06 Jan The Feast of the Epiphany
Today is the Feast of the Epiphany.
Bethlehem! of noblest cities
None can once with thee compare;
Thou alone the Lord from heaven
Didst for us Incarnate bear.
Fairer than the sun at morning
Was the star that told His birth;
To the lands their God announcing,
Hid beneath a form of earth.
By its lambent beauty guided,
See, the Eastern Kings appear;
See them bend, their gifts to offer,
Gifts of incense, gold, and myrrh.
Offerings of mystic meaning;
Incense doth the God disclose;
Gold a royal child proclaimeth;
Myrrh a future tomb foreshows.
Holy Jesus! in Thy brightness
to the gentile world displayed!
With the Father and the Spirit,
Endless praise to Thee be paid! (5)
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
“We have seen His star, and are come to adore Him.”–Matt, ii, 2.
The festival of the Epiphany, also called the Feast of the Holy Three Kings, is one of the most ancient feasts of the Church of God; and from the very earliest ages was celebrated with special rejoicing by the children of the Catholic Church. We find the cause for this in the fact that this feast is associated with the remembrance of the greatest graces in which the faithful in every nation of the earth rejoice,–namely, their call to the only saving faith, the holy Catholic Church.
We learn from sacred history, that in the early days of Christianity this feast was celebrated with greater solemnity even than Christmas, the birthday of our Lord himself; for as the Church exclaims in her joy on Holy Saturday: “Of what use would it be for us to be born if we had not been made partakers of the benefits of redemption?” So might we cry out: “Of what use to us would it be to possess all the goods and pleasures of the world, if the grace of being called to the true faith had not been granted to us through the mercy of God?”
The three kings with their attendants, prostrate at the feet of the Infant Jesus, were the firstlings of the heathens who acknowledged Jesus, and entered His Church. As we reflect upon the great happiness vouchsafed to them, the question forces itself upon us: “Why do not all nations likewise enjoy a participation in their happiness?” My answer is: “Because they do not look upward with the same love of truth to the star of the Magi;” and this, as I understand it, I will explain today.
O Mary, Queen of heaven and earth, Mother of the King of kings, obtain for us, from your divine Son, hearts deeply penetrated with the love of truth! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater glory of God!
Christ, before whom the three Magi knelt, calls himself the King of Truth. He calls His kingdom, the Church, a kingdom of truth; consequently, whosoever will enter His kingdom, and find therein salvation must love truth and seek it; then he will find it, follow it, and through its influence attain salvation. It was thus that the hearts of the Magi were disposed; therefore they learned to know Jesus and the truth contained in His Church, to live in her spirit, propagate the kingdom of Christ, and at last to enter the realm of His glory.
They saw the star, knew its signification, and followed it. Why? They loved truth. Had not this been the case, the annunciation of the birth of our Saviour through the star would not have excited so much interest in them. Had they not loved truth more than the goods and pleasures of this world, which, as crowned heads, they possessed in abundance, they would not have undertaken, at the cost of so much self-sacrifice, to seek for Christ. But they were more interested in obtaining the truth of salvation, in beholding the coming Teacher of nations, in learning to honor and adore Him, than in all the treasures of the world. Their resolution to search for Him was sublimely heroic.
If their eagerness for knowledge of heavenly things had not existed to so great a degree in their hearts, they might have thought within themselves: “It is well that He is born; He will surely arrange to come to us to teach us, or He will send some one else in His place. Besides, He is still a child, and can not converse with us, wherefore, then, should we undertake a journey connected with so many difficulties, and, perhaps, expose ourselves to the derision and mockery of the people of Jerusalem, to whom, it may be, the star did not appear?” All these circumstances, however, were of no weight with the three Magi, in whom eager desire and ardent love overpowered all other considerations, and they entered upon their journey.
