Friars Corner: Happy Epiphany, our second Christmas

Fr. Bob Hilz, TOR

Fr. Bob Hilz, TOR

Isaiah 60:1-6; Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

Jesus, your gifts and joy are worth more than gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Christianity celebrates the 33-year life and ministry of Jesus Christ each year. However, its focal point is Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. All the other Sundays are “Little Easters.”

Ancient civilizations followed different calendars. As the Roman Empire became Christianized, the birth of Jesus became the beginning of the Christian era, A.D., in the year of the Lord. Yet the Roman calendar was off about 4 years. The Roman West followed one calendar and the East another calendar.

Different birthdays, different themes

Jesus was born in the spring but that was too close to Easter. The Roman church picked December 25 to celebrate the birth of the true Son of God and light of the world, Jesus Christ, This offset the festival of the birthday of the Syrian god, Natalis solis invicti. Both the Roman and Eastern Churches had different reasons for placing the birth of Jesus where they did, not too close to Easter. Christmas only was added to the liturgical calendar about 324 AD.

Today we celebrate the Eastern Christmas but with different themes. In ancient times Epiphany meant either the showing of a god or the solemn visit of a ruler, considered a god, to the cities of his realm. So the birth of Christ was truly the coming of God to his people.

The clergy in Alexandria, Egypt, picked January 5-6, to prevent new converts from celebrating the birthday of Aion, god of time and eternity, something like our New Year’s practices. Aion’s priests would draw water from the Nile and store it for ritual purposes. They claimed that divine power turned the water into wine.

The Eastern feast celebrated these elements:

  • The Birth of Christ
  • His baptism, when he began his public ministry at about 30 years old
  • The first miracle of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding of Cana in Galilee, see John 2:1-11.

They also baptized on that day, thus further replacing the pagan water rites. This is too many themes in one liturgy. In the second half of the 4th century, the Eastern and Western Churches adopted each other’s feast of Christ’s birthday, each with a different emphasis.

Come worship the true God

Since the Western Church had already celebrated Christ’s Birth on December 25, their focus for the Epiphany became the visit of the Three Kings or Magi. This represented the pagan world coming to worship the true God.

According to Blessed Ann Catherine Emmerich, in “The Life of Jesus Christ and Biblical Revelation,” Vol 1, these Magi were given a vision of the Birth of Christ as they watched the special star the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem. They knew from ancient prophecies of a savior king who would change human history. So they left the next day to bring him their gifts of gold, frankincense, myrrh and many other gifts. Their travel took 33 days on fast camels instead of a 60-day trek. A star guided them by night and a bright angel by day.

Blessing of homes

Their names were: Mensor and Seir, from Caldea, and Theokeno, a Medianite. After the death of Jesus, the Apostle Thomas baptized Mensor and Theokeno. Seir desired baptism yet had already died.

The designation of “kings” first came from Caesarius of Arles in the 6th century and the names: Caspar, Melchoir and Balthasar came from a Polish tradition in the 9th century. The first letter of their names also stands for the Latin abbreviation meaning “Christ bless this mansion (house),” CMB. Since the Middle Ages there has been the custom of blessing homes with holy water, incense and marking the top main entrance door frame with blessed chalk and the designation of: 20+C+M+B+17. So from a distance I bless your home.

“Father God, bless these dwelling places. May they be places of goodness, humility, self-control, purity, mutual respect for one another, hospitality for strangers and loving obedience to Your Word for those living there and all those who will visit there this year. I pray in Jesus’ Name as we worship him, Emmanuel, our God always with us.”

Now you can sprinkle your home with holy water and mark the top doorframe of your main entrance with the above inscription.

Peace and all good!
+ Fr. Bob Hilz

(© 2017 Fr. Bob Hilz, TOR)

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About Nancy Ward

Nancy HC Ward is a journalist, author, and speaker who blogs about Catholicism, her conversion, and Christian community at,
 7 websites and 7 magazines. She loves to share her faith story and help others share theirs through her Sharing Your Faith Stories seminars, also available on DVD. She contributed four chapters to The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion. She facilitates the Dallas/Fort Worth Catholic Writers and a critique group for the Catholic Writers Guild, where she serves as a board member.
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