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Why has the Feast of the Epiphany been downgraded?

I am a long-retired secondary teacher with a strong interest in the state of the Church, particularly in Ireland. I regularly follow the entries in your site and was deeply pained by cruel comments on homosexuals in recent days.
However, my reason for sending this email is the shock, anger and shame I felt at the disrespect shown to the feast of the Epiphany in various ways this week. So many schools, primary and secondary, reopening on that day – and, I was told, pupils given homework to do that evening, as if to prevent them from attending Mass, should it be available. What a contrast to so many countries where the coming of the Magi is still celebrated as a major event in the Christian calendar! Who, I wonder, authorised this departure from a cherished tradition? and what message are our children taking from it?
As I was unwell that day and feared I would not get to Mass I scanned the TV and radio programmes in search of a Mass or service, but found nothing.
An Irishwoman living in England phoned ‘Liveline’ during the week in relation to the army chaplain’s remark about our president’s Christmas message (about which I’ll say no more for fear of exploding). The lady said, “The Irish people have lost their backbone”. I heartily agree: many people have expressed these feelings to me but taken no action. I ask you please to deal with it on your website. Quote me if you wish, as one of the plain Catholics of Ireland, grieved at the direction our country appears to be taking under the present regime.
God bless the work!
Sheila Mulcahy

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  1. Shaun the Sheep says:

    I read a good blog post about this very issue earlier. Long but worth reading. It would support the idea that the re-ordering of the liturgical calender as part of the Pauline reforms played no small part in the downgrading and even forgetting of our rich Catholic heritage. See here: http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2014/01/epiphany-and-unordinariness-of.html

    A little extract to whet your appetite:

    One of the saddest and most deleterious effects of the changes in the structure and content of the Liturgical Calendar in the post-Conciliar reform is the lack of understanding of the sanctification of time by the feasts and fasts of the Church. The introduction, at least in English, of the term, “ordinary time”, contradicts the fact that after the Incarnation there is no “ordinary” time. There is only the extraordinary time that has been brought into being by the insertion of the dagger of the Incarnation into ordinary time. Now we know that the term “ordinary time” is a poor translation of the Latin term for “in course”. But even this does not take away from the fact of the impoverishment of the Liturgical Calendar that has been effected by taking away the Sundays after the Epiphany and the Sundays after Pentecost. The traditional way of naming these Sundays understood that these two feasts, Epiphany and Pentecost, are the climaxes of the Christmas and Easter seasons, the seasons that celebrate the event and meaning of, respectively, the Birth, and the Death and Resurrection of Christ, and therefore these feasts become the touchstone, the source of reality of the Sundays of the Church Year.

  2. Brendan Butler says:

    Sheila, well said. The celebration of the birth of Jesus on the Epiphany is more appropriate to us ‘gentiles’. As well it would help to eliminate the overwhelming commercialisation of our present Christmas. However, it brings up the issues of whether the Magi ever existed and the real birthplace of Jesus.
    Fr. Jose Pagola – no radical exegesist- in his book ‘Jesus, an historical approximatiom’ writes (page 55):
    ‘Jesus was probably born in Nazareth. Only the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke speak of his birth in Bethlehem, surely for theological reasons as the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Micah. All the other sources say he came from Nazareth and was called Jesus the Nazarene or Jesus of Nazareth ‘.
    However for me I begin the life of Jesus from Mark who begins it from the factual Baptism of jesus in the Jordan and whether the Magi existed or not is not the issue – it is a dramatic popular tradition which has an inner meaning for all of us.

  3. Peter Clifton says:

    Sheila –
    (1) On the question of the Epiphany, I entirely agree . Here in England and Wales, things are as bad. Three holy days have been transferred invariably to Sunday (Epiphany, Ascension, Corpus Christi), and three others (SS Peter and Paul, Assumption, All Saints) are celebrated on Sunday when the relevant date falls on a Saturday or Monday. All this amounts to the removal of something very special from Catholic life and culture: remember the crowded city churches at midday Mass on the old holy days? The transfer of Ascension is particularly sad, bringing with it the failure to reflect in the liturgical calendar the period of 40 days from Easter.
    (2) On the President’s message, the omission of any Christian reference is almost incomprehensible.
    Queen Elizabeth usually includes a specific reference to the Incarnation, and manages to do so in a way which is inoffensive to those of non-Christian, or of no, religious belief.

  4. Shaun the Sheep says:

    Brendan, excuse me but if the Magi never existed and Jesus was not born in Bethlehem, then why bother? Jesus was born in Bethlehem and then grew up in Nazareth. Why do people try to destroy faith by saying this or that never happened? If it never happened, then we are wasting our time. ”And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.” (1. Cor. 15:14)

  5. Joe O'Leary says:

    “Jesus was born in Bethlehem and then grew up in Nazareth” — not impossible, but the scholars think Nazareth more likely — note that in Matthew Jesus’s family move to Nazareth for the first time after his birth (Mt 2`22-3), whereas Luke locates the Annunciation and the betrothal of Mary to Joseph in Nazareth before his birth (Lk 1:26-7). As to the Magi, it is impossible to reconcile them with the Lukan story of the Presentation (40 days after the birth of Jesus), after which Mary and Joseph return immediately to Galilee (Lk 2:39).

