January 6, 2019: EPIPHANY (Part III)
January 6, 2019: EPIPHANY OF THE LORD
Rank: Double of the I Class
“A STAR SHALL RISE out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel.”
(Numbers, xxiv. 17)
[Part III - Balaam's Prophecy, and Expectation of the Gentiles]
O God, who by the direction of a star didst this day manifest thy only Son to the Gentiles; mercifully grant that we, who now know thee by faith, may come at length to see the glory of thy majesty. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
Balaam's Prophecy, Book of Numbers, Ch. xxiv, and the Expectation of the Gentiles
True, Catholicity continually reminds us of the poor life of Jesus. For the poor and oppressed, those who suffer and lament, those who, being cast off by the world, have God alone to witness their sorrows—and you know their number is great—well, is there for all these unfortunates anything more consoling than the stable of the Infant God, His poor swaddling clothes, and the bareness of His manger? By wishing to deprive the miserable of this worship; by wishing to rob them of this divine cradle, these precious swaddling clothes, this poor manger: do you thus, O philosopher! show yourself a benefactor of humanity, or rather its most cruel enemy? While it is in the midst of your splendid rooms, your enchanting sights, and your grand banquets that you brave the severities of winter, oh! let Religion console the poor man in want of food and fire, by showing him an Infant-his Model and his God—shivering and crying!
Let us follow the Church to Bethlehem. January 6th is the Festival of the Kings, or the Epiphany, that is to say, the Manifestation of the Infant Jesus.
On this great day, the Church celebrates three manifestations of the Son of God. The first is that which took place at His baptism, when the Holy Ghost descended visibly on Him under the form of a dove, and a voice was heard saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. The second is that which took place at the marriage feast of Cana, when the Saviour wrought His first miracle by changing water into wine, a miracle by which He showed forth His glory, and in consequence of which His disciples believed in Him. The third and most celebrated is that by which He revealed Himself to the Gentiles and received the adoration of the Magi.
The union of these three commemorations on one day is of very ancient origin. It would seem that the Church, in the establishment of this triple festival of the Epiphany, or Manifestation of the Saviour, had regard to the opinion of some holy Fathers who thought that the three mysteries might have occurred on one day.
However, the thought of the Saviour adored in the manger by the Kings or Magi so prevailed that it gave its name to the festival, and appears almost exclusively in the office and hymns of the solemnity of the 6th of January. In effect, the manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles was an extraordinary event, one that changed the face of the earth. Since the times near the deluge, the nations, having erred from the right way and bowed their heads to idols, were seated in the shadow of death. History tells of their abjection and their sufferings.
One people alone, intrusted with the true religion, had all the conditions necessary to live happy under the rule of God Himself. Yet mercy pleaded in Heaven the cause of the nations. It succeeded, and the Infant God was born at Bethlehem. By calling strangers to His cradle, God wished to show that all mankind were destined to know, love, and serve Him.
From the day on which the Eastern Magi came to adore the Son of Mary, there was no longer any privilege among the nations, no longer any special people of God. All peoples were the people of Jesus Christ; all nations were the chosen nation. Hence, the festival of the Adoration of the Magi is our festival; for we are the descendants of those who came from afar to adore the Universal Redeemer.
Our fathers were not the owners of the Land of Chanaan. To lead them into it, a star rose in the sky and went before them, as the pillar of fire went in other days before the soldiers of Moses. We ought to be very grateful to God for this prodigy. Without the star that shone before their eyes, we should have remained in the darkness and shadow of death. We ought therefore every year, on the return of the Day of the Kings, to go to the foot of those altars which represent the manger of Bethlehem, and adore Him who was born for the salvation of all; and, if we have no myrrh, or frankincense, or gold to offer Him, let us not be disheartened, but call to mind that the shepherds adored the Son of Mary before the kings. And what had they to offer Him but the homage of their purity and their faith?
In the second part of the Catechism we described the journey of the Magi. It remains for us to give a few details regarding them and the star that guided them: everything on such subjects is interesting. Tradition informs us that, after their return into their own country, they took care to make a good use of the graces which they had received, and that they attained the glory of Heaven, having preached Jesus Christ on earth by word and example.
