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December 28th: Holy Innocents or Sunday after Christmas?

by sean.daenzer ~ December 11th, 2008

What to do about Holy Innocents falling on a Sunday…. Who gets the Divine Service? It seems we probably need to do what any Lutheran normally would do: run to the Anglican sources!

But perhaps Reformation Lutheran musicians can help us:
I examined four of the most important early Lutheran chant anthologies:
-Lucas Lossius’ Psalmodia hoc est…., Wittenberg 1561 edition (expanded from the 1533)
-Niels Jesperssøn’s Gradual En Almindelig Sangog, Copenhagen 1573
-Matthäus Ludecus’ Missale, hoc est Cantica…, Wittenberg 1589
-Andrea Bezeli’s Cantica Sacra, quo Ordine…, Magdeburg 1613

In all of these sources, there are no propers given for a mass on Holy Innocents’ Day. In Lossius and Bezeli there ARE special propers for Matins & Vespers (midday Offices also in Bezeli). There is also a Vesperale & Matutinale by Ludecus where I expect I will also find Daily Office propers.

Certainly these editors must have foreseen the possibility for the 28th to fall on a mass day. (In Magdeburg 1613, there were Divine Services held on Tuesday & Thursday in addition to Sunday- an even higher chance!) The lack of Holy Innocents propers suggests that the Sunday in the Octave of Christmas would take precedence and be the source of propers, even if it fell on the 28th. (This is not to say that the Sunday after Christmas had all of its own propers even. Bezeli repeats the introit from Christmas on St. Stephen, St. John, and the first Sunday after Christmas, while Ludecus repeats only on the Sunday, providing new proper introits for the two saint days)

As far as 16th & early 17th century Lutheran Kantors were concerned, if there was a mass to be sung on the 28th, it wouldn’t be for Holy Innocents.

But as Missouri Synod Lutherans, we’re bound to take our motto from Ps. 75:
When I receive the congregation, I will judge uprightly- an ancient Hebrew word for “however I darn well please”.

10 Responses to December 28th: Holy Innocents or Sunday after Christmas?

  1. pastorjuhl

    There is an echo of Holy Innocents in Christmas 2 the following Sunday. As for my parish, we will celebrate Christmas 1. One of these days, after more teaching, I will add the Collect for Holy Innocents after the Collect for Christmas 1.

  2. William Weedon


    In early Lutheranism, Christmas was nearly universally a three day feast: from the 25th to 27th. In Luther’s House Postil’s there is a sermon called Holy Innocents (III:255), but the footnote observes that this was preached on the Eve of the Circumcision – December 31, 1541 in the parish Church. Most calendars (that I’m aware of) did not list Holy Innocents as a feast on the 28th. EVEN conservative Brandenburg (which lists Sts. Stephen and John) omits it.

  3. William Weedon

    P.S. My comment above is NOT an argument in favor of not observing Holy Innocents. It seems to me from the rubrics of LSB that a pastor is free to observe it, if he wishes.

  4. Brian Westgate

    Zion Detroit will be celebrating Holy Innocents, which is the pre-Reformation practice (and retained in Rome at least until Vatican II). The Mass for the Sunday after Christmass is really a revision of the Mass for the Vigil of the Epiphany, which falls the day after the Octave of Holy Innocents. According to the pre-Reformation rite, the Sunday after Christmass is only observed if it falls after Holy Innocents and before Circumcisionsfest.

  5. +BF Eckardt

    I was going to say the Sunday after Christmas takes precedence, but I stand corrected. I see in my Kalendar that it is a Second Class Sunday, and that since Holy Innocents is a Second Class Feast, I guess it takes precedence.

    Here’s a problem, though: the Propers for the Second Sunday after Christmas provide the same Gospel. Now what to do?

  6. Pr. H. R. Curtis

    Fr. Eckardt:

    Good question for tomorrow’s edition of Gottesdienst Online. . .


  7. +BF Eckardt

    Time for a little recidivism.

    I now stand uncorrected. Looking more carefully at the post and comments above, and again at my Anglican kalendar, I note (as Fr Juhl suggests, having run to my Anglican sources) that among “Days Liturgically of the Second Class,” a Sunday of the Second Class (such as Christmas I) is one step above Second class feasts in the general kalendar which are not of our Lord. This is why there Propers for Holy Innocents are harder to find: it was not celebrated when it fell on Sunday, but only commemorated with a second collect.

    I hereby revert to my former stance, having learned yet again that I was right in the first place and should have agreed with myself.

  8. Joe

    Holy Innocents gives us an opportunity to show how soon Christ was persecuted. With the calender presenting opportunities to preach on Simeon, Anna, the Flight to Egypt and all those texts convey about Christ as fulfillment of Law, Prophecy and His Humiliation; Holy Innocents allows us to present the Cross born by even the unsuspecting and seemingly undeserving.
    Pastors need to know where their members are with regard to unforeseen and unsuspected, unreasonable tragedy. Holy Innocents provides just such an opportunity. The mourning cry of Rachel weeping for her children, the senseless loss of life, can be grasped by cancer victims and victims of other tragedies not reasonable by sins committed.
    I'm preaching on Holy Innocents because of the situation of several of my parishoners. The Historic Lectionary is an invaluable guide, but the pastor's duty as seelsorger for his flock should guide the choice of text.

  9. Christopher Esget

    The only problem is, the historic lectionary appoints the same Gospel reading (albeit with some additional verses) for the follow Sunday, the Second Sunday after Christmas.

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