Thursday, January 06, 2005

In festo Ephiphaniae Domini

This has been the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord for most of two thousand years and still is in the traditional Roman Rite. When I was a boy it was known as Little Christmas and Women's Christmas. I was told that these titles were from the Irish tradition but the Irish relatives don't seem to have heard of it. So I don't know where they came from. If I knew where I left it, I'd look it up in Kevin Danaher's The Year in Ireland.

Today's feast is principally known as the day which commemorates the visit of the three magi to the new-born Christ Child. This is the aspect the old Lauds hymn commemorates:

O Sola Magnarum Urbium

How great soe'er earth's cities be,
None, Bethlehem, can equal thee;
Salvation's King from heaven's dread throne,
Was born in flesh in thee alone.

A star, whose fairness and whose light
Exceeds the sun's own radiance bright,
Hath come, to all the lands to tell
That God in flesh on earth doth dwell.

Right soon the Magi see his face,
And eastern gifts before him place,
And bending low, their prayer unfold
With incense myrrh, and royal gold.

The fragrant incense which they bring
Shews him as God; and gold as King;
The bitter spicy dust of myrrh
Foreshadows his new sepulchre.

All glory, Jesu, be to Thee,
For this Thy glad Epiphany;
Whom with the Father we adore,
And Holy Ghost, for evermore. Amen.

The feast is actually a commemoration of three separate events in the life of Our Lord: the visit of the Magi, the Baptism in the Jordan, and the wedding feast at Cana. The Vespers hymn gets them all in, with even an allusion to the blood-thirsty Herod:

Hostis Herodes Impie

Why, impious Herod, vainly fear
That Christ the Saviour cometh here?
He takes not earthly realms away
Who gives the crown that lasts for aye.

To greet His birth the Wise Men went,
Led by the star before them sent;
Called on by light, towards Light they pressed,
And by their gifts their God confessed.

In holy Jordan's purest wave
The heavenly Lamb vouchsafed to lave;
That He to Whom was sin unknown,
Might cleanse His people from their own.

New miracle of Power Divine!
The water reddens into wine;
He spake the word, and poured the wave
In other streams than nature gave.

All glory, Jesu, be to Thee
For this Thy glad Epiphany;
Whom with the Father we adore,
And Holy Ghost, for evermore. Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home