03 January 2010


3 JANUARY 2010. Today the Church in the United States celebrates the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord--the revelation that God has become man in the person of Jesus Christ.

We in the Western tradition celebrate this event by commemorating the coming of the Magi, as today's readings tell us. Eastern traditions celebrate the Epiphany differently, commemorating the baptism of Christ in the Jordan River. While the commemorations may differ, however, the celebration of the Epiphany is focused for all traditions on the same miracle: that God has humbled himself and been made manifest as God and mere man.

The celebration of the Epiphany has its origins in the Eastern Church. Early on it appears that the celebration of the Epiphany was tied to the Nativity of Christ, the coming of the Magi, the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan, and the miracle at the wedding feast of Cana--in these events Christ made manifest to all the world that he was indeed man and God. Consider that the Magi that traveled to pay the baby Jesus homage were not Jewish, in contrast to the actions of King Herod, who murdered the Holy Innocents in an attempt to kill the Christ child, and who publicly proclaimed himself to be Jewish. When Eastern and Western traditions diverged, it appears from a study of history that the Western tradition focused the celebration of the Epiphany more narrowly on the coming of Magi; hence, the present solemnity found in the Latin Rite.

Generally, the Solemnity of the Epiphany falls on 6 January or a Sunday close to that date. In a sermon preached on 25 December 380, Saint Gregory Nazianzen referred to 6 January as ta theophania ("the Theophany", an alternative name for Epiphany), saying expressly that it is a day commemorating he hagia tou Christou gennesis ("the holy nativity of Christ") and told his listeners that they would soon be celebrating the baptism of Christ.

Prior to the reforms of 1955 when Pope Pius XII abolished all but three of the liturgical octaves, the Church celebrated the Octave of the Epiphany that began on 6 January and ended on 13 January. Christmastide was calculated to have 12 days, which ended on 5 January and was followed by the Octave of the Epiphany.

The 1970 revision to the General Roman Calendar placed the celebration of the Solemnity of the Epiphany on the Sunday after 1 January. The Christmas season now ends on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is celebrated on the Sunday after the Epiphany.

Today as we celebrate the manifestation of God made man to all of the world, to Jews and gentiles alike, let us raise our hearts to God the Father in praise and thanksgiving for the perfect gift of Christ his Son, Himself, as the supreme sacrifice that will bring about the salvation of fallen humanity.


Lord Jesus
may your light shine our way,
as once it guided the steps of the magi:
that we too may be led into your presence
and worship you,
the Child of Mary,
the Word of the Father,
the King of nations,
the Saviour of mankind;
to whom be glory for ever.


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