Rorate Caeli

The Blessing of Epiphany Water

Tomorrow, January 5, the eve of Epiphany (the “Vigil of Epiphany” in the pre-1960 liturgical books and in the 2002 Missal), the Roman-Rite Blessing of Epiphany Water will take place once more in a number of fortunate parishes or communities. A superb description (with pictures) of this splendid rite according to the pre-Conciliar Ritual can be found in the blog of the Brothers of the Little Oratory in San Diego:

This rite was inserted into the Roman Ritual in 1890, arguably making it the most recent example of the influence of Greek ceremonial on the Roman Rite prior to the liturgical reforms of the 20th century.

An English translation of the 1890 blessing can be found in Musings of a Pertinacious Papist: Part 1, Part 2.(See also this webpage, look for Blessing #5.)

There was apparently a botched attempt to abolish this ritual in the early 20th century, as the following passage from a well-known rubrical guide shows: “(t)he solemn Blessing of Water which had been introduced in some places, and which owes its origin to the Greek Church, as is shown in the Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, 3730 … is to be struck out as abrogated, according to the Decree of the same Congregation, 3792, ad XV, and therefore it is not permitted to use it in the future. It is, nevertheless, retained in the revised edition of the Rituale Romanum (Vatican, typical, 1925), p. 705 ” (No. 547 of Matters Liturgical, 1938 edition, by Joseph Wuest C.SS.R and Thomas Mullaney C.SS.R.). At any rate, the blessing has continued to be used in some communities down to our own day, and is being rediscovered by others. 

It should be noted that prior to 1890, the solemn Blessing of Water was already to be found in some diocesan rituals (especially in Germany). There was also a particularly elaborate form of this blessing that was used at least until 1890 in Sant' Andrea della Valle and some other churches in Rome. It's text -- which is far longer than the 1890 text, with a Lesson and a Gospel reading, responsories and antiphons, a Preface, a Sanctus, and very long blessings -- can be found in pp. 1-46 of  The Blessing of the Waters on the Eve of the Epiphany