08 January 2017

Epiphany: The Other Christmas

Epiphany, also known as The Manifestation or Theophany, occurs after the 12 days of Christmas is complete, on January 6th  (in the United States alone it is sometimes transferred to the nearest Sunday).  Below are the meaning, spirituality, and culture of the holiday season, from various sources.


Source: Twelve Days of Christmas by Elsa Chaney, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1955

For many years in the English speaking world the feast of Epiphany has been overshadowed by that of Christmas. But unless we realize the significance of this great day, we see only one side of the mystery of the Incarnation. Now after contemplating the staggering fact that God has become a human child, we turn to look at this mystery from the opposite angle and realize that this seemingly helpless Child is, in fact, the omnipotent God, the King and Ruler of the universe. The feast of Christ's divinity completes the feast of His humanity. It fulfills all our Advent longing for the King "who is come with great power and majesty." We see that whereas Christmas is the family feast of Christianity, Epiphany is the great "world feast of the Catholic Church."

Epiphany is a complex feast. Originating in the Eastern Church and formed by the mentality of a people whose thought processes differ sharply from our own, the Epiphany is like a rich Oriental tapestry in which the various themes are woven and interwoven — now to be seen in their historical setting, again to be viewed from a different vantage point in their deep mystical significance. In this brief introduction four of the main ideas of the Epiphany will be outlined.

1)     Divine manifestation: The Epiphany takes its name from the Greek epiphania, which denotes the visit of a god to earth. The first idea of the feast is the manifestation of Christ as the Son of God. "Begotten before the daystar and before all ages, the Lord our Savior is this day made manifest to the world." The feast unites three events in the life of Christ when His divinity, as it were, shines through His humanity: the adoration of the Magi; the baptism of Christ in the Jordan; and the first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana. Moreover, at Epiphany the Church looks forward to the majestic coming of Christ on the "youngest day" when His manifestation as God will be complete. The Gospel of the baptism is read on the Octave Day, January 13th, the Gospel of the marriage at Cana is read on the Second Sunday after Epiphany, and later Sunday masses in the Epiphany season continue to show the divine power of our Lord in some of His most striking miracles. (Third Sunday: Jesus healing the leper and the Centurion’s servant, Fourth Sunday: Jesus calming the tempest). “Behold, the sovereign Lord is come; in His hands He holds the kingdom, the power, and the empire.”

2)     Royal kingship: A second important idea in Epiphany is the extension of Christ's kingship to the whole world. The revelation of Christ to the three kings at Bethlehem is a symbol of His revelation to the whole of the Gentile world. Epiphany presents to us the calling of not merely a chosen few, but all nations to Christianity.      Ps 94 “For You, My Lord, are a great God, and great King above all kings. For in Your hands are all the ends of the Earth, and the heights of the mountains are Yours. For the sea is Yours, and You made it; and Your hands formed the dry land . . . We are the people of Your pasture and sheep of Your hand.”

3)     Your Light is Come: Closely linked to both these themes of divine manifestation and world kingship is a third idea running through the Epiphany feast: that of light. During Advent, the world was in darkness, and we prayed and waited in the spirit of the Jewish nation which lived in expectation of the Coming Light during thousands of years. At Christmas the Light shone forth, but dimly, seen only by a few around the crib: Mary and Joseph and the shepherds. But at Epiphany the Light bursts forth to all nations and the prophecy is fulfilled: "The Gentiles shall walk in Thy light, and kings in the brightness of Thy rising." The mysterious star of Epiphany, "flashing like a flame," is still another facet of the light-motif, a symbol capable of being interpreted in a dozen different ways.      Is 60 1-6: “Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come . . . And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising. . . All they from Saba shall come, bringing gold and frankincense, and showing forth praise to the Lord.”

