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When the Wine is Gone

We made a firm move into Epiphanytide, the few weeks before pre-Lent’s Septuagesima Sunday. There is a strong magnetic attraction back to Epiphany on this 2nd Sunday after that great feast. Epiphany, really always on 6 January, was once endowed with its own Octave, regrettably abolished in 1955. The former Octave Day, always 13 January because Epiphany falls – it bears repeating – always on 6 January, is in the Vetus Ordo calendar now honored as the Commemoration of the Baptism of the Lord. This is entirely appropriate, since at Christ’s baptism by John, the bystanders heard the voice of the Father declare that Jesus was His Son. Therefore, the Baptism is a manifestation of Christ’s divinity, just as the symbolic gifts of the Magi identified the infant Jesus as divine.

On this 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, we read the Gospel passage about the Wedding at Cana during which the Lord worked His first public miracle and changed water into wine, thus revealing His godhead.   Hence, Epiphany and the Octave/Baptism and this 2nd Sunday are powerfully oriented to each other like super-charged loadstones. In fact, the Magnificat Antiphon for Vespers for Epiphany and its former Octave, the Baptism, conveys the ancient belief of the Church that three great events occurred on the same day of the year, Epiphany:

Tribus miráculis * ornátum diem sanctum cólimus: hódie stella Magos duxit ad præsépium: hódie vinum ex aqua factum est ad núptias: hódie in Iordáne a Ioánne Christus baptizári vóluit, ut salváret nos, allelúia.

We revere this holy day, decorated with three miracles: * today a star led the wise men to the manger; today at the marriage water was made wine; today for our salvation Christ desired to be baptized by John in Jordan. Alleluia.

Holy Church, knowing that we need more than one day to reflect on so great a mystery as the manifestation of Christ’s divine nature, teased these miraculous events out into a chain of related holy days. This was not wholly obliterated in the post-Conciliar calendar, but it is greatly obscured by the juggling of Epiphany onto this or that Sunday, the ending of the season of Christmas and the abrupt introduction of “Ordinary Time” in place of the Season of Epiphany, reading about the Wedding at Cana only in “Year C” of the new-fangled Lectionary. There is a sterile, clinical feel in the Novus Ordo. I call to mind a passage from Joseph Ratzinger’s The Feast of Faith about the reform and liturgical time:

One of the weaknesses of the post-Conciliar liturgical reform can doubtless be traced to the armchair strategy of academics, drawing up things on paper which, in fact, would presuppose years of organic growth. The most blatant example of this is the reform of the Calendar: those responsible simply did not realize how much the various annual feasts had influenced Christian people’s relation to time […] they ignored a fundamental law of religious life.

As we move into green-clad Epiphanytide, we draw near to another tragically excised year-marker, Septuagesima. Was that truly for the good of the faithful? Was that truly in keeping with Tradition? One is forced to ask how the elimination of these things and so many others were in keeping with the mandates of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council in Sacrosanctum Concilium 23 that,

There must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.

It boggles the mind that some continue to insist that in important elements the Novus Ordo accurately reflects those two guardrails put in place for the reform by the Council Fathers.

Moving to more pleasant thoughts, we can for the sake of your preparation for Sunday Mass have a look at some gems within the Gospel from John 2 about the Wedding at Cana. Since we saw the “three miracles” associated with Epiphany, I’ll attempt to make three quick points.

The first point concerns the “third.” Right off the bat, John included the detail that these events took place on “the third day.” Jewish wedding celebrations lasted not just one day, but several days. Hence, running out of wine, which was the bridegroom’s duty to supply, isn’t such a hard thing to imagine.

Jesus’s mother, Mary, surely with that refined voice of feminine expectation, prompted her Son to do something about the lack of wine. The Lord answered in the Revised Standard Translation (RSV), “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” The old Douay-Reims (DRA) rendering is closer to the Greek and sounds less like an unthinkable moment of disrespect: “Woman, what is that to me and to thee? my hour is not yet come.”

By calling Mary “woman,” as He did when He is dying on the Cross, He did not disparage her. This title looks backward to the first Eve and forward to the woman clothed with the sun in Revelation 12. And, in relation to the Cross, when in John the Lord talks about His “day” or “hour” He was looking toward the time of His Passion and death, when the work of our salvation would be fulfilled.

There is a connection between these elements of a wedding banquet, the matter of the wine, the response of the Lord to Mary’s implicit request, and the saving work of the Cross.

Mary knew who the Lord was. She seems in this moment to have wanted her Son to institute the new Messianic Age which the Jews hoped for. However, there was more to the Lord’s response, and then action, than a mere revelation of Himself as Messiah.

Consider the amount of water that He changed to wine. If there were six 30-gallon jars there for the ritual purifications which the Jews frequently performed, there would have resulted some 180 gallons of wine, a superabundance even for a celebration of lasting several days. In Isaiah 25 we have a description of the day of salvation, when God will “swallow up death forever” and will “wipe away tears from all faces.” That day will be marked by a feast of fine wine.

Moreover, as the days of celebration at Cana were a wedding feast, and the bridegroom was supposed to supply the wine, and since Christ was the one who supplied it, then Christ was also revealed as the Divine Bridegroom, which is how the prophets describe God Himself (e.g., Isaiah 62:4-5; Hosea 16:19-20). As St. Augustine (+430) explained in his commentaries on 1 John (tr 2.2):

Every celebration [of the Eucharist] is a celebration of Marriage; the Church’s nuptials are celebrated. The King’s Son is about to marry a wife, and the King’s Son [is] himself a King; and the guests frequenting the marriage are themselves the Bride…

In addition, if the phrase, “my hour has not yet come” referred to His self-offering in the Passion, then it referred also to the Last Supper in which wine was changed to Christ’s own Blood, rather than water to wine, and the fourth or final cup of wine at that Passover banquet was left untasted until Christ is suffering on His Cross, thus uniting the Last Supper and Calvary as a continuous reality.

Furthermore, in a couple more chapters, the Iohannine “hour” language returns when the Lord conversed with the woman at the well in the region of the Samaritans. When she brought up that the Samaritans worshipped God on their mountain and the Jews on theirs, Christ responded:

Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father… The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth (John 4:21–23).

The way that God will eventually be worshiped will be Eucharistic. Also, in chapter 5, when Christ healed on the Sabbath, He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25–29).  And even more, in chapter 12, when in fulfillment of prophecies that the Gentiles would herald the Messiah, when Greek-speakers approached Philip (a Greek name) so they could meet the Lord, He said, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified” (John 12:23). Examples of “hour” language can be multiplied. Note, however, that the glory which the Lord foresaw in John 12, is the “glory” John wrote of in the Prologue to his Gospel when he says that “we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14),” meaning that very time when Christ suffered and died on the Cross.

Okay, that may be more than three points. I’ll close on this.

When we experience a trial or a lack of something beneficial, like the wine at the banquet, we must be, as Paul teaches the Romans in the Epistle, both patient and hopeful.

For example, imagine that the wine which ran out is a symbol of the Traditional Latin Mass which you desire for your Eucharistic banquet together. Perhaps your wine jar is almost empty. Perhaps you cannot have this Mass as often as you desire. Ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to intercede with Our Lord on behalf of this need. Mary loves you. Ask Mary to ask Our Lord to provide. In the meantime, do whatever the Lord tells you. In the meantime, you might also do whatever I tell you: Recite, daily, a Memorare for the perseveration and expansion of our beautiful sacred liturgical patrimony. And go to confession.

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