Life & Soul Life and Soul

Omnium Gatherum

A detail from Adoration of the Kings (1515–1523), by Gerard David

This year, we are happy to celebrate Epiphany on a Sunday, which by calendric niceties coincides with real Epiphany, January 6. There is no need to scramble our calendar or to confuse our identity by transferring Epiphany.

Traditionally, for Twelfth Night, Epiphany, Holy Church sings an antiphon about not just one manifestation (Greek epipháneia) of Our Lord’s divinity but rather three. First, we know Christ to be divine through the adoration of angels, shepherds and Magi. Next, at His baptism by John in the Jordan the Father’s voice was heard. Later, Our Divine Lord miraculously changed water into wine at the wedding at Cana. Around Epiphany we liturgically tease these mysteries apart, even as we hold them together in their essential unity: Christ is revealed not as man merely; He is also God.

We have special traditions and blessings for Epiphany. For example, we have the sung liturgical announcement of all the moveable feasts of the year, in a chant called the Noveritis. The traditional Rituale has the famous blessing of chalk, used to mark the doors of our dwellings when they are blessed at Epiphany.

Also, in connection with the gifts of the Magi to the Christ Child, there are special blessings for gold, frankincense and myrrh. Make sure to bring all your myrrh to church. If you are running short on gold, frankincense or myrrh, it is also customary to bless bread, salt and eggs.

Speaking of myrrh and such, Leo the Great (d 461) preached about the Magi:

Whence came it that these men, who had quitted their country without having seen Jesus, … observed this method in offering their gifts? Unless it were that besides the appearance of the star, which attracted their bodily eyes, the more refulgent rays of truth taught their hearts that before they started on their toilsome road, they must understand that He was signified to Whom was owed in gold royal honour, in incense Divine adoration, in myrrh the acknowledgment of mortality … But their sagacious diligence, persevering till they found the child, did good service for future peoples and for the men of our own time: so that, as it profited us all that the apostle Thomas, after the Lord’s resurrection, handled the traces of the wounds in His flesh, so it was of advantage to us that His infancy should be attested by the visit of the wise men.