7 January 2011

Tribus miraculis ...

The Ancient tradition of the Latin Church, so often simpler and yet more profound than Byzantium, 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. In 1721 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 when the Age of Bugnini struck ... 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.

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 the Christmas/Epiphany season is already complex enough. There is a liturgical instinct exemplified in the extraction of the cult of the Blessed Sacrament out of Maundy Thursday ... and of the Sacred Heart out of Good Friday ... to days when they could be placidly contemplated without confusing and interrupting the progressive movement of the Triduum. 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.

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 idea is not a bad one but is probably unnecessary. After all, there is nothing to stop a homilist from using the Epiphany I Gospel for a Holy Family sermon. Bugnini, 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 probably temporary 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.

All this dodging around ... it's rather like incompetent and slightly drunk skaters on an ice-rink constantly colliding with each other.

What to do if sensitive consideration is ever given to an invisible and tactful mending operation in this area of the Traditional Rite? Restore the Octave and protect the ancient propers for the first two Sundays after Epiphany. What if the Three Year Lectionary is to be revised? Order the Wedding at Cana to be read permanently in all three cycles on Dominica II per annum. Back to basics is best.


*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.


Carlos Antonio Palad said...

Restore the historic Roman Blessing of Water for the Eve of Epiphany!

See pp. 1-46 of the following:


Chris said...

You should stick with Common Worship, Fr - where the Wedding at Cana doesn't "get a look-in but once every three years." 2nd Sunday of Epiphany year C, 3rd Sunday of Epiphany year B, 4th Sunday of Epiphany year A, thus playing its part in stretching the Christmass/Epiphany season out to Candlemass.

Not that I don't think restoring it to the same Sunday in all years wouldn't be an improvement - after all, it works for Thomas on Low Sunday.

B flat said...

Dear Father,
Your sideswipe at Byzantium is particularly undeserved in this instance. The whole of your post leavesthe question hanging: If the Roman rite has made such a mess, what can the Eastern be like, if Fr Hunwicke compares it unfavourably? I accept your preference for Rome as a matter of taste, and will not argue with you. The rigmarole which you recount, of Feasts dissected into components elements and themes, and then moved about like a game of shove ha'penny, leaves me feeling giddy.
I would much rather have various layers of meaning left within a celebration of the Feast for several days, and return to it regularly on the God-given annual cycle over a lifetime of growth in understanding and spiritual maturing. This the Orthodox Church gives me, and I am grateful.
Nevertheless, I wish you joy in the Ordinariate, which I pray will grant you a spiritually nourishing liturgical life .

Albertus said...

Father, a true lover of the Roman Rite can only agree with all you write in this article on the Christmastide. I hope that in the future the one-year cycle of Epistles and Gospels will be restored also for the ''Ordinary Form''; that Holy Family be abolished in both versions of the Roman Rite (as you say, the Gospel of the Finding is there and that is quite enough); that the Holy Name be removed from the Sunday and commemorated on 1 January together with the Octave Day, Circumcision and Divine Maternity, or, celebrated on 2 january, the day after the fact, a very traditional thing to do in both East and West, and which Missale Romanum prescribes if their be no Sunday; that SS. Thomas, John, Stephen, Innocents, Thomas of Canterbury and Sylvester be celebrated as of old, or at least obligatorily commemorated. That the Three Sundays following upon each other of the Three Kings, the Baptism, and the Wedding at Cana be kept forever intact and kept at the highest liturgical grade as three aspects of God's Self-Revelation upon earth.

Albertus said...

PS. The Blessing of the Water on Epiphany Eve, and the Publicatio Festorum on Epiphany Day, have never been abolished, at our church they are done each year. But they are unhappily optional.

Pete said...

These three themes also turn up in the office hymn "Why impious Herod" i've just read for Mattins (1662!). It's all interwoven in these ancient texts and you can't change one without the others. Leave well alone I say.

Auriel Ragmon said...

One could just follow the Orthodox typikon, and all would be well! But even Orthodox chafe sometimes at the one year lectionary. It could do with a brushing up, but who, how, where and when?

Rdr. James
Loving your blog in
olympia,WA USA

Michael LaRue,K.M. said...

As usual, Fr. you have hit the nail on the head with this post, and done so with more insight and otherwise far better than I could have. One other little piece, today (Jan. 7) in the martyrology is commemorated the return from Egypt of the boy Jesus. I do not know if this has any other liturgial commemoration than being in the martyrology.

Jesse said...

I, too, had the pleasure of "Why impious Herod" while reading Mattins and Evensong. Not being well versed in hymnology, I had to go and check my Breviarium monasticum to persuade myself that the inclusion of all of them in one hymn wasn't just the work of a "modern trendy" (Dearmer...).

Of course, when we include Mattins and Evensong with the Holy Communion, the Prayer Book celebrates all three miracula on the day of Epiphany itself, and has done so ever since 1549. As you can see in the time-wasting project that follows, in addition to the Communion Gospel about the Magi and Herod (Matt. 2:1-12), the BCP Office lectionaries have always added the Baptism of Jesus at Mattins (Luke 3) and the Wedding at Cana at Evensong (John 2):

1549/1552: Luke 3; John 2.

1559: Luke 3 "and it fortuned &c."; John 2 "after this he went to Capernaƫ".

1604: Luke 3 "(unto) Being as was supposed the sonne of Joseph"; John 2 "(unto) After this hee went to Capernaum".

1662, 1871: Luke 3:15-23; John 2:1-12.

1922, Canada 1959: Luke 3:15-22; John 2:1-11.

Fergus said...

Perhaps we should seek a pre-Tridentine solution. Restore the Epiphany-tide period right up to 2nd February (Candlemas) and keep the vestments white for the entire period.

I find that the true notion of Epiphany, Theophany, is lost to most Catholics in the West. I try to keep it there by my preaching.

These suggestions should help, I think, and of course actually celebrating the liturgy at all in parishes (how many small parishes have Mass on 2nd February?; how many parishes have a festive celebration with blessing of candles?) would be an even bigger help.