Happy St. Stephen's Day!

Merry Christmas, and Happy St. Stephen's Day!

Christmas is not a single day, but a 12-day feast that runs from December 25 to January 5, culminating with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. There are several feastdays during this joyous season of Christmastide. Today, December 26, is one of them: the feastday of St. Stephen. 

The story of Stephen is found in Acts 6-7. He was the first deacon, one of seven leaders chosen to care for the poor in the early Jerusalem church. He was also the first Christian martyr. It’s customary on this day to serve others, especially those who may be overlooked or neglected, just as St. Stephen did. Mark this day by giving to the needy, volunteering with your church or local charity, and showing hospitality to neighbors.

Stephen and the Dispute before Sanhedrin (Angelico, circa 1447, Vanderbilt Div. Lib.)

Prayer for the day

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. (Book of Common  Prayer)

Scripture readings (lectionary)

Psalm 31:1-5

Jeremiah 26:1-9,12-15

Matthew 23:34-39

Acts 6:8—7:2, 7:51-60

Musical selection

The best known carol that mentions St. Stephen's Day is "Good King Wenceslas," which begins: "Good King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen." The last lines are:

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing

These words recall Christ's teaching that "as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matt. 25:40). They are words that Stephen himself lived. One of my favorite renditions of this song is by the Irish Rovers:

Other resources

  • "St. Stephen" (from Catholic Encyclopedia), including this line: "Little did all the people present, casting stones upon him, realize that the blood they shed was the first seed of a harvest that was to cover the world."