VIII. --THE EPIPHANY
Abbot Marmion, O.S.B.
SUMMARY. - - God Eternal light, is chiefly manifested by the
Incarnation. - I. The manifestation to the Magi signifies the
calling of the pagan nations to the light of the Gospel. II. The
Magi's faith, prompt and generous, is the model of what ours
should be. - III. What the Magi did when the star disappeared. - -
IV. The greatness of their faith at Bethlehem; symbolism of the
gifts offered by them to the Child God; how we may imitate them
Whenever a soul comes into a more intimate contact with God, she
feels herself wrapt around with mystery: Nubes et caligo in
circuitu ejus (Ps 46:2). This mystery is the inevitable
consequence of the infinite distance that separates the creature
from the Creator. On all sides, the finite being is surpassed by
Him Who, everlastingly, is the plenitude of Being.
This is why one of the most profound characters of the Divine
Being is His incomprehensibility. The invisibility here below of
the Divine Light is a truly wonderful thing.
"God is Light," says St. John; He is the Infinite Light, "and in
Him there is no darkness": Deus lux est, et tenebrae in eo non
sunt ullae. St. John is careful to note that this truth
constitutes one of the foundations of his Gospel: Et haec est
annuntiatio quam audivimus ab eo, et annuntiamus vobis (1 Jn 1:5).
But this light, which bathes us all in its brightness, instead of
manifesting God to the eyes of our souls, hides Him. It is with
this light as with the sun: its very brilliancy prevents us from
contemplating it: Lucem inhabitat inaccessibilem (1 Tim 6:16).
And yet this light is the life of the soul. You will have noticed
that, in Holy Scripture, the ideas of life and light are
frequently associated. When the psalmist wants to describe the
eternal beatitude whereof God is the source, he says that in God
is the principle of life: Torrente voluptatis tuae potabis eos.
Quoniam apud te est fons VITAE; and he immediately adds: "And in
Thy light we shall see light": Et in lumine tuo VIDEBIMUS LUMEN
(Ps 35:9-10). It is in the same way that Our Lord declares Himself
to be "the Light of the world". Again He says (and here is
something more than a mere juxtaposition of words), "He that
followeth Me walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of
life ":: Habebit LUMEN VITAE (Jn 8:12). And this light of life
proceeds from the Life by essence which is Light: In ipso vita
erat, et vita erat lux hominum (Ibid 1:4). Our life in heaven will
be to know the Eternal Light unveiled, and to rejoice in the
splendour of this Light.
Already, here below, God gives a participation of this light by
endowing the human soul with reason. Signatum est super nos lumen
vultus tui, Domine (Ps 4:7). Reason is a true light for man. All
the natural activity of man, if he is to be worthy of himself,
ought to be directed first of all by that light which shows him
the good to be pursued; a light so powerful that it is even
capable of revealing to man the existence of God and some of His
perfections. St. Paul, writing to the faithful in Rome (Rom 1:20),
declares the pagans to be inexcusable for not having known God
through contemplating the world, His handiwork. God's works
contain a vestige, a reflection of His perfections, and thus, up
to a certain point, declare the infinite light.
There is another deeper, more merciful manifestation that God has
made of Himself: it is the Incarnation.
The divine light, too dazzling to be manifested in all its
splendour to our feeble sight, is veiled beneath the sacred
Humanity: quod est velamen, is the expression of St. Paul" (Cf.
Heb 10:20). "The brightness of eternal light" (Sap 7:26), light
shining forth from light, lumen de lumine, the Word had clad
Himself in our flesh that through it we may contemplate the
Divinity: Nova mentis nostrae oculis lux tuae claritatis infulsit
(Preface for the Nativity), Christ is God brought within our
reach, showing Himself to us in a life authentically human; the
veil of the Humanity prevents the infinite and dazzling splendour
of the Divinity from blinding us.
But for every soul of good will, rays come forth from this Man
revealing that He is likewise God. The soul enlightened by faith
knows the splendour hidden behind the veil of this Holy of Holies.
