January 13, 2021: THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD
January 13, 2021: COMMEMORATION OF THE BAPTISM OF OUR LORD
Rank: Greater Double.
being baptized, forthwith came out of the water: and lo, the heavens were opened to him: and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him. And behold a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
(St. Matth, iii. 16, 17)
“The voice of the Lord
is upon the waters: the God of majesty hath thundered, The Lord upon many waters.”
(Ps, xxviii. 3)
O God, whose Only Begotten Son appeared in the substance of our flesh: grant, we beseech thee, that by him, we may be reformed inwardly, whom we confess to have taken on himself our flesh outwardly. Who liveth, and reigneth, world without end. Amen.
“Behold my servant, I will uphold him: my elect, my soul delighteth in him: I have given my spirit upon him, he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.”
(Isaias, xlii. 1)
Interpretation and language of the Holy Fathers of the Church, on the event of the Baptism of our Lord.
The thoughts of the Church, to-day, are fixed on the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan, which is the second of the three Mysteries of the Epiphany. The Emmanuel manifested himself to the Magi, after having shown himself to the Shepherds; but this manifestation was made within the narrow space of a stable at Bethlehem, and the world knew nothing of it. In the Mystery of the Jordan, Christ manifested himself with greater publicity. His coming is proclaimed by the Precursor; the crowd, that is flocking to the river for Baptism, is witness of what happens; Jesus makes this the beginning of his public life. But who could worthily explain the glorious circumstances of this second Epiphany?
It resembles the first in this, that it is for the benefit and salvation of the human race. The Star has led the Magi to Christ; they had long waited for his coming, they had hoped for it; now, they believe. Faith in the Messias’ having come into the world is beginning to take root among the Gentiles. But faith is not sufficient for salvation; the stain of sin must be washed away by water. He that believeth and is baptised, shall be saved (St. Mark, xvi. 16). The time is come, then, for a new manifestation of the Son of God, whereby there shall be inaugurated the great remedy, which is to give to Faith the power of producing life eternal.
Now, the decrees of divine Wisdom had chosen Water as the instrument of this sublime regeneration of the human race. Hence, in the beginning of the world, we find the Spirit of God moving over the Waters (Gen, i. 2), in order that they might “even then conceive a principle of sanctifying power,” as the Church expresses it in her Office for Holy Saturday [in the Blessing of the Font]. But, before being called to fulfil the designs of God's mercy, this element of Water had to be used by the divine justice for the chastisement of a sinful world. With the exception of one family, the whole human race perished, by the terrible judgment of God, in the Waters of the Deluge.
A fresh indication of the future supernatural power of this chosen element was given by the Dove, which Noe sent forth from the Ark; it returned to him, bearing in its beak an Olive-branch, the symbol that peace was given to the earth by its having been buried in Water. But, this was only the announcement of the mystery; its accomplishment was not to be for long ages to come.
Meanwhile, God spoke to his people by many events, which were figurative of the future Mystery of Baptism. Thus, for example, it was by passing through the waters of the Red Sea, that they entered into the Promised Land, and during the miraculous passage, a pillar of a cloud was seen covering both the Israelites, and the Waters, to which they owed their deliverance.
But, in order that Water should have the power to purify man from his sins, it was necessary that it should be brought in contact with the sacred Body of the Incarnate God. The Eternal Father had sent his Son into the world, not only that he might be its Lawgiver, and Redeemer, and the Victim of its salvation—but that he might also be the Sanctifier of Water; and it was in this sacred element that he would divinely bear testimony to his being his Son, and manifest him to the world a second time.
Jesus, therefore, being now thirty years of age, comes to the Jordan, a river already celebrated for the prophetic miracles which had been wrought in its waters. The Jewish people, roused by the preaching of John the Baptist, were flocking thither in order to receive a Baptism, which could, indeed, excite a sorrow for sin, but could not effect its forgiveness. Our divine King approaches the river, not, of course, to receive sanctification, for he himself is the author of all justice—but to impart to Water the power of bringing forth, as the Church expresses the mystery, a new and heavenly progeny [in the Blessing of the Font]. He goes down into the stream, not, like Josue, to walk dry-shod through its bed, but to let its waters encompass him, and receive from him, both for itself and for the Waters of the whole earth, the sanctifying power which they would retain for ever. The saintly Baptist places his trembling hand upon the sacred head of the Redeemer, and bends it beneath the water; the Sun of Justice vivifies this his creature; he imparts to it the glow of life-giving fruitfulness; and Water thus becomes the prolific source of supernatural life.
But, in this the commencement of a new creation, we look for the intervention of the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. All Three are there. The heavens open; the Dove descends, not, as a mere symbol, prophetic of some future grace, but as the sign of the actual presence of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of love, who gives peace to men and changes their hearts. The Dove hovers above the head of Jesus, overshadowing, at one and the same time, the Humanity of the Incarnate Word and the water which bathed his sacred Body.
The manifestation is not complete; the Father's voice is still to be heard speaking over the Water, and moving by its power the entire element throughout the earth. Then was fulfilled the prophecy of David: The Voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of majesty hath thundered. The Voice of the Lord breaketh cedars, (that is, the pride of the devils). The Voice of the Lord divideth the flame of fire, (that is, the anger of God). The Voice of the Lord shaketh the desert, and maketh the flood to dwell, (that is, announces a new Deluge, the Deluge of divine Mercy) (Ps, cxxviii. 3, 5, 7, 8, 10). And what says this Voice of the Father? This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased (St. Matth, iii. 17).
Thus was the Holiness of the Emmanuel manifested by the presence of the Dove and by the voice of the Father, as his Kingly character had been previously manifested by the mute testimony of the Star. The mystery is accomplished, the Waters are invested with a spiritual purifying power, and Jesus comes from the Jordan and ascends the bank, raising up with himself the world, regenerated and sanctified, with all its crimes and defilements drowned in the stream. Such is the interpretation and language of the Holy Fathers of the Church regarding this great event of our Lord's Life.
The Feast of the Epiphany celebrates this wonderful mystery of Jesus' Baptism; and we cannot wonder at the Eastern Church having selected this Day for one of the solemn administrations of the sacrament of Baptism. The same custom was observed, as we learn from ancient documents, in certain Churches in the West… The Roman Church, even so early as the time of St. Leo, decreed that Easter and Pentecost should be the only two days for the solemn administration of Baptism; but the custom of blessing the baptismal water with great solemnity on the Epiphany was still retained…
Let us honour our Lord in this second Manifestation of his divinity, and thank him, with the Church, for his having given us both the Star of Faith which enlightens us, and the Water of Baptism which cleanses us from our iniquities. Let us lovingly appreciate the humility of our Jesus, who permits himself to be weighed down by the hand of a mortal man, in order, as he says himself, that he might fulfil all justice (St. Matth, iii. 15); for having taken on himself the likeness of sin, it was requisite that he should bear its humiliation, that so he might raise us from our debasement. Let us thank him for this grace of Baptism, which has opened to us the gates of the Church both of heaven and earth; and let us renew the engagements we made at the holy Font, for they were the terms on which we were regenerated to our new life in God.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to St. John, Chapter i.
At that time: John saw Jesus coming to him, and he saith: Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sins of the world. This is he of whom I said: After me there cometh a man, who is preferred before me; because he was before me. And I knew him not, but that he may be made manifest in Israel, therefore am I come baptising with water. And John gave testimony, saying: I saw the Spirit coming down as a dove from heaven, and he remained upon him. And I knew him not; but he who sent me to baptise with water, said to me: He upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining upon him, he it is that baptiseth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw: and I gave testimony, that this is the Son of God.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Christmas, Vol. I, Edition 1868; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
The soldier baptises his King, the servant his Lord, and John his Saviour: the waters of the Jordan were amazed, and testimony was borne by the Dove: the voice of the Father was heard: THIS IS MY SON.
St. John the Baptist, pray for us.