgical Consultation (Nashville: Abingdon, 1988)

Precht, Fred, ed. Lutheran Worship History and Practice. (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House © 1993). Extensive articles about Confession and Absolution are on pages 322-386 and 403-406. 

Reed, Luther D., The Lutheran Liturgy, (Philadelphia Fortress Press © 1947). The decline and recovery of liturgical worship is detailed on pages 139 to 216.

Steuert, Benedict, The Development of Christian Worship (New York: Longman Green and Co., © 1953)

The sequence of the traditional European Sunday Service, with the relevant dates.
150 means this part was in the earliest worship document we have, from 150 AD, and since these were also part of the Jewish synagogue service, one can assume they were present already in the first century.

Component of Sunday ServiceYear originally writtenYear added to Roman service
Opening Psalm1000 BC to 500 BC432
Lord Have MercyPsalm 51 (1000 BC)As response since 3rd century, stand-alone since c. 600
Glory to God on High3rd cent, based on Luke 21050, had been intermittent since 514
Theme prayerContinuous, from 8th century8th century
Bible readings15th cent BC to 1st AD150
Psalms between readings1000 to c. 500 BC Before 383, when alleluia was added to them
Sermon Continuous from BC times
Creed4th century1014
General Prayer 150 to 600, then 1533 to present
Offering 150
Holy Holy Holy8th cetn BC (Isaiah 6)440
Lord’s prayerJesus, c. 30 ADc. 600
Lamb of God1st cent (John 1)687
Holy Communion Continuous from 33 AD
Benediction13th cent BC, said by Moses’ brother AaronContinuous, from BC times

The earliest document describing a worship service, from 150 AD:

On the day named after the Sun, all who live in city or countryside assemble.  The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read for as long as time allows.  When the lector has finished, the president addresses us and exhorts us to imitate the splendid things we have heard.  Then we all stand and pray…When we have finished praying, bread, wine, and water are brought up.  The president then prays and gives thanks according to his ability, and the peoplegive their assent with an “Amen”. Next, the gifts over which the thanksgiving has been spoken are distributed, and everyone shares in them, while they are also sent via the deacons to the absent brethren.  The wealthy who are willing makecontributions, each as he pleases, and the collection is then deposited with thepresident, who aids orphans and widows, those who are in want because of sickness or some other reason, those in prison, and visiting strangers –in short, he takes care of all in need.1 (Apologia I, by Justin Martyr, part 67)

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