7 January 2011

Tribus miraculis ...

The Ancient tradition of the Latin Church discerns a triple miracle on Epiphany Day: the Coming of the Magi; the Lord's Baptism; and the Wedding at Cana. The ancient Roman Calendar separated this trinity out onto January 6 (the Coming of the Magi); the Octave Day (the Lord's Baptism); and the Second Sunday after Epiphany (the Wedding at Cana). And you will still find this elegant arrangement in the Missal authorised by S Pius V and in the Book of Common Prayer. Another happy feature of this time in the ecclesiastical year was the celebration, on the First Sunday after Epiphany, of the Finding in the Temple.

Simple, classical, elegance is so often a temptation to those idle hands for whom, as Nanny told us, the Devil always finds work. The rot began in 1721, when the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus was extended to the Universal (Latin) Church and deposited on Epiphany 2, thus evicting the Wedding at Cana on to some lucky weekday. The Feast of the Name stayed there until Pius X removed it to the Second Sunday after Christmas. This spirit of cheerful frivolity with sacred things was riding even higher in the 1960s ... and so the Holy Name promptly disappeared altogether. Nowadays, the Second Sunday after Christmas is, in any case, in most countries of the Modern Roman Rite, Epiphany Day Transferred.

The temptation to keep the Name of Jesus somewhere near the Circumcision - when He received that Name - was an inevitable one (so the most recent revision of the New Missal provided an optional and very low-key commemoration on January 3 and Common Worship gave this title and theme to January 1). But there is a better solution. Consider the cult of the Blessed Sacrament and of the Sacred Heart. The 'chronological' days to celebrate each of these are Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. But this would interrupt the organic movement of the Triduum. So, happily, they acquired celebrations well outside Holy Week. That instinct was a good one, and should have been applied also to the Christmas cycle. Few places had a more intense cult of the Holy Name than early Tudor England - thanks to the Lady Mother of the first Tudor and to her ecclesiastical household*. And few features of the old English Calendar, reproduced in the Prayer Book, are more ben trovato than the placing of the Holy Name after the Transfiguration, in August. It is shame that the Ordinariate Calendar did not preserve this beautiful observance.

Getting back to sanity would not be easy. Leo XIII made Epiphany I the Feast of the Holy Family - influenced, perhaps, by the Gospel, traditional on that Sunday, of the Finding in the Temple. The 'reformers' of the 1960s, never short of a good idea, shifted the feast backwards to the Sunday after Christmas, where some Anglican lectionaries now visit the same themes. And, needless to say, something else ... the Lord's Baptism (a theme homeless and hungry after the abolition of the Epiphany Octave Day upon which his Baptism was the subject of the Gospel) ... has now found a resting-place on this Sunday.

And the Three Year Lectionary (in which the Wedding at Cana gets a look-in but once every three years) now complicates any attempt to return to the simple old Roman yearly structure of celebrating in quiet succession the tria miracula of the Epiphany.

*A few years ago I spent a happy couple of days in the Manuscript Room of the British Library going through a perfectly exquisite Holy Name Prayer Book from the Lady Margaret's Chapel.

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