While still under (perpetual) construction, the Ecclesiastical Glossary [Project] has received some significant new material.
Someone asked, “Why do we use the pericopes that we do; who chooses them?” An interesting question that gave me the opportunity to dig up some old notes and dig into some documents. This doesn’t go too deep, but gives a brief overview of how the Church’s lectionary developed and the choices that were made that has led to the lectionary being used by the majority of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod today.
A lectionary gives the Church a framework for the most important task she has been given by her Lord: proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.
A lectionary is a set of appointed readings from Holy Scripture used in congregational worship. There are lectionaries appointed for use on Sundays, as well as appointed readings to be read on the major feast and festival days of the Church Year. A lectionary permits the preacher to preach through the counsel of God in an orderly manner, in a way that is both instructive and thematic. The Church Year, with its thematic structure of seasons, is central to the lectionary. Liturgical churches that use a lectionary take it totally for granted, but it comes as quite a revelation for those who know nothing about it and learn of it for the first time.
Generally, the lectionaries used today include a reading from the Holy Gospels, a reading from some other book in the New Testament, generally the Epistles, a reading from the Old Testament, and a Psalm. The Gospel reading is considered the main reading and sets the theme for the worship service. In the majority of Lutheran lectionaries, the other readings (especially the Old Testament) are intended to support the preaching on, and explanation of, the content of the Gospel reading.
Origins of the Lectionary
It is generally accepted that what we know today as the historic lectionary was first established by Jerome (lived c. A.D. 342–420). Having the name of Jerome attached to the lectionary made it influential on its own, but when it was later included in the Leonine Sacramentary, it became a standard text for the Western Church. At this time, the lectionary only provided assigned readings for Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, with the rest of the year covered by optional Propers or by the choice of the local
bishop or pastor. Three hundred years later, when Charlemagne decided to standardize liturgical practices in his do
main, his religious advisor, Alcuin (c. 735–804), did a revision of Jerome’s work. This standardized worship in the Western Church and put everyone on the same page, at least for the festival part of the year.
The next major change to the lectionary would not come until the thirteenth century with the establishment of Holy Trinity as a major festival in the Church. Holy Trinity soon came to dominate the second half of the Church Year, and with that came the establishment of assigned Propers for the entire year. By the end of the thirteenth century, the liturgical practice of the Western Church, year round, was governed by the historic lectionary, though it wouldn’t be until the Council of Trent (1545–1563) that the Roman Church actually enforced and stabilized its use.
During the Reformation the question wasn’t, “Should the lectionary be changed?” only whether it should be used at all. While Zwingli and others abolished the use of lectionaries along with the observation of the Church Year, Calvin substituted a lectio continua for the lectionary, since he saw homiletical value in having some sort of assigned reading. The Lutherans judged that the lectionary did not promote false doctrine, and they retained the historic lectionary with only slight revisions—the most notable being the added Propers for Trinity 25 and 26. Additionally, they moved Transfiguration from August 6 to the last Sunday after Epiphany.
Luther prescribed the use of the historic lectionary in both the Formula Missae and Deutsche Messe (LW vol. 53 p. 23ff), and all Lutheran altar books continued in their use of it. Even the Augsburg Confession and the Apology testify to its official use in Lutheran congregations (Article XXVI and Apology XXIV.1). For the next four hundred years, Lutheran retained this common historic lectionary, along with Roman Catholics and Anglicans. It served as the basis for preaching and devotional books, hymnody and church music, and even until the mid-twentieth century was the index for every Lutheran hymnal.
There certainly is a history of other lectionaries being prepared. Even in Luther’s day, it is recorded that among the Lutherans there were different lectionaries beginning to be used. It is important and useful to note that these were not individual undertakings, but that all the churches in a district or area would be using the same “variation.” In 1896 the Eisenach Conference churches of the Prussian Union produced a lectionary, popularized in the United States by Lenski and his notes on the series. The Synodical Conference produced a series that was adopted in 1912 and included by the framers of The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) as a “Second Series” available for use on Sundays (TLH p. 159ff). In 1868 the Scandinavian Lutheran Church produced a Three-Year Lectionary for their use. Most often these alternate lectionaries were produced, not to supplant the historic lectionary, but to supplement it, often adding Old Testament Readings or offering alternate texts for preaching. For the most part, the patterns and themes of the historic lectionary were maintained.