The three sages searched for truth with assiduity and fearlessness. “Where is He who is to be born the King of the Jews?” Thus they inquired, full of confidence that their search would be rewarded, let the population of Jerusalem think what they would; let them mock and ridicule; did they but know the name of the place where the Messiah was to be born, according to the declaration of the prophets, they would find the way thereto, even if they could gain no companions for the journey, which it would seem was eventually the case, as they left Jerusalem alone. The star again appeared, and remained over the place wherein Mary abode with the child. They fall down before the divine Infant, and oh! with what joyful sentiments of adoration, love, and gratitude do they offer Him their homage! But, on the other hand, how graciously did the new-born babe bless them, and replenish their hearts with the power and unction of His grace; how did it strengthen them in their resolution to follow His inspirations, to live and die for Him, and to spread His kingdom among their people all over the earth!
The three Magi searched for the truth, found it, and returned, obedient to the admonition of an angel, by another road to their respective homes, thus to escape the snares of Herod, and to fulfill the will of God. It was thus, that these first fruits of faith in countries over which the dark cloud of heathenism still rested, gave the example unto all the children of men, how to know Christ and to enter heaven. And what is the reason that, up to this time, this was not done in such a manner as the mercy of God intended, for the evils of all mankind?
I answer by the assertion that love for truth is, in general, rare among men. They love darkness better than light,–delusion, which flatters them, more than the truth, which points to the exercise of duty, which teaches the spirit of Christian self-denial, which inspires contempt of human consideration, united with that fidelity which assures for us perseverance unto the end.
The gospel for today affirms that Herod, and with him all Jerusalem, was terrified at the message of the three Magi, that the Saviour, the King and Deliverer of the human race, was born. Herod was afraid, and trembled lest he should lose his throne. The scribes and Pharisees also, those whitened sepulchers of evil, as Christ called them, instead of rejoicing, were filled with alarm; for they felt, and truly, that the promised Messiah would penetrate their interior, and censure their hypocrisy and malice.
The people principally imitate those who have the power to govern or command them, and generally yield to the stronger will of men whose knowledge is superior to their own. They also felt disappointed, because they expected an earthly Messiah, who would elevate them to be the mightiest nation in the world, and endow them with all temporal advantages, riches, and pleasures. Yet now they hear He has entered this world without His advent being perceived, and, whilst the scribes remain in entire ignorance of His birth, men in the East are said to have seen His star, which nevertheless was not beheld by a single person in Jerusalem.
Love for truth was lacking in those who thus expressed themselves, and, therefore, they remained incredulous and indifferent, and did not even trouble themselves so far as to guide or direct the Magi to the vicinity of Bethlehem; nay, they probably regarded them as visionaries and dreamers. Behold here, as in a mirror, the character of the infidel, especially of those who, with premeditation, become infidels,–who, although born of Catholic parents, and brought up in the Church of God, later on, play the infidel, and pretend to waver in faith.
Such do not love truth, but the desire of their hearts is to find out what might make them rich and happy in this world. As regards their duties towards God–that is, with respect to religion–the generality of men are satisfied to live and die in that belief in which they were born, and do not inquire whether their religion is really the true religion.
Yes, a great portion, particularly of the so-called learned men, are afraid to recognize the truth, that they may not feel urged to confess and live according to its precepts. And, since they know that the word of truth condemns their sinful actions, and threatens them with terrible chastisements from God, they hate it, and wish that they could totally extirpate the kingdom of Christ on earth. If they, at times, arrive at the conviction that all their endeavors in this regard are Fruitless,–and if, at certain times, the voice of conscience whispers loudly that the threatenings of the Lord might one day be verified in them on account of their infidelity, then, in secret, like Herod, they tremble, and a fear, which for the time can not be stilled, fastens upon their souls.
Certainly they endeavor to appear, with all this, entirely different from what they are, and, therefore, become hypocrites, as Herod was. They assume the appearance of respecting God and His commands, Christ and His doctrines, but their actions do not correspond with their demeanor, for they persecute the Church with the direct intention to destroy her. Thereat they are filled with the suspicion which terrified the heart of Herod, that the Church would be dangerous to their plans. This is especially the case with rulers of the present day and with infidel politicians, although the experiences of the nineteenth century should long ago have opened their eyes, and forced them to see that the Holy Church not alone in spiritual, but in temporal affairs, exercises a most beneficial influence upon the state. They think to conquer by their cunning, just as Herod thought, but God's providence brings them to disgrace. I point especially to one propensity in the character of Herod, a fit type of this worthy class. He became a tyrant, and committed infanticide.
