Like an old friend, however, the LOH can be taken for granted, ignored, and effectively replaced. For that reason the sacred texts are worth a more contemplative look, perhaps to reawaken our interest and devotion.
In my first year of praying the LOH, I encountered the antiphons of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer II of the Epiphany. Their content made me curious.
Today the Bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed her sins away in Jordan's waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the wedding guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia.And Evening Prayer II:
Three mysteries mark this holy day: today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ; today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast; today Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation.Last time I had checked, that "today" celebrated only the Epiphany: the visit of the Magi. How, then, did all these other events get involved?
For those who may be interested in an historical treatment of the subject, consult the Wikipedia entry for the feast of Epiphany, which contains a link to an article by an Eastern priest-monk, Nicholas Pokhilko. According to his article, Epiphany/Theophany focuses on the Lord's Baptism. Here the Father and the Holy Spirit manifest the Son to the nations as God Incarnate, which mystery unites and elucidates "most of the fundamental principles of faith."
On the day after the Epiphany, the LOH "Office of Readings" features an illuminative sermon of Saint Peter Chrysologus. It provides a key to the conflation of several mysteries in the feast of the Epiphany.
Note: While the Psalms comprise the bulk of the Divine Office, the Second Reading of the Office of Readings can be taken from numerous sources: a writing from or about the "saint of the day," a relevant passage from a Magisterial document, a homily, or elsewhere. Sometimes a single text is used over several consecutive days, and sometimes several different texts are used on consecutive days to illuminate a particular mystery from different angles.Chrysologus wants to dispel any misunderstanding of "this great sacrament of his love." It is not clear to me what "sacrament" the preacher intends. Here I suggest the visible sign of the Godhead made known in the Body of Christ that is born of the Virgin. Crucified and raised for our redemption and sanctification, that sacred Body is the foundation of the seven sacraments.
"Today" features the Magi's discovery of the long-awaited One whose coming was foretold by the star. The three gifts of the wise men, offered in faith, attest to Jesus' identity as God, king, and corpse that death would not conquer.
"Today" also marks the coming of Him whom servant and best man John foretold as the "Lamb of God," whom the Father's voice declared "my beloved Son."
Chrysologus deftly contrasts type and antitype (foreshadowing and fulfillment) using two images from the primeval deluge: the dove and the olive branch (cf. Gen 8:8-12). Noah sent the dove three times to reconnoiter the earth for signs of dry land. The second dispatch proved successful, as the dove returned with the branch in its beak. In the Christian mystery, the Holy Spirit alighted upon Jesus to declare a definitive end to "the world's shipwreck," heretofore under the thumb of sin and death. The fruit of the olive tree, once used to anoint kings, prophets, and priests, now anoints Jesus with "the oil of gladness" (Ps 45:7). The citation of this Psalm is not insignificant: Psalm 45 is considered the wedding song of Solomon, a figure who, in his own right, bears broad overtones of messianic "abundance."
Finally, "Today" commemorates Christ's miraculous transformation of water into wine at Cana. Saint John records this event as the first of Jesus' "signs"--external manifestations of His glory as God for human benefit. As a sign, it points to the later and greater reality of Jesus' institution of the Eucharist, which occurs in two moments: Holy Thursday and Good Friday. The reader may not readily recognize how Chrysologus connects the Eucharist to Psalm 23:5, translated thus from the Vulgate: "How excellent is my chalice, warming my spirit." Most readers simply know this as, "My cup runneth over."
Returning to the antiphon for Morning Prayer. Nuptial imagery binds the three commemorations in that solemn feast, as the Lord treats His Bride, the Church, to the washing of Baptism, the Magi's gifts, and a bottomless glass of the best wine. Although these events may be separated in time, they are joined in eternity as revelations of divine power and motives for abundant joy.