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Epiphany Magi salesianity_blogspot_comJanuary 6 is the Feast of the Epiphany.

As such, today — January 5 — is the last day of the Christmas season. Unfortunately, all of our cheery decorations, along with the tree, need to disappear for another year.

Below are the readings for this feast day, accompanied by expert commentary:

Epiphany — Old Testament reading — Isaiah 60:1-6

Epiphany — Epistle — Ephesians 3:1-12

Epiphany — Gospel — Matthew 2:1-12

The next series of posts explain more about the significance of the Three Kings’ visit to the Christ Child, who was probably two years old by that time:

A Lutheran pastor reflects on the Epiphany

More Lutheran reflections on the Epiphany

Remembering the Epiphany in chalk

The Epiphany and the Bible

Why the Epiphany is so important — a Lutheran perspective

A Lutheran perspective on the Magi

Jesuit astronomer discusses the Star of Bethlehem

What to remember about Epiphany

Some traditions include a special treat on January 6, such as a king cake:

Epiphany and king cake — a history

This year, the season of Epiphany lasts until Shrove Tuesday, February 16, 2021. Ash Wednesday is the following day.

In churches where clergy wear liturgical vestments, these will be white.

My latest instalment on what Episcopal priests are thinking about involves respecting the Church calendar.

The following tweets come from the Revd Scott Gunn, an Anglo-Catholic serving in a Midwestern city. He is also the executive director of Forward Movement in the Episcopal Church, a co-author of Faithful Questions: Exploring the Way with Jesus and a religious editorial writer for Fox News.

Epiphany

We are in the last few Sundays of the season of Epiphany, so let’s make the most of them. We should be grateful for the Lord God sending His only begotten Son who died for our sins:

And, while we are at it, let’s forget this abominable modern concept of ‘Ordinary Time’ in the Church calendar, as promulgated by Roman Catholics. Sadly, it has spread to some liturgical Protestant churches. How can Sunday worship or the Church calendar ever involve something ‘ordinary’?

Someone replying suggested developing an Episcopal Church of Twitter. Count me in. It’s a darn sight more traditional and meaningful than many Episcopal Church witterings. That goes for the Church of England, too.

Septuagesima Sunday

In my post with the readings for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany — Year A, I later updated it to say that February 9, 2020, was Septuagesima Sunday, the seventh Sunday before Easter. Next Sunday will be Sexagesima Sunday and the one after that Quinquagesima Sunday.

Until Vatican II modernised the Catholic Church, that was the Sunday that signalled the beginning of Lent for traditionalists. In old money, Lent would have started on Monday, February 10. Now Lent begins on Ash Wednesday for nearly everyone. You can read more about the Sundays before Easter below, including the season of Shrovetide in my post below:

Shrovetide — a history

The Sundays before Lent — an explanation (the Sundays that define Shrovetide)

The readings for the latter Sundays in the season of Epiphany begin to move towards a call to repentance, and this was evident in the first reading from Isaiah as well as the Gospel reading for February 9.

Scott Gunn reminded us of our traditions, which some of his readers had also noticed:

Other Episcopal priests also remembered it was Septuagesima Sunday:

There was a bit more about the importance of the Gesimas in terms of our souls:

Holy Week

Then we discover that Holy Week is a separate season from Lent. This I did not know. I was not alone:

Either way, penitence, prayer and fasting still apply to the final days before Easter.

Corpus Christi

Mr Gunn also reminded us of the feast of Corpus Christi, which is the Thursday or the Sunday following Trinity Sunday. (Corpus Christi is Latin for Body of Christ.) It is still commemorated in the Church of England on the first Thursday after Trinity:

This is the modern version of the Collect from that liturgy:

Lord Jesus Christ,

we thank you that in this wonderful sacrament

you have given us the memorial of your passion:

grant us so to reverence the sacred mysteries

of your body and blood

that we may know within ourselves

and show forth in our lives

the fruits of your redemption;

for you are alive and reign with the Father

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

An Episcopal priest replying to him was in a lather, tweeting in all caps. It culminated in this exchange, which clarified that the priest was angry about Maundy Thursday as the institution of Holy Communion at the Last Supper:

Oh, dear. I connect both with Holy Communion.

In closing, it is good to see that so many clergy — and laity — still place importance on the traditional Sundays of the Church calendar. Long may it last.

I hope more follow their example.

Epiphany Magi salesianity_blogspot_comOne has to marvel at the long journey of the Magi — popularly known as the Wise Men, or the Three Kings — who made an arduous journey to see the Christ Child.

They did not know God, but yet, the three were drawn to His Son. Each brought a particular, precious and personal gift for Him, pertinent to His life on Earth.