In the mortal Man that Jesus is, faith finds God Himself, and in
finding God, she drinks at the source of light, salvation and
immortal life: Quia cum Unigenitus tuus in substantia nostrae
mortalitatis apparuit, nova nos immortalitatis suae luce reparavit
(Preface for the Epiphany).
This manifestation of God to men is so extraordinary a mystery, a
work so full of mercy; it constitutes one of the characters so
essential to the Incarnation that, in the first centuries, the
Church had no special feast in honour of the Saviour's Birth at
Bethlehem. She celebrated the feast of the "Theophania," the feast
of the "Divine manifestations" in the Person of the Incarnate
Word:-the manifestation to the Magi,-the manifestation upon the
banks of the Jordan at the Baptism of Jesus,-and the manifestation
at the marriage feast of Cana where Christ wrought His first
miracle. In passing from the Church of the East to that of the
West, the feast has retained its name in Greek: Epiphany, the
"manifestation"; but it has almost exclusively for its object the
manifestation of the Saviour to the Gentile world, to the pagan
nations, in the person of the Magi.
You well know the Gospel narrative of the coming of the Magi to
Bethlehem, a narrative illustrated and popularised by tradition
(Most authors place the coming of the Magi after the presentation
of Jesus in the Temple we here follow the order indicated by the
Church which, in the liturgy, celebrates the Epiphany on January
6th and the Presentation on February 2nd.) . I will simply say a
few words upon the general signification of the mystery;
afterwards, whilst dwelling on certain details, I will point out
some of the numerous lessons that it contains for our devotion.
The Fathers of the Church have seen in the call of the Magi to
Christ's cradle the vocation of pagan nations to the Faith. This
is the very foundation of the mystery, explicitly indicated by the
Church in the collect wherein she sums up the desires of her
children on this solemnity: Deus qui hodierna die Unigenitum tnum
GENTIBUS stella duce revelasti.
The Incarnate Word is first of all manifested to the Jews in the
person of the shepherds. Why was this? Because the Jewish people
were the Chosen People. From this people was to come forth the
Messias, the Son of David. The magnificent promises to be realised
in the establishing of the Messianic Kingdom had been made to this
people; it was to them that God had entrusted the Scriptures and
given the Law whereof each element prefigured the grace that was
to be brought by Christ. It was then befitting that the Incarnate
Word should first be manifested to the Jews.
The shepherds, simple and upright men, represented the Chosen
People at the Crib: Evangelizo vobis gaudium magnum.., quia natus
est vobis hodie Salvator (Lk 2:10-11).
Later on, in His public life, Our Lord would again manifest
Himself to the Jews, by the wisdom of His doctrine and the
splendour of His miracles.
We shall even find that He restricts His teaching to the Jews
alone. See, for example, when the woman of Canaan, from the pagan
regions of Tyre and Sidon, asks Him to have mercy upon her. What
does Christ answer to the disciples when they interpose in her
favour? "I was not sent but to the sheep that are lost of the
house of Israel" (Mt 15:24). It needed the ardent faith and
profound humility of the poor pagan woman to wrest from Jesus, so
to speak, the grace that she implored.
When, during His public life, Our Lord sent His Apostles to
preach, like Himself, the good news, He likewise said to them: "Go
ye not into the way of the Gentiles, and into the city of
Samaritans enter you ye not. But go ye rather to the lost
sheep of the house of Israel" (Mt 10:5-6). Why this strange
recommendation? Were the pagans excluded from the grace of
redemption and salvation brought by Christ? No; but it entered
into the divine economy to reserve the evangelization of the pagan
nations to the Apostles, after the Jews should have definitely
rejected the Son of God, by crucifying the Messias. When Our Lord
dies upon the cross, the veil of the temple is rent in twain to
show that the Ancient Covenant with the Hebrew people had ceased.
Many Jews indeed did not want to receive Christ. The pride of
some, the sensuality of others, blinded their souls, and they
would not receive Him as Son of God. It is of them that St. John
speaks when he says: "The light shineth in darkness, and the
darkness did not comprehend it" (Jn 1:5, 11). Therefore Our Lord
says to these incredulous Jews: "The Kingdom of God shall be taken
from you, and shall be given to a nation yielding the fruit
thereof" (Mt 21:43).
