Today across the world many are celebrating Epiphany. Since antiquity the celebration of Epiphany has been on January 6th. Due to changes in the calendar, today Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th by those who follow the Gregorian calendar and on January 19th by those who follow the older Julian calendar.
Fundamentally, Epiphany is a celebration of the incarnation of the Son of God in the person of Jesus Christ, but there are differences in the West and East in regards to what events are in fact commemorated. In the West, Epiphany is a celebration of the Adoration of the Magi (Christ’s manifestation to the Gentiles), the Baptism of Jesus, and the Wedding at Cana. In the East, Epiphany is only a celebration of the Baptism of Jesus.
Epiphany has historically been one of the most important Solemnities of the Liturgical Year. However, Epiphany has had a complex history in the West. This history has become even more complicated due to revisions to the General Roman Calendar before and after Vatican II that made Epiphany part of Christmas Time, created the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and allowed for the transfer of Epiphany to a Sunday.
Personally I wish Epiphany was a Holy Day of Obligation and was celebrated on its proper day in the United States, but that is the liturgical historian in me talking.
The Western history of Epiphany is complex, but despite its ever-changing celebration Epiphany remains a commemoration of the Adoration of the Magi, the Baptism of Jesus, and the Wedding at Cana.
Pope Francis’ homily today on the Solemnity of Epiphany brought the Adoration of the Magi to the forefront and called Christians to enter into the Paschal Mystery. In his homily, Pope Francis called all Christians to be mindful of their suffering brothers and sisters:
And so we can ask ourselves: what is the mystery in which God is hidden? Where can I find him? All around us we see wars, the exploitation of children, torture, trafficking in arms, trafficking in persons… In all these realities, in these, the least of our brothers and sisters who are enduring these difficult situations, there is Jesus (cf. Mt 25:40,45). The crib points us to a different path from the one cherished by the thinking of this world: it is the path of God’s self-abasement, his glory concealed in the manger of Bethlehem, on the cross upon Calvary, in each of our suffering brothers and sisters.
On a different note, our Orthodox brothers and sisters plunged into icy waters today across Europe in an old ritual in which they retrieve crucifixes thrown into the water. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew even tossed a crucifix in the river to be retrieved by the faithful. The Wall Street Journal provides some interesting pictures of this ritual and others celebrated on Epiphany.
It is my hope that today on the Solemnity of Epiphany you may enter into the mystery of the Incarnation and like the Magi give adoration to the Christ child.