Epiphany, perhaps you’ve had one, maybe you’ve had several. An epiphany is a sudden insight that comes over you out of nowhere usually as your doing some simple routine task. It’s as if the light suddenly comes on and you instantly understand the essential meaning of something. It all becomes clear.
Yesterday in the Roman Catholic Church it was the Feast of the Epiphany. The Epiphany as you probably already know is the day the three magi from the east arrived in Bethlehem to pay homage to Jesus, the new born king. I always wondered why it was called the Epiphany. Was it because the three wise men, upon seeing the Christ child immediately knew that they were in the presence of greatness and that they were truly standing before the Son of God? Was their epiphany the reason for the naming of the feast day? Makes sense to me.
When I was growing up the Epiphany was always celebrated on the 6th of January. I remember because I attended Catholic school and there was no school on the Epiphany. It was a Holy Day of Obligation meaning you had to attend mass on that day or as the nuns used to tell us, face the ravages of hell!
Then came Vatican II in the early 60’s and all the rules changed. You remember, that was when the Catholic Church was trying to redefine itself and become more in line with the times. Just like that the Epiphany was moved from the 6th of January to the first Sunday after the first of the year and no longer a HDO. Of course it was now on Sunday so you had to go to church anyway. Just another in the list of changes the church underwent during that period. The biggest, at least to me, was the mass being said in English instead of the traditional Latin. I had a tough time with the language change, a real tough time.
I always thought the Latin mass had a very mysterious,magical, mystical quality to it. It was so reverent and sacred. It was like watching some amazing show. The priest would be up at the altar table with his back to us performing the magic of the Consecration. All we could see was his vestments moving as he prepared for the Consecration, until at last he would raise the host above his head followed by the chalice. It held me spellbound!
Along with the language change the mass became more inclusive. Suddenly we were all a part of the mass, a community of the faithful. It was as though a veil had been taken away. We knew not only what was being said, but with the altar table being moved closer to the congregation and the priest standing behind it facing us we could watch him do his preparations and magic. But it just didn’t seem as magical any longer. It lost something in the translation. I certainly missed the Latin mass.
And I loved the sound of the Latin language. The priest would say “Dominus vobiscom” (the Lord be with you.”) And we would respond “Et cum spiritu tuo.”(“and with your spirit.”) Beautiful! I loved it. The Kyrie Eleison(“Lord have mercy”) and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) gave me chills. Although I must confess that the second line of the first two verses of the Agnus Dei, ” miserere nobis” always made me want to break into a rendition of “There’s no business like show business.” Yeah I’d sit there in church and in my head I’d be singing “miserere nobis- ness like show business like no business I know!” Yeah, Sacrileges I know, but I was just a kid!
And then came a change in our home life. Suddenly we were allowed to eat meat on Friday’s. Forever we had been forbidden to eat meat on Friday under penalty of grievous sin, then as if overnight it was okay. Pretty confusing for Catholic school kids whose teachers had drilled the sin concept deep into our heads. I was quite accustom to fish sticks or cheese enchiladas on Friday nights, or sometimes even a McDonalds fish filet and fries!
Then there was the blow of all blows. Remember when we got the word that Saint Christopher the patron saint of travelers was no longer a saint? This was quite upsetting to many Catholics who believed that his removal from the church calendar of saints meant that he had been de-sainted. As a result Catholics across the country began removing their St. Christopher medallions and little statues from their vehicles. I couldn’t believe it! This time the Pope had gone too far! Yeah, for many years I too believed that the Vatican had exercised it’s almighty power and de-canonized St. Christopher, But that was not the case, Chris is still the patron saint of travelers, he was simply removed from the observance calendar to make room for other saints. The idea behind sainthood is that the life of saints should serve as role models for us to emulate. It seems there just wasn’t enough information about his early life for Chris to make the cut.
Yeah that was pretty sad, particularly since in eight grade St. Christopher medals had taken on a whole new meaning to us. They had became the symbol of romance. If you liked a girl and the two of you started ‘going’ together you headed down to Tyck’s the local jewelry store or the jewelry department in Savon’s where they had a wide selection of small round St. Christopher medals of various colors, on long silver chains. You picked out the ‘Christopher’ you liked and bought it for your new girlfriend which she wore to show that she was going steady with you. Ah young love, ain’t it grand!
I never really understood why it was the image of St. Christopher that became the symbol of young love. What the patron saint of travelers had to do with romance or going steady is beyond me? Unless of course it was someone’s clever little private joke, the ‘Christopher’ meant going steady but at the same time represented the fickleness of love and that the young lovers, (particularly the male,) would soon be moving on, sort of in the Ricky Nelson “Travelin’ Man” or “Hit the Road Jack” tradition.
As I was writing this post I had an epiphany of my own. I realized that the Church hierarchy with all it’s doctrines, precepts, writs and canon law, is not beyond making errors. It is not infallible as they’d like to believe. It is an organization founded in faith and run by men. And men are weak. They easily get caught up in the power trip and forgo the true message. They get caught up in the grandeur and seek more and more control. The vast majority of church law and regulations are man made and too complex. Christ’s message was simple. He spoke of love, forgiveness and sincerity. His Father gave us the Ten Commandments to follow, everything else is unnecessary baggage.
I enjoy attending mass again each Sunday in my own community church, but I will never be comfortable with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. It is like a large corrupt business or government. There is much work to be done if they wish to be the one, true church of Jesus Christ. I remember several years ago having a discussion with my cousin, a priest, about church law. When it was apparent that he would not sway my thinking and we would never see eye to eye, he took hold of my shoulder, looked me in the eye, shook his head and said, “You’ll just never understand the ways of the Catholic Church” and walked away. I guess he was right…