(See the page on
Twelfth Night first
for the basics of the meaning of this Feast)
As described on
the page on Twelfthnight, this Feast -- also known as the . "Theophany" or
"Three Kings Day" -- recalls Christ revealing Himself as Divine in three
different ways: to the Magi, at His Baptism, and with His miracle at the
wedding feast at Cana.
For families who practice traditions involving "the Magi" or "La Befana"
leaving gifts for children, the day begins with the wee ones discovering
what was left for them while they slept on Twelfth Night.
At today's Mass, there will be a blessing of gold, frankincense, myrrh, Epiphany
Water, and, after Communion, a blessing of chalk. Bring small special items
of gold to have with you during the Mass, and they will be blessed if they
are exposed as you sit in your pew with them (wedding rings, rosaries, an
heirloom piece of gold jewelry, for example).
When Mass is over, you will take some of the blessed chalk, frankincense,
myrrh, and Epiphany Water home with you, so it's good to bring a container
to transport Holy Water and one to put some grains of incense and a piece
of chalk into. (Note: if you can, take and keep 5 pieces of blessed incense
for your Paschal Candle this Easter),
When you get home, sprinkle some Epiphany water (otherwise and afterwards
used as regular Holy Water) in the rooms of your house to protect it and
bring blessings. This Holy Water recalls the waters of the Jordan, and is
a visible reminder of Christ's Divinity, of Jesus's revealing Himself as
God at His Baptism, when were heard the words from the Father: "This is My
beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased." This rite of blessing the home --
led by a priest, if possible, or the father of the house if no priest is
available -- goes like this:
Upon entering the
|Peace be to
|And to all
who dwell herein.
From the east came
the Magi to Bethlehem to adore the Lord; and opening their treasures they
offered precious gifts: gold for the great King, incense for the true God,
and myrrh in symbol of His burial.
During the Magnificat,
the room is sprinkled with holy water and incensed.
My soul doth magnify
the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For He hath regarded
the humility of His handmaiden. For behold, from henceforth all generations
shall call me blessed. For He that is mighty hath done great things to me,
and holy is His Name. And His Mercy is from generation unto generations upon
them that fear Him. He hath shewed might in His arm, He hath scattered the
proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their
seat, and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich He hath sent empty away. He hath received Israel, His servant,
being mindful of His mercy. As He spoke to our Fathers, Abraham and His seed
After this is
From the east came
the Magi to Bethlehem to adore the Lord; and opening their treasures they
offered precious gifts: gold for the great King, incense for the true God,
and myrrh in symbol of His burial.
Our Father Who
art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on
earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive
us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead and
lead us not into temptation,
us from evil.
|All they from
Saba shall come
|O Lord, hear
|And let my
cry come unto Thee.
Let us pray. O
God, who by the guidance of a star didst on this day manifest Thine only-begotten
Son to the Gentiles, mercifully grant that we who know Thee by faith may
also attain the vision of Thy glorious majesty. Through Christ our Lord.
be enlightened, O Jerusalem, for thy light is come, and the glory of the
Lord is risen upon thee-- Jesus Christ born of the Virgin Mary.
And the Gentiles
shall walk in thy light and kings in the splendor of thy rising, and the
glory of the Lord has risen upon thee.
Let us pray. Bless,
O Lord God almighty, this home, that in it there may be health, purity, the
strength of victory, humility, goodness and mercy, the fulfillment of Thy
law, the thanksgiving to God the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
And may this blessing remain upon this home and upon all who dwell herein.
Through Christ our Lord.
After the prayers
of the blessing are recited, walk through the house and bless each room by
sprinkling with Epiphany water and incensing it.
Take the blessed chalk and first write the initials of the three Wise Men,
connected with Crosses, over the inside of your front door (on the lintel,
if possible). Then write the year, breaking up the numbers and the year so
that they fall on both sides of the initials. It should look like this, for
20 C+M+B 05
with the "20 "being
the millennium and century, the "C" standing for the first Wise Man, Caspar,
the "M" standing for Melchior, the "B" standing for Balthasar, and the "05"
standing for the decade and year. It is also popularly believed that the
Kings' initials also stand for "Christus mansionem benedicat" ("Christ bless
Note that some write the first Wise Man's name as "Gaspar," "Kasper," or
"Jaspar," so the initials would be "G+M+B" or "K+M+B" or "J+M+B." In any
case, these initials over our doorway serve to remind us of Who the Magi
saw and how they saw Him. They remind us to adore Him as they did. The chalk
markings remain over the door 'til Pentecost.
It is a popular custom among some people that all who enter or re-enter their
home for the first time after the blessing should step with their right foot
across the threshold so as to start things off "on the right foot."
