The Church's Year
VIGIL OF EPIPHANY
[The INTROIT, the COLLECT, and the EPISTLE, are the same as on the Sunday
GOSPEL (Mt. 2:19-23). At that time:
when Herod was dead, behold an Angel of the Lord appeared in
sleep to Joseph in Egypt, saying: Arise, and take the child and his
mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead that
sought the life of the child. Who arose, and took the child and his
mother, and came into the land of Israel. But hearing that Archelaus
reigned in Judea in the room of Herod his father, he was afraid to
go thither: and being warned in sleep, retired into the quarters of
Galilee. And coming he dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it
might be fulfilled which was said by the prophets: that he shall be
called a Nazarite.
In this we see how wonderfully God deals
with His own. He indeed permits them to be persecuted and oppressed,
but never to be suppressed, and from time to time He gives them many
consolations. Jesus was forced to flee into Egypt to escape the
persecution of Herod, because God did not wish to save Him by an
evident miracle, but in an ordinary manner. He lived in poverty in
Egypt, but for no longer time than God willed, Who having confounded
His enemies, and taken them out of His way, called Him back, and He
passed His youth in peace and quietness. The dispensations of God
the Father in regard to His Son, and the care He had for Him, should
be a consolation for the just; they must be happy if God deals with
them as He did with His Son; they will certainly, like Christ, be
made to suffer no more than God permits, and their sufferings will
be ever accompanied by consolations. St. Joseph avoided the land of
Judea, because he feared since Archelaus succeeded Herod in the
government, he might also imitate him in his cruelty. A Nazarite
means, a low person, a despised person. Jesus was so called, because
He grew up at Nazareth, and spent the greater part of His life in
that city, which was held in such contempt by the Jews that they
could not believe, anything good could come out of Nazareth (Jn.
FEAST OF EPIPHANY
festival is this?
This festival is set apart to
solemnly commemorate the coming of the three wise men from the East,
guided by a miraculous star which appeared to them, and directed
them to Bethlehem, where they found Christ in the stable; here they
honored and adored Him and offered gifts to Him.
Why is this day
called Epiphqnid Domini, or Apparition of the
Because the Church wishes to
bring before our mind the three great events in the life of Christ,
when He made known to man His divinity: the coming of the wise men
from the East, through whom He revealed Himself to the Gentiles as
the Son of God; His baptism, on which occasion His Divinity was made
known to the Jews, and His first miracle at the marriage of Cana, by
which He revealed Himself to His disciples.
Behold the Lord the Ruler is come; and the
kingdom is in his hand, and power and dominion (Mal. 3). Give to the
king thy judgment, O God; and to the king's son thy justice (Ps.
71:1). Glory be to the Father.
COLLECT God, Who on this day by the leading
of a star didst reveal Thine only-begotten Son to the Gentiles;
mercifully grant, that we who know Thee now by faith may be brought
to contemplate the beauty of Thy majesty. Through our
EPISTLE (Is. 60:1-6). 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 peoples; 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 are gathered together, they are come to
thee: thy sons shall come from afar, and thy 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.
The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Madian
and Epha; all they from Saba shall come, bringing gold and
frankincense, and showing forth praise to the Lord.
EXPLANATION The Prophet Isaias, in this epistle, predicts that the light
of the Lord, which is Christ, will rise over Jerusalem, the
prototype of the Church, and that the Gentiles who knew nothing of
the true God, would come to walk in that light which Christ, by His
doctrine and holy life, would cause to shine, and that numberless
nations, from all parts of the world, would assemble as her children
to adore the one true God. The fulfillment of this prophecy
commenced with the adoration of the Magi, who are to be regarded as
the first Christian converts of the Gentiles; the Church, therefore,
very properly celebrates this day with great solemnity. We ought
also to share in the joy of the Church, because our ancestors were
Gentiles, and like the three wise men were called to the true faith.
Let us exclaim with Isaias: Give praise, O ye heavens, and rejoice,
O earth, ye mountains give praise with jubilation: because the Lord
hath comforted his people, and will have mercy on his poor ones (Is.
GOSPEL (Mt. 2:1-12). When Jesus
was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold
there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying: Where is he
that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the
East, and are come to adore him. And king Herod hearing this, was
troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And assembling together all
the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where
Christ should be born. But they said to him: In Bethlehem of Juda;
for so it is written by the prophet: And thou, Bethlehem, the land
of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda, for out of
thee shall come forth the ruler that shall rule my people Israel.
Then Herod, privately calling the wise men, learned diligently of
them the time of the star which appeared to them; and sending them
into Bethlehem, said: Go and diligently inquire after the child, and
when you have found him, bring me word again, that I also may come
and adore him. Who having heard the king, went their way; and
behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them,
until it came and stood over where the child was. And seeing the
star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And entering into the
house, they found the child with Mary his mother and falling down
they adored him. And opening their treasures, they offered him
gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having received an answer
in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back
another way into their own country.