The pagan nations are called to become the inheritance promised by
the Father to His Son Jesus: Postula a me, et dabo tibi gentes
haereditatem tuam (Ps 11:8). Our Lord Himself says: "The good
shepherd giveth His life for His sheep," adding immediately:
"Other sheep I have, that are not of this fold": Alias oves habeo,
quae non sunt ex hoc ovili. "Them also I must bring, and they
shall hear My voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd"
(Jn 10: 11, 16).
This is why, before ascending into heaven, He sends His Apostles
to continue His work and mission of salvation, no longer among the
lost sheep of Israel, but among all people. "Going therefore," He
says to them, "teach ye all nations... preach the gospel to every
creature... I am with you all days, even to the consummation of
the world" (Mt 28:19-20).
The Word Incarnate did not, however, await His Ascension to shed
abroad the grace of the Gospel upon the Gentile world. As soon as
He appeared here below, He invited it to His cradle in the person
of the Magi. He, Eternal Wisdom, would thus show us that He
brought peace, Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis (Lk 2:14), not only
to those who were nigh to Him- the faithful Jews represented by
the shepherds, -but also to those who " were afar off "-the Pagans
represented by the Magi. Thus, as St. Paul says, of the two people
He made but one: Qui fecit utraque unum, because He alone, by the
union of His Humanity with His Divinity, is the perfect Mediator,
and "by Him we have access both in one Spirit to the Father" (Eph
The calling of the Magi and their sanctification signifies the
vocation of the Gentiles to the faith and to salvation. God sends
an angel to the shepherds, for the Chosen People were accustomed
to the apparition of the celestial spirits; to the Magi, who
studied the stars, He causes a marvellous star to appear. This
star is the symbol of the inward illumination that enlightens
souls in order to call them to God.
The soul of every grown-up person is in fact enlightened, once at
least, like the Magi, by the star of the vocation to eternal
salvation. To all the light is given. It is a dogma of our faith
that God "will have all men to be saved": Qui OMNES homines vult
salvos fieri, et ad agnitionem veritatis venire (1 Tim 2:4).
On the day of judgment, all without exception will proclaim, with
the conviction produced by evidence, the infinite justice of God
and the perfect rectitude of His judgments: Justus es, Domine, et
rectum judicium tuum (Ps 118:137). Those whom God shall have told
to depart from Him for ever will acknowledge that they are the
workers of their own ruin.
Now this would not be true if the reprobate had not had the
possibility of knowing and accepting the divine light of faith. It
would be contrary not only to God's infinite goodness, but even to
His justice, to condemn a soul on account of its invincible
Doubtless, the star that calls men to the Christian faith is not
the same for all; it shines in different ways, but its brightness
is visible enough for hearts of good will to be able to recognise
it and see in it the sign of the Divine call. In His providence
full of wisdom, God incessantly varies His action,
incomprehensible like Himself. He varies it according to the ever
active promptings of His love and the ever holy exigencies of His
justice. We ought herein to adore the unfathomable depths of God's
ways and proclaim that they infinitely surpass our created views.
Indeed "who hath known the mind Or the Lord ? Or who hath been His
counsellor ? " O altitudo divitiarum sapientiae et scientiae Dei!
Quam incomprehensibilia sunt judicia ejus et investigabiles viae
ejus! (Rom 11:33).
We have "seen the star" and have recognised as our God the Babe of
Bethlehem; we have the happiness of belonging to the Church
whereof the Magi were the first fruits.
In the office of the feast, the Liturgy celebrates this vocation
of all humanity to faith and salvation in the person of the Magi
as the nuptials of the Church with the Bridegroom. Hear with what
gladness, in what magnificent symbolical terms, borrowed from the
prophet Isaias, the liturgy proclaims (Epistle of the Mass) the
splendour of this spiritual Jerusalem which is to receive into her
maternal bosom the nations become the inheritance of her divine
Bridegroom. "Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem, for thy light is
come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold,
darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people; but the
Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee.
