Feast of the Epiphany - 6 January
(Note: Today also marks the 5th birthday of my second child, Aidan. Our "Epiphany baby" is growing up.)
From the Medieval Saints Yahoo Group:
Solemnity of the Epiphany
Also known as Epiphania, Twelfth Night, Festum trium regum (Feast of the Three Kings)
Liturgical Colors: white and gold
Introduced to the West from the Eastern Church c. 360-380, about the same time the Eastern Church adopted the Christmas Feast from the West; Commemorating the "manifesting of Jesus" to the Gentiles (wise men); Christ's baptism by St. John; Christ's first miracle (changing water into wine); and the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes.
Celebrated January 5 (evening) through the 6th, and January 6 (Eastern Church, January 19)
Epiphany, or the Manifestation of the Lord
In the West Christ's birthday had already been celebrated for some time on December 25. But with this feast was associated all the poverty and helplessness of the cave of Bethlehem; Mary and Joseph watched beside the crib in poverty, and the shepherds that came to offer their humble worship were equally poor. This aspect was lost sight of in the Feast of the Epiphany. It is true that the Magi found a poor, weak child, attended by poor parents. But through their faith they recognized and acknowledged the helpless Infant as the Redeemer and King of the world, and as such they adored Him, In the Feast of Christmas Christ is shown as man to a few of His chosen souls; in the Feast of the Epiphany, on the other hand, He appears to the whole world as God.
In order to strengthen and reinforce this divine manifestation to the Magi, the Church commemorates on this feast two other incidents, both of which strongly testify to the divinity of Christ: His baptism in the Jordan and the first miracle at the marriage feast in Cana. In this way, the Redeemer, whose coming was known imperfectly at Christmas, is made known to the whole world.
While the Mass of the feast concentrates entirely on the coming of the Magi and their adoration of their new-found King, the Breviary abounds in references to the two other "manifestations." The antiphon for the Magnificat of second Vespers summarizes the threefold significance of the day in words that are unmistakable: "Three miracles glorify this sacred day: today the star led the Magi to the crib; today at the wedding feast water was changed into wine; today Christ willed that John baptize Him in the Jordan so that He might become our Redeemer, Alleluia." Thus we have three supernatural interventions: the star that guided the Magi from the East, the wine miraculously brought into being from water, and the voice of the Father ringing out from the heavens, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17).
— Excerpted from With Christ Through the Year, Rev. Bernard Strasser, O.S.B.
The Season of Epiphany by Dennis Bratcher
January 6 is known in western Christian tradition as Epiphany. It goes by other names in various church traditions. In Hispanic and Latin culture, as well as some places in Europe, it is known as Three Kings' Day (Span: el Dia de los Tres Reyes, la Fiesta de Reyes, or el Dia de los Reyes Magos; Dutch: Driekoningendag). Because of differences in church calendars, mainly between the Eastern Orthodox and the western Catholic and Protestant traditions, both Christmas and Epiphany have been observed at different times in the past. Today, most of the Eastern Orthodox traditions follow the western church calendar. The exceptions are some Greek Orthodox Churches and related traditions (e.g., Russian and Serbian Orthodox) that still follow the older calendar and celebrate Epiphany as the Theophany on January 19th.
Epiphany is the climax of the Christmas Season and the Twelve Days of Christmas, which are counted from December 25th until January 5th. The day before Epiphany is the twelfth day of Christmas, and is sometimes called Twelfth Night, an occasion for feasting in some cultures. In some cultures, the baking of a special King's Cake is part of the festivities of Epiphany (a King's Cake is part of the observance of Mardi Gras in French Catholic culture of the Southern USA).
In traditional Christian churches Christmas, as well as Easter, is celebrated as a period of time, a season of the church year, rather than just a day. The Season of Christmas begins with the First Sunday of Advent, marked by expectation and anticipation, and concludes with Epiphany, which looks ahead to the mission of the church to the world in light of the Nativity. The one or two Sundays between Christmas Day and Epiphany are sometimes called Christmastide. For many Protestant church traditions, the season of Epiphany extends from January 6th until Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent leading to Easter. Depending on the timing of Easter, this includes from four to nine Sundays. Other traditions, especially the Roman Catholic tradition, observe Epiphany as a single day, with the Sundays following Epiphany counted as Ordinary Time.
