Skip to comments.[Catholic Caucus] The Epiphany of Our Lord (Gueranger)
Posted on 01/05/2018 9:04:49 PM PST by CMRosary
THE FEAST of the Epiphany is the continuation of the mystery of Christmas; but it appears on the Calendar of the Church with its own special character. Its very name, which signifies Manifestation, implies that it celebrates the apparition of God to his creatures.
For several centuries, the Nativity of our Lord was kept on this day; and when in the year 376 the decree of the Holy See obliged all Churches to keep the Nativity on the 25th of December, as Rome did—the Sixth of January was not robbed of all its ancient glory. It was still to be called the Epiphany, and the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ was also commemorated on this same Feast, which Tradition had marked as the day on which that Baptism took place.
The Greek Church gives this Feast the venerable and mysterious name of Theophania, which is of such frequent recurrence in the early Fathers as signifying a divine Apparition. We find this name applied to this Feast by Eusebius, St. Gregory Nazianzum, and St. Isidore of Pelusium. In the liturgical books of the Melchite Church the Feast goes under no other name.
The Orientals call this solemnity also the holy Lights, on account of its being the day on which Baptism was administered (for, as we have just mentioned, our Lord was baptized on this same day). Baptism is called by the holy Fathers Illumination, and they who received it Illuminated.
Lastly, this Feast is called, in many countries, King’s Feast: it is, of course, an allusion to the Magi, whose journey to Bethlehem is so continually mentioned in today’s Office.
The Epiphany shares with the Feasts of Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost the honor of being called, in the Canon of the Mass, a Day most holy. It is also one of the cardinal Feasts, that is, one of those on which the arrangement of the Christian Year is based; for as we have Sundays after Easter and Sundays after Pentecost, so also we count six Sundays after the Epiphany.
The Epiphany is indeed a great Feast, and the joy caused us by the Birth of our Jesus must be renewed on it, for, as though it were a second Christmas Day, it shows us our Incarnate God in a new light. It leaves us all the sweetness of the dear Babe of Bethlehem, who hath appeared to us already in love; but to this it adds its own grand manifestation of the divinity of our Jesus. At Christmas, it was a few Shepherds that were invited by the Angels to go and recognize the Word made Flesh; but now, at the Epiphany, the voice of God himself calls the whole world to adore this Jesus, and hear him.
The mystery of the Epiphany brings upon us three magnificent rays of the Sun of Justice, our Savior. In the calendar of pagan Rome, this sixth day of January was devoted to the celebration of a triple triumph of Augustus, the founder of the Roman Empire: but when Jesus, our Prince of peace, whose empire knows no limits, had secured victory to his Church by the blood of the Martyrs—then did this his Church decree that a triple triumph of the Immortal King should be substituted, in the Christian Calendar, for those other three triumphs which had been won by the adopted son of Cæsar.
The Sixth of January, therefore, restored the celebration of our Lord’s Birth to the Twenty-Fifth of December; but in return, there were united in the one same Epiphany three manifestations of Jesus’ glory: the mystery of the Magi coming from the East under the guidance of a star, and adoring the Infant of Bethlehem as the divine King; the mystery of the Baptism of Christ, who, while standing in the waters of the Jordan, was proclaimed by the Eternal Father as Son of God; and thirdly, the mystery of the divine power of this same Jesus, when he changed the water into wine at the marriage feast of Cana.
But did these three Mysteries really take place on this day? Is the Sixth of January the real anniversary of these great events? As the chief object of this work is to assist the devotion of the Faithful, we purposely avoid everything which would savor of critical discussion; and with regard to the present question, we think it enough to state that Baronius, Suarez, Theophilus Raynaldus, Honorius De Sancta-Maria, Cardinal Gotti, Sandini, Benedict 14th, and an almost endless list of other writers, assert that the Adoration of the Magi happened on this very day. That the Baptism of our Lord also happened on the sixth of January is admitted by the severest historical critics, even by Tillemont himself; and has been denied by only two or three. The precise day of the miracle at the marriage feast of Cana is far from being as certain as the other two mysteries, though it is impossible to prove that the sixth of January was not the day. For us the children of the Church, it is sufficient that our Holy Mother has assigned the commemoration of these three manifestations for this Feast; we need nothing more to make us rejoice in the triple triumph of the Son of Mary.
