WDTPRS – Epiphany (1962MR)

What Does the Prayer Really Say?  6 January – Epiphany (1962 Missale Romanum – Roman Station: San Pietro in Vaticano)

“Epiphany” comes from the Greek word for a divine “manifestation” or “revelation”.  The antiphons for Vespers in the Liturgy of the Hours reflect the ancient tradition that Epiphany was thought to be the day not only on which the Magi came to adore the Christ Child, but also the very day Jesus changed water into wine at Cana, and also the day He was baptized in the Jordan by St. John.  All three events reveal Jesus as more than a mere man: He is God.   There are many “epiphanies” or “theophanies” in Scripture, such as when Moses encountered God in the burning bush (Exodus 3). 

The celebration of Epiphany stretches back to the Church’s earliest times.   In the Greek East, Epiphany was of far greater importance than Christmas, which was a relative latecomer.  In the Latin West, Christmas developed first, Epiphany later.  In many countries people exchange presents on Epiphany, in imitation of the Magi bringing their gifts.  Epiphany falls on 6 January, the twelfth day after Christmas, as in “On the Twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”, and also the title of Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night.  In the reformed, post-Conciliar calendar Epiphany is usually transferred to a Sunday so that more people can attend that Mass.  I think it is a mistake to transfer important feasts like Epiphany in Christmastide, and Ascension Thursday in Eastertide.  These feasts are pegged to the key celebrations of Christmas and Easter for a reason.  When we transfer these feasts to Sunday, we diminish the meaning of the entire liturgical year. As our obligations as Catholics are made ever more lax and easier to fulfill, a subtle signal is sent that none of our obligations, practices or teachings are important enough to warrant a sacrifice.  

When you move Epiphany to Tenth Night we get short-changed.

Exquisite customs grace Epiphany.  The most famous is the blessing of chalk used to hallow homes. On the lintels of the doors the priest writes with the chalk “20 + C + M + B + 09”, i.e., the year and initials of the names of the Magi indicated in Rituale Romanum: Gaspar (G and C being related), Melchior et Baltássar.  The names of the Magi are traditional, not scriptural and some ancient authors thought there were as many as 24.   Some say “C + M + B” stands for “Christus Mansionem Benedicat… May Christ bless this dwelling”. Though clever, that’s probably wrong. Water is blessed at Epiphany because of Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan.  People give presents and enjoy King Cake and Lamb’s Wool (a drink made from cider or ale with roasted apples, sugar and spices).  Apple trees were blessed by pouring cider on them!  In Italy children wait for “la Befana” (from Italian “Epifania”). La Befana is old woman who was invited by the Magi to accompany them on their journey to find the newborn King. She declined because she was busy sweeping her house. Later, she realized her error followed the Magi but never caught up.  Thus, la Befana is still searching for Jesus, zooming around Harry Potter-like on her broomstick.  Santa-like, however, she visits homes and leaves toys and candy for good children, and the nasty lumps of coal for the naughty. 

In today’s technological society, instead of coal she and jolly old St. Nick would do better to leave an obsolete cellular phone or maybe a first generation X-Box.

Santa gets cookies and milk by fireplaces to sustain him on his way, but Italians appropriately leave wine and oranges for la Befana.

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

This prayer, in the 8th century Gregorian Sacramentary, survived the scissors of the Annibale Bugnini’s post-Conciliar reform as the Collect in the Novus Ordo.  Your revelatory Lewis & Short Dictionary manifests celsitudo as, in older Latin, a “loftiness of carriage”. In later Latin it points to “majesty”, as in the title “Highness”.  The ending of revelasti is “syncopated” (abbreviated) from revelavistiStella duce is an ablative absolute (duce is from dux).   The adjective hodiernus, a, um, is “of this day, today’s”, so hodierna dies literally is “today’s day”, stronger than a simple “today”.  Perhaps we could say, “this day of days” or “this of all days”.


O God, who this very day revealed your Only-begotten, a star having been the guide,
graciously grant,
that we, who have already come to know You from faith,
may be led all the way unto the contemplation of the beauty of Your majesty.

