The second half of the Divine Service, the Service of the Sacrament, begins with the Preface. This is a series of three exchanges between the pastor and the congregation. In the first, the pastor chants “The Lord be with you” and the congregation responds, “And also with you” (historically, the response has been, “And with your spirit,” just as we say in Setting Three in the hymnal). This language reflects 2 Timothy 4:22 where Paul writes, “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”
This first exchange is known as the Salutation and occurs at several different points in the Divine Service. On the one hand, the Salutation carries out a practical function. It serves to introduce new parts of the service and renew the attention of the congregation as the Divine Service moves along. However, it also plays a much more important theological function. The statement by the pastor “The Lord be with you” is a blessing. It is a proclamation of the Lord’s gracious presence in the Word and Sacrament of the Divine Service. The Salutation also indicates the special relationship between the pastor and the congregation. It is sometimes called the “Little Ordination,” since here the congregation acknowledges the pastor as the one called by Christ through the Church to carry out His ministry in the midst of His people. The congregation acknowledges that God has placed the pastor there in the Office of the Holy Ministry to carry out the next portion in the Divine Service.
Next, the pastor says, “Lift up your hearts” and the congregation responds, “We lift them up unto the Lord.” These words reflect Paul’s statement in Colossians 3:1 “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” In the words “Lift up your hearts” the pastor invites the congregation to rejoice in welcoming our Lord Jesus who will come into our presence in His body and blood. These words encourage us to turn to our Lord for forgiveness as He comes into our presence in the Sacrament and remind us to focus on Christ and the miracle He is about to carry out in our midst rather than being distracted by worldly things. In the response, the congregation members state that as they prepare to receive the Sacrament, they are doing just this.
Finally, the pastor changes, “Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God,” and the congregation responds, “It is meet and right so to do.” When our Lord instituted the Sacrament of the Altar He gave thanks over bread and wine (1 Corinthians 11:23-25). Another name for the Sacrament that comes from the early Church is “Eucharist.” The term “Eucharist” is based on the Greek verb that means “to give thanks.” The pastor invites the congregation to give thanks to God for the salvation that Jesus Christ has won for us, and for Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament through which Jesus delivers the benefits of His cross to us. In the reply to the pastor, the congregation agrees that giving thanks to the Lord our God is the only right and fitting thing to do since Christ comes among us in his body and blood in order to deliver forgiveness to us.
After announcing that thanks should be given, the pastor proceeds to do this using the Proper Preface. Each Proper Preface begins with the words, “It is truly good, right and salutary that we should at all times and all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God ….” In the Proper Preface we give thanks to God for the salvation He was won for us through Jesus Christ. This portion of the liturgy is called the Proper Preface because there is a prayer for each season of the Church year and for some individual feasts. Each of these prayers focuses on a particular part of God’s saving action that we meet in that season. All of the Proper Prefaces end with the words, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying….” These words introduce the Sanctus and remind us that in the liturgy of the Divine Service we join in the heavenly liturgy as we are united with the angels and the saints who have gone before us in praising God. We will consider this in more depth in the next post as we focus on the meaning of the Sanctus.