This also resembles, especially in our days, the conduct of the enemies of the truths of faith. Such men, if they succeed in grasping the reins of government, proceed to persecution, and as they are endowed with an evil prudence, they recognize that nothing can promote their ideas better than to pervert the Catholic youth to their dangerous ideas, and seek to destroy in their hearts the life of holy faith. Therefore their solicitude to impede the influence of the Church in the education of youth, with which that infanticide, of which Herod was guilty, is not to be compared.
Herod benefited the souls of the Holy Innocents against their will, whilst the Herods in our days corrupt the youth and destroy their souls. What crime! Therefore, children of the Church, thank God for your call to the only true Church–to the holy faith! Like the Magi, love the truth with all sincerity of heart. This disposition of heart is a pledge of victory over Lucifer, the “liar from the beginning.” Hold every-where and always to this maxim of life: ” Defend truth, and it will defend you and save you through Jesus Christ, the incarnate truth.”–Amen!
After the three Magi had first knelt in adoration and paid their homage to the new-born King of kings, they opened their treasures; and, according to Holy Writ, offered Him the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
At the annual recurrence of this feast, beloved in Christ, the meditation upon its mystery points to three circumstances which principally and powerfully attract our attention, namely: the star, the Infant (to whom it led), the three Magi, and the nature of their offering. Each of these three circumstances has its deep significance; and this year we shall especially consider the gifts of the three Magi, and the nature of their offering.
This consideration, beyond doubt, deserves a particular place, since the feast itself signifies the call of all nations to the Church of Christ. This call, which is most intimately connected with the salvation of our souls, pre-supposes that we have not only the happiness of being exteriorly called to the true Church of Christ, but that we also, as her faithful children, live truly in the spirit which animates her. But that our lives, as Catholics, may be indeed modeled according to the Church, the character of the gifts must be expressed in our Christian conduct. I will prove this today, and that through the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which symbolize the virtues which we must practise.
O Mary, you who, with the warmest feelings of thanks, accepted the gifts which the three Magi offered to your Divine Child, look graciously upon that which we are resolved ,to offer to Him. I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater glory of God!
The general signification of the feast which we celebrate today is well known to us, as also its importance for the salvation of our souls, because of our call to the true faith. Let us, therefore, from the depths of our grateful hearts, pour forth our ardent thanks for this priceless benefit, which has been granted to us in preference to millions and millions; yes, we have been called to the only true and saving faith before those nations whose people, during the long course of centuries, have lived and died in the darkness of error. But let us not forget the warning of the Lord. “From him to whom much has been given much will be required.”
And do not let us forget, beloved in Christ, that St. James cries out to us: “You believe: the devil believes, too; but show your faith by your works.” Christ assures us: “That the children of the house shall be cast out into extreme darkness.” From this it is evident that we must not only believe, but also live according to the faith; and such a life, I will not conceal from you, must bear the character of sacrifice, as every thing in the whole order of salvation clearly proves. It was decreed, by the eternal God, that man was to be redeemed and saved; and this by the bitter sacrifice which Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, offered. His whole life bore the character of sacrifice, and He terminated it by the sacrificial death of the cross.
