Holy Family and Epiphany


Christians have traditionally celebrated Christmas not just on one day of the year but as a season, from 25th December until the Epiphany on 6th January. Our current liturgical calendar extends the celebration until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Monday 8th January in 2007).
This Sunday (31st December) we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. The Holy Family, of course, refers to Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
The Son of God and his family experienced all human conditions, including being subjected to the rulers of this world and the perils of human existence. An emperor’s edict compelled Mary and Joseph to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem; a king’s cruelty forced the family to flee into Egypt; fear of Herod’s successor made them move from Judaea and settle in Galilee.
As we hear in today’s reading from Luke’s gospel, Mary and Joseph experienced the anguish of their son’s disappearance for three days in a strange and bustling city. Through these difficult and stressful times, the Holy Family placed themselves in God’s hands and followed where God called them to go.
The feast of the Holy Family emphasises the humanity of Jesus Christ: ‘The Word became flesh and lived among us’ (Jn 1: 14). In Jesus we see a God who stands in solidarity with us all. Many people in today’s world endure similar trials and anxieties as those experienced by the Holy Family.
The prayers of the feast ask God to ‘help us to live as the holy family, united in respect and love’, to ‘live as Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in peace with you and one another’. No special Preface is provided for the celebration and one is chosen from the three prefaces for Christmas.
Next Sunday (7th January) we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. The word epiphany comes from the Greek and means "manifestation" or "revelation".
The feast of the Epiphany originated in the 3rd century in the East where it was celebrated on January 6 in honour of Christ's baptism. The Epiphany began to appear in the calendar of the Western Church in the 4th century but with a different focus. Instead of being a celebration of Christ's baptism, it became associated with the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles in the person of the Magi.

Our liturgies for Epiphany should hold together all three aspects of Christ's revelation – the visit of the Magi, Christ’s baptism (especially this year when the feast of the Baptism falls on a Monday and will not be celebrated separately by most Catholics) and the miracle at Cana (although next Sunday's gospel is the story of the wedding feast at Cana).

This antiphon from Morning Prayer for Epiphany does just that:"Today the bridegroom claims his bride, the church, since Christ has washed her sins away in Jordan's waters; the Magi hasten with the gifts to the royal wedding; and the wedding guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia".

The meaning of the Epiphany becomes clearer if we look out for links between today's gospel and Easter. For example, there is an exchange between King Herod and the Jewish leaders as also happens at the trial of Jesus; Jesus is manifested to the Gentile Magi and it is a Gentile (the centurion) who recognises Jesus as the Son of God on the cross. These parallels serve to remind us that all our liturgies have the one "theme", the Paschal Mystery’, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.


Elizabeth Harrington