This was the first significant opening of the Kingdom of Heaven to the Gentiles, as Isaiah prophesied centuries before.

The first reading, which is from Isaiah, is in the post below, along with commentary:

Epiphany — Old Testament reading — Isaiah 60:1-6

The Epistle reading from St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians also discusses the opening of the Church, Christ’s Bride, to the Gentiles. It is in the next post, along with commentary:

Epiphany — Epistle — Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew’s Gospel gives us the story of the Magi’s visit to the Holy Family. They had visited Herod first, but were warned in a dream not to make a return visit to him after seeing Jesus and His earthly parents. That story, along with commentary, is in the following post:

Epiphany — Gospel — Matthew 2:1-12

So, now, the Christmas season has come to an end. However, the following posts discuss more aspects of the Epiphany, including a sweet treat for a day of joy:

A Lutheran pastor reflects on the Epiphany

More Lutheran reflections on the Epiphany

Remembering the Epiphany in chalk

The Epiphany and the Bible

Why the Epiphany is so important — a Lutheran perspective

A Lutheran perspective on the Magi

Jesuit astronomer discusses the Star of Bethlehem (2016)

What to remember about Epiphany

Epiphany and king cake — a history

Even though we in the Northern Hemisphere are in the doldrums of winter, may we remember that our heritage with God through Christ is one to be celebrated in our hearts every day. May we be ever grateful for that everlasting gift.

Forbidden Bible Verses will appear on Tuesday.

Epiphany Magi salesianity_blogspot_comChristmastide ends on January 5, Twelfth Night.

January 6 is the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. These posts explain its significance as well as old traditions that developed centuries ago:

A Lutheran pastor reflects on the Epiphany

More Lutheran reflections on the Epiphany

Remembering the Epiphany in chalk

The Epiphany and the Bible

Why the Epiphany is so important — a Lutheran perspective

A Lutheran perspective on the Magi

Jesuit astronomer discusses the Star of Bethlehem (2016)

What to remember about Epiphany (2016)

Epiphany and king cake — a history

The readings for Epiphany follow, with posts discussing each one, except for the Psalm.

First reading

This post discusses the reading from Isaiah:

Epiphany — Old Testament reading — Isaiah 60:1-6

Isaiah 60:1-6

60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

60:2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.

60:3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

60:4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

60:5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

60:6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

Psalm

The Psalm mentions kings from far away bringing gifts to honor the king’s son. Although David appears to have written this for his son, Solomon, it also prophesies Christ and His Kingdom.

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

72:1 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.

72:2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

72:3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.

72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

72:5 May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

72:6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.

72:7 In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

72:10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.

72:11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.

72:12 For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

72:13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

72:14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.

Epistle

This post discusses Paul’s message to the Ephesians:

Epiphany — Epistle — Ephesians 3:1-12

Ephesians 3:1-12

3:1 This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles–

3:2 for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you,

3:3 and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words,

3:4 a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ.

3:5 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:

3:6 that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

3:7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power.

3:8 Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ,

3:9 and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things;

3:10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

3:11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,

3:12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

Gospel

This post elaborates Matthew’s account of evil Herod wishing to see the child the Magi — all of whom were Gentiles — called ‘king of the Jews’:

Epiphany — Epistle — Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12

2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,

2:2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”

2:3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;

2:4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.

2:5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

2:6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”

2:7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.

2:8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

2:9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.

2:10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.

2:11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

2:12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Over the years I have really come to look forward to and better appreciate Epiphany. It is always that much more special when this feast day falls on a Sunday.

I hope that you have a blessed Epiphany.

Epiphany Magi salesianity_blogspot_comEpiphany is on January 6, also known as Twelfth Night.

Before discussing the Old Testament reading for this day, I have a number of posts about Epiphany:

A Lutheran pastor reflects on the Epiphany

More Lutheran reflections on the Epiphany

Remembering the Epiphany in chalk

The Epiphany and the Bible

Why the Epiphany is so important — a Lutheran perspective

A Lutheran perspective on the Magi

Jesuit astronomer discusses the Star of Bethlehem (2016)

What to remember about Epiphany (2016)

Epiphany and king cake — a history

The three-year Lectionary Epistle reading is Ephesians 3:1-12. and the Gospel reading is Matthew 2:1-12.

The Old Testament reading is as follows:

Isaiah 60:1-6

60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

60:2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.

60:3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

60:4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

60:5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

60:6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

Note the last verse!

Commentary for these verses comes from Matthew Henry.

