WDTPRS: Epiphany – Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.

MagiMosaic_ravenaIn 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.


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.


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.



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.

magi_mary_majorIn 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.

hilary_of_poitiers__public_domain_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 shoe-less 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.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Just a wee note on the importance of beauty. Some people have an extraordinary gift for fighting off distractions, others are given a special grace for such at different times in their spiritual lives but most of us and especially babies, children and old or sick people, have very poor attention spans. People have taken to giving children crayons and colouring books, story books or even worse taking them out of the church or enacting children’s liturgies in order to keep them busy and stop them from making noise. The result is that the children never learn to sit still and be quiet without being entertained, where a gloriously painted cathedral, sacred music, and constant reminders do a great deal to advance the ability of youngsters to appreciate the Mass, and to love it. Paintings and gilding offer great meditations to all of us, helping to draw our attention to God.

  2. jameeka says:

    “Perducamur” again…what a great word!

  3. Kathleen10 says:

    Thank you Fr. Z. That is beautiful to think about.

  4. mpolo says:

    I was a little surprised not to see a rant about the 10 days of Christmas… And I almost had a heart attack, thinking that I had prepared for 2nd Sunday after Christmas instead of Epiphany, but it turns out that the diocese where I am celebrating has not changed it. (I live in Cologne, which obviously maintains the 6th of January, but will be celebrating in Trier…)

  5. Bob Glassmeyer says:

    Yesterday I heard Mass in Spanish. It was rather refreshing, in the sense that I could focus on the Mass rather than the usual commentary infiltrating the Mass in many English-speaking parishes.

    While the mystery of the Epiphany is much larger than the day it’s celebrated on, all the same, my wife and I will observe on the proper days, with the Eve tonight and the Day tomorrow at home, Magi will go to the Crib, etc.

    We get to celebrate twice, so glory to God!

  6. Imrahil says:

    Interesting about Cologne, as Epiphany is not a holiday in Northrhine-Westphalia, so it is not as obvious as it should be.

    (Rumour has it that Cdl. Frings was asked by responsible state authorities whether he’d prefer to have a holiday on Corpus Christi or on Epiphany. He chose Corpus Christi, where Cologne’s Corpus Christi Procession is apparently somewhat famous and very traditional. Still, how can Epiphany possibly be a working day in Cologne, of all places?)

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