Even 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.