The Latin Mass Society of New Zealand

Traditional Feast of the Epiphany

Traditional Feast of the Epiphany

Traditional Feast of the Epiphany

Traditional Feast of the Epiphany

Adoration of the Magi by Giotto.Today is the traditional observance of the Feast of the Epiphany — 6 January.  Today, then, is “little Christmas.”  “The word ‘Epihpany’ means ‘manifestation’.  The Church in the Mass, commemorates a triple manifestation of Christ: to the Magi, that is, to the Gentiles; in His Baptism, when the Voice from heaven declared: ‘This is My Beloved Son’; and in the miracle of changing water into wine at Cana.” [Baronius, Daily Missal, pg. 237]

Of course, on this day it is traditional to focus on the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  Their arrival from the East, following a star, is rich with meaning and symbolism.  The gospel of St. Matthew records, in chapter 2:
1 Jesus was born at Bethlehem, in Juda, in the days of king Herod. And thereupon certain wise men came out of the east to Jerusalem, 2 who asked, Where is he that has been born, the king of the Jews? We have seen his star out in the east, and we have come to worship him. 3 King Herod was troubled when he heard it, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 so that he assembled all the chief priests and learned men among the people, and enquired of them where it was that Christ would be born. 5 And they told him, At Bethlehem in Juda; so it has been written by the prophet: 6 And thou, Bethlehem, of the land of Juda, art far from the least among the princes of Juda, for out of thee will arise a leader who is to be the shepherd of my people Israel. 7 Then, summoning the wise men in secret, Herod questioned them closely upon the time of the star’s appearing. 8 And he sent them on their way to Bethlehem, saying to them, Go and enquire carefully for the child, and when you have found him, bring me back word, so that I too may come and worship him. 9 They obeyed the king, and went on their journey; and all at once the star which they had seen in the east was there going before them, till at last it stood still over the place where the child was. 10 They, when they saw the star, were glad beyond measure;11 and so, going into the dwelling, they found the child there, with his mother Mary, and fell down to worship him; and, opening their store of treasures, they offered him gifts, of gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 Afterwards, because they had received a warning in a dream forbidding them to go back to Herod, they returned to their own country by a different way.”

The Magi from the East, represent the Gentiles who, like the Jews, would be saved by the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  Their gifts represent the Kingship, Divinity, and finally the sacrifice and death of Christ.

May we, like the Magi, adore the newborn Christ and offer Him worth gifts!

File:Bartolomé Esteban Murillo - Adoration of the Magi - Google Art Project.jpg
Adoration of the Magi by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 17th century.

For more on the Epiphany:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Epiphany

Fisheaters: Twelfth Night

Fisheaters: Epiphany

Cologne Cathedral, in the Rhineland of Germany.
[“Cologne cathedrale vue sud” by Velvet – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons]

As for the three Magi themselves:
“We don’t know that from Scripture, but tradition relates that were were three, and that there were three gifts mentioned supports this notion as well. Tradition says, too, that these three men were representative of the three ages of man and of the three “racial types” of man, the three families that descended from Noe’s three sons (Sem, Cham, and Japheth). According to tradition, Caspar was the young, beardless, ruddy descendant of Ham who brought frankincense. Melchior was an old, white-haired, bearded descendant of Sem who brought gold. And Balthasar was a bearded black descendant of Japheth, in the prime of his life, who brought myrrh (see the works of the Venerable Bede).

Tradition also has it that the kings were baptized by St. Thomas, and they are considered Saints of the Church. Though their feasts aren’t celebrated liturgically, the dates given for them in the martyrology are as follows: St. Caspar on 1 January; St. Melchior on 6 January; and St. Balthasar on 11 January.”

The relics of the three Magi are reputed to rest in the great cathedral of Cologne in Germany.  You can visit their website here: Cologne Cathedral Official Website

File:Dreikönigenschrein köln.JPG
Shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne Cathedral.
[“Dreikönigenschrein köln” by Welleschik – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons]

This link goes to the page specifically on the shrine of the three kings: Shrine of the Three Holy Kings

For more on those three kings, you might note:
Catholic Saint Info: St. Balthasar

Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Magi