This Sunday is September 29. Church calendars set aside September 29 as a minor festival commemorating St. Michael and All Angels. Since this date occurs on a Sunday this year, congregations may consider setting aside the usual focus for the day and replacing it with this festival in the church calendar. If that’s your plan, here are a few ideas.
First, here is a little background on the origins of the day:
Feasts in honor of angels developed particularly in the East. After the time of Constantine many churches were dedicated in honor of Michael, the only archangel named in Scripture (Daniel and Revelation). Gabriel is the only other angel mentioned by name in Scripture. … September 29 was the date of the dedication, in the fifth century, of a small basilica on the Via Salaria, six miles from Rome, the first church in Italy dedicated in honor of Michael.
The feast which commemorates this event, and in which the church eventually regarded Michael as representative of all angels, gradually spread throughout the West. The Council of Mainz introduced it in A.D. 813, and the popularity of the “warrior saint” in Teutonic lands is shown by the large number of churches which bear his name. King Ethelred established the fest in England in A.D. 1019. The term “all angels” is an Anglican addition at the time of the Reformation (Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy, revised edition, p. 566).
The resources that support Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal appoint the following readings for the day: Daniel 10:10-14, 12:1-3; Revelation 12:7-12; Luke 10:17-20.
In the fall of my first year at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (1997), we observed St. Michael and All Angels with a special chapel service that morning. If my memory is correct, Prof. Leroy Dobberstein was the preacher for that service. His sermon, based on Revelation 12:7-12, used these well-crafted theme and parts (which I fully intend to “borrow” for my sermon on Sunday):
Celebrate the Festival of St. Michael and All Angels with Vigilant Joy!
- Be joyful — the war is won
- Be vigilant — the battle for souls continues
The Psalm of the Day chosen for this occasion is Psalm 91. Christian Worship and its companion volumes offer no less than five possibilities for Psalm 91 (to say nothing of the myriad of other resources available). The hymnal itself has one setting. Three more settings are included with the resources for “Prayer at the Close of Day” (a.k.a. Compline) included in Christian Worship: New Service Settings and Christian Worship: Occasional Services: Both musical settings of “Prayer at the Close of Day” include a setting of Psalm 91, and a third setting is included in the psalms for Compline in the back of both resources. Finally, the hymn “On Eagles’ Wings” (CW #440) is a paraphrase of Psalm 91 and could be sung in place of the Psalm following the First Lesson.
The Verse of the Day is Psalm 103:20: “Alleluia. Praise the Lord, you his angels, who obey his Word. Alleluia.” If your church does not have a musical setting of this Verse among its resources and you want to have a specific Verse sung by a choir or cantor, and if your church owns the NPH Verse of the Day series, consider using the Verse for Trinity Sunday (Pentecost 1), which quotes the angels’ song in Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah 6:3b).
In my last year as a student at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, a few classmates and I put together a “worship project” that consisted of resources for minor festivals in the church calendar. That project included hymn suggestions for each occasion. Here are the hymns from Christian Worship that we suggested for St. Michael and All Angels:
- 195 – Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty
- 196 – Lord God, to You We All Give Praise (suggested Hymn of the Day)
- 197 – They Leave Their Place on High
- 198 – Around the Throne of God a Band
- 222 – Songs of Praise the Angels Sang
- 224 – God Himself Is Present
- 239 – Glory Be to God the Father
- 277 – God, We Praise You (cf. stanza 1)
- 278 – Holy God, We Praise Your Name (cf. st. 2)
- 334 – Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow
- 361 – Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
- 418 – My God Will Never Leave Me (cf. st. 5 & First Lesson)
- 425 – Oh, Sing, My Soul, Your Maker’s Praise
- 431 – I Walk in Danger All the Way (cf. st. 4)
- 434 – Lord, You I Love with All My Heart (cf. st. 3)
- 440 – On Eagles’ Wings (cf. Psalm)
- 589 – Now the Day Is Over (cf. st. 4)
In addition to these hymns, Christian Worship: Supplement offers two more hymns for St. Michael and All Angels, the second of which was penned by WELS pastor Peter Prange:
- 725 – The God of Love
- 726 – Christ, the Lord of Hosts, Unshaken
During the Pentecost season, I try to select general hymns of praise for the opening hymn that contain a phrase or thought that parallels the focus of the day. “Songs of Praise the Angels Sang” (CW #222) does just that, and it will be our opening hymn at St. Mark’s on Sunday. We will use the Hymn of the Day suggestion from above, “Lord God, to You We All Give Praise” (CW #196). I like to close services with a short hymn or a well-selected hymn stanza. Stanza 4 of “I Walk in Danger All the Way” (CW #431) will end the service quite nicely: “I walk with angels all the way.” Two more St. Michael hymns will be used during the distribution: “Around the Throne of God a Band” (CW #198) and “Christ, the Lord of Hosts, Unshaken” (CWS #726).
There is, of course, no Lutheran liturgical legislation that says you can only celebrate minor festivals when they occur on a Sunday. It would disrupt the flow of the church year if we imported every minor festival into the closest Sunday service, but St. Michael and All Angels is one festival that some congregations choose to observe every year, regardless of the day of the week it occurs. Whether you celebrate it this year for the first time, or whether it is your regular practice to set aside the last Sunday in September for this occasion, I hope these modest suggestions can be beneficial to your worship planning.