Tag Archives: Epiphany

The Importance of Epiphany

theophanyAsked why is Epiphany/Theophany important is answered only by looking at the sacred Liturgy? This feast is one of the oldest of the Christians even predating the December 25th observance of the Lord’s Nativity. This is a good exercise in doing liturgical theology: reflecting on the texts of the Liturgy as a way of understanding why do and believe what we do. This is theologia prima.

First things first. The title of this feast speaks volumes; this feast manifests, or you can say, reveals God to us. The Liturgical hymns inviting us to rejoice at God’s appearance in human history. Here are 20 reasons taken from the Prologue chanted by the celebrant as he prepares to chant the ancient prayer, “Great are You”:

Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for he has regarded and redeemed his people: for behold, the time of the feast has drawn near to us: angels with men celebrate and a choir of saints draws near to us.

1) Today the grace of the Holy Spirit, sanctifying the waters, appears to these.
2) Today the heavens delight in raining dew upon the earth.
3) Today the never-setting sun appears and the world is illuminated.
4) Today the moon shines on the world with the brightness of its rays.
5) Today the luminous stars beautify the world.
6) Today the clouds give the dew of righteousness to mankind from the heavens.
7) Today all of the waters spread their back to the feet of the master.
8) Today the invisible one becomes visible in order to manifest himself to us.
9) Today the uncreated one by his own will receives the laying on of hands from his own creation.
10) Today he who does not bow down bows his neck before his servant so that he might release us from slavery.
11) Today we have been delivered from darkness and we are being illuminated with the light of the knowledge of God.
12) Today the master reforms the archetype through the regeneration of the image.
13) Today the whole creation is watered by breathing streams.
14) Today the errors of men are wiped away by the waters of Jordan.
15) Today the bitter waters of the sea are transformed into sweet by the manifestation of their own master.
16) Today paradise has been opened for men, and righteous people congregate with us.
17) Today we have been released from our ancient lamentation, and as the new Israel we have found salvation.
18) Today we have cast off the old garments of sin and have been clothed in the vesture of incorruption.
19) Today is the holy and luminous celebration of the right-worshipping Christian.
20) Today we have received the kingdom of heaven from the heights, and of the Lord’s kingdom there is no end.

Epiphany

Baptism of LordThe Catholic liturgical calendar may be confusing for some people since it is not well articulated by churchmen. Today is the 12th day of Christmas, the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord (or the Theophany in the Eastern Churches). The word “epiphany” means manifestation, or revelation of God. Divine Revelation reveals that God the Father claims Jesus as his own son and commands that we listen to him. The voice from the heavens sets the drama. Epiphany, therefore, is the day on which we celebrate three things: the adoration of the Magi, the baptism of the Lord in River Jordan and the Wedding Feast at Cana.

On the point about the Lord’s baptism by his cousin John, Saint John of Damascus explains that Christ was not baptized because He had need of purification, “but to identify Himself with our purification.” Saint Hilary of Poiters follows upon the teaching of the Damascene but saying gate Lord did not need the baptism of repentance, but we do, and therefore Jesus sanctified the waters of baptism by his own. Thus the Lord’s own baptism became a model for our own baptism.

Let us look in awe at the revelation of God.

Epiphany

Night Travelers, 2013. OSB, gesso, egg tempera. 29 x 49 inIn the Ordinary Form of the Mass today is the Epiphany –the Manifestation of the Lord by the visitors from afar, the Three Kings. The point of this feast is not the Three Kings bring gifts per se but the recognition of unbelievers in a monotheistic God coming into human history. The gifts brought to Jesus indicate the reality of the receivers life and mission: Jesus is king, he is divine and he will face a cruel death. The very interesting fact of these wise men is that read the signs in the cosmos and with their reason concluded that Jesus was divine and human, God incarnate. The cosmos –the stars– were all in alignment pointing to the revelation to the nations.

The Extraordinary Form of the Mass maintains the feast of the Epiphany on January 6th; the Eastern Christianity calls this feast Theophany and celebrate this year, today.

Saint Leo the Great reflects:

The loving providence of God determined that in the last days he would aid the world, set on its course to destruction. He decreed that all nations should be saved in Christ. A promise had been made to the holy patriarch Abraham in regard to these nations. He was to have countless progeny, born not from his body but from his seed of faith. His descendants are therefore compared with the array of the stars. The father of all nations was to hope not in an earthly progeny but in a progeny from above…Dear friends, now that we have received instruction in this revelation of God’s grace, let us celebrate with spiritual joy the day of our first harvesting, of the first calling of the Gentiles…This is the day that Abraham saw, and rejoiced to see, when he knew that the children born of his faith would be blessed in his seed, that is, in Christ.

