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Epiphany In The West

Saturday, January 7, 2017 17:25
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BY CAROLYN MCDOWALL  JANUARY 6, 2015
EPIPHANY: GOLD, FRANKINCENSE MYRRH – THREE WISE MEN OR KINGS

January 6 is the climax of the twelve days of Christmas in the Christian calendar. It is the last day of the Christian festival known as The Epiphany, which celebrates the day three wise men, or three kings arrived at a stable in Bethlehem guided by a star.

O Star of Wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy Perfect Light

The song We Three Kings of Orient Are tells the story.
Kings College Chapel Choir

The Epiphany feast explained by Dom Gueranger
The Epiphany at Solesmes

The great liturgist, Dom Prosper Gueranger, gives some thoughts about the significance of the Feast of the Epiphany for the Christian soul.

The Feast of the Epiphany is the continuation of the mystery of Christmas; but it appears on the Calendar of the Church with its own special character. Its very name, which signifies Manifestation, implies that it celebrates the apparition of God to his creatures…

The Epiphany is indeed great Feast, and the joy caused us by the Birth of our Jesus must be renewed on it, for, as though it were a second Christmas Day, it shows us our Incarnate God in a new light. It leaves us all the sweetness of the dear Babe of Bethlehem, who hath appeared to us already in love; but to this it adds its own grand manifestation of the divinity of our Jesus. At Christmas, it was a few Shepherds that were invited by the Angels to go and recognize THE WORD MADE FLESH; but now, at the Epiphany, the voice of God himself calls the whole world to adore this Jesus, and hear him.

(…)

The Epiphany shares with the Feasts of Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, the honor of being called, in the Canon of the Mass, a Day most holy. It is also one of the cardinal Feasts, that is, one of those on which the arrangement of the Christian Year is based; for, as we have Sundays after Easter, and Sundays after Pentecost, so also we count six Sundays after the Epiphany.

(…)

Let us, then, open our hearts to the Joy of this grand Day; and on this Feast of the Theophany, of the Holy Lights, of the Three Kings, let us look with love at the dazzling beauty of our Divine Sun, who, as the Psalmist expresses it [Ps. xviii. 6], runs his course as a Giant, and pours out upon us floods of a welcome and yet most vivid light. The Shepherds, who were called by the Angels to be the first worshippers, have been joined by the Prince of Martyrs, the Beloved Disciple, the dear troop of Innocents, our glorious Thomas of Canterbury, and Sylvester the Patriarch of Peace; and now, today, these Saints open their ranks to let the Kings of the East come to the Babe in his crib, bearing with them the prayers and adorations of the whole human race. The humble Stable is too little for such a gathering as this, and Bethlehem seems to be worth all the world besides. Mary, the Throne of the divine Wisdom, welcomes all the members of this court with her gracious smile of Mother and Queen; she offers her Son to man, for his adoration, and to God, that he may be well pleased. God manifests himself to men, because he is great: but he manifests himself by Mary, because he is full of mercy.

(…)

But let us return to the triumph of our sweet Savior and King. His magnificence is manifested to us so brightly on this Feast! Our mother, the Church, is going to initiate us into the mysteries we are to celebrate. Let us imitate the faith and obedience of the Magi: let us adore, with the holy Baptist, the divine Lamb, over whom the heavens open: let us take our place at the mystic feast of Cana, where our dear King is present, thrice manifested, thrice glorified. In the last two mysteries, let us not lose sight of the Babe of Bethlehem; and in the Babe of Bethlehem let us cease not to recognize the Great God, (in whom the Father was well-pleased,) and the supreme Ruler and Creator of all things.

Source: “The Epiphany” by Dom Prosper Gueranger, OSB (The Liturgical Year, 1918).



A BENEDICT XVI EPIPHANY
by George Weigel
The solemnity of the Epiphany typically gets short shrift in Latin-rite Catholicism, for while Eastern Christianity lifts up the Epiphany as the apex of the Christmas season, Epiphany in the Western Church tends to get overwhelmed by the tsunami of Christmas, both liturgically and (especially) culturally. 

When the Epiphany fell in the middle of the week and was a holy day of obligation, its importance as the commemoration of the “manifestation” of the Messiah was underscored; transferred to a Sunday, it tends to become one Sunday among others. The pre-1970 liturgical calendar recognized the significance of the Epiphany by designating “Sundays after Epiphany” between the conclusion of the Christmas season and the beginning of pre-Lent, thus stretching out the Church’s meditation on the Epiphany over several weeks. Now, Epiphany is quickly succeeded by the feast of the Lord’s Baptism, after which the liturgical period known by that dreadful neologism “Ordinary Time” begins. 

While we wait in joyful hope (as we no longer say) for the restoration of some sanity to the liturgical calendar, we can be grateful for the insights into the Epiphany”and especially into those emblematic characters in the story, the Magi and the star”offered by Pope Benedict XVI in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (Image). 

As always with this scholar-pope, it’s the theology that counts, and Benedict’s theological reading of the Epiphany and the Magi story makes several important points. 