Whilst we can read this as strictly a history of the Jews coming out of captivity, this is also a prophecy of God’s covenant with the Church (emphases mine):

The long continuance of the church, even unto the utmost ages of time, was there promised, and here the large extent of the church, even unto the utmost regions of the earth and both these tend to the honour of the Redeemer. It is here promised, I. That the church shall be enlightened and shone upon, Isaiah 60:1,2. II. That it shall be enlarged and great additions made to it, to join in the service of God, Isaiah 60:3-8. III. That the new converts shall be greatly serviceable to the church and to the interests of it, Isaiah 60:9-13. IV. That the church shall be in great honour and reputation among men, Isaiah 60:14-16. V. That it shall enjoy a profound peace and tranquility, Isaiah 60:17,18. VI. That, the members of it being all righteous, the glory and joy of it shall be everlasting, Isaiah 60:19-22.

The Jews had divinely-given light bestowed on them when they were no longer captive. The Lord’s blessings truly bestowed on them, it was time for them to arise, shine and reflect that light to others (verse 1).

God is Light. Jesus is Light. There is no better light:

As far as we have the knowledge of God in us, and the favour of God towards us, our light has come. When God appears to us, and we have the comfort of his favour, then the glory of the Lord rises upon us as the morning light when he appears for us, and we have the credit of his favour, when he shows us some token for good and proclaims his favour to us, then his glory is seen upon us, as it was upon Israel in the pillar of cloud and fire. When Christ arose as the sun of righteousness, and in him the day-spring from on high visited us, then the glory of the Lord was seen upon us, the glory as of the first-begotten of the Father.

Also:

What is the duty which the rising of this light calls for: “Arise, shine not only receive this light, and” (as the margin reads it) “be enlightened by it, but reflect this light arise and shine with rays borrowed from it.” The children of light ought to shine as lights in the world. If God’s glory be seen upon us to our honour, we ought not only with our lips, but in our lives, to return the praise of it to his honour, Matthew 5:16; Philippians 2:15.

Even though darkness — extreme darkness — will cover the rest of the earth, God’s glory will rise and appear over His people, protecting them (verse 2):

What a foil there shall be to this light: Darkness shall cover the earth but, though it be gross darkness, darkness that might be felt, like that of Egypt, that shall overspread the people, yet the church, like Goshen, shall have light at the same time. When the case of the nations that have not the gospel shall be very melancholy, those dark corners of the earth being full of the habitations of cruelty to poor souls, the state of the church shall be very pleasant.

Nations and kings will be drawn to the light of God’s people (verse 3). Henry points out that this did not happen to the Jews, therefore, this prophecy was meant for the Church. As such, there is no one place that this will occur. Rather, people will be drawn to the light as Christians exhibit it:

There is no place now that is the centre of the church’s unity but the promise respects their flocking to Christ, and coming by faith, and hope, and holy love, into that society which is incorporated by the charter of his gospel, and of the unity of which he only is the centre–that family which is named from him, Ephesians 3:15. The gospel church is expressly called Zion and Jerusalem, and under that notion all believers are said to come to it (Hebrews 12:22. You have come unto Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem), which serves for a key to this prophecy, Ephesians 2:19.

We have been reading in Acts about the purity of the early Church, despite rogue members, sorcerers and persecution. Thanks to that purity — that light — the Church expanded enormously in Gentile lands. That is what Isaiah prophesied:

The purity and love of the primitive Christians, their heavenly-mindedness, contempt of the world, and patient sufferings, were the brightness of the church’s rising, which drew many into it. The beauty of holiness was the powerful attractive by which Christ had a willing people brought to him in the day of his power, Psalm 110:3 …

Lift up thy eyes round about, and see them coming, devout men out of every nation under heaven, Acts 2:5.

Many will flock to join Christ’s followers, wanting to be part of their light (verse 4). And so it happened in Acts. The powerful, accurate — and doctrinal — teaching of Peter, Paul, Barnabas and the local leaders of the various churches they established drew thousands of followers. The reference to nursing refers to the yearning to be taught and fed the Gospel, as a nurse takes care of her young charges:

There shall come some of both sexes. Sons and daughters shall come in the most dutiful manner, as thy sons and thy daughters, resolved to be of thy family, to submit to the laws of thy family and put themselves under the tuition of it. They shall come to be nursed at thy side, to have their education with thee from their cradle.” The church’s children must be nursed at her side, not sent out to be nursed among strangers there, where alone the unadulterated milk of the word is to be had, must the church’s new-born babes be nursed, that they may grow thereby, 1 Peter 2:1,2. Those that would enjoy the dignities and privileges of Christ’s family must submit to the discipline of it.

