Updated: Dec 21, 2022
Have you heard of the three epiphanies? These three distinct but theologically interwoven events in the life of Christ used to be celebrated all within the period of time called Epiphanytide. The term epiphany means to manifest or reveal, and these events are actions that God takes to reveal Himself to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. It is meant to direct us to the greatest epiphany which will be that of His second coming.
The three epiphanies are:
1. The Epiphany: The Magi coming from the East to find the Christ child
2. The baptism of Christ in the Jordan river
3. The wedding feast at Cana where Jesus turns water into wine
Dom Gueranger O.S.B. writes in The Liturgical Year,
“The Sixth of January… unite[s] three manifestations of Jesus’ glory: the mystery of the Magi coming from the East, under the guidance of a star, and adoring the Infant of Bethlehem as the divine King; the mystery of the Baptism of Christ, who, whilst standing in the waters of the Jordan, was proclaimed by the Eternal Father as Son of God; and thirdly, the mystery of the divine power of the same Jesus, when he changed the water into wine at the marriage-feast of Cana.” (Liturgical Year, Vol. III, p. 108)
Epiphanytide has since fallen away in the Novus Ordo calendar of the West, but for many it is a period of time that is still honored. "Instead of having Christmastide turn into...Ordinary Time..., traditional Catholics will celebrate Christmastide, Epiphanytide, Septuagesima, and then finally begin the penance of Lent." (A Catholic Life). In fact, of the privileged Octaves, Epiphany ranks even higher than Christmas.
Privileged Octaves of the First Order
Octave of Easter
Octave of Pentecost
Privileged Octaves of the Second Order
Octave of Epiphany
Octave of Corpus Christi
Privileged Octaves of the Third Order
Octave of Christmas
Octave of the Ascension
Octave of the Sacred Heart
Octave of the Immaculate Conception of the BVM
Octave of the Solemnity of St. Joseph
Octave of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Octave of Saints Peter and Paul
Octave of All Saints
Octave of the Assumption of the BVM
Octave of St. Stephen
Octave of St. John the Apostle
Octave of the Holy Innocents
You can read more about why we should celebrate Octaves here.
As I began to do further reading about the changes to the liturgical calendar, specifically with regard to Epiphany, I came across a lot of discrepancies and even some very popular blog writings with errors. With this in mind I decided I should probably put that Masters in Theology to work and do my own studying, so I read the writings of liturgical theologians, reviewed Roman Missals from over the years, and consulted with a couple of reputable priests. For those of you that appreciate understanding the liturgical calendar, buckle up for an brief overview.
The Then & Now View
The Catholic Church's liturgical calendar underwent many revisions over the years, including smaller ones between 1955 to 1962. This overview will be of Christmastide according to the 1962 Roman Missal. The Christmas cycle includes 3 main parts, Advent to Christmas, Christmas to January 14th (the day following the feast of the Baptism of the Lord), and from January 14th to Septuagesima Sunday.
The Christmas season, also known as Christmastide, begins with Christmas Eve on December 24th. It includes an 8 day octave beginning on Christmas day and ending on January 1st. The octave also contains special feast days like St. Stephen and the feast of the Holy Innocents. Within the same Christmas season we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany which occured on January 6th every year, 12 days after Christmas. As a side note, the first Sunday after Epiphany was the feast of the Holy Family, that feast is now within the Octave of Christmas. Even before this point in 1962 the octave of Epiphany had already been removed as a result of the 1955 revisions. The feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the second epiphany, took place on January 13th in the Christmas season. And on the second Sunday after the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, the Church would recall and celebrate Jesus' first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, the third epiphany. All three of these epiphanies would fall within Epiphanytide.
Epiphanytide is still a part of Christmastide in 1962. I have seen some writers separate these as if the Christmas season ends and the Epiphany season begins, this is not accurate. Epiphanytide is distinct in its liturgical themes and focus, but it is still a part of the Christmas season. It goes from January 14th to Septuagesima Sunday, which is moveable, and the Sundays would be labeled as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. Sunday after Epiphany. After that we would enter into pre-lent, the weeks known as the "gesimas," and that would lead us into Lent.
