The proclamation of Moveable Feasts, or Noveritis, that we have just heard is a very ancient tradition of the Church that certainly comes from Alexandria, great city of culture and of knowledge. There were astronomers who were asked by the Patriarch to find out the date of Easter for each year. Remember that the date of Eastern is determined by the lunar calendar, which has been definitively established by the First Council of Nicaea on the first Sunday after the full moon that follows the equinox of spring. Keep also in your mind that at this time, not everybody had a calendar, and that internet was not yet invented. What seems obvious for us was certainly not in the old days. So it was necessary to let know all the different churches of the dates of the major feasts of the liturgical year.
Once the Patriarch of Alexandria was notified of the date of Easter, he sent the news to the other Patriarchs of the Eastern Churches and to the Pope who could then notify the Patriarchs of the Western Churches. The Bishops made a custom of sending an epistola festivalis which was a pastoral letter announcing the dates of Easter and of all the major moveable feasts of the year. The whole Church could then celebrate the great mysteries of our Faith at the same time. This custom even became a canonical obligation in certain places. We have for example a canon from the Council of Orléans in 541 that commands the priests to send delegates to their bishops before the Feast of the Epiphany in order to enquire about the date of the liturgical Feasts and to inform their parishioners on the day of the Epiphany.
The choice of the day of the Epiphany for such an announcement is certainly due to some practical reason. The Epiphany of Our Lord is a major Feast and was attended by all the faithful; and it takes place at the beginning of the year. But as often, some spiritual motives are joined to the practical ones. The date of Easter was told by the astronomers who study the movement of the stars. It is precisely a star that led the Wise Men to the Baby Jesus.
Dom Guéranger also says that this custom shows both the mysterious connection which unites the great Solemnities of the year one with another, and the importance the Faithful ought to attach to the celebration of that which is the greatest of all, and the centre of all Religion. After having honored the King of the universe on the Epiphany, we shall have to celebrate him, on the day which is now announced to us, as the conjuror of death.
The Feast of the Epiphany is the feast of the manifestations of the Divinity of Our Lord, the Sun of Justice that shines now into the world. The Wise Men, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost came to adore the Baby Jesus; at the time of His Baptism, the Father Himself gave testimony of the Divinity of His Son; and in Cana of Galilee the Incarnate Word performed His first public miracle. As the mystery of the Epiphany brings upon us three magnificent rays of the Sun of Justice (Dom Guéranger), the celebration of this mystery brings a light on the whole liturgical calendar. The Epiphany is indeed great Feast, and the joy caused us by the Birth of our Jesus must be renewed on it, for, as though it were a second Christmas Day. The Epiphany shares with the Feasts of Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, the honor of being called, in the Canon of the Mass, a Day most holy. It is also one of the cardinal Feasts, that is, one of those on which the arrangement of the Christian Year is based; for, as we have Sundays after Easter, and Sundays after Pentecost, so also we count six Sundays after the Epiphany.
So dear brethren, it is with a great solemnity and religious feeling that we ought to spend this holy day. Let us remember with joy and gratitude the gift of the Incarnation. May the light of Christ shine in our hearts and in our lives! Let us keep it throughout the year so that 2010 can really be a year of grace, marked by the celebration of the mysteries of Our Savior Jesus Christ. Let us go in spirit to the manger of Bethlehem with the Wise Men and adore our Redeemer. And may our Blessed Mother be always with us, so that we can recognize the signs of her Divine Son.