The German Mass and Order of Divine Service

The German Mass and Order of Divine Service, Jan. 1526
by Martin Luther, 1483-1546
Documents Illustrative of the Continental Reformation,
from B.J. Kidd, ed.,
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911), pp. 193-202.

(i) The Preface of Martin Luther.

Above all things, I most affectionately and for God's sake beseech all,
who see or desire to observe this our Order of Divine Service, on no account
to make of it a compulsory law, or to ensnare or make captive thereby any
man's conscience; but to use it agreeably to Christian liberty at their
good pleasure as, where, when and so long as circumstances favour and demand
it. Moreover, we would not have our meaning taken to be that we desire to
rule, or by law to compel, any one. Meanwhile, there is on every side great
pressure towards a German Mass and Order of Divine Service: and there is
great complaint and offence about the different kinds of new Masses, that
every one makes his own, some with a good intention and others out of conceit
to introduce something new themselves and to make a good show among others
and not be bad masters. As then always happens with Christian liberty, few
use it for anything else than their own pleasure or profit: and not for God's
honour and the good of their neighbour. While, however, every man is bound on
his conscience, in like manner as he uses such liberty himself, not to hinder
nor forbid it to any one else, we must also take care that liberty be servant
to love and to our neighbour. Where, then, it happens that men are offended
or perplexed at such diversity of use, we are truly bound to put limits
to liberty; and, so far as possible, to endeavour that the people are
bettered by what we do and not offended. Since, then, in these matters of
outward ordinance nothing is laid upon us as matter of conscience before God,
and yet such ordinance can be of use to our neighbour, we ought in love, as
St. Paul teaches, to endeavour to be of one and the same mind; and, to the
best of our power, of like ways and fashion; just as all Christians have one
baptism and one sacrament, and no one has a special one given him of
Still, I do not wish hereby to demand that those who already have a
good Order or, by God's grace, can make a better, should let it go, and yield
to us. Nor is it my meaning that the whole of Germany should have to adopt
forthwith our Wittenberg Order. It never was the case that the ministers,
convents, and parishes were alike in everything. But it would be a grand
thing if, in every several lordship, Divine Service were conducted in one
fashion; and the neighbouring little townships and villages joined in the cry
with one city. Whether in other lordships they should do the same or
something different, should be left free and without penalty. In fine, we
institute this Order not for the sake of those who are Christians already.
For they have need of none of these things (for which things' sake man does
not live: but they live for the sake of us who are not yet Christians, that
they may make us Christians); they have their Divine Service in their
spirits. But it is necessary to have such an Order for the sake of those who
are to become Christians, or are to grow stronger; just as a Christian has
need of baptism, the word and the sacrament not as a Christian (for, as such,
he has them already), but as a sinner. But, above all, the Order is for the
simple and for the young folk who must daily be exercised in the Scripture
and God's Word, to the end that they may become conversant with Scripture and
expert in its use, ready and skilful in giving an answer for their faith, and
able in time to teach others and aid in the advancement of the kingdom of
Christ. For the sake of such, we must read, sing, preach, write, and compose;
and if it could in any wise help or promote their interests, I would have all
the bells pealing, and all the organs playing, and everything making a noise
that could. The Popish Divine Services are to be condemned for this reason
that they have made of them laws, work, and merit; and so have depressed
faith. And they do not direct them towards the young and simple, to practise
them thereby in the Scripture and Word of God; but they are themselves stuck
fast in them, and hold them as things useful and necessary to salvation : and
that is the devil. For in this wise the ancients have neither ordered nor
imposed them. Now there are three different kinds of Divine Service.
[I] The first, in Latin; which we published lately, called the Formula
Missae. This I do not want to have set aside or changed; but, as we have
hitherto kept it, so should we be still free to use it where and when we
please, or as occasion requires. I do not want in anywise to let the Latin
tongue disappear out of Divine Service; for I am so deeply concerned for the
young. If it lay in my power, and the Greek and Hebrew tongues were as
familiar to us as the Latin, and possessed as great a store of fine music and
song as the Latin does, Mass should be held and there should be singing and
reading, on alternate Sundays in all four languages-German, Latin, Greek and
Hebrew. I am by no means of one mind with those who set all their store by
one language, and despise all others; for I would gladly raise up a
generation able to be of use to Christ in foreign lands and to talk with
their people, so that we might not be like the Waldenses in Bohemia whose
faith is so involved in the toils of their own language that they can talk
intelligibly and plainly with no one unless he first learn their language.