Already fifteen years after the production of The Lutheran Hymnal, American Lutheran church bodies were seeking a revision. In 1965 the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod resolved to appoint a commission that would work with other Lutheran church bodies to produce a new common hymnal. In February 1966 representatives of the LCMS, the American Lutheran Church, and the Lutheran Church in America met in Chicago and formed what would become the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW). Later, representatives of the Slovak Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada (ELCIC) joined the Commission. Among other issues, the ILCW dealt with the Church Year calendar and proposed a multi-year lectionary, citing a “widespread restiveness with the appointed readings, a great deal of experimentation, and a desire for either reform of the pericopes or a completely new lectionary,” resulting from “a variety of influences in current theology, social-ethical involvements, developments in worship practice, and especially the influential biblical theology movement of recent decades” (Contemporary Worship 6: The Church Year Calendar and Lectionary. Prepared by the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House; Philadelphia: Board of Publications of the Lutheran Church in America; St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1973. p. 13).
One of the outcomes of Vatican II was the publication of the Ordo Lectionum Missae in 1969, the new Three-Year Series that supplanted the historic (One-Year) lectionary in the Roman Catholic Church. The next year the Protestant Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church, and United Church of Christ adopted the Ordo as a basis for new lectionaries in their churches. Having already set aside concern for loyalty to the received heritage and reverence for Western tradition, the ILCW simply followed suit when, in 1973, the ILCW published its version of the Three-Year Roman Ordo. The ILCW Three-Year Series established a lectio continua of synoptic Gospel assigned to each year: “Year A” focuses on Matthew, “Year B” on Mark, and “Year C” on Luke. John is featured in all three Series during the Sundays after Easter, and appears extensively along with Mark in Year B, especially in Advent, Christmas, and Lent. The Three-Year Series assigned a First Lesson, usually the Old Testament, to coordinate with the Gospel Reading. A lectio continua Reading of the Epistles was assigned to each year with no special effort to coordinate the Epistle with the Gospel selection.
Contemporary Lectionaries, Especially Lutheran
With the inclusion of the ILCW Three-Year Series in the LCMS’s Lutheran Worship, the ELCA’s Lutheran Book of Worship, WELS’s Christian Worship, and the ELS’s Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, this Series quickly became popular in Lutheran circles. Even though the ILCW had offered a revision of the historic (One-Year) lectionary to be included with the Three-Year Series, within fifteen years its use had sharply fallen.
However common and widely used it was among Lutherans, the ILCW Three-Year Series become one of the most short-lived lectionary series. Two years after the formation of the ILCW, representatives of the ELCA, ELCIC, and LCMS had joined an ecumenical group called the Consultation on Common Texts (CCT). Composed of biblical, linguistic, and liturgical scholars from various Christian denominations, their purpose was to prepare worship texts and materials for use in North America, including lectionaries. In 1978 they sponsored a meeting in Washington DC whose purpose was to form a committee that would reconcile the differences between the various denominational uses of the Three-Year Series. Ultimately the LCMS withdrew from this group. In 1983 the remaining members published the Common Lectionary.
The biggest change in the Common Lectionary over its ILCW predecessor was the revision of Old Testament Lessons. The framers of the ILCW lectionaries had selected texts with reference to their New Testament fulfillment (typological approach). The CCT questioned the validity of imposed typology on the Old Testament Scriptures. Instead, the Common Lectionary used a pattern of semi-continuous readings, which were essentially independent from the Gospel. The CCT also included an appointed Psalm in the Sunday Readings. Another notable change was the adoption of the Episcopal Church’s practice of replacing the “Sundays after Pentecost” with “Propers” keyed to the civil calendar.
