By H. Boone Porter
Usually we have Christmas Day, followed by three Saints’ Days, then the Sunday after Christmas followed by the Feast of our Lord’s Circumcision and Naming on January 1, then, on many years, a Second Sunday after Christmas followed by Epiphany. This year, with Christmas falling on a Sunday, the cycle is changed. The observance of the First Sunday after Christmas is displaced by January 1 (although the proper of the “lost Sunday” will be used at week-day celebrations from January 2 to 5). The Second Sunday after Christmas totally disappears this year. On the other hand, an advantage this year is that January 1 receives greater attention on a Sunday, and some of the many beautiful hymns to our Lord’s Holy Name can be sung.
After the Epiphany, BCP 1928 has the Sunday commemorating Jesus in the temple. We call attention to the appropriateness of hymns 117 and 504. The Second Sunday after Epiphany in BCP 1928, or the First Sunday after Epiphany in PBCP, commemorates our Lord’s Baptism. As has been said in this column before, we are not well endowed with hymns to celebrate this important event. (The paucity of hymnody reflects the fact that editions of the Prayer Book prior to 1928 had no Sunday devoted to this theme). Hymns 10 and 53 are the most evident options, and 344 has a brief reference. St. Patrick’s Breastplate is very suitable: for churches which cannot handle the whole hymn, we suggest verses 1, 2, 6, and 7. The canticle Benedictus, or the Song of Zechariah, is suitable, either in Morning Prayer or between the Epistle and Gospel at the Eucharist. For congregations that practiced singing it in Advent, it will return now as a bonus.
For preachers and teachers who wish to explore the significance of our Lord’s baptism more fully, this year with Lectionary A offers an especially favorable opportunity. After the account of our Lord’s Baptism according to St. Matthew on the First Sunday after Epiphany, we have St. John’s account the next Sunday. This differs from the narrative in the other three gospels, concentrating on the gift of the Spirit and on Jesus as the Lamb of God. Again the Benedictus can be sung, and hymns 9 and 545. A great hymn on the Lamb of God theme is 357. Year A (the only year we have this Johannine account of our Lord’s Baptism) provides an outstanding opportunity to use hymns about the Holy Spirit. Numbers 108, 109, 217, 218, and 369 through 378 are all possibilities. On most years we have so few good opportunities to sing these except on Whitsunday, and when Whitsunday comes, many of these hymns are not familiar enough for people to enjoy singing them. It is hoped, therefore, that churches will not disregard the possibilities this year provides at this time.
One sometimes hears the complaint that we do not have enough opportunities to celebrate the feast of apostles on Sundays. Here Year A gives us an unexpected benefit on the Third Sunday after the Epiphany (January 22). The references to Paul and Cephas (Peter) in the Epistle, and to the calling of Peter, Andrew, James, and John in the Gospel make this virtually an Apostle’s Day, and gives exposure on Sunday to the themes of the Feasts of St. Peter on the 18th and of St. Paul on the 25th. This will be especially welcome for parishes which are seriously observing the Octave of Christian Unity at that time.
The Rev. Dr. H. Boone Porter was editor of The Living Church from 1977 to 1990. This article was published in our January 1,1978 issue. Note that all hymns listed are from the Episcopal Church’s 1940 Hymnal.