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What is the solemnity of the Epiphany?

On this feast, the Church celebrates the manifestation (epiphany) of Christ to the Nations (Gentiles) in the persons of the Magi—also known as the Wise Men or the Three Kings. In earlier times, this feast combined two other manifestations, that which took place at the Lord’s Baptism, and that which took place in Cana at the Wedding feast. This is still the custom in Eastern Christianity.

Although the date of the Epiphany on the General Calendar of the Church is January 6th, in the United States and some other countries it is celebrated on the Sunday after January 1st so more Catholics can participate. Thus, in 2022 the Solemnity of the Epiphany is Sunday, January 2.

EPIPHANY

Where is Epiphany in the Bible?

In the New Testament, Matthew 2:1-12 says, Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet: ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will govern my people Israel.’” Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared; and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. There are also Old Testament prophecies concerning the Epiphany. Isaiah 60:6 says, “A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.” And in the Psalms, Psalm 72:10–11 says, “May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!”

“What are you doing, O Magi? Do you adore a little Babe, in a wretched hovel, wrapped in miserable rags? Can this Child be truly God? … Are you become foolish, O Wise Men? … Yes, these Wise Men have become fools that they may be wise.” — Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

What is the origin of the feast of Epiphany?

In his book Spirit of the Liturgy, the future Pope Benedict XVI wrote, It is hard to say how far back the beginnings of the Christmas feast go. It assumed its definitive form in the third century. At about the same time the feast of the Epiphany emerged in the East on January 6 and the feast of Christmas in the West on December 25. The two feasts had different emphases because of the different religious and cultural contexts in which they arose, but essentially their meaning was the same: the celebration of the birth of Christ as the dawning of the new light, the true sun, of history.


What is the significance of Epiphany in Christianity?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 528) says, The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world. The great feast of Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the wise men (magi) from the East, together with his baptism in the Jordan and the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. In the magi, representatives of the neighboring pagan religions, the Gospel sees the first-fruits of the nations, who welcome the good news of salvation through the Incarnation. The magi's coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations. Their coming means that pagans can discover Jesus and worship him as Son of God and Savior of the world only by turning towards the Jews and receiving from them the messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament. The Epiphany shows that "the full number of the nations" now takes its "place in the family of the patriarchs", and acquires Israelitica dignitas (is made "worthy of the heritage of Israel").

"How then, tell me, did the star point out a spot so confined, just the space of a manger and shed, unless it left that height and came down, and stood over the very head of the young child? And at this the evangelist was hinting when he said, 'Lo, the star went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.'" - St. John Chrysostom

Who were the Magi or Wise Men?

The word “magi” is of Persian origin, and refers to a class of men who were priests-scientists-philosophers rolled into one. Different ancient societies used different names but all had some intellectual class which sought knowledge and truth, even though much of what they possessed was corrupted by sin and error. Nonetheless, through the means to which they were accustomed, such as reading “signs” in nature, God drew them to true knowledge, in this case, the knowledge of Himself and of the Christ. According to tradition, their names were Balthasar (from Arabia), Melchior (from Persia), and Caspar (from India).

Was there a "Fourth" Wise Man?

No, Scripture tell us of only three Wise Men. A “fourth” Wise Man is a literary creation, that has been popularized in books, plays, and film.


What are the three gifts of the Three Kings?

The Magi brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Baby Jesus. St. John Chrysostom said, “For by gold the power of a king is signified, by frankincense the honor of God, by myrrh the burial of the body; and accordingly they offer Him gold as King, frankincense as God, myrrh as Man.”

Which King brought which gift?

According to tradition, Melchior brought the gold; Caspar gave frankincense; and Balthazar brought myrrh.

When did the Three Kings arrive?

We are not sure of the exact timing. However, we know that the Wise Men were not present at the Nativity, when Jesus was born. Some scholars believe that the Holy Family remained in Bethlehem for some time before fleeing to Egypt, but given that Herod had all newborns under 2 years of age killed, Jesus was certainly under two.

Is the Three Kings a true story? Yes. We have the testimony of Matthew to support its truth.

Why do we give Christmas gifts?

Different cultures have different explanations for the giving of gifts. Some base it on the story of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, who secretly gave bags of gold to cover the doweries of the daughters of the poor. His feast day is December 6th and this is often the occasion for giving gifts to children. He is also the origin of the Santa Claus tradition associated with Christmas itself. Other cultures give gifts at Christmas or Epiphany in imitation of the Three Wise Men, who gave gifts to the Child Jesus, as we see in Matthew 2:1-12. Whichever tradition a family follows, we should always keep in mind that we are the recipients of the greatest Gift, Christ Himself, and the Salvation He provides.

What gifts can we give to Jesus?

Jesus wants us to grow closer to Him, so our gifts should reflect this goal. We can pray more, read Sacred Scripture, go to Confession, forgive someone, or break a sinful habit.

“Today the Magi gaze in deep wonder at what they see: heaven on earth, earth in heaven, man in God, God in man, one whom the whole universe cannot contain now enclosed in a tiny body. As they look, they believe and do not question, as their symbolic gifts bear witness: incense for God, gold for a king, myrrh for one who is to die.” — St. Peter Chrysologus