Regardless of the date stamp above, it’s still Epiphany (Jan. 6) as I type this. The purpose of this post is to draw some parallels between Epiphany and Pentecost. Why? Three reasons:
a.) Hopefully to render the Church calendar a bit more intelligible. If you don’t know what the calendar is about, it’s easy to think we’re arbitrarily and superstitiously celebrating one random event after another. This way lies Protestantism and/or rationalism.
b.) Hopefully to provide some food for prayerful meditation.
c.) Perhaps goad you to share the good news of the Gospel with others. The Gospel that was first made known at Pentecost is a reiteration and reinterpretation (in light of Our Lord’s Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension) of those manifestations of Our Lord celebrated on the Feast of the Epiphany.
I’m not being original when I say that Epiphany is a sort of pre-Pentecost. Here are a few ways in which Epiphany anticipates Pentecost:
1.) They both close the preceding liturgical season. Pentecost closes Eastertide, and Epiphany closes Christmastide. A period of wearing white vestments yields to a period of wearing green vestments.
Think of it this way: Epiphany is to Christmas as Pentecost is to Easter. Christmas and Easter are the two major feasts of the Church year, celebrating Christ’s Birth and His Resurrection, which is a sort of Rebirth in Glory and certainly effects our own rebirth. Both feasts require a sort of pendant feast to close out their respective “afterglow” seasons. These parallel feasts are Epiphany and Pentecost.
2.) Pentecost is the birthday of the Church, when the Church first became public. The Apostles left the Cenacle and preached openly. They manifested to the wide world Who Christ is and interpreted the events of the Passion in light of Our Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension. Likewise, Epiphany celebrates three events when Our Lord first manifested Himself in His threefold office as King, Priest, and Prophet:
a.) He first manifested Himself as King of the Jews when the Magi greeted Him. I associate this with Christ’s role as King.
b.) He first manifested His Divine Sonship and status as Messias when St. John the Baptist baptized him in the Jordan River. I associate this with Christ’s role as Priest. St. John was of a priestly family.
c.) He first manifested His miraculous power and commenced his thaumaturgical (wonder-working) ministry when He turned water into wine at the Wedding of Cana. I associate this with Christ’s role as Prophet, since the miracle prophetically points to the Eucharist and to Christ’s mystical marriage with the Church. Some of the Old Testament prophets (e.g. Elias, Eliseus) were also itinerant wonder-workers and miraculous healers.
3.) At Pentecost, speakers of many tongues — Jewish pilgrims from all nations — understood the preaching of the Apostles. This event points to the later conversion of the Gentiles. Some of the languages mentioned in the Pentecost narrative in the Book of Acts were spoken in Mesopotamia and Persia, the homeland of the Magi. Traditionally, the three Magi are depicted as one European, one African, and one Asian to represent all the nations of the world paying homage to Christ.
4.) As mentioned above, Epiphany also honors the Baptism of Our Lord. Traditionally, Epiphany is one of the feasts at which the Church celebrates Baptism and blesses holy water. Pentecost is another feast at which the Church has traditionally celebrated Baptism and blessed holy water. It makes sense, since the Church experienced its greatest surge in membership, and hence in Baptism, right after Pentecost.
5.) The events commemorated at Epiphany and Pentecost both led to the persecution of Christ and/or Christians. The coming of the Magi prompted Herod’s massacre of the Holy Innocents, in which the Temple priesthood was complicit. The open preaching of the Gospel in Jerusalem led the Temple priesthood and other members of the ruling class to turn against the Church (after their role in the Crucifixion, the priests and scribes didn’t need much convincing). St. Stephen was martyred, and St. Peter was arrested. Fittingly, the feasts of St. Stephen and the Holy Innocents fall on Dec. 26 and Dec. 28, respectively, and thus during the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany. Those who are witnesses to Christ’s manifestation must prove witnesses unto death.
*The precise rituals and customs vary by place, historical era, and liturgical era. See here for more information: http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2017/01/liturgical-notes-for-vigil-of-epiphany.html#.WHBjlhsrLIU