How much food for thought and reflection is contained in just these three ideas, and what a significance they have for our own time! Epiphany lifts our eyes from the family celebrations and demands that we should include in our vision "all the ends of the earth." It demands that, like the three wise men, we should have the courage to follow the light of the star we have seen, however hazardous the journey; that the light of our faith, like that of the wise men, should be so strong that we are able to see and recognize our Lord and Ruler in however unexpected a way He may present Himself to us; and that having recognized Him, we should bow down and adore Him, offering Him our total loyalty.

Moreover, Epiphany demands that like these kings we should return to our own countries a different way, carrying to all those we meet the light of Christ. "For behold, darkness shall cover the earth," says the Epistle of the Epiphany Mass, "and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon Thee, and His glory shall be seen upon Thee. And the Gentiles shall walk in Thy light. . ." These words may be applied to us, upon whom the light of Christ has indeed risen, and who have the responsibility to radiate that light in the darkness of our own world. It is clear how much the feast of Epiphany must mean to all who are engaged in the apostolate and are striving to extend the kingdom of Christ.

4)     The royal nuptials: Besides the important ideas outlined above, there is still another great theme threaded through the Epiphany feast—the theme of the royal nuptials, the wedding of Christ with humanity. It is an idea on a completely different level from the historical events which the Epiphany celebrates, yet inextricably bound up with them; for example, the historical marriage feast of Cana is used by the Church to suggest the setting for Christ's nuptials with the Church; the wise men represent not only the three Persian Magi adoring the Babe 2000 years ago at Bethlehem, but also the Gentile world hurrying to the wedding feast at the end of time when mankind's nuptials with the divine Bridegroom will be celebrated; the gold, frankincense and myrrh are not only tokens for the little Baby King in the stable, but royal wedding gifts for the mystical marriage feast of heaven.

The Epiphany antiphon for the hour of Lauds brings out strikingly this theme of the divine marriage of Christ with humanity, and at the same time shows the deep mystical significance behind the historical events surrounding the feast. Perhaps nowhere more clearly than in this antiphon do we see that on Epiphany we do not commemorate a set of historical facts as much as we celebrate a great mystery: "This day the Church is joined to her heavenly Spouse, for Christ has cleansed her crimes in the Jordan. With gifts the Magi hasten to the royal nuptials, and the guests are gladdened with wine made from water."

Source: Saint Thomas Meditations for every day, by Fr E.C. McEnery O.P., Columbus [Ohio], Long’s College book company, 1951
COLOR SYMBOL: Yellow or White
RECOGNITION: Christ’s Kingly Power
OUR GIFT: Charity, Almsgiving, Search for Wisdom
 Ever since the birth of Christ, and perhaps before the Savior’s birth, gold was considered precious and as something greatly to be prized.  In a spiritual sense gold means heavenly wisdom.  The wise men were called wise because they followed the star, found the Savior, gave Him their gold (in place of hoarding it), for they recognized Jesus as the Giver of all good gifts and realized that whatever good things they had were from God.  To recognize that important fact and to appreciate it is the highest wisdom and more precious to us than gold and silver.

 MAGI’S GIFT: Frankincense
RECOGNITION: Christ’s Divinity
OUR GIFT: Prayer, Faith, Devotion
 The Magi also brought frankincense to the Crib of Bethlehem and offered it to the world’s Redeemer.  Frankincense is a fragrant inflammable resin, burnt as incense, producing a sweet smelling odor.  In the spiritual order it signifies a devout prayer.  Hence King David, the royal Psalmist says, “O Lord, hear my voice, and let my prayer be directed as incense in Thy sight.” (Ps. CXL, 2.)  To have our prayers thus directed to God, they must be fervent and inflamed with the fire of charity.

RECOGNITION: Christ’s Humanity
OUR GIFT: Sacrifice, Fasting, Mortification
Myrrh is the aromatic gummy resin of Balsamodendron.   Myrrh that grows in Arabia and Abyssinia and is of an agreeable or spicy nature.  By Myrrh, in the spiritual sense, is understood the mortification of the flesh (so much needed in this age of luxury, ease and up-to-date comfort).  Wherefore, we read in Canticles (V, 5) “I arose up to open to My Beloved.  My hands dropped with myrrh and my fingers were full of the choicest myrrh.”  In these words the Church mystically describes Christ to those who know Him not, that is, to infidels; in order to convert them to the true faith.