If we now come to consider these three mysteries of our Feast separately, we shall find that the Church of Rome, in her Office and Mass of today, is more intent on the Adoration of the Magi than on the other two. The two great Doctors of the Apostolic See, St. Leo and St. Gregory, in their Homilies for this Feast, take it as the almost exclusive object of their preaching; though together with St. Augustine, St. Paulinus of Nola, St. Maximus of Turin, St. Peter Chrysologus, St. Hilary of Arles, and St. Isidore of Seville, they acknowledge the three mysteries of today’s Solemnity. That the mystery of the Vocation of the Gentiles should be made thus prominent by the Church of Rome is not to be wondered at; for by that heavenly vocation which, in the three Magi, called all nations to the admirable light of Faith, Rome, which till then had been the head of the Gentile world, was made the head of the Christian Church and of the whole human race.
The Greek Church makes no special mention, in her Office of today, of the Adoration of the Magi, for she unites it with the mystery of our Savior’s Birth in her celebration of Christmas Day. The Baptism of Christ absorbs all her thoughts and praises on the solemnity of the Epiphany.
In the Latin Church, this second mystery of our Feast is celebrated, unitedly with the other two, on the sixth of January, and mention is made of it several times in the Office. But as the coming of the Magi to the crib of our newborn King absorbs the attention of Christian Rome on this day, the mystery of the sanctification of the waters was to be commemorated on a day apart. The day chosen by the Western Church for paying special honor to the Baptism of our Savior is the Octave of the Epiphany.
The third mystery of the Epiphany being also somewhat kept in the shade by the prominence given to the first (though allusion is several times made to it in the Office of the Feast), a special day has been appointed for its due celebration; and that day is the second Sunday after the Epiphany.
Several Churches have appended to the Mystery of changing the water into wine that of the multiplication of the loaves, which certainly bears some analogy with it, and was a manifestation of our Savior’s divine power. But while tolerating the custom in the Ambrosian and Mozarabic rites, the Roman Church has never adopted it, in order not to interfere with the sacredness of the triple triumph of our Lord, which the sixth of January was intended to commemorate; as also because St. John tells us, in his Gospel, that the miracle of the multiplication of the Loaves happened when the Feast of the Pasch was at hand, which therefore could not have any connection with the season of the year when the Epiphany is kept.
We propose to treat of the three mysteries, united in this great Solemnity, in the following order. Today we will unite with the Church in honoring all three; during the Octave, we will contemplate the Mystery of the Magi coming to Bethlehem; we will celebrate the Baptism of our Savior on the Octave Day; and we will venerate the Mystery of the Marriage of Cana on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, which is the day appropriately chosen by the Church for the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.
Let us, then, open our hearts to the joy of this grand Day; and on this Feast of the Theophany, of the Holy Lights, of the Three Kings, let us look with love at the dazzling beauty of our Divine Sun, who, as the Psalmist expresses it, runs his course as a Giant, and pours out upon us floods of a welcome and yet most vivid light. The Shepherds, who were called by the Angels to be the first worshippers, have been joined by the Prince of Martyrs, the Beloved Disciple, the dear troop of Innocents, our glorious Thomas of Canterbury, and Sylvester the Patriarch of Peace; and now, today, these Saints open their ranks to let the Kings of the East come to the Babe in his crib, bearing with them the prayers and adorations of the whole human race. The humble Stable is too little for such a gathering as this, and Bethlehem seems to be worth all the world besides. Mary, the Throne of the divine Wisdom, welcomes all the members of this court with her gracious smile of Mother and Queen; she offers her Son to man, for his adoration, and to God, that he may be well pleased. God manifests himself to men because he is great; but he manifests himself by Mary because he is full of mercy.
The great Day, which now brings us to the crib of our Prince of Peace, has been marked by two great events of the first ages of the Church. It was on the sixth of January, in the year 361, and Julian (who, in heart, was already an apostate) happened to be at Vienne, in Gaul. He was soon to ascend the imperial throne, which would be left vacant by the death of Constantius, and he felt the need he had of the support of that Christian Church in which it is said he had received the order of Lector, and which, nevertheless, he was preparing to attack with all the cunning and cruelty of a tiger. Like Herod, he too would fain go, on this Feast of the Epiphany, and adore the newborn King. His panegyrist Ammianus Marcellinus tell us that this crowned Philosopher, who had been seen, just before, coming out of the pagan temple, where he had been consulting the soothsayers, made his way through the porticoes of the Church and, standing in the midst of the faithful people, offered to the God of the Christians his sacrilegious homage.
Eleven years later, in the year 372, another Emperor found his way into the Church, on the same Feast of the Epiphany. It was Valens; a Christian, like Julian, by baptism; but a persecutor, in the name of Arianism, of that same Church which Julian persecuted in the name of his vain philosophy and still vainer gods. As Julian felt himself necessitated by motives of worldly policy to bow down, on this day, before the divinity of the Galilean; so, on this same day, the holy courage of a saintly Bishop made Valens prostrate himself at the feet of Jesus the King of Kings.