The Common Lectionary was first used on a trial basis by a number of Lutheran and Episcopal congregations. The first to officially adopt it for use in their congregations was the Anglican Church of Canada in 1985. Early on, the Common Lectionary received a number of criticisms. These criticisms were directed especially from Lutheran, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic sources. Ultimately, and in response to those criticisms, the CCT published the Revised Common Lectionary (RLC) in 1992. In addition, three versions of the RLC were framed in response to the criticism of the Old Testament selections. There is a Roman Catholic version, which at times used readings from the Apocrypha for the Old Testament Lesson. And then there are two Protestant versions, one in which the typological approach to assigning the Old Testament Lesson matched to the Gospel is used, and the other where the semi-continuous Old Testament Readings of the Common Lectionary are mostly retained. The increasing influence of social issues on the selection of texts is seen in the revisions of the RCL, as more stories of women of faith are added and texts deemed to appear anti-Semitic when taken out of their cultural and religious context of the Ancient Near East are eliminated.
The RCL has become the lectionary of the Episcopal Church, the ELCA, and ELCIC. It is the official lectionary of the United Methodist Church, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, and Disciples of Christ.
The Lectionary for Lutheran Service Book
The LCMS did not adopt the RCL. Beginning in 1999, seventeen years after the introduction of Lutheran Worship, the LCMS Commission on Worship began work toward a new hymnal. In the 2006 Guide to Introducing Lutheran Service Book (p. 49, 50), the Commission’s Lectionary Committee summarizes the approach taken toward the lectionaries to be included in the new hymnal, Lutheran Service Book (LSB):
From the beginning of the development of LSB, the Lectionary Committee determined that both the three and one-year lectionaries would be included in LSB. Since the introduction of the three-year lectionary in the Lutheran Church in the early 1970s, the great majority of congregations have made use of it. Though the number of congregations currently using the one-year lectionary is relatively small, the committee believed it essential to retain this historic lectionary, though with some modifications.
Three-Year Lectionary (LSB pp. xiv–xix)
The committee’s work concerning the three-year lectionary centered on the extent to which it would make use of the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), which was published in 1992. The committee studied the issue carefully and, at the direction of the Commission on Worship, endeavored to bring considerable commonality with the RCL, especially during the Sundays after Pentecost. During festivals such as Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter, however, the lectionary reflects greater commonality with the one-year lectionary.
Among some of the features of the revised three-year lectionary are the following:
- Some Old Testament readings have been changed so that they are more closely connected to the Gospel for the day.
- Most of Acts 1–2 is read consecutively every year according to the following schedule:
Ascension Day Acts 1:1–11 (First Reading)
Easter 7 Acts 1:12–26 (First Reading)
Day of Pentecost Acts 2:1–21 (Second Reading)
Holy Trinity Acts 2:14a, 22–36 (Second Reading)
- Following the original intentions of the three-year lectionary, the Psalm of the Day is not understood to be a separate reading but rather a response to the Old Testament/First Reading. With the inclusion of 107 psalms in the Pew Edition, the selections for Psalm of the Day have been completely revised. Every effort has been made to use whole psalms. When a portion of a longer psalm is appointed, the committee endeavored to make the selection of verses as straightforward as possible to avoid causing confusion for the worshiper.
As explained above, the Sundays after Pentecost follow the system that is used in the RCL. In this system, specific propers are assigned to a period of seven consecutive days, each being given the designation “Proper” with a number following. Unlike the current system in Lutheran Worship, where Sundays are skipped at the end of the church year, the new calendar places the “skip” at the beginning, right after the Sunday of the Holy Trinity. The designation “__________ Sunday after Pentecost” is retained as a more churchly way of identifying the Sunday, rather than by the “Proper” number. Though a bit different than our current practice, this new calendar is quite easy to use, partly because it is so logically conceived.
