At first glance, the Baptism of the Lord might seem an odd feast. Since the Catholic Church teaches that the Sacrament of Baptism is necessary for the remission of sins, particularly Original Sin, why was Christ baptized? After all, He was born without Original Sin, and He lived His entire life without sinning. Therefore, He had no need of the sacrament, as we do.
In submitting Himself humbly to the baptism of St. John the Baptist, however, Christ provided the example for the rest of us. If even He should be baptized, though He had no need of it, how much more should have the rest of us be thankful for this sacrament, which frees us from the darkness of sin and incorporates us into the Church, the life of Christ on earth! His Baptism, therefore, was necessary–not for Him, but for us.
Many of the Fathers of the Church, as well as the medieval Scholastics, saw Christ’s Baptism as the institution of the sacrament.
His Flesh blessed the water, and the descent of the Holy Spirit (in the form of a dove) and the voice of God the Father announcing that this was His Son, in Whom He was well pleased, marked the beginning of Christ’s public ministry.
- Date: The Sunday after January 6. In most countries and dioceses, however, the celebration of Epiphany is transferred to the Sunday between January 2 and January 8, inclusive. When the celebration of Epiphany is transferred to January 7 or January 8, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord is transferred to the next day (Monday, January 8 or 9). To find the date of the Baptism of the Lord in this year, see When Is the Baptism of the Lord?
- Readings: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7, or Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10, or Psalm 104:1b-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-28, 29-30; Acts 10:34-38 or Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
- Prayers: Collect for the Octave – Day of the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ (from the Mass of St. Pius V): “O God, Whose only-begotten Son hath appeared in the substance of our flesh, grant, we beseech Thee, that we may be inwardly made in a new form by Him Whose form we have known to be outwardly like ours. Who with Thee liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end. Amen.”
The Baptism of the Lord has historically been associated with the celebration of Epiphany. Even today, the Eastern Christian feast of Theophany, celebrated on January 6 as a counterpart to the Western feast of Epiphany, focuses primarily on the Baptism of the Lord as the revelation of God to man.
After the Nativity of Christ (Christmas) was separated out from Epiphany, the Church in the West continued the process and dedicated a celebration to each of the major epiphanies (revelations) or theophanies (the revelation of God to man): the Birth of Christ at Christmas, which revealed Christ to Israel; the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles, in the visit of the Wise Men at Epiphany; the Baptism of the Lord, which revealed the Trinity; and the miracle at the wedding at Cana, which revealed Christ’s transformation of the world. (For more on the four theophanies, see the article on Christmas.)
Thus, the Baptism of the Lord began to be celebrated on the octave (eighth day) of Epiphany, with the miracle at Cana celebrated on the Sunday after that. In the current liturgical calendar, the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the Sunday after January 6, and, a week later, on the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, we hear the Gospel of the Wedding at Cana.