And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the
brightness of thy rising. Lift up thy eyes round about, and see;
all these gathered together, they are come to thee: thy sons shall
come from afar, and daughters shall rise up at thy side. Then
shalt thou see, and abound, and thy heart shall wonder and be
enlarged, when the multitude of the sea shall be converted to
thee, the strength of the Gentiles shall come to thee" (Is 60:15).
Let us offer continual thanksgiving to God "Who hath delivered us
from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the
kingdom of the Son of His love" (Col 1:13), " that is to say into
The call to the faith is a signal benefit because it contains in
germ the vocation to the eternal beatitude of the Divine vision.
Never let us forget that this call was the dawn of all God's
mercies towards us, and that for man all is summed up in fidelity
to this vocation; faith is to bring us to the Beatific Vision
(Collect for the Feast).
Not only ought we to thank God for this grace of the Christian
faith, but we ought each day to render ourselves more worthy of it
by safeguarding our faith against all the dangers that it
encounters in our age of naturalism, scepticism, indifference,
human respect, and by living a life of faith with constant
Moreover, let us beseech God to grant this precious gift of the
Christian faith to all the souls who yet "sit in darkness, and in
the shadow of death"; let us beseech Our Lord that the star may
shine upon them; that, through His tender mercy, He Himself will
be the Sun to visit them from on high: Per viscera misericordiae
Dei nostri in quibus visitavit nos, Oriens ex alto (Lk 1:78-79)
This prayer is very pleasing to Our Lord; it is, in fact, to
beseech Him that He may be known and exalted as the Saviour of all
mankind and the King of kings.
It is likewise pleasing to the Father, for He desires nothing so
much as the glorification of His Son. Let us then often repeat,
during these holy days, the prayer that the Incarnate Word Himself
has put upon our lips: O Heavenly Father, "Father of Lights," Thy
Kingdom come, that kingdom whereof Thy Son Jesus is the head.
Adveniat regnum tuum! May Thy Son be more and more known, loved,
served, glorified, so that in His turn He may, by manifesting Thee
the more to men, glorify Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost:
Pater, clarifica Filium taum ut Filius tuus clarificet te !
If we now return to some of the details of the Gospel narrative,
we shall see how rich in teaching is this mystery.
I have said that the Magi at Bethlehem represented the Gentiles in
their vocation to the light of the Gospel. The way in which the
Magi acted show us the qualities that our faith ought to have.
What is at first apparent is the generous fidelity of this faith.
Let us consider it. The star appeared to the Magi. Whatever be the
country whence they originated-Persia, Chaldea, Arabia or India,-
the Magi, according to tradition, belonged to a priestly caste and
devoted themselves to the study of the stars. It is more than
probable that they were not ignorant of the revelation made to the
Jews of a King Who would be their Deliverer and the Master of the
world. The prophet Daniel, who had prophesied the time of His
coming, had been in relation with some of the Magi; perhaps even,
Balaam's prophecy that a star should "rise out of Jacob" (Num
24:17) was not unknown to them. However that may be, behold now a
wondrous star appears to them. Its extraordinary brightness
attracting their gaze, awakens their attention at the same time
that an inward grace of illumination enlightens their souls. This
grace prepared them to recognize the prerogatives of the One Whose
Birth the star announced; it inspired them to set out to seek Him
in order to offer Him their homage.
The Magi's fidelity to the inspiration of grace is wonderful.
Doubt takes no hold upon their minds; without staying to reason,
they immediately begin to carry out their design. Neither the
indifference nor the scepticism of those who surround them, nor
the disappearance of the star, nor the difficulties inherent to an
expedition of this kind, nor the length and dangers of the way
stop them. They obey the divine call without delay or hesitation.
"We have seen His star in the East and are come" (Mt 2:2).
