Monday 9 January 2023


 Yesterday evening I was back in the cathedral, for an Epiphany carol service with readings. The story of the Magi visiting the baby Jesus has never quite rung true (or made much sense) to me: it seems to be there mostly to bring the narrative into line with 'the scriptures' and to clear the way for the spreading of Christ's message into the wider (i.e. gentile) world. Epiphany also brings in the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, and his first miracle, the turning of water into wine at the Cana wedding feast. One of the highlights of the cathedral service was the choir's performance of Richard Allain's short but powerful Cana's Guest. Here it is performed by another cathedral choir –

Cana's Guest was written for a wedding, and it put me in mind of Richard Wilbur's lovely, loving 'Wedding Toast', written for his son's wedding:

'St John tells how, at Cana’s wedding feast,
The water-pots poured wine in such amount
That by his sober count
There were a hundred gallons at the least.
It made no earthly sense, unless to show
How whatsoever love elects to bless
Brims to a sweet excess
That can without depletion overflow.
Which is to say that what love sees is true;
That this world’s fullness is not made but found.
Life hungers to abound
And pour its plenty out for such as you.
Now, if your loves will lend an ear to mine,
I toast you both, good son and dear new daughter.
May you not lack for water,
And may that water smack of Cana’s wine.'

Cana's Guest was followed by a reading of T.S. Eliot's 'The Journey of the Magi', a great poem which for me rings  truer than the biblical accounts of this mysterious event. 
    At the end of the service, the congregation was asperged, i.e. sprinkled with holy water, from one side by the Dean's aspergillum, from the other by a water-dipped bunch of hyssop. We left refreshed. 


  1. Psalm 50, verse 9 in the Vulgate follows the Septuagint in saying that the Almighty will sprinkle the psalmist with the hyssop. The Authorized version, where it is Psalm 51, says "purge".

    A Tridentine missal, which gives this verse as the antiphon for sprinkling with holy water says it is to be done on the principal Mass of a Sunday. In the Roman Catholic Church now it seems to be limited to Easter season.

  2. Thanks George. I was rather surprised by the asperging at Epiphany – it's an Eastern Orthodox tradition, I gather, but Lichfield does seem to have Orthodox leanings (which is fine by me).