Great things will happen as the Church expands and her people turn from worldly ways to abundant charity (verse 5):

Those that are brought into the church by the grace of God will be sure to bring all they are worth in with them, which with themselves they will devote to the honour and service of God and do good with in their places. (1.) The merchants shall write holiness to the Lord upon their merchandise and their hire, as Isaiah 23:18. “The abundance of the sea, either the wealth that is fetched out of the sea (the fish, the pearls) or that which is imported by sea, shall all be converted to thee and to thy use.” The wealth of the rich merchants shall be laid out in works of piety and charity. (2.) The mighty men of the nations shall employ their might in the service of the church: “The forces, or troops, of the Gentiles shall come unto thee, to guard thy coasts, strengthen thy interests, and, if occasion be, to fight thy battles.” The forces of the Gentiles had often been against the church, but now they shall be for it for as God, when he pleases, can, and, when we please him, will, make even our enemies to be at peace with us (Proverbs 16:7), so, when Christ overcomes the strong man armed, he divides his spoils, and makes that to serve his interests which had been used against them, Luke 11:22.

Verse 6 is in part a prophecy of the Magi, who travelled for many months to reach the Christ Child. As Gentiles, they knew nothing of God the Father, but they knew that a special birth had taken place and they followed the star to the right place. They paid homage to Him with gold, frankincense and myrrh.

As we know from the New Testament, countless Gentiles came to know God through learning of Jesus Christ. They gave offerings of goods and personal belongings to glorify the Lord by giving to His people in the Church.

Contrast that with today’s churches. Some are full. Most are not. Yes, people convert every day to Christianity, but more stay away. It is because many denominations have renounced purity or put it to one side, preferring to meet the world on earthly terms. Where a strong background in doctrine via the Bible is lacking, there is little hope. Let us pray that this situation begins to reverse itself.

Epiphany Magi salesianity_blogspot_comThe Feast of the Epiphany takes place on January 6 every year.

It was the one event where Jesus was paid great tribute by great men, Gentiles from faraway lands who did not know Him. This signifies that He came for all people, not just for the twelve tribes of Israel.

It took the Magi many months crossing difficult terrain to reach the Christ Child.

The liturgical season of Epiphany in 2017 runs from this day through to Transfiguration Sunday on February 26. Ash Wednesday follows on March 1 this year and marks the beginning of Lent.

The Lectionary reading and Psalm from the Old Testament for Epiphany prophesied of Jesus Christ and of rulers from far away nations who would pay Him homage, bearing gifts:

Isaiah 60:1-6

60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.

60:2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.

60:3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

60:4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

60:5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

60:6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.

Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14

72:1 Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.

72:2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

72:3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.

72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

72:5 May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.

72:6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.

72:7 In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

72:10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.

72:11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.

72:12 For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

72:13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

72:14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.

I wrote about the Epistle and Gospel for this feast day last year. The readings are the same every year, so do not be dissuaded by seeing Year C in the title:

Epiphany — Epistle (Ephesians 3:1-12)

Epiphany — Gospel (Matthew 2:1-12)

Other helpful past posts on this feast day are below:

A Lutheran pastor reflects on the Epiphany

More Lutheran reflections on the Epiphany

Remembering the Epiphany in chalk

The Epiphany and the Bible

Why the Epiphany is so important — a Lutheran perspective

A Lutheran perspective on the Magi

What to remember about Epiphany

Jesuit astronomer discusses the Star of Bethlehem (2016)

Epiphany and king cake — a history

Br Guy in Lab.jpgBefore Christmas, SpouseMouse brought to my attention an interesting article from the London Evening Standard.

On Friday, December 16, the paper published ‘Can science explain the mystery of the Star of Bethlehem?’ on their op-ed page. Br Guy Consolmagno SJ, the author, is the director of the Specola Vaticana, the astronomical observatory of the Vatican City state.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We liked this for two reasons. One, it shows you can be religious and scientific:

At the Vatican Observatory, our work is the same as any other astronomical observatory. We take new data about things in space and try to devise explanations for how they behave. But we’re interested in the Star of Bethlehem for the same reason that everyone else is: it’s a fun mystery, a place where science and hope intersect.

Two, Br Guy goes through all the theories. Some you might like, some you might not. I did not agree with everything he had to say.

Regardless, his article will make you think more about the Star of Bethlehem, especially as he concludes (emphases mine):

Actually, to me the most astonishing part of the story of the Magi is not that they would predict the birth of a king from the positions of the planets; any fortune teller could have done that kind of calculation. Nor is it that they’d pull up roots and travel afar to find out if they were right; we astronomers do that all the time. Instead, it’s that they would be able and willing to recognise the king they were seeking in the child they found in a manger.

I thought a lot about that over Christmas. We still have time to ponder it, as Epiphany isn’t until January 6.

In 2016, Shrove Tuesday is on February 9 and Ash Wednesday on February 10.

