Treasures of the Liturgy Epiphany & Candlemas

From Liturgical Catechism by Rev. M. S. Canon McMahon (1930)


What is the meaning of the word "Epiphany"?

It comes from the Greek word, epiphania, meaning manifestation.

What forms of manifestation are referred to on this feast?

The manifestation of Jesus to the three Magi, that is, the call of the Gentiles to the faith, the first fruits of which were Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar, the three wise men or kings from the East. Of that all we, too, are the fruits.

The manifestation of the Divinity of Jesus Christ made at His Baptism in the Jordan.

The manifestation of His power made at the marriage feast of Cana, when He changed water into wine.

Are all three manifestations celebrated in the liturgy of the Epiphany?

In the Missal the adoration of the Magi is commemorated, but in the Divine Office all three manifestations are celebrated in the antiphons of the Benedictus and Magnificat (second Vespers). So much prominence is given to the Magi that the feast is known as the "Feast of the Kings." The Baptism of Our Lord is the main theme of the Mass of the Octave of the Epiphany, while the marriage feast of Cana is the incident of the Gospel of the Second Sunday after the Epiphany.

What ideas are brought before us in the Mass of the Epiphany?

In the Introit we hail Christ as our King, who comes with a kingdom in His hand and power and dominion, and in the Epistle the greatness of this power and the glory of this kingdom are sung. We are thus bidden to open our hearts that we may receive our King, adore Him as the Magi did, and bring Him the gifts of love, prayer, and penance symbolised by gold, incense and myrrh; and we pray in the Collect that He Who has manifested Himself to us by the gift of faith in baptism may manifest Himself to us in heaven in the beauty of His majesty (cf. Hammenstede).

What are the special graces of this feast?

A spirit of reverent homage to Christ our King, an increase of faith in Jesus, which is tantamount to a new manifestation of Jesus to our soul, a love for the interests of the Church, and an ardent zeal for the propagation of the Kingdom of Christ in heathen lands. We share the longing of Jesus for souls and participate in His joy at the adoration of the Magi, in His joy at the triumph of the faith.

When was this feast introduced?

This feast was adopted in the fourth century in Rome from the East where, from the third century, it was celebrated as the birthday of Our Lord. The East in the fourth century, in its turn, adopting from the Western Church the Feast of Christmas on 25 December, reserved for the 6 January the manifestation of the divinity of Jesus at His Baptism in the Jordan. The Vigil and Octave were celebrated in the eighth century.

What special ceremonies are attached to this feast?

After the Gospel of the feast in cathedral churches the date of Easter and other movable feasts is announced. Water and houses are solemnly blessed.

How is it classified as a feast?

It is classified like Easter and Pentecost amongst the cardinal feasts, those feasts which have a series of Sundays connected with them.

Sundays after the Epiphany

How many Sundays are connected with the Epiphany?

Six Sundays; but on account of an early incidence of Septuagesima Sunday—the beginning of the preparation of the feast of Easter—it often happens that one or more or all of the Sundays from the third to the sixth are omitted and transferred till the Sunday or Sundays between the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost and the last Sunday of the Ecclesiastical Year.

Have those Sundays any special character?

They may be said to manifest Christ in the acts of His public life, but they do not share the definite liturgical character of the Christmas Cycle, for they may be celebrated after Pentecost. This want of distinct character may be inferred from the peculiarity that many parts of those Masses are exactly the same for all four Sundays—the same Introit, Gradual, Offertory, and Communio.


What feast rounds of the Christmas Cycle?

The Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary—known as Candlemas Day—which falls on the 2 February, 40 days after Christmas Day.

What does this feast commemorate?

It commemorates the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple, and the meeting of Jesus with Simeon and Anna. From the latter incident the feast was known as the Occursus Domini (the meeting of the Lord)—the name in its Greek form, Hypapante, applied to it to this day in the Greek Church. (See Lk 2:22–39)

To which incident is greatest Prominence given in the liturgy?

The Presentation in the Temple. It is a feast rather of the Infant Jesus than of the Blessed Virgin Mary, being regarded as a new manifestation of Jesus in His entrance as Lord into His temple (cf. the Epistle). The Preface of the Mass, moreover, is the Preface of the Nativity.

What is the origin of the procession with Candles, that takes place this day?

The idea was probably suggested by the words of Simeon, who spoke of Our Lord as "a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel." Others trace it to a desire to counteract the Lupercalia, the pagan festivals, in which the carrying of lights was a leading feature.

When was the feast introduced in Rome?

The feast, which had its origin in Jerusalem in the fourth century, was introduced into the Roman Church in the sixth century. The carrying of lights was introduced in the Western Church in the eighth century, while the formula of the Blessing of Candles dates from the tenth century.

What ideas are expressed in the Prayers of blessing?

God is invoked to bless and hallow the candles for the service of man and for the health of their bodies on land and sea—the candles being, then, sacramentals.

The symbolism of fire and light is developed in praying that "being worthily inflamed with the holy fire of Thy most sweet charity, we may deserve to be presented in the holy temple of Thy glory," and "that our hearts ... illumined by the brightness of the Holy Spirit may be free from the blindness of every vice."

What is signified by the distribution of the candles?

That we all have a share in the grace of Christ, Who is the "light of the world."

During what parts of the ceremony are the lighted candles held in the hand?

During the procession, at the singing of the Gospel, and from the Consecration to the Communion; but if the Mass be of the Sunday, the candles are not lighted during the Mass.

How does it happen that the Mass may be of the Sunday?

Whenever Easter falls before the 5 April, the 2 February falls within the Septuagesimal period (the Christmas Cycle, as to its concluding day, thus overlapping the Paschal Cycle). Should it fall upon a Sunday within that period, the Sunday Mass would have precedence, and the Mass of the Purification would have to be transferred to another day. The Blessing of the Candles is proper to the 2 February.

What is the nature of the Procession?

It is penitential in character, as shown by the wearing of violet vestments, while white vestments are used at the Mass of the Purification.

What is specially to be remarked on the antiphons sung during the Procession?

The first antiphon is of Greek origin, while the music of all three is not Gregorian in character.

What should be the special duty of the faithful on this Candlemas Day?

The faithful should make it a practice to procure blessed candle on this day, to keep it, and to light it during the death agony of any member of the household, or whenever the Communion of the sick or the last rites of the Church are administered in their homes.

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