Incarnation Cycle

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

May 11, 2007


Read Part I of this 2-part article.

The Environment of Epiphany

The environment for Christmas, which has been gradually building since the first Sunday of Advent, needs to be kept up until Epiphany.  Plants need to be kept alive; greens may have to be replaced; the liturgical vestments and paraments are maintained.  In short, the sound, the smell, the sight, the taste, the touch of the Incarnation cycle does not weaken before Epiphany.

As a matter of fact, the liturgy on this day ought to be extra festive. In her diary detailing the liturgical celebration in Jerusalem, Egeria, a fifth century nun, writes most glowingly about the "excesses" of Epiphany.  Even today, lights should be burning bright, as this is the feast of the manifestation of the Lord.  Communities that are not allergic to incense are to bring out their most expensive incense on this day.  Vestments and vessels may be enriched with gold.  A water rite at the beginning of the service is reminiscent of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan and reminds all present of their own baptism.  At the table of the Lord, wine should flow abundantly.

Liturgical color

The liturgical color for the vestments, the paraments, banners, hangings, booklets, etc. is white.  Any enrichment of this color with silver and gold is very appropriate.  Epiphany ­– the celebration of the revelation of the divinity of the child born in Bethlehem – is the high point and culmination of the Incarnation cycle.  Rich and brilliant textiles are especially appropriate this day.

Extra candles and light

The environment should be bathing in light on this day when Christ is revealed as the Light of the World, the Son of God, our Savior.  If the parish church has extra candelabras or room for votive lights, place them freely throughout the church and have them lit for the service.

Some cultures have the custom of using lanterns during the Christmas season.  In the Philippines, for instance, these lanterns are in the shape of a star and made out of bamboo sticks, covered with colorful rice paper.  Ukrainians and Poles have a similar custom.  On Epiphany, it might be wonderful to involve children in the processions carrying such lanterns.  Consider investing in glass lanterns that could safely be carried by children. If it is the custom to proclaim the Gospel under the wreath during the Christmas season, children carrying lanterns might accompany this procession on Epiphany.

Another option is to give everyone lit candles during the Gospel Acclamation so they can be held during the proclamation of the Gospel.

The Baptismal Font

Because the Baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan is closely related to the Epiphany, the importance of baptism, baptismal water, and the place of baptism may be emphasized on this day.  If the church has a large font, the liturgy could begin there with a blessing.  Then, the assembly might be invited to refresh themselves at the waters of salvation while an appropriate song is sung.  As everyone moves to their usual place, the song is concluded and the collect is prayed.

If the church does not have a permanent font, a temporary font may be placed in a prominent location on this feast day to draw attention to the importance of baptism during worship.


If worship and its environment is indeed "progressive" and if Epiphany is the climax of the Incarnation cycle, then today is the time to pull out all the stops.  In terms of the evergreens, rather than put them all in place by Christmas, Epiphany is the day when the last one should be added, completing the environment for the Incarnation cycle.

Epiphany Wreath

The wreath that marked every Sunday of Advent by having a candle lit and then decorated with red poinsettias for Christmas now becomes the Epiphany wreath.  Make sure that the greens are still reasonably fresh.  If necessary, replace at least part of the greens. As light and brightness are integral to this celebration, you might want to replace the red poinsettias with white ones, or at least add some white ones to the red.   At the risk of going overboard, you may consider weaving some gold and silver ribbons through the wreath.  Make sure the candles are still lit and visible.

Flowers for Epiphany

In addition to the red poinsettias that have graced the Christmas environment, white poinsettias or other white flowers may enhance the brilliance of the day.  Make sure that any dead flowers are removed from the church.

The Manger

As the churches in the West celebrate the arrival of the Magi on Epiphany, many churches in different cultures have customs that surround the Magi.  The domestic custom of  placing the Magi at a distance from the manger and day after day allowing them to get closer to the Holy Family, has resulted in a similar church custom where the Magi are placed away from the manger and "travel a great distance" to arrive at the creche on Epiphany.

Hanging banners and mobiles

The colors of these banners, which maybe made out of ribbons, cloth, papers... or a combination of all the above, began as blues and purples and pinks.  As the Advent season progressed, white, silver and gold was added.  Now that the fullness of the season has been reached nearly all the blue, purple and pink has been removed in favor of silver and gold.  Some blue, purple and pink remains in order to keep the unity of the season.

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


Advent: The Spirituality and Environment for the Season (Part I and Part II)
Christmas: The Spirituality and Environment for the Season (Part I and Part II)
Epiphany: The Spirituality and Environment for the Solemnity (Part I)
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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