Epiphany, History and Us

One of the sadnesses of the reformed liturgical calendar is the loss of “Sundays after Epiphany,” which, with the frequent translation of the solemnity itself to a Sunday (this year, Jan. 3), diminishes the impact of what ought to be one of the principal pivots of the liturgical year-the “real” year, for serious Christians.

If Christmas and the revelation of the Christ child to the shepherds mark the insertion of the Son of God into a human community-the Jewish people-the manifestation of the child to the gentile Magi at the Epiphany celebrates the coming of the Incarnate Word into human history. And if that stupendous event is, in truth, the pivot on which the entire human story turns, then the Solemnity of the Epiphany is, with Easter, one of the two great pivotal moments of the Church’s year of grace.

That fact is nicely captured by a feature of the Roman Missal that, for some reason, only appears in a sacramentary supplement published in 1994 (which means the overwhelming majority of our parishes don’t have it): the sung proclamation of the date of Easter by a priest, deacon, or cantor, immediately after the Epiphany Gospel has been read or sung. Here is what you missed this year (the translation is my own, from an Italian missal):

Dear brethren: The glory of the Lord has been made manifest to us and will always be manifest in our midst until his return.  Amidst the rhythms and turnings of time, we remember and live the mysteries of salvation. The center of the entire liturgical year is the Triduum of the crucified, buried, and risen Lord, which culminates on Easter Sunday, April 4. On every Sunday, which is the Easter of each week, the holy Church makes present this great event in which Christ conquered sin and death. From Easter stem all the other holy days: Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which is Feb. 17; the Ascension of the Lord, which is May 13; Pentecost, which is May 23; and the First Sunday of Advent, which will be celebrated on Nov. 28.  In the feasts of the holy Mother of God, the apostles, and the saints, as well as in the commemoration of the faithful departed, the pilgrim Church on earth proclaims the Easter Passover of her Lord. To Christ who was, who is, and who will come again, the Lord of time and of history, be endless praise forever and ever. Amen.”

In an age of gnostic religion-religion detached from the stuff of this world, faith conceived as a personal lifestyle choice, worship misconstrued as a form of auto-therapy-the liturgical proclamation of the date of Easter is an important reminder that Christian faith is grounded, not in “narrative,” and certainly not in “myth,” but in history. Two millennia ago, certain things happened to the eastern fringe of the Roman Empire: things that forced men and women not-so-different from us to make decisions. On those decisions, which are themselves historical facts, the history of the world turned. Because of things that happened in history, men and women were transformed, and transformed the human story as a result.

History, Peter Kreeft neatly reminds us, is not one darn thing after another, but rather His-story: the story of a God who acts, first in creation, then in covenant and prophecy, and ultimately in the Easter Triduum. Thus it’s not a matter of “world history,” here, and “salvation history,” there,” as if the drama of salvation is being played out on a track parallel to world history. No, what we call “salvation history” is world history, read at its true depth and against its most ample horizon.

On Jan. 17, the Church will enter so-called “Ordinary Time.” It seems a singularly misbegotten moniker. There is nothing “ordinary” about any time, if we take the Epiphany seriously. When the eternal Word of God enters time, time is caught up in eternity and history is revealed as His-story, in which we have been called to participate. Nothing “ordinary” there-nothing at all.

George Weigel


George Weigel is an American author and political and social activist. He currently serves as a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Weigel was the Founding President of the James Madison Foundation.

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  • elkabrikir

    I’ve been saddened by the removal of holy days of obligation from the liturgical calendar. The most recent movement of Ascension Thursday to “Ascension Day” infuriated me. My priest explained that the bishops moved the solemnity so more Catholics could participate. What garbage, and I said so as I stood up and walked out of the homily several years ago.