In this life we know God only indirectly, by faith.  This is St. Paul’s “dark glass” (1 Cor 13:12) through which we peer toward Him in longing.  In the next life we will not need faith. We will have direct knowledge.  In the phrase usque ad contemplandam speciem (a gerundive construction indicating purpose) we pray to be brought “all the way to the beauty” of God “which is to be contemplated”.  Our encounter with His beauty will increase our knowledge of Him, and therefore our love, for all eternity.  This is what we were made for: His glory and splendor.  St. Hilary of Poitiers (+367) spoke of the gloria of God as a transforming power which will divinize us, conform us more and more to His image.  In our Collect, note the move from faith to knowledge in the Beatific Vision. Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He is the Beauty and Truth of the Father.

Our Catholic faith, our splendid liturgy both show forth God’s truth and beauty.  Proper worship requires the most accurate, the most beautiful words, actions, and music we can summon from human genius.  What we do and say in church should be a foretaste of heaven and the Beatific Vision.  Think simply of the effect music has on people.  Last year in National Review Michael Knox Beran wrote that, “if good music does not always save the soul, bad music never does. When the electric guitar sounds during the Sacrifice of the Mass, the cherubim weep(“Mysterious Encounters – Benedict XVI resurrects the aesthetics of the Mass”, 24 Dec. 2007).  Holy Church is reclaiming her great liturgical treasury, especially since Pope Benedict gave us Summorum Pontificum.  The new translation of the Novus Ordo Missale Romanum will help.

We move ahead in the Mass.  The gifts are on the white linen over the mensa.  The altar is wreathed in the smoke of sacrificial incense. The priest, alter Christus, raises his hands and whispers…

SECRET (1962MR):
Ecclesiae tuae, quaesumus, Domine, dona propitius intuere,
quibus non iam aurum, thus et myrrha profertur,
sed quod eisdem muneribus declaratur, immolatur et sumitur,
Iesus Christus.

This oration from the ancient Gregorian Sacramentary, survived as today’s Super Oblata in the Novus Ordo.  Notice how all those passive forms (-tur) create a powerful climax at the end when the prayer concludes suddenly with the Holy Name … like a little theophany

There are two words for “gift”: donum and munus.  The L&S says that in classical Latin literature donum is associated with gifts of incense in a passage from the Aeneid of Virgil: dona turea (6, 225).  The verb sumo is basically “to take, take up, lay hold of, assume.”  In some contexts it can be also “consume”. In older English usage “to take” means “to eat, consume food”.  Declaro is “to make clear, plain, evident (by disclosing, uncovering), to show, manifest.”

Graciously gaze down, we beseech You, O Lord, upon the gifts of Your Church,
in which gold, frankincense, and myrrh are no longer laid before You,
but rather that which is revealed, sacrificed and received by those same gifts,
Jesus Christ.

The tokens brought by the Magi, representing the hopes of the nations of the earth, were “types”, foreshadows of the Lord who would offer Himself on the Cross.  Fathers of the Church and medieval writers such as Jacobus de Voragine (+1298) wrote with creativity and insight about these symbols.  Gold symbolizes the kingship of God to be mirrored in the purity of our hearts, so precious to Christ the King.  Frankincense, annihilated by burning, symbolizes Christ’s divinity. Only God should receive sacrifices.  The burning of something so precious reminds us of the immolation Christ submitted Himself to on our behalf.  The total destruction of incense produces smoke, which rises like our prayers upward to God.  During a Traditional High Mass as the priest incenses the altar he quietly recites, “May this incense, which Thou hast blessed, O Lord, ascend to Thee, and may Thy mercy descend upon us. Let my prayer, O Lord, be directed as incense in Thy sight: the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice. Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth, and a door round about my lips. May my heart not incline to evil words, to make excuses for sins.  May the Lord enkindle within us the fire of His love, and the flame of everlasting charity. Amen.”   This prayer was done away with in the Novus Ordo, as were many direct references to sin.  Myrrh, a balm used to prepare the bodies of the dead, underscores Christ’s humanity through which He suffered and rose from death. 

At last we have received Communion.  Returning to our places we consider the ineffable encounter with mystery taking place even as our thoughts shift to returning to the activities of the world.

