Posted by: Johnold Strey | October 23, 2010

Some Perspectives on Minor Festivals

The last week or so has been a whirlwind.  Last week Thursday, I flew to Washington D.C. to serve as a presenter at the WELS School of Worship Enrichment.  Three presenters arrived on Thursday evening, and we got up early on Friday to take a tour of the U.S. Capitol; later we picked up the other two presenters from the airport and then toured the National Cathedral before driving up to the host congregation for the weekend, Christ Lutheran Church in Clarksville, Maryland.  The School of Worship Enrichment (SoWE) is a two-day weekend worship seminar offered across the country for groups of WELS congregations.  The SoWE finished up on Sunday night, we all flew back to our respective homes on Monday, and then I preached on Tuesday morning at the opening service for the WELS Arizona-California District pastors’ conference in San Jose.  That conference lasted three days, wrapping up around noon on Thursday.  Throw in my oldest daughter’s birthday party this weekend, and I’m feeling pretty wiped out — but it was all for a good cause!

SoWE Team at Clarksville, MD

The Sunday morning SoWE service and the Tuesday pastors’ conference service both observed a minor festival that occurs in church calendars.  The Commemoration of St. Luke, Evangelist is appointed for October 18; we celebrated it the day before in Clarksville and the day after in San Jose.  A chart listing various minor festivals in the church calendar can be found on pages 159-160 in the front of Christian Worship, and more specific information for celebrating each day is available in Christian Worship: Manual.

As I mentioned in the sermon introduction, WELS congregations generally don’t have a great deal of acquaintance with the minor festivals that occur in the calendar.  Although the concept is new to many WELS congregations, I didn’t expect that observing Luke’s commemoration would “stir the pot” much — and it didn’t — but I also didn’t anticipate the enthusiastic and positive response to Luke’s commemoration day from the host congregation in Maryland.  Not only did they appreciate the occasion, but the representatives of the congregation who participated in the SoWE specifically included “celebrating minor festivals” as one of the future plans they wanted to incorporate into their worship life.

As I also mentioned in the sermon, some minor festivals provide an opportunity to talk about matters we don’t normally address in the regular Sunday by Sunday lectionary readings; in other cases, the focus for a minor festival can be found in the regular lectionary, but the minor festival narrows and sharpens the focus.  Some examples: 

  • The Commemoration of St. Matthias (February 24) provides an opportunity to talk about the doctrine of the divine call into the public ministry.  Just as Matthias was called by the early church to replace Judas, so congregations today call ministers of the gospel to serve them publicly.
  • The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (June 25) might be thought of as a second Reformation focus, together with October 31 as the anniversary of Luther posting the Ninety-Five Theses.  The Augsburg Confession commemoration provides an opportunity to talk about Lutheran history and the Lutheran Reformation, but it is also a natural opportunity to discuss the Lutheran Confessions and what it means to be a confessional Lutheran.
  • Whether it falls on a Sunday or not, many congregations have the custom of remembering St. Michael and All Angels, appointed for September 29.  When we consider how much misinformation exists about angels in our highly-spiritual-but-not-doctrinal culture, a day to review the biblical doctrine of the angels may be a very useful occasion.
  • Our recent services to commemorate Luke provided an opportunity to talk about the transmission and inspiration of Scripture.  The appointed Gospel reading (Luke 1:1-4, 24:44-49) began with Luke’s description of the research and work he undertook to write his gospel, and yet through it all we have the confidence that Luke’s words are really the words of God (2 Timothy 3:16).

Several dates are connected to the celebration of Christmas: the Annunciation (March 25, nine months before Christmas), the Visitation (May 31), the Nativity of John the Baptist (June 24, six months before Christmas), the Name of Jesus (January 1, eight days after Christmas), and the Presentation of our Lord (February 2, forty days after Christmas).  The reason is natural: Christmas is a set day on the calendar, and so occasions built around Jesus’ birth are assigned to calendar days.  In contrast, Easter is a day that moves around from year to year, and so occasions connected to Easter don’t receive a specific calendar date but are celebrated in connection with Easter — particularly Ascension (40 days after Easter), and Pentecost (50 days after Easter).

In addition to minor festivals that recall events in Lutheran history or key events surrounding Christmas and Easter, there are also many minor festivals commemorating various saints from the New Testament.  The reason why a date is picked for a certain saint varies.  Sometimes the date is believed to be the anniversary of that saint’s martyrdom.  It may be that a significant church named after that saint was dedicated on that particular day many centuries ago.  In some cases, we simply aren’t sure why a date has historically been connected to a specific person.  Resources like Luther Reed’s The Lutheran Liturgy (out of print) can be helpful for determining the connection between a particular person and their commemoration date.

