An e-mail inquiry about Epiphany (“manifestation”) sent me to the books the other day. I am always forgetting that Christmas is not just about the birth of Jesus, liturgically speaking, and Epiphany is not just about the coming of the Wise Men. I’m pretty good at remembering that what we call “Palm Sunday” is the original “Good Friday” – hence, the Liturgy of the Palms is attached to the Mass of the Passion. It’s just as complicated during this time of year, too.
My first place to look on calendar questions is Adolf Adam’s “The Liturgical Year” (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press). It’s still in print and is excellent on the reformed calendar of the Roman Church – which provided the basis for our own reforms in the 1960s and 1970s. It was also written during the pontificate of Paul VI when there seems to me to have been more freedom for scholarly inquiry among Roman Catholic academics than there is today.
It seems that in the fourth century Christians in Rome began to adopt and adapt the winter liturgical celebrations that had evolved in the eastern parts of the Roman Empire and at the same timeChristians in the east began to do the same thing with the celebrations from the west. Epiphany was originally the feast of Christ’s baptism in the east. If you want to sort all of this out, Adam is as good a source as I know.
It should not surprise us that baptism is associated with a celebration of Christ’s birth. Adolf Adam suggests that perhaps this liturgical celebration evolved from early Christological controversies, that is, the question of when did Jesus become God’s Son. If one only had Mark’s Gospel to read, one might think it was at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River.
Epiphany is not about looking at the baby. It’s about the identity of Jesus and how the scriptures explain who Jesus is (the “Wise Men” - not numbered or named in Matthew’s Gospel - need the scriptures to understand what they see with their eyes). Jesus’ identity is shown at his baptism and during his first miracle at the wedding in Cana (yet another text associated liturgically with this feast). It’s not a feast of Three Kings; it’s a feast of Our Lord.
Adam also observes (page 147) that Epiphany really is the liturgical “Feast of Christ the King.” The Sunday at the end of the Church year celebrates really an idea, a title. On Epiphany, the Lord’s kingship is proclaimed in the events of the Lord’s own life. Liturgical tradition largely has resisted the celebration of ideas. Eucharistic worship is fundamentally Christological. It is the assembly of the Body of Christ. Thus, it is the life of Christ himself and the events of his life that orders the life of the assembly.
Since Vatican II, the First Sunday after the Epiphany is observed as the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord by most liturgical Christians in the West (Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Anglicans). I don’t know who among the Roman Catholics should get credit for this idea – and I don’t know who among us Episcopalians should get credit for having the sense to adopt it – but I think it is a very good idea. The liturgical tradition really does keep it focused on the Lord Jesus Christ, the true King, the truly Wise Man. Stephen Gerth
PRAYER LIST . . . Nancy, Margaret, Carmela, Jay, Mabel, Robert, Gloria, Jason, Harold, Billie, Matthew, Virginia, Bart, Margaret, Marion, Hugh, Rick, Mary Angela, religious, and Charles, priest, and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Ned, Timothy, Patrick, Kevin, Christopher, Andrew, Joseph, Marc, Timothy, David, and Colin . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . January 11: 1967 Sarah Bedell McDonald; January 13: 1994 Thomas E. Holz; January 15: 1983 Faith Trumbull Cleveland Booth; January 17: 1967 Letitia Fidelia De Sousa, 1998 John Zippler Headley.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Isaiah 42:1-9 Psalm 89:20-29, Acts 10:34-38; Luke 3:15-22 . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, January 10, by Father Gerth . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, January 17, by Father Beddingfield.
AS WITH GLADNESS . . . Many thanks to all who made the Epiphany celebrations so special. We had a wonderful Sung Mass at noon with a full complement of ushers and servers. The Solemn Mass was spectacular. The music was phenomenal. It was a great privilege for us to have two of the senior liturgical scholars of the Anglican Communion with us as concelebrants, the Reverend Paul Bradshaw and the Reverend Louis Weil, and to have Father Bradshaw as our preacher. It was great also to have Father Jay Smith with us at the altar. Father Beddingfield had many extra duties that day – including the chanting of the Proclamation of the Date of Easter. The reception following Mass was very festive. The church looked wonderful. It’s never possible to thank all who make this possible, but many do, who are near and far. Happy Epiphany! S.G.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Plan ahead: There are two special Evensong preachers this month. On Sunday, January 18, Bishop Christopher Epting will be with us and on Sunday, January 25, Bishop George Packard, bishop suffragan for Chaplaincies, will be here . . . All proceeds from the Organ Recital on Saturday, January 17, benefit the Organ Endowment Fund . . . Attendance last Sunday 258, Epiphany 299.
BRING YOUR COMPLETED PLEDGE CARDS THIS SUNDAY, JANUARY 11 . . . . For those parishioners and friends who may come to Saint Mary’s from other traditions, a “pledge” is slightly different from a special offering or a financial gift for some particular feast day or occasion. A pledge is a statement of what you plan to give to the church in the coming year. The Trustees rely on this information in creating and monitoring the church budget. Pledging is a way of acting on our faith, of putting words into actions, and of responding to God out of thanksgiving with a portion of the blessings God has given us. If you have not received a pledge form and would like one, please call the parish office at 212-869-5830, extension 13 or you may make your pledge known to the church treasurer, Barbara Klett by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTES ON MUSIC . . . This week at the Solemn Mass, the prelude is Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam (“Christ our Lord to the Jordan came”), BuxWV 180 by Dietrich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707) and the postlude is an improvisation on ‘Lancashire’ (Lead on, O King eternal), the final hymn at Mass. The setting of the Mass ordinary is Missa ‘O regem coeli’ by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, a parody Mass dating from 1554. The anthem at Communion is The shepherds’ farewell, surely the most popular movement from L’enfance du Christ, Op. 25 by Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) . . . We continue our series of organ recitals at 4:40. This week Andrew Henderson, assistant organist of the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola, New York, plays works of Reger and Vierne.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The First Sunday after the Epiphany: The Baptism of Our Lord
Tuesday Hilary, bishop
Friday Weekday Abstinence
Saturday Anthony, abbot
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector,
The Reverend John Beddingfield, curate, The Reverend Rosemari Sullivan, assisting priest,
The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.