Praesta, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus:
ut quae solemni celebramus officio,
purificatae mentis intellegentia consequamur

This ancient prayer did not make the cut in the Novus Ordo.  Intellegentia is the “power of discerning or understanding”. Ancient authors such as St. Jerome (+420) and John Cassian (+435) use it for the ability to see the deeper, symbolic meaning of Scripture, allegorical meanings.

Grant, we beseech You, Almighty God,
that we may attain with the understanding of a purified mind,
the things we are celebrating with solemn observance.

Participation at Holy Mass should be truly full, conscious and active.  We actively engage all we see and hear so as to receive what God offers through our Holy Church’s sacred mysteries.  We will have our own “epiphanies” during Mass. We will have moments of revelation about ourselves and the state of our soul, or what we ought to do in life. 

Remember that the Word, who is God eternal, became flesh also in order to reveal us more fully to ourselves (cf. Gaudium et spes 22).  In the life to come, only the pure may see God.  Is this not enough of a motive to participate actively, with interiorly active receptivity, in this encounter with mystery?  Seek cleansing of your sins through confession and sacramental absolution.  The reality of our unavoidable judgment must at some point dawn upon us like a thunderclap.  When you finally grasp that you must one day die and face judgment, you will understand why Holy Mass must be nothing other than an encounter with mystery, and not a distracting celebration of ourselves.

When you go to Mass, go like Moses.  He removed his sandals before the burning bush.  He peered through the cleft in the rock as God passed.  Be like Paul peering through the shadowy glass. Imitate the Magi, whose penetrating sight fixed on nothing other than the coming of the mysterious King, in whose perfect image something of the invisible Father is revealed.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. carl says:

    Father, since given the Magnificat antiphon indicates that this was the day Christ was baptized, why do we also celebrate his baptism on the Sunday following Epiphany?

  2. Irenaeus says:

    “In the reformed, post-Conciliar calendar Epiphany is usually transferred to a Sunday so that more people can attend that Mass.”

    When it was on the weekday, was it a holy day of obligation, like the Circumcision/Solemnity on January 1?

  3. Geo. F. says:

    I was caught off-guard at Mass last Sunday when the priest announced that today was a holyday.
    I knew this from reading WDTPRS, but somehow it did not register until that announcement.
    After Mass I approached the priest, somewhat panicked as my TLM community has Mass at 7:00AM and I am at work at this time. I asked if I could attend the N.O. Mass on Jan. 6th, he said that I could but it would not count as Epiphany since the local ordinary has rolled it into Jan.4th.
    I then asked if I should, in future, go to the N.O. Mass on such days, he shook his head disapprovingly and said that I should attach myself to one rite or the other (I’m attached to the TLM but have only been a regular TLM attendee for around 8 months). The priest said that owing to the fact that daily TLMs are few and far between it is not a mortal sin, but in future, I should make provisions for holy-days if I plan on staying with the E.F.

  4. Dr. LMF says:

    The Novus Ordo calendar displays a rather lamentable igorance of the fact that the Epiphany celebrates three manifestations: to the Magi, at the Jordan, and at Cana.

    The 1962 calendar calls 13 January the COMMEMORATION of the Baptism, not the Feast, because Epiphany is already the Feast of the Baptism (of course pre-John XXIII rubrics January 13 was, rather more logically, simply the Octave of the Epiphany, though the lessons always emphasized the Baptism).

    The Novus Ordo calendar might have done well to follow the 1962 title and call the Baptism a “Commemoration”, since you can’t change the ancient fact that Epiphany is itself the Feast of the Baptism.

  5. jaykay says:

    Irenaeus: the feast is observed on the actual 6th here in Ireland and yes, it is a holy day of obligation. Although they’ve transferred Ascension and Corpus Christi to the Sunday, thankfully they haven’t mucked around with Epiphany. Yet.

    I suppose it’s because, like 15th August and 8th December it’s tied to a specific date whereas the other 2 ostensibly aren’t. Yet, as Fr. Z says, these dates are in fact tied to Easter and therefore have significance. But hey, we’re an Easter people :)

  6. Rob says:

    “The names of the Magi are traditional, not scriptural and some ancient authors thought there were as many as 24.”

