The feast of the Epiphany is January 6th, twelve days after Christmas. It officially ends the “twelve days of Christmas” from which we get that carol “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…”. In the Western churches (including the Episcopal Church), Epiphany celebrates the arrival of the Wise Men from the East to the Christ child in Bethlehem.
Epiphany means "manifestation" or "revelation" or "appearing". It makes sense that Epiphany season comes right after Christmas. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus; Epiphany is about the spread of the good news to the wider world.
For the Eastern Churches, this celebration mixes together both the visitation of the Wise Men and the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. Both of these are events that manifest the divinity of Christ to the wider world. In the Eastern Churches, Epiphany is called “Theophany”, which means basically the “shining-forth” of God.
The Blessing of Houses at Epiphany
One Epiphany tradition which we observe at St. Andrew's is the Blessing of Chalk. Pieces of chalk are blessed by the priest at the end of mass on the feast of Epiphany, and the faithful then take home the chalk to mark a blessing over the doors of their houses. The note that is handed out says:
It has been a tradition in the Church to bless chalk at the Masses for Epiphany, and then use the blessed chalk as part of blessing one’s home in the New Year.
The home blessing can be done as follows:
Use the blessed chalk to write:
above the doorways: 2018 for the year; C, M, B for the 3 Magi – Casper, Melchior, and Balthasar – and for Christus Mansionem Benedicat, Latin for “May Christ Bless this House.”
As you are writing, pray one of the following prayers:
May all who come to our home this year rejoice to find Christ living among us; and may we seek and serve, in everyone we meet, that same Jesus who is Lord, forever and ever. Amen.
Lord God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only-begotten Son to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who inhabit it. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our concern for others may reflect your love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Lord our God, bless this household. May we be blessed with health, goodness of heart, gentleness, and the keeping of your law. We give thanks to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.
The Feast of the Epiphany centers on the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem. In the Christmas story that St. Matthew tells us, wise men from the East study the stars and the prophecies, and detect the birth of the Savior. They travel to Bethlehem to pay homage to Jesus Christ, and they bring with them gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh.
The Gospel account doesn't say that there are three magi, nor that they are kings. Over the years, our Christian ancestors described them as three kings named Balthesar, Melchior, and Caspar (although in different cultures they have different names!)
Read the story of the Magi in the gospel of Matthew 2:1-12.
The painting at the top of the page is James Tissot's "Journey of the Magi".
The Epiphany Proclamation
Another Epiphany tradition is the Solemn Proclamation which is read at the Eucharists on Epiphany. Easter is on a different Sunday each year, depending on the date of the spring equinox and the full moon following it. Many important church commemorations depend on the date of Easter, like Ash Wednesday and Pentecost. In a time before printed calendars and the Internet, Epiphany was the day to proclaim, basically, the dates of that year's important feasts and holy days. This year's (2017) Epiphany proclamation is:
Dear brothers and sisters,
the glory of the Lord has shone upon us,
and shall ever be manifest among us,
until the day of his return.
Through the rhythms of times and seasons
let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation.
Let us look to the year's culmination,
the Easter Triduum of the Lord:
his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial,
and his rising will be celebrated
between the evening of the 13th day of April
and the evening of the 15th day of April,
Easter Sunday being on the 16th day of April.
Each Easter -- as on each Sunday --
the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed
by which Christ has for ever conquered sin and death.
From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy.
Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent,
will occur on the First day of March.
The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on
Thursday, the 25th day of May.
Pentecost, joyful conclusion of the season of Easter,
will be celebrated on the 4th day of June.
And, this year the First Sunday of Advent will be
on the 3rd day of December.
Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the passover of Christ
in the feasts of the holy Mother of God,
in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints,
and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.
To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come,
Lord of time and history,
be endless praise, for ever and ever.