Sunday, January 5, 2014
What is Epiphanytide?

Of all the seasons that the modern Catholic Calendar has neglected to properly retain and celebrate, Epiphanytide has, like Ascensiontide, fallen by the wayside.  But, for those Catholics committed to the Sacred Traditions of the past, Epiphanytide holds a special length of time.  Instead of having Christmastide turn into some oddly name "Ordinary Time" (after all did anyone even really understand its purpose or its oddly split up parts through the year), traditional Catholics will celebrate Christmastide, Epiphanytide, Septuagesima, and then finally begin the penance of Lent.

So what exactly is Epiphanytide and what customs do traditional Catholics observe during this time?

Octave of the Epiphany

While the Novus Ordo calendar unfortunately only has 2 octaves, traditional Catholics will be familiar with the idea of multiple overlapping Octaves.  The practice of celebrating an Octave, while not only traced to the time spent by the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary awaiting the Paraclete, also has its origins in the Old Testament eight-day celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:36) and the Dedication of the Temple (2 Chronicles 7:9). Very truly, Christ did not come to abolish the Old Law but to fulfill it.

By the 8th century, Rome had developed liturgical octaves not only for Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas but also for the Epiphany and the feast of the dedication of a church.

After 1568, when Pope Pius V reduced the number of octaves (since by then they had grown considerably), the number of Octaves was still plentiful.  Octaves were classified into several types. Easter and Pentecost had "specially privileged" octaves, during which no other feast whatsoever could be celebrated. Christmas, Epiphany, and Corpus Christi had "privileged" octaves, during which certain highly ranked feasts might be celebrated. The octaves of other feasts allowed even more feasts to be celebrated.

To reduce the repetition of the same liturgy for several days, Pope Leo XIII and Pope St. Pius X made further distinctions, classifying octaves into three primary types: privileged octaves, common octaves, and simple octaves. The changes under St. Pius X did not really change the practice of any of the Octaves, except for Simple Octaves - it just changed the category labels as Restore the '54 explains.

Privileged octaves were arranged in a hierarchy of first, second, and third orders. For the first half of the 20th century, octaves were ranked in the following manner, which affected holding other celebrations within their time frames:
  • Privileged Octaves
    • Privileged Octaves of the First Order
      • Octave of Easter
      • Octave of Pentecost
    • Privileged Octaves of the Second Order
      • Octave of Epiphany
      • Octave of Corpus Christi
    • Privileged Octaves of the Third Order
      • Octave of Christmas
      • Octave of the Ascension
      • Octave of the Sacred Heart
  • Common Octaves
    • Octave of the Immaculate Conception of the BVM
    • Octave of the Solemnity of St. Joseph
    • Octave of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
    • Octave of Saints Peter and Paul
    • Octave of All Saints
    • Octave of the Assumption of the BVM
  • Simple Octaves
    • Octave of St. Stephen
    • Octave of St. John the Apostle
    • Octave of the Holy Innocents
As one can notice, the Octave of the Epiphany ranked even higher than the Octave of Christmas! Dom Gueranger explains:

"A solemnity of such importance as the Epiphany could not be without an Octave. The only Octaves during the year that are superior to this of the Epiphany, are those of Easter and Pentecost. It has a privilege which the Octave of Christmas has not; for no Feast can be kept during the Octave of the Epiphany, unless it be that of a principal Patron; whereas Feasts of double and semi-double rite are admitted during the Christmas Octave. It would even seem, judging from the ancient Sacramentaries, that anciently the two days immediately following the Epiphany were Days of Obligation, as were the Monday and Tuesday of Easter and [Monday and Tuesday of] Whitsuntide. The names of the Stational Churches are given, where the Clergy and Faithful of Rome assembled on these two days." 

These days had to be before the Decretals of Gregory IX in 1234 as the two days following Epiphany are not mentioned in his catalog of holy days of obligation.

Season of Epiphanytide

The Sunday within that Octave was up until the reforms of 1955, the feast of the Holy Family, and Christmastide was reckoned as the twelve days ending on 5 January, followed by Epiphany time, 6-13 January. The following Sundays, until Septuagesima, were named as the "First (etc.) Sunday after Epiphany". Interestingly, before the changes in 1911, the Second Sunday of Epiphany was kept as the Feast of the Holy Name, since January 2nd, 3rd, and 4th were the Octave Days of the Comites and January 5th was the Vigil of the Epiphany.

The 1969 destruction in the General Roman Calendar defined Christmastide instead as extending from the Vigil Mass of Christmas on the evening of 24 December to the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (generally the Sunday after 6 January).

While sometimes performed (but often neglected in the Novus Ordo), the Feast of the Epiphany is a time for the blessing of one's home using blessed Chalk and holy water.  This tradition has a beautiful ritual in the Rituale Romanum and is described in my post: Blessing of Epiphany Chalk.

Because the date of Easter changes each year, two seasons of the Calendar have variable lengths in order to balance (after all there can not be more than 52 weeks in the year). The Season of Time After Pentecost can have as few as 23 Sundays or as many as 28 Sundays depending on the date of Easter. This season of Epiphanytide can have anywhere from 4 to 38 days, depending on the date of Easter. If this season is short, then Time after Pentecost will be longer; and if this season is long, Time after Pentecost will be shorter.  Makes sense, right?

But the spiritual focus of the season up through Candlemas is essentially a continuation of Christmas and contemplation of the Divine Childhood. After Candlemas (February 2nd), the celebration of events of His young life gives way to a focus on His adult life.

Candlemas (The Feast of the Purification of our Lady) is another day in which the Novus Ordo calendar greatly overlooks in importance.  The Feast of Candlemas, exactly 40 days after Christmas, commemorates Mary's obedience to the Mosaic law by submitting herself to the Temple for ritual purification, as commanded in Leviticus.

The Feast of the Purification is called Candlemas for the traditional blessing and distribution of candles on that day.  It is customary to bring candles from home to be blessed -- at least 51% beeswax candles that one uses for devotional purposes (candles for the family altar, Advent candles, etc.) -- so they can be lit after dusk on All Saints' Day (1 November), during the Sacrament of Unction, and during storms and times of trouble.  Nowadays, though, for those few parishes continuing this ancient observance, the parish will provide the candles.

Mass on Candlemas is typically preceded by a procession with lighted candles and the singing of anthems. The lighted candles are held during the reading of the Gospel and from the beginning of the Canon of the Mass to Communion.

And this Season of Epiphanytide also usually includes several beautiful feastdays rich in traditional customs such as the Feasts of St. Agnes, and St. Blaise (on which day the faithful's throats are blessed).

Let's remember not to neglect this season and give it our due observance.  After all, those of us praying the Older Breviary will find much beauty in the hymns and antiphons during this time.

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