9 Things You Need to Know About Epiphany

by jimmyakin

in Apologetics, Bible, Bible History, Liturgical Year, Liturgy

The magi followed the star and found Baby Jesus. What are we to make of this mysterious event, and does it mean astrology is okay?

On January 6 the Church celebrates the feast of “Epiphany.”

This feast commemorates the mysterious visit of the magi to the Baby Jesus.

Who were the magi? What led them to visit Jesus? And what lessons should we–and shouldn’t we!–learn from this incident?

Here are nine things you should know . . .


1. What does the word “Epiphany” mean?

“Epiphany” means “manifestation.”

It comes from Greek roots that mean “to show, to display” (phainein) and “on, to” (epi-).

An epiphany is thus a time when something is shown, displayed, or manifested to an audience.


2. What is the feast of the Epiphany about?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Saviour of the world. the great feast of Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the wise men (magi) from the East, together with his baptism in the Jordan and the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee.

In the magi, representatives of the neighbouring pagan religions, the Gospel sees the first-fruits of the nations, who welcome the good news of salvation through the Incarnation.

The magi’s coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations.

Their coming means that pagans can discover Jesus and worship him as Son of God and Saviour of the world only by turning towards the Jews and receiving from them the messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament.

The Epiphany shows that “the full number of the nations” now takes its “place in the family of the patriarchs”, and acquires Israelitica dignitas (is made “worthy of the heritage of Israel”) [CCC 528].


3. When is Epiphany celebrated?


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atassina January 4, 2013 at 10:52 am

1) Keep writing and I’ll keep reading. I especially appreciate the calm, objective manner in which you approach theology, moral problems and spirituality.
2) I am concerned that your posts are costing you money and I have been along for a free ride. I still remember your post about the cost of the liturgy newsletter. How much does it cost you for me to read any posting by you. I think you have my email. If not, please address this issue in a future posting. I want you to keep writing because I depend on you for clear and precise renderings of our faith. Anthony

Stuart Koehl January 10, 2013 at 2:19 pm

6 January is the Feast of Theophany in the Eastern Churches, both Orthodox and Catholic alike.  In contrast to the Western Feast of Epiphany, which commemorates the revelation of God to the Gentiles through the visitation of the Magi, Theophany celebrates the revelation of the Trinity through Christ’s baptism in the Jordan.  Both of these events in salvation history, along with the Nativity of Christ, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and even the Wedding Feast in Cana were once a single combined feast called “Theophania”, or “The Divine Revelation”–which marked all the events in which God revealed himself to man.As the eminent Archimandrite Robert Taft, SJ, has written on the subject:
Contrary to what is always said, liturgical feasts are not celebrations of events in salvation history.  They are celebrations of the mysteries of salvation revealed to us in the biblical narrative of those events.  In the East, the original feast of the Nativity cycle was January 6.  In the West, it was December 25.  What both feasts celebrated was not the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, nor his baptism in the Jordan, but the mystery of the manifestation, originally known as “epiphania” (manifestation) or “theophania” (divine manifestation); i.e., the appearance of God’s salvation in the Incarnation of his only-begotten Son.  So, originally, each feast included all of the scenarios at the beginning of the Gospels that concern Jesus’ first manifesting this salvation, in some cases including even the Marriage Feast in Cana in Jn 2:1-11.  Only later did the several biblical scenarios get redistributed between the two days, as a result of an exchange of feasts between East and West.  This, then, is why the same richness of Scripture readings found in the East on January 6 are found in the West on December 25.
So, if both traditions wish to preserve their identity, the answer is not for them to imitate each other blindly, but for each to return to the roots of its own heritage.  In this case, the West needs to stop thinking that Christmas is centered on a medieval Italian invention, Baby Jesus in the presepio.  For there is no Baby Jesus; there is only the Risen Glorified Lord seated at the right hand of the Father, and He and his saving mysteries is what Christmas and Easter and everything is about.  The Western January 6 feast is not a feast of the Magi, but of the manifestation of salvation to the Gentiles, a thematic which the East celebrates on February 2, the feast the West calls the “Presentation of Jesus in the Temple” as recounted in Lk 2:22-38—but which in Greek is called the Hypophante or “Encounter”, the meeting of the Savior with those He has come to save.

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