Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Farewell, Epiphanytide

Even in the 1962 Breviary, tempus per annum is nigh... with Compline to-night, Epiphanytide ends, and then we have four weeks after Epiphany until Septuagesima Sunday on the 8th of February comes to prepare us for Lent.  Nonetheless, this period of time still carries traces of the mystery of the Epiphany...

In the Traditional Rite, the chants of the Sunday Masses will continue the theme of the adoration of Christ made made manifest: In excelso throno vidi sedere virum, quem adorat multitudo Angelorum (this Sunday's Introit); Omnis terra adoret te, Deus (next Sunday's); Adorate Deum, omnes Angeli ejus (the 3rd and 4th Sundays' Introit).  Similarly, the Divine manifestation of power in Christ will be the subject of the Gospel passages read: the miracle at the wedding feast at Cana this coming Sunday (St John ii, 1-11); then - immediately after the Transfiguration, upon descending the mountain - the cure of a leper and next the healing of the Centurion's servant upon that officer's noble confession of astoundingly strong faith (St Matthew viii, 1-13); and on the 4th Sunday, the stilling the storm by Our Blessed Lord (St Matthew viii, 23-27).  How utterly appropriate to this prolongation of our consideration of the Manifestation of Christ will be the Offertory and Communion on these two last Sundays: Dextera Domini fecit virtutem ("The right hand of the Lord hath wrought power") and Mirabantur omnes de his ("All marvelled at these things").

(BTW, Romans having been run through at Matins from after Christmas until the days after Epiphany, now a start has just been made on I Corinthians, which continues this week; next week will feature II Corinthians; the 3rd week after Epiphany will have Galatians and Ephesians at Matins; and the 4th week, Philippians, Colossians, and I & II Thessalonians.  Of course, at Matins only excerpts of this rich fare can be fitted in - in the coming time I hope to sit down with my pocket New Testament and catch up on at least some of these marvellous inspired words of the Apostle in this his year.)

The Mass in commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord is that of the Epiphany, but for the orations and its proper Gospel (St John i, 29-34), as follows:

At that time: 
John saw Jesus coming to him, and he saith: Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who taketh away the sin of the world.  This is He, of whom I said: After me there cometh a Man, Who is preferred before me: because He was before me.  And I knew Him not, but that He may be made manifest* in Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.  And John gave testimony, saying: I saw the Spirit coming down, as a dove from heaven, and He remained upon Him.  And I knew Him not; but He Who sent me to baptize with water, said to me: He upon Whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining upon Him, He it is that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.  And I saw, and I gave testimony, that this is the Son of God.

[* The Greek word here is φανερωθῇ (to be revealed, to be made known) from φανερόω (to reveal or make known); whereas our word Epiphany (ἐπιφάνεια) comes from ἐπιφαίνω (to appear, to give light), itself derived from φαίνω (to shine) both of which in the passive mean "to appear, to be revealed" - I surmise that all these words are related, but am unsure.]

I've just sat down (with the Cricket on in the background) and read over Bl Columba Marmion's conferences on the Epiphany and Baptism of Our Lord from Christ in His Mysteries.  Among many deep insights, which I would wish to quote in extenso, I was struck by his explanation of why Christ came to accept from John the baptism of repentance: though He was without sin, for us He was made sin, as the Apostle dares tell us (II Cor. v, 21), as the Head and elect representative of our fallen race, and so "to fulfil all righteousness" (St Matt. iii, 15), Our Lord thus signified His taking upon Himself the sins of the world, He Who alone could and would in process of time take them away by nailing the handwriting that was against us to the Cross, through He Himself, all immaculate, sinless and holy, being nailed fast thereto for us, made accursed for us by hanging on that infamous gibbet, that we might be made the righteousness of God (II Cor. v, 21).  Glory to Him for ever!

It is with these thoughts that this Collect of the Baptism, again, like the oldest and purest Roman prayers, very deep and surprisingly widely applicable, is best appreciated; for it delves deep into the mystery, not presenting it in a facile ICEL manner suited to kindergarten inmates, but summing up in lapidary prose a consideration well worth pondering:

Deus, cujus Unigenitus in substantia nostræ carnis apparuit: præsta, quæsumus; ut per eum, quem similem nobis foris agnovimus, intus reformari mereamur.  Qui tecum vivit...

(God, Whose Onlybegotten in the substance of our flesh hath appeared: grant, we beg; that through Him, whom we have acknowledged to be outwardly similar to us, we may deserve to be inwardly reformed.  Who with thee liveth...)

Christ hath wrought our salvation - now we must by faith in Him, by obedience to His commands, by His grace lay hold of His gift of eternal healing, that the objective salvation He won for us may effect our subjective salvation, "that the salvation promised us may be ours".

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