The Magi”the Wise Men, the Three Kings”are crucial figures in salvation history, for they were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah promised to the people of Israel, through whom all the nations of the world will be blessed. That’s not a new insight, of course; what is striking in Benedict’s interpretation of their story is his expansion of the meaning of the Magi’s journey. The “Wise Men from the east,” he writes, “mark a ‘new beginning.’” In them, we find “the journeying of humanity toward Christ.” 

Thus these Three Kings “initiate a procession that continues throughout history.” Moreover, they represent more than those who have actually found the Lord: “they represent the inner aspiration of the human spirit, the dynamism of religions and human reason” toward Christ. The Magi embody the truth of which Paul wrote in one of his great Christological hymns: “all things were created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). 

Then there is the star. After noting that this extraordinary phenomenon might have been the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the constellation of Pisces in 7-6 B.C. (that is, just about the time of the birth of Christ), the pope gets down to the real point, which is not astronomy but theology. The stars, Benedict recalls, were once thought to be divine powers that controlled the fates of men and women: thus the phrase, “it’s in the stars,” and thus the pseudo-science of astrology. The Epiphany and the Magi story reverse all of this. 

For “it is not the star that determines the child’s destiny,” the pope writes; “it is the child that directs the star.” Astrology is out ; humanity, so to speak, is in . And so, Benedict continues, “we may speak here of a kind of anthropological revolution: human nature assumed by God”as revealed in God’s only-begotten Son”is greater than all the powers of the material world, greater than the entire universe.” 

The star, perceived with the eyes of faith and understood by the tools of theology, tells a brilliant, if not fully comprehended, story. If the Wise Men were led by a star to find the newborn king of the Jews who is in truth the universal savior, Benedict tells us, “this implies that the entire cosmos speaks of Christ, even though its language is not yet fully intelligible to man in his present state.” The “language of creation” points us toward the truth about the Creator, which is that God who creates is also God who redeems. 

Thus the Epiphany points us toward the Cross (anticipated in the Magi’s gift of myrrh, which is also used at Jesus’ burial) and, ultimately, to the Resurrection. 

A Homily for the Epiphany by Pope Benedict XVI

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. His previous “On the Square” articles can be found here 


EUCHARISTIC CELEBRATION 
ON THE SOLEMNITY OF THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI


St Peter’s Basilica 
Wednesday, 6 January 2010


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, the Solemnity of the Epiphany, the great light that radiates from the Cave of Bethlehem inundates all of mankind through the Magi from the East. The first Reading, taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah; and the passage from the Gospel of Matthew, which we just heard, juxtapose the promise and its fulfilment in that particular tension noted when reading passages from the Old and New Testaments in succession. Following the humiliations undergone by the people of Israel at the hands of worldly powers, the splendid vision of the Prophet Isaiah appears before us. He sees the moment when the great light of God that seems powerless and incapable of protecting his people will rise to shine on all the earth so that the kings of nations bow before him, coming from the ends of the earth to deposit their most precious treasures at his feet. And the heart of the people will tremble with joy.

Compared to this vision, the one the Evangelist Matthew presents to us appears poor and humble: it seems impossible for us to recognize in it the fulfilment of the Prophet Isaiah’s words. In fact, those who arrived in Bethlehem were not the powerful and the kings of the earth, but the Magi, unknown men, perhaps regarded with suspicion, and in any case, not deemed worthy of special attention. The inhabitants of Jerusalem learned of the event but did not think it worth bothering about. Not even in Bethlehem did anyone seem to take any notice of the birth of this Baby, called King of the Jews by the Magi, nor about these men who had come from the East to visit him. Soon after, in fact, when Herod made it clear that he was effectively the one in power forcing the Holy Family to flee to Egypt and offering proof of his cruelty by the massacre of the innocents (cf. Mt 2: 13-18) the episode of the Magi seemed to have been disregarded and forgotten. It is therefore understandable that the hearts and souls of believers throughout the centuries have been attracted more by the vision of the Prophet than by the sober narration of the evangelist, as the Nativity scenes also show where there are camels, dromedaries and powerful kings of the world kneeling before the Child, laying down their gifts to him in precious caskets. But we must pay more attention to what the two texts communicate to us.

In fact, what did Isaiah see with his prophetic vision? In one single moment, he glimpsed a reality that was destined to mark all history. But even the event that Matthew narrates is not a brief and negligible episode that closes with the Magi hastening back to their own lands. On the contrary, it is the beginning. Those figures who came from the East were not the last but the first of a great procession of those who, throughout the epochs of history, are able to recognize the message of the Star, who know how to walk on the paths indicated by Sacred Scripture. Thus they also know how to find the One who seems weak and fragile but instead has the power to grant the greatest and most profound joy to the heart of man. In him, indeed, is made manifest the stupendous reality that God knows us and is close to us, that his greatness and power are not expressed according to the world’s logic, but to the logic of a helpless baby whose strength is only that of the love which he entrusts to us. In the journey of history, there are always people who are enlightened by the light of the Star, who find the way and reach him. They all live, each in his or her own way, the experience of the Magi.