It also informs us that they were three in number, that they were, kings, and that they were named Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar. Melchior, the first of the Magi, was a bald old man, as tradition tells, with a large beard and some long white hair. He wore, when prostrating before the Infant announced by the star, a robe of hyacinth or azure, a yellow or orange cloak, shoes of blue and white, and a royal mantle of various colours. He offered gold to the King Jesus. The second was Gaspar. He was young, beardless, and ruddy, and wore an orange robe and a red mantle. His shoes were of a hyacinth colour. He offered frankincense to acknowledge the divinity of Mary’s Son. The third was Balthazar. He was brown, had a large beard, and wore a red robe and a speckled mantle. His shoes were yellow. He offered myrrh to denote the Saviour's mortality. This tradition, regarding the appearance and costume of the Magi, may he piously believed, but we are not bound to believe it as of faith.
As for the occupation of the Magi, we have said that they were kings, and they made astronomy their particular study. Versed in old traditions, they recognised in the miraculous star the one that had been announced fifteen centuries before by Balaam. We know that the Israelites, on their entrance into the Promised Land, under the leadership of Josue, were everywhere triumphant. The fame of their victories, and yet more of the miracles that God wrought for them in the Desert, spread alarm and anxiety among the people of Chanaan. The Moabites, above all, were struck with terror. Balac, their king, resolved on opposing this terrible nation with something else than useless weapons.
He accordingly sent deputies to Balaam, the son of Beor, who dwelt at Pethor, on the Euphrates, in Mesopotamia, and who passed for a diviner and enchanter. The chief of the messengers said to him in the name of the king his master,—“Behold! people are come out of Egypt, who cover all the land and are encamped near me. Do you come therefore and curse these people, because they are stronger than I, so that I may see if I can by any means beat them and drive them out of my territory; for I know that those whom you bless shall be blessed and those whom you curse shall be cursed.”
Balaam went. The day after his arrival, Balac led him to a high mountain, from which he could view the army of Israel. At this sight, Balaam, seized by the spirit of the Lord, began to bless the people whom he had come to curse. Going on to prophesy, he said, – Balaam the son of Beor hath said: The man whose eye is stopped up, hath said: The hearer of the words of God hath said, who knoweth the doctrine of the Highest, and seeth the visions of the Almighty, who falling hath his eyes opened: I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not near. A STAR SHALL RISE out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel: and shall strike the chiefs of Moab, and shall waste all the children of Seth.
An unvarying tradition, common both to Jews and Christians, and dating from three thousand five hundred years ago, has always admitted that Balaam pointed out the Messias in the words, A star shall rise out of Jacob; a sceptre shall spring up from Israel. The words of the Prophet had resounded throughout the whole East. The remembrance of them was perpetuated from age to age, and, when the star appeared, the Magi, enlightened both by tradition and grace, set out on their journey to adore the glorious scion of Israel, whom they found at Bethlehem with His Divine Mother, and to whom they offered their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Faithful to the custom of Orientals, who used never to appear and even yet never appear before kings without offering them some gifts, the Magi laid deeply mysterious gifts at the feet of the Infant Jesus. By gold they acknowledged His royality, His absolute dominion over the whole world, and His right to the tributes of all nations. By frankincense they acknowledged His divinity; for incense is an emblem of adoration, of sacrifice, of the creature's annihilation before God. By myrrh, employed in embalming, they acknowledged His sacred humanity. In these gifts what a lesson for us! Let us carry to the Divine Infant the gold of charity and obedience, the frankincense of prayer and faith, and the myrrh of mortification and self-denial. These are the presents which He asks of us, and without which we cannot please Him.
The Magi were the first-fruits of the Gentiles. It is from their arrival at Bethlehem that we date the new epoch of grace and benediction, when the Sun of Truth and Justice rose on the whole world: a glorious epoch, of which the Church consecrated the memory by the solemnity of the Epiphany.
The Magi also give us an example that we ought to imitate. Is it not time for us to show the same fidelity to grace? As often as God speaks to us, whether by His ministers, or by inspirations, or by revolutions, or by pestilences, or by benefits, it is a star that shines on our path, it is a voice that calls us to virtue. Let us follow it like the Magi, readily, generously, sincerely, and faithfully, and like them we shall find Jesus Christ. Having found Him and laid at His feet the homage of our heart, let us return by another road: let us, the possessors of God Himself and His grace, keep far from the Herods that would wish to put the Child to death. These Herods, as everyone knows, are bad Christians, whose impious language and perverse example tend to rob us of our innocence.
Taken from: Catechism of Perseverance, Vol. IV,
Ch. xxx, Dublin, 1884. Imprimatur; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
Related links –
“We have seen his star in the east, and are come to adore him”
(St. Matth, ii. 2)