WDTPRS Epiphany Collect: transformed by the beauty of Your sublime glory

In the ancient Western Church and in the East, Epiphany was more important than the relative latecomer Christmas.  Epiphany is from the Greek word for a divine “manifestation” or “revelation”.  There are many “epiphanies” of God in the Scripture.  Think, for example, of the burning bush encountered by Moses.

The Latin Church’s antiphons for Vespers reflect the tradition that Epiphany was thought to be not only the day the Magi came to adore Christ, but also the same day years later when He changed water into wine at Cana, and also when He was baptized by St. John in the Jordan.  In each mysterious event, Jesus was revealed to be more than a mere man: He is man and God.

The Epiphany Collect was in the 1962 Missale Romanum and in ancient sacramentaries.

Deus, qui hodierna die Unigenitum tuum stella duce revelasti, concede propitius, ut qui iam te ex fide cognovimus, usque ad contemplandam speciem tuae celsitudinis perducamur.

Stella duce is an ablative absolute.  The adjective hodiernus means “of this day, today’s”.  In older Latin, celsitudo is “lofty carriage of the body”. In later Latin it is used like the title “Highness”.  In our liturgical context it is a divine attribute, God’s transcendent grandeur, glory.

SUPER LITERAL VERSION:

O God, who on this very day revealed your Only-begotten, a star as the guide, graciously grant, that we, who have already come to know You by faith, may be led all the way unto the beauty of Your glory to be contemplated.

OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):

Father, you revealed your Son to the nations by the guidance of a star. Lead us to your glory in heaven by the light of faith.

NEW CORRECTED ICEL (2011):

O God, who on this day revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations by the guidance of a star, grant in your mercy, that we, who know you already by faith, may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory.

In Latin prayers species (three syllables) often means “beauty”. It is also a technical, philosophical term about the way the human intellect apprehends things.  Species has to do with the relationship between the thing known and our knowing power.  A species transforms the mind of the one perceiving a thing.  The object we consider acts upon our power of knowing.  Simultaneously, the knowing power acts upon the object known.  Our knowing power’s active and passive aspects meet in the species and the object of our consideration is known directly, without intermediaries.  Easy.

This is what we are praying for, hoping for, living our earthly lives for: to see God face to face, directly and immediately.

In this life we know God only indirectly, by faith, our reason aided by the authority of revelation and by grace.  This is St. Paul’s “dark glass” (1 Cor 13:12) through which we peer toward Him in longing.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He is the Father’s Beauty. He is Truth and Beauty and Glory itself.

St. Hilary of Poitiers (d 367) conceived God’s divine attribute of glory as a transforming power which divinizes us by our contact with it.  After Moses talked with God in the tent of the Ark, he wore a veil over his face, which became too bright to look at.  We pray today, literally, to be brought “all the way to the beauty of glory (species celsitudinis)” of God “which is to be contemplated”.  His beauty will act on us, increase our knowledge of Him and, therefore, our love for Him … for all eternity.   We will be, all the more, the images He intended.

Christ could be understood to be the species celsitudinis of this prayer. Contemplate His truth and beauty.  Christ is the true speaker and spoken truth of every prayer of every Mass.

If eternal Beauty transforms us, “divinizes” us, then beauty in this life changes us too.

Could a fostering of beauty in our churches help us reach people today in a way that arguments or other appeals may not?

Our liturgical worship of the Most High God must lead us to encounter beauty, truth, transcendent mystery.  Holy Mass requires the finest architecture, vestments, music – everything – we can summon from human genius, love and labor.  What we sing and say and do in church, and the church itself, ought to presage the liturgy of heaven, where the Church Triumphant enjoys already the Beatific Vision.  Liturgy should be “epiphany”, wherein we encounter transforming mystery.

Let us celebrate every Mass in such a way that we become shoeless Moses before the burning bush which is never consumed.  Let Mass make us Magi with sight and mind fixed in longing upon the beautiful, true and yet speechless Word, in whom transcendent glory was both hidden and revealed.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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4 Responses to WDTPRS Epiphany Collect: transformed by the beauty of Your sublime glory

  1. Brilliant meditation, Father. St. Hilary was not alone in that assessment of the Divine glory. I recall St. Leo the Great’s sermon on the Incarnation:

    “For the Son of God is true God, having from the Father all that the Father is, with no beginning in time, subject to no sort of change, undivided from the one God, not different from the Almighty, the eternal only-begotten of the eternal Father; so that the faithful intellect believing in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit in the same essence of the one Divinity, neither divides the unity by suggesting degrees of dignity, nor confounds the Trinity by merging the Persons in one. But it is not enough to know the Son of God in the Father’s nature only, unless we acknowledge Him in what is ours without withdrawal of what is His own. For that self-emptying, which He underwent for man’s restoration, was the dispensation of compassion, not the loss of power. For, though by the eternal purpose of God there was no other Name under heaven given to men whereby they must be saved, the Invisible made His substance visible, the Intemporal temporal, the Impassible passible: not that power might sink into weakness, but that weakness might pass into indestructible power.”- Pope St. Leo the Great, c. A.D. 450

  2. jameeka says:

    Aha! Father Z, I have had an epiphany. I finally see why your blog exists–your readers are SO blessed.
    Thank you, and thanks to all priests who try to meet the challenge.

  3. JKnott says:

    Breathtaking reflection in every way. Something to keep in mind. Thank you Father.

  4. Mariana2 says:

    THANKS, FATHER !