Saturday, January 3, 2009

Movable Feasts

On the Feast of the Epiphany it is traditional to proclaim the dates of the movable feasts for the new year. This is generally done after the Gospel.
So, what do you do when Epiphany becomes a movable feast? Really, what's up with that? In order to make the third most important feast in the liturgical year (behind Easter and Pentecost -- yes -- ahead of Christmas! -- see Dom Prosper Guaranger's Liturgical Year) more important, they have moved it onto the nearest Sunday. This, along with Corpus Christi, and now Ascension Thursday, er Sunday, has been moved by the United States Conference of Bishops. Fortunately, this movement is not binding for the Extraordinary Form, which will celebrate Epiphany on Tuesday, January 6 (as will the Pope!).
The Epiphany (or Theophany, as it is called in the East) of the Lord is important for many reasons. In this Feast, we celebrate the coming of the Magi (or in Philly, the three wise guys) to adore the Christ Child (who was not an infant -- apologies to the Franciscan Order). Also wrapped up in this celebration is the Baptism of the Lord (which was the Octave of Epiphany until 1970), and the Wedding at Cana (2nd Sunday After Epiphany in the EF) as well as the Finding in the Temple (1st Sunday after Epiphany EF). These are Epiphaniae -- manifestations of Christ's Divine Nature. In each case, something is shown to be "different" about Him.
With the visit of the Magi, the Child Jesus is presented with gifts that bespeak His nature. To quote a poem:
Sovereign Gold, but His brow was torn
When they hailed Him King with a crown of thorn
Frankincense that they might provide
Perpetual praise to a God who died.
But none so strange as the gift they gave
Of Myrrh to the clothes of a three-day grave.
It is no wonder Our Lady pondered these things and held them in Her Heart.
Next in the order of celebration is the finding in the Temple. Again, we can imagine the awe with which Our Lady beheld Her Son, standing in the midst of the elders and doctors of the Law, explaining things to them. This was a great manifestation of the wisdom that He had, even at that age, as well as the contact he had with His Father.
At the Baptism of the Lord, His Father manifests His destiny -- the Holy Spirit descends upon Him like a dove. Hearing the voice from the Heavens, "This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased" must have been a frightening experience for all around. We know that John the Baptist protested that Christ should be baptizing him, not the other way around.
Finally, at Cana in Galillee, we have the Wedding Feast. This is the first miracle of Christ, and marks the beginning of His Public ministry. This crucial even occurs at the request of His Blessed Mother. It is here that He is said to have raised matrimony to the Dignity of a Sacrament by His very presence.
All of these things are occurring in the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, as the Christmas Season unfolds. To my mind, it seems a shame to have moved this to a Sunday, because it takes something special away from the Feast. I don't recall thinking anything special about any of these great feasts that have been moved to Sunday when I was a child. I did know that Ascension Thursday was special, because so many of us attended Mass on that day, which is not a Sunday. Corpus Christi? That was just another Sunday to me when I was growing up.

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