The term epiphany means "to show" or "to make known" or even "to reveal." In Western churches, it remembers the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child, who by so doing "reveal" Jesus to the world as Lord and King. In some Central and South American countries influenced by Catholic tradition, Three Kings' Day, or the night before, is the time for opening Christmas presents. In some eastern churches, Epiphany or the Theophany commemorates Jesus' baptism, with the visit of the Magi linked to Christmas. In some churches the day is celebrated as Christmas, with Epiphany/Theophany occurring on January 19th.
The colors of Epiphany are usually the colors of Christmas, white and gold, the colors of celebration, newness, and hope that mark the most sacred days of the church year. In traditions that only observe a single day for Epiphany, the colors are often changed after Epiphany to the colors of Ordinary Time, usually green or thematic sanctuary colors, until Transfiguration Sunday, the last Sunday before the beginning of Lent.
As with most aspects of the Christian liturgical calendar, Epiphany has theological significance as a teaching tool in the church. The Wise Men or Magi who brought gifts to the infant Jesus were the first Gentiles to acknowledge Jesus as "King" and so were the first to "show" or "reveal" Jesus to a wider world as the incarnate Christ. This act of worship by the Magi, which corresponded to Simeon's blessing that this child Jesus would be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles" (Luke 2:32), was one of the first indications that Jesus came for all people, of all nations, of all races, and that the work of God in the world would not be limited to only a few.
Traditional Blessings on the Feast of the Three Kings:
Blessing of Chalk: Blessed chalk is distributed to the people in some churches, especially in Europe. The chalk is taken home and is used to mark the year and the initials of the three Magi over the door of the house (e.g.: 20 + C + M + B + 04) to remind all who enter and leave through the main door that they also must be ready to leave all, if necessary, and follow Christ. It might be added also that this is a beautiful act of faith.
Blessing of Bread, Salt and Eggs: In some places in Europe, bread, eggs and salt are taken to the church on this day to be blessed. In sections of Germany incense is taken also. These things are blessed after the morning service and may be taken home to be eaten with the holiday meals. In Germany, the bread and eggs are given to the poor, the salt is retained at home as a reminder that the people, as Christians, are to be "the salt of the earth," and the incense is burned at the family altar to remind the whole family that, just as the house is filled with the odor of the incense, so should charity bind together all of the members of the family with Christ.
Blessing of Gold, Frankincense (and Myrrh): In many churches there is a custom of blessing gold, frankincense and sometimes myrrh on the feast of the Epiphany. The gold is to be offered for sacred vessels in the parish, the incense is taken home to be used as noted above. The blessings of all these things, the chalk, bread, gold, etc., may be found in the Roman Ritual (English translation The Book of Blessings). If these customs are not in practice in your parish, you might ask the priests to introduce them.
Blessing of Water on the Vigil of Epiphany: In some places water is blessed on the Vigil of Epiphany and is then given to the faithful to use in their homes, and also for the sick. Unlike the above blessings, however, this blessing is reserved to the Bishop or to his delegate. It is a beautiful, but rather long ceremony which may be found in the Roman Ritual.
Blessing of the Home on the Feast of the Epiphany: The blessing of the home is often given by pastors, either individually or if the parish is so large that this is impossible, from the church steeple in the four directions. If there is no blessing of houses in your parish on Epiphany, the father may go through the various rooms of the home sprinkling the "water of the three kings," which was described immediately above, or with ordinary holy water if the other has not been blessed. As the various rooms are sprinkled, the father reads the prayer:
Bless, O Lord, almighty God, this home so that in it there may be health, chastity, victorious strength, humility, goodness and mildness, obedience to God's laws, and acts of thanks to God the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, and may this Blessing remain upon this house, and upon all who dwell in it. Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.
If the pastor is going to bless the homes from the church, the father of the family should perform the above ceremony for his home at the same time.
Prayer Source: How to Make Your House a Home by Rev. Bernard Stokes,
O.F.M., Family Life Bureau, Washington D.C., 1955
For more information on the Feast of the Epiphany and the Feast of the Three Kings, see: