The Guéranger Blog

Welcome to the Gueranger Blog! You have stumbled across the notebook I use to record my thoughts as I read through Dom Prosper Gueranger's 15-volume set, The Liturgical Year. I do not have any special expertise in liturgy, but I have some general knowledge of Catholic theology and an enthusiasm for Gueranger's magnum opus. Think of it as the Liturgical Year fan site!

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Thoughts on a Hymn for Epiphany

Canisius | 05 January, 2006 00:05

In Vol 3, p. 117-118, the first verspers of Epiphany, Gueranger offers a few stanzas from a hymn by Sedulius. It is a marvelous hymn, both in sound and content. First let me offer a smoother translation, and then I'll note a few thoughts about each stanza. The following can be sung to the tune of "On Jordan's Bank":

O cruel Herod, do you fear
Since God our King has now drawn near?
He will not strike your kingdom down
Who comes to give a heavenly crown.

The wise men journey towards his bed,
By following the star ahead;
For by this light they seek the Light
And by their gifts confess him God.

The heavenly Lamb bestows his touch
Upon the waters as they rush.
They do not take away his sins;
Nay by his washing we are cleansed.

The power shown is new in kind:
It reddens water into wine.
They pour the vessels out and then
The riv'let changes origin.

***

Thoughts on Stanza 1: When Herod asks where the Messiah will be born, the chief priests and scribes answer Herod's question by quoting Micah 5:2, "And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel." Some patristic commentators point out that they stopped too soon: the rest of the verse says, "and his going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity," which would have made it clear that this is not an earthly king, and thus not a threat to Herod.

Thoughts on Stanza 2: The wise men's gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh relate them to Isaiah 60 (see the reading for Mass on p. 121), where the kings of the gentiles are described as coming to offer these same gifts to Jerusalem. The passage begins by speaking to Jerusalem in this way: "Arise, shine, for your light has come!" So the kings come in response to the rising of the light of Jerusalem. We know from earlier in Isaiah that it is the suffering servant who has been given as "a light to the nations" who brings this new dawn for Jerusalem. In Matthew's Gospel, the three wise men come in response to the rising of a new light in the heavens, a new star. Given the connection with Isaiah 60, it is quite reasonable to see a connection between the light shed by the star and the portrayal of Jesus as the Light.

Thoughts on Stanza 3: It seems probable that the poem calls Jesus "the heavenly Lamb" because of what John says: "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!" By using this title, Sedulius calls attention to the seeming paradox of the source of forgiveness coming to a baptism for forgiveness.

Thoughts on Stanza 4: Very few miracles in Scripture are like this one at the wedding at Cana. Many miracles are healings; some seem to overcome nature, like when Isaiah turns the sun back; but very few involve a created thing changing its very nature. Sedulius calls attention to this special feature of this miracle by saying that this is a power "new in kind", and that the water "changes origin." A thing's origin indicates its nature: trees come from trees, dogs from dogs, rain from clouds, gold from the earth, and so on. Gold does not come from clouds, nor dogs from trees. But here Jesus changed water into wine: water is from rain, while wine is from grapes. He has changed its nature! One of the few similar miracles in Scripture was when God changed the water of the Nile into blood--and here too, we should associate the wine with blood.


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