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This is Part V in a series on the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle. Read Part I, Part II and Part III on Advent and Part IV which is on Christmas. 

(LifeSiteNews) — The ordering of our liturgical books might lead us to think of the liturgical year as starting with Advent and leading into Christmas, a season which lasts twelve days until Epiphany.

Following Epiphany, according to this view, we enter into a sort of “waiting-game” – broken up by Candlemas – until the great paschal cycle starts with Septuagesima. In this paradigm, Epiphany appears as little more than a feast marking the end of Christmas and inaugurating a period of “ordinary time.” 

However, some liturgical writers see almost every detail here in a different way. 

Advent and Christmas

We have already seen that in Advent’s liturgical texts, the Church calls again and again for her Lord to come to us. She promises her children that he will arrive, in glory, without delay – and inculcates in us a hope which should make us strong in the face of the encroaching secular tyranny. 

The excitement and restlessness only increase as Advent progresses, especially on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day itself and the following days, the Church’s liturgy declares war on the powers of darkness, and portrays Christ’s incarnation as the fulfilment of time and the inauguration of the messianic Kingdom.  

According to the writers which we have been considering in this series, the Epiphany is not merely something to mark the end of Christmas or to pass the time until Lent, but is itself a very significant feast. Indeed, they argue, this feast is much more significant than is commonly considered – it is the culmination of the annual liturgical cycle.  

What is an epiphany? 

Most of us know that the word “epiphany” means an appearance or manifestation.  

The feast is popularly associated with the coming of the Magi to the Christ-Child, representing his manifestation to the gentiles. This is indeed a key focus of the Mass’ texts. However, the Roman liturgy for the Epiphany also commemorates Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan, and the Wedding at Cana.1

Eastern liturgies share the focus on these other two manifestations to an even greater degree, and they are all deeply rooted in the history of the feast. For example, Dom Prosper Guéranger tells us that, in pagan Rome, the sixth of January “was devoted to the celebration of a triple triumph of Augustus, the founder of the Roman Empire” – and that the Church wished to substitute a triple triumph of Christ in its place.2

In each of the three mentioned events, the Lord manifests his glory. This glory is manifested in the adoration of the Magi; in the testimony of God the Father at the River Jordan; and in the changing of water into wine. St. John himself says of the wedding of Cana, “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” (John 2.11) 

But the liturgical texts of the feast suggest that the Church is using these manifestations to point to something else – something in which Christ’s real and full glory is definitively revealed. 

This leads us to the same question we have been considering throughout: what exactly are we commemorating and celebrating in these feasts?  

It has been suggested that in later Roman and Byzantine times, the phrase “epiphany of the Lord” referred specifically to the visit of the Roman Emperor to the cities and provinces of the Empire – accompanied by festivities, ceremonies, and the granting of honors to his subjects.3

The liturgical writer Johannes Pinsk sees it as striking that the primitive Church could have had such confidence and pretensions to universal domination that she could use this word in reference to Christ’s manifestation.  

Perhaps it is in this light that we can make sense of what the Church presents to us in her liturgy. 

The liturgical texts

The Introit of the Mass declares: 

Behold, the Lord and Ruler is come; and the kingdom is in His hand, and power, and dominion.4

Certainly, Christ’s glory is truly manifested in his humility as a child, but texts such as this suggest that the Church is thinking of more than just his historical manifestation to the Magi.  

Similarly, the reading from the Mass, taken from the Prophet Isaias, is clearly applied not just to Jerusalem, nor to the coming of the Magi, but also to the Church: 

Rise up in splendor, O Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears His glory. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.

Pinsk suggests that the language of this Epistle points to a number of political concepts, and casts the Epiphany as a feast of the social kingship of Christ.5

The Mass texts are suffused with the language of light – not just of the Star guiding the Magi, but the light of Christ enlightening the world. For example, the Gradual reads: 

Rise up in splendor, O Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord shines upon you.

The Preface reads: 

[W]hen Thine only begotten Son showed Himself in the substance of our mortal nature, He restored us by the new light of His own immortality.

All this suggests, as I said, that the feast is celebrating something more permanent than just Christ’s historical manifestation to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi – and indeed something more than any individual manifestation of his glory.  

In other words, the present celebration of past events is a witness to the future reality – and indeed, makes that future reality present to us now. In each of these three manifestations, we see that for which we longed in Advent – the second coming of Christ.  

The Bridegroom and the Bride, and the Eternal Marriage Feast 

Unlike the visit of an earthly emperor, the Epiphany and Parousia of Christ are not passing occurrences – they are a permanent, eternal reality, representing Christ’s definitive taking of the Church to himself as his Bride. This is expressed in the Benedictus Antiphon for Epiphany:

This day is the Church joined unto the Heavenly Bridegroom, since Christ hath washed away her sins in Jordan; the wise men hasten with gifts to the marriage supper of the King; and they that sit at meat together make merry with water turned into wine. Alleluia.

The historical events in the Epiphany liturgy point beyond themselves and take on new meanings in light of the marriage between Christ and his Church. In this light, they point to the fulfilment of Advent in the definitive coming of Christ in glory.  

This sense of permanence continues in the Sundays following Epiphany, which are filled with the overflowing of “the whole radiant glory of the festal Mass,” representing a world made new in Christ and in submission to his kingship. Far from being a period of “ordinary time,” each of these Sundays presents us with a vision of eternal, universal praise being rendered to God, by a Creation which has been made new in Christ. 

If Epiphany itself represents the definitive manifestation of Christ in glory, then these Sundays represent the eternal consummation of the marriage feast of the Lamb. The sharp break between this vision and that of Septuagesima is one reason why some writers see the latter as the beginning of the liturgical year.  