In this the Magi are our models, whether it concerns the vocation
to the faith, or whether it be a question of the call to
perfection. There is indeed for every faithful soul a vocation to
holiness: Sancti estote quia ego sanctus (Lev 11:44). "Be holy
because I am holy." The apostle St. Paul assures us that from all
eternity there exists for us a divine decree full of love
containing this call: Elegit nos ante mundi constitutionem, ut
essemus sancti et immaculati in conspectu ejus (Eph 1:4).
And for those whom He calls to holiness God makes "all things work
together unto good": Iis qui secundim propositum vocati sunt
sancti (Rom 8:28). The manifestation of this vocation is for each
of us his or her star. It takes different forms, according to
God's designs, our character, the circumstances wherein we live,
the events that befall us; but it shines in the soul of each one.
And what is the end and object of this call ? For us as for the
Magi, it is to lead us to Jesus. The Heavenly Father causes the
star to shine in us; for, says Christ Himself, " no man can come
to Me, except the Father, Who hath sent Me, draw him ": Nemo
potest venire ad me, nisi Pater, qui misit me, traxerit eum (Jn
If with fidelity we listen to the divine call, if we generously
press onward with our gaze fixed upon the star, we shall come to
Christ Who is the life of our souls. And whatever be our sins, our
failings, our miseries, Jesus will welcome us with kindness. He
has promised to do so: " All that the Father giveth Me shall come
to Me, and him that cometh to Me, I will not cast out ": Omne,
quod dat mihi Pater, ad me veniet: et eum qui venit ad me non
eficiam foras (Ibid. 6:37).
The Father drew Magdalen the sinner to the feet of Jesus. And see
how Magdalen, at once following with a generous faith the divine
ray of the star that shone in her soul, suddenly enters into tbe
festal hall to manifest publicly to Christ her repentance and her
love. Magdalen followed the star, and the star led Magdalen to the
Saviour: " Thy sins are forgiven thee... thy faith hath made thee
safe. Go in peace" (Lk 7:48, 50). Et eum qui venit ad me non
The lives of the saints and the experience of souls show that
there are often, in our supernatural life, decisive moments upon
which depend all the value of our inner life, and sometimes our
Look at Saul upon the road to Damascus. He is the enemy and bitter
persecutor of the Christians: Spirans minarum, "breathing out
threatenings and slaughter, "against those who bore that name. And
then the voice of Jesus makes itself heard. It is for Saul the
star, the divine call. He hears the call, and follows the star:
"Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" What promptitude and what
generosity ! And from that moment, become a " vessel of election"
(Acts 9:1, 6, 15), he will live for Christ alone.
Look, on the other hand, at the young man full of good will, with
upright and sincere heart, who approaches Jesus and asks what he
must do to possess life everlasting. "Keep the commandments,"
answers our Divine Saviour. "Master, all these have I kept from my
youth, what is yet wanting to me?" Then, says the Gospel," Jesus,
looking on him, loved him": Jesus autem intuitus eum dilexit eum.
This look full of love was the ray of the star. And see how it is
immediately manifested: "One thing is wanting unto thee: if thou
wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and
thou shalt have a treasure in heaven; and come follow me." But the
youth does not follow the star. Sorrowful at this saying, "he went
away sad; for he had great possessions." Some commentators see the
prediction of the loss of this soul in the words that our Lord
pronounced immediately afterwards: "How hardly shall they that
have riches enter into the kingdom of God" (Mk 10:17-23; cf. Mt
19:16-23; Lk 18:18-24).
Thus, whether it concerns the call to faith or holiness, we shall
only find Christ and the life whereof He is the source on
condition that we are attentive to grace and perseveringly
faithful in seeking after divine union.
The Heavenly Father calls us to His Son by the inspiration of His
grace. Like the Magi, as soon as the star shines in our hearts, we
should instantly leave all: our sins, the occasions of sin, evil
habits, infidelities, imperfections, attachment to creatures.
Taking no account of criticism nor the opinion of men, nor the
difficulties of the work to be done, we should set out at once to
seek Jesus. He wills this whether we have lost Him by mortal sin,
or whether, already possessing Him by sanctifying grace, He calls
us to a closer and more intimate union with Himself.
Vidimus stellam: Lord, I have seen Thy star, and I come to Thee:
what wilt Thou have me to do ?