Epiphany gospel readings – Year C

Before going into the ancient history behind Shrovetide, let’s look at what denominations following the  Church calendar currently call the season of Epiphany.

Churches following the three-year Lectionary readings are using those for Year C until the first Sunday in Advent, when Year A readings begin.

The Lectionary readings for the Sundays after Epiphany normally focus on Jesus’s divinity and ministry. In 2014, I excerpted an excellent explanation of the Epiphany season from St Paul’s Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) of Kingsville, Maryland. The church has since taken the page down, but my post has the salient points, among them (emphases mine):

Epiphany is … a season that lasts until the beginning of Lent and encompasses four to nine Sundays, depending on the date of Easter.

… the church concentrates on several of the other incidents from Scripture that show how Jesus manifested God’s love to the world through His ministry of preaching, miracles, and healings.  What is common to each of these epiphanies is that in one way or another they make known the identity and mission of Jesus Christ: True Man and True God, born into this sinful world to be the Lord and Savior of all humanity.

This year, Sunday gospel readings included Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist (Luke 3:15-17, 21-22), His first creative miracle at Cana (John 2:1-11), His preaching at the synagogue in Nazareth when they wanted to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:14-21Luke 4:21-30) and the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)). Be sure to read the missing and optional verses!

Shrovetide

Before the post-Vatican II liturgical changes occurred in the Catholic Church and before similar adjustments occurred in Anglican and Lutheran churches, these denominations observed what was called Shrovetide.

Shrovetide begins on Septuagesima Sunday and comprises Sexagesima Sunday and Quinquagesima Sunday (commonly called Shrove Sunday). My post, ‘The Sundays before Lent’ explains what each of these ancient names mean and what they signified in terms of spiritual disciplines. In brief, they mark the days before Easter: 70, 60 and 50, respectively. Centuries ago, some Christians began Lenten fasting the day after Septuagesima Sunday.

The word ‘shrove’ is the past tense of ‘shrive‘, an archaic verb meaning:

Present oneself to a priest for confession, penance, and absolution.

Christians were supposed to go to confession during this time, a customary practice before Lent began. In England, Abbot Aelfric instituted this practice in 1000 AD.

Even into the 20th century, people took Shrovetide seriously. In the 1960s, I knew a Catholic lady who explained that these Sundays were meant to exercise the consciences of the faithful, get them to focus on their sinfulness and decide on the appropriate spiritual disciplines they would need to undertake during Lent.

Carnival

The final days of the season are Shrove Monday and Shrove Tuesday.

Of course, by then, Carnival, where celebrated, is in full swing. In some countries, it lasts for a week. In others, it starts on the final weekend of Shrovetide. In both cases, the festivities climax and end on Shrove Tuesday.

According to Wikipedia, Carnival was an ancient pagan time of revelry. Certainly, early Church councils and synods attempted to curb the excesses which took place at this time. Wikipedia tells us:

Many synods and councils attempted to set things “right”. The statements of Caesarius of Arles (470–542), which protested around 500 CE in his sermons against the Pagan practices, seemed to have formed the building blocks of the Indiculus superstitionum et paganiarum (small index of superstitious and pagan practices), which was drafted by the Synod of Leptines in 742 in which the Spurcalibus en februario was condemned.

Pope Gregory the Great (590–604) decided that fasting would start on Ash Wednesday.

He did this in order to draw a clear line of demarcation between Carnival and Lent.

My post ‘Lent, denominational differences and freedom in Christ’ has more on Carnival, including the origin of the word which:

derives from the Latin carne vale, or ‘farewell, meat [literally, ‘flesh’]’.  In England, the word valete is still used occasionally in formal academic announcements (parodied in the satirical magazine Private Eye); valete is the plural of vale and is used when bidding farewell to more than one person or thing.

Shrove Monday

In addition to Carnival celebrations, Shrove Monday was also a time to eat foods that would need to be either consumed straightaway or abstained from during Lent:

Centuries ago, as Lent approached, flour from the previous year was near its expiry date, so to speak.  Similarly, eggs, milk and meat fat (e.g. lard) would also have to be eaten or discarded before the fast. No household threw out food.  Therefore, the European custom prior to Lent was to use up these foodstuffs.

Centuries ago, the British called this day Collop Monday. Collop means sliced or minced meat. It was a final opportunity to eat meat prior to Lent. The meal was often a breakfast, in which eggs also featured. If bacon was used, the cook or housewife reserved the fat for the pancakes served the following day.

Shrove Tuesday

Nearly all European countries mark Shrove Tuesday with a special food item or fat-laden feast, a final opportunity for enjoyment before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

These customs are centuries old and spread to other countries around the world with European exploration and settlement.

