Thursday, January 5, 2012

Feast of Epiphany (January 6)

Vicente Gil, 1498-1519
January 6 is, in some countries, as well as in the Extraordinary Form, the feast of the Epiphany. 

Christmastide and the date of the feast

In many more places, unfortunately, where it is not a Holy Day of Obligation, it is celebrated this coming Sunday instead.  And that is unfortunate, because the celebration of the feast of the Epiphany (the word means manifestation) on January 6 is very ancient as a decree of the Holy See dating back to 376 attests.

It marks, among other things, the end of the traditional twelve days of Christmas, and is traditionally one of the great feasts around which the Church year is traditionally arranged (with Sundays after the Epiphany).

It is worth noting, though, that Epiphany does not in fact mark the end of the broader Christmas season: the 1963 breviary rubrics split  'de tempore natalicio' into two sections: Nativitytide and Epiphanytide, which runs up to and includes 13 January (ie encompassing the old and now abolished octave of the Epiphany).

Manifestations of the divinity of Our Lord

The Feast actually celebrates three different 'manifestations' of our Lord's divinity:
  • the visit of the Wise Men from the East (the primary focus of the liturgy of the feast of the Epiphany);
  • the baptism of Our Lord by St John the Baptist (especially remembered on the old octave day in the feast of the Commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord, January 13; and
  • the changing of wine into water at the wedding feast of Cena.
It is perhaps worth noting that the recent publication of an early account of the Magi's journey, The Revelations of the Magi, which suggests that there were in fact quite a large group of wise men who travelled to worship the Christ child, in no way contradicts the Gospel, which is silent on the size of the group...

The feast is rich in devotional traditions, including the blessing of holy water (of the 'super-charged' variety!), frankinsense, gold and chalk (to be used in the annual blessing of your house).

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