One-Year Lectionary (LSB pp. xx–xxi)
The committee quickly determined that the historic one-year lectionary, together with its calendar, would be retained. Benefits of using this lectionary include an annual repetition of key biblical texts and the ability to consult historic resources, such as Martin Luther’s various series of sermons on the Gospels and Epistles. Among the features of the LSB one-year lectionary are the following:
- The traditional Gospels and Epistles are retained. In a few cases an alternate Gospel is provided. More frequently, an alternate Epistle is also included.
- The Old Testament readings were completely revised with the goal of providing readings that are closely related to the Holy Gospel for each day.
- The pre-Lent season, also known as the “gesima” Sundays, is retained.
- A minor adjustment from the historic calendar occurs in the weeks following Easter. Whereas the earlier calendar referred to these as the Sundays “after” Easter, the revised calendar mirrors the three-year lectionary in designating them as the Sundays “of Easter. The traditional Latin names for the Sundays have been retained, as have the appointed readings.
At the time Lutheran Service Book was being planned, the Lectionary Committee acknowledge a small but loyal following for the historic liturgy. In reality there is increasing interest in the older historic (one-year) lectionary. For the first time since The Lutheran Hymnal, there is again support for the historic lectionary, with a separate LSB One-Year Lectionary book being published.
Now, I apologize in advance if what follows sounds preachy. You will never find the perfect lectionary, yet even the worst of them is probably better than no lectionary at all. What is hugely obvious is that just as there is no such thing as a theologically neutral translation of the Scriptures, so, too, there is no such thing as a theologically neutral lectionary. The RCL lectionary(s) often display an agenda that at many points finds itself at cross-purposes with confessional Lutheranism. (So stick with the LSB lectionaries—end of plug.) While the question of which lectionary we use (or whether we use a lectionary at all, for that matter) is certainly an adiaphoran, this does not make it an unimportant matter. In choosing a lectionary for use in the Divine Service, we should remember that we are choosing a catechetical tool. A lectionary is to be more than a means to dole out little parcels of Scripture, it gives a framework for the most important task the Church has been given by her Lord: proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. It sets the hearer on the path toward understanding the purpose and meaning of Holy Scripture, and serves as a guide for both pastor and congregation through the whole counsel of God. Understanding the history behind the lectionaries is important, especially for pastors called to these tasks of preaching and teaching God’s people.
It should be noted. Much of this article was first put together several years ago when several of us pastors in the circuit were keenly interested in the historic lectionary, and there was not talk yet of a new hymnal (probably 1997—1998). Back then I was involved in several listservs and while I can’t say for certain, I am fairly sure that some of this was picked up from posts and/or papers that we would circulate to start or lubricate discussion. Living in the world that I do now, I am more conscious of acknowledging sources and giving credit for seminal thoughts that have been incorporated into subsequent work. Sixteen or so years ago, when this was put together for my own use, my tracking and acknowledgement of sources was virtually none existent. This also leaves facts somewhat unverifiable. Had I meant to publish it, hopefully I would have done better at the time. Now, I have no idea how to reconstruct those sources.
Subsequent to the posting of this article I was contacted by the Rev. Alexander Ring. Much of the article is a condensaton and gloss of his paper The Path of Understanding:The Development of Lectionaries and their use in the Lutheran Church, presented to the Evangelical Lutheran Synod General Pastoral Conference, Bloomington, MN, January 68, 1998. It was later published in Lutheran Synod Quarterly, Vol 38, #2, 90–124. This version is now posted with Rev. Ring’s knowledge and consent.
