Monday, December 6, 2010

Calendar Considerations for Christmas through Epiphany

As mentioned previously, the feast of St. Stephen is appropriately celebrated this year in lieu of the First Sunday after Christmas as St. Stephen's day is traditionally a feast of the first order and the First Sunday after Christmas a feast of the second order. In fact, according to the traditional Western ranking of feasts, the First Sunday of after Christmas is only celebrated on those years when Sunday falls on December 29th, 30th, and 31st.

If your parish observes a Divine Service on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, the propers for the Circumcision and Name of Jesus are appropriately used. If you have services on both days, consider using a votive Divine Service on one or the other of them - Divine Service for Peace, or Divine Service for the Heathen would be appropriate. (LSB does offer propers specifically for a New Year's Eve service. However, the theme of this service is something of a return to Advent with a "Watch" Gospel lesson; or rather, an intrusion of the civil calendar into the Octave of Christmas. For my part, I think the Circumcision and Name of Jesus propers are more fitting.)

Sunday, January 2nd is appropriately celebrated as the Second Sunday after Christmas which has as its Gospels Matt. 2:13-23 - the flight into Egypt. This is an interesting anachronism in the calendar, as the reading for Epiphany is Matt. 2:1-12, the visit of the Magi. It's rather like the backwards reading of John 14-16 in the Sundays leading up to Pentecost.

The celebration of Epiphany causes much calendar confusion and dislocation between parishes due to the fact that Epiphany will be transferred to Sunday the 9th in many places (please see the poll at right). Since the Sundays after Epiphany are, well, the Sundays after Epiphany, do you count from the 9th or the 6th? This is further complicated by the desire to celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord on a Sunday, which celebration appropriately replaces the First Sunday after Epiphany. Then which Sunday after Epiphany do you skip to get back on track with the actual calendar? Oh, and once again, are you counting Epiphany as having happened on the 6th or the 9th? All told, we may have different parishes celebrating Sunday, January 16th as any of the following: The Baptism of our Lord, the First Sunday after Epiphany, or the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany! This confusion could last all the way to Transfiguration when the date of Easter, not Epiphany, once again takes charge of the Calendar.

I recommend following these two principles. 1. The actual date of a feast should govern the Sundays that fall after it, even when the festival is transferred for local reasons. 2. The Baptism of our Lord is most appropriately celebrated on the next Sunday following a parish's observance of Epiphany.

This gives the following Calendars for parishes depending on their observance of Epiphany.

In parishes that celebrate Epiphany on January 6th
January 9: Baptism of Our Lord (transferred)
January 16: 2nd Sunday after Epiphany
January 23: 3rd Sunday after Epiphany
The observance that is skipped here is the First Sunday after Epiphany (Boy Jesus in the Temple)

In parishes that celebrate Epiphany on January 9th
January 9: Epiphany (transferred)
January 16: Baptism of our Lord (transferred)
January 23: 3rd Sunday after Epiphany
The observances skipped here are First Sunday after Epiphany (Boy Jesus in the Temple) and the Second Sunday after Epiphany (the Wedding at Cana).

Propers for all these days as well as notes on the traditional precedence of the various feast days of the Church Year are included in Daily Divine Service Book: A Lutheran Daily Missal.



  1. Two items in response.

    1. Dcn. M. over at Lex Orandi lists St. Stephen as a universal feast of the second class. Just checking on the variance between your and his list. Nevertheless, Christmas I gets the second collect of the day.

    2. When celebrating Epiphany on JAN 6, you have, as your first option, the Baptism transferred to JAN 9. How about for those who want to observe historic Epiphany I and not transfer the Baptism? I seem to recall that Reed in TLL says that the Baptism of Our Lord used to come on the day after the Epiphany? Or perhaps the East has the Epiphany and Baptism together?


  2. Fr. Rinas,

    The nomenclature for the ranking of the feasts has been highly variable across time and jurisdictions. DDSB uses this terminology: "Double of the Second Class" for St. Stephen and "Semi-Double" for First Sunday after Christmas. In the post above I was using more colloquial language to make the distinction clear: St. Stephen's day trumps 1st Sun. a. Christmas.

    Yes, certainly, if your parish utilizes the custom of multiple collects, the Sunday is appropriately commemorated in that way. This is also a fitting way to commemorate saints' days that do not trump Sunday observances.

