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Feast of the Epiphany

Epiphany: The Revelation of Jesus as King

“On January 6 we celebrate Jesus' coming as Savior of the world”
The Epiphany

Epiphany is the feast that celebrates the Incarnation and in particular the revelation to mankind that God took on human form. It is curious then that in the West we typically associate January 6th with the three wise men. It is true that these men from the East represent man's discovery of the Messiah, but they weren't looking for the Son of God. In fact, the Jewish people had been waiting nearly 2000 years for their savior but they were only expecting a great king, prophet, or priest. It is somewhat ironic that the Magi traveled so great a distance on faith yet they failed to see the greatest mystery before their eyes. Simeon and the prophetess Anna also realized that the prophecies were being fulfilled and that the Messiah had been born when they saw Jesus in the temple, but the full revelation was not made known to them.

Feast of the Epiphany

The word Epiphany is very vague and implies only “manifestation”. In the early Church, particularly in the East, this feast commemorated the Magi, but it also included other events of manifestation such as the Nativity, the Wedding at Cana and, in particular, the Baptism in the Jordan. It is in this last feast that Jesus' Divinity is revealed.

In Genesis 22:1-8 God tests Abraham by asking him to offer his only son Isaac as a burnt offering. As Abraham and his son are walking up the mountain, Isaac asks his father where the sacrificial lamb is. Abraham replied, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” After God spares Isaac they find, instead of a lamb, a ram caught in the bushes. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament the Hebrew people are looking for this promised lamb. There are many times when they think they have found the lamb, but it is not found until John the Baptist is baptizing in the Jordan. When he see Jesus approach he proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world! . . . I have seen and borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:29, 34).

January 6 (celebrated on the nearest Sunday if it falls on a Saturday or Monday) marks a truly momentous event, as described in the Epiphany homily by Pope John Paul January, 2002:

On [the] Solemnity of the Epiphany . . . we are struck by the theme of the light. The Messiah who showed himself in Bethlehem to the lowly shepherds of the region continues to reveal himself as the light of every people of every time and place. To the Magi, coming from the East to adore him, the light of the one ‘who has been born king of the Jews' (Mt 2:2) appears in the form of a heavenly body, so bright as to attract their attention and guide them to Jerusalem.

Thus he sets them on the trail of the ancient messianic prophecies: ‘a star shall come forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise from Israel' (Nm 24:17).”

Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at the Vatican Basilica, January 6th 2006:

“The light that shone in the night at Christmas illuminating the Bethlehem Grotto, where Mary, Joseph and the shepherds remained in silent adoration, shines out today and is manifested to all. The Epiphany is a mystery of light, symbolically suggested by the star that guided the Magi on their journey. The true source of light, however, the “sun that rises from on high”, is Christ.
In the mystery of Christmas, Christ's light shines on the earth, spreading, as it were, in concentric circles. First of all, it shines on the Holy Family of Nazareth:  the Virgin Mary and Joseph are illuminated by the divine presence of the Infant Jesus. The light of the Redeemer is then manifested to the shepherds of Bethlehem, who, informed by an Angel, hasten immediately to the grotto and find there the “sign” that had been foretold to them: the Child, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
The shepherds, together with Mary and Joseph, represent that “remnant of Israel,” the poor, the anawim, to whom the Good News was proclaimed.
Finally, Christ's brightness shines out, reaching the Magi who are the first-fruits of the pagan peoples.
. . . The Magi worshiped a simple Child in the arms of his Mother Mary, because in him they recognized the source of the twofold light that had guided them: the light of the star and the light of the Scriptures. In him they recognized the King of the Jews, the glory of Israel, but also the King of all the peoples.”
The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world. The great feast of Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the wise men (magi) from the East, together with his baptism in the Jordan and the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. In the magi, representatives of the neighboring pagan religions, the Gospel sees the first-fruits of the nations, who welcome the good news of salvation through the Incarnation.
The magi's coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations. Their coming means that pagans can discover Jesus and worship him as Son of God and Savior of the world only by turning towards the Jews and receiving from them the messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament. The Epiphany shows that “the full number of the nations” now takes its “place in the family of the patriarchs”, and acquires Israelitica dignitas (is made “worthy of the heritage of Israel”).

 Epiphany Traditions

Traditionally, this is a big day for blessings in the Catholic Church. Special blessings were done for Epiphany holy water and salt, gold that people brought from home, incense and chalk.
Unless you attend an Extraordinary Form parish, you aren't likely to get blessed holy water and salt but you should still ask your priest to bless your gold and see if the parish is giving out Epiphany home blessing kits.
This leads me to tradition number two, the Epiphany House blessing.

