DPPL 118: Epiphany

STA altar at night smallEven with the transfer of Epiphany to the Sunday after the first day of the year, the feast’s western observance pales in comparison to the East or to western Christmas. Six forms of popular piety are mentioned in today’s section.

118. Many traditions and genuine manifestations of popular piety have been developed in relation to the Solemnity of the Lord’s Epiphany, which is of ancient origin and rich in spiritual content. Among such forms of popular piety, mention may be made of:
• the solemn proclamation of Easter and the principal dominical feasts; its revival in many places would be opportune since it served to make the connection between the Epiphany and Easter, and orientate all feasts towards the greatest Christian solemnity;
• the exchange of “Epiphany gifts”, which derives from the gifts offered to Jesus by the three kings (cf. Mt 2,11) and more radically from the gift made to (humankind) by God in the birth of Emmanuel amongst us (cf. Is 7, 14; 9, 16; Mt 1, 23). It is important, however, to ensure that the exchange of gifts on the solemnity of the Epiphany retain a Christian character, indicating that its meaning is evangelical: hence the gifts offered should be a genuine expression of popular piety and free from extravagance, luxury, and waste, all of which are extraneous to the Christian origins of this practice;
• the blessing of homes, on whose lentils are inscribed the Cross of salvation, together with the indication of the year and the initials of the three wise men (C+M+B), which can also be interpreted to mean Christus mansionem benedicat, written in blessed chalk; this custom, often accompanied by processions of children accompanied by their parents, expresses the blessing of Christ through the intercession of the (magi) and is an occasion for gathering offerings for charitable and missionary purposes;
• initiatives in solidarity with those who come from afar; whether Christian or not, popular piety has encouraged a sense of solidarity and openness;
• assistance to the work of evangelization; the strong missionary character of the Epiphany has been well understood by popular piety and many initiatives in support of the missions flourish on 6 January, especially the “Missionary work of the Holy Child”, promoted by the Apostolic See;
• the assignation of Patrons; in many religious communities and confraternities, patron saints are assigned to the members for the coming year.

The proclamation of Easter does not fare as well as the Christmas proclamation. I’m not sure why. LTP promoted it through its Sourcebook through the 80’s and 90’s.

The exchange of gifts is an eastern custom. Christmas giving rather overshadows this, and it is easy for people to ask about the difference.

The blessing of homes, however, has promise.

In many nations, refugees and immigrants are treated with suspicion. It is not a good time for many people, even Christians, to embrace point four.

As a Church, we struggle with evangelization as a concept. A generation away from a stronger missionary awareness connected with Epiphany. If we choose a major feast, I would think Ascension and Pentecost are more logical choices.

Assigning patrons for a year: what a remarkable concept. I admit I’ve never heard of this. Any of you?

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, post-conciliar liturgy documents. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to DPPL 118: Epiphany

  1. Katherine says:

    Epiphany is one of my favorite feasts.

    *It seems to me that people impatient with anything that lengthens a liturgy tend to get cranky about the proclamation. Familiarity and repeated use might help …
    *gifts — my parents always held back some small gift for each of us, for Epiphany, wrapped in gold paper. (Gifts are an Epiphany thing in Hispanic cultures, too.) A special dinner — as we got older, with foods from Middle Eastern/western Asian areas– was another touch.
    *there’s a script for blessing of homes with the chalk, for family use. I’ve also heard of priests going to bless dorm rooms, as well as family homes …
    *there are Internet sites that will assign patrons for the year. I haven’t done it, but occasionally see bloggers refer to it.

    I think Epiphany has special potential for communities where many people travel away over Christmas. It could also serve as a point of solidarity and shared celebration with a parish’s Hispanic community, as the feast is culturally a big thing for them. And the idea of the ‘wise men’ should have a resonance in academic communities. (There is a wonderful passage in Evelyn Waugh’s novel _Helena_, in which Constantine’s aged mother reflects on the magi as patrons of intellectuals and people with power/authority, and the special spiritual dangers of those roles.)

    One of my pet peeves is that so little Epiphany music seems to get used; I loathe “We Three Kings”. There are wonderful texts like “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise” that link Epiphany, the Baptism, and Cana.

  2. Liam says:

    I’ve never heard about the assigning of patrons year by year at each Epiphany, and am curious about how that practice developed.

    I am familiar with families who had a tradition of gift-giving at “Little Christmas” – not my family’s tradition, nor in the NYC area, but in the Boston area it apparently was once common. I’ll note that, in historical terms for Catholic countries, Christmas was before modern times the third-place feast for gift giving compared to Epiphany (Spanish, Portuguese and Italian lands) and New Year’s Day (the French custom and once the dominant custom in the British Isles, also Greeks et cet.) – Germanic lands tended to St Nicholas Day as a gift-giving day.

    Another practice I am aware of, but that again my family did not practice, was the movement of the figures of the Magi (and their token camel(s)) through the rooms of the house towards the creche, to be placed at the creche on Twelfth Night (the vigil of Epiphany). Some families had little treats associated with the movement (which I wonder if they may have been borrowed, oddly, from Chanukkah practices).

  3. FrMichael says:

    Assigning patrons for the year– that’s news to me. I asked a couple priest-religious friends, they had never heard of it either.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s