The Diversity of Epiphany
From the archives, January 2015. The home blessing link is updated for 2017, and includes a printable form.
For Catholics living in the United States attending mass in the Ordinary Form, January 3 is the transferred Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. Elsewhere, such as in Rome, Epiphany is celebrated on the traditional date of January 6.
The word “Catholic” means universal, but it is on transferred feast days (such as the Ascension and other holydays of obligation) it feels a little unsettling to not be united across the world celebrating the same feast. I do see the prudence and reasons why the Church is allowing feast days to be transferred (partially due to limited priests), but it is a sad reflection that the Catholic Faith is not thriving in the United States. I admit, that when Epiphany comes earlier than January 6, it is a little bittersweet; I am happiest when the universal Church celebrates together on January 6.
Epiphany is actually marked with a history of diversity. Epiphany is one of the older feasts of the Catholic Church, but it has evolved to what the feast is today. The Church of the East and West did not agree on when to celebrate Christmas. The Church of the East (such as Greek) marked Epiphany as honoring the day of Christ’s birth. The Western Church celebrated a separate feast of Christmas on December 25th by the 4th century. It took several centuries to resolve having two separate feast days.
Not only was there disagreement about when to celebrate Christmas, but focus of the liturgy for the feast of the Epiphany also evolved over time, with remnants still remaining within the liturgy. The Epiphany of our Lord is a multi-layered feast. The main focal point is the coming of the Magi and manifestation for all peoples, but there are also other aspects found throughout the liturgy:
- It is a feast of Light. This is another Christmas feast that echoes the Nativity of Christ, the Light of the World, but now that Light is revealed for all nations.
- Epiphany is also a feast of Water, recalling the Baptism of the Lord and our own baptisms. A older Blessing of Waters was attached for many years with this feast day. (This older book published in 1901, The Blessing of the Waters on the Eve of Epiphany contains the Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic and Russian versions from the 19th century can be viewed online. Catholic Culture also has the Blessing from the 1964 Roman Ritual.)
- Christ’s first miracle at the Wedding at Cana where water is turned to wine is also recalled within the liturgy. For many centuries weddings were celebrated on this feast day. The liturgy touches on Christ as the Bridegroom, the Church as His Bride and other nuptial imagery.
- This feast honors the Kingship of Christ in an even greater way than the “newer” Solemnity of Christ the King.
The connections are embedded in the prayers and readings of the Mass, but one main clue is found in the Divine Office in the antiphons before the Benedictus in the Morning Prayer:
Today the Bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed her sins away in Jordan’s waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the wedding guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia.
and also in the Antiphon before the Magnificat in the Evening Prayer:
Three mysteries mark this holy day: today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ; today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast; today Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation.
Epiphany is another multi-layered solemnity of the Liturgical Year. I mentioned in my last post how our human nature needs extra time to absorb and meditate on the great richness of the feast day. Although there is no longer an octave attached to it, we are given up to a week following Epiphany as time to grasp the mystery.
Bringing It Home
I summarized our family Epiphany celebration several years ago. This year my extended family could not gather together with our priest friend, so my family is celebrating Epiphany quietly at home today. Later today we will have a little traditional house blessing and mark the lintel over our front door with the new markings: 20 + C + M + B + 16:
The three wise men, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar followed the star of God’s Son who became man two thousand sixteen years ago.
May Christ bless our dwelling, and remain with us throughout the new year, and grant that our comings and goings will be in search of truth.
It is traditional to have a home blessing either near Epiphany or during Eastertide. It marks new beginnings and resolutions and invokes Christ to be the Guest of honor in our home at all times. During this special Jubilee Year of Mercy, this mark above our door is a reminder of how we should extend mercy to all the members of our family and all who come and go through our door.
No matter what day Epiphany is for your family, it is comforting to know we are united together in growing in the mysteries that the Church proclaims on this feast day. May we, like the Magi, continue to seek Christ and his Truth and share in His mercy in the remaining days of the Christmas season.
Further Reading and Resources:
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