It happens at times that the star disappears from our sight.
Whether the inspiration of grace bear with it an extraordinary
character, as was the case with the Magi, or whether it be linked
to the supernatural providence of each day, as is the most
frequent case with us, the star sometimes ceases to be manifest.
The soul then finds itself in spiritual darkness. What is to be
done then ?
Let us see what the Magi did under these circumstances. The star
was shown to them only in the East, then it disappeared: Vidimus
stellam ejus in Oriente. If it taught them concerning the Birth of
the King of the Jews, it did not show the precise place where they
might find Him. What were they to do ? The Magi directed their
course towards Jerusalem, the capital of Judea, the metropolis of
the Jewish religion. Where, better than in the holy city, could
they learn what they sought to know ?
In the same way, when our star disappears, when the divine
inspiration leaves us in some uncertainty, it is God's will that
we should have recourse to the Church, to those who represent Him
amongst us, in order to learn from them the path to be followed.
This is the dispensation of Divine Providence. God loves that in
our doubts and in the difficulties of our progress towards Christ,
we should ask light and direction from those whom He has
established as His representatives: Qui vos audit, me audit (Lk
Hear how Jesus replies to Saul's question: "Lord, what wilt Thou
have me to do ?" Does He make His will directly known? He might
have done so since He revealed Himself as the Lord; but He instead
sends Saul to His representative: "Go into the city, and there it
shall be told thee"-by another-"what thou must do" (Acts 9:7).
In submitting the aspirations of our souls to the control of those
who have the grace and mission to direct us in our seeking after
divine union, we run no risk of going astray, whatever be the
personal merits of those who guide us. At the time when the Magi
arrived at Jerusalem, the assembly of those who had authority to
interpret the Holy Scriptures was composed in great part of
unworthy members; and yet God willed that it should be by their
ministry and teaching that the Magi learnt officially where Christ
was born. Indeed, God cannot permit a soul to be deceived when,
with humility and confidence, she has recourse to the legitimate
representatives of His sovereign authority.
On the contrary, the soul will again find light and peace. Like
the Magi going out from Jerusalem, she will again see the star,
radiant and splendid, and, also like them, full of gladness, she
will go forward on her way: Videntes autem stellam, gavisi sunt
gaudio magno valde (Mt 2:10).
Let us now follow the Magi to Bethlehem: it is there that we shall
especially see the manifestation of the depth of their faith.
The marvellous star leads them to the place where they were at
last to find Him Whom they had so long sought. And what do they
find ? A palace, a royal cradle, a long train of attentive
servants ? No, but a poor dwelling. They seek a king, a God, and
they see only a Babe on His Mother's knee; not a Babe transfigured
by Divine rays as the Apostles were later to see the God-Man, but
a little Child, a poor weak little Child.
However, from this Little One so frail in appearance, invisibly
went forth a divine power : Virtus de illo exibat. He, Who had
made the star arise to lead the Magi to His cradle, now Himself
enlightened them. He inwardly filled their minds with light and
their hearts with love. And so it was that in this Child, they
recognised their God.
The Gospel tells us nothing of their words, but it makes known to
us the sublime act of their perfect faith: "And falling down they
adored Him": Et procidentes adoraverunt eum (Ibid. 2:2).
The Church would have us associate ourselves with this adoration
of the Magi. When, during the Mass, she gives us these words of
the Gospel narrative to read, she causes us to kneel down, to show
that we, too, believe in the Divinity of the Babe of Bethlehem.
Let us adore Him with deep faith. God requires of us that, as long
as we are here below, all the activity of our inner life should
lead to union with Him by faith. Faith is the light which enables
us to see God in the Virgin's Child, to hear God's voice in the
words of the Incarnate Word, to follow the example of a God in the
actions of Jesus, to appropriate to ourselves the infinite merits
of a God in the sorrows and satisfactions of a Man suffering like
Through the veil of a humble and passible Humanity, the soul
enlightened by a living faith ever discovers God; whereever she
encounters this Humanity-whether it be in the humiliations of
Bethlehem, upon the roads of Judea, on the gibbet of Calvary, or
under the Eucharistic species- the faithful soul falls in
adoration because it is the Humanity of a God. At the feet of
Jesus she listens to Him, in order to obey and follow Him until it
shall please Him to reveal Himself in the beauty of Xis Infinite
Majesty, in the holy splendours of the Beatific Vision: Usque ad
contemplandam speciem tuae celsitudinis perducam? (Collect for the
Feast of the Epiphany).
