WDTPRS – Epiphany (Sunday) Collect: transformed by the beauty of Your sublime glory

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.


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.

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Merry Christmas and Happy Epiphany Fr. Z.

    When I read your commentaries on the Collects I am saddened that for so many years the Church endured the horrible ICEL (1973) translation of the Opening Prayers (Collects). I cannot tell you how many times I thought, “What were they thinking?” when I see the comparisons you make.

    Thank you for enlightening us to the beauty of the liturgy and her prayers.

  2. LB236 says:

    If anything, the practice of moving major feasts such as Epiphany, Ascension, and Corpus Christi from their traditional weekdays to either the preceding or following Sundays has helped to undermine the universality that is supposed to be the hallmark of the Catholic (“universal”) Church. It’s one thing to follow the practice of celebrating an “external solemnity Mass” on the preceding/following Sunday while celebrating the feast again on its assigned date if the weekday observance is truly too difficult for many of the laity to assist at due to work obligations or other factors. But the Novus Ordo practice of celebrating not only the Mass on Sunday but also transferring the Office to Sunday as well (in effect wiping out the traditional feast day altogether) is an innovation unprecedented in the Roman Rite’s liturgical history. Epiphany, especially, becomes a victim of this madness in countries that have shifted Epiphany to Sunday: in years when Christmas and January 1 fall on Saturday, Epiphany is celebrated on the extremely early day of January 2, while in years when Christmas/January 1 fall on Sunday or Monday, Epiphany is postponed to January 7 or 8, requiring the feast of the Baptism of our Lord to be moved to the Monday after Epiphany. And we wonder why the average layman in the pew has a difficult time understanding the intricacies of the liturgical calendar. What does one say to a genuinely-curious person who wants to know why they saw the Pope celebrate Epiphany on January 6 on EWTN when their parish celebrated Epiphany on January 3 and wants an explanation that makes at least a modicum of sense?

  3. Tony Phillips says:

    I don’t like moving the feast to the closest Sunday, but perhaps it’s hard for most people to get to church during the week.
    I went to the Saturday evening mass at our local parish tonight (all NO there, alas–though at least tonight they used EP I !), and yes, it was the NO Mass of the Epiphany. I want to go on Wednesday, but with Fr Finigan ill and Fr Holden away, that leaves only the local SSPX chapel. Somehow they always come through…

  4. Imrahil says:

    There is only one lasting solution to that problem. (Ceterum censeo:)

    In Catholic countries, bring back Catholic holidays as public holidays.

    In Christian countries where Catholicism does not prevail and thus, regrettably, has to be treated on par with the other denominations, bring back at least those holidays not subject to interdenominational disputes.

    Hint: That doesn’t, alas, include our beloved Corpus Christi; but Epiphany and Ascension very much so.

    If that is only reasonably possible economically if we work on some of the Saturdays, so be it.

  5. AnAmericanMother says:

    A fine (if not *the* finest) setting of the Collect, by John Bull (1562-1628):
    Almighty God, who by the leading of a star
    The Jacobean verse anthem exemplified –

  6. Michael says:

    FrAnt says: I cannot tell you how many times I thought, “What were they thinking?” when I see the comparisons you make.

    Father, it seems to me they weren’t thinking!

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