The Reformation could not put paid to old pre-Lenten customs which live on today. The British and many Commonwealth nations still call Shrove Tuesday Pancake Day. In Scandinavia and parts of Northern Europe, people enjoy semla, a sweet bun filled with frangipane and topped with whipped cream. People in Iceland celebrate Bursting Day by eating salted meat and peas.

Many countries celebrate Carnival or hold other ancient festivities on Shrove Tuesday.

In Britain, a number of towns in Britain hold pancake races, which date back to the 15th century:

The tradition is said to have originated in 1445 when a housewife from Olney, Buckinghamshire, was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the church bells ringing for the service. She raced out of the house to church while still carrying her frying pan and pancake, tossing it to prevent it from burning.[17][18] The pancake race remains a relatively common festive tradition in the UK, especially England, even today. Participants with frying pans race through the streets tossing pancakes into the air and catching them in the pan while running.

The most famous pancake race,[19] at Olney in Buckinghamshire, has been held since 1445. The contestants, traditionally women, carry a frying pan and race over a 415-yard course to the finishing line. The rules are strict: contestants have to toss their pancake at both the start and the finish, as well as wear an apron and a scarf. Traditionally, when men want to participate, they must dress up as a housewife (usually an apron and a bandanna). The race is followed by a church service.[17]

Another popular Shrove Tuesday tradition in England was the local football match. This has died out over the centuries, and the Royal Shrovetide Football Match in Derbyshire appears to be the sole survivor.

Yet, in the 12th century, a cleric, William Fitzstephen, wrote about a football match he witnessed in London. By the late Middle Ages, other towns and cities around Britain also held Shrovetide ball games. The types of games varied by region and tradition.

The Royal Shrovetide Football Match:

is a “mob football” game played annually on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday in the town of Ashbourne in Derbyshire, England. 

The match has specific rules and takes place not on a pitch but all over town:

The ball is rarely kicked, though it is legal to kick, carry or throw it. Instead it generally moves through the town in a series of hugs, like a giant scrum in rugby, made up of dozens if not hundreds of people.

Shops board up their windows and people park away from Ashbourne’s main thoroughfares.

The match gained royal assent in 1928 when the future Edward VIII (the abdicator!) attended. In 2003, it was given royal assent a second time when Prince Charles opened the match.

Conclusion

It is fascinating to discover how ancient, widespread, varied and enduring these pre-Lenten traditions are.

This history provides food for thought on how our ancestors might have spent the days preceding Lent.

A few days ago, I posted a king cake recipe.

Although I was going to wait until next year to post on the history of this cake, it seemed apposite to do so now, as it can still be eaten for the next few days in France and until Lent in other countries.

Below is a summary of what form it takes and a bit about its history. (Post updated in 2017 for more information on Spain.)

New Orleans

One of my readers, Underground Pewster, commented on the aforementioned post, sharing his memories of growing up in New Orleans at this time of year, where king cakes were served throughout the Epiphany season — i.e. through Mardi Gras. The next day, of course, is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

Underground Pewster says:

They are usually made with a brioche dough shaped into a ring and coated with purple green and gold colored sugar or icing. A small plastic baby is inserted and whoever gets the piece with the baby is either King or Queen for the day, or in the case of traditional Carnival Krewes is made the King or Queen for the parade, or in the case of children’s Friday afternoon king cake parties at school, the kid getting the baby has to bring next week’s cake. Hence the joke that Mama said to Lil Author as he went to off to school, “If yeh git da baby, swaller it!”

For our ex-patriates’ grown up annual Mardi Gras parties, the person getting the baby hosts next year’s party.

New Orleans king cakes have become increasingly decadent culminating in an abomination called the King Cake Burger.

He helpfully sent a link to the King Cake Burger from The Times-Picayune, New Orleans’s daily newspaper. In 2014, reporter Gary Sheets gave the rundown on this monstrosity or beauty — depending on how you see it — of a burger laden with cheese and bacon, topped with a king cake.

The Food Drunk Truck created this sandwich, which remains popular.

The icing and sprinkles are in traditional Epiphany colours. Wikipedia explains:

The colors of the king cake originally came from the Christian religion. The purple symbolizes justice, the green symbolizes faith, and the gold symbolizes power. The three colors honor the three kings who visited the Christ child (Jesus) on Epiphany, the 12th day after Christmas.[3]

As for the cake itself:

In the southern United States, the tradition was brought to the area by colonists from France and Spain and is associated with Carnival (also known as Mardi Gras). Celebrated across the Gulf Coast region from the Florida Panhandle to East Texas, it originated in French Alabama and King cake parties in Mobile are documented back to the eighteenth century.