He offered it already on the eve of His passion, at the Last Supper, in an unbloody manner, to His heavenly Father; and so instituted the Sacrifice of the New Law, which characterizes and includes the entire divine service of Holy Church. Sacrifice, considered in general, is the highest act of divine worship, as is shown by its usage even among the heathens. So much the more necessary, then, is it, that, in the New Law, divine worship must leave its impress and character in the life of every child of God, in imitation of our Lord and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
Those whom God has predestined to glory, He has also chosen to become like unto our Lord and Saviour, as we are most expressly assured by the Apostle of the Gentiles. The character of the life of Jesus was essentially one of sacrifice. He cries out to all mankind: “He who will follow Me, let him take up his cross and deny himself,” which signifies that our whole life must be one of self-denial, and, therefore, of constant sacrifice. It is of the utmost importance, therefore, that we be thoroughly penetrated by this truth. The spirit of the Gospel is arrayed in opposition to that of the world; and the character of the life of a worldling to that of a true Christian.
The character of the worldling is to enjoy himself in the fullest sense of the word; to plunge recklessly into pleasures' giddy maze; to satisfy every desire; to accomplish all his projects. This is the creed of the child of the world; while St. Paul, on the contrary, cries out to us, in a far different spirit: “Those who belong to Christ have crucified their flesh with its evil desires.” They are living burnt-offerings of the Lord, and their rule of life may be summed up in the following words: “Lord, I am Thine, with all that I am and I have; all is dedicated and offered for Thy greater glory.”
It must be so, and can not be otherwise; for we can serve God only in the spirit of self-denial and self-immolation, since, by the fall of our first parents, the law of the flesh and concupiscence have been firmly implanted in our members in opposition to the law of the Spirit. Therefore, since all who desire to belong to Christ have to live in this spirit of sacrifice, St. Peter calls the Christians, “A priestly people”; and those who finish their lives in this spirit will one day rejoice in heaven; for St. John declares: “Thou hast made of us kings and priests.”
But if, in the second place, you inquire what are really the most proper and special gifts which, as children of the Church we are bound to offer, they are symbolized by the gifts of the three holy kings. They offered to the Infant Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. I apply these gifts to our understanding, will, and heart, which are dedicated to God, and offered through our faith, as children of the Church, through our hope and our love.
This oblation of the life of a true Christian possesses, indeed, and that in the highest degree, the qualities which characterize a sacrifice in the service of God as an oblation of praise, thanksgiving, and expiation. I prove this through the following remarks: Man is, according to his nature, intellect, will, and heart.
The intellect is the power of the soul, by which we know the reality of things, and the relation which they bear toward one another. This faculty of the soul man offers to his God and Creator through holy faith; for holy faith places before him the truths which are above his comprehension. He believes them to be true only in consideration of the infallible truth, which is God Himself speaking to us by the mouth of the infallible Church. He believes these revealed truths, although they contradict the senses, and man should, by force of intellect, be utterly unable to penetrate them, or to prove them. This act, therefore, is an oblation of the intellect, and a magnificent and precious oblation it is. It is by faith, among other acts, that we honor God–the genuine coin or test-metal between true and false currency.
The will of man is, according to its nature, free. Naturally its desires tend toward the possession and enjoyment of that which is earthly; but the power of holy hope imparts to it the wish to aim after “the things which are above.” It draws man gently on to the resolution to yield his will to nothing whatsoever which is of “the earth, earthly”; but only to fulfill the will of God, who will reward our obedience and our fidelity with eternal bliss. This oblation is symbolized by the frankincense, whose sweet odor ascends toward heaven.
Our hearts feel and love, and naturally incline, toward creatures–toward other hearts. The power of love toward God effects that man loves God above all things,–every thing else he loves only in God and for God; and, that he may one day rejoice in the eternal possession of God, he joyfully resolves, in the fervor of his love, to sacrifice every thing in this world to overcome all difficulties which are an obstacle to the love of God. Yes, in the heat of this love, he desires even to sever the closest and tenderest bonds of friendship and nature.
This oblation is symbolized by myrrh, for no one is able to lead such a life without feeling, in regard to earthly things, and in the combat of the interior, the bitterness of self-sacrifice.
In this disposition, the faithful, hoping, and loving soul praises and thanks God unceasingly by her life, which is dedicated and immolated to the Lord. Well may we rejoice if we in truth have a right to declare before Christ, with St. Ignatius: “Take, O Lord, all my liberty, my intellect, my memory, and my entire will. All that I am and that I have, I have from Thee. I give and offer it all to Thee again. Give me only Thy love and Thy grace, and I am rich enough.”