The information in Christian Worship and Christian Worship: Manual also notes the liturgical color assigned to each day.  Festivals related to the church are always red.  Festivals related to Christ are always white.  Saints days are usually red, but sometimes white.  The reason for the choice is based on whether or not the saint died as a martyr.  If a person died as a martyr, the color red symbolizes the fact that their blood was shed for their confession of faith.  If it is believed that a person died a natural death, the color white symbolizes the holy and perfect existence in heaven that became theirs upon their death.  Of course, that doesn’t suggest that martyrs didn’t also receive that blessing, but it does explain the reason behind the two colors.

Whenever I make short-term worship plans, I scan the calendar to see if a minor festival is going to occur on a Sunday.  If it does, and if it does not conflict with a more important celebration, I will often celebrate it in our Sunday service.  That’s not to suggest that the day must occur on a Sunday if you are going to celebrate it, but that’s how I have done things in my local setting.  A congregation could always celebrate the occasion on the Sunday before or after it occurs — as is often the case with Ascension, when a smaller congregation with a spread-out membership might choose to celebrate it on the following Sunday rather than with a special Thursday evening service.  A larger congregation in our synod offers monthly Compline (Prayer at the Close of Day) services on the first Wednesday of each month, and they often celebrate one of the minor festivals scheduled within that month at those services.

What I’ve written here covers some basic material about the minor festival calendar and some of the most common questions I’ve been asked about minor festivals.  I hope you’re able to find some of this information useful.  I’ll leave you with one final thought.  Our cue for occasions like these comes from Hebrews 13:7.  “Remember your leaders, who spoke the Word of God to you.  Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”  We don’t turn the saints into our Savior; Jesus is!  Rather than turning Jesus primarily into our example, we follow Scripture’s encouragement to view the saints of old as examples of faith for us today — flawed examples, to be sure, but flawed examples who, like us, find forgiveness and salvation in the blood of Jesus Christ, their Savior and ours!



  1. Nice little article.

    We’ve started doing more of the minor festivals during the middle of the week. They have been a great opportunity to learn from and preach on texts which don’t come up on Sunday morning.

    We’ve added:
    –Presentation of the Augsburg Confession
    –St. Michael and all angels

    Of course there’s the Lent and Advent midweek services. But, it’s been fun to add these services.

  2. I am a member of the congregation you mentioned that often observes minor festivals at our monthly Compline services. It is a wonderful practice that I hope more congregations will adopt. A congregation might try Compline, or Vespers, or Matins, depending on what time of day a special service would work best for its members.

    First, I appreciate becoming acquainted with the Compline service, which is a beautiful liturgy rich with double meaning about not only our daily cycle of work and rest but also our journey through earthly life and death to eternal life. Second, I appreciate the opportunity to observe minor festivals that would otherwise be missed.

    These observances are useful teaching tools. They connect us to something bigger than our local congregation or synod – the universal church of all times and places, including the saints in heaven. These special days also point us to Christ. We recognize the gospel writers because they tell us of our Savior’s life and death and resurrection for us. We remember martyrs who were willing to lose their life rather than lose Jesus. We observe things like the Annunciation and the Presentation because every part of Jesus’ life is important.

    In the last couple of years, our congregation has observed many different minor festivals. In most cases, it was the first time in my life that I had the opportunity to do so. Two of my favorites have been All Saints’ Day and the Presentation.

    Our churches always celebrate the Reformation, and rightly so, but that means that All Saints’ Day normally gets ignored. It was good to gather at church and remember our Christian brothers and sisters in heaven – members of the congregation who had recently died, other friends, and relatives. We are all members of the same Church.

    Observing the Presentation was wonderful too, particularly with the Song of Simeon being sung at the end of the Compline liturgy. The Presentation is a good time to look back, after the hustle and bustle of Christmas has passed, and quietly ponder the wonder of the incarnation. The promises have been fulfilled; we do not have to wait any longer; Christ has come to earth in the flesh. Man has seen God and lived. Whether we are going to sleep for the night or facing death, we can go in peace. We are all Simeon now.

  3. What hymns are associated with the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession? Can I use this to encourage Kurt to schedule CW200 on the nearest Sunday??

  4. You can find a hymn based on the articles of the Augsburg Confession at this link:

    When we celebrated te 475th anniversary of the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession in 2005, I prepared a special order of service for the day. The hymns we used in that services were as follows (numbers from Christian Worship):

    -A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (200, Opening Hymn)
    -All Glory Be to God on High (263, sung as the Gloria in Excelsis)
    -Lord, Keep Us Steadfast In Your Work (203, one stanza sung as a response to each of the three lessons)
    -In Trembling Hands (199, Hymn of the Day)
    -Salvation unto Us Has Come (390, Distribution Hymn)
    -Preserve Your Word, O Savior (289, Closing Hymn)


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