That was not the way of the Holy Ghost in the beginning. He did not wait till
all the world should come to Jerusalem, and learn Hebrew. But He endowed the
office of the ministry with all manner of tongues, so that the Apostles could
speak to the people wherever they went. I should prefer to follow this
example; and it is right also that the youth should be practised in many
languages. Who knows how God will make use of them in years to come? It is
for this end also that schools are established.
[2] Next, there is the German Mass and Divine Service, of which we are
now treating. This ought to be set up for the sake of the simple laymen. Both
these kinds of Service then we must have held and publicly celebrated in
church for the people in general. They are not yet believers or Christians.
But the greater part stand there and gape, simply to see something new: and
it is just as if we held Divine Service in an open square or field amongst
Turks or heathen. So far it is no question yet of a regularly fixed assembly
wherein to train Christians according to the Gospel: but rather of a public
allurement to faith and Christianity.
[3] But the third sort [of Divine Service], which the true type of
Evangelical Order should embrace, must not be celebrated so publicly in the
square amongst all and sundry. Those, however, who are desirous of being
Christians in earnest, and are ready to profess the Gospel with hand and
mouth, should register their names and assemble by themselves in some house
to pray, to read, to baptize and to receive the sacrament and practise other
Christian works. In this Order, those whose conduct was not such as befits
Christians could be recognized, reproved, reformed, rejected, or
excommunicated, according to the rule of Christ in Matt. xviii. Here, too, a
general giving of alms could be imposed on Christians, to be willingly given
and divided among the poor, after the example of St. Paul in 2 Cor. ix. Here
there would not be need of much fine singing. Here we could have baptism and
the sacrament in short and simple fashion: and direct everything towards the
Word and prayer and love. Here we should have a good short Catechism about
the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer. In one word, if we
only had people who longed to be Christians in earnest, Form and Order would
soon shape itself. But I cannot and would not order or arrange such a
community or congregation at present. I have not the requisite persons for
it, nor do I see many who are urgent for it. But should it come to pass that
I must do it, and that such pressure is put upon me as that I find myself
unable with a good conscience to leave it undone, then I will gladly do my
part to secure it, and will help it on as best I can. In the meantime, I
would abide by the two Orders aforesaid; and publicly among the people aid in
the promotion of such Divine Service, besides preaching, as shall exercise
the youth and call and incite others to faith, until those Christians who are
most thoroughly in earnest shall discover each other and cleave together; to
the end that there be no faction-forming, such as might ensue if I were to
settle everything out of my own head. For we Germans are a wild, rude,
tempestuous people; with whom one must not lightly make experiment in
anything new, unless there be most urgent need. Well, then: in the name of
God. The first requisite in the German system of Divine Worship is a good,
plain, simple, and substantial Catechism. A Catechism is a form of
instruction by which heathen, desirous of becoming Christians, are taught and
shown what they are to believe, to do, to leave undone and to know in
Christianity. Hence mere learners who were admitted to such instruction, and
were acquiring the rudiments of the Christian faith before their baptism were
called catechumens. This instruction or information I know no better way of
putting than that in which it has been put from the beginning of Christianity
till today: I mean, in those three articles of the Ten Commandments, the
Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. In those three articles is contained, plainly
and briefly, all that a Christian needs to know.
(ii) Of Divine Service.
Now since in all Divine Service the chief and foremost part is to
preach and teach the Word of God, let us begin with the preaching and
[1] On Holy Days and Sundays we would have the usual Epistle and Gospel
to continue, and have three sermons. About 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., some Psalms
should be sung, as for Mattins; then a sermon on the Epistle for the day,
chiefly for the sake of servants that they also may be provided for and may
hear the Word of God, if they are not able to be present at other sermons.
After that, an antiphon with Te Deum or Benedictus alternately, with Our
Father, Collect, and Benedicamus Domino. At Mass, about 8 a.m. or 9 a.m.,
there should be a sermon on the Gospel, as found according to the season. In
the afternoon, at Vespers, before Magnificat, sermons in regular course. The
reason why we have retained the division of the Epistles and Gospels into
portions corresponding with the season of the [Church's] year is that we have
nothing particular to find fault with in such arrangement. It has been the
case at Wittenberg up till now that there are many there who are to learn to
preach in the districts where the old apportionment of Epistle and Gospel
still goes on and will probably continue. As, then, we can be of use to such
and help them thereby, in our judgement, we suffer the custom to continue;
without, however, finding fault with those who adopt the books of the Gospels