It is customary in some religious orders to choose a new patron Saint today
for the coming year. Families can do this, too, choosing a new Saint by
designating someone (e.g., father or mother, etc.) to select the new Patron,
by determing by lots who will select the new patron, by having family members
write down their choices and choosing at random, by allowing the person to
choose who presents the best argument for a particular Patron, etc. It would
be very beneficial if the person who chooses teaches the rest of the family
about that particular Patron, perhaps looking up the Saint in Butler's works,
finding art work depicting the Saint, etc., and sharing it.
As to foods, the bread-like Three Kings Cake is eaten on this day. In some
cultures (e.g., Mexico), whoever finds the piece with the trinket (usually
shaped like Baby Jesus) inside has to host the
Candlemas party. A recipe:
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 (16 ounce) container sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 (1/4 oz.) envelopes active dry yeast
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 cup warm water (100 to 110 degrees)
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Trinket, almond, other nut
Colored sugars, if desired
Cook first 4 ingredients in a saucepan over low heat, stirring often, until
butter melts. Cool mixture to 100 degrees to 110 degrees.
Dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1/2 cup warm water in a large bowl;
let stand 5 minutes. Add butter mixture, eggs, and 2 cups flour; beat at
medium speed with an electric mixer 2 minutes or until smooth. Gradually
stir in enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic,
about 10 minutes. Place in a well-greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover
and let rise in a warm place (85 degrees), free from drafts, 1 hour or until
doubled in bulk. Stir together 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon; set aside.
Punch dough down; divide in half. Turn 1 portion out onto a lightly floured
surface; roll to a 28- x 10-inch rectangle. Spread half each of cinnamon
mixture and softened butter on dough. Roll dough, jellyroll fashion, starting
at long side. Place dough roll, seam side down, on a lightly greased baking
sheet. Bring ends together to form an oval ring, moistening and pinching
edges together to seal. Repeat with remaining dough, cinnamon mixture, and
Cover and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, 20 minutes or until
doubled in bulk. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden.
To finish: Make a tiny cut into the cake and hide a plastic or china trinket
(shaped like Baby Jesus, if possible) inside (may substitute an almond or
other nut). Mix the icing ingredients and do one of the following: 1) simply
spread on cake (may dot with candied cherries), 2) spread on cake and then
top with a colored sugard 3) spread on cake and sprinkle with alternating
bands of colored sugar (in New Orleans, the traditional colors are green,
gold, and purple).
In Rome today,
a miraculous image of Our Lord as Divine Infant,
il Santo Bambino di Ara Coeli,
is honored, after having been brought out from its home in the Church of
Santa Maria di Ara Coeli on the Capitoline Hill in Rome on Christmas Eve
to be revered by the Roman people. And as to what happens in Venice today,
see the "Customs" section of the page devoted to the
Feast of the Ascension.
When the Octave of the Epiphany (13 January, the Feast of the Baptism of
Our Lord) is over in 8 days, the feeling of Christmastide begins to wane
a bit. It is either today or on the Octave that some people take down
their Christmas decorations, though many wait until the eve of Candlemas
on February 2. Though the Season of Christmas liturgically ends with
the Octave of the Epiphany, the celebration of Christ's entry into
the world and His childhood doesn't truly end until Candlemas (also known
as "The Feast of the Presentation and Purification) when we celebrate Christ's
being presented in the Temple and Mary's Purification.
The time which begins today and ends on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday
is known unofficially as "Carnival," and is a generally celebratory
time which ends in in Shrovetide and its famous (and infamous) Mardi Gras.
Then remembering of Christ's infancy and Divine Childhood gives way to
You can download the above blessing in Microsoft Word .doc format here:
Blessing of the Home on the Feast of the
Epiphany (1 page).
And now for a few beautiful readings, which you can download in Microsoft
Word .doc format here (5 pages).
Excerpts from sermons XXXI, XXXIII, XXXIV, and XXXVI on the Epiphany, by
Pope Leo the Great (ca. A.D. 395-461)
The Epiphany a
necessary sequel to the Nativity. After celebrating but lately the day on
which immaculate virginity brought forth the Saviour of mankind, the venerable
feast of the Epiphany, dearly beloved, gives us continuance of joy, that
the force of our exultation and the fervour of our faith may not grow cool,
in the midst of neighbouring and kindred mysteries. For it concerns all men's
salvation, that the infancy of the Mediator between God and men was already
manifested to the whole world, while He was still detained in the tiny town.
For although He had chosen the Israelitish nation, and one family out of
that nation, from whom to assume the nature of all mankind, yet He was unwilling
that the early days of His birth should be concealed within the narrow limits
of His mother's home: but desired to be soon recognized by all, seeing that
He deigned to be born for all...