By the visible things namely, gold, frankincense and myrrh when considered in a spiritual manner, we rise to a knowledge of the invisible things of God; and only then do we realize how much we need heavenly wisdom, devout prayer and mortification of the flesh. These three are the spiritual gold of the human soul.


Epiphany occurs after the 12 days of Christmas is complete, on January 6th.  Twelfth Night parties used to be popular in the evening on January 5th since it was the last day of Christmas. In many cultures, it is tradition to put out the children’s shoes on Twelfth Night and fill them with grass or hay to feed the camels on their way to the Christ Child! The next morning, on Epiphany, the shoes would be filled with small ‘thank you’ treats and presents, as in some cultures it is on January 6th, not December 25th, that gifts would be exchanged. 

Slow down and enjoy! The season of Epiphany runs until Candlemas, on February 2nd, when the Christ Child is presented at the temple in Jerusalem, 40 days after His birth. [That means that A) you can wait and start putting up Christmas decorations on Christmas Eve, and B) you can relax and take delight in your Christmas decorations/music for 40 days, all through January. It’s totally cool, in a counter-secular-culture kind of way!]. It is also tradition within the octave after Epiphany for the blessing of homes and water. To learn more about blessing your own home door yourself with chalk writing, go to this link or this link

In some carnival-centric societies where Epiphany is taken seriously, they celebrate all the way until Fat Tuesday and then end it with a bang. Throughout the greater Christmas-tide, these societies offer different variations of circular sweet bread called “Kings Cake.” They go by names such as vasilopita, galette des rois, panettone, tortell, reiaume, bolo rei, banitsa, rosca de reyes, and twelfth cake.

In the English-speaking world, the feast of the Nativity (December 25th) is treated as the greater Christmas and Epiphany (January 6th) is considered the lesser Christmas. However, in the Slavic or North African countries it is Epiphany that is the greater. That is why Epiphany is sometimes nicknamed “Orthodox Christmas.” Traditions include bareback horse racing, dancing, religious processions with parasols, and jumping in water.

H A P P Y   E P I P H A N Y!!! 


17 March 2014

The Hymn of St. Patrick

This Irish hymn is found in the 9th century Book of Armagh, where it was called S. Patricii Canticum Scotticum (St. Patrick's Scottish Hymn).

It is said that Patrick wrote it in 433 A.D. when he was about to convert the chief monarch of the island (Laoghaire or Loegaire). Patrick was aware that there was an ambush to try to kill him and his disciples en route to the King's court. Hence, the hymn is often referred to as the "Lorica,"  (Breastplate).

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity,
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgment Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
The power of Heaven,
The light of the sun,
The brightness of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The flashing of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of sea,
The stability of earth,
The compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God's Power to guide me,
God's Might to uphold me,
God's Wisdom to teach me,
God's Eye to watch over me,
God's Ear to hear me,
God's Word to give me speech,
God's Hand to guide me,
God's Way to lie before me,
God's Shield to shelter me,
God's Host to secure me,
   Against the snares of demons,
   Against the seductions of vices,
   Against the lusts of nature,
   Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
      Whether far or near,
      Whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
Against every hostile merciless power
Which may assail my body and my soul,
Against the incantations of false prophets,
Against the black laws of heathenism,
Against the false laws of heresy,
Against the deceits of idolatry,
Against the spells of witches, and smiths, and druids,
Against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today
Against every poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against death-wound,
That I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort, [i.e., at home]
Christ in the chariot seat, [i.e., travelling by land]
Christ in the stern. [i.e., travelling by water]

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the Unity,
The Creator of the Universe.


16 September 2013

Ancient Pilgrim's Song: Dum Pater Familias

When the Father of all peoples, the King of the universe,
gave provinces to the authority of the apostles,
James chose to enlighten Spain.