    Some historians recently did a dig and unearthed a castle. They found some coins and the name Caspar-Gaspar was imprinted on them… All the other details seemed to match up.

    I don’t remember the exact details, but they showed it a couple of years ago on the History channel.

  7. Brian Mershon says:

    Not only is Epiphany changed in the Novus Ordo calendar, but at many parishes, the Epiphany’s “external solemnity” was changed to Sunday, Jan. 4 also. Alas, today was not Epiphany in the Novus Ordo calendar at the same church, the only Mass I have access to on Jan. 6. My children wanted to know why were doing the chalk thing on the doors on Sunday and “isn’t Jan. 6 Epiphany Daddy?”

    Why, alas, yes it is. Try explaining an “external solemnity” to your children. I guess priests don’t need to worry about that though, do they? But they do get to have an “easier” day today, don’t they? Sometimes I really wonder if this is truly what all of this moving of holy days to Sundays is about–sloth on the parts of the bishops and some priests?

    Anyway, as usual, I guess we are relegated to “home church” celebrations of Epiphany instead.

  8. Dr. LMF says:

    It doesn’t seem to have occurred to some clergy that if you were going to do an external solemnity for the Epiphany, the Sunday AFTER 6 January would be the appropriate day, not the Sunday before.

  9. Grovetucky Ann says:

    Brian, I think the changing of solemnities and things to Sunday was a result of our very busy mobile society where everybody (husband and wife) works and they are juggling that with the children’s needs. Holy Mother Church has found a way for more people to celebrate a solemnity like the Epiphany. I am not saying that I approve, the Church does not need my approval. I am just giving a more charitable reason than some people sometimes come up with.

  10. Grovetucky Ann says:

    Geo., Don’t we have two forms of one rite? Why would you be forced to exclusively attend the TLM unless you wanted to? Attending the New Mass vs. the Old Mass (my terms) isn’t like attending the Latin rite vs. Maronite or other rite. You don’t have to make irreversible decisions about this. You are obligated to attend Mass on the days of obligation but are not forced to choose one rite over another. That is my understanding anyway, given what I have read on this website.

  11. inillotempore says:

    Grovetucky Ann :
    Sunday was a result of our very busy mobile society …

    To quote a cliche (I hate cliches, but this one seems to fit so well):
    If you’re too busy for God, you’re TOO BUSY. period.

  12. Geo. F. says:

    Geo., Don’t we have two forms of one rite? Why would you be forced to exclusively attend the TLM unless you wanted to?

    Grovetucky Ann –
    I mis-spoke the priest said “form” not “rite”
    and I did not get the impression that he was trying to “force” me into attending one form or the other, I believe that he was conveying a sentiment that was something akin to a philosophy that my beloved grandfather used to say (God rest him)and I heartily agree with:
    If you’re going to do something, do it right or don’t do it at all

  13. Grovetucky Ann says:

    inillo, Some people do not have the luxury of being able to leave their jobs in the middle of the day to attend Mass. If they do they get fired. That is the cold reality.

  14. Grovetucky Ann says:

    Geo., That makes sense. I envy people who can just go to Mass without a thought. I had to leave Mass the last two times because I was sick. And then I get to drive home! There’s a reason for all of this though!

  15. Fr. James Richardson says:

    Fr. Z.- I would suggest in this eco-coscious age, la Bafana/Santa Clause might replace the giving of coal with carbon offsets. (Lowers the carbon footprint of one’s stocking)

  16. inillotempore says:

    Grovetucky Ann :
    Some people do not have the luxury of being able to leave their jobs in the middle of the day to attend Mass.
    Agreed, but many people do have vacation days, personal time, etc. and may use this to take a day off here or there for a holy-day.

    Local ordinaries and pastors should do their best, and in many areas they do, to celebrate an evening Mass for people who work during business hours. Many Cathedrals in medium and large cities offer a Noon (lunch-time) Mass for people who work in the busy down-town areas.

    I think that the fear (Fr. Z, myself and other readers of this blog)is that these holy days and traditions may be lost of the local ordinary makes it “too easy” — and human nature being flawed and always tending to take the path of least resistance — is all to willing to forget the significance of these holy days.

  17. Patrick says:

    If a priest suggests you stay with one form of the Latin Rite, he probably has a pretty good reason. However, if one wanted to play “fast and loose”, one could have attended the Old Mass on Sunday, and then the New Mass today, on the 6th, to fulfill your Old Mass Obligation, even though the Epiphany isn’t be celebrated today in the New Mass. It is the equivalent to being a Roman Rite Catholic in the East, and attending an Eastern Divine Liturgy on All Saints. It fulfills your obligation, as a Roman, even though the Eastern Church doesn’t celebrate All Saints on November 1st.

    I really don’t like having two “forms” of the same rite. Either suppress, in toto, one of the two forms, or admit that there is now a “Tridentine Rite” and a Roman Rite, which is the Novus Ordo.

  18. Grovetucky Ann says:

    Why doesn’t everybody just follow the Big Rule: Go To Mass Whenever You Are Able To?

  19. W. Schrift says:

    If I were an American Catholic visiting England or Wales, would I be obligated to hear Mass on the Feast of the Epiphany?

  20. Ad Orientem says:

    A blessed Theophany to all.

    In ICXC

  21. W Schrift: My understanding is that typically one adheres to the rules of the local ordinary in whose diocese you are at the time when traveling. I’d venture a ‘yes’ to your question.
    Hey it works the other way too! If your diocese has a holy day of obligation that is not observed where you have traveled, you don’t have to go!

  22. paul says:

    I think these holy days need to be kept on the correct day. If we are to be truly ecumenical we need to keep these days out of respect for our Orthodox brethen. The Orthodox keep Ephiphany on the correct day and also Ascension day always falls on a thursday- 40 days after ressurection. Ascension thursday is very important too as after that feast the Apostles prayed for nine days (hence the first novena) for the coming of the Holy Spirit which is called Pentecost Sunday. There are really not many holy days of obligation we should keep them all.

  23. Joe says:

    I love also the Byzantine tropar for the day: Your Nativity, O Christ our God, has made the light of knowledge to shine upon the world; for they that worshipped the stars were taught by a star to worship You, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know You, the Dayspring from on high. O Lord, glory be to You!

  24. Beth says:

    Fr. Z: Thank you for another great commentary. I especially like the transitions between the prayers that refer to the corresponding action in the Mass. It’s going to take a while to unpack all the gems in this one! :)

  25. Carlos Palad says:


    Is your priest telling you to go ONLY to the EF, and to follow ONLY the EF

    He has no right to say that.

    I do notice, though, that some priests and faithful attached to the EF think that they are obliged to attend Mass on the Holy Days of Obligation as these were in 1962. This ought
    to be clarified, as it is a question which involves grave matters of conscience.

  26. Gregor says:

    Re: Holy Days of Obligation as these were in 1962

    There is no need for a clarification as the situation is already crystal clear: there is NO obligation whatsoever to attend Mass on days which used to be of obligation but where the obligation has since been removed. The obligation to attend Mass is governed by the Code of Canon Law (as modified by the respective Bishops’ Conference with the assent of the Holy See), not by liturgical law, and is therefore not affected by the Motu Proprio at all.

  27. Geo F. says:

    Carlos Palad

    I did not get the impression that the priest was trying to “force” me into attending one form or the other, I believe that he was conveying a sentiment that was something akin to a philosophy that my beloved grandfather used to say (God rest him)and I heartily agree with:
    If you’re going to do something, do it right or don’t do it at all

    Gregor : Are you suggesting that since the local bishop has “rolled” Epiphany into Sunday, my having attended the feast of the The Holy Name of Jesus last Sunday filfilled the Epiphany obligation (Or is Epiphany obligatory) ?
    Since the priest told me that it was not a mortal sin if I could not make a Jan. 6th TLM, I am tending to think that the local ordinary’s decision stands, even for the EF.

  28. Simon Platt says:

    Dear George

    I’m sure that Gregor is right and you met your obligation on Sunday at the mass of the Holy Name, as did I. We have the same situation here in England. It’s a shame.

    Dr LMF will be glad to know that we will have a celebration of the external solemnity next Sunday!

