Msgr. Beaulieu – Movable Feasts of Christmastime

Among the moveable feasts during the Christmas season, where Epiphany is observed on its traditional date of January 6, it occurs on that date no matter what weekday that it happens to be in a given year. In most of the dioceses of the United States, however, Epiphany is transferred from its traditional date to the Sunday that falls between January 2 and January 8. The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is usually observed on the Sunday after Epiphany. However, since this year the transferred observance of Epiphany was celebrated on Sunday, January 8, then, the Baptism of the Lord must occur on Monday, January 9 and, then, what is known as Tempus per annum or Ordinary Time begins on the following day.

Epiphany – the Baptism of the Lord – the Wedding Feast at Cana

Already in the fourth century of the Christian era, the Eastern Church celebrated both the Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus on 6 January. In the Western Church, this combined feast is mentioned in the Liturgy of the Hours: “Three mysteries mark this holy day: today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ; today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast; today Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation” (Antiphon for the Canticle of Mary, Evening Prayer II). With the reform of the sacred liturgy in 1969, the date for the separate Feast of the Baptism of the Lord was designated to be observed on the Sunday after the Epiphany, unless the transferred date of Epiphany occurs on a Sunday as has happened this year. The Christmas season officially concludes with the celebration of the Lord’s Baptism, even though a glimmer of Christmas continues until 2 February, the day on which the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple is celebrated. The latter feast is also known as Candlemas since Christ is proclaimed as the “light for the gentiles”.

A Brief Historical Development of the Baptism of the Lord

The Baptism of the Lord began by being associated with the celebration of Epiphany. Even today, the Eastern Christian feast of Theophany, celebrated on January 6, still remains true as originally had been so in the Western part of the Roman Empire. The feast of Epiphany focuses primarily on the Baptism of the Lord as the revelation of God to the world. After Christmas or the Nativity of the Lord was celebrated apart from Epiphany, the Church in the West continued the process of identifying elements of that originally complex mystery for subsequent explicit liturgical observances, so the Western liturgical calendar dedicated a celebration to each of the major epiphanies or manifestations of the life of the Lord Jesus: His Birth at Christmas, which revealed Christ to Israel; the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles, in the visit of the Wise Men at Epiphany; the Baptism of the Lord, which revealed the presence of the Blessed Trinity; and the miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, which revealed Christ’s transformation of the  material world. Thus, the Baptism of the Lord began to be celebrated on the octave or the eighth day of Epiphany, with the miracle at Cana celebrated on the Sunday following that manifestation of Christ’s divinity as the Second Person of the Trinity. So, in the current Western liturgical calendar, the Baptism of the Lord is almost always celebrated on the Sunday after January 6, and, a week later, on the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Gospel of the Wedding at Cana is proclaimed, with modifications.

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