|The public Epiphany of Christ|
“One of the weaknesses of the postconciliar liturgical reform can doubtless be traced to the armchair strategy of academics, drawing up things on paper which, in fact, would presuppose years of organic growth. The most blatant example of this is the reform of the Calendar: those responsible simply did not realize how much the various annual feasts had influenced Christian people's relation to time […] they ignored a fundamental law of religious life.” Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith, 81-82 (published by Ignatius Press).
The Reformed Novus Ordo Calendar is extremely cautious about respecting the principle of the consecration of time – for this reason, there has been great emphasis on celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours at the “canonical hours,” i.e. praying Morning Prayer in the morning and Evening Prayer in the evening. It was this zeal to sanctify the day which lead the Church to explicitly forbid the ancient practice of celebrating Morning Prayer immediately after the Christmas midnight Mass (though it is perfectly acceptable to pray Night Prayer after midnight on any day of the year).
Indeed, this great concern of the now-a-days Church is particularly manifest at Christmas. For example, while Canon Law allows a priest to celebrate three Masses on Christmas day (CIC 951.1), the General Instruction of the Roman Missal clarifies that this permission is given “provided that the Masses are celebrated at their proper times of day” (GIRM 204) – three Masses on Christmas, but they must be at midnight, at dawn, and during the day (we are left to wonder what happens if the papal midnight Mass begins at 10pm).
However, with all this focus on the sanctification of time, the reformed plan of the Novus Ordo calendar simply butchers the season of Christmas – and follows this by the destruction of Epiphanytide.
The twelve days of Christmas
Msgr. Charles Pope has written a good article on the havoc wreaked on the Christmas Octave by the Liturgical Renewal. The feast of the Holy Family (which is a recent invention to begin with) has been transferred to the Sunday which falls in the middle of the Octave of Christmas –from its creation until 1962, Holy Family was celebrated on the Sunday after Epiphany, but now that it has been moved into the Christmas Octave we celebrate the hidden life of Christ (the flight to Egypt and the return to Nazareth) before we even celebrate the visitation of the Magi! The history of the events is displaced, and the time is far from sanctified.
Then there is the re-naming of the Octave of Christmas (January 1st) to “Mary, Mother of God.” Here, I have less a problem than does Msgr. Pope – the character of the Mass has been focused on our Lady’s Maternity from ancient times. However, it is quite sad that the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus has been pushed aside – how is it that, in our present day of sensitivity to the Jewish religion, the Liturgical Reform has been so successful in helping us to forget that the Lord himself was a practicing Jew?
Then, of course, there is the horrible custom in so many parts of the world of transferring the Epiphany from January 6th to the nearest Sunday – this destroys the twelve days of Christmas. Even setting aside the fact that there is good reason to believe that the Magi literally came to Bethlehem on the thirteenth day, the transference of Epiphany is yet another example of losing the Judaic roots of our Tradition – the Jewish significance of the number twelve is lost, and so is the sanctification of time.
The Octave of Epiphany
Pius XII bears the burden of the blame for the loss of Epiphanytide – for it was under his pontificate that the Octave was abolished in 1955. However, Epiphanytide was able to hobble on until the Liturgical Renewal, inspired by the spirit of Vatican II, transferred the Baptism of the Lord.
In the traditional calendar the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the Octave of the Epiphany, January 13th. The reason for this is not that Christ was baptized on that day, but to connect the Baptism with the Epiphany – falling on the Octave day, it is clear that the Baptism of the Lord is a second Epiphany (as has been held since the earliest days of the Church). In fact, there is good reason to believe that Christ was baptized on January 6th, exactly thirty years after he was adored by the Magi (this is the opinion of Gueranger, following the tradition of the Fathers and Doctors). Nevertheless, the primary significance of celebrating the Baptism of the Lord on the Octave of the Epiphany is the theological connection between these two feasts. [The Feast of the Holy Family which traditionally falls on the Sunday in the Octave of the Epiphany, reminds us that (in a wonderfully ironic way) Epiphanytide commemorates the whole of Christ’s hidden life.]
Thanks to the Liturgical Renewal, however, the Baptism of the Lord has been moved to the first Sunday after Epiphany. This year, the feast fell on January 9th – a date that has absolutely no significance in relation to the feast. We can admit (tongue in cheek) that the USCCB and other conferences of bishops have “saved” Epiphanytide by simply transferring Epiphany to the Sunday, thereby ensuring that the “Octave” is kept between the first and second Sundays after January 1st – while they’re it, perhaps they will consider restoring the Octave of Pentecost … maybe there is some room somewhere in Ordinary Time.
A disappointing start to Ordinary Time
After struggling through Christmastide, and dragging herself past the Baptism, the faithful and devout soul now comes to the season of Ordinary Time (Tempus per Annum). And what text of Holy Scripture has the Church, in her wisdom, given upon which the soul might meditate and find nourishment? The Baptism of the Lord, again!
Indeed, in year A (in which we now are), we have another account of the Baptism of the Lord – the story we heard last Sunday, but this time told by John the Evangelist (or the Johannine Community, as he is now named). In year B, we hear of John the Baptist’s sending the first apostles to Jesus. Finally, in year C, we read the miracle accomplished at the wedding feast at Cana.
What is particularly terrible about this reform of the Lectionary is that the miracle of the changing of water into wine at Cana has always been considered a “third Epiphany.” Yet, in the Novus Ordo, the connection between Cana and the Epiphany is nearly lost (being retained, almost by accident, in year C only).
In the Traditional Mass, the Cana Epiphany is commemorated on the Sunday immediately after the Baptism of the Lord – thus the three Epiphany’s are kept together.
Let’s end with something beautiful
Here are a most beautiful Epiphany antiphon (maintained even in the Novus Ordo) and hymn.
The Benedictus antiphon:
Hodie caelesti Sponso
iuncta est Ecclesia,
quoniam in Iordane
lavit Christus eius crimina:
currunt cum muneribus Magi
ad regales nuptias,
et ex aqua facto vino
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,
The hymn from Vespers:
Hostis Herodes impie,
Christum venire quid times?
Non eripit mortalia,
Qui regna dat caelestia.
Ibant Magi, quam viderant,
Stellam sequentes praeviam:
Lumen requirunt lumine,
Deum fatentur munere.
Lavacra puri gurgitis
Caelestis Agnus attigit;
Peccata, quae non detulit,
Nos abluendo sustulit.
Novum genus potentiae,
Aquae rubescunt hydriae,
Vinumque iussa fundere
Mutsvit unda originem.
Gloria tibi, Domine,
Qui apparuisti hodie,
Cum Patre et Sancto Spiritu
In sempiterna saecula. Amen.
Why, impious Herod, vainly fear
That Christ the Saviour cometh here?
He takes not earthly realms away,
Who gives the crown that lasts for aye.
To greet his birth the Magi went,
Led by the star before them sent:
Called on by light, to Light they press’d,
And by their gifts their God confess’d.
In holy Jordan’s purest wave
The heavenly Lamb vouchsafed to lave;
That he, to whom was sin unknown,
Might cleanse his people from their own.
New miracle of power divine!
The water reddens into wine:
He spake the word, and pour’d the wave
In other streams than nature gave.
All glory, Lord, to thee we pay,
For thine Epiphany to-day;
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete. Amen.