Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Epiphany of the Lord (Traditional Calendar)

Today once again the glories of the traditional (i.e., pre-Vatican II) Divine Office offer excellent catechesis from a great Saint of the Church, in this case Pope St. Leo the Great (d. 461).  If you are familiar with the structure of the traditional Office (1960 rubrics) then skip this explanation:  The prayers known as the "Office of Readings" in today's simplified (and, some would argue, dumbed-down) "Liturgy of the Hours" are traditionally known as "Matutinum" or "Matins", and are always the most extensive of the day.  That is also true in the LOTH, but there really is no comparison beyond that.  Recitation of the post-V2 Office of Readings takes about 20-25 minutes, whereas on "Class I" feast days such as today, January 6, even private recitation without chanting of Matins will take around an hour to do with proper reverence.  Instead of three Psalms (or three segments of Psalms) as in the OOR, there are nine Psalms in three "Nocturnes" of three Psalms each.  Instead of one set of three Readings, the traditional Matins contains three sets of three, one for each Nocturne.  There are additional differences, which I won't try to explain here, but you get the point: for whatever reason(s), the post-Conciliar Church decided to restructure the Divine Office to make it far less demanding in terms of time and effort, which unfortunately also renders it, in my opinion at least, far less valuable as a vehicle for devotional prayer.  Sounds a bit like what happened to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, doesn't it?  Oh well...

As today is the traditional date of the Solemnity of the Epiphany, it's one of those Class I days on the Divine Office calendar, and the second of the three sets of readings is the main focus of this post.  Here they are, as copied and pasted from the marvelous website I use as my source for the Office and much other information about traditional Catholic worship.
From the Sermons of Pope St. Leo (the Great)
2nd for Twelfth-Day.
Dearly beloved brethren, rejoice in the Lord; again I say, rejoice. But a few days are past since the solemnity of Christ's Birth, and now the glorious light of His Manifestation is breaking upon us. On that day the Virgin brought Him forth, and on this the world knew Him. The Word made Flesh was pleased to reveal Himself by degrees to those for whom He had come. When Jesus was born He was manifested indeed to the believing, but hidden from His enemies. Already indeed the heavens declared the glory of God, and their sound went out into all lands, when the Herald Angels appeared to tell to the shepherds the glad tidings of a Saviour's Birth; and now the guiding star leadeth the wise men to worship Him, that from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof, the Birth of the true King may be known abroad; that through those wise men the kingdoms of the east might learn the great truth, and the Roman empire remain no more in darkness.
The very cruelty of Herod, when he strove to crush at His birth this King Whom he alone feared, was made a blind means to carry out this dispensation of mercy. While the tyrant with horrid guilt sought to slay the little Child he did not know, amid an indiscriminate slaughter of innocents, his infamous act served to spread wider abroad the heaven-told news of the Birth of the Lord. Thus were these glad tidings loudly proclaimed, both by the novelty of their story, and the iniquity of their enemies. Then was the Saviour borne into Egypt, that nation, of a long time hardened in idolatry, might by the mysterious virtue which went out of Him, even when His presence was unknown, be prepared for the saving light so soon to dawn on them, and might receive the Truth as a wanderer even before they had banished falsehood.
Dearly beloved brethren, we recognize in the wise men who came to worship Christ, the first-fruits of that dispensation to the Gentiles wherein we also are called and enlightened. Let us then keep this Feast with grateful hearts, in thanksgiving for our blessed hope, whereof it doth commemorate the dawn. From that worship paid to the new-born Christ is to be dated the entry of us Gentiles upon our heirship of God and co-heirship with Christ. Since that joyful day the Scriptures which testify of Christ have lain open for us as well as for the Jews. Yea, their blindness rejected that Truth, Which, since that day, hath shed Its bright beams upon all nations. Let all observance, then, be paid to this most sacred day, whereon the Author of our salvation was made manifest, and as the wise men fell down and worshipped Him in the manger, so let us fall down and worship Him enthroned Almighty in heaven. As they also opened their treasures and presented unto Him mystic and symbolic gifts, so let us strive to open our hearts to Him, and offer Him from thence some worthy offering.
Anyone hear a homily like this at their parish this past Sunday, when the Church in the US celebrated Epiphany?  Neither did I.  And how may of last Sunday's homilies will still be read by anyone 1,500 years or so from now?  Just a rhetorical question, of course.  

One additional point deserves to be made here about the nature of the pre-V2 celebration of Epiphany.  The whole point of the feast, as Pope St. Leo made clear in his opening words, is the manifestation of the Lord to the world.  That is most clearly symbolized by the coming of the Magi, who are representative of the world as then known, having come from the mysterious East to worship the newborn King.  However, there are two other examples of manifestation which were a significant part of the traditional feast, and which have been separated from it in today's Church, the Baptism of the Lord in the Jordan, by which Christ was first revealed as a Person of the Holy Trinity, and the Wedding at Cana, at which he opened his public ministry by performing the first of his "signs", as St. John's Gospel calls his miraculous works.  This is shown by the text of the final Antiphon of Laudes (Morning Prayer) in the traditional Office:
This day is the Church joined unto the Heavenly Bridegroom, * since Christ hath washed away her sins in Jordan; the wise men hasten with gifts to the marriage supper of the King; and they that sit at meat together make merry with water turned into wine. Alleluia.
This threefold manifestation is also clearly celebrated in other Hours of the Office, as well as in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

A happy and blessed Epiphany to all!

Laudator Jesus Christus!

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