Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Historic Rankings and Precedence of LSB's Feasts & Festivals

We've commented before on the somewhat idiosyncratic ranking of feasts in LSB (pp. xi). While the footnote to the calendar of Feasts and Festivals would seem to lay down a clear, though novel, rule (“observances listed in boldface are principal feasts of Christ and are normally observed when they occur on a Sunday”) - the calendar itself does not seem to follow its own rule. For example, St. Michael and All Angels are listed as “principal feasts of Christ” but not the Confession of Peter or Holy Innocents. St. John the Baptist's Nativity is a “principal feast of Christ,” but his martyrdom is not. Why?

The confusion gets even worse if your congregation subscribes to CPH's every Sunday bulletin service. A couple years ago July 22nd fell on a Sunday and the bulletin from CPH featured St. Mary Magdalene – but LSB lists this as a day that does not normally displace a Sunday.

Calendars have pretty much always been like this – much room for local custom and not a little confusion at the margins. And that's fine - there is a place for local custom in the Church. And since there is, here are the historic rankings of the Feasts and Festivals listed in LSB which will give you a much wider range of Feast days throughout the year that "trump" a Sunday (especially welcome during the long "green seasons.")

I've only listed the disagreements between LSB and the historic rankings – and I'm only looking at LSB's very sensible criterion of does this feast replace the Sunday liturgy? Those who want more detailed historic rankings can look at Daily Divine Service Book and add second collects to their heart's content. I have also added a few notes where they seemed appropriate – especially noting where LSB's rule is to be preferred to the historic rankings.

Feasts listed in LSB as not taking precedence over a Sunday, but that historically do take precedence

St. Thomas, Dec 21 (LSB's rule is to be preferred so as not to disrupt Advent)

St. John, Dec 27

Holy Innocents, Dec 28

The Confession of St. Peter, Jan 18 (Transfiguration would take precedence when it falls on Jan 18)

St. Timothy, Jan 24

The Conversion of St. Paul, Jan 25

St. Titus, Pastor and Confessor, Jam 26

St. Matthias, Feb 24 (Sundays in Lent, however, do not yield)

St. Mark, April 25 (Of course, St. Mark yields to Easter)

Sts. Philip and James, May 1

St. Barnabas, June 11 (Of course, St. Barnabas yields to Pentecost or Trinity Sunday)

Sts. Peter and Paul, June 29

St. Mary Magdalene, July 22

St. James the Elder, July 25

St. Mary, Mother of Our Lord, Aug 15 (!!)

St. Bartholomew, Aug 24

The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, Aug 29

Holy Cross Day, Sept 14

St. Matthew, Sept 21

St. Luke, Oct 18

St. James of Jerusalem, Oct 23

Sts. Simon and Jude, Oct 28

Feasts listed in LSB as taking precedence over a Sunday, but that historically do not

Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, Dec 31 (LSB's move here is more of a transference from Jan 1 for those years in which Dec 31 falls on a Sunday. It seems a sensible pastoral judgment - however, probably only if you are using the other rules listed in LSB about not observing St. John or Holy Innocents on Sunday. Historically, there are, in fact, only three dates that take the propers for the First Sunday after Christmas: Dec 29, 30, and 31.)

The Annunciation of Our Lord (The Annunciation cannot fall on a Sunday outside of Lent, all of which are of the first class. There is some confusion historically about what to do when this first class feast falls on a first class Sunday – I think it is wise to keep the Sundays in Lent intact.)

Several of the Commemorations in LSB historically have rankings on par with many of the saints listed in LSB's Feasts and Festivals section – for example, St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory the Great, St. Martin of Tours and others all have the same rank as St. Titus. When such universally honored saints (as opposed to the “local saints” of Lutheranism – Robert Barnes, Martyr or Martin Luther, Doctor) fall on a Sunday, especially in the Season after Trinity, a local congregation would, I think, benefit from observing the saint's day over the Sunday as the historic calendars have it. Again, for full rankings of all these days, see Daily Divine Service Book.



  1. In identifying "principal feasts of Christ," and noting that these are normally observed when they occur on a Sunday, we followed the precedents of historic Lutheranism, at least in so far as that data was available to us. We relied on information that we had in hand from Father Pittelko and Father Reuning. It was obvious to us, even with the data we had in front of us, that there was no universal Lutheran practice in regards to the sanctoral cycle. There simply wasn't. So we did the best we could.

    We did not identify as "principal feasts" those that did not have such historic Lutheran precedent. Such things as the Confession of St. Peter and the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, therefore, were not given that ranking, because they were not known or practiced as such by our historic forefathers.

    Regarding the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord, it is one of the most difficult feasts to deal with, in terms of its priority. It is one of the most venerable and important feasts in the church's calendar, yet it occurs in the midst of Lent (a fact that rather invites reflection upon its theological significance). We also have to contend with the fact that the approach of the actual congregations of the Lord's Church to the observance of festivals is not what it used to be, for good or for ill. Nor is Lent observed in the same way, even if one considers only the broad differences between the historic and three-year lectionaries. So attempting to lay down absolute or universal rules of precedence is a particular challenge. As in most aspects of the LSB, especially where the pew edition is concerned, we took a minimalistic approach and exercised a "light touch" in regards to such rubrics.

  2. Rick,

    Quite so - I for one appreciate LSB's "light touch" quite a bit: it's what makes it such a strong hymnal. You get the Common Service restored to all its beauty and simplicity and you get the LW services passed on unmonkeyed with for LW congregations and you get a bunch of the chorales restored and you get very flexible rules for the calendar.

    So I don't mean to throw stones at LSB and I thank you for more insider information on the formation of the calendar. Indeed, LSB's own light touch rubric indicates that local custom will dictate the observance of all the non boldface feasts - thus this post that might give guidance to inform local celebrations in Christian freedom.



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