Note: In early February, a comprehensive report on the work of the WELS Hymnal project was posted to our website and distributed through several synod-wide communication channels. We are also featuring each section of the report here on our website's blog. As each section is featured we invite your feedback using the contact form on the bottom of the page.
Pastor Jon Micheel, Chairman
In the worship life of the Christian Church, rites are nothing more than paths that guide us where we want to go. Every time we gather in Jesus’ name, we want to move together toward some common goals: we want to proclaim God’s love, to praise his name, to encourage fellow Christians, and to communicate clearly to those who don’t yet know our Savior. We look for routes to guide us toward those goals, rites that will help us listen, speak, and sing. And each time we worship we’re mindful of the fact that we’re moving a few steps closer to our heavenly home. The rites we use bring us the fuel we need for the journey: the promises of our God, delivered to us through his Word and Sacraments. The Rites Committee (RC) of the hymnal project is responsible for the orders of service that will be found in the pew edition of the new hymnal.
Where We Are Headed
One Main Rite: A Strong Framework
Sturdy, steel girders provide a strong framework for a large building. As God’s people gather together, an order of service can serve a similar purpose. The order of service, the rite, can give structure to the interaction between God and his people. It directs us to the Scriptures, the living and active Word through which our Lord speaks to us. The rite helps us join together—all our diverse voices combining as one through the Spirit—to speak and sing, to pray and praise. It gives structure to our celebration of Holy Communion, directing us to lift up our hearts and remember our Savior’s grace as we receive his body and blood. The main rite provides a sturdy framework for our time gathered together around Word and Sacrament.
The Rites Committee has been focusing its efforts thus far on the structure of the main order of service. Rather than several Communion services whose parts each flow in a different order (like CW’s Common Service and Service of Word and Sacrament), we are proposing that one progression will be the standard. Our goal is to provide one, strong framework around which edifying and beautiful services can be built.
Our goal is certainly not to put a stop to all variety. No, we envision that this basic rite will be adorned in many different ways. For example, the canticles may be set to several different musical settings.
In time, we will also be presenting other orders of service: Morning Praise (Matins), Evening Prayer (Vespers), Prayer at the Close of Day (Compline). We have begun work on a “preaching service,” that is, a versatile Word-centered service that does not include Holy Communion.
There will be other opportunities for variety and freshness within this structure. But we are proposing that each setting of the main Communion service will follow the same basic pattern.
What’s New in the Main Rite
“So,” you may be asking, “what does this main service look like?” It looks familiar. It fits comfortably within the framework of the historic Liturgy of the Western Christian church, a pattern we recognize from the services in CW and CWS. In short, we are not proposing any radical changes to the main service.
There are a few texts that are new. For example, the Confession of Sins is newly composed, yet it reflects the same Scriptural truths that we regularly include in our confessions now. The prayer “Lord, Have Mercy,” the Kyrie, will include petitions that may be new to us. Actually, though, they’re petitions that go back over a millennium to the Kyrie in the Eastern church. We are also including some time-tested texts that have served Christians in the past and still serve us today.
We are proposing that some parts of the service be condensed, while other parts be expanded slightly. We saw opportunities to add something to the service to enrich people’s faith. One example of this is our proposal to include the Prayer of Thanksgiving, an element included in one of CWS’s services. We see great benefit in this prayer in which we remember what our God has done for us, recall the incomparable gifts he gives in his Supper, and, as the name of the prayer implies, say a special word of thanks for his saving work. Other examples of additions are a few appropriately placed Bible verses: a verse highlighting God’s gift of forgiveness comes before the Confession of Sins, and after Holy Communion comes a verse about one of the blessings of the Sacrament.
In other parts of the service we are proposing that things be condensed a little. We certainly are not aiming to remove beloved parts of the service just for the sake of time. Yet we have heard from some congregations, especially those with multiple services on a Sunday morning, that it’s helpful to keep the service concise. Keeping that in mind, we are suggesting that some songs of the service be optional. One example is the Song of Simeon after Holy Communion. Certainly this biblical song is very fitting after the Lord’s Supper. And the song, originally part of evening services, has long been used in Lutheran churches. Yet we recognize that the service can also be concluded in an edifying way with the use of other songs, like “Thank the Lord” in the Service of Word and Sacrament. The Communion service can also be fittingly concluded in the way we are proposing: with responsive Bible verses, prayer, and the Lord’s Blessing.
All the changes we’re proposing—and again, they’re not radical alterations—are being presented after much thoughtful study and discussion. We’ve approached each part of the main service from theological, historical, and pastoral perspectives. We’ve listened to your survey responses and read your comments. We pray that the results of our labor will a blessing to the next generations of worshipers in our church body.
New Musical Settings
Our long term plan is to continue to make many of the familiar canticles in CW and CWS available for the benefit of those who wish to continue to use them. At the present time, new musical settings are being composed and submitted for consideration.
Our goal in exploring new musical settings is not to inundate congregations with a multitude of musical options. Many congregations need a long time to get acquainted with only one setting of the liturgy, and they are not seeking lots of new music to learn. Still, there are churches who desire the solid texts of the canticles set to fresh music. We hope to find a balance in the future as we present any new musical settings. In general, we want musical settings to be small in number and great in quality.
In addition to the main orders of service printed in the pew edition, congregations can expect additional orders of service and devotions, including the kind currently found in Christian Worship: Occasional Services. These rites will be developed by a separate Occasional Services Committee, which is chaired by Professor Keith Wessel. That committee has just recently begun its work.