The attitude of adoration in the Magi translates in eloquent
language the depth of their faith; the presents that they offer
are likewise full of signification. The Fathers of the Church have
laid stress on the symbolism of the gifts brought to Christ by the
Magi. In ending this conference, let us stay to consider the depth
of this symbolism: it will be a joy for our souls and food for our
As you know, the Gospel tells us that having found the Child with
Mary His Mother, "opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts:
gold, frankincense and myrrh " (Mt 2:2). It is evident that, in
the intentions of the Magi, these gifts were meant to express the
feelings of their hearts as well as to honour Him to Whom they
In examining the nature of these gifts which they had prepared
before their departure, we see that divine illumination had
already manifested to the Magi something of the eminent dignity of
Him Whom they desired to contemplate and adore. The nature of
these gifts likewise indicates the nature of the duties that the
Magi would fulfil towards the King of the Jews. The symbolism of
the gifts therefore refers both to the One to Whom they are
offered and to those who present them.
Gold, the most precious of metals, is the symbol of royalty; it
denotes, on the other hand, the love and fidelity. That everyone
owes to his prince.
Incense is universally acknowledge to be the symbol of divine
worship; it is offered to God alone. In preparing this gift, the
Magi showed that they had in view to proclaim the Divinity of Him
Whose Birth was announced by the star, and to confess this
Divinity by the supreme adoration that can be rendered to God
Finally, they had been inspired to bring Him myrrh. What would
they show by this myrrh which is used to dress wounds, and to
embalm the dead ? This gift signified that Christ was Man, a Man
capable of suffering, Who would one day die. The myrrh also
symbolised the spirit of penance and immolation which ought to
characterise the life of the disciples of the Crucified.
Thus grace inspired the Magi to bring presents to Him Whom they
sought. It should be the same for us. "Let us who hear the story
of the offering of the Magi," says St. Ambrose (In Lk 2:44),
"learn how to open our treasures and present like offerings." Each
time that we draw near to Christ, let us, like the Magi, bring Him
presents, but presents that are magnificent, that are, like
theirs, worthy of Him to Whom we offer them.
You may perhaps say: we have neither gold, nor frankincense, nor
myrrh. That is true; but we have what is better, we have much more
precious treasures, the only ones, moreover, that Christ, our
Saviour and our King, expects from us. Do we not offer gold to
Christ when by a life full of love and fidelity to His commands,
we proclaim that He is the King of our hearts ? Do we not present
frankincense when we believe in His Divinity, and confess it by
our adoration and prayers?
In uniting our humiliations, our sufferings, our sorrow and tears
to His, do we not bring Him myrrh ?
And if, of ourselves, we are destitute of these things, let us ask
Our Lord to enrich us with the treasures that are pleasing to Him;
He possesses them in order to give them to us.
This is what Christ Jesus Himself made known to St. Mechtilde, one
feast of the Epiphany, after she had received Communion. " Behold,
" said He, " I give thee gold, that is to say My Divine love;
frankincense, that is all My holiness and devotion; finally myrrh,
which is the bitterness of My Passion. I give them to thee to such
an extent that thou mayest offer them as gifts to Me, as if they
were shine own property (The Book of Special Grace. Part I,
Yes, this is an extremely consoling truth that we ought never to
forget. The grace of divine adoption, which makes us brethren of
Jesus and living members of His Mystical Body, gives us the right
of appropriating to ourselves His treasures so that they may be
accounted as our own by Himself and His Father. " You know the
grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, " says St. Paul, " that being rich
He became poor, for your sakes; that though His poverty you might
be rich" (2 Cor 8:9).
