WDTPRS – Epiphany Collect: Liturgy should be “epiphany”, wherein we encounter transforming mystery.

In the Novus Ordo calendar Epiphany (which is supposed to be 12 days after Christmas – the reason it is called “Twelfth Night”) is sometimes moved to the Sunday.  I suppose that they reasoned that more people would celebrate the important feast that way.

I say that

1) that signals that bishops think that our obligations according to the religion of virtue aren’t that important,

2) the liturgical year isn’t that important, and

3) parishes lose a collection.

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. Right?

This is what we are praying for, hoping for, living our earthly lives for: to see God face to face, directly and immediately (without intermediaries).

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.

As we read today from Leo the Great in the Office of Matins:

Honorétur ítaque a nobis sacratíssimus dies, in quo salútis nostræ Auctor appáruit: et quem Magi infántem veneráti sunt in cunábulis, nos omnipoténtem adorémus in cælis. Ac sicut illi de thesáuris suis mýsticas Dómino múnerum spécies obtulérunt, ita et nos de córdibus nostris, quæ Deo sunt digna, promámus.

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.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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3 Responses to WDTPRS – Epiphany Collect: Liturgy should be “epiphany”, wherein we encounter transforming mystery.

  1. Spinmamma says:

    Thank you. I swear I always leave your blog with a lighter heart and more able to articulate how an encounter with Our Lord makes one feel. Your gentle erudition is inspired and a great treasure.

  2. Mr. Green says:

    Well, I’m glad that bishops aren’t making decisions based primarily on collections (wouldn’t want to end up like Germany or something). And that they think the liturgical year is important enough to want people to celebrate the feasts (better late —or early— than never). And that religious obligations are serious enough not to impose them on people who they know won’t fulfill them. Of course, I still prefer holding these feasts to their historically established dates; and there is nothing stop the faithful from attending Mass on these days anyway, especially if there is an available TLM or Eastern-Rite parish that celebrates the “proper” day. (In my experience, the local Byzantine parish sees much lower attendance on weekdays of obligation than on ordinary Sundays… it’s not plausible that Latin parishes would do better.)

    Although I wish we could return to the older practice, I do not wish to be pharisaical about imposing burdens on others without lifting a finger to help, and alas, I do not know how to make society return Holy Days to being holi-days (or even half-holidays) so that people could be aware and expected to attend Mass. (Perhaps the silver lining in the increasing secularism of modern culture[sic] is that once the specialness of Sundays has been eliminated, it won’t be any harder to get people to come to church on weekdays than on Sundays… for whoever still attends at all.)

  3. adriennep says:

    Wayward bishops don’t stop us from observing the Twelve Days of Christmas in riotous medieval fashion. Everyone go out there and enjoy your King Cake and hearty drink today!

    Epiphany is very personal for me as we had a “transforming mystery” brought to our door step ten years ago, also on a snowy Sunday, when two unknown children held a wet and squirmy stray cat in their arms and asked us to take her. She had been a “drop off” in the neighborhood that Sunday, but now this cat held a little suitcase that said “Sent from the Agency.” I contemplated how amazing this gift was (she was identical to another cat we had who had died three years earlier) when I realized it was the feast of Epiphany. She was then named Pippi and she has not looked back since.