...The wise men from the East are typical fulfilments of God's promise to
Abraham. Now the manifestation of this unspeakable mercy, dearly-beloved,
came to pass when Herod held the royal power in Judea, where the legitimate
succession of Kings having failed and the power of the High-priests having
been overthrown, an alien-born had gained the sovereignty: that the rising
of the true King might be attested by the voice of prophecy, which had said:
"a prince shall not fail from Juda, nor a leader from his loins, until He
come for whom it is reserved, and He shall be the expectation of the nations."
Concerning which an innumerable succession was once promised to the most
blessed patriarch Abraham to be begotten not by fleshly seed but by fertile
faith; and therefore it was compared to the stars in multitude that as father
of all the nations he might hope not for an earthly but for a heavenly progeny.
And therefore, for the creating of the promised posterity, the heirs designated
under the figure of the stars are awakened by the rising of a new star, that
the ministrations of the heaven might do service in that wherein the witness
of the heaven had been adduced. A star more brilliant than the other stars
arouses wise men that dwell in the far East, and from the brightness of the
wondrous light these men, not unskilled in observing such things, appreciate
the importance of the sign: this doubtless being brought about in their hearts
by Divine inspiration, in order that the mystery of so great a sight might
not be hid from them, and, what was an unusual appearance to their eyes,
might not be obscure to their minds. In a word they scrupulously set about
their duty and provide themselves with such gifts that in worshipping the
One they may at the same time show their belief in His threefold function:
with gold they honour the Person of a King, with myrrh that of Man, with
incense that of God...
...The perseverance of the Magi has led to the most important results. Led
then, dearly beloved, into Bethlehem by obeying the guidance of the star,
the wise men "rejoiced with very great joy," as the evangelist has told us:
"and entering the house, found the child with Mary, His mother; and falling
down they worshipped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him
gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh." What wondrous faith of perfect knowledge,
which was taught them not by earthly wisdom, but by the instruction of the
Holy Spirit! Whence came it that these men, who had quitted their country
without having seen Jesus, and had not noticed anything in His looks to enforce
such systematic adoration, observed this method in offering their gifts unless
it were that besides the appearance of the star, which attracted their bodily
eyes, the more refulgent rays of truth taught their hearts that before they
started on their toilsome road, they must understand that He was signified
to Whom was owed in gold royal honour, in incense Divine adoration, in myrrh
the acknowledgment of mortality.
Such a belief and understanding no doubt, as far as the enlightenment of
their faith went, might have been sufficient in themselves and have prevented
their using their bodily eyes in inquiring into that which they had beheld
with their mind's fullest gaze. But their sagacious diligence, persevering
till they found the child, did good service for future peoples and for the
men of our own time: so that, as it profited us all that the apostle Thomas,
after the Lord's resurrection, handled the traces of the wounds in His flesh,
so it was of advantage to us that His infancy should be attested by the visit
of the wise men. And so the wise men saw and adored the Child of the tribe
of Judah, "of the seed of David according to the flesh," "made from a woman,
made under the law," which He had come "not to destroy but to fulfil." They
saw and adored the Child, small in size, powerless to help others, incapable
of speech, and in nought different to the generality of human children. Because,
as the testimonies were trustworthy which asserted in Him the majesty of
invisible Godhead, so it ought to be impossible to doubt that "the Word became
flesh," and the eternal essence of the Son of God took man's true nature:
lest either the inexpressible marvels of his acts which were to follow or
the infliction of sufferings which He had to bear should overthrow the mystery
of our Faith by their inconsistency: seeing that no one at all can be justified
save those who believe the Lord Jesus to be both true God and true Man...
...The story of the magi is not only a bygone fact in history, but of everyday
application to ourselves. The day, dearly-beloved, on which Christ the Saviour
of the world first appeared to the nations must be venerated by us with holy
worship: and today those joys must be entertained in our hearts which existed
in the breasts of the three magi, when, aroused by the sign and leading of
a new star, which they believed to have been promised, they fell down in
presence of the King of heaven and earth. For that day has not so passed
away that the mighty work, which was then revealed, has passed away with
it, and that nothing but the report of the thing has come down to us for
faith to receive and memory to celebrate; seeing that, by the oft-repeated
gift of God, our times daily enjoy the fruit of what the first age possessed.