Such is the gold, the frankincense, and the myrrh of our dedication and oblation to Him, the Triune God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen! (1)
Homily of St. Gregory the Great
Dearly beloved: As you have heard in the Gospel lesson, an earthly king was troubled when the King of Heaven was born. Earthly greatness is thus brought to confusion when the Majesty of Heaven appears. But, we ask, why is it, pray, that at the Redeemer's birth an angel appeared to the shepherds in Judea, while from the east, the Magi were led to adore Him, not by an angel, but by a star? The reason would appear to be this. To the Jews, as creatures possessing the use of reason, a reasoning being, that is an angel, speaks. The Gentiles, who do not seem to possess the use of reason, are not led to the knowledge of the Lord by a voice, but rather, by a sign. Hence, St. Paul says: Prophecies are given to believers not to unbelievers; and signs to unbelievers not to believers. Therefore the prophecies were given to the Jews, as to believers, and not unbelievers, whereas to the Gentiles, as to unbelievers, and not believers, signs were given.
Note further! It was the Apostles who preached the Redeemer–after He had reached His age of perfection–to those same Gentiles, even as a star, and not human voices proclaimed Him to the nations when He was an Infant, too young to speak. Surely common sense demands that the tongues of men should proclaim the Lord and His teaching, even as voiceless elements proclaimed Him before He had begun to speak. With all the signs which point to the birth and death of the Lord, consider how stony were the hearts of those Jews who would know Him neither through prophecies nor through miracles.
All elements in nature testified that their Creator had come. Let me indicate them in our everyday fashion. The heavens knew that He was God, for they sent a star to herald Him. The sea knew Him, for it bore up His feet upon it. The earth knew Him, and trembled when He died. The sun knew Him, and hid his light. The stones and walls knew Him, and were rent at His death. Hell knew Him, and gave up its dead. All the insensible elements of nature knew Him, but even up to this minute the hearts of the unbelieving Jews will not recognize Him as God, and–more hard than rock–will not be rent in penitence.
Homily of St. Augustine
Our Lord Jesus Christ, dearly beloved, Who from eternity is the Creator of all things, today, being born of a mother, has become for us a Savior. Today, of His own will, He is born for us in time, that he might lead us to eternal life in the Father. God is made man that man might be God. Today is the Lord of Angels become man, that man might eat the Bread of Angels.
Today is fulfilled that prophecy: Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down the Just One; let the earth be opened and bud forth a Savior. He Who had made others was Himself made that He might save those Who would perish. For in the psalm man confesses: Before I was humbled, I sinned. Man sinned and became guilty; the God-Man is born that He might deliver the guilty. Man indeed fell, but God descended. Man fell miserably, God descended mercifully. Man fell through pride, God descended with grace.
O miracle! O marvel! My brethren. The laws of nature are changed in man. God is born. A virgin conceives without knowing man; the Word of God weds her who knows not man. At one and the same time she is both mother and virgin–she becomes a mother, yet is undefiled. The Virgin bears a Son, yet knows not man. She is inviolate, but not barren. He alone is born without sin; the son born apart from the cooperation of man, conceived not in the concupiscence of the flesh, but through obedience of the virgin's soul. (2)
For families who practice traditions involving “the Magi” or “La Befana” leaving gifts for children, the day begins with the wee ones discovering what was left for them while they slept on Twelfth Night.
At today's Mass, there will be a blessing of gold, frankincense, myrrh, Epiphany Water, and, after Communion, a blessing of chalk. Bring small special items of gold to have with you during the Mass, and they will be blessed if they are exposed as you sit in your pew with them (wedding rings, rosaries, an heirloom piece of gold jewelry, for example).
