05 January 2013

Twelfth Night

All items in this post come from the excellent article on Twelfth Night at Fisheaters.

A Hymn for Epiphany by St. Ephraem:

1. In the Birth of the Son light dawned, and darkness fled from the world, and the earth was enlightened; then let it give glory to the brightness of the Father Who has enlightened it!

2. He dawned from the womb of the Virgin, and the shadows passed away when He was seen, and the darkness of error was strangled by Him, and the ends of the earth were enlightened that they should give glory.

3. Among the peoples there was great tumult, and in the darkness the light dawned, and the nations rejoiced to give glory to Him in Whose Birth they all were enlightened.

4. His light shone out over the east; Persia was enlightened by the star: His Epiphany gave good tidings to her and invited her, " He is come for the sacrifice that brings joy to all."

5. The star of light hasted and came and dawned through the darkness, and summoned them that the peoples should come and exult in the great Light that has come down to earth.

6. One envoy from among the stars the firmament sent to proclaim to them, to the sons of Persia, that they might make ready to meet the King and to worship Him.

7. Great Assyria when she perceived it called to the Magi and said to them, "Take gifts and go, honour Him the great King Who in Judea has dawned."

8. The princes of Persia, exulting, carried gifts from their region; and they brought to the Son of the Virgin gold and myrrh and frankincense.

9. They entered and found Him as a child as He dwelt in the house of the lowly woman; and they drew near and worshipped with gladness, and brought near before Him their treasures.

10. Mary said, "For whom are these? and for what purpose? and what is the cause that has called you to come from your country to the Child with your treasures?"

11. They said, "Thy Son is a King, and He binds crowns and is King of all; and great is His power over the world, and to His Kingdom shall all be obedient."

12. "At what time did this come to pass, that a lowly woman should bring forth a King? I who am in need and in want, how then could a king come forth from me?"

13. "In thee alone has this come to pass that a mighty King from thee should appear; thee in whom poverty shall be magnified, and to thy Son shall crowns be made subject."

14. "Treasures of Kings I have not; riches have never fallen to my lot. My house is lowly and my dwelling needy; why then proclaim ye that my Son is King?"

15. "Great treasure is in thy Son, and wealth that suffices to make all rich; for the treasures of kings are impoverished, but He fails not nor can be measured."

16. "Whether haply some other be for you the King that is born, enquire ye concerning Him. This is the son of a lowly woman, of one who is not meet to look on a King."

17. "Can it be that light should ever miss the way whereon it has been sent? It was not darkness that summoned and led us; in light we walked, and thy Son is King."

18. "Lo! ye see a babe without speech, and the house of His mother empty and needy, and of that which pertains to a king nought is in it: how then in it is a king to be seen?"

19. "Lo! we see that without speech and at rest is the King, and lowly as thou hast said: but again we see that the stars in the highest He bids haste to proclaim Him."

20. "It were meet, O men, that ye should enquire who is the King, and then adore him; lest haply your way has been mistaken, and another is the King that is born."

21. "It were meet, O maiden, that thou shouldst receive it, that we have learned that thy Son is King, from the star of light that errs not, and plain is the way, and he has led us."

22 "The Child is a little one, and lo! he has not the diadem of a king and of a throne; and what have ye seen that ye should pay honour to Him, as to a king, with your treasures?"

23. "A little one, because He willed it for quietness' sake, and meek now until He be revealed. A time shall be for Him when all diadems shall bow down and worship Him."

24. "Armies he has none; nor has my Son legions and troops: in the poverty of His mother He dwells; why then King is He called by you?"

25. "The armies of thy Son are above; they ride on high, and they flame, and one of them it was that came and summoned us, and all our country was dismayed."

26. "The Child is a babe, and how is it possible He should be King, unknown to the world? And they that are mighty and of renown, how can a babe be their ruler?"

27. "Thy babe is aged, O Virgin, and Ancient of Days and exalted above all and Adam beside Him is very babe, and in Him all created things are made new."

28. "It is very seemly that ye should expound all the mystery and explