WDTPRS – Epiphany – COLLECT (2002MR)

Epiphany is from the Greek word for a divine “manifestation” or “revelation”. The Church’s liturgy for the feast, especially in its antiphons for Vespers, reflect the tradition that Epiphany was thought to be the day not only when the Magi came to adore Christ, but also the same day years later when Jesus changed water into wine at Cana, and also when He was baptized by St. John at the Jordan.

Images of these three mysteries has been maintained in the 2002 edition of the Missale Romanum in the artwork on the facing page for the texts, artwork as I have said in the past that is every bit as good as that which Mommy might proudly display on the refrigerator fixed on with magnets of plastic fruit.

The “art” for the Missale is based on the mosaics of a new chapel of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace built during the Jubilee. In any event, in each of these three mysteries Jesus is revealed to be more than a mere man. He is man and God. The are many “epiphanies” of God in the Scripture, for example, the burning bush seen by Moses, the Transfiguration, and the above mentioned.

The history of the modern feast of Epiphany is ancient and complicated history. In the East Epiphany was an extremely important feast far more important than the relative latecomer Christmas. In the West, the Nativity developed first and the celebration of Epiphany came later. In many places in the world, Epiphany, and not Christmas, is the day to exchange gifts, in imitation of the Magi.

Epiphany truly really falls on the 6th of January, the twelfth day after Christmas (as in “On the Twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…” – which some think comes from Ireland during the time when Catholicism was illegal). Twelfth Night as in Shakespeare’s play, refers to Epiphany. In the post-Conciliar calendar, it can be transferred to Sunday and perhaps this is good (though I suspect it isn’t): the ancient and mysterious feast now gets more attention than it did when it was observed strictly on January 6th.

Today’s “Opening Prayer” for Mass, or more properly Collect, was in the 1962MR and in other ancient sacramentaries. Enjoy the sound of the Latin by reading it aloud, with the fine rhythmic clausula at the end.

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.

ICEL (1973 translation of the 1970MR):
you revealed you Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star.
Lead us to your glory in heaven
by the light of faith.

Well that is what ICEL gave us. But is that what the prayer really says?

I suspect not.

We are justifiably suspicious when the translation is shorter than the Latin original (which just doesn’t happen, friends).

In case you are trying to figure out the ending of revelasti it is a syncopated (shortened) form of revelavisti. Stella duce is an ablative absolute (duce is from dux). Don’t fall into the trap of translating an ablative absolute beginning with “with” (e.g., “with a star as leader”). “With” gives an impression of accompaniment rather than the existing circumstance at the time of the action of the main verb. 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 day’s” or “this of all days”. To my Latin ear this emphasizes the weight of the feast of Epiphany with its three events that are traditionally associated with it. Celsitudo, in your revelatory Lewis & Short Dictionary, indicates in older Latin a loftiness of carriage while in later Latin it points to majesty, as in the title “Highness”.


O God, who today 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.

There is depth in the phrase usque ad contemplandam speciem.

The noun species (three syllables) is too broad in meaning for this narrow space. Species often means “beauty” in prayers, but it is also a technical philosophical term about the way the human intellect apprehends things. Species, (frequently also called forma, another word for “beauty, splendor”) points at a relationship between the thing known and our knowing power. It allows us to perceive objects directly and without a bridge or intermediary. A famous philosophical adage says, “Quidquid recipitur per modum recipientis recipitur…. Whatever is received, is received in the mode of the one doing the receiving” (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I, q. xii, a. 4). Species has a transforming effect on the mind of the one perceiving a thing. The object being considered acts upon our power of knowing, and this knowing power acts simultaneously on the object known. So, our knowing power’s “active and passive” dimensions come together in the process and the object of consideration is known directly, without intermediaries. This is what we are praying for, hoping for, living our earthly lives for: we want to see God face to face, directly and immediately.

In this life, we know God indirectly, by faith, our intellect being aided by 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. In the next life we will not need faith because we will have direct knowledge. In this phrase usque ad contemplandam speciem (a gerundive construction indicating purpose) we are praying to be brought “all the way to the beauty” of God “which is to be contemplated”. This vision of 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. They will transform us, making us more and more like what God is by our contemplation of them for ever and ever.

The Fathers of the Church, such as Hilary of Poitiers (+367), spoke of the glory of God as a transforming power which divinizes us by conforming us more and more to His image. In our prayer, there is a 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. Christ could be seen as the species of this prayer. In heaven, God’s Truth and Beauty are indistinguishable and we will see them directly and be thus transformed during all eternity.

This prayer has meaning for our earthly lives: we need beauty now as well. The influence of post-modernism, particularly in education, has made it harder and harder for people to grasp the existence of objective truth. Ugly images flood our vision, hideous noises our ears. This numbs us to beauty and therefore apprehensions of truths.

In a post-modern view everything relative, we cannot really know things with certainty nor can we communicate them, and nothing is admitted as unchanging or eternal. The discord and restlessness this provokes in life has nothing to do with God. But it has nothing to do with man either, at least in the way he was made and what he is intended for. Dante in the Paradiso of the Divine Comedy invents a new word, “transhumanize”, to describe what happens to us through the Beatific Vision. In our direct contact with God we are simultaneously made more and more like God and also more and more what we are supposed to be, God’s images.

In being “transhumanized” in this world and the next, His grace perfects our nature, not destroys it. In this life, holiness and the life of virtues is what does this. Think of the document of the Holy Father, concerning moral theology, called Veritatis splendor… The Splendor of the Truth.

If eternal beauty transforms man, “divinize” him, then in this life beauty (Truth’s echo) can change him as well. So will ugliness.

The current dissolution of formal education in fundamentals and tools of learning has rendered many people incapable of following easily a linear argument to a conclusion that they will accept because it must perforce be true: “It is true for you, maybe,” they often respond. Could the proper use of and fostering of beauty in our churches help us reach people in a way that the systematic approach and arguments may not be able to effect at this time? Once people have seen God’s truth shining through beauty (of music, motion, language, environment) they can be reached in other ways. The Church has given two things as a common inheritance for all mankind: art and saints. In art, God’s truth and beauty are reflected in inanimate creation. In the lives of saints, God’s truth and beauty shines forth in living creatures, His images. In both, we find the beauty which points to the truth. The beauty of the truth and the truth of beauty can affect every dimension of our lives now, in anticipation of heaven.

Our true Catholic faith and our splendid liturgy show forth the truth and beauty of God in a way that urges us to find the most accurate and beautiful words, actions, music we can possibly summon from human genius, labor and love. What we say and do in church ought to be a foretaste of heaven and the Beatific Vision.

The Church must once again reclaim her role as the greatest patron of the arts in human history. Beauty in liturgy can be a manifestation of the divine, a revelation, an “epiphany”. In a new translation of the Missal, our bishops will have the chance to give us a precious gift: a new glimpse of God through beauty and truth in words. When we go to Mass we are like shoe-less Moses’ meeting God in the burning bush which is not consumed. We are like the Magi whose penetrating sight is fixed upon the infant Jesus, 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. southern orders says:

    Of course your translations really shed light on how poorly translated the ICEL texts are. I would like to see you translation of the Prayer over the Gifts for Epiphany. Somehow I think something is lost in the Translation:, Lord, accept the offerings of your Church, not gold, frankincense and myrrh, but the sacrifice and food they SYMBOLIZE: Jesus Christ, who is Lord for ever and ever. Should we be appalled?

  2. Frank H says:

    Southern Orders, I wondered the same thing at today’s Mass.

  3. An American Mother says:

    The painting of the Adoration sent me off on a hunt for the artist.

    It’s the Flemish Mannerist Quentyn Matsys – but what started me on the goose chase was the stylized gesture (and the face) of the third king. It – and the brilliant decoration – reminded me so strongly of the art of Arthur Szyk – a remarkable Jewish artist whose style is similarly hieratic and decorated (when he wasn’t doing terrifying anti-Nazi cartoons). I wonder what the connection is?



  4. On TV they are showing a mass in Quebec in which the parishioners are singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”.

    Thank God I’m going to a Traditional Latin Mass today.

  5. Geoffrey says:

    “On TV they are showing a mass in Quebec in which the parishioners are singing ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas'”

    Um… ?!

  6. asperges says:

    “Je rêve d’un Noël blanc” surely…. You would have thought that was last thing they wanted in Quebec.

  7. The bread and wine, at the offertory, only symbolize the Eucharist.

    But as for what the prayer really says…

    Súscipe, quaesumus, Dómine, múnera nostra
    pro apparitióne Unigéniti Fílii tui
    et primítiis géntium dicáta,
    ut et tibi celebrétur laudátio
    et nobis fiat aetérna salvátio.
    Per Christum.

    Here’s my rough attempt:

    Accept, we beseech You, O Lord, our offerings
    dedicated in commemoration of the appearance of Your Only-begotten Son
    and the first-fruits of the Gentiles,
    that praise and honor may be rendered to You
    and everlasting salvation may be brought about for us.

