Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Epiphany is the Eschaton

(Marten de Vos)
Today's Lauds includes the following antiphon surrounding the Canticle of Zachary:
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 eschatological language is clear, especially as the "marriage supper" references the book of the Apocalypse. During Advent, prophetic allusions to the Second Coming are numerous in the Breviary and in Mass readings. Now is the the climax of Christmastide, when the Second Coming mystically occurs, as symbolized in the Gifts of the Magi (the Gentiles entering into the Church; cf. Apoc. xxi.14), the Baptism in the Jordan (cf. the river of the waters of life in Apoc. xxii.1), and the Miracle at Cana (cf. the marriage supper of the Lamb in Apoc. xix.7).

St. Paul uses the Greek word epiphaneia repeatedly to refer to the future Coming of Christ. Epiphany means appearance or manifestation, and every year we celebrate anagogically the Second Coming with the Octave of Epiphany.

(Ottheinrich Bible)
All of this puts a rather terrifying spin on the three events celebrated in this octave, for they all have dark twins in the Apocalypse. For instance, the turning of water into wine at Cana has an inverse symbol with the "winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God" in Apoc. xix. The Gentiles bringing gifts to God have an opposite when "all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of [the harlot's] fornication" in Apoc. xviii. The blessing of the waters at the Baptism turn to condemnation when the waters are turned to wormwood (Apoc. viii) and into blood (Apoc. xi).

As another point of minor interest, the Catholic Encyclopedia notes that, according to P. Gelasius, traditionally the dedication of virgins occurred on the feast of Epiphany. One cannot help but think of the eschatological parable of the wise and foolish virgins from Matthew's Gospel (ch. xxv).

Nevertheless, the tone of Epiphany is one of mercy and peace rather than wrath. The God-Man has been made manifest to the world in all his brightness. As another antiphon reads, "The Lord our Savior, begotten before the day-star, and before the ages, is this day made manifest in the world." Or as Leo the Great once preached,
For as justice was everywhere failing and the whole world was given over to vanity and wickedness, if the Divine Power had not deferred its judgment, the whole of mankind would have received the sentence of damnation. But wrath was changed to forgiveness, and, that the greatness of the Grace to be displayed might be the more conspicuous, it pleased God, to apply the mystery of remission to the abolishing of men's sins at a time when no one could boast of his own merits. (Sermon 33, On the Feast of the Epiphany)

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