Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Divine Liturgy: Part 4 (Nunc Dimittis through the Benediction)

This is the fourth and final installment in a four part series explaining the various parts of the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Common Service.  To view the first three installments of the series, click herehere, and here.


Nunc Dimittis
As is the case with a foretaste, the Holy Supper comes to an end.  Refreshed and renewed, we rise and sing the Nunc Dimittis.  This is a uniquely Lutheran addition to the Divine Service, as it was not part of the Ordinary prior to the Reformation.  Still, it is an immensely fitting canticle to sing after the Distribution of the Blessed Sacrament.  The Nunc Dimittis, also known as the Song of Simeon, is the song that St. Simeon sang after seeing the Infant Lord Jesus at His presentation in the temple (cf. St. Luke 2:29-32).  Through it, with St. Simeon we proclaim that the Lord lets us, His servants, “depart in peace, according to Thy Word.  For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people.  A Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of Thy people Israel.”  In the Holy Supper, we have literally seen, felt, and tasted the Light of Gentile nations and the Glory of Israel.  Having received Christ and His forgiveness, we are truly ready to depart in peace - whether to our earthly vocations or from this veil of tears.


After the Nunc Dimittis, the Common Service prescribes the singing of the versicle “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endureth forever.”  This versicle takes the place of what was historically known as the Communio chant, the last of the Proper chants that the people sing throughout the Divine Service.  In ancient practice, this antiphon was accompanied by a longer Psalm that was chanted during the Distribution of the Sacrament.  By the time of the Reformation, however, the Communio was relegated to a shorter verse that was sung after the Distribution.  Luther recommended the retention of the Communio (along with all the Propers), so it is highly fitting to sing the Proper Communio verse.  It also serves to remind us that the Services of Word and Sacrament are not two separate entities, but rather are two halves of one whole Service.  In short, the Communio gives us one final thought pertaining to the theme of the day, bringing our reception of the Sacrament into that same context.

Post-Communion Collect
After the Communio verse, the pastor prays the Post-Communion Collect.  In the Roman Missal, this prayer varied according to the day.  However, Dr. Luther wrote a beautiful form of this collect, which the Common Service utilizes in place of a variable prayer.  In it, we thank God (“make eucharist”) for the gift of the Blessed Sacrament and ask Him to use it to strengthen our faith in Him and love toward one another.  It concludes with the familiar doxology that was previously used in the Collect of the Day.

After the Post-Communion Collect, the pastor greets the people a final time with the familiar Dominus Vobiscum.  He then proceeds with the Benedicamus, proclaiming to the people: “Bless we the Lord!”  Before the Reformation, the Benedicamus was only used when the Gloria in Excelsis was omitted (i.e. the penitential seasons).  On other Sundays, the phrase Ite, missa est (“Go, the Mass is ended”) was used.  However, Lutherans adopted the practice of using the Benedicamus throughout the year, regardless of season, following a suggestion made by Dr. Luther.  This reflects the more ancient practice of the church and ends the Service with a reminder of the fact that we are unable to do anything but bless or "praise" the Lord for the gifts he has bestowed.  In point of fact, it is His gifts that - by their own power - cause the praise that is due to Him.  Regardless of the phrase used, however, this statement marks the official end of the Divine Service.  The people respond with one final making of eucharist: Deo Gratias; “Thanks be to God!” 

After the conclusion of the Divine Service, the Common Service tradition instructs the pastor to bestow the Aaronic Blessing upon the people.  The Aaronic Blessing is the great blessing that the Lord instructed Moses to teach Aaron and the Levite priests;  it was the form they were to use when they blessed the Hebrew people (cf. Numbers 6:22-27).  Since by faith we are the true children of Abraham, it is appropriate that the Church’s ministers should bless us with the same blessing.  

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