And therefore, although the narrative which is read to us from the Gospel
properly records those days on which the three men, who had neither been
taught by the prophets' predictions nor instructed by the testimony of the
law, came to acknowledge God from the furthest parts of the East, yet we
behold this same thing more clearly and abundantly carried on now in the
enlightenment of all those who are called, since the prophecy of Isaiah is
fulfilled when he says, "the Lord has laid bare His holy arm in the sight
of all the nations, and all the nations upon earth have seen the salvation
which is from the Lord our God" and again, "and those to whom it has not
been announced about Him shall see, and they who have not heard, shall
Hence when we see men devoted to worldly wisdom and far from belief in Jesus
Christ brought out of the depth of their error and called to an acknowledgment
of the true Light, it is undoubtedly the brightness of the Divine grace that
is at work: and whatever of new light illumines the darkness of their hearts,
comes from the rays of the same star: so that it should both move with wonder,
and going before lead to the adoration of God the minds which it visited
with its splendour. But if with careful thought we wish to see how their
threefold kind of gift is also offered by all who come to Christ with the
foot of faith, is not the same offering repeated in the hearts of true believers?
For he that acknowledges Christ the King of the universe brings gold from
the treasure of his heart: he that believes the Only-begotten of God to have
united man's true nature to Himself, offers myrrh; and he that confesses
Him in no wise inferior to the Father's majesty, worships Him in a manner
First Hymn for the Epiphany, by St. Ephraem (d. 373)
be praise from Thy flock in the day of Thy Epiphany!
1. The heavens He has renewed, for that fools worshipped all the luminaries:
He has renewed the earth, for that in Adam it was wasted. That which He fashioned
has become new by His spittle: and the All-Sufficing has restored bodies
2. Gather yourselves again ye sheep and without labour receive cleansing!
for one needs not as Elisha to bathe seven times in the river, nor again
to be wearied as the priests are wearied with sprinklings.
3. Seven times Elisha purified himself in a mystery of the seven spirits;
and the hyssop and blood are a mighty symbol. There is no room for division;
He is not divided from the Lord of all Who is Son of the Lord of all.
4. Moses sweetened in Marah the waters that were bitter, because the People
complained and murmured: Thus he gave a sign of baptism, wherein the Lord
of life makes sweet them that were bitter.
5. The cloud overshadowed and kept off the burning heat from the camp; it
showed a symbol of the Holy Spirit, which overshadows you in baptism tempering
the flaming fire that it harm not your bodies.
6. Through the sea the People then passed, and showed a symbol of the baptism
wherein ye were washed. The People passed through that and believed not:
the Gentiles were baptized in this and believed and received the Holy Ghost.
7. The Word sent the Voice to proclaim before His Coming, to prepare for
Him the way by which He came, and to betroth the Bride till He should come,
that she might be ready when He should come and take her from the water.
8. The voice of prophecy stirred the son of the barren woman, and he went
forth wandering in the desert and crying, "Lo! the Son of the Kingdom comes!
prepare ye the way that He may enter and abide in your dwellings!"
9. John cried, "Who comes after me, He is before me: I am the Voice but not
the Word; I am the torch but not the Light; the Star that rises before the
Sun of Righteousness."
10. In the wilderness this John had cried and had said, "Repent ye sinners
of your evils, and offer the fruits of repentance; for lo! He comes that
winnows the wheat from the tares."
11. The Lightgiver has prevailed and marked a mystery, by the degrees he
ascended: Lo! there are twelve days since he ascended, and today this is
the thirteenth: a perfect mystery of Him, the Son, and His twelve!
12. Darkness was overcome to make it manifest that Satan was overcome and
the Light prevailed that he should proclaim that the Firstborn triumphs:
darkness was overcome with the Dark Spirit, and our Light prevailed with
13. In the Height and the Depth the Son had two heralds. The star of light
proclaimed Him from above; John likewise preached Him from beneath: two heralds,
the earthly and the heavenly.
14. The star of light, contrary to nature, shone forth of a sudden less than
the sun yet greater than the sun. Less was it than he in manifest light;
and greater than he in secret might because of its mystery.
15. The star of light shed its rays among them that were in darkness, and
guided them as though they were blind; so that they came and met the great
Light: they gave offerings and received life and adored and departed.
16. The herald from above showed His Nature to be from the Most High; likewise
he that was from beneath showed His Body to be from humankind, mighty marvel!
that His Godhead and His Manhood by them were proclaimed!
17. Thus whoso reckons Him as of earth, the star of light will convince him
that He is of Heaven: and whoso reckons Him as of spirit, this John will
convince him that He is also bodily.
18. John drew near with his parents and worshipped the Sun, and brightness
rested on His Face. He was not moved as when in the womb. Mighty marvel!
that here he worships and there he leaped!
19. The whole creation became for Him as one mouth and cried out concerning
Him. The Magi cry out in their gifts; the barren cry out with their children;
the star of light, lo! it cries out in the air, "Behold the Son of the King!"
20. The heavens are opened, the waters break forth, the dove is in glory!
The voice of the Father is stronger than thunder, as it utters the word,
"This is My Beloved"; the Watchers brought the tidings, the children acclaimed
Him in their Hosannas.