This is a continuation of the another thread that I think had enough points in it already. This is also is meant to widen the discussion that’s already going on in some other threads.
I spent about an hour last night trying to figure out when Epiphany is. I googled it and found several different answers. Traditionally it was always January 6. Then I found some parishes have it on the Sunday nearest it, while others have it still on January 6.
I know the current answer in practice is that it’s up to the local bishop to determine when Epiphany is. Fair enough.
But my question is twofold. One, isn’t this confusing to the faithful? Just on this forum alone several people have said they’re confused. I’m confused about it too.
My other point is more basic. Does it matter when we celebrate our Holy Days? When he was still known as Cardinal Ratzinger, His Holiness Benedict XVI wrote in The Spirit of the Liturgy that time, space and matter are “bursting forth” with their holiness in preparation for the coming New Jerusalem. He says that the time, orientation, space, art and music all represent the purified Kingdom that’s already coming since the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus. If as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that time, space and matter in our liturgy represent what’s pure and holy, then how can we have two different dates for the Epiphany? Looking at the US Bishops’ web site, they list the Epiphany as a moveable feast that’s always on a Sunday. But the local parish here that uses the TLM Mass, thank God, still has it on January 6, twelve days after Christmas, as it’s been for over 1,200 years at least. If Cardinal Ratzinger’s idea is correct, and I believe that it is, then these things really do matter. It’s not just a matter of tradition or continuity. It’s a matter of the correct understanding of the Incarnation itself. You’d have to read his whole book to fully understand this, but it seems to be an idea that our ancestors in faith understood, but that we have lost.
Another point that others brought up is of January 1 is a Holy Day or not? Again, the practical answer is that it’s up to the local Bishop. Again, fair enough. But isn’t that confusing for the faithful? Did we have uniformity on this before Vatican II? Were the Bishops free to decide for themselves, but still had consensus as to when the Holy Days were? My guess is so.
Another related point is what day is January 1? When I grew up it was the Feast of the Circumcision, as it’s been since the days of the early Church. At Mass tonight (see other thread), the priest tonight said that since Vatican II the Church moved the Feast of the Virgin Mary from October to January 1 to put the Virgin Mary at the beginning of the year. Again, fair enough. But what happened to the Feast of the Circumcision? Doesn’t it matter anymore? If it was valuable for the faithful for almost two thousand years, what caused it to lose its meaning? Another point is that January 1 is not the beginning of the Church year, only the secular year. I have no problem with devotion to Mary. But this new Feast seems to have no spiritual connection to the Christmas season. In some sense the Virgin has a connection to the whole year, but I just don’t see the connection to January 1. By acknowledging the secular New Year, and connecting it with the Virgin, haven’t we broken up the Christmas season into two parts, one that happens in one year and the other that happens in another year? Again, does the Church not know what day it is? Do we now have two New Years days, one based on the secular calendar and one based on the liturgical one?
As I explained in the first thread, if someone says that this isn’t a big deal, I partially agree. In practical terms it comes down to me going to a parish that uses the TLM Mass, where January 1 is still the Feast of the Circumcision. I bet they still celebrate the Feast of the Virgin Mary in October.
Besides the practical confusion all this entails, doesn’t this also entail a lack of faith, or at least a misunderstanding of the faith? We can all see why the US Bishops moved the Epiphany to a Sunday – to fill up the pews. They’re reasoning seems to be that they’d rather have the pews filled on a Sunday where they can talk about the Epiphany, rather than a half filled church on a Holy Day during the week, where less people get to hear about the Epiphany. Fair enough. But isn’t that part of the same reasoning that said if the Mass was more fun (vernacular, folk music, peace greeting, etc.) that more people would come? Isn’t this the same reasoning that has lead to the churches being half empty?
It seems that Cardinal Ratzinger is right. Time, space and matter are sacred in the liturgy. When they are tampered with recklessly, the Mass becomes less sacred. And with a less sacred Mass, people lose interest, or be begin to wander off into all sorts of less than holy directions.