The king cake of the Louisiana tradition comes in a number of styles. The most simple, said to be the most traditional, is a ring of twisted cinnamon roll-style dough topped with icing or sugar, usually colored purple, green, and gold (the traditional Mardi Gras colors) with food coloring. King cakes may also be filled with additional foodstuffs- the most common being cream cheese, praline, cinnamon, or strawberry.

There are also variations on types of cakes and when they are served during other times of the year:

A so-called “Zulu King Cake” has chocolate icing with a coconut filling, because the Krewe of Zulu parade’s most celebrated throw is a coconut. Also, some bakers have now taken the liberty to offer king cakes for other holidays that immediately surround Mardi Gras season, such as green and red-icing king cakes for Christmas, red and pink-icing cakes for Valentine’s Day, and green and white-icing cakes for St. Patrick’s Day. Others have gone a step further and produce specialty king cakes from the beginning of football season for Louisiana State University and New Orleans Saints tailgate parties, then for Halloween, then Thanksgiving—and do not cease until after Mardi Gras season with an Easter holiday king cake.

How the king cake evolved in Europe

Before going into national and cultural variations of king cake, it is worth exploring its history in Europe.

As with so many other Christian feasts, Epiphany supplanted ancient Greek and Roman pagan holidays. Much of this also concerns the evolution of the Christmas holiday.

A French site, L’Internaute, says that around this time of year, the ancient Greeks held a festival in honour of Dionysus. We know him as the god of wine and excess. He was also the god of the seasons and the growing cycle. Occurring after Winter Solstice, this festival recognised the gradually longer days which heralded the eventual crops for the new year.

In a similar way, during Saturnalia, the Romans feted Saturn, who was asleep most of the year but woke up before Winter Solstice. Their festival, then, was held before the shortest day of the year, which was their New Year. In the beginning, the feast of Saturn revolved around agriculture and the coming growing season. Later, it was more of a civic and family-oriented time to celebrate common and personal social ties.

The festival lasted one week. During the festival, excess was the order of the day. Cakes were made in Saturn’s honour and were to be shared amongst family and friends. These cakes were round and baked until golden brown, suggesting the sun and longer days to come.

The tradition of a token of some sort designating a ruler for the day or the festival arose in ancient Rome. This tradition preceded the insertion of the token into the cake. Black and white tokens were used to designate a particular person. These tokens later evolved into the broad bean, the baby, the king and more. Today, you can even get tokens depicting film stars.

In the military a garrison would gather to nominate one of their men as commander for the day, who could do as he wished and order others about, too.

In both Greece and Rome there was another tradition for private households. The youngest member of the family, deemed to be the most innocent, sat hidden under the dining table and told his or her father who should have which piece of cake. That child was called Phoebus or Apollo after these oracular gods, seen to be prophetic.

With the spread of Christianity in the early centuries of the Church, Epiphany became the time to further contemplate our Lord’s divine nature as Saviour and Redeemer and the Magi’s recognition of this revelation, or, epiphany. Some of the earlier festive food traditions, such as cake, continued.

The Middle Ages

During the 13th and 14th centuries, the cakes were known as king cakes.

In a religious sense, this meant the Magi. In a practical sense, this was also the time of year when people had to pay a royalty to their local lord. Money — and a king cake — were given to him.

Within the family home, a large bean — generally the fava or broad bean — was inserted in the cake. Brioche formed the basis of the cake, which, depending on the country, might or might not have a filling inside. Some were shaped into rings, suggesting a crown. Oblong rings could serve more people.

The cakes were decorated with dried or candied fruit in the aforementioned colours of the Magi. These fruits represented jewels in a crown.

The Reformation

The Reformers and their followers — Lutherans and Calvinists — disapproved of carrying pagan practices into Christian life. They condemned the celebrations and cakes.

That said, so did a Catholic canon in France. In 1664, the Canon of Senlis opposed the eating of Epiphany Cake because it was ‘too festive’.

Frangipane

It is thought that frangipane, commonly used in French king cakes, dates back as far as 1226. According to legend, a Roman noblewoman, Jacopa da Settesoli, took this sweet to St Francis of Assisi as he lay dying. Pane means ‘bread’ and Frangi refers to Francis.

Others say that the word originates with the Frangipani family of Rome — also noblemen. Their name means ‘break the bread’.

A member of that family made perfumes for France’s Louis XIII.

However, L’Internaute says that Anne of Austria and her son Louis XIV popularised frangipane in France. They were the first to include it in a new king cake made with puff pastry. The cake was initially known as La Parisienne.

Today, much of France enjoys the frangipane variety.

However, the northern part of France near the Belgian border and the southernmost part of the country still use brioche.

The bean and other tokens

The broad bean continued its popularity through the centuries because it was widely available.

It represented the infant Jesus.