They had brought gold, incense and myrrh. These are certainly not gifts that correspond to basic, daily needs. At that moment, the Holy Family was far more in need of something different from incense or myrrh, and not even the gold could have been of immediate use to them. But these gifts have a profound significance: they are an act of justice. In fact, according to the mentality prevailing then in the Orient, they represent the recognition of a person as God and King, that is, an act of submission. They were meant to say that from that moment, the donors belonged to the sovereign and they recognize his authority. The consequence is immediate. The Magi could no longer follow the road they came on, they could no longer return to Herod, they could no longer be allied with that powerful and cruel sovereign. They had always been led along the path of the Child, making them ignore the great and the powerful of the world, and taking them to him who awaits us among the poor, the road of love which alone can transform the world.

Therefore, not only did the Magi set out on their journey, but their deed started something new they traced a new road, and a new light has come down on earth which has never faded. The Prophet’s vision is fulfilled: that light could no longer be ignored by the world. People would go towards that Child and would be illumined by that joy that only he can give. The light of Bethlehem continues to shine throughout the world. To those who have welcomed this light, St Augustine said: “Even we, recognizing Christ our King and Priest who died for us, have honoured him as if we had offered him gold, incense and myrrh. But what remains is for us to bear witness to him by taking a different road from that on which we came” (Sermo 202. In Epiphania Domini, 3,4).

Thus if we read together the promise of the Prophet Isaiah and its fulfilment in the Gospel of Matthew in the great context of all history, it is evident that what we have been told which we seek to reproduce in our Nativity scenes is neither a dream nor a vain play on sensations and emotions, devoid of vigour and reality, but is the Truth that irradiates in the world, although Herod always seems stronger, and that Infant seems to be found among people of no importance or who are even downtrodden. But in that Baby is expressed the power of God, who brings together all people through the ages, because under his lordship, they may follow the course of love which transfigures the world. Nevertheless, even if the few in Bethlehem have become many, believers in Jesus Christ always seem to be few. Many have seen the star, but only a few have understood its message. Scripture scholars in the time of Jesus knew the word of God perfectly well. They were able to say without hesitation what could be found in Scripture about the place where the Messiah would be born, but as St Augustine said: “They were like milestones along the road though they could give information to travellers along the way, they remained inert and immobile” (Sermo 199. In Epiphania Domini, 1,2).

Therefore, we can ask ourselves: what is the reason why some men see and find, while others do not? What opens the eyes and the heart? What is lacking in those who remain indifferent, in those who point out the road but do not move? We can answer: too much self-assurance, the claim to knowing reality, the presumption of having formulated a definitive judgment on everything closes them and makes their hearts insensitive to the newness of God. They are certain of the idea that they have formed of the world and no longer let themselves be involved in the intimacy of an adventure with a God who wants to meet them. They place their confidence in themselves rather than in him, and they do not think it possible that God could be so great as to make himself small so as to come really close to us.

Lastly, what they lack is authentic humility, which is able to submit to what is greater, but also authentic courage, which leads to belief in what is truly great even if it is manifested in a helpless Baby. They lack the evangelical capacity to be children at heart, to feel wonder, and to emerge from themselves in order to follow the path indicated by the star, the path of God. God has the power to open our eyes and to save us. Let us therefore ask him to give us a heart that is wise and innocent, that allows us to see the Star of his mercy, to proceed along his way, in order to find him and be flooded with the great light and true joy that he brought to this world. Amen.

© Copyright 2010 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana


 Images of the Three Magi
The Three Magi – a mosaic in Ravenna

my source: TThe Cultural Concept Circle
 The most famous representation of them is the ‘Mosaic of the the Tree Wise Men in Sant’Apollinare Nuovo at Ravenna.

The city of Ravenna in Italy, in a number of its most notable buildings, conserves the most intact set of Roman mosaic images from the days of the Roman Byzantine Empire. This is because the northern Italian City was chosen in the year 404 as the Imperial residence of Byzantine Emperor Honorius (395-423).

In the view of many historians, Byzantium’s greatest achievement was the Christian civilizing influence it exerted over the peoples it encountered. The stories related symbolically in the stunning mosaics at Ravenna have contributed much to that view.

The early church was blessed with many brilliant minds with a genius for organization, especially the apostle Paul. He motivated many communities to put in place a mechanism of administrative skills that ensured traditions established continued.


They were carried forward, at least by one medieval monarchy, which has managed to survive intact until today, the English monarchy.

Altar in St James’s Chapel Royal in London




Every year on that date in England an ‘Affair of State‘ is announced in English court circulars. Queen Elizabeth II, as head of State and anointed of the Lord, dispatches two Gentlemen Ushers wearing service dress to the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace.


Escorted by the Yeomen of the Guard they carry her offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh, keeping alive the traditions of the Christian faith and also honouring the spirit of Byzantium (capital modern day Istanbul) the city that was ‘a golden bridge joining the East and the West’.



Source: http://fatherdavidbirdosb.blogspot.com/2017/01/epiphany-in-west.html

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