    Forty days after Easter, Jesus ascended into heaven. That was a Thursday, and that is what it should remain so that we can be authentic to the date and our salvation history. How many graces have been lost to American Catholics by attending one less mass a year? How many graces have been lost by not giving people the opportunity to carve out one hour, one Thursday a year to rejoice in the Ascension of our Lord? Pretty soon we’ll be required to attend only Christmas and Easter masses, which will have been combined on a Saturday night so we can watch our real heroes in the NFL, and guzzle beer as food for body and soul.

    The Baptism of the Lord used to be a holy day of obligation until it was stolen from us too. How many more liturgical gifts were erased from the white board Liturgical Calendar? (What I mean is that I didn’t even know that the Sundays after Epiphany were ever celebrated.)

    My family attended two different churches on the Epiphany. At my husband’s mass, his priest chanted the proclamation (and then joked he’d never do that again, because of his singing ability….gotta be funny if you’re a priest you know. Forget reverence.) My priest eliminated the gift of the proclamation.

    Pope Benedict XVI says that people’s faith is being squeezed out of their daily lives because of the hustle and bustle of the modern world. Perhaps the church’s bureaucracy is the biggest millstone around the neck of the faithful.

  • goral

    What was it called before it was called Ordinary time?
    I thought that was always there as a time to take a deep breath and get ready for Lent.

    There are certain types of people who love to push aside tradition and sacred celebrations in favor of something new, just for newness sake.
    I guess we can call them revolutionaries. That makes those of us who want to preserve all that has been passed on, as anti-revolutionaries.
    With whom do we associate that terminology? Mr. Weigel knows whereof I speak in my next example.
    Since the year 966 and even before, The Polish White Eagle always had a crown on it, even during the numerous occupations. In 1945, for the first time the Communist Revolutionaries removed it. The official dictum was: We took the Regal Crown off the Eagle’s head and laid it at the feet of the People. Wow! How they must have loved The People.
    Of course, we now know, outside of the Democrat Party, that Communists don’t love the people at all. They don’t even love what the people love. They only love The Revolution, the change, the chaos, the disrespect for the Sacred. Only the Revolution is extraordinary, everything else is ordinary and subordinate to the State god, the god of change, the god that lays holy things at the feet of the people. In other words, pearls before swine.

    The Crown is back, the response, “and with your Spirit” is coming back and perhaps ordinary time will once again be extraordinary.
    Revolutions by their nature revolve and revert.

  • mrteachersir

    elkabrikir, I agree with you 100%, but not just because of the Ascension of the Lord. What about the Annunciation? That is when the Incarnation, and thus the saving acts of Christ, began. We don’t go to church on that day. Why do we not celebrate the other Holy Days of Obligation that fall on a Saturday of Monday (Because of the “anticipation Masses”, I know, but come on). Why is Corpus Christi celebrated on a Sunday?

  • elkabrikir


    thank you for expanding the list of former Holy Days. I’ve oftened wondered about the Annunciation. I know you’re supposed to kneel instead of bow during the creed “…by the power of the Holy Spirit, He came down from heaven and became man…” I suppose that’s the throwback to a Holy Day.

    The Father allowed me to honor that day for eternity. I have a son, Luke Gabriel, who was born on the Solemnity of the Annunciation. What a gift.

    Here’s an anti-revolutionary act, go to mass on the actual Solemnity. Jesus sees our love.

    The tears we cry belong to Him.

  • goral

    ” What garbage, and I said so as I stood up and walked out of the homily several years ago.”

    Now,ThaT’S anti-revolutionary. The nerve, the audacity! You’re such a menshevik.
    Sunday Solemnity’s are pointless. There is no more participation as a result.
    Accomodating the lax and lazy doesn’t bring more vigor. It only makes the rest of us more lazy and better bolsheviks.
    It’s just settling for the lesser good, isn’t it?

  • lucemichael

    The liturgical calendar does not call these weeks Ordinary as a description of their importance. Rather, the weeks are called “ordinary” from the word “ordinal” as in ordinal (sequential) numbers. In other words, they are the numbered weeks, not “boring” weeks.