The Feast of the Magi, Part Two

The Feast of the Magi, continued

  • Is there any history behind this feast? Yes, there is actually.  According to About.com:

“Like many of the most ancient Christian feasts, Epiphany was first celebrated in the East, where it has been held from the beginning almost universally on January 6. Today, among both Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, the feast is known as Theophany – the revelation of God to man.

Epiphany originally celebrated four different events, in the following order of importance: the Baptism of the Lord; Christ’s first miracle, the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana; the Nativity of Christ, Christmas; and the visitation of the Wise Men or Magi. Each of these is a revelation of God to man: At Christ’s Baptism, the Holy Spirit descends and the voice of God is heard, declaring that Jesus is His Son; at the wedding in Cana, the miracle reveals Christ’s divinity; at the Nativity, the angels bear witness to Christ, and the shepherds, representing the people of Israel, bow down before Him; and at the visitation of the Magi, Christ’s divinity is revealed to the Gentiles – the other nations of the earth.

Eventually, the celebration of the Nativity was separated out, in the West, into Christmas; and shortly thereafter, Western Christians adopted the Eastern feast of the Epiphany, still celebrating the Baptism, the first miracle, and the visit from the Wise Men. Thus, Epiphany came to mark the end of Christmastide – the Twelve Days of Christmas, which began with the revelation of Christ to Israel in His Birth and ended with the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles at Epiphany.

Over the centuries, the various celebrations were further separated in the West, now the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the Sunday after January 6, and the wedding at Cana is commemorated on the Sunday after the Baptism of the Lord.

In many parts of Europe, the celebration of Epiphany is at least as important as the celebration of Christmas. In Italy and other Mediterranean countries, – the day on which the Wise Men brought their gifts to the Christ Child—while in Northern Europe, it’s not unusual to give gifts on both Christmas and Epiphany (often with smaller gifts on each of the twelve days of Christmas in between).”  http://catholicism.about.com/od/holydaysandholidays/p/Epiphany.htm

  • BTW, what is a magi? Oh, and how many magi were there? The term “magi” is the plural of magus.  You can see the root of magic and magician in the word.  The magi were a priestly caste or class from ancient Persia.   A magus, the singular, was an expert in the sciences of the time, especially astrology.  How many magi were there?  We don’t know because Scripture doesn’t give us a number or their names.  We say three due to the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh mentioned, but over history the number has varied, once there were as many as twelve.
  • What are their names? Do we have any relics of them?  Traditionally, from the 6th century on or so, the names Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar have been associated with them.  According to tradition, the relics of the Magi are at the Shrine of the Three Kings at Cologne Cathedral.
  • Is there any symbolism attached to the gifts presented to Jesus? Yes, in fact, there is.  According to U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website:  “Gold – a symbol of wealth and power identifies the recipient as a king. Frankincense – the crystalized resinous sap of a tree used as incense and as an offering, is symbolic of prayer. Myrrh – another resinous tree sap was used in healing liniments, and as an embalming ointment.  http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/christmas/christmas-january-7.cfm
  • What are some activities that we can do participate in on this day as a family or as a faith community?

Bibliography

The Catechism of the Catholic Church.  New York: Doubleday Press, 1997.

Catholicism.About.com http://catholicism.about.com/od/holydaysandholidays/p/Epiphany.htm. 2014. Web. 25 Dec. 2016.

CatholicCulture.org http://www.catholicculture.org. 2014. Web. 13 Dec 2014.

Merriam Webster http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/epiphany.  2014. Web.  12 Dec. 2014.

The New American Bible. The Vatican, 06 Nov. 2002.  Web. 12 Dec. 2014. <http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM>

“National Migration Week 2017.” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2016.  Web. 25 Dec. 2016. <http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-and-refugee-services/national-migration-week/>

Shrine of the Magi, Cologne Cathedral.  n.d. Web. 25 Dec. 2016. <http://www.koelnerdom.de/index.php?id=17451&L=1>

“Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord.” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2014. Web. 16 Dec. 2014. <http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/christmas/christmas-january-4.cfm>

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