Our Lord Himself supplies for what we lack; He is our riches, our
thank-offering; He has in Himself, in an eminent degree, that
which the gifts of the Magi signify; He perfectly realises in His
Person their deep symbolism. Therefore let us offer Him to the
Heavenly Father in thanksgiving for the inestimable gift of the
Christian faith. God has given us His Son; according to Jesus' own
words, the Infinite Being could not manifest His love for us in a
more striking way: SIC Deus dilexit mundum, ut Filium suum
Unigenitum DARET (Jn 3:16); for, in giving Him to us, adds St.
Paul, He has " given us all things": Quomodo non etiam cum illo
omnia nobis donavit (Rom 8:32).
But we owe, in return, signal acts of thanksgiving to God for this
ineffable Gift. What can we give to God that is worthy of Him? His
Son Jesus. In offering His Son to Him, we render to Him that which
He gives us: Offerimus praeclarae majestati tuae de tuis donis ac
datis (Canon of the Mass), and there is no gift that is more
pleasing to Him.
The Church, knowing God's secret better than anyone, knows this so
well ! On this day, when her mystical nuptials with Christ begin,
she offers to God no longer gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but the
One Who is Himself represented by these gifts, immolated upon the
altar and received into the hearts of His disciples: Ecclesiae
tuae, quaesumus, Domine, dona propitius intuere, quibus non jam
aurum, thus et myrrha profertur, sed quod eisdem muneribus
declaratur, immolatur et sumitur, Jesus Christus Filius tuus,
Dominus noster (Secret of the Mass for the Epiphany).
Let us, then, with the priest, offer the Holy Sacrifice. Let us
offer to the Eternal Father His Divine Son, after having received
Him at the Holy Table; but let us also lovingly offer ourselves
with Him, that in all things we may accomplish what His Divine
will manifests to us: this is the most perfect gift we can present
The Epiphany still continues; it is prolonged throughout the
centuries. "We, too," says St. Leo (Sermo 35, In Epiphanie
solemnitate 6), " are to taste the joys of the Magi, for the
mystery which is accomplished upon this day is not to remain
confined to it. Through the munificence of God and the power of
His goodness, we in our day enjoy the reality whereof the Magi had
the first fruits."
The Epiphany is renewed, indeed, when God makes the light of the
Gospel shine in the sight of the pagans; each time that the truth
is realized by those living in error it is a ray of the Magi's
star that appears to them.
The Epiphany continues too in the faithful soul when her love
becomes more fervent and steadfast. Fidelity to the inspirations
of grace-it is Our Lord Himself Who tells us so,--becomes the
source of a more ardent and brighter illumination : Qui diligit
me... manifestabo ei meipsum (Jn 14:21). Happy the soul that lives
by faith and love ! Christ Jesus manifests Himself ever more and
more within her; He makes her enter into an ever deeper and closer
comprehension of His mysteries.
Holy Scripture compares the life of the just man to a path which "
as a shining light, goeth forwards and increaseth even to perfect
day (Prov 4:18), to that day whereon every veil will fall away,
all shadows flee, when the eternal splendours of the divinity will
appear in the light of glory. In the heavenly city, says St. John,
in his mysterious book of the Apocalypse where he describes the
magnificence of the Jerusalem which is on high, there is no need
of the sun, for the Lamb, that is to say Christ, is Himself the
I,ight which enlightens and gladdens the souls of all the elect
(Apoc 21:23; 22:5).
That will be the heavenly Epiphany.
" O God, Who upon this day by the leading of a star, didst reveal
Thine Only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; mercifully grant, that we
who already know Thee by faith, may be brought to the
contemplation of the beauty of Thy majesty ": Deus, qui hodierna
die Unigenitum tuum gentibus stella duce revelasti: concede
propitius, ut qui jam te ex fide cognovimus, usque ad
contemplandam speciem tuae celsitudinis perducamur.
From Christ In His Mysteries (Sands & Co., 1939)
Copyright (c) 1997 Catholic Information Network (CIN) - January 4,