Sometimes, in more liturgical churches, we say an extra prayer about a specific person on Sunday mornings. Or we'll change the color of the decorations in the sanctuary, even though we haven’t entered into a new season of the church year. We do this to honor and remember great saints of the church who have gone before us—but why? What's the point? Is it biblical?
These special days on the church calendar are called “minor feasts”—as opposed to the major feasts of Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday. They are days for us to remember the great men and women of God who have gone before us, and to pray that God would give us the grace to follow their examples of exceptional faith, love, and gospel proclamation.
Is it idolatry to remember and celebrate human beings? Absolutely not! It is, of course, important to remember that on minor feast days we are not worshiping the saints. We are merely remembering the great things they did for God and for his people, and giving them honor for their faithful service to Christ.
First and foremost, though, the saints should cause us to look to Jesus Christ, as Hebrews 12:1-2a tells us: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith." We celebrate the saints, not because they are great, but because they looked to Christ and put their faith in him. This should inspire us to do the same!
There are specific ways in which we celebrate the saints on these minor feast days. Typically, we celebrate a saint on the day of his or her death, because, as Psalm 116:15 tells us, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” This is a tradition going back to the ancient church, as it was understood that the day of a saint’s death was a kind of “birthday” when they went to be in the presence of God forever.
If a saint was martyred, or if we are celebrating an event that led to someone being martyred, we use the color red for our vestments, banners, and frontal on the altar. If the saint being celebrated was not martyred, or if we are celebrating an event that didn’t lead to martyrdom, we use white as our liturgical color. We also include a collect (short for "collective prayer") about the saint and mention them in the prayers at the beginning of the Eucharistic liturgy.
Making these small changes helps us honor our faithful brothers and sisters who have “fought the good fight” and “finished the race” (2 Tim. 4:7). May these days of celebration prompt us to praise the Lord for his work in the lives of these men and women and spur us on to similar faithfulness in our own lives. And I hope everyone has a blessed Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul this Sunday!