    In my opinion, the Baptism of Our Lord is such a central text and observance that it is very good pastoral practice to observe it over the First Sunday a. Epiphany. This is not to denigrate the text from Luke - but somethings got to give as far as what you do on Sunday. . . Another good reason to have midweek or even daily Divine Service!


  3. The Baptism of Our Lord is appropriately observed on the Octave of the Epiphany. If the Epiphany is transferred to a Sunday, it would follow that the Baptism of Our Lord be observed on the next Sunday. If the Epiphany is celebrated on the actual day of the Feast, 6 January, then the Baptism of Our Lord could either be observed on the following Sunday, or on 13 January. In the latter case, one would have the First Sunday after the Epiphany free for the Boy Jesus in the Temple (except in those years when the 6th and 13th are Sundays).

    The propers in LSB for New Year's Eve were not intended to usurp or replace the Feast of the Name and Circumcision of Jesus, but were offered primarily for the use of parishes gathered for the Divine Service on both New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. The propers were taken more or less directly from the SELK lectionary. There is a long tradition, not only among Lutherans but worldwide, of marking New Year's Eve with reminders of mortality and prayers of watchfulness. I'm not sure that's a matter of allowing the world's calendar trump the church's calendar, any more than identifying one day of the week from another is.

    In any case, I agree that, if a parish is only going to be gathered for one Divine Service, whether on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day, the principal propers are those for the Feast of the Name and Circumcision of Jesus.

  4. Thanks, Rick - good thoughts and good information to know.

    We observe Epiphany on the 6th, but getting folks to come back for another weekday service a week later would be quite a trick for us!

    I've used our normal midweek Divine Service to "catch" the week from Christmas and/or Epiphanytide that gets skipped on Sunday due to all these considerations.


  5. Don't most parishes that transfer the Feast of the Epiphany transfer it to the Sunday PRIOR to the 6th and not to the Sunday AFTER?

  6. Jeff-MN,

    Check the poll at right as the week goes on to find out!


  7. I have never had more than a few for the actual day of Epiphany (when it falls not on a Sunday) and have found the conundrum of what to do with the observance of Epiphany an unsatisfying array of choices. In effect, I have historically celebrated Epiphany on the Sunday prior to the 6th primarily to keep a sequential order to such things - mostly for the benefit of the folks in the pew who appreciate a chronological unfolding. Often this means Epiphany is also somewhat lost in the holiday crush of vacation and time away -- but less so than on a mid-week day.

    Interesting also because I rather like the idea of observing the Sunday after Christmas (when St. Stephen does not fall on that day) as the Sunday of the Holy Family to emphasize that God in His mysterious wisdom found the family to be place where faith and life would be nurtured in His own Son... and what about our own children...

    I also appreciate when the Sunday after Christmas is the Holy Innocents (as with St. Stephen) so that the blood shed is close to the manger in people's minds - lest Christmas become an idyllic and fantasy story too distant from the harsh reality of life in a world unfriendly to Christ and His people.

  8. Fr. Peters,

    What we've done around here to emphasize Epiphany is invite two neighboring congregations to celebrate with us and have a King Cake party afterwards. It's become quite popular - and we've even had the opportunity to bring in a guest preacher.

    It's still not a whopping large attendance, but it helps focus attention on the day and makes Epiphany a true celebration - and it gives us the chance to bust out the dalmatic, tunicle, and cope with all the clergy assisting.


  9. Fr. Rinas,

    You have indicated that the second collect for St. Stephen's Day is the collect for Christmas 1. It is the Collect for the Nativity, 3rd Mass, that is used as a commemoration of the Nativity at Masses of saints celebrated during the Christmas Octave.

  10. Dear Fr. Heath:

    You are a good and holy pastor to uphold the venerable tradition of King Cake.

    Contrary to the reputation of the Gottesdienst Crowd(tm), our parish is kind of flexible about these things, and this year will celebrate St. Stephen on Dec 26, Christmas 2 on Jan 2, and will transfer Epiphany to Wednesday January 5.

    In the spirit of St. Ambrose (whose feast is, of course, today), we in the Orleans Rite may be a little bit out of step with the See of Kewanee in our liturgical calendar.


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