Incarnation Cycle

Epiphany: The Spirituality of and Environment for the Solemnity (Part I)

May 11, 2007

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Read Part II of this 2-part article.

The Spirituality of Epiphany

The word "epiphany" is the English version of the Greek "epiphaneia," meaning appearance, revelation, manifestation.   The origin of the Feast – which was traditionally celebrated on January 6 – may be traced to the Church in the East and is more than likely an older celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation than December 25.  When December 25 was adopted as the celebration of the Birth of Jesus, the feast of the Epiphany changed focus to the Baptism of the Lord in the East and the visitation by the Magi in the West.  Other names for the Epiphany in the West are the "12th Day of Christmas," "the 12th night," and "Three King’s Day."  In the East the feast is known as the Theophany, or the "revelation of God."

Today, the churches of the West celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany as the culmination and the climax of the Incarnation Cycle.  On this day of superlatives the Church celebrates the manifestation of the baby born in Bethlehem as the Son of God.  After the shepherds, the Magi are the first to encounter Jesus and reveal him as the King of Kings.  In addition, Christ is revealed in the Words of Zechariah, in the Words coming from heaven during the baptism of Jesus by John in the river Jordan and through the first miracle of water turned into wine at the wedding feast of Cana.  Each one of these revelations has been related to the Epiphany throughout the ages in different church communities.  Therefore, although the emphasis in the West is on the epiphany to the Magi, the celebration of the Epiphany embraces all epiphanic experiences, even those that maybe happening today.

The ethos of this celebration is one of great solemnity and festivity.  If at all possible, rather than declining, the solemnity of the celebration of the incarnation should increase from the solemnity of Christmas until the epiphany and culminate in a celebration of celebrations.

Based on the Gospels, the symbols of this feast are a guiding star; gold, frankincense and myrrh; water; a dove; wine, in addition to all the symbols with which the Church has marked the entire Incarnation cycle.

A cultural setback to the success of this feast is that the people experience Christmas day as the highlight of the season and once this day is passed, the season is over.  In liturgical terms, however, the season has only just begun and the climax is the solemnity of the Epiphany.

Johan van Parys is the Director of Liturgy and the Sacred Arts at the Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis, MN.


Advent: The Spirituality of and Environment for the Season (Part I and Part II)
Christmas: The Spirituality of and Environment for the Season (Part I and Part II)
Epiphany: The Spirituality of and Environment for the Solemnity (Part II)
Lectio Divina -- Visio Divina
On Becoming the Paschal Mystery (Part I, Part II, and Part III)
The Fundamental Virtues of Liturgical Architecture
Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus
We Are the Body of Christ

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