The Baptism of Christ
Piero della Francesca
Image: The National Gallery
Prior to 1955 today was celebrated as the Octave Day of the Epiphany, although as my old St Andrew's Missal points out the Gospel reading was that of the Baptism rather than the visit of the Magi, a survival of an earlier observance of the Baptism on this day. The abolition of the Octave of the Epiphany, regrettable as it was and is was balanced to some extent by restoring today as the feast of the Baptism. That can be seen as legitimate restoration and also providing for a greater degree of celebration of this event which marks the beginning of Our Lord's public ministry.
The Missal which came into use in 1962 retains this feast on this day, but the 1969 Missal moves it to the Sunday after Epiphany, or if Epiphany falls on a Sunday, or as now in England and Wales, if the obligation is transferred to the Sunday, the Baptism is observed on the Monday following. I suspect this was so that more people would attend Mass on the day, rather like the argument for transferring the Days of Obligation to the Sunday in recent years. In my opinion that is a wrong attitude to what people should be expected to do, but I understand the application of that argument if you do not challenge, or are not prepared to challenge, the faithful to practice the public observance faith as it should be done.
In terms of the calendar and the structure of the liturgical year I much prefer the 1955 arrangement, although I would also retain an Octave for Epiphany, and thereby give time to celebrate and reflect upon the manifestations of Our Lord's Divinity and mission. By giving the Baptism its own specific feast it improves on the previous practice, whereas the current Novus ordo concertinas the days together.
A related change in 1969 was moving the feast of St Hilary back one day to January 13th, from its traditional date of the 14th. When it fell on that day it was the first saint's day after the end of Epiphany, and hence its use as an indicator for terms such as those at Oxford.