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Reformation Day Liturgy

Most of us are not eager to add another special service to the calendar, and if observing Reformation Day just leads to another hour of Rome-bashing, we may as well skip it. But gratitude for our heritage and reflection on what it means to be Reformed today are not soon out of season; combining these elements in one service can add color and depth to our worship.

How should the Reformation be observed liturgically? Obviously, in a Reformed manner. That means the service should be simple. It should include a sermon and some of the great psalms and hymns of the Reformation. The sermon need not be on Romans every time; nor should it become a history lesson on Luther and Calvin. Much of the commemoration itself can take place in the liturgy, freeing the pastor, in good Reformed fashion, to expound on a Scripture passage. (The lectionary for this Sunday usually contains a passage that speaks directly to the issue.)

When preparing the service (see following page), I found it instructive and exciting to use elements of an actual liturgy from the Reformation era. With some adaptation this liturgy can still function meaningfully in our Reformation remembrance. The suggested structure of the service follows Calvin's French liturgy in Strasbourg around 1540. This service preserves the unity of Word and sacrament, a unity Calvin valued highly.

Notes on the Service

  • All the songs listed are found in the (blue) Psalter Hymnal (PH) or its 1974 Supplement (PHSupp), which is out of print. Some of the songs (see list below) are also found in Rejoice in the Lord (RL), The Hymnbook (HB), or the Trinity Hymnal (TH). Some of the songs will also be found in the new editions of the Psalter Hymnal and the Trinity Hymnal, but since final approval and numbers are still pending, that information is not included in the list.

Many of the songs in this service are in public domain. However, several are under copyright. REFORMED WORSHIP subscribers have been granted permission by the author or publisher to reprint these songs for one-time use in a worship service.

The following notes on songs may help you as you prepare your service:

  1. Calvin read Psalm 124:8 to open the worship service. (See PH 266, HB 357, TR 514.)
  2. PHSupp 13 (the Decalogue). This nine-stanza version may be sung in its entirety, or the first and last stanzas may frame the reading of the Ten Commandments. A three-stanza version is found in RL 65; permission for one-time use has been granted by author Daniel James Meeter.
  3. PH 432 should be transposed down to the key of G. (See also RL 366, HB 144, and TR 135.)
  • Calvin did not include a children's message in the worship service, but he did have children recite the Heidelberg Catechism's Lord's Day on Sunday afternoon; the children also participated in the service by helping the congregation learn new songs. Some attention to children is therefore historically appropriate as well as pastorally wise. As part of this special service the pastor might explain a bit about the Reformation. I used a gift-wrapped Bible, asked the children to guess what was inside, and explained how the wraps came off the good news in the Reformation.
  • Luke 19:9, one of the verses in the Scripture lesson, stresses the grace of God in saving a despised sinner. Salvation comes to Zac-chaeus's house. Grace saves. Verse 8 of that same passage points to "good works" as Zac-chaeus's response to Jesus. Old Testament verses such as Exodus 22:1 and Numbers 5:6—7 reveal that Zacchaeus submits himself to God's law; he's a son of Abraham after all.

Congregations may wish to add more historical detail to a service based on Calvin's liturgy. The complete liturgy—including the prayers of confession, the congregational prayer, and the form for the Lord's supper—are found in Bard Thompson's Liturgies of the Western Church.

The Approach


* Hymn: "Now Israel May Say" (Ps. 124) 1
* Confession of sin (All):

O Lord, you are our Father, and we are wayward children;
you are our Creator, we are the work of your hands;
you are our Shepherd, we are your flock;
you are our Redeemer, we are the people you bought back;
you are our God, we belong to you.

Therefore, do not be angry against us, to correct us in your wrath.
Recall not our iniquity, to punish it, but chastise us gently in your kindness.
Your anger is inflamed because of our demerits.
But please remember that we do call upon your name and that we bear your mark and badge. Undertake rather the work you have begun in us by your grace,
so that the whole world may recognize that you are our God and Savior. Amen.

* Words of pardon:
"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst" (1 Tim. 1:15).

* Words of absolution:
Let each make confession in your heart and believe in Christ. So in his name do I pronounce forgiveness to you of all your sins, and I declare you to be loosed of them in earth so that you may be loosed of them also in heaven and for all eternity.
(All): Amen.

* The Commandments: "My Soul, Recall with Reverent Wonder" 2

The Word

Prayer for illumination
(Children's message)
Scripture lesson: Luke 19:1—10 Sermon: "Salvation Has Come"

* Hymn: "I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art" 3

The Lord's Supper

Collection of alms
Prayers—Intercessions (concluded by singing the Lord's Prayer):
"Our Father, Clothed with Majesty"

* Creed (All)

(While the congregation recites the creed, the minister prepares the bread and wine.)

Prayer of consecration

Institution: 1 Corinthians 11:23-29

Congregation in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord has prepared his table for all who love him and trust in him alone for their salvation. All who are truly sorry for their sins, who sincerely believe in the Lord Jesus as their Savior, and who desire to live in obedience to him are now invited to come with gladness to the table of the Lord.

Breaking the bread

Distribution while singing: "God Is Our Refuge"

Pouring the cup

Distribution while singing: "God Is Our Refuge"

* Prayer (All):
Almighty God and heavenly Father,
we evermore give praise and thanks
that you have been so gracious to us poor sinners
and have delivered up to death your son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
and have given him also for our nourishment to everlasting life.

We ask you that we may not forget these things,
but that we may grow in faith in you, who through love is active in all good works,
and so may our whole life be devoted to your praise and to the betterment of our neighbor;
through your Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ.

The Dismissal

* Hymn: "Now May Thy Servant, Lord" (The Song of Simeon)

* Blessing: Numbers 6:24-26