What caused the
three kings to undertake so tedious a journey?
A star which God permitted to
appear in their land, at the sight of which they were inwardly
enlightened, so that they at once recognized its signification. Let
us learn from these kings who so readily responded to the
inspiration of God, by immediately undertaking so difficult a
journey, to follow without delay the promptings of divine grace, and
from their zeal, and the fearlessness with which they asked Herod
where the Messiah would be found, we should learn to seek and
practice, without fear of men, whatever is necessary for our
Why did Herod
fear, and all Jerusalem with him?
Because Herod, a proud,
imperious, cruel, and therefore jealous king, was afraid, when he
heard of a new-born king, that he would be deprived of his throne,
and punished for his vices. A bad conscience is always ill at ease,
and has no peace. There is no peace to the wicked, saith the Lord
God (Is. 57:21). Jerusalem, that is, the inhabitants of Jerusalem,
feared because many of them were attached to Herod, and others,
especially the chief priests and the scribes, feared they would be
punished for their secret crimes, when the Messiah would come, of
whom they knew that He shall judge the poor with justice, and with
the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked (Is.
Why did Herod
assemble the chief priests and the scribes?
Partly to find from them
where the Messiah was to be born, partly and principally because God
so directed it, that Herod and the chief priests, knowing the time
and place of the Messiah's birth, would have no excuse for their
infidelity. In the same way God often makes known to us, in the
clearest manner the most wholesome truths, yet we heed them as
little as did the Jews who had sufficient knowledge of the Messiah,
indeed, even showed the way to the three kings, but made no use of
it for themselves, and were therefore cast away.
Why did Herod
say he wished to adore the child?
This he did out of wicked
hypocrisy and dissimulation. He had no other intention than to put
Jesus to death, and therefore affected piety to find out exactly the time and place
of His birth. Thus do those murderers of souls who desire the fall
of the innocent; they do not let their evil intentions be made known
at once, and so they put on sheep's clothing, feign piety and
devotion, until they creep into the heart from which, by flattery
and irony about religion and virtue, and by presents, they expel
shame, the fear of God, and thus murder the soul.
Why did the
kings fall down and adore Christ?
Because by the light of faith
they saw in the Infant at Bethlehem God Himself, and,
notwithstanding the poverty of His surroundings, recognized in Him
the expected Messiah, the new-born king of the Jews, and by
prostrating themselves before Him paid Him the homage of their
Why did the
kings offer gold, frankincense and myrrh?
Because it was the ancient
Eastern custom, never to appear without presents before a prince or
king, and the three kings, as the holy Fathers universally teach,
enlightened by the Holy Ghost, desired by their presents to honor
Christ as God, as king, and as man. Of this the venerable Bede
writes: "The first of the kings, named Melchior, offered gold to
Christ the Lord and king; the second, named Caspar, frankincense to
the divinity of Christ; and the third, Balthassar, myrrh, by which
was expressed that Christ, the Son of man, must die."
How can we
bring similar offerings to Christ?
We offer gold to Him, when we
love Him with our whole heart, and out of love to Him, present Him
our will by perfect obedience and continual self-denial, as our will
is our most precious treasure. We also offer Him gold when we assist
the poor by alms given in His name. We offer Him frankincense when
we devoutly and ardently pray to Him, especially when we meditate
upon His omnipotence, love, goodness, justice and mercy. We offer Him myrrh
when we avoid carnal desires, mortify our evil inclinations and
passions, and strive for purity of body and soul.
Why did the
kings return by another way to their own country?
This they did by command of
God. From the example of the three wise men we should learn to obey
God rather than man, that we must be obedient to His directions,
even if we do not understand them; so the three kings obeyed,
although they may not have understood why God commanded them to flee
from Herod. After we have found God we should walk in the path of
virtue, and not return to our old sinful ways. "Our fatherland is
paradise, heaven," writes St. Gregory. "We have departed from it by
pride, disobedience, abuse of the senses, therefore it is needed
that we return to it by obedience, contempt of the world, and by
taming the desires of the flesh; thus we return to our own country
by another road. By forbidden pleasures we have forfeited the joys
of paradise, by penance we must regain them."
ASPIRATION Give me, O divine Savior, the faith of those Eastern
kings. Enlighten my understanding with the light which
enlightened them, and move my heart, that I may in future
follow this light, and sincerely seek Thee who hast first sought me.
Grant also, that I may really find Thee, with the wise men may adore
Thee in spirit and in truth, and bring to Thee the gold of love, the
frankincense of prayer, and the myrrh of penance and
mortification, that, having here offered Thee the sacrifice of my
faith, I may adore Thee in Thy eternal glory. Amen.