Prayer For Epiphany
Brother John Raymond
Epiphany comes from a Greek word meaning "manifestation." The
visit of the Magi from the East was the first manifestation of Our
Savior to Gentiles, that is to those not of the House of Israel. It
is interesting to note that the celebration of the visit of the Magi
to Jesus originated in Egypt. In Egypt during the 3rd century the
pagans worshipped their "sun god" on January 6th. The Church
authorities wanted to oppose this pagan practice by celebrating the
manifestation of the true Light of the World - Jesus Christ. They
actually celebrated both the Nativity and the Magi's visit on this
day. By the 4th century the celebration of Epiphany had become a
celebration of the entire Church.
These Magi from the East came to be known as "Kings" by the 6th
century. This is due to the following two Old Testament prophecies
which were thought to be fulfilled by them:
"The kings of Tharsis and the islands shall offer presents: the
kings of the Arabians and of Sheba shall bring gifts." (Psalms 71,
"The kings shall walk in the brightness of Thy rising. . . They
all shall come from Sheba, bringing gold and frankincense." (Isaiah
Actually the name Magi is not a Hebrew word, but of Indo-European
origin and means "great, illustrious." St. Matthew uses this term
because it was well-known to the people of his time in Palestine.
The Kings from the East were unique among the royalty. These
Kings seem to have been more like priestly scholars. They studied
religions as well as the natural sciences such as medicine,
mathematics and astronomy. Thus we see why they are also referred to
as the "Wise Men."
St. Matthew said that these Kings came from the East. In modern
terms it could have been from any one of the countries of Arabia,
Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan or India. Some hold that each one of the
Kings represented one of the three races, black, white and oriental.
This may account for the tradition that it was three kings who
visited Jesus. Also the three gifts given to Jesus makes us assume
there were only three gift-givers.
The names of the Kings have been handed down to us from the 7th
century - Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar. It was in the 12th century
that the Kings were first referred to as "saints". This was in the
writings of Archbishop Hildebert of Tours. This veneration spread
over all Europe. Church authorities did not prohibit this movement
and Epiphany acquired the popular name of "Feast of the Three Holy
Kings" in most countries of Europe.
It is interesting that the gifts given by the Kings to Jesus have
a symbolic meaning according to the visions of the German mystic,
Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824). The King full of love
and confidence gave a gift of gold. This King had always, with
unshaken devotion and untiring efforts, sought after salvation. The
King who clung to God gave a gift of frankincense (a type of
incense). This King voluntarily, reverently and lovingly followed
God's will. Finally the last King, who practiced mortification, gave
a gift of myrrh (a bitter balm). This man fought against the
idolatry of the surrounding nations.
Perhaps the gifts not only represented attributes of the Kings
themselves. The gifts could have stood for the love, prayers and
penance offered to Jesus from all the future Gentiles who would
accept Him as their King. Or these gifts could have contained hidden
mysteries about Our Lord Himself - the gold representing His
Kingship, the incense His Divinity and the myrrh His suffering and
Tradition has it that, after the Magi returned home, they were
later baptized by St. Thomas the Apostle and that they worked
unceasingly to spread the Faith. The Cologne Cathedral in Germany
contains what is believed to be their remains. These relics were
discovered in Persia and brought to Constantinople by St. Helen the
mother of the emperor Constantine. They were transferred to Milan in
the 5th century and to Cologne in 1163.
The Epiphany should be a very important day for all of us - Jesus
revealing Himself to the Gentiles. Let us imitate the Three Kings
from the East by bringing Him our gifts of love, prayers and
Dear Jesus, as You led the Three Kings to You by the light of a
star, please draw us ever closer to You by the light of Faith. Help
us to desire You as ardently as they did. Give us the grace to
overcome all the obstacles that keep us far from You. May we, like
them, have something to give You when we appear before You. Mary,
Our Mother, help us to know Your Son. Amen.