The Solemnity of the Epiphany marks the occasion of the visit of the Magi to the newborn babe, Jesus Christ.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem… And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
The three Magi were Gentiles from the East following a star in the sky that was foretold in the Old Testament, “A star shall advance from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise from Israel” (Numbers 24:17, see also Isaiah 60:1-6 and Psalm 72:10). These unique Gentiles were likely interested in astrology as is evident by their awareness and interest in this particular star that made them “overjoyed at seeing” it.
As Gentiles they were able to recognize that Jesus is the Son of God who deserves our worship (see CCC 528). This is no small accomplishment. It demonstrates their openness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, which is thus available to people from all nations, and it points toward the call for all nations to enter into the sonship of Christ (Matthew 28:19-20).
The Church invites us to enter into the Mystery of the Epiphany through the Sacred Liturgy and various devotional practice. Some of these opportunities, as expressed in the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, include:
- The exchange of gifts with others in imitation of the gifts brought by the Magi to Jesus; gift giving during this time should maintain a “Christian character….free from extravagance, luxury, and waste”.
- The Blessing of the Home.
- Inscription above doors by blessed chalk that includes “the year and the initials of the three wise men (C+M+B), which can also be interpreted to mean Christus mansionem benedicat.”
- Collections for charitable or missionary projects.
- A “sense of solidarity and openness” to “those who come from afar”.
- Assistance with missionary work.
I would like to draw your attention to the sixth invitation listed here. The document referenced above states that the Epiphany has a “strong missionary character.” The Liturgical Year proposes and re-proposes an ordered life of holiness each year. Every Christian is called to not only support the missionary work of others within the Church, but to play an active part in the evangelization of people and culture (Evangelii Nuntiandi 70-73). Not only does Saint Paul VI call families to evangelize (Evangelii Nuntiandi 71), but the Catechism of the Catholic Church lists evangelization as one of the four critical habits for the Christian Home (CCC 2205).
Therefore, just as Lent is an opportunity to renew our detachment from worldly things and deepen our conversion, the celebration of Epiphany is also a “season” to renew our habits to engage in the sacred task of evangelization within our own region. Each year we may forget this essential component of the Christian life or become lax in this mandate from Christ and His Church, nonetheless, Epiphany is a reminder to take additional steps in the new year to prioritize praying for the faith life of others and inviting them to come to know the fullness of grace and truth that Christ willed to be found in the Catholic Church (CCC 830).
Hopefully, with a renewed understanding of our call to the work of evangelization, we may begin to hear this mandate repeated at each and every Mass in the Dismissal Rite and echoed in the very word “Mass.” At each Mass we are dismissed and sent out on the mission to evangelize. To explain this point, I will close with the wisdom of Benedict XVI.
After the blessing, the deacon or the priest dismisses the people with the words: Ite, missa est. These words help us to grasp the relationship between the Mass just celebrated and the mission of Christians in the world. In antiquity, missa simply meant “dismissal.” However in Christian usage it gradually took on a deeper meaning. The word “dismissal” has come to imply a “mission.” These few words succinctly express the missionary nature of the Church.