  6. Here, someone went to the crib with something written on a piece of paper.
    “Dear Mother Mary and loving Joseph. I am not able as these wise kings have done, to bring gifts like gold, frankicense and myrrh. I just have a heart quite empty, perhaps of things that dont’ matter anyway, though indeed quite empty.
    Empty except of a what I believe to be a wise desire to love your child Jesus laying here and asking he be born in all our hearts whom He alone can truly fill.
    That you dear Mother Mary, might ask Jesus when He is willing and able, maybe known as true King – to gift us in this New Year of 2014 and the years ahead with profound faith, undying hope and great love. Thank you. Thank you Mary and Joseph.”
    The ‘backbone’ might be gone, Sheila. But sounded like maybe the heart is not wholly dead yet. 🙂

  7. My thanks to those who responded to my email. Kevin’s was truly touching. Historical/geographical facts matter less to me than the powerful symbolism of the narrative. Has anyone proved that the Epiphany did NOT happen? T.S.Eliot’s ‘Journey of the Magi’ is the perfect postscript to the Gospel story.

  8. Treasa Healy says:

    Sheila, I have memories of the Vatican de-listing the 6th Jan. from the Feastday calendar, and the outcry from the much aggrieved Eastern Catholics was sufficient to have it restored immediately.
    Another ‘excuse’ or perhaps practical fact is the problems of these Holy Day holidays and working parents. Their association complained because children in the same family were attending Primary, Secondary and Community Colleges and the chaos was terrible….some children at home – constant driving and maybe expense with childcare where both parents at work or single parent families.
    At that time each school compiled its own calendar – days teaching and holiday periods and they did not consult one another even in the same parish!
    Then along comes Minister Dempsey and unified the entire situation. Now some complain they can’t get the early summer bargain holiday prices! Neither was the evening Mass over subscribed by those for whom it was meant – and its got less, and less,while priests are fewer to say them. In my parish we have 1.5 priests.. who said 5 masses this Christmas in the two churches!
    However, I agree we have lost out on the wonder of both the Ephiphany and the Ascension. both fundamental to the completion of the Salvation Story… yes Sheila, something very sad has occurred, but I still believe that the God Lord allows these things to happen, at some stage Grace will break through… fewer numbers, but maybe truer.

  9. Kathleen Faley says:

    Sheila, I agree with you about the downgrading of what should be important Church holidays. One particular reason, whether it is right or not that comes to my mind is that in a more industrialised and technological society businesses did not want to have Catholic workers taking time off for Mass attendance during weekdays and so particular Church Holidays such as Epiphany, Ascension Thursday and Corpus Christi which was also on a Thursday were transferred to Sunday instead. The Holy Week Tridium of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Saturday has also come in for some criticism in recent years especially Good Friday. One thing that bothers me about Holy Thursday is that it is not celebrated as a more official Church holiday considering its importance in regard to the deep connection between the Passover, Last Supper, the Institution of the Holy Eucharist by Jesus and the Mass we celebrate on Sundays and weekdays.
    Another thing you mentioned is in regard to the message that is being communicated to children in regard to such downgrading of what were regarded as important feastdays in the Church Calendar. Each year as preparation for Confirmation children will be invited to choose a particular Saint to adopt their name on the child’s Confirmation Day. I have read why children have chosen such and such a Saint’s name which should have a lasting legacy for that child long after their Confirmation Day Ceremony is over. Many of the Saints chosen are well known with Feastdays in the daily Church Calendar. This is a good opportunity for encouraging the child/teenager to continue to maintain interest in that particular saint that they have chosen and observe the commemoration of that Saint’s feastday.

  10. Bob Hayes says:

    This downgrading is a regrettable example of the Church trying to conform the Faith to society, rather than boldly preaching the Good News and drawing society to Holy Mother Church.

  11. Kathleen Faley says:

    Bob @ 10,your comment sums up clearly the same thought that I felt for some years. The installation of CCTV cameras both outside and inside Churches to prevent thievery from shrines in various parts of the Church is an invasion of privacy of parishioners who wish to go there to pray in peace, quietness and privacy away from the madding crowd in society outside the Church doors. Sometimes those who thieve the shrines are from outside the parish so that their invasive actions adds to the sense of the invasion of privacy of the parishioners when CCTV cameras are installed.
    There was a time when the Church and its grounds was a place of refuge and sanctuary for the hunted and the haunted-now that is not guaranteed anymore with video cameras continually taping who enters the Church, what she/her or they do or do not do there and when and how they leave the Church building and grounds-by which door etc. CCTV cameras are not just a deterrant to the would-be thieves who would want to thieve the shrines but they are also a deterrant to parishioners and indeed visitors who do not wish to be spied on during their visits to Church. The Gospel of Matthew Chapter6:19-21 states the following:
    “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
    Money and the safeguarding of it should not be a major pre-occupation for priests in parishes whether in urban or rural areas in the way it has become so in recent years.

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