Sunday, January 07, 2007

What did you see & hear for Epiphany?

For Sunday-goers, today is the final feast of Christmas (liturgical geeks such as myself know that we still have the Baptism of the Lord; and you get a PhD in said geek-ology if you know why the Baptism of the Lord is sometimes celebrated in the U.S. on a Sunday, but some years, i.e., this year, on a Monday. (See end of post for explanation.)

My sense of the regular Catholic churchgoer's perception of things is that Epiphany isn't a major feast. Am I right? In any case, the Church, in her liturgy, deems Epiphany to be a major feast indeed. The Church ranks Epiphany on the same level as Christmas, Ascension and Pentecost, Sundays of Advent, Lent, and the Season of Easter. This is one of the occasions when a special insert is provided for the Roman Canon (hence a reason to use it if possible, seems to me); Epiphany is one of three days with a special proclamation provided -- that of the calendar for the year -- although it is optional (as is the Christmas proclamation; the Exsultet for the Great Vigil of Easter is not optional, if memory serves).

This feast is an even bigger deal for the Eastern Christians, than it is for us Romans; would it be fair to say that it is a bigger deal for them than Christmas Day? I will let any Eastern Christians comment on that themselves.

Also, when Epiphany is celebrated on its proper day, it is the "Twelfth Day of Christmas"; unfortunately, when it's moved, this spoils that connection. Many customs come down to us in association with Epiphany that reveal its significance in the broader and deeper tradition of the Church, including gift-giving (wonder why!) and a celebration of the Magi.)

Finally, there is the theological reason for Epiphany to be a big deal -- it forms a kind of "couplet" with the Nativity: on December 25, we celebrate YHWH's being born; but that was a quiet, relatively hidden coming; you can also see it as a being-made-known to his own people; hence the emphasis on how that fulfills prophecy of a comming Messiah -- i.e., for the Jewish People. (Then, the Octave is completed with the circumcision -- i.e., Jesus is shown to be a good Jew. Here again, the change in the calendar, making January 1 the Solemnity of the Mother of God, obscures this.) With this Solemnity, the Messiah-for-the-Jews is, for the first time, adored by the Nations and manifested as the Light for all peoples. Epiphany, in a sense, "completes" the mystery of Christmas . . . although you still have the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, which -- to me -- seems anticlimactic. But the Baptism gives an emphasis on mission -- and on the commencement of our Lord's public ministry. (A little aside: the liturgy for Epiphany attempts to conflate three events -- the Magi's visit, the Wedding of Cana, and the Baptism; yet the liturgical year spreads them out, with the two feasts of Christmas, and then the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, always having the Gospel story of the Cana Wedding.)

Ah well, that's enough about that (probably too much). What did you see or hear?

At both parishes, the Magi showed up. Some liturgical purists say don't do that (i.e., they should be there from the get-go, along with il Bambino); I say, "who cares?" If I'd had my druthers, I'd've added even more candles -- i.e., more light -- but I couldn't think of a way to do it, and besides, can't do everything.

At 4 pm Mass last night, at St. Boniface, and at Noon today at St. Mary, I sang almost everything. (The 7 am Mass is a "no music" Mass -- no musical accompaniment -- so adding just some singing is kind of a trauma. I led a hymn for the opening, and sung some of the prayers.) While I'd prefer to have someone else lead the calendar proclamation, I did it at my Masses; the music director and I have agreed it's one of those things we'll get to in future years. I mangled it last night; I did a lot better today. FYI, I chose to do it after the post-communion prayer, i.e., just before the final blessing. I did a short blessing as a result.)

I also chanted the Gospel, something I do three or four times a year, i.e., Christmas (when I'm not green at the gills, as I was this year), Epiphany, Easter and Pentecost. I chanted the entire Roman Canon, including all the saints listed, at Noon. I even chanted my introductory remarks right after the Sign of the Cross (chanted too) -- i.e., briefly explaining the feast and leading to the penitential rite, also chanted, with the triple litany ("Lord Jesus, you are Mighty God and Prince of Peace...Kyrie, Elieison...)

Perhaps it was too much chant? Our youth minister says it kind of hypnotizes him; that could be good or bad, if you think about it.

The music is listed at our Music Director's site, which is also linked in the column to the right side of this page: Piqua Catholic Community Choir. You'll see all the hymns were standard ones.

(One thing we do at all Masses now is the psalm texts chosen must be proper translations; regrettably, the hymnal publishers weren't very diligent in that regard (and perhaps blame goes to the bishops for not insisting), and so many of the psalms provided in the hymnals have the proper refrains, but the texts are paraphrases, and often incomplete! I.e., they don't match the lectionary, as they must. The psalm at Mass is not just a song; it is a proclamation of the Word of God--so it should not be paraphrased. So, at my direction, a psalm-setting can't be used at this point unless it's an approved translation.)

Did I use incense? Is the pope German? (Seems to me, given the circumstances, incense especially makes sense on this day...) In future years, I want to have the server incense at the consecration; but that was a "bridge too far" this year. And of course I used gold vestments!

Finally, as you see below in my homily, this also marks the beginning of Vocation Promotion Week; so my homily keyed in on that, rather than the theological significance of the feast. A better or more diligent homilist might have done both, but oh well!

Well, if you've read this far--do tell what you saw or heard where you participated in the Mass.

(The Epiphany is properly assigned to January 6, and the Baptism of the Lord is to be celebrated on the Sunday following; in some places -- including, I believe, all U.S. dioceses, Epiphany is always transferred to a Sunday; thus, this year, Sunday, January 7. When that Sunday comes after January 6, then the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the very next Monday, and then Ordinary Time begins. Next year, for example, Epiphany will be on a Sunday; and then the Baptism will be on the 13th, as late as it can be, I believe.)


Deacon Jim said...

In our parish we did the following:

The Magi were moved in front of the manger (they've been traveling since the manger was set-up).

We blessed chalk, incense, and gold. Gold was blessed as part of the Asperges. Packets of incense and chalk were given to all families along with instructions for use in the home blessing and marking of doorways)

Since it was the first Sunday of the month exposition and benediction followed Holy Mass (we do this every first Sunday).

The Epiphany also marks the beginning of the kolendy visits (pastoral visits to parishioner homes). Our pastor's calendar will be quite full for the next 4 weeks.

For us, the Christmas season ends with the Solemnity of the Presentation. Septuagesima then follows on the 4th of February this year (Rose vestments for three weeks!).

Anonymous said...

Our Sunday Mass was just like any other Sunday special singing, no incense...
Thank you for the explanation about the placement of the Baptism of the Lord...I was wondering about that.
A blessed day to you, Father.

Anonymous said...

No incense, but the magi were placed by the manger and the proclamation was sung.

Gavin said...

Epiphany was always a big deal with my family. We would get stockings on that day.

Of course, at my church we had a chant schola for everything, Fr. wore all his vestments and biretta, and it was quite a big deal.

Anonymous said...

Great job Father Fox! I wish that priests would chant all of the mass, gospel included more often. The musical energies of priests and cengregants should be spent on the parts of the Mass--the order of the mass, congregational responses and antiphons--rather than the hymns, which are not really part of the liturgy.

frcathie said...


in the episcopal church, only all saint's day is transferred to the following sunday. we celebrate epiphany on its day (or its eve, as we did this year last friday), because the sunday following is the feast of the baptism of our Lord, and it takes precedence for Sunday (maybe because it is a major day for baptism in our church, one of only four.)

Anonymous said...

Dear Fr. Fox,

OCP publishes "REspond & Acclaim" which I do recommend. They are indeed the words with singable melodies and chant-like verses.