Today is January 6th, and although in the media this day is quickly becoming the Feast of the Great Insurrection, for Catholics January 6th has always been the magnificent Feast of the Epiphany. Yet in recent years in the United States January 6th is only the Feast of the Epiphany when it’s lucky enough to fall on a Sunday.
Even though Epiphany is one of the most ancient feasts on the Christian calendar (being celebrated at least as far back as the 2nd century—even older than Christmas!), our bishops decided that it wasn’t important enough to deserve us setting aside time during our busy weeks to celebrate it. Instead, for our convenience, they set aside Epiphany itself on this day and move it to a nearby Sunday when we can (hopefully) squeeze it into our schedules.
I understand the reasoning for this decision, even if I think it unfortunate. Our bishops recognize that many Catholics do not revolve their lives around the Church calendar and so if Epiphany were celebrated during the week, many, if not most, Catholics would simply let the day go by and not even realize it was a feast day. They would not attend Mass and the day would be completely forgotten. But if Epiphany is moved to Sunday, the thinking goes, then at least those Catholics who have Sunday Mass as part of their schedules will celebrate this important feast.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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The logic is reasonable…and completely wrong-headed.
As John Grondelski notes in a Crisis article today, the Church gives us a calendar that is not in conjunction with the secular calendar, and we would do well to conform our lives more to that liturgical calendar. Having feast days that stick out, so to speak, reminds us of the events that led to our salvation. These special days prevent us from falling into a utilitarian routine which is only based on the workweek and the demands of this world.
When important feasts like the Epiphany fall on a weekday, we are given an opportunity to escape from the mundane tasks of this world and enter into the infinite mysteries of our Faith. We allow the infinite to touch our very finite world.
In a way, the bishops trying to fit the liturgical calendar to the demands of the secular calendar remind me of the attempt during the French Revolution to change the calendar into 10-day weeks. It was touted as being in keeping with the “new man,” who revolved around work and his duties to the State. Of course it failed miserably, as man was not made for this world, but the next.
Likewise, when we prioritize the secular calendar over the liturgical calendar, we reduce man to cogs in a materialistic machine, who cannot escape the demands of the five-day work week, even to celebrate one of the most important feasts of the year.
Moving Epiphany to the nearest Sunday, while it may have been done with the best of intentions, sends the wrong message to Catholics. It tells us that secular demands—work, school, etc.—are more important than the demands of our Faith. It tells us that we should not re-order our lives to the Faith, but instead just fit it in where convenient. Sadly, we see that too many Catholics today have taken this cue from the bishops and do exactly that.
If we want to see a revitalization of the Catholic Faith in our time, we need to put the Catholic Faith first in our lives. One small way to do that would be to move Epiphany back to January 6th, where it belongs.