as a whole. Hereby we provide that the layman has preaching and teaching
enough : but, if a man wants more, he may find it on other days.
[2] Thus on Monday and Tuesday mornings there should be a lesson in
German on the Ten Commandments, the Creed and the Lord's Prayer, on Baptism
and the Sacrament; so that on these two days the Catechism may be kept up and
grasped in its proper sense. On Wednesday morning a lesson in German, for
which is appointed the Gospel of St. Matthew. The day is to be kept specially
for this Gospel : for Matthew is a fine evangelist to teach the people by,
and he relates Christ's good Sermon on the Mount, and makes much of the
practice of love and good works. But the evangelist John, who teaches faith
with special force, should also have his own day-Saturday afternoon at
Vespers. And so we have two Evangelists in daily use. On Thursday and Friday
mornings there are the daily lessons week by week of the Apostolic Epistles
and the rest of the New Testament. This makes sufficient provision for
lessons and preaching, to set the Word of God going, except it be for
lectures in the Universities to the learned.
[3] We come now to practising boys at school in the Bible. Every week-
day, before the lesson, let them sing some psalms in Latin, as has been
customary hitherto at Mattins; for, as we have said, we wish the young to be
trained and practised in the Latin tongue, through the Bible. After the
psalms, the boys two or three in turn, according to its length, should read a
chapter in Latin out of the New Testament. Then let another boy read the same
chapter in German for practice, and in case any layman were there to hear.
After that, go on, with an antiphon, to the lesson in German of which we have
spoken above. Then let the whole lot sing a German hymn, followed by the
Lord's Prayer said silently; and let the parson or chaplain say a Collect and
conclude with the Benedicamus Domino, as usual. In the same way at Vespers,
let them sing the Vesper Psalms as sung hitherto, in Latin, with an antiphon;
then a hymn, as there is opportunity. Then let them read, two or three, by
turn, in Latin, out of the Old Testament, a chapter or half a chapter
according to its length. Then let one boy read it in German. Next, Magnificat
in Latin, with an antiphon or chant. Then Our Father silently and the
Collects with the Benedicamus. So much for Divine Service daily throughout
the week in towns where there are schools.
(iii) On Sundays for the laity.
The Mass vestments, altars, and lights may be retained till such time
as they shall all change of themselves, or it shall please us to change them:
though, if any will take a different course in this matter, we shall not
interfere. But in the true Mass, among sincere Christians, the altar should
not be retained, and the priest should always turn himself towards the people
as, without doubt, Christ did at the Last Supper. That, however, must bide
its time.
[a] At the beginning then we sing a spiritual song or a psalm in
German, in primo tono, as follows : Ps. xxxiv.
[b] Then Kyrie eleison, to the same tone, but thrice and not nine
times. . . .
[c] Then the priest reads a Collect in Effaut in unisono, as follows :
'Almighty God,' &c.
[d] Then the Epistle, in the eighth tone. . . . The Epistle should be
sung with the face turned to the people, but the Collect with the face turned
to the altar.
[e] After the Epistle is sung a German hymn, 'Nun bitten wir den
heiligen Geist,' or some other, by the whole choir.
[f] Then is read the Gospel in the fifth tone, also with the face
turned towards the people.
[g] After the Gospel the whole congregation sings the Creed in German,
'Wir glauben all' an einen Gott,' &c.
[h] Then follows the sermon, on the Gospel of the Sunday or Holyday:
and I think that, where the German Postills are in use throughout the year,
it were best to order the Postill of the day, either whole or part, to be
read out of the book to the people; not merely for the preacher's sake who
can do no better, but as a safeguard against fanatics and sectaries,--a
custom of which one may see traces in the Homilies at Mattins. Otherwise,
where there is no spiritual understanding, and the Spirit himself speaks not
through the preacher (though I set no limits to the preacher; for the Spirit
can teach better than any Postills or Homilies) the end of it will be that
every man will preach what he likes; and, instead of the Gospel and its
exposition, they will be preaching once more about blue ducks! There are
further reasons why we keep the Epistles and Gospels as they are arranged in
the Postills, because there are but few inspired preachers who can handle a
whole Gospel or other book with force and profit.
[i] After the sermon shall follow a public paraphrase of the Lord's
Prayer, with an exhortation to those who are minded to come to the Sacrament,
in this, or some other better, fashion, as follows: 'Dear friends in Christ,
as we are here gathered together, in the name of the Lord, to receive His
holy Testament, I exhort you, first, to lift your hearts to God and to say
with me 'Our Father' according as Christ our Lord hath taught us, faithfully
promising that we shall be heard: ['Our Father,' &c., in paraphrase]. Next, I
exhort you in Christ that with right faith ye take heed to the Testament of
Christ: and specially that ye hold fast in your hearts the Word whereby
Christ gives us His body and blood for remission of sins; that ye bethink you
of, and thank Him for, the infinite love which He has shown us in that
through His blood He has redeemed us from God's wrath, from sin, death, and
