Trinity Season and the Michaelmas Skip

At The First Lutheran Church of Boston, we have been using the historic one-year lectionary since Advent 2016. One feature of this lectionary is the numbering of the ordinal Sundays (also known as the non-festival portion of the church year, more informally known as the “green season”) from Trinity Sunday rather than from Pentecost, as the three-year lectionary does. Another feature of this lectionary is the grouping of the Trinity season into four parts:1

  • Trinity Tide, the first six weeks of the season. These days unpack the mysteries of the nature of God and of His relationship with the Church.
  • St. John’s Tide, beginning around the feast of St. John the Baptist on June 24. The lessons in this lengthy part of the year concern sanctification and daily repentance, and include several of Jesus’ parables. Though our good works are not meritorious, there is nevertheless considerable benefit to be found in continually examining the importance of good works in our vocations.
  • Angels’ Tide, beginning around the feast of St. Michael and All Angels (also called “Michaelmas”) on September 29. This part of the year focuses on how God defends His Church against Satan through the pure proclamation of the Gospel. Reformation Day and All Saints’ Day, both of which occur during this period, marry nicely with this theme.
  • The Last Sundays, the last three Sundays of the church year—these days focus on the second coming of Christ, how we are to receive Him, and appeals to “keep watch.” They also feed smoothly into the season of Advent, which very much reflects these themes.

If you pay very close attention on a weekly basis, you’ll notice that the lessons for a given day in the summer don’t always line up with the propers as given for that day in the one-year lectionary in Lutheran Service Book. This is because the variable date of Easter stretches or shortens the length of the Trinity season by a different number of weeks every year, and so some of the “green” Sundays must be skipped.

But which Sundays are to be skipped? There are several options. Lutheran Service Book skips only at the end, straight to Trinity 27 (the last Sunday of the church year). Lutheran Worship’s one-year lectionary skips to Trinity 25, grouping the last three Sundays of the church year together as a sort of “season of the end times,” a scheme also followed by the pre-Reformation medieval church. Luther’s own lectionary of 1526 closes with an expanded five-Sunday “end times” season. And, of course, the three-year lectionary does it yet another way, skipping immediately after Trinity Sunday. (In fact, the three-year lectionary also features a slightly different division of the “green season,” grouping the Sundays into Trinity Tide, Apostles’ Tide, Martyrs’ Tide, and Angels’ Tide.)

One custom, apparently derived from the Anglican tradition (which cross-pollinated with the Lutheran tradition in the 16th and 17th centuries thanks to Martin Bucer, and again in the late 19th century once American Lutherans began celebrating the liturgy in English), is the so-called “Michaelmas skip:” starting on the Sunday nearest September 29, skip directly to Trinity 19. This practice keeps together the entirety of Angels’ Tide and allows the Church to explore its valuable theme year after year, a theme which leads nicely into the eschatological focus of the last few Sundays of the church year.

Such diversity in lectionary practice represents a working-out of the freedom of the Gospel. All the methods have their own advantages, and each individual locale is free to decide which option to use. In order to maintain the integrity of the lessons in Angels’ Tide, FLC employs the Michaelmas skip, which in 2017 necessitates skipping three weeks of propers: so Trinity 15 uses the propers for Trinity 15, Trinity 16 uses the propers for Trinity 19; Trinity 17 uses the propers for Trinity 20, and so forth. The Sundays are still numbered ordinally: the day in 2017 we observe as Trinity 16 (using Trinity 19 propers) indeed marks the sixteenth week since Trinity Sunday and not the nineteenth, after all. Admittedly, this practice is confusing, yet it is also accurate. All this information is offered with the hope that it enriches your appreciation of the “green season” and the way in which the Church structures its yearly celebration of its life in Christ.

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