(See the page on Twelfth Night
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, all three of which are traditionally
believed to have happened on the same calendar date.
For families who hold to 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
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 (you can download the blessing in .pdf format here):
|Peace be to this
|And to all who
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.
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
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,
|But deliver us
|All they from
Saba shall come
|O Lord, hear my
|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.
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 ex., for the year 2021, one would write.:
20 C+M+B 21
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 -- i.e., for
the year 1963, it would have been written
19 C+M+B 63
It is also
popularly believed that the Kings' initials also stand for "Christus
mansionem benedicat" ("Christ bless this house").
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
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, and
a trinket (usually shaped like Baby Jesus) is baked inside. Whoever
receives the piece with the trinket 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 butter.
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
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
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
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 Lent.
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
...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 understand."
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 with incense.
First Hymn for the Epiphany, by St. Ephraem (d.
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 with souls.
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
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
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
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 the Lightgiver.
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
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
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.