When Mass is over, you will take some of the blessed chalk, frankincense, myrrh, and Epiphany Water home with you, so it's good to bring a container to transport Holy Water and one to put some grains of incense and a piece of chalk into. (Note: if you can, take and keep 5 pieces of blessed incense for your Paschal Candle this Easter),
When you get home, sprinkle some Epiphany water (otherwise and afterwards used as regular Holy Water) in the rooms of your house to protect it and bring blessings. This Holy Water recalls the waters of the Jordan, and is a visible reminder of Christ's Divinity, of Jesus's revealing Himself as God at His Baptism, when were heard the words from the Father: “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” This rite of blessing the home — led by a priest, if possible, or the father of the house if no priest is available — goes like this:
Upon entering the house:
|Peace be to this house.|
|And to all who dwell herein.|
From the east came the Magi to Bethlehem to adore the Lord; and opening their treasures they offered precious gifts: gold for the great King, incense for the true God, and myrrh in symbol of His burial.
During the Magnificat, the room is sprinkled with holy water and incensed.
My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For He hath regarded the humility of His handmaiden. For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For He that is mighty hath done great things to me, and holy is His Name. And His Mercy is from generation unto generations upon them that fear Him. He hath shewed might in His arm, He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel, His servant, being mindful of His mercy. As He spoke to our Fathers, Abraham and His seed forever.
After this is completed:
From the east came the Magi to Bethlehem to adore the Lord; and opening their treasures they offered precious gifts: gold for the great King, incense for the true God, and myrrh in symbol of His burial.
Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead and lead us not into temptation,
|But deliver us from evil.|
|All they from Saba shall come|
|Bringing gold and frankincense.|
|O Lord, hear my prayer.|
|And let my cry come unto Thee.|
Let us pray. O God, who by the guidance of a star didst on this day manifest Thine only-begotten Son to the Gentiles, mercifully grant that we who know Thee by faith may also attain the vision of Thy glorious majesty. Through Christ our Lord.
Be enlightened, be enlightened, O Jerusalem, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee– Jesus Christ born of the Virgin Mary.
And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light and kings in the splendor of thy rising, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon thee.
Let us pray. Bless, O Lord God almighty, this home, that in it there may be health, purity, the strength of victory, humility, goodness and mercy, the fulfillment of Thy law, the thanksgiving to God the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. And may this blessing remain upon this home and upon all who dwell herein. Through Christ our Lord.
After the prayers of the blessing are recited, walk through the house and bless each room by sprinkling with Epiphany water and incensing it.
Take the blessed chalk and first write the initials of the three Wise Men, connected with Crosses, over the inside of your front door (on the lintel, if possible). Then write the year, breaking up the numbers and the year so that they fall on both sides of the initials. It should look like this, for ex.:
20 C+M+B 19
with the “20 “being the millennium and century, the “C” standing for the first Wise Man, Caspar, the “M” standing for Melchior, the “B” standing for Balthasar, and the “19” standing for the decade and year. It is also popularly believed that the Kings' initials also stand for “Christus mansionem benedicat” (“Christ bless this house”).
Note that some write the first Wise Man's name as “Gaspar,” “Kasper,” or “Jaspar,” so the initials would be “G+M+B” or “K+M+B” or “J+M+B.” In any case, these initials over our doorway serve to remind us of Who the Magi saw and how they saw Him. They remind us to adore Him as they did. The chalk markings remain over the door 'til Pentecost.
It is a popular custom among some people that all who enter or re-enter their home for the first time after the blessing should step with their right foot across the threshold so as to start things off “on the right foot.”
It is customary in some religious orders to choose a new patron Saint today for the coming year. Families can do this, too, choosing a new Saint by designating someone (e.g., father or mother, etc.) to select the new Patron, by determing by lots who will select the new patron, by having family members write down their choices and choosing at random, by allowing the person to choose who presents the best argument for a particular Patron, etc. It would be very beneficial if the person who chooses teaches the rest of the family about that particular Patron, perhaps looking up the Saint in Butler's works, finding art work depicting the Saint, etc., and sharing it. (3)
Image: The Adoration of the Magi, artist: Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, circa
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff