Why We Worship the Way We Do
This is the eleventh of a series on why Lutherans worship the way we do based on the book Exploring our Lutheran Liturgy, by Dan Fakes.
The Great Thanksgiving: The pastor now stands at the altar in the footsteps of Christ, now ready to repeat the words and actions of the Upper Room through the Great Thankgiving. The opening Preface Dialog invites us not simply to a prayer, but to a prayer of reverence, adoration, joy and thanksgiving. It is an introduction which leads us into the heart of the Holy Communion liturgy, and it I an ancient Christian tradition. There is evidence of its use in the liturgy around the beginning of the third century.
P: The Lord be with you. C: And also with you.
The dialog that begins with this salutation is the “Preface dialogue,” or simply, “The Preface.” It simply introduces the central part of the Communion.
P: Lift up your hearts. C: We lift them to the Lord.
As the preface moves us toward an intensity, this doesn’t mean that we get ourselves into seeking to make room for God. Origen, the second century theologian, said that a person must “lift up his soul before standing to pray, lift up his spirit from the things of earth and direct it to the Lord of all.” Preparation (the “preface”) to the feast to come and preparation to meet the Lord God, heavenly king- that’s the action of this dialog. P: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. C: It is right to give him thank and praise.
Of course giving thanks is a central element of the Eucharist (a Greek word meaning “thanksgiving”). It is right to give God thanks and praise. God is holy, God is that sacred Other.
For the creation to give thanks to the Creator is most “right.” Cicero said, “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.” Thanksgiving leads to generosity of spirit. That generosity is reflected in the liturgy of the Great Thanksgiving.
P: It is indeed right and salutary…we praise your name and join their unending hymn: C: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord, God 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.).
The Great Thanksgiving concludes with the “Holy, holy, holy” (this used to be called the “Sanctus,” which is Latin for holy). It I the climax and conclusion of this part of the liturgy. Here the congregation joins the songs of the angels (see Isaiah 6:3, Psalm 118:26), and all those who have gone before us. The congregation exults as did the crowd when the Lord Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. “This Holy, holy, holy has been called the most ancient, the most celebrated, and the most universal of Christian hymns.