Epiphany and the Epiphany Season

Epiphany is on January 6. Epiphany means “to show” or “to make known” and is often called the Gentile Christmas because this is the celebration of when the Magi, who were Gentiles, came to worship Jesus. The Epiphany season continues until the day before Ash Wednesday. The color for most of the season of Epiphany is green. White is used on the Day of Epiphany, on the first Sunday after January 6 when we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord, and on the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday when we celebrate the Festival of the Transfiguration.

– From Lutheranism 101, p. 229

For more information, including a list of historic readings, click here.

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2 Responses to Epiphany and the Epiphany Season

  1. Harvey Longmire says:

    When, where and why did “Lutherans” (which ‘Lutherans?’) move the Feast of the Transfiguration from August 6 to the Sunday before Ash Wednesday?

    • ScotK says:

      The celebration of the Transfiguration on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany is a Lutheran contribution to the Church Year calendar begun in the sixteenth-century by reformers Johannes Bugenhagen and Viet Dietrich. Their sermons demonstrate their thinking that both Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration are epiphanies of how He is and will be, and are therefore like the first manifestation of Jesus to the Magi. Also, celebrated on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, the Transfiguration offers a glimpse of Jesus in all His divine glory, and a preview of what is to come, before the Church descends into the shadowy valley of Lent.

      The Church Book for the use of Evangelical Lutheran Congregations, know in short as the “Church Book”, was published in 1869 by the General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America. The Church Book along, with its Common Service, established a pattern for nearly every English hymnal that followed.

      Philip H. Pfatteicher comments, “the whole [Lutheran] church is in debt to the authors of the Church Book and the Common Service, who gave to the Lutheran Church in North America a liturgy which reflected a consensus of the ‘pure Lutheran liturgies’ of the sixteenth century and by this gift returned the Lutheran Church to the ancient ways of the Church of the West of which Lutheranism has theologically and confessionally always been a part, even when it did not remember it.”

      Besides establishing the Common Service—the English liturgy for the celebration of Holy Communion, the Church Book established a liturgical calendar of feasts and festivals for Lutherans in North America. The Common Service Book of 1918 added to that list, as did The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941, the Common Service Book, and Hymnal in 1958, etc. The Church Year has continued to change and grow; it has never been static.

      The Common Service Book expanded the breadth of the Church Year calendar published in the Church Book. It is in this revision of the Church Year calendar that many days were added, not that they were necessarily ‘new’, but the editors worked to establish the precedence of feast days, that is when two feasts coincided or when a feast day fell on a Sunday. It is in this revision of the Church Year calendar that Transfiguration was anchored to the Last Sunday after Epiphany. Also established at this time were the Sundays of Advent, the ‘Gesima’ Sundays, Ash Wednesday, the Sundays in Lent, the days of Holy Week, the Ascension and the Sunday following Pentecost, and the Feast of the Holy Trinity. The rubric (direction) accompanying the change stressed the invariable nature of celebrating these days without omission or variation.

      The hymn books of the LCMS, WELS, and ELS have continued the practice of celebrating the Transfiguration on the Last Sunday of the Epiphany, while beginning with the Lutheran Book of Worship, the ELCA calendar has allowed for the celebration of the Transfiguration on August 6 in addition to the Last Sunday after the Epiphany.–ScotK

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