"First among the apostles martyred in Jerusalem,
James was sanctified in holy martyrdom."

Pious Galicia sought the assistance of James,
and her glory signals the way
for those whose prayers burst forth in a song:

“To Lord and Santiago! To God and Santiago!
Be kind, be merciful, O God, deliver us.”

The whole world gives thanks to James,
the soldier of piety whose intercession
protects us and satisfies all prayers.

"First among the apostles martyred in Jerusalem,
James was sanctified in holy martyrdom."

James the miracle-worker:
Those who are in times of danger, cry out to him
Whoever hopes in him will be freed of their bonds.

"First among the apostles martyred in Jerusalem,
James was sanctified in holy martyrdom."

O Saint James, our true strength,
deliver us from our enemies,
and defend us who are devoted to you, if it pleases you.

"First among the apostles martyred in Jerusalem,
James is sanctified in holy martyrdom."

Through James’ favor, we hope for forgiveness.
And let us give to our remarkable father
the praise which we owe him.

"First among the apostles martyred in Jerusalem,
James was sanctified in holy martyrdom."


Dum pater familias, Rex universorum,
Donaret provincias ius apostolorum,
Iacobus Yspanias lux illustrat morum.

Primus ex apostolic martir Ierosolimis,
Iacobus egregio sacer est martirio.

Iacobe Gallecia, opem rogat piam,
Glebae cuius Gloria dat insignem viam,
Ut precum frequentia cantet melodiam.

Herru Santiagu,Got Santiagu,
Eultreia, esuseia, Deus adiuva nos.

Iacobo dat parium omnis mundus gratis,
Ob cuius remedium miles pietatis
Cunctorum presidium est ad vota satis.

Primus ex apostolic martir Ierosolimis,
Iacobus egregio sacer est martirio.

Iacobum miraculis que fiunt per illum.
Arctis in periculis acclamet ad illum,
Quisquis solvi vinculis sperat per illum.

Primus ex apostolic martir Ierosolimis,
Iacobus egregio sacer est martirio.

O beate Iacobe, virtus nostra vere,
Nobis hostes remove tuos et tuere
Ac devotos adhibe nos tibi placer.

Primus ex apostolic martir Ierosolimis,
Iacobus egregio sacer est martirio.

Iacobo propicio veniam speremus
Et, quas ex obsequio merito debemus
Patri tam eximio dignas laudes demus. (Amen.)

Primus ex apostolic martir Ierosolimis,
Iacobus egregio sacer est martirio.


31 August 2013

The Virtue of Truthful SIMPLICITY

--- by D. Q. McInerny, Ph.D.----
Professor of Philosophy
Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary

The nineteenth century writer Henry David Thoreau, in his book Walden, now a classic of American literature, demonstrates a considerable amount of concern over what he regarded as the undue complicatedness of the society of his day. And the situation, as he saw things, was getting progressively worse. "Our way of life is frittered away by detail," was one way he put it. "Detail," as he uses it her, is to be understood negatively; he is referring to what he reckoned to be totally inconsequential matters. People's time and energy were being consumed by trivial concerns, in other words, while the really important things, which are few in number, were being neglected. Reading Thoreau on his theme, one is reminded of the comparable views expressed by the seventeenth century French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, who maintained that our lives are eaten up by "diversion," unnecessary preoccupations of various kinds, which we consciously cultivate, so that we do not have to think about the "one thing necessary," that is, God and our eternal destiny.


Thoreau's solution to the overly-complicated life, where a person is in an almost constant state of distraction, was simplicity. If our lives are weighted by excess baggage, if we are constantly "on the go" but don't have an especially clear idea of where we are going, and next to none at all of where we should be going, then it is time to jettison a lot of useless cargo. "Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life?" Thoreau asked. Then he had some specific advice to give: "I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count a half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumbnail." Thoreau, who, it has to be said, practiced what he preached, living a plain, unencumbered life, summed up his philosophy with a one-word, righting imperative - Simplify!

