Time After Epiphany: Carrying the Treasure of Christmastide

 

Treasure of Christmastide

Baptism as the completion of Christmastide – By Stained glass: Alfred Handel, d. 1946[1], photo: Toby Hudson (Own work) by GFDL

The Liturgical Calendar renders visible that which is invisible.

For it shines a light into eternity, bringing present and real, in time and space, the eternal mysteries of our faith.

As I wrote some months ago:

I like to think of the Liturgical Year, like a system of arteries and veins – through which the Blood flows to each and every member of the Mystical Body of Christ.

The Liturgical Year makes real our Catholic Faith.

As we travel through the year, we experience anew the great Mysteries of our Faith, by means of the Temporal Cycle. Also, each day we connect to the Communion of Saints, through the Sanctoral Cycle – praying to each particular Saint on their Feast day.

Following the year in this way, we receive many graces, bringing ourselves directly in touch with the life of Our Lord and the Communion of His Saints, who are waiting to help us, waiting to receive our prayers.

In this way, we can see that the Liturgical Year lets flow the lifeblood of our faith.

Sadly, as it stands today, the Liturgical Year has become divided within the Church. There are now, in fact, two differing Liturgical years, according to whether one is following the new Mass in one’s local language or the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in Latin.

Here, at this website, we follow the Liturgical Calendar of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (or what is commonly known as the Latin Mass).

We have just completed the season of Christmastide, where the liturgy carried us through one of the richest times in our Liturgical Year. Now, we have entered into time after Epiphany, taking all that we have experienced throughout Christmastide into this new year.

So, what have we experienced, how have we arrived here?

The Gifts of Christmastide

The Liturgical Year began with Advent, the Season of preparation for the coming of our Lord and Saviour on Christmas night, as a tiny baby in Bethlehem.

Advent is the season where we experience the absence of our Lord. For, He is not yet born. He is not yet incarnated.

As we burnt our Advent candles and sang O Come Emmanuel, the Liturgy guided us and prepared us for His coming.

In the West, Advent draws us deeper and deeper into darkness, literally, as the days become shorter. This strengthens the sense of the absence of our Lord and of His light.

This is further heightened by the hour of our Lord’s birth, at midnight, when we arrive at the Christ Mass itself.

Hence the first Mass of Christmas is celebrated at midnight. This first Mass emphasises His miraculous birth – the moment the Light is born into the darkness.

The second Mass at dawn draws us, like the shepherds, summoned by the Angel Gabriel, to come and witness the miracle of Bethlehem, Venite adoremus Dominum.

Whilst the third Christmas Mass reveals the profundity of the Word made flesh. For, on this day, the Prologue of the St. John’s Gospel is read as the main gospel. At the pronouncement, Et Verbum caro factum est (the Word was made flesh) we all fall to our knees.

Just two days later, we come to the Feast of the author of this profound gospel, the beloved disciple, St. John the Evangelist. On this day we are able to reflect on the tiny Heart of the Word made flesh and the mystery of the Apostle’s relationship with the love of Christ.

This time is so rich in its Liturgy, as each day we follow the wondrous history of our Lord, made real to us, through the sacred language of Holy Mother the Church.

Within this brief period of time (three weeks) from Christmas Eve to the Octave feast of Epiphany, celebrated as the Baptism of our Lord, there are four Octaves and many important feasts. It is an incredibly warm and deeply nourishing time, filled with the light of Christ.

Yet, whilst we celebrate the birth of our Saviour, with joy and wonder, the liturgy touches into the shedding of blood, with the Feast of the first martyr, St. Stephen and the feast of the Holy Innocents.

Suddenly, we are brought face to face with the horrific actions of those who did not comprehend the Light. We are confronted with the blood that is to be shed in His name.

And after witnessing the blood shed in His name, we anticipate the blood He will shed for us, on the cross. For, on the first day of January, we celebrated the Feast of the Circumcision.

As was the Jewish custom, to circumcise the male child on the eighth day after birth, which is also the Octave day of the Christ Mass, so Jesus was circumcised, in order to follow the law.

This is seen as a foreshadowing of the Blood He would shed for us on the cross.

Just as Jesus was to be the last first born male sacrifice, when He dies on the cross, one may perhaps think of Him as “the last to be circumcised”. For, with the birth of our Saviour, our Redemption has begun – the time of the Old Covenant has reached its end.

Also customary, in the Jewish tradition, was the naming of the child at his circumcision.

Therefore, on the second of January, we come to the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. Of this Holy Name is written:

In the name of Jesus let every knee bow of those that are in heaven (angels) on earth (men) and under the earth (devils) (St. Andrew’s Missal)

A name given by God Himself, it was to inspire awe in each and every creature there ever was, is and will be. Meaning Saviour, as it is stated in the Epistle of the Feast:

There is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved.

The Church has encouraged the reverent expression of the Holy Name of Jesus, granting indulgences for those who bow their heads in honour of it, or simply proclaim it with dignity, in words or in their hearts.

The Twelve Days of Christmas came to a climax with the Epiphany or ‘manifestation’ of the Divine Child of Bethlehem.

As the three Magi wound their way from the East, the light of the star shone upon them, bright and beautiful, reflecting the Divinity of the One Whom they sought.

In noble splendour, they brought forth their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They came to pay homage to the Kingship of this humble Babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

They bowed their heads in awe, the first gentiles to witness the Child King, flanked by His Holy and pious parents.

The family forms the basis of our very life. Each and every one of us comes from a family, is part of a family – without it, we do not and cannot exist.

The Feast of the Holy Family acknowledges this fact and honours the three persons of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as the:

Exemplar and model for all Catholic families and, by extension, as the exemplar of all persons living in community’. (Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopaedia).

This Feast recognises and clebrates that which is disclosed from us – the hidden life of the Holy Family. Of this hidden life, the St. Andrew’s Missal comments,

In this lowly dwelling at Nazareth, by practising the domestic virtues of charity, obedience, mutual help and regard, Jesus, Mary and Joseph hallowed family life.

The Holy Family is therefore regarded as the virtuous model for all Christian life.

On the final day of Christmas, the Octave of the Epiphany, Jesus’ hidden family life comes to an end, as the Church celebrates His Baptism, the beginning of His public life and ministry.

As Jesus presents Himself to St. John the Baptist, for baptism, St. John hesitates, for he knows Who is before him.

Jesus insists that he baptise Him and His wish is fulfilled.

And immediately on receiving His baptism:

The Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, comes upon Jesus and a voice from heaven proclaims, ‘This is my beloved Son.’

This is the manifestation (‘Epiphany’) of Jesus as Messiah of Israel and Son of God.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church).

This quotation explains why the Baptism of our Lord is celebrated on the Octave day of the Epiphany, the closing of the Christmas season.

For, as His Baptism prepared our Lord for His ministry, so it liturgically prepares us to enter into Time after Epiphany.

And we enter with abundant treasure, rich beyond measure.

How much our faith provides for us, through the beautiful and living liturgy.

And, until we reach Septuagesima, the liturgy will unfold the gifts of the ministry of our Lord – gifts that flow naturally out of His humble birth, formation within the gentle and loving surrounds of His family unit and the proclamation of His Divine Nature and ministry, at the moment of His Baptism.

All this we carry with us, as treasure into this Time after Epiphany.

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