On Epiphany 2015 Pope Francis said this:

Coming to Bethlehem, the [Magi] found “the child with Mary his mother”… This was their second great temptation: to reject this smallness. But instead, “they fell down and worshiped him”, offering him their precious symbolic gifts…. Led by the Spirit, they come to realize that God’s criteria are quite different from those of men, that God does not manifest himself in the power of this world, but speaks to us in the humbleness of his love. The wise men are thus models of conversion to the true faith, since they believed more in the goodness of God than in the apparent splendour of power.

What do see in Jesus? Is he our Savior, the Lord of Life, the Messiah?

Epiphany Sunday

EpiphanyToday the Latin Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Epiphany, a move that slightly changes the idea of the 12 Days of Christmas; this move is less than optimal but I can see why it is done given that Catholics will not come to worship God on the actual day. The traditional day is that the Epiphany is observed on is January 6.

The feast of the Epiphany is an earlier feast than the celebration of Christmas. Theologically an epiphany is a manifestation, a revelation of God; Epiphany is also called Theophany. Think of Moses meeting God on the Mount in the experience of the burning bush.

Yet, the feast is not only about the recognition of the Wise Men –though important because the Magi demonstrate that we, from all nations, ought to adore the Lord– but in the feast we keenly see that Jesus’ mission is revealed and accepted. In the sacred Liturgy we pray at Vespers (in the Latin Church) the antiphons note that the Lord is baptized in the Jordan by his cousin, John, and that that his first miracle of changing water into wine; thus setting the trajectory of salvation history in motion. The spinning out of a Sunday celebrating the Lord’s baptism is a later fact.

A side note, the Eastern Churches maintain the Epiphany is a holy day –the Maronites have it as a day of obligation. The Epiphany is such  significant feast that it must not be overlooked or casually winked-at. Several customs of the churches in the period of the Epiphany come to mind: blessing of incense and chalk, the blessing of water, the blessing of homes, the blessing of fruits (remember the Armenian blessing of pomegranates that I posted the other!).

Saint Leo the Great preached: “This is the day that Abraham saw and was glad. Knowing that in his offspring, that is, in Christ, the children of his faith would be blessed, and for seeing that his faith would make him the father of all nations, he gave glory to God in complete confidence he was able to do what he had promised.”

And Saint Basil the Great said this in a homily: “Stars cross the sky, wise men journey from pagan lands, earth receives its savior in a cave. Let there be no one without a gift to offer, no one without gratitude as we celebrate the salvation of the world, the birthday of the human race. Now it is no longer, Dust you are and to dust you shall return, but “You are joined to heaven and into heaven you shall be taken up.”

Both reflections by these saints ought to give us some important data: that God fulfills his promises and that we are given the gift of eternal life now (not only at death in a definitive way). The prayers of the Liturgy not spoken of here but hinted at pray that our hearts and minds be changed unto that what is of God. They speak of conversion, of truly accepting the fact of Jesus as Lord and Savior. Hence we can say that every Liturgy is an epiphany!

 

Epiphany: A recognition

Epiphany c1350The 12th Day of Christmas is upon us with the Solemnity of the Epiphany. The Magi, the Star, the three  gifts, the angels, the shepherds and the animals all coalesce to manifest in-breaking of God in human history. All recognized and read the signs. Two different church fathers give perspective on the meaning of the Epiphany as the great manifestation of the Divine.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the Epiphany in this way:

“The wise men from the East lead the way…They were, as we might say, men of science, but not simply in the sense that they were searching for a wide range of knowledge: they wanted something more. They wanted to understand what being human is all about. They had doubtless heard of the prophecy of the Gentile prophet Balaam: “A star shall come forth out of Jacob and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Num 24:17) (January 6, 2012).

Saint Basil the Great spoke of the Epiphany in this way: “The star came to rest above the place where the child was. At the sight of it the wise men were filled with great joy and that great joy should fill our hearts as well. It is the same as the joy the shepherds received from the glad tidings brought by the angels. Let us join the wise men in worship and the shepherds in giving glory to God. Let us dance with the angels and sing: ‘To us is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord. The Lord is God and he has appeared to us’, not as God which would have terrified us in our weakness, but as a slave in order to free those living in slavery. Could anyone be so lacking in sensibility and so ungrateful as not to join us all in our gladness, exultation, and radiant joy? This feast belongs to the whole universe… Stars across the sky, wise men journey from pagan lands, earth receives it savior in a cave. Let there be no one without a gift to offer, no one without gratitude as we celebrate the salvation of the world, the birthday of the human race. Now it is no longer, ‘Dust you are and to dust you shall return’, but ‘You are joined to heaven and into heaven you shall be taken up.’”

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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