The resurrection of Jesus is our great salvation. To prepare to celebrate the feast of the Resurrection (Easter), the Church sets aside a season of preparation. In AD 325, the Council of Nicaea recorded the first reference to the specific number of days for Lent: forty. This forty-day preparation was first prescribed for baptismal candidates and became known as Lent (from the Old English word for “spring”). During this period, the candidates were examined in preparation for Baptism at the Easter (or Paschal) Vigil. Later, these forty days were associated with Jesus’ forty days in the desert prior to His temptation. The forty day period is is symbolic of other periods of 40 in Scripture: the forty years Moses and the children of Israel were detained from entering the Promised Land, Elijah’s forty days spent in the wilderness, Noah had rain for forty days and forty nights, the Israelites wondered forty years to the promised land, and Jonah gave the city of Nineveh forty days to repent.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a 40-day season of repentance and preparation called Lent. The name is derived from the practice of placing ashes on the forehead as a sign of penitence and a reminder of human mortality. The color for Ash Wednesday is black, while the liturgical color for Lent is violet. Lent is a season of forty days and concludes on Holy Saturday–the Saturday before Easter. During Lent the Church takes to opportunity to focus on our need to repent of our sins and our need of a Savior from sin. The Sundays during this season are not counted as a part of the forty-day season; the Sundays are not “of Lent” but “in Lent.” Thus even during Lent, while the worship services that congregations typically offer are penitential and solemn, the the Gospel appointed to Sundays in Lent do not speak of Christ’s Passion, rather they prefigure the great Easter victory. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s proof that our salvation has been completed and that the promise of life forever with our God and Father has been secured. The ritual observances of Lent are concrete reminders of the greater solemnity of this season, yet in all things, Lutherans emphasize the Gospel of Christ and the hope of Easter as central even to this penitential season.
The Lent Quarantine
The observation of Lent is characterized by the liturgical omission of the joyous Alleluias in the Divine Service. After the Epistle we hear the Tract or Verse instead. The Gloria in Excelsis also is not sung. Some congregations choose to silence the organ or limit its use to accompanying congregational singing, thus there are no instrumental preludes, postludes, or anthems. Though less enforced today, it has been traditional to not schedule weddings during Lent. Some congregation honor the Lenten quarantine by choosing to not place flowers in the chancel and some will cover crucifixes and crosses with veils of violet or unbleached white linen. The quarantine sets the tone for the liturgy of Lent which is patient preparation and waiting for the climactic liturgies and services of Holy Week.
The Service of the Word makes a transition from prayer and praise to the hearing of God’s Word. The bestowal of God’s grace, which was announced in the Introit and prayed for in the Collect, will now take place in the reading and preaching of God’s Word. The reading of Scripture in the Divine Service is testimony of our high view of the Bible’s inspiration and authority. God’s Word shapes, forms, and norms what we say and do. Reading God’s Word, and the preaching that is governed by these Scriptures, is the high point for the Service of the Word.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Wherever God’s Word is, there our Lord has promised to be (Matthew 18:20).
Our service follows a simple pattern for the hearing of God’s Word then responding with thanksgiving and praise. Typically the readings for the Divine Service are one from the Old Testament, one from an apostolic letter (Epistle), and one from a Gospel. In a real sense, the readings from the Old Testament and an Epistle lead to and find their fulfillment in the Gospel. In this way, the first two readings function like John the Baptist preparing us to hear in repentance and faith the gracious voice of Christ. Origen, an early Christian, called the Holy Gospel the “crown of all Holy Scripture.”
The Word of God comes to us through His Scriptures with power to deliver what He promises. They do this by not only telling us about Jesus but also by giving us Jesus, who was crucified for our sins and raised to life for our justification. Through the reading and the preaching of His Scripture, God is at work creating faith, bestowing His peace in the forgiveness of sins, strengthening His people in their struggle against sin, and nurturing the hope of everlasting life.
As Jesus came to us in the lowliness of our flesh in His incarnation, so now He comes to us in human words. Through these words, God himself is at work to “make [us] wise for salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15). The Word of God is the Word of life.