Epiphany House Blessing

If you can schedule a time for your pastor to do the blessing, great! If not, you can do your own blessing. You'll need the following:
  • Incense
  • Holy water
  • Blessed chalk

Here is the standard house blessing ceremony from the Catholic Book of Blessings:

When all have gathered, a suitable song may be sung. The leader makes the sign of the cross, and all reply, “Amen.”

The leader greets those present in the following words:

Let us praise God, who fills our hearts and homes with peace.
Blessed be God forever.
R/. Blessed be God forever.

In the following or similar words, the leader prepares those present for the blessing:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling place among us. It is Christ who enlightens our hearts and homes with his love. May all who enter this home find Christ’s light and love.

One of those present or the leader reads a text of sacred Scripture, for example, Luke 19:1-9:

Listen to the words of the holy Gospel according to Luke:
Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.”

The intercessions are then said:

Leader: The Son of God made his home among us. With thanks and praise let us call upon him.
R/. Stay with us, Lord.
Leader:  Lord Jesus Christ, with Mary and Joseph you formed the Holy Family: remain in our home, that we may know you as our guest and honor you as our Head.
We pray:
R/. Stay with us, Lord.
Leader:  Lord Jesus Christ, you had no place to lay your head, but in the spirit of poverty accepted the hospitality of your friends: grant that through our help the homeless may obtain proper
We pray:
R/. Stay with us, Lord.
Leader:Lord Jesus Christ, the three kings presented their gifts to you in praise and adoration: grant that those living in this house may use their talents and abilities to your greater glory.
We pray:
R/. Stay with us, Lord.

After the intercessions the leader invites all present to say the Lord’s Prayer.
The leader says the prayer of blessing with hands joined:

Lord God of heaven and earth,
you revealed your only-begotten Son to every nation
by the guidance of a star.
Bless this house
and all who inhabit it.
Fill them (us) with the light of Christ,
that their (our) concern for others may reflect your love.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
R/. Amen.

The leader concludes the rite by signing himself or herself with the sign of the cross and saying:

May Christ Jesus dwell with us,
keep us from all harm,
and make us one in mind and heart,
now and forever.
R/. Amen.

It is preferable to end the celebration with a suitable song, for example, “O Come, All Ye Faithful” or “We Three Kings.”

Once the blessing is done, we walk through every room of the house with the incense and sprinkle all the rooms (and the closets) with holy water.

Once that is finished we gather by the front door and say the following prayer while marking the lintel:

The three Wise Men,

C Caspar,
M Melchior,
B and Balthasar followed the star of God's Son who
became man
20 two thousand
( )  and (year) years ago.
++ May Christ bless this home
++ and remain with us all throughout the year.

The marking should look like this when you are done:

20 + C + M + B + year

The Epiphany in Art

One of the most famous churches in Christendom, Cologne Cathedral, is also dedicated to the Three Kings.
Construction of the cathedral started in 1248 and after over 200 years of work was halted in 1473. The cathedral wasn't finished until 1880 but even after so long, the final structure was built to the original designs.
Cologne Cathedral has the largest facade of any church in the world and the second tallest spires.
Cologne Cathedral, Germany
It houses the amazing shrine to the Three Wise Men whose bones it supposedly contains.
Shrine of the Magi
By Arminia (File:Dreikönigsschrein im Dom1.JPG) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Polar Bear Epiphany Swim

Because the Orthodox like showing off how tough they are, they celebrate a very strict fast during Lent AND Advent, they also go for a swim in ice cold lakes and rivers on Epiphany when the priest blesses the water.
Swimming in the ice-hole on Epiphany
NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA – JANUARY 19: Russian people celebrate Epiphany (Holy Baptism). The priest dips the Orthodox cross on the Russian tradition. After a speech of priests, adults and children swimming in the hole. The air temperature at that time in Russia could be minus 20-40 C, January, 2009 in the Novosibirsk, Russia
Swimming in the ice in winter
NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA – JANUARY 19: Russian people celebrate Baptism of Jesus. Men, women and children come to the pond. There is the
orthodox glad tidings in this day on January 19. After a speech of priests, adults and children swimming in the hole. The air
temperature at that time in Russia could be minus 20-40 C, January, 2009 in the Novosibirsk, Russia

Let Us Pray
An Epiphany Morning Prayer

You revealed your Son to the nations by the guidance of a star.
Lead us to your glory in heaven by the light of faith.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever.

One comment

  1. Please let me know when the The Parish Book of Chant is available. Thank you.

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