Saint Basil had just then had his famous interview with the Prefect Modestus, in which his episcopal intrepidity had defeated all the might of earthly power. Valens had come to Cæsarea and, with his soul defiled with the Arian heresy, he entered the Basilica when the Bishop was celebrating, with his people, the glorious Theophany. Let us listen to St. Gregory Nazianzum, thus describing the scene with his usual eloquence. "The Emperor entered the Church. The chanting of the psalms echoed through the holy place like the rumbling of thunder. The people, like a waving sea, filled the house of God. Such was the order and pomp in and about the sanctuary, that it looked more like heaven than earth. Basil himself stood erect before the people, as the Scripture describes Samuel—his body, and eyes, and soul, motionless as though nothing strange had taken place, and if I may say so, his whole being was fastened to his God and the holy Altar. The sacred ministers, who surrounded the Pontiff, were in deep recollectedness and reverence. The Emperor heard and saw all this. He had never before witnessed a spectacle so imposing. He was overpowered. His head grew dizzy, and darkness veiled his eyes."
Jesus, the King of ages, the Son of God and the Son of Mary had conquered. Valens was disarmed; his resolution of using violence against the holy Bishop was gone; and if heresy kept him from at once adoring the Word consubstantial to the Father, he at least united his exterior worship with that which Basil’s flock was paying to the Incarnate God. When the Offertory came, he advanced towards the Sanctuary and presented his gifts to Christ in the person of his holy priest. The fear lest Basil might refuse to accept them took such possession of the Emperor that, had not the sacred ministers supported him, he would have fallen at the foot of the Altar.
Thus has the Kingship of our newborn Savior been acknowledged by the great ones of this world. The Royal Psalmist had sung this prophecy—the Kings of the earth shall serve him, and his enemies shall lick the ground under his feet.
The race of Emperors like Julian and Valens was to be followed by Monarchs who would bend their knee before this Babe of Bethlehem, and offer him the homage of orthodox faith and devoted hearts. Theodosius, Charlemagne, our own Alfred the Great and Edward the Confessor, Stephen of Hungary, the Emperor Henry 2nd, Ferdinand of Castile, Louis 9th of France, are examples of Kings who had a special devotion to the feast of the Epiphany. Their ambition was to go, in company with the Magi, to the feet of the Divine Infant, and offer him their gifts. At the English Court, the custom is still retained, and the reigning Sovereign offers an ingot of God as a tribute to Jesus the King of kings: the ingot is afterwards redeemed by a certain sum of money.
But this custom of imitating the Three Kings in their mystic gifts was not confined to Courts. In the Middle Ages, the Faithful used to present, on the Epiphany, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, to be blessed by the Priest. These token of their devotedness to Jesus were kept as pledges of God’s blessing upon their houses and families. The practice is still observed in some parts of Germany: and the prayer for the Blessing was in the Roman Ritual until Pope Paul 5th suppressed it, together with several others, as being seldom required by the Faithful.
There was another custom, which originated in the Ages of Faith, and which is still observed in many countries. In honor of the Three Kings who came from the East to adore the Babe of Bethlehem, each family chose one of its members to be King. The choice was thus made. The family kept a feast, which was an allusion to the third of the Epiphany Mysteries—the Feast of Cana in Galilee—a Cake was served up, and he who took the piece which had a certain secret mark was proclaimed the King of the day. Two portions of the cake were reserved for the poor, in whom honor was thus paid to the Infant Jesus and his Blessed Mother; for on this Day of the triumph of Him who, though King, was humble and poor, it was fitting that the poor should have a share in the general joy. The happiness of home was here, as in so many other instances, blended with the sacredness of Religion. This custom of King’s Feast brought relations and friends together, and encouraged feelings of kindness and charity. Human weakness would sometimes, perhaps, show itself during these hours of holiday making; but the idea and sentiment and spirit of the whole feast was profoundly Catholic, and that was sufficient guarantee to innocence.
King’s Feast is still a Christmas joy in thousands of families; and happy those where it is kept in the Christian spirit which first originated it! For the last four hundred years, a puritanical zeal has decried these simple customs wherein the seriousness of religion and the home enjoyments of certain Festivals were blended together. The traditions of Christian family rejoicings have been blamed under pretexts of abuse; as though a recreation, in which religion had no share and no influence, were less open to intemperance and sin! Others have pretended (though with little or no foundation) that the Twelfth Cake and the custom of choosing a King are mere imitations of the ancient pagan Saturnalia. Granting this to be correct (which it is not), we would answer that many of the old pagan customs have undergone a Christian transformation, and no one thinks of refusing to accept them thus purified. All this mistaken zeal has produced the sad effect of divorcing the Church from family life and customs, of excluding every religious manifestation from our traditions, and of bringing about what is so pompously called (though the word is expressive enough) the secularization of society.
