Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Epiphany—Manifestation of Our Lord Jesus Christ—6 January AD 2008


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Blessing of Holy Water (on the Vigil)

Blessing of Epiphany Chalk

    Today we celebrate the “Epiphany” of our Lord, a word taken from Greek words meaning “to show forth” or to “manifest.”  Already on Christmas day, we read in the Gospel of the first and second Masses that the infant Jesus had been manifested by the angels to the shepherds in the fields about Bethlehem.[1]  Today we hear about the manifestation of Jesus to wise men who came from countries in the East under the guidance of a star that led them to Bethlehem by way of Jerusalem.[2]  Although we don’t hear about them at Mass, the Divine Office also includes the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan, and His first miracle at Cana as part of this manifestation.[3]

    Normally, the Church celebrates these last two events on separate days, the Baptism of our Lord on January 13th were it a weekday, and the miracle at the wedding feast in Cana on the Second Sunday after Epiphany.  But this year Easter comes almost as early as it ever does, so the Epiphany season is a bit compressed.  The feast of the Holy Name was celebrated during the week, and not on Sunday as it often is.  January 13th will fall next Sunday, so the Baptism of our Lord will be commemorated only briefly in the Sunday Mass.  There will be no Second Sunday after Epiphany at all, for the pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima will begin two weeks from today.

    If there is a certain urgency in this, perhaps we can transfer some of it into our own personal spiritual lives, recognizing both the need to prepare for Easter and the need to prepare for eternity.  As I have mentioned before, the spiritual life of a person with God must begin and develop somewhat right here in this mortal life.  It begins, of course, with Baptism (or the desire to receive it, in the case of an adult), and ought to be nourished with a lifetime of practicing the Catholic Faith in all of Its dimensions—prayer, fasting, good works, the Mass, the Sacraments, and so on.  So, perhaps, this urgency can be made to drive us in those directions.

    Many years ago, Pope Saint Gregory the Great (r. 590-604) wrote a sermon on the Gospel that we heard today.  He pointed out that the manifestations of our Lord fell into two broad categories, “prophesies” and “miracles.”[4]

    By “prophesies,” he meant those occasions on which our Lord was made manifest or pointed out by a creature with reason, through the spoken word.  This was possible only for those who were already believers (at least in some sense of that word).  The angels revealed Christ to the shepherds, who were already believing Jews, knowing the One True God:  “today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you.”[5]  Along the same lines, Christ was made manifest to believing Jews in His Baptism, for which they were prepared by the preaching of John the Baptist, and which was ratified by the voice of God the Father: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.[6]

    Pope Saint Gregory suggests that the more miraculous manifestations were for those of lesser belief or no belief at all.  The Magi were drawn from the East by the miraculous sign of the Christmas star—perhaps a conjunction of the stars and inner planets programmed by God at the time of creation to point out the birth of His Son to the pagans who were wise, but knew Him not.  Likewise, our Lord made Himself known through the miracle at Cana, to people who were probably believing Jews, but who lived far away from the presence of God in the Temple at Jerusalem, perhaps made less enthusiastic by their distance from God and the things of God.

    In His public life our Lord utilized both words and miraculous signs, for He evangelized a wide cross-section of people:  the believing Jews, of course, but also the less believing, and the pagans;  the well educated but also to the common man;  the affluent and influential but also the poor and insignificant.  Sometimes he found greater faith among the pagans than among those who were already supposed to be believers:  the Centurion who was “not worthy,” but asked only that Christ “say the word and [his] son would be healed,” for example;  or the Samaritan woman who believed after hearing Jesus’ words at the well.[7]

    Pope Saint Gregory takes those to task who have both heard the rational word of God preached to them, and seen the miraculous signs, and yet failed to believe.  Many signs accompanied the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ, and His words are almost universally described as prophetic, but yet there were some who did not believe.  In general, those who remained unbelievers were those whose lives were tightly tied to worldly pursuits, and those who wanted to be “seen by men” and taken for holy by their outward appearance.

    Among believers there is little need for miraculous display.  Saint Paul suggested that some miracles, like speaking in tongues, scare away the unbeliever who heard them in church:  If everyone spoke in strange tongues “and there came in unlearned persons or infidels, will they not say that you are mad?[8]  Our Lord tells us that there is even the danger of being deceived by those who work miracles: “There shall arise false Christs and false prophets and shall shew great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect.”[9]

    In any event, the great miracles seen in the Gospels seem to have come to an end with the death of the Apostles.  Pope Clement I, and Saint John Chrysostom, are among the Fathers of the Church who noted this fact.  Pope Saint Gregory the Great wrote:  “Signs ... were necessary at the beginning of the Church;  in order that the faith might grow, it required miracles to cherish it withal; just as when we plant shrubs, we water them until we see them thrive in the ground, and as soon as they are well rooted we cease our irrigation.”[10]

    What is necessary for the believing Catholic is to know the Faith of Gospels and the Traditions we have from the early Church—the Faith handed down to us through the centuries through the authentic teaching authority (or “magisterium”) of the Church.  Yet, we recall that these truths, even when they were heard side by side with seeing the miracles of Lord, was not enough to convince “those whose lives were tightly tied to worldly pursuits, and those who wanted to be ‘seen by men’ and taken for holy by their outward appearance.”

    If we are to truly practice the Faith we learn from the Church, we must do so with a love of God greater than our love of the world, and with a humility that is indifferent to impressing others with our holiness.  Easter comes early this year—perhaps that is a good thing—perhaps we need to be driven by a certain urgency to put aside the things of the world and to be nourished in our spiritual life with prayer, fasting, good works, the Mass, the Sacraments, and so on.

    We have heard the prophesies and seen the signs of our Lord’s birth.  Now it is time to get on with the business of becoming believers, more and more confirmed by the love of God and the practices of our Faith.


[1]   Luke ii: 1-14;  and ii: 15-20

[2]   Gospel:  Matthew ii: 1-12.

[3]   Antiphons at the Benedictus, and Magnificat of Second Vespers.

[4]   Gregory I, Homily 10 on the Gospels;  Third Nocturn of Epiphany.

[5]   Gospel, First Mass of Christmas: Luke ii: 1-14.

[6]   Matthew iii:17;   Mark: i:11;   Luke iii:22.

[7]   Matthew viii: 5-13;   John iv: 1-42.

[8]   1 Corinthians xiv: 23.

[9]   Matthew xxiv: 24.

[10]   Gregory I, Commentary on Mark.  See also


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