When Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on Sundays, unusual things happen to the religious calendar. And therefore, this year Sunday, January 8th, is the solemnity of the Epiphany; Monday, January 9th, the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, and then on Tuesday we go back to the ordinary time of the Church year which we haven’t experienced since November 26th.
The word “epiphany” comes from the Greek meaning “manifestation,” and refers to the multiple manifestations of Our Divine Lord in his human nature to the world. If you will study the history of this Solemnity of Epiphany, you’ll find that it is older than Christmas itself since it was universally celebrated before the celebration of Our Lord’s birth became widespread. You will also find that the Epiphany has three elements: the coming of the Magi to the infant Christ in Bethlehem; the Baptism of Our Lord in the Jordan River by Saint John the Baptist, and the beginning of Our Lord’s miracles when he changed water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana, a town in Galilee near Nazareth. We know that our Lord’s baptism and the beginning of his public life took place when he was about thirty years old, whereas the coming of the magi occurred when he was just a baby. How did these three events get grouped together in one celebration of “manifestation,” spanning such a long period? It is because God our Father wanted to show to the entire world this divine son of his who was and is called “Jesus of Nazareth.” When the pagan, non-Jewish magi were led by a miraculous star to Bethlehem, they represented their own pagan, Gentile world being brought to acknowledge Christ. When the voice of God the Father and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove bore witness to Our Lord in the Jordan River, Jesus was manifested to his own Jewish people who were disciples of Saint John the Baptist. And then, shortly after that, when Our Lord turned water into wine, we are told that his own twelve apostles saw what was happening and they came to believe in him. They were Jews, but they were destined to preach to the entire world, Jew and Gentile alike. Therefore their faith in Jesus was essential.
Another very important element of the Epiphany is this: of the three events which we celebrate, two of them have very close connections with Our Blessed Mother. The magi find the infant Christ WITH MARY HIS MOTHER. Saint Matthew didn’t have to include those words in his gospel, but he did. The miraculous star led them to where they would find the newborn King of the Jews WITH MARY HIS MOTHER. Thus Our Lady is seen to be the patroness of the manifestation of her divine Son to the world. And then, when she and Our Lord and his apostles had been invited to the wedding feast at Cana, it is she, with a woman’s and mother’s concern, notices a problem, and says quietly to Our Lord, “They have no wine.” What she really means is “Do something to save this bride and groom and their families the embarrassment of running out of refreshment at their reception.” And as we know, our Lord does something stupendous: he produces between 120 and 180 gallons of wine—far more than a small-town wedding feast could need, especially after the guests had already drunk what had been provided. In scripture, wine is often used as a symbol for joy and gladness. Thus in addition to the simply historical fact of the water-to-wine story, we have Our Lady using her influence over Our Lord to provide a GREAT DEAL of joy and happiness in the context of human love and marriage.
At the beginning of his public life, Our Lord turns water into wine. At its end, he changes wine into his own blood, as he continues to do every day at Mass, giving us endless cause for happiness and joy. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This Message was composed some years ago.