Currently, in the Novus Ordo calendar, there still remains a lack of an Epiphany octave, and there is also not a recognizable Epiphanytide where we use that language to describe the Sundays after the Solemnity of the Epiphany. We celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, traditionally January 6th, for one day and in the United States the celebration of Epiphany is moved to the Sunday between January 2nd-8th. The Christmas season ends on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. While we can still see two of the epiphanies present in the Christmas season of the current calendar, most do not even know that the Baptism of the Lord is considered an epiphany, and the wedding feast at Cana is entirely left out. I could go into why this hurts my theology lovin' heart, and I'm sure that you can gather why, but I won't get into that right now.
What I will take time to further explain is how we can engage in the customs associated with each epiphany so that your Christmas season (old calendar style) is filled with meaning and tradition.
The Solemnity of the Epiphany
1. Obtain Epiphany water for your home
The traditional day for Epiphany water to be blessed was on January 5th, the vigil of the Epiphany. You can read more about the connection between water and the visit of the Magi below.
While the feast of Epiphany in the Roman Rite is primarily focused on the visit of the Magi, historically it was more focused on the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River. For this reason, there developed a special blessing of Epiphany water in memory of Jesus sanctifying the waters of Baptism. The emphasis of the blessing, however, was less on the commemoration of Jesus’ baptism and more on the symbolic nature of water as a cleansing agent. In this way, the blessing of Epiphany water in the Roman Rite was used to cast out Satan and all his demonic angels. It is a powerful blessing, one that uses strong language to invoke the power of God over evil. It reminds us of the spiritual power of holy water and encourages us to use it in faith, trusting in the protecting help of God over our spiritual enemies. (Philip Kosoloski)
To learn more about types of holy water, click here.
2. Bless your home and chalk your doors
Partake in this time-honored tradition by chalking your door lintel with the formula 20+C+M+B+23. The CMB hold two meanings, the first being the initials of the Magi: Caspar, Malchior, and Balthazar. Secondly, it is the abbreviation for the Latin phrase, christus mansionem benedicat, which translates to, "May Christ bless this house." The "+" represent the sign of the cross and the "20" at the beginning and "23" at the end tell us the year. We do this as a way to ask God to bless our home and all who dwell in it throughout the year. I have Epiphany blessing kits with everything that you need here.
While a priest or the head of the household can bless the home and chalk the doors, only a priest can bless the chalk. Again, I have seen it written by bloggers with large followings that the lay faithful can bless the chalk, and it is simply not the case. If you want your chalk to be used as a sacramental then it must have a constitutive blessing that can only come from a bishop, priest, or deacon. If you would like to learn more about constitutive blessings you can read more here.
Chalk is customarily blessed on January 6th by a priest using the Rituale Romanum, though nowadays typically only done by more traditional parishes. The chalk is a sacramental, intended for the blessings of homes. It may only be blessed by a priest. (OnePeterFive)
For the full Epiphany Home Blessing, click here.
3. Make king cake
In many Catholic countries across Europe the feast of the Epiphany would be celebrated with a King Cake in honor of the Magi. Inside this cake would be a small baby Jesus figurine or another trinket and whoever had the small token in their piece of cake would be the king for the day. That individual would also be the one who had to host next year's Epiphany party. You can read more about that or get a small nativity set here.
4. Exchange gifts
In imitation of the Magi, I know several families who wait to open or exchange gifts until the feast of the Epiphany. This might be a meaningful way to experience this feast day too, give it a try.
The Baptism of the Lord
1. When we look to commemorate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we should really think of our own baptisms and consider how we can renew those promises in our everyday lives. If you click this link, you will find my 10 ways for celebrating this feast day.
The Wedding Feast at Cana
John’s Gospel … invites us to consider as an “epiphany” the Wedding at Cana, during which, by changing the water into wine, Jesus “manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him” (Jn 2:11). (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, homily)
1. Married couples, remember your own wedding and give thanks to God for the many blessings He has done through your marriage. Do something special together, make it a date night.
2. Have a glass of wine this evening in remembrance of Jesus turning water into wine.
3. Pray this Catholic marriage prayer
For one couple: O God, who in creating the human race willed that man and wife should be one, keep, we pray, in a bond of inseparable love those who are united in the covenant of Marriage, so that, as you make their love fruitful, they may become, by your grace, witnesses to charity itself. Through Christ our Lord Amen. (USCCB)