  8. Supertradmom says:

    Thank you Father Z for posting this long Epiphany meditation…we missed Mass today because of illness. On this day in our family, we bless all the rooms in the house and using blessed chalk, place a M+G+B+2010 above the front door, to bless everyone who goes in and out. This custom is old and was in a 1954 booklet on family Christmas traditions. We sometimes walk through the house, while blessing the rooms with holy water, with the Three Kings from the Creche. Of course, as you know, the Epiphany in the Byzantine Rite and the Orthodox Church is the Baptism of the Lord, as the time of the showing forth of Christ’s Divinity to the world.

  9. Supertradmom says:

    PS May I add to you meditation on Beauty, the reflection by the artist and poet, David Jones, who wrote that the women who poured the ointment on Christ’s Feet and dried Them with her hair is doing latria, and is doing a completely gratuitous act, such as that of the artist. This is in one of his essays on art and shows the connections of God’s Beauty, the artist, and praise. The utilitarian mind, such as that of Judas in the Gospel, wants to stop the “waste” of expensive oil. He does not want God praised with gratuitous love, nor does he have the soul of an artist, the maker of the loving action which praises God. The Magi understood this latria and traveled far to give homage to the Little King.

  10. Supertradmom says:

    Sorry, I have interruptions–His Hermeneutical shows a video of the President talking to children who understand the Magi. Father Z, you are also mentioned in regard to the Yorkshire Pudding, which is very hard to make, as I have done so many times. If the gravy or oil is not hot enough, it comes out like jello and not nice and fluffy like the one shown http://the-hermeneutic-of-continuity.blogspot.com/

  11. Mike says:

    Fr. Z: wow, thanks!

  12. gloriainexcelsis says:

    Well, you know we stubborn Trads. The Introit today: “At the Name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father. O Lord, our Lord, how wonderful is Thy Name in the whole earth!…” We celebrated the Holy Name of Jesus, with the Gospel of Luke 2, 21, the Circumcision, and a Solemn High Mass at our usual Sunday sung Mass. Aside: We were treated to the participation of a fifth year seminarian from Our Lady of Guadalupe, FSSP, as sub-deacon, with a beautiful voice! On Tuesday after 6:30 pm Mass there will be the blessing of Epiphany Water. On Wednesday, Jan. 6, Low Masses will be at 7am and 12:15 pm with Solemn High Mass at 7pm. Next Sunday, the 10th will be the traditional Feast of the Holy Family.

  13. gloriainexcelsis: Yep. The same here.
    But we prayed the Ordinary Form of the Divine Office for the Epiphany. We’ll have Epiphany Vespers in the ’62 Breviary on the 6th of January, along with the Sung Mass and blessing of Epiphany water and blessing of our religious houses.
    I wish, somehow, this calendar could be the same for major feasts in both forms.

  14. southern orders says:

    I celebrated the EF Holy Name High Mass. As usual it was very beautiful and solemn. Since we have four OF Masses every Sunday, I can’t add an EF every Sunday except the First Sunday at 2pm. With the OF Epiphany Mass I cringe every year when I have to pray the English prayer over the gifts.We’re a Parish of 1500 families. Our gothic church only seats about 600. My dream is to eventually make the OF 12:10pm Mass mostly Latin and once a month EF. Currently our EF gets about 80 @ 2pm. I’d like to see at least 150 to 200 to replace the 12:10 OF with the EF. Has anyone actually replaced an OF Mass on Sunday with an EF and did it cause an uproad or not?

  15. Henry Edwards says:

    southern orders: I have no direct evidence, but it is common belief that moving a Sunday afternoon EF Mass to a Sunday morning slot — and perhaps 12:10 pm might qualify — will at least double its attendance. (My personal conjecture would be that it might more nearly triple.)

    For a combination of reasons. For many Catholics, Sunday Mass is still a morning thing, some of us remembering when a Sunday Mass could not be celebrated after noon. And Sunday afternoon is especially inconvenient for families with children of a certain age and activities.

    It is commonly believed that many Catholics will attend the 11 am Sunday Mass (for instance) whatever is done with it — guitar or organ, all vernacular or partly Latin, even OF or EF — and say little about it, though surely the usual vocal minority can be counted on to comment on any change that is made. However, I know of no empirical evidence that bears directly on this question.

  16. Grabski says:

    Re: moving hte feast to Sunday. Another mistake was changing the Octave of Christmas (Jan 1) from the circumsion of Christ to a feast of Our Lady, IMHO. The Circumsion clearly showed Jesus as a physical man, who was a Jew. That’s an important lesson for us to remember.

  17. Super: M+G+B+2010

    I haven’t seen that format before.

    What I have seen is 20+C+M+B+10

  18. My bad… I translated the Super oblata from the Vigil Mass.

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