Old Testament Reading and Epistle
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
The first reading is typically from the Old Testament. Through the recorded history of Israel and the words of the prophets, we are taught God’s work of salvation in the Old Testament. There we hear the prophecies of the Messiah who would come to men that all people might once again be brought back to God. The Old Testament Reading prepares us to hear the Holy Gospel, which is the fulfillment of the prophecies and promises made in the Old Testament.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Hearing the Word of God, the people respond with words of praise. The Gradual is a portion of a psalm or other Scripture passage that provides a response after the Old Testament Reading. It is a proper selected to help the hearer reflect on the reading in context with the theme of the day or the season of the Church Year. It also serves as a bridge between the first reading and the Epistle that follows.
2 Timothy 3:16–17
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
The Epistle, a reading from a New Testament letter, gives us God’s counsel on how His gracious Word is applied to the hearer and the Church. Often in this reading we hear how God’s Word accomplishes what it says—creating faith, bestowing forgiveness, strengthening God’s people in their struggles against sin, and enlivening in them the hope of eternal life.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Like the Gradual, the Alleluia and Verseprovide a transition between the readings. The word alleluia is Hebrew for “praise the Lord.” The Verse prepares us to meet the Christ of God in His Word, hearing of His life, ministry, death, and resurrection for the salvation of all.
Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Simon Peter answered [Jesus], “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
The Holy Gospel according to St. ___________, the ________chapter.
Glory to You, O Lord.
The Holy Gospel always contains the very words or deeds of Jesus. This makes the reading of the Holy Gospel the summit of the Service of the Word, and we recognize this by surrounding our Savior’s words with songs of glory and praise and by standing to receive His gracious words.
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to You, O Christ.
The Holy Gospel is seen as the summit of the Service of the Word, and that fact is acknowledged with the acclamation of glory and praise. Often, the congregation will stand during the reading of the Gospel in honor of the gracious Word of Christ that is being proclaimed before it. In His speaking in and through the Scripture, God is serving His people. From His words we receive life and we receive salvation.
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Next: Hymns and the Sermon
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
The Salutation is a special greeting between the congregation and its pastor. Originally the pastor would have spoken “Peace be with you,” purposefully repeating our Lord’s post-resurrection greeting to His fearful disciples gathered together in the upper room on that first Easter evening. The present wording of the Salutation is inexorably tied to His incarnation (Luke 1:28) and with His promise to be with His church (Matthew 28:20). In the Divine Service the announcement of the Lord’s peace heralds His coming to us in the readings that follow and makes us aware that important things are about to happen.
Salutation. Special greeting between pastor and people: “The Lord be with you,” followed by the response “And also with you” or “And with your spirit.”
Prayer and The Collect of the Day
Prayer is how the Christian acknowledges the gifts of the Gospel. “Faith that is born from what is heard acknowledges the gifts received with eager thankfulness and praise (Lutheran Worship, pg. 6). In the Scriptures God speaks to human beings, but in prayer, human beings speak to God. Prayer is the life of faith in active communion or conversation with object of our faith–God. Prayer is the evidence of the relationship we have with the Father because of the redemption won for us by the Son. It shows our childlike trust and confidence in the One who does for us all that we need and more.
Let us pray.
The Collect of the Day “collects” in a concise and beautiful manner the Gospel message for the day to implore God, by His grace and through His mercy, to manifest His love in and through our thoughts, words, and deeds. We pray these things to remember Him who always provides for us, and to receive these gifts with godly thanksgiving. Most of these prayers have been in continuous use in the Church for more than 1,500 years. In praying the Collect, we join with the great body of believers, the communion of saints, and with the generations yet to come.
Amen. Declaration that what has been said is true and affirming its trust in the Lord’s Gospel promise; “yes, yes, this is most certainly true.”
A special advantage of using the collects, both ancient and modern, is that they keep the fundamental needs of salvation and the great objective facts of divine grace in clear focus, and they align us with the revealed will of God which will soon be proclaimed in the reading of Scripture. The congregation makes the Collect its own with its “amen,”
As the Senior Editor working with church resources at Concordia Publishing House, I have decisions to make about what appears in those resources. I am used to explaining the reasons for those decision. Sometimes I’m asked to explain things that appear in CPH products but are actually determined by our use of the Church Year, or the lectionary, or the liturgy. Since I love digging into and understanding more about the Church Year, the lectionary, and the liturgy, and write often here about them, I thought I would share this afternoon’s endeavor with those of you who still might look in on this poor oft-neglected blog.