  29. Gregor says:

    Geo F.: I don’t know whether the Epiphany is considered a Holy Day of obligation in the US, but the point is really moot, since it has been transferred to the Sunday, and all Sundays are days of obligation. In any case, the law binds us to hear Mass on certain days, it does not bind us to hear Mass with certain texts (otherwise, if the priest had mistakenly read the propers of the 18 Sunday after Pentecost instead of the 19th, you wouldn’t have fulfilled your obligation, which is evidently nonsense). There is, then, no obligation to hear Mass on January 6th in the US in either form of the Roman Rite.

  30. Geo F. says:

    Thanks Gregor and Simon Platt
    The priest said that Jan. 6th is a “holy day” not a “holy day of obligation” at Mass and the priest told me that it is not a mortal sin if one couldn’t attend on the 6th of January.

    I believe that this priest was helping me in my quest for orthodoxy by suggesting that I make provisions for the E.F. if that is the form that we are attached to (we are).

    Some work on synchronizing the N.O. to the T.L.M. Kalends would be most welcome from the Holy See !

  31. Gregor says:

    Geo F., just as a last clarification: not to attend Mass on a day which is not a holy day of obligation, is not only not a mortal sin, but not a sin at all. (Which is not to say that it isn’t highly recommendable to keep the traidtional holy days, even if there is no obligation.)

  32. Pam H. says:

    Re Carlos Padad’s comment:

    G. K. Chesterton says, If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.

    My spiritual director quoted that to me, when I complained about not being able to pray the rosary well.

  33. Joe says:

    Yesterday, I was browsing for a website that had the Extraordinary Form liturgical calendar.
    I found one and bookmarked it. It’s amazing – and sad – to see what has been thrown away.

    Father Myers wrote an essay about the superiority of the TLM. It used to be on the Pittsburgh Latin Mass Community website, which is currently down. I wanted to find out if the TLM was being celebrated on January 6 at St. Boniface (I was unable to attend anyway).

    The Byzantine Catholic Church has retained the Feast of St. Peter and Paul as a Holy Day of Obligation. The Maronite Catholic Church has not moved Epiphany to the nearest Sunday, unlike our Latin Catholic bishops.

    Our bishops and liturgical calendar have made things too easy – moving Ascension, getting rid of Septuagesima and the Sundays after Pentecost and replacing them with the utterly banal-sounding “Ordinary Time”.

    So, perhaps the EF calendar needs to be updated for saints canonized since before VII, but it should supplant in its entirety the NO calendar.

  34. W. Schrift says:

    Joe, I have Fr. Myer’s article saved on my computer. Would you like me to send you a copy, or make a link available?

    P.S. – Last week’s bulletin makes no mention of a Mass on Epiphany at St. Boniface.

  35. Ioannes Andreades says:

    I wonder if the reform-of-reform movement is not missing a golden opportunity to have TLM masses for the Epiphany on Jan. 6 in heavily immigrant areas, such as where there are a lot of Latinos and Philipinos. Although there are several weekly TLM masses in Connecticut, I knew of none that celebrated one on Jan. 6, despite the fact that public school disricts such as New Haven observed Three Kings Day with a day off. Perhaps next year some sort of procession or pageant could be held in combination with a low mass, maybe with the homily geared toward kids and a few hymns in Spanish. Just a thought.

  36. joe says:

    Here in Miami — a very heavily Spanish area — even though Epiphany was celebrated on the 4th, Masses seemed pretty full on the 6th, especially those in Spanish.

  37. Joe says:

    W. Schrift, if you would make a link available, I would greatly appreciate it.

    Joe from Miami – I’m not surprised that the churches in Miami would be filled on January 6. My wife is from Colombia. Kings’ Day is still a big celebration in much of Catholic Latin America – as it should be.

  38. Ioannes Andreades says:


    Is it permissible for O.F. masses to celebrate Epiphany on Jan. 6? I thought everyone had to celebrate it on Sunday except for TLM’s.

  39. W. Schrift says:

    Joe: Send me an email at virgorespice-at-gmail.com (I think the material is probably copyrighted, so I don’t want to infringe on that by making a public comment.)

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