How Festivals Are Observed in Our Churches
in the Fear of God


(From Examination of the Council of Trent, Part IV [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1986], pp. 436-38.)

With the superstitions removed, the true and useful festivals of the ancient church are celebrated among us for church gatherings, with such devotion and piety that there is no doubt that under the blessing of God piety is kindled and increased, since the people are taught that the Holy Spirit wants to be efficacious through the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and that Christ wants to be in the midst of those who are gathered together in His name (Matt. 18:20).
To speak in particular of the church at Braunschweig, in the schools daily exercises of piety have been instituted in such a way that some chapter is always read to the boys who are gathered there, either from the Old or from the New Testament, with a brief explanation added. Thereafter every hour a number of pious hymns are sung. Besides, at a certain hour the scholars go to the church every day and publicly recite some chapter either from the Scripture or from the catechism, with pious praying of psalms, responsories, hymns, canticles, and collects.
The people come together twice every day at a certain hour in the morning and evening, and after a number of psalms have been chanted, a sermon is held, with readings distributed in an orderly manner, in part from the Old, in part from the New Testament. The preaching is always concluded with common prayers, and with some hymn of thanksgiving. Besides, every week on a certain day a larger number of people come together for public and solemn supplications called litanies.
However, on Sundays a multitude of people assemble with great regularity to sing the praises of the Lord, to hear and meditate upon the Word, for use of the sacraments, for public prayers, for the gathering of alms, and for other exercises of piety. The order of the time and of the readings is arranged in such a way from five o’clock in the evening that, according to the nature of the household, every member of the family is able to be present at certain gatherings, and that each is able to hear and learn something according to his own power of comprehension.
Moreover, solemn festivals about the chief benefits of Christ, and of the principal points of the heavenly doctrine are celebrated with great devotion and piety, with explanation of the doctrine, and public praise of the benefits of God. Thus the feast of the birth of Christ is celebrated in a religious manner, and in order that the whole doctrine about this article can be set forth and explained, a three-day period is devoted to this festival, as also to certain other festivals. On the day of the circumcision the teaching is explained how Christ was made under the Law, also the topic of Christian liberty is treated, and there are added reminders about the beginning of the new year. On the day of the Epiphany there is treated the doctrine of and thanksgiving for the calling of the Gentiles. On the feast of purification the doctrine is explained how Christ is the firstborn among many brethren; useful reminders are given for the benefit of women who have given birth, and the very lovely chant of Simeon is explained. On this festival, as also on others, the abuses and superstitions brought in by the papalists are censured and refuted. On the day of the Bacchanals [the day before the beginning of Lent] the story of the baptism of Christ is set forth in order that people may be reminded of their profession, lest they imitate the excesses of the heathen on those days. We keep the festival of the Annunciation of Mary on account of the article about the conception of Christ; we celebrate the memory of the institution of the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday. On Good Friday we celebrate a solemn meditation on the Lord’s Passion. For the same reason we solemnly celebrate the feast of the resurrection of Christ, of His ascension, of the sending of the Holy Spirit, and of the Trinity. We retain the festival of John the Baptizer and of the Visitation of Mary, because the stories contain very useful teachings. On the day of Michaelmas the papalist fables and superstitions about the dedication and invocation of Michael are refuted. However the doctrine of Scripture about the services of the angels is presented, and thanks is given for the fruits of the earth received throughout the year. On the days of the apostles the Bible stories about these men are set forth to the people, and then everyone is dismissed to the labors of his calling.
Thus, since regular assemblies of the church take place every day, reminders are also given about other festivals according to the occasion indicated on the calendar, about which we have true histories containing some useful teaching. Besides these festivals, the doctrine of true repentance and the history of the passion is customarily treated during the 40 days of Lent. Besides, a certain number of days has been set aside during each quarter of the year for the customary treatment of the catechism. Also, we are not ashamed to imitate the custom of the ancient church by treating certain readings on the festival days, as Augustine says in the preface to the Epistle of John: “You remember that we are accustomed to treat the Gospel of John according to the order of readings, but because now the observance of saints days has come in between, on which we must recite certain readings of the Gospel in the church, which are annual affairs that there is no room for others, the order with which we began is of necessity a bit interrupted, but not omitted.” The same Augustine says, Tract. 6, in Johannem: “You know that at an annual festival, after the Passion of the Lord, the book of the Acts of the Apostles is read aloud in the church every year.” In Tract. 13 he says that Ps. 21 is read every year during the final week in the hearing of the whole people.
Concerning the true celebration of the ancient and useful festivals the papalists have nothing they can deservedly censure in our people. Would that they themselves would rightly give attention to the godly and devout celebration of the ancient festivals in such a way that, once the superstitious opinions had been cast off, they could serve to increase true piety.

“Chemnitz, the greatest theologian of the Sixteenth Century”
-- Theodore E. Schmauk

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