In this coherent cycle, the Church takes us to the coming of the Lord in humility and weakness, and points us through it to the glorious and eternal wedding feast of the Lamb. Far from being a mere tail-end to Christmas, the Epiphany is the crowning of the whole Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle, representing the manifestation of Christ in the world and – according to some – the culminating point of the liturgical year.7


The Church does not only use her celebration of historical events to point to future realities. She makes these mysteries present to us now, today, at each celebration.  

As the Introit recalls the triumphal entry of our Divine Emperor, the priest mounts the steps of the altar to offer sacrifice. As the Offertory sings of Kings offering their gifts, at that very moment, we too are uniting our sacrifices and prayers to Christ.  

As we saw in previous considerations of the Advent-Christmas cycle, the Church herself represents Christ in the world today – and she already possesses the glory promised in the Epiphany.  

For this reason, Pinsk says, even “in days of unrest such as the ones we are living in,” we celebrate the Epiphany of our King – and “no earthly power can frighten or intimidate [the Church], because she is certain of the final triumph of her Christ.” 

Shocking though it may sound, this Church is in fact you, me, and all of us who are baptized, profess the faith and remain united to the body. In this celebration, we take possession now of the glory which Christ wills for us as members of his body, and thus continue his mission on earth.  

In this glory, we are assured of the triumph, and are merely “cleaning up” the remaining skirmishes of the war. The Church uses the liturgy of this Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle to form us into a force worthy of our King, standing ready for him at his final coming, in which he will “conquer the whole world and all [his] enemies, and [thus] enter into the glory of [his] Father.”8

As we all know, the final, decisive victory is to be won at any moment – a victory which Christ wishes to win with us. It is this final, decisive victory that is commemorated in the Epiphany, in which the Son of God will put all his enemies under his feet, wipe away every tear from our eyes, and make all things new for the greater glory of God. 


1For instance, the first two responsories at Matins refer to Christ’s Baptism, and the Benedictus and Magnifcat Antiphons designate the Baptism of the Lord and the Wedding at Cana as the objects of this feast.

2Dom Prosper Guéranger, The Liturgical Year Vol. III, ‘Christmas – Book II’, trans. Dom Laurence Shepherd, OSB., St Bonaventure Publications, 2000, p 108.

3This essay draws on the observations of Fr Johannes Pinsk (1891-1957). Fr Pinsk was involved with the twentieth century liturgical movement in ways that many readers would consider regrettable. However, his 1933 essay ‘The Coming of the Lord in the Liturgy’ has a wealth of interesting information about Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, which I would like to share. It also contains some things which traditional Catholics might not appreciate. My purpose here is to present what is good, along with some comments, and so to help us pass a profitable Christmastide. Johannes Pinsk, ‘The Coming of the Lord in the Liturgy’, from Liturgische Zeitschrift Jahrgang, 1932-33 and reproduced in the Bulletin Paroissial Liturgique n. 1, 1938. This version is a DeepL translation from the Spanish version reproduced in El Que Vuelve, Vortice, Buenos Aires 2018. Due to the difficulty of locating a physical copy of this text and giving correct page numbers, I will not clutter the text with references to it – all unreferenced texts from Pinsk come from this article.

4All liturgical texts are taken from Divinum Officium.

5Johannes Pinsk, The Cycle of Christ, trans. Arthur Gibson, Desclee Company, New York, 1966, p 214

6Pinsk 1. The various propers in the Sundays after Epiphany depict a renewed creation worshiping God. For example, consider the Introits, which all allude to the victory of universal praise offered to God: First Sunday (transferred to the following Monday): “Upon a high throne I saw a man sitting, Whom a multitude of angels adore, singing in unison: Behold Him, the name of Whose empire is forever. V. Sing joyfully to God, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness.” Second Sunday: “Let all on earth worship You, O God, and sing praise to You, sing praise to Your name, Most High. V. Shout joyfully to God, all you on earth, sing praise to the glory of His name; proclaim His glorious praise.” Third to Sixth Sundays: “Adore God, all you His angels: Sion hears and is glad, and the cities of Juda rejoice. V. The Lord is King; let the earth rejoice; let the many isles be glad.”

7Consider, for example, the explanation given below from Fr Louis Bouyer. Bouyer was a controversial figure in the liturgical movement and post-conciliar period, but the explanation seems to make sense of the different factors we have been considering in this series. Both he and Pinsk suggest that Septuagesima represents the start of the annual cycle. They point to the abrupt change in tone between Epiphanytide and Septuagesima, especially in contrast with the smooth continuity between the end of the time after Pentecost and the start of Advent; as well as the content of the Septuagesima liturgy, in which the Church begins reading the book of Genesis at Matins. In terms of the actual ordering of our liturgical books, Bouyer writes: “… the older liturgical books did not distinguish, as we do, between the ‘temporal’ and ‘sanctoral’ cycles. These books simply took all the months as they came on the civil calendar, beginning with January, and put in each one the various feasts as they were assigned to special days, or as they generally fell on some one or other day of each month. When this arrangement was discarded for a more coherent one, it must have appeared illogical to begin the year with Epiphany and end with Christmas, or, since the connection between Advent and Christmas was felt to be so strong, to begin with Christmas and leave Advent for the end. It seems, therefore, that the present arrangement of our books is a compromise between the fact that the civil calendar begins with January, and the fact that Advent, Christmas and Epiphany form a whole season. This arrangement, then, is probably no more than an attempt to keep as close as possible to the civil year in ordering the Temporal cycle of the liturgical year, while at the same time, avoiding the separation of feasts that are intimately connected.” Louis Bouyer, Liturgical Piety, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1955, p 205 ft. 1

8St Ignatius, Spiritual Exercises, trans. Louis J. Puhl SJ, The Newman Press, Worthington, Ohio, 1951, n. 093