The Epiphany Sunday Dust-Up: It’s Golden

“It was fifty years ago today,
US bishops moved a holy day.”

I remember in my early days as a Catholic that Epiphany appeared on January second. It first happened in 1972 and it happened again yesterday. A not-too-deep look at the Catholic internet will find fussing about not celebrating yesterday on the proper day.

I told a social media friend I feel inclined to sympathy for his view. But I think that the moving of holy days to Sundays is neither the first nor the more grievous institutional error.

By both perception and reality, the attitude toward holy days is one of legal obligation. Epiphany would be far more fruitful if parishes celebrated it like any parish festival. A few ideas to start:

  • If a parish school is in session, suspend all classes and plan a day of activities–religious and social.
  • Invite family members and other believers in the community to join in for three meals, Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, and the like.
  • Revisit pre-25th Christmas programming for an encore, maybe with a few extras.
  • Maybe I’d rethink the suspension of all classes: certainly music and art should continue.

If an obligation is really needed, I’d press parish pastors: if they want people to come to church, they should be obliged to make the festivities a day-long affair. The first obligation should be on the clergy, all the bishops especially.

All the commentary I’ve seen about restoring Epiphany to the 6th of January is well worth considering. The notion of reimposing an obligation is wrong-headed. Christian festivals were once a time for communities, not canon lawyers. They were a day for the 99% to be relieved from the burdens imposed by the 1%.

Let’s restore Epiphany to glory on Earth. But let’s do it right.

Image: French painter James Tissot’s depiction of the Magi on their journey.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to The Epiphany Sunday Dust-Up: It’s Golden

  1. Liam says:

    There’s something that’s missing before your suggestions would have the kind of engagement you hope for. We’ve lost any semblance of a culture that honors festal rest (except Thanksgiving Day – though even there, it’s only 3 New England states (ME, MA, RI) that bar stores from opening at all – and Christmas Day) .

    Starting with an invitation may seem logical, but first you need to know where and how your putative invitees *are*. What’s it’s going to be like for them to receive an invitation to things they don’t believe (or actually know) they don’t “have time” for? (This is no less true on Sundays, btw.) Sure, many people with spare time (though who may not realize it’s “spare”) make time for experiences they’ve been groomed or have groomed themselves to desire. But for a lot of people other than parish staff, “le weekend” runs from Friday evening to Sunday morning, and is filled with tasks, exercises not for which there is insufficient time during the week. And workweek work begins on Sunday midday or somewhat later. (I feel positively antedeluvian to have recently retired after 35 years where I strove to preserve Sundays from that; I don’t know many in my age cohort who did that, and the younger one is the worse that situation appears to be.)

    All that said, a lot of this conversation/complaint about moved holidays is among “church people” who “do church” at some professional, or high-level volunteer, level. (Many of whom exhausted themselves last week, and will do so at Holy Week.)


    The rudder for holyday decisions is in Western Europe, where, unlike the USA, there is a still a strong culture of non-essential offices (more white than blue collar, though) being closed at the year-end holidays. (Scotland gets today off, for full measure – no loss of its traditional double New Year’s holiday). Most of my career before the last few years, the last week of the year was the most furious time of year of work, and one could at best get Xmas Eve (maybe just the afternoon) and maybe the morning after Xmas off.

    The way that the Christmastide liturgical commemorations unfold in the current liturgical calendar is a muddle, and has been tinkered with a fair bit over the last century or so, I am not sure to a necessarily improved result. All this tinkering could annoy people in the the liturgy business who perhaps find a certain serenity in good order and a wealth of contrapuntal detail.

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