Thoreau (1817-1862) lived at a time when the social conditions of the country were changing rapidly, what with industrialization, urbanization, and the advent of new technicalities of various sorts. American society was indeed becoming more complicated in any number of ways. The railroads were then just coming into their own and expanding rapidly, revolutionizing transportation, but Thoreau was not impressed, and tended to look upon technological advances in general with a jaundiced eye. He thought that what eventually happens is that, instead of we running our machines, they end up running us. "We do not ride on the railroad, " he quipped; "it rides upon us." When the telegraph lines were completed connecting North and South, one of Thoreau's fellow townsmen came to him one day all excited, explaining breathlessly that it was now possible, in a matter of seconds, for the people of Massachusetts to speak to the people of Texas. "Interesting," responded Henry David, "but what if the people of Massachusetts do not have anything to say to the people of Texas?" Instant communication over great distances is a technological wonder worth getting excited about only if we could be assured that what is being communicated instantaneously is worth being communicated. A lie that can be conveyed from New York to Tokyo in seconds remains a lie, and perhaps it becomes a more dangerous lie for the facility with which it can be disseminated.

Thoreau's concerns were not without foundation, and if he thought that the lives of people living some 175 years ago were lacking in a requisite simplicity, one can only imagine what he would have thought about our day and age. There is no doubt that the world in which we live is immensely more complicated that Thoreau's world, and to think that a more complicated world is a better world is to think naively. Today we can too easily get caught up in and be borne along by all sorts of things which, sub specie aeternitatis, "in the light of eternity," do not really matter, and thus can serve seriously to impede us from paying the kind of attention we should be paying to "the one thing necessary."

There is a very close connection between social conditions and psychological conditions, between what is going on all around us and what is going on within us. If our exterior lives are overly complicated and confused, this Is invariably because our interior lives are such. This connection, between interior and exterior, between state of soul and state of society, is something that Henry David Thoreau may have been marginally aware of, but St. Thomas Aquinas was keenly aware of it. Thoreau was concerned about the importance of simplicity, and so was St. Thomas, but, unlike Thoreau, he had a very precise notion of what the remedy was for a lack of simplicity, an that is because he had a very precise notion of simplicity itself, which he saw as a special kind of virtue.

In setting the stage for arriving at a clear understanding of simplicity, St. Thomas begins by contrasting simplicity with duplicity. One of the definitions the dictionary gives us for duplicity is "double-dealing," which fits in quite nicely with the way St. Thomas tends to think of it. A duplicitous person is just the opposite of a simple person because, as St. Thomas describes him, the duplicitous person "intends one thing and pretends another." In another place he says that the duplicitous person holds something in his heart which conflicts with his exterior behavior. He is, we might say, a walking war zone, a man burdened by debilitating internal complicatedness. Duplicity is the opposite of simplicity because duplicity is falsehood, and simplicity - here is a remarkable feature of St. Thomas's thought on this subject - is nothing else but truth. For St. Thomas, then, "the virtue of simplicity is the same as the virtue of truth."

By his conjoining simplicity and truth, St. Thomas suggests for us the only viable remedy for the spirit-draining social complicatedness which Thoreau found so worrisome, and which is still very much a part of contemporary society, but to a degree that he would not have been able to imagine. Simplicity is the solution to complicatedness, but the achieving of simplicity, the achievement of truth, must begin within. The task would involve a willingness to embrace the truth in its totality - the truth about ourselves, the truth about our relation to God, the truth about the realities of the social conditions of the world in which we live. "Simplify!" Thoreau proclaimed. To which we add, getting to the very heart of the matter- "Be truthful!" The truth, Our Lord tells us, will set us free, in every beneficial way conceivable, including releasing us from the confining bonds of the hurly-burly, distractingly complicated world of the early twenty-first century. To desire a simple society is to desire a truthful society, and such a society will only be brought about by simple, souls, truthful people.