But let us return to the triumph of our sweet Savior and King. His magnificence is manifested to us so brightly on this Feast! Our mother, the Church, is going to initiate us into the mysteries we are to celebrate. Let us imitate the faith and obedience of the Magi: let us adore, with the holy Baptist, the divine Lamb, over whom the heavens open: let us take our place at the mystic feast of Cana, where our dear King is present, thrice manifested, thrice glorified. In the last two mysteries, let us not lose sight of the Babe of Bethlehem; and in the Babe of Bethlehem let us cease not to recognize the Great God (in whom the Father was well pleased) and the supreme Ruler and Creator of all things.
The day of the Magi, the day of the Baptism, the day of the Marriage Feast, has come: our divine Sun of Justice reflects upon the world these three bright rays of his glory. Material darkness is less than it was; Night is losing her power; Light is progressing day by day. Our sweet Infant Jesus, who is still lying in his humble crib, is each day gaining strength. Mary showed him to the shepherds, and now she is going to present him to the Magi. The gifts we intend to offer him should be prepared; let us, like the three Wise Men, follow the star and go to Bethlehem, the House of the Bread of Life.
MASS.—At Rome, the Station is at St. Peter’s on the Vatican, near the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles, to whom, in Christ, all nations have been given as an inheritance.
The Church proclaims, in the opening chant of the Mass, the arrival of the great King for whom the whole earth was in expectation, and at whose Birth the Magi are come to Jerusalem, there to consult the prophecies.
After the Angelic Hymn, Gloria in excelsis, the holy Church, all in gladness at the bright Star which leads the Gentiles to the crib of the Divine King, prays, in the Collect, that she may be permitted to see that living Light for which faith prepares us, and which will enlighten us for all eternity.
Oh! the greatness of this glorious Day, on which begins the movement of all nations towards the Church, the true Jerusalem! Oh! the mercy of our heavenly Father, who has been mindful of all these people that were buried in the shades of death and sin! Behold! the glory of the Lord has risen upon the Holy City; and Kings set out to find and see the Light. Jerusalem is not large enough to hold all this sea of nations; another city must be founded, and towards her shall be turned the countless Gentiles of Madian and Epha. Thou, O Rome! art this Holy City, and thy heart shall wonder and be enlarged. Heretofore, thy victories have won thee slaves; but from this day forward, thou shalt draw within thy walls countless Children. Lift up thine eyes and see—all these, that is, the whole human race, give themselves to thee as thy sons and daughters; they come to receive from thee a new birth. Open wide thine arms, and embrace them that come from North and South, bringing frankincense to Him who is thy King and ours.
The Magi, the first-fruits of the Gentile world, have been admitted into the court of the great King whom they have been seeking, and we have followed them. The Child has smiled upon us, as he did upon them. All the fatigues of the long journey—which man must take to reach his God—all are over and forgotten; our Emmanuel is with us, and we are with him. Bethlehem has received us, and we will not leave her again—for in Bethlehem, we have the Child, and Mary his Mother. Where else could we find riches like these that Bethlehem gives us? Oh! let us beseech this incomparable Mother to give us this Child of hers (for he is our light, and our love, and our Bread of Life), now that we are about to approach the Altar, led by the Star of our faith. Let us at once open our treasures; let us prepare our gold, our frankincense, and our myrrh, for the sweet Babe, our King. He will be pleased with our gifts, and we know he never suffers himself to be outdone in generosity. When we have to return to our duties, we will, like the Magi, leave our hearts with our Jesus; and it shall be by another way, by a new manner of life, that we will finish our sojourn in this country of our exile, looking forward to that happy day when life and light eternal will come and absorb into themselves the shadows of vanity and time, which now hang over us.
In Cathedral and other principal Churches, after the Gospel has been sung, the approaching Feast of Easter Sunday is solemnly announced to the people. This custom, which dates from the earliest ages of the Church, shows both the mysterious connection which unites the great Solemnities of the year one with another, and the importance the Faithful ought to attach to the celebration of that which is the greatest of all and the center of all Religion. After having honored the King of the universe on the Epiphany, we shall have to celebrate him, on the day which is now announced to us as the conqueror of death. The following is the formula used for this solemn announcement.