Each year we purchase CPH’s downloadable Church calendar resource (i.e. 2010-2011 Church Year Calendar-Series A”). Our altar guild uses this for the colors of the altar paraments. Holy Thursday is listed for the color White. The CPH book “Lutheran Worship History And Practice” lists scarlet or purple. I know that LSB also has white as an option but shouldn’t the color default to purple on the calendar?
When we set the calendars in our various resources I was in contact with the Commission on Worship of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and worked closely with them. As that commission no longer exists. I can certainly tell you why we have made the choices we have at CPH, but as for the intricacies of rationale behind what appears in the Church Year calendar of Lutheran Service Book, I could only suggest that you may want to make contact with the former members of the Lectionary Committee, Lutheran Service Book Project. They are: James Brauer, Arthur Just (chairman), Daniel Reuning, D. Richard Stuckwisch, and Gregory Wismar.
When working with the Church Year and the LSB lectionary there are often options offered. When bringing these options into CPH products, it often means that I, as the editor, have choices to make. After some trial and error, and extended discussions with Commission directors and members, it has been agreed that when an option is presented, CPH will consistently offer the first option. The Commission’s point of view was that the first option offered was the majority or preferred text or practice. So for Holy Week, starting with the LSB calendar in 2006, the options are S/V, scarlet/violet. Scarlet being stated first shows the Commission’s decision that it is the preferred color for observations during that week, with violet the alternate option. It should be noted that in LSB for the first time I am aware of, the Thursday in Holy Week is differentiated between Holy Thursday and Maundy Thursday in an LCMS calendar. During the day of Thursday in Holy Week the preferred color is scarlet. All prayer offices and worship services held during the day would be observed using scarlet paraments.
Now, Pastor, some of what follows is from my own understanding and study, so should not be totally attributed to the Commission; where I err or am unclear, the fault is mine. There has been, since at least the ’90s, a increased interest in, and practice of, the ancient Triduum among Missouri Synod Lutherans. The three services of the Triduum—Divine Service on Holy Thursday, the chief service on Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil—comprise a single unit. The Thursday in Holy Week becomes a day of transition, with the Triduum observed, there is a ‘break’ that happens at sunset between Lent preparation and commemorating Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. Sunset (the traditional—liturgical—beginning of the new day) on Holy Thursday, is the vigil for Good Friday and begins the Triduum (cf. the General Notes on page 506 of the LSB Altar Book).
When the Divine Service is celebrated on the Thursday in Holy Week (technically, when it is celebrated in the evening as the vigil of Good Friday), it is observed as a feast of Christ. I suspect this came about when the ILCW introduced the three-year lectionary and the traditional John 13 Gospel (TLH and the common lectionary) was replaced by the institution narratives in the respective A, B, and C Gospels. As a feast of Christ , it is consistent to use white paraments. With the LW calendar, white was the optional color to violet. Because the Triduum has been raised as the preferred practice in LSB lectionary and resources, our CPH resources designate white as the color for the day because for most congregations, the Divine Service of the Thursday in Holy Week is the chief service of the day.
Incidentally, you may have also picked up in this response why the lectionary committee moved from designating the Thursday in Holy Week as Maundy Thursday to Holy Thursday; for with the shift from John 13 to the institutional narratives as the appointed Gospel, the mandatum of Maundy Thursday is without context.
Well, as you rush off to celebrate your Holy (Maundy) Thursday, what are your thoughts and insights? Maybe there is a Commission member or former director lurking about that can authenticate or correct what I have offered. I’m all ears. Like you, I love this stuff.
A buff, polish, and slight expansion has been done on the Ecclesiastical Terms page.