Paul R. Schilf, Ph. D.
As we look at our Lutheran liturgy, we find specific places during the Divine Service where hymns are placed. What are these hymns called? Why are they found at these specific spots? What significance does each hymn bring to the Lutheran liturgy? Who selects the hymns for Divine Service at Christ Lutheran Church? Why do we stand on certain hymn stanzas? Found below is a brief examination of hymn placement and use during the Divine Service.
The Opening Hymn: For centuries the opening hymn used in the divine service has served the function as the opening statement for the day’s worship. Although the selection of this hymn should not try to be all encompassing, it should serve the function of establishing the mood and message for the specific divine service. This hymn often serves as a “book end” with the closing (sending) hymn and contains a similar theme. In many churches it is common to stand for the first hymn because it is a transition to the opening invocation. As a confessional Lutheran congregation, we also stand for specific stanzas of hymns. We rise during doxological stanzas. Doxological stanzas are the specific verses, usually the last verse, that offer praise to the Trinity. It is proper to stand for any doxological stanza, during any hymn.
The Sermon Hymn: The sermon hymn is also commonly called the “hymn of the day.” It serves the function of providing musicality to the sermon text. Most frequently, the sermon hymn or hymn of the day is closely tied to the Gospel or Epistle. Our hymnals provide sections on “Hymns For the Church Year,” in which for any given Sunday, possible selections are provided.
The Distribution Hymn(s): The hymns used during distribution focus on the real presence of the body and blood of our Lord in His Holy meal. They may specifically be from the “Lord’s Supper” section of hymns or they may be selected to reinforce the pertinence of the appointed lessons. Congregational members not at the Lord’s Table should not sing idly, but actively participate by focusing on the distribution hymns as they sing. These hymns serve as a profession to those gathered and to the world “our Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). In other words, these hymns shout our commonality gathered around our Savior’s table.
The Closing Hymn: The closing hymn is also called the sending hymn. It completes the service with the proclamation of the day’s Gospel. The sending hymn attempts to tie together the texts and the day’s sermon. In many congregations, people stand for the final hymn as it sends them out of the church filled with the Gospel to “go and tell.” It is our privilege to be refreshed and renewed in the Divine Service; it is our response to proclaim.
At Christ Lutheran Church the planning of the Divine Service rests on the “Called and Ordained Servant of the Word and Sacrament.” It is our pastor in consultation with the organist, music director, and elders that selects the hymns. It is truly a blessing to have an opportunity to come to our Lord in song and proclaim in true doctrine the blessings He provides for us in the Divine Service.