During the Offertory, the holy Church, while presenting the Bread and Wine to God, makes use of the words of the Psalmist, who prophesies that the Kings of Tharsis, Arabia, and Saba, together with the kings and people of the whole earth, would come to the newborn Savior and offer him their gifts.
There is a proper Preface for the Feast and Octave of the Epiphany. It celebrates the Divine and immortal Light that appeared through the veil of our human nature, under which the Word, out of love for us, concealed his glory.
During the Communion, the holy Church, now united to Him who is her King and Spouse, sings the praises of that Star which was the messenger of this Jesus; she is full of joy that she followed its light, for it has brought her to her God.
Such graces as these that you have received require from you a corresponding fidelity; the Church asks it for you in her Postcommunion; she begs of God to give you that spiritual understanding and purity which these ineffable mysteries call for.
Like the Magi, we also, O Jesus! come to adore thee on this glorious Epiphany, which brings all nations to thy feet. We walk in the footsteps of the Magi; for we, too, have seen the Star, and we are come to thee. Glory be to thee, dear King! to thee who didst say in the Canticle of David thine ancestor: “I am appointed King over Sion, the holy mountain, that I may preach the commandment of the Lord. The Lord hath said to me, that he will give me the Gentiles for mine inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for my possession. Now, therefore, O ye kings, understand: receive instruction, ye that judge the earth.”
Thou wilt say, O Emmanuel! with thine own lips: All power is given to me in heaven and on earth, and a few years after, the whole earth will have received thy law. Even now Jerusalem is troubled; Herod is trembling on his throne; but the day is at hand when the heralds of thy coming will go throughout the whole world, proclaiming that He, who was the Desired of all nations, is come. The word that is to subject the earth to thee, will go forth, and, like an immense fire, will stretch to the uttermost parts of the universe. In vain will the strong ones of this world attempt to arrest its course. An Emperor will propose to the Senate, ad the only means of staying the progress of thy conquests, that thy Name be solemnly enrolled in the list of those gods, whom thou comest to destroy. Other Emperors will endeavor to abolish thy kingdom by the slaughter of thy soldiers. But, all these efforts are vain. The day will come, when the Cross, the sign of thy power, will adorn the imperial banner; the Emperors will lay their crown at thy feet; and proud Rome will cease to be the Capital of the empire of this world’s strength and power, in order that she may become, forever, the center of thy peaceful and universal kingdom.
We already see the dawn of that glorious day. Thy conquests, O King of ages! begin with thine Epiphany. Thou callest, from the extreme parts of the unbelieving East, the first-fruits of that Gentile-world, which hitherto had not been thy people, and which is now to form thine inheritance. Henceforth, there is to be no distinction of Jew and Greek, of Barbarian and Scythian. Thou hast loved Man above Angel, for thou hast redeemed the one, while thou hast left the other in his fall. If thy predilection, for a long period of ages, was for the race of Abraham, henceforth thy preference is to be given to the Gentiles. Israel was but a single people; we are numerous as the sands of the sea, and the stars of the firmament. Israel was under the law of fear; thou hast reserved the law of love for us.
From this day of thy Manifestation, O divine King! begins thy separation from the Synagogue, which refuses thy love; and on this same Day, thou takest, in the person of the Magi, the Gentiles as thy Spouse. Thy union with her will soon be proclaimed from the Cross, when, turning thy face from the ungrateful Jerusalem, thou wilt stretch forth thy hands towards the nations of the Gentiles. O ineffable joy of thy Birth! but O still better joy of thine Epiphany, wherein we, the once disinherited, are permitted to approach to thee, offer thee our gifts, and see thee graciously accept them, O merciful Emmanuel!
Thanks be to thee, O Infant God! for that unspeakable gift of Faith, which, as thy Apostle teaches us, hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into thy kingdom, making us partakers of the lot of the Saints in Light. Give us grace to grow in the knowledge of this thy Gift, and to understand he importance of this great Day, whereon thou makest alliance with the whole human race, which thou wouldst afterwards make thy Bride by espousing her. Oh! the Mystery of this Marriage Feast,Marriage,” says Innocent the Third, one of thy Vicars on earth, “that was promised to the Patriarch Abraham, confirmed by oath to King David, accomplished in Mary when she became Mother, and consummated, confirmed, and declared, on this day; consummated in the adoration of the Magi, confirmed in the Baptism in the Jordan, and declared in the miracle of the water changed into wine.” On this Marriage-Feast,—where the Church, thy Spouse, already received queenly honors—we will sing to thee, O Jesus! with all the fervor of our hearts, these words of today’s Office, which sweetly blend the Three Mysteries into one—that of thy Alliance with us.