hell: and then take to yourselves outwardly the bread and wine, which is His
body and blood, for an assurance and pledge thereof. In such wise will we, in
His name and as He commanded in His own Word, handle and use His Testament.'
Whether this paraphrase and exhortation should take place in the pulpit,
immediately after the sermon, or at the altar, I leave free to every man's
discretion. . . .
[k] Then the Office and Consecration proceeds, as follows : 'Our Lord
Jesus Christ, in the same night'(i Cor. xi. 23 ff). I think that it would be
in accordance with the Last Supper if the sacrament were distributed
immediately after the consecration of the bread before the blessing of the
cup. So say, both Luke and Paul: 'Likewise also the cup after supper.
Meanwhile, there might be sung the Sanctus in German or the hymn 'Gott sei
gelobet', or the hymn of John Huss, 'Jesus Christus unser Heiland.' And after
this should come the consecration of the chalice and its delivery, with the
singing of whatever remains of the above-mentioned hymns, or of the Agnus Dei
in German.
And for the sake of good order and discipline in going up, not men and
women together but the women after the men, men and women should have
separate places in different parts of the church. As to private confession, I
have already written enough about that: and my opinion may be found in the
little prayer-book.
[l] The elevation we desire not to abolish but to retain, for it fits
in well with the Sanctus in German, and means that Christ has bidden us to
think of Him. Just as the sacrament is bodily elevated and yet Christ's body
and blood therein are invisible, so through the word of the preacher He is
commemorated and uplifted, and in the reception of the sacrament recognized
and worshipped: and yet it is all a matter of faith and not of sight, how
Christ gave His body and blood for us and still daily intercedes with God to
bestow His grace upon us.
[m] The Sanctus in German, 'Jesaia dem Propheten das geschach,' &c.
[n] Then follows the Collect : 'We thank thee, Almighty Lord God,' &c.
[o] With the Blessing : 'The Lord bless thee and keep thee,' &c. So
much for daily Divine Service and for teaching the Word of God, specially
with a view to influencing the young and alluring the simple. Those who come
out of curiosity and the desire to gape at something new will soon be sick
and tired of the whole thing, as they were before of Divine Service in Latin.
For that was sung and read in church daily, and yet the churches are deserted
and empty: and already they are prepared to do the same with the German
Service. So it is best that such Divine Service should be arranged with an
eye to the young and to those simple folk that may perhaps come to it. As for
the rest, no law nor order, exhortation nor driving, that one can devise, is
of any good to induce them to go willingly and of their own accord to Divine
Service, so unwilling and reluctant are they to do so (though God takes no
pleasure in forced service), so idle and good-for-nothing.
As for feast-days, such as Christmas, Easter, Whitsuntide, Michaelmas,
Purification and the like, we must go on, as hitherto, with Latin till we
have hymns enough in German for the purpose. The work is but beginning, and
all that belongs to it is not yet ready. Only, as one knows, make a start one
way and several ways and means will be discovered.
Fast-days, Palm Sunday, and Holy Week may be retained. Not that we
would compel any one to fast; but that the reading of the Passion and the
Gospels appointed for these times should be observed. But we would not keep
the Lenten veil, strewing of palms, covering up of pictures, and all the
other mummery, nor sing the four Passions, nor preach on the Passion for
eight hours on Good Friday. Holy week must be like other weeks, except that
there should be sermons on the Passion for an hour daily throughout the week,
or on as many days as is convenient, with reception of the Sacrament by all
who desire it. For with Christians everything should be kept in God's service
that has to do with the Word and the Sacrament.
To sum up, this and every other order is so to be used that should any
misuse arise in connexion therewith, it should be immediately done away with
and another made: just as King Hezekiah broke up and did away with the brazen
serpent, which God Himself had commanded to be made, because the children of
Israel misused it. Forms and Orders should be for the promotion of faith and
the service of love, and not to injury of faith. When they have no more to
do, they are forthwith dead and of no more worth; just as, if good coin is
counterfeit, for fear of misuse it is abolished and destroyed; or as, when
new shoes have become old and dry, we wear them no longer but throw them away
and buy new ones. Order is an outward thing. Be it as good as it may, it can
fall into misuse. Then it is no longer order but disorder. So no Order has
any intrinsic worth of its own, as hitherto the Popish Order has been thought
to have. But all Order has its life, worth, strength, and virtue in right
use; else it is worthless and fit for nothing. God's Spirit and grace be with
us all. Amen.


This text was converted to ascii format by the Hanover College
Historic Text Project and is in the public domain. You may
freely distribute, copy or print this text. The Project's URL

Please direct any comments or suggestions to:

Rev. Robert E. Smith
Walther Library
Concordia Theological Seminary.

Surface Mail: 6600 N. Clinton St., Ft. Wayne, IN 46825 USA
Phone: (260) 452-2123

Fax: (260) 452-2126

file: /pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther: germnmass-order.txt