Worship at Holy Trinity
What to Expect
Holy Trinity uses a liturgy based on ancient patterns and rituals: a rich fare for mind, body and soul. It is ecumenical yet with a distinctive Lutheran flavor, infused with inclusive language and expansive images for God.
Our services are multisensory. We value the incarnation. Bodies matter. We experience God’s presence through the bodily senses and all that it means to be human. We delight in God’s beauty through seeing symbols such as cross and candles, icons, color and, of course, people; tasting bread and wine; smelling incense; hearing scripture, music and silence; and touching one another as we share the peace, receiving anointing with oil, and use our bodies to kneel, stand, sit, bow and process.
Our liturgies are also contemplative. In the midst of busy urban life and near-constant connection to cell phones and computers, we treasure some time away to gather in sacred space for silence and reflection. An Eastern meditation bell calls the assembly to brief periods of silence during the liturgy.
Our worship is user-friendly. Our service most resembles a Roman Catholic mass or an Episcopal liturgy. Whatever your background, our bulletin provides brief commentary so you can participate at whatever level you are comfortable.
Sermons are relevant to contemporary issues and struggles. Though they engage our minds, a dose of humor or a down-to-earth example helps make ancient texts fresh for today.
Most often we sing traditional hymns--supplemented with other styles particularly when they reflect the scriptures and themes for a given Sunday. The Saturday evening and 8:30 a.m. Sunday services use piano, and the 10:30 a.m. liturgy primarily uses organ.
Sunday services are at 9am and 11am (9:30 a.m. in the summer). Saturday services are at 5:00 p.m. in the South Loop. Wednesday evening services are offered at 7:15 p.m. during Advent, Lent and other holy days.
We're formal and informal. Most folks dress casually yet our liturgy involves robes and processions. There is a sense of tradition, yet blended with warmth, relevance and openness.
Holy Communion is celebrated every Sunday. Some folks drink from a common cup; others intinct (dip) the piece of bread into a cup of wine. Gluten-free wafers are available. Those who cannot partake of either element for health reasons may commune in one form. All are welcome at the Lord’s Table without exception, including children. A blessing is provided for infants/toddlers not yet communing or for adults who prefer that option.
At the beginning of worship the cross leads the procession, representing our baptismal journey from death to life. Some bow as the cross passes, honoring the mystery of salvation. At the conclusion of the liturgy the cross leads us forth to serve God in our daily lives.
Holy Trinity’s processional cross has an image of the resurrected Christ, sometimes called Christus rex (Christ reigning in glory). Protestant Christians in North America have generally had empty crosses, noting the victory of the resurrection. Lutheran traditions in Europe as well as the United States include both empty crosses and crucifixes, depending on individual congregations. A suffering Christ on the cross is very appropriate for meditation as it reflects the theology of the cross which is central to St. Paul and Martin Luther. The representation of the risen Christ signifies that suffering leads to resurrection and new life.
A lectionary (book of scriptures) is also carried in procession. The gospel is read in the midst of the assembly as a sign of God coming us in Jesus Christ. As the gospel is announced some worshippers make a small cross on their forehead, lips and breast, a prayer that the Word may dwell in our minds, on our lips and in our hearts. Holy Trinity treasures the oral reading of scripture by lay readers and pastors and places high value on preaching that connects these ancient texts with our contemporary context.
Gifts of money, bread and wine are carried forward during the offertory procession. Our financial gifts support the ministry of the congregation, the Church around the world, and outreach to the poor and needy. With the bread and wine we offer our life and work. By sharing in the Eucharist we become the body of Christ for the world.
Through the ages the basic pattern for Christian worship on Sunday has included both the reading of scripture and Holy Communion. Though Protestants communed less frequently after the Reformation, Lutherans and others are returning to Sunday gatherings centered in both word and meal. Weekly communion is a deep source of spiritual nourishment for those who observe this practice.
Our liturgy is made up not only of words, music and ritual actions, but also silence. In our busy urban lives, with their smart phones and other distractions, it is difficult to be still and savor silence. The brief periods of silence in the liturgy balance the words and music of the service. Silence following the sermon and communion allow a few moments for personal reflection and peaceful quiet. A meditation bell from Eastern traditions calls us to silence and centering.
Sign of the Cross
The sign of the cross has been made by Christians since earliest times. In his Large and Small Catechisms Martin Luther called for continuing the practice. Lutheran Christians until recently lost this gesture shared by the “catholic” Church, that is, the universal church.
We make the sign of the cross in remembrance of our baptism: upon entering the church by dipping our hands in the baptismal font, during a Trinitarian invocation or Benediction, or before or after receiving communion. It is a tangible reminder of God’s faithfulness throughout our lives. It is also a body prayer, an outward gesture that can shape our inner spirituality.
Body Postures in the Liturgy
Bodies matter. The bodily postures and gestures of the liturgy express the dignity of the body and the presence of God in the material: bodies, earth, water, earth, oil, bread and wine. We pray not only with words but with silence and with our bodies.
A biblical gesture for prayer is outstretched hands. It represents openness and trust. Worship leaders use this gesture. The assembly is invited, if comfortable, to use it during the Lord’s Prayer.
We stand for singing, prayer, hearing the Gospel, and participating in the great thanksgiving at the table. We sit to listen to the scripture readings and the sermon. We kneel for confession and during Lent and Holy Week to represent humility and penitence. We bow as a sign of reverence: toward the table/altar as a symbol of Christ’s presence and as the cross passes, honoring the sign of baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Though Americans are often independent and self-sufficient, we learn from Asian Christians about the deep significance of a mutual bow toward one another.
Colors for the Church Year
White, a color of joy and festivity, is appointed for all festivals of Christ such as Christmas, Easter and All Saints Day. Red, the color of fire and energy is used for Pentecost, celebrating the giving of the Holy Spirit, Reformation, ordinations and other festivals of the Church. Scarlet is used during Holy Week to mark the final days of Lent in which we meditate on Christ’s passion and death and for commemorations of saints who were martyred for their faith. Green, representing growth, is appointed for the seasons after Epiphany and Pentecost when we focus on spiritual growth and the teachings of Jesus. Purple reflects penitence and is used during Lent, the season of preparation for the festival of Easter. Blue is the color for Advent and calls to mind the sky and hope. It expresses the waiting and expectation of Advent, the season of preparation for the festival of Christmas. Gold is used on Easter Day to heighten the joy and celebration of this feast of feasts. Black, the color of ashes, is appointed for Ash Wednesday, the most somber day of the church year. No color is used on Good Friday, as the worship space is bare and stripped of all color and furnishings.
Dress For Worship Leaders: Robes
Though the assembly may not dress up for church as they may did in other times and places, worship leaders wear garb rooted in tradition and common ecumenical use today. The basic white robe, called an alb, is worn by the ministers, worship leaders and choir. The alb was originally the everyday garb in the ancient Mediterranean world; it represents the white robe of baptism. To live our baptism is to “put on Christ” and despite our divisions and differences, we are one.
In addition to the alb, pastors wear a stole, similar to a Jewish prayer-shawl. The stole signifies the pastor’s role to announce forgiveness and to preside at the Sacraments. The presiding minister at the Eucharist wears a chasuble in the color of the season. Its full shape represents God’s embrace of the whole assembly. The original chasuble was like the traveling garment or “poncho” in the ancient world.
Ecumenical Lord's Prayer
There has never been one standard version of the Lord's Prayer for English-speaking Christians. If you have visited other denominations in past decades you know that some churches use “debts” instead of “trespasses.” Some churches conclude with the words “for ever” while others say “for ever and ever.” Still others leave off the entire concluding doxology (“for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever and ever”), which is not included in either Matthew or Luke's accounts of the Lord's Prayer.
In 1975 the International Consultation on English Texts published the ecumenical version of the Lord’s Prayer that Christians of various denominations might use this common text in their liturgies. Most recent worship books since then provide this text, although some include the traditional version next to it.
In addition to ecumenical considerations, many parents and teachers find that the ecumenical translation is much easier for children (and adults) to understand. The “thees” and “thous” have been eliminated. Instead of “trespasses,” the word “sins” is used. The often misunderstood “lead us not into temptation” is rendered “save us from the time of trial.”
Normally the baptismal font is at the entrance to the church. In baptism we enter into relationship with God and the community of faith. Martin Luther encouraged us to return daily to Baptism, confessing sin and walking in newness of life. As we pass the font we dip our hand in the water and make the sign of the cross to remember God’s baptismal covenant.
Each year a new paschal candle inscribed with the numerals of the current year is carried in procession during the Easter Vigil on Easter Eve. The paschal candle stands next to the baptismal font, and is lit during the season of Easter, representing the light of Jesus’ resurrection. It is also lit for baptisms to show that in the sacrament we share Jesus’ death and resurrection. Finally, it is lit at funerals for in death our baptism is complete as we share Christ’s victory over death.
Incense has a long history in Christianity, Judaism and other religions. It adds our noses to the multisensory experience of worship. The psalmist expresses the symbolism of incense and prayer: “Let my prayer rise like incense before you; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”
The clouds of incense represent cleansing and purification. The sweet smell suggests Christ's righteousness that covers sin. In some traditions incense is used to honor holy things and holy people (the assembly, that is, the body of Christ). The gospel book, the altar/table, the bread and wine, the ministers and the assembly may be “censed” as a way of showing their importance in the liturgy. Incense adds a festive accompaniment to processions, creating “holy clouds” and “holy smells” in the air.
The sweet smell of incense is a doorway to the holy in the same way that beautiful music, flowers and stained glass can lead us to ponder the mystery of God’s presence. Incense in worship is an ancient practice that connects us to the Church around the world and through the ages.
Since the early years of the Church, Christians have referred to Mary as Theotokos, the “God-bearer.” Martin Luther had a deep regard for Mary, and called her the “Mother of God.” Though Mary was deemphasized following the Reformation, some Protestants are rediscovering her. For some, she represents the feminine aspect of Christian faith and provides a balance to some of its patriarchy. Mary is often considered the first Christian believer, as she opened her life to the mystery of God’s will.
In addition, Mary strongly proclaims God’s justice. In the Magnificat she sings of God raising the lowly and filling the hungry with good things. Luke describes Mary as “blessed among women” and remembrance of the saints begins with gratitude for Blessed Mary. Several icons of Jesus and Mary in our worship space proclaim the incarnation--God fully sharing our humanity in Christ.
The use of icons in worship is integral to the Orthodox faith. They have recently become popular for other Christians. Icons are stylized renderings of Jesus, Mary, biblical figures or saints. Icons are not merely art but are liturgical. The iconographer proclaims the mystery of God through their offering. Looking upon an icon is a way to ponder God’s presence in our humanity, particularly in Mary and in the witness of the saints. Holy Trinity has a number of icons associated with various feasts and commemorations of the church year.
Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross have been part of Christian devotion during Lent and Holy week for many centuries. They originated when early Christians visited Jerusalem and wanted to literally follow in the footsteps in Jesus. Their current form allows people to engage actively with the path of suffering walked by Jesus, and the version Holy Trinity uses connects the passion of Jesus to the suffering of people in our contemporary context. The artistic representations are by Holy Trinity member Richard Bough, and hang in our worship space during the final days of Lent and throughout Holy Week.