Church Feasts, Festivals, and Commemorations

I’ve spent the last year sharing writings for each Feast, Festival, and Commemoration observed by the Lutheran church. So, you may be asking yourself, what is the difference between a Principal Feast of Christ, a Festival Day, and a Commemoration? I think I’ve finally got it figured out (although, I’m certainly open to correction if I screwed something up!):

  • Feast–These are the chief days of celebration, outside of the church year days such as Easter, and generally focus on events in the life of Christ, such as His Presentation in the Temple and the Annunciation to Mary, as well as days such as St. Michael and All Angels and All Saints’ Day.
  • Festival–These are days to recognize people who associated directly with Jesus, such as his disciples and his family. All of the people recognized on Festival Days are found in the New Testament. Holy Cross Day and Reformation Day are also Festivals.
  • Commemoration–These days recognize other notable Saints, including people from the Old Testament, such as Abraham, (and his wife, Sarah), Isaac, and Jacob, people from the New Testament epistles, including Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos, early church fathers like Augustine of Hippo and Ambrose of Milan, and famous Lutherans, like Martin Luther and his wife, Katharina von Bora, Frederick the Wise, Philipp Melanchthon, and  C.F.W. Walther. Other pastors, missionaries, rulers, musicians, martyrs, and even artists are also recognized. These are all people who didn’t work directly with Christ, as His apostles did, but still worked to spread the Gospel in some way. The 325 Council of Nicaea is also included as a Commemoration Day, as is the Presentation of the Augsburg Confession.

Most of these dates are observed on the best known date of death for the individual, as that is the date they went to their eternal glory with Christ in Heaven. Men and women are both represented, as are many different countries from around the world. Principal Feasts of Christ can replace the regularly scheduled pericopes for worship when they occur on a Sunday, while festivals and commemorations do not.

December 29–David

From the LCMS website:

David, the greatest of Israel’s kings, ruled from about 1010 to 970 B.C. The events of his life are found in 1 Samuel 16 through 1 Kings 2 and in 1 Chronicles 10—29. David was also gifted musically. He was skilled in playing the lyre and the author of no less than 73 psalms, including the beloved Psalm 23. His public and private character displayed a mixture of good (for example, his defeat of the giant Goliath, 1 Samuel 17) and evil (as in his adultery with Uriah’s wife, followed by his murder of Uriah, 2 Samuel 11). David’s greatness lay in his fierce loyalty to God as Israel’s military and political leader, coupled with his willingness to acknowledge his sins and ask for God’s forgiveness (2 Samuel 12; see also Psalm 51). It was under David’s leadership that the people of Israel were united into a single nation with Jerusalem as its capital city.

December 20–Katharina von Bora Luther

From the LCMS website:

Katharina von Bora (1499–1552) was placed in a convent when still a child and became a nun in 1515. In April 1523 she and eight other nuns were rescued from the convent and brought to Wittenberg. There Martin Luther helped return some to their former homes and placed the rest in good families. Katharina and Martin were married on June 13, 1525. Their marriage was a happy one and blessed with six children. Katharina skillfully managed the Luther household, which always seemed to grow because of his generous hospitality. After Luther’s death in 1546, Katharina remained in Wittenberg but lived much of the time in poverty. She died in an accident while traveling with her children to Torgau in order to escape the plague.

December 19–Adam and Eve

From the LCMS website:

Adam was the first man, made in the image of God and given dominion over all the earth (Gen 1:26). Eve was the first woman, formed from one of Adam’s ribs to be his companion and helper (2:18–24). God placed them in the Garden of Eden to take care of the creation as his representatives. But they forsook God’s Word and plunged the world into sin (3:1–7). For this disobedience God drove them from the Garden. Eve had to suffer the pain of childbirth and be subject to Adam; Adam had to toil amid thorns and thistles and return to the dust of the ground. Yet God promised that the woman’s Seed would crush the serpent’s head (3:8–24). Sin had entered God’s perfect creation and changed it until God would restore it again through Christ. Eve is the mother of the human race, while Adam is representative of all humanity and the Fall, as St. Paul writes, “For in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22).

December 17–Daniel and the Three Young Men

From the LCMS website:

Daniel the prophet and the Three Young Men—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—were among the leaders of the people of Judah who were taken into captivity in Babylon. Even in that foreign land they remained faithful to the one true God in their piety, prayer, and life. On account of such steadfast faithfulness in the face of pagan idolatry, the Three Young Men were thrown into a fiery furnace, from which they were saved by the Lord and emerged unharmed (Daniel 3). Similarly, Daniel was thrown into a pit of lions, from which he also was saved (Daniel 6). Blessed in all their endeavors by the Lord—and in spite of the hostility of some—Daniel and the Three Young Men were promoted to positions of leadership among the Babylonians (Dan 2:48–49; 3:30; 6:28). To Daniel in particular the Lord revealed the interpretation of dreams and signs that were given to King Nebuchadnezzar and King Belshazzar (Daniel 2, 4, 5). To Daniel himself the Lord gave visions of the end times.

December 13–Lucia, Martyr

From the LCMS website:

One of the victims of the great persecution under the Roman emperor Diocletian, Lucia met her death at Syracuse on the island of Sicily in the year A.D. 304, because of her Christian faith. Known for her charity, “Santa Lucia” (as she is called in Italy) gave away her dowry and remained a virgin until her execution by the sword. The name Lucia means “light,” and, because of that, festivals of light commemorating her became popular throughout Europe, especially in the Scandinavian countries. There her feast day corresponds with the time of year when there is the least amount of daylight. In artistic expression she is often portrayed in a white baptismal gown, wearing a wreath of candles on her head.

December 7–Ambrose of Milan, Pastor and Hymnwriter

From the LCMS website:

Born in Trier in A.D. 340, Ambrose was one of the four great Latin Doctors of the Church (with Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great). He was a prolific author of hymns, the most common of which is Veni, Redemptor gentium (“Savior of the Nations, Come”). His name is also associated with Ambrosian Chant, the style of chanting the ancient liturgy that took hold in the province of Milan. While serving as a civil governor, Ambrose sought to bring peace among Christians in Milan who were divided into quarreling factions. When a new bishop was to be elected in 374, Ambrose addressed the crowd, and someone cried out, “Ambrose, bishop!” The entire gathering gave their support. This acclaim of Ambrose, a 34-year-old catechumen, led to his baptism on December 7, after which he was consecrated bishop of Milan. A strong defender of the faith, Ambrose convinced the Roman emperor Gratian in 379 to forbid the Arian heresy in the West. At Ambrose’s urging, Gratian’s successor, Theodosius, also publicly opposed Arianism. Ambrose died on Good Friday, April 4, 397. As a courageous doctor and musician he upheld the truth of God’s Word.