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Weekly Bulletin January 7, 2024
by Terrie Evans
On this Sunday, January 7th, we honor the Epiphany of the Lord to commemorate the manifestation of Christ to the whole world as represented by the Magi from the East (Mt. 2:1-12). It is also referred to as Three Kings Day and is sometimes celebrated as Little Christmas. In some Western Churches, the eve of Epiphany is known as Twelfth Night with the Monday after the Epiphany known as Plough Monday. The Feast of the Epiphany is part of Christmastime that extends from the First Vespers of Christmas on the evening of December 24th and up to the Sunday after Epiphany. In some parts of Europe, the priest will bless Epiphany water, frankincense, gold, and chalk that will be used to bless churches and homes. The water is blessed and then taken home to be used with prayers as a blessing as they bless their homes and themselves. The blessed chalk will be used for marking homes with the initials of the three Magi, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar written over doors saying the Latin Phrase, Christus Mansionem Benedicat (May God Bless this House). We will bless chalk on this Sunday to take bless our own homes and that of our family members for 2024.
In ancient times, the priest would announce the date of Easter Sunday on the feast of the Epiphany. At a time when calendars were not available, the church would then need to announce the date of Easter since important dates on the liturgical calendar needed to be publicized. The date would be sung or proclaimed by a reader after the reading of the Gospel or after the post communion prayer. In Italy, Epiphany is a national holiday and celebrated with the figure of La Befana, the broomstick riding elderly woman who had missed the opportunity to bring a gift to the child Jesus when the Magi invited her on their journey. She was too busy doing her chores and now uses her broom to visit all the good children on the night before the Epiphany. On the Feast of the Epiphany, greenery and nativity scenes are taken down with king cakes and gifts given as the celebratory close to the Christmas season. The famous carol, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” was written about the days between December 25th and the Epiphany.
On the Monday, January 8th, following the Epiphany, we commemorate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord celebrated in the Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran Churches. In Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated as an integral part of the Epiphany. In many Methodist Churches, it is celebrated on the 2nd Sunday in January. The Baptism of the Lord was originally one of three Gospel events marked by the feast of the Epiphany until Pope Pius XII instituted a separate liturgical commemoration of the Baptism of the Lord in 1955. Later, Pope John XXIII revised the calendar keeping the Commemoration of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ as a rank of a second-class feast with Pope Paul VI later setting the date as the first Sunday after January 6th or, if in a particular country the Epiphany is celebrated on Sunday January 7th. There is the custom initiated by Pope John Paul II where on this feast, the Pope will Baptize babies in the Sistine Chapel.
On Tuesday, January 9th the Catholic Church begins Ordinary Time which will continue until February 13th, Shrove Tuesday, and the beginning of the Liturgical Season of Lent on Ash Wednesday on February 14th. On January 13th, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates Hilary of Poitiers (310-367) also venerated in the Eastern Orthodox, Anglican Communion, Lutheran and Oriental Orthodoxy Churches. He became Bishop of Poitiers and a Doctor of the Church who was referred to as the “Hammer of the Arians” when Arianism was a threat to the Western Church. The Arians did not believe in the divinity of Christ and at that time, had a lot of power and the support of Emperor Constantius. Hilary summed up the problem with the Arian heretics when he said, “they didn’t know who they were.” Hilary felt he knew very little about the whole Arain controversy when he was banished. Many persecutions resulted when there was condemnation of St. Athanasius and there was no exception for Hilary who was exiled from Poitiers. Saint Jerome said of the spread of the heresy: “The world groaned and marveled to find that it was Arian.” Arianism was the heresy propagated by the monk Athanasius claiming that Jesus Christ was created and not divine.
When Emperor Constantius ordered all the bishops of the West to sign a condemnation of Athanasius, the great defender of the faith in the East, Hilary refused and was banished from France to far off Phrygia. Eventually he was called the “Athanasius of the West.” While banished, Hilary researched everything about what the Arians said and he wrote: “Although in exile we shall speak through these books and the word of God, which cannot be bound, shall move about in freedom.” He spent time in exile writing on the Trinity, “For one to attempt to speak of God in terms more precise than he himself has used-to undertake such a thing is to embark upon the boundless, to dare the incomprehensible. He fixed the names of His nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Whatever is sought over and above this is beyond the meaning of words, beyond the limits of perception, beyond the embrace of understanding.” After three years in exile, the emperor allowed Hilary to return to Poitiers as the emperor was tired of having to deal with the troublemaker, “a Sower of discord and a disturber of the Orient”. Hilary did not hurry back but took his time traveling through Greece and Italy and preaching against the Arians. On his return to Poitiers, Hilary risked death continuing his role as Bishop in the 4th Century. Hilary is considered the 1st Latin Christian hymn writer and according to St. Jerome, three hymns are attributed to him. He died in 367 and canonized pre-congregation and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1851. St. Hilary’s symbol are three books and a quill pen. A Prayer: “Saint Hilary of Poitiers, instead of being discouraged by your exile, you used your time to study and write. Help us to bring good out of suffering and isolation in our own lives and see adversity as an opportunity to learn about or share our faith. Amen.” The city of Poitiers, home of St. Hilary is an important geographic crossroads between France and Western Europe. The Battle of Tours in 732 took place in the area around Poitiers and in 1356, the city was one of the key battles fought in the Hundred Years War. It is a city of art and history and is known as Ville Aux Cent Clochers, City of 100 Bell towers with the 4th Century Baptistere Saint-Jean, the oldest church in France. In the United Sates, there are schools and churches dedicated to St. Hilary of Poitiers in Fairlawn and Akron Ohio, in Tiburon and Pico Rivera California, in Chicago, Illinois, Rydal, Pennsylvania and in Raceland, Louisiana.