Today is the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. For many of us, today is seen as the end of the “12 days of Christmas,” bringing to a close the outward celebration of Christmas. In fact, many, including my current Pastor, advise families to keep their Christmas decorations up until the Feast of the Epiphany. This is good, but there is so much more to the feast than just the end of Christmas.
In fact, the Feast of the Epiphany, or Theophany as it is celebrated in the East, predates the celebration of Christmas on December 25th. In the early church, specifically the East, the Baptism of our Lord, Nativity, Visitation of the Magi, and the Wedding at Cana as one feast, the Theophany. In the year 567 at the Council of Tours, the Eastern Church defined the Nativity and Theophany as two seperate feasts, December 25th and January 6th as they are today. The Council also stated the 12 days between the feasts as the Christmas Season. The Western Church later also defined these two seperate feasts on the same days, but the traditions of the East and West vary greatly.
In the East, the Theophany celebrates the Revelation of God, specifically in the Baptism of Our Lord. St. John of Damascus describes this Revelation as not God needing to be cleansed in Baptism but, “to bury human sin by water, to fulfill the Law, to reveal the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and finally, to sanctify ‘the nature of water’ and to offer us the form and example of Baptism” (OCA.org) In the East, this feast is a celebration of the Trinity and it’s Revelation to us.
The Western traditions of the feast a vastly different. The Epistle for today’s Mass (Isaiah 60:1-6) is a prophecy speaking of the coming of the glory of the Lord. The Prophet speaks of people coming from all nations, bringing gifts of gold and frankincense. The Gospel for the day (Matthew 2:1-12) speaks of the fulfillment of this prophecy, which many of us are familiar with.
King Herod calls together three Magi to send to see the Infant Christ, by following a star. “And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they adored him; and opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:10-11)
In the West, we are still celebrating the Revelation of God, as the East, but in a less broad sense. The Western tradition dictates a celebration of the Revelation of the Divinity of Christ.
The Epiphany, in my opinion, is a feast which is not celebrated with enough solemnity. Many dioceses in the United States transfer the feast to the nearest Sunday and the Holy Day of Obligation is dispensed by the USCCB. The Feast of the Epiphany is a culmination of celebrating Christ’s perfect Divinity and God’s Revelation of Himself to us, and the USCCB deems it unnecessary for us to observe the Holy Day mandated by Holy Mother Church. Can we as Catholics not come together to observe 10 Holy Days of Obligation? Why must the USCCB dispense 4 of Holy Mother Church’s Holy Days?