Once porcelain manufacture began in the 18th century, the bean was sometimes replaced with a baby or a king.

Gold coins were also used.

In the 20th century, all of these — including the fava — were made out of plastic, which continues to this day. For hygiene and safety reasons, metal coins have not been used in king cakes for years.

On that note, some bakeries place the token on the outside of the cake. The buyer can then insert it himself. This is to prevent lawsuits.

Not only does the token designate the King or Queen of the Day, it is also a lighthearted sign of luck and prosperity.

But with it comes a bit of responsibility, suggesting that the King or Queen must take care of his or her subjects!

As Underground Pewster said, that person is in charge of baking the next cake or hosting the next Mardi Gras party.

This tradition also continues in other countries.

My reader Lecroix commented that New Orleans no doubt acquired their cake from former governing countries France and Spain, where it is known as a Roscón (pl. Roscones) or, in Catalonia, a tortell. The Spanish version is basically the same around the country, although price variations exist based on ingredients. For example, the Asturias region:

has the same identical circular pastry, some with marzipan cream, some not and punctuated with the same candied fruit like cherries and oranges. Also, there are two prices as well, with the same purpose.

Delish has an interesting explanation of other customs, accompanied by photographs of various king cakes.

Mexicans put a doll token in their cake. Whoever has it in their slice must host the Candlemas meal on February 2 and make the accompanying tamales.

The Portuguese have a gooey round cake, laden with colourful fruit. Whoever gets the bean buys next year’s cake.

Wherever you are in the world, there is still time to enjoy king cake!

https://i0.wp.com/lookmag.look-voyages.fr/wp-content/uploads/galette-des-rois.jpgThe galette des rois — king cake — is eaten during the fortnight following Epiphany services.

This means there is still another week to enjoy this beautiful fusion of puff pastry and frangipane.

(Photo credit: Lookmag)

French pastry shops will sell millions of these delights before the middle of January.

Many people will also make these at home. I have done so in the past, and nothing could be easier.

Galette des Rois — King Cake

(prep time: 20 minutes, baking time: 35 minutes, serves 6 to 8)

Ingredients

1 roll of puff pastry

100 – 120 g (3 1/2 – 4 oz) ground almonds

100 – 120 g (3 1/2 – 4 oz) sugar

100 – 120 g (3 1/2 – 4 oz) butter, cut in cubes

1 tsp of dark rum or 1 capful of almond flavouring

1 egg (for frangipane)

1 egg yolk (for glaze)

One M&M or, traditionally, small plastic token and party crown

1 tbsp of icing (powdered) sugar (optional, see step 12)

Method

1/ Preheat oven to 180° C (350° F).

2/ Combine almonds, sugar, rum/almond flavouring and butter in a bowl to stir or mix by hand. Alternatively, blitz these ingredients in a food processor until well mixed.

3/ Add the egg. If you are doing this by hand, make a well in the middle first, then mix thoroughly until you have a smooth paste. If using a food processor, blitz until the mixture comes together.

4/ Roll out the puff pastry. Cut out two circles: one for each layer.

5/ Lightly grease a baking tray and dust with flour. Alternatively, use a non-stick mat (Teflon or Silpat brands) on an ungreased baking tray.

6/ Place the bottom layer on your mat or tray. Spread the frangipane on it but keep the edge of this layer clear to allow the top layer of pastry to stick and eliminate weeping of the filling.

7/ Place the M&M or plastic token — e.g. a bean or tiny Magi figure — somewhere in the frangipane. I have recommended an M&M only because it has a hard coating. I do not know how this will work; it is possible that slice might have a bit of stain in it if the colour from the coating gets too hot.

8/ Using a pastry brush or clean fingertip, dampen the edge of the pastry with water.

9/ Carefully place the top circle of pastry on top of the open tart and press the edge closest to the middle closed. The very outside edge should be able to puff up in the oven.

10/ Beat an egg yolk with a few drops of water until liquid. Brush this on top of the galette.

11/ Make a design using a dull knife or small metal spatula. These Galette des Rois recipes from Le Journal des Femmes have a variety of designs.

12/ Place in the oven to bake for 35 minutes. By then, the galette should be golden brown. Alternatively, take the galette out of the oven after 25 minutes, dust with 1 tbsp of icing (powdered) sugar, then return it to the oven for another ten minutes. The crust will be even shinier with a slight crunch.

13/ Allow the galette to cool thoroughly. Transfer to a plate using a non-stick spatula if you have used a mat.

14/ Share it with your family and friends. The person who gets the slice with the plastic token is King for a Day and can do whatever he pleases (ancient Roman custom). An old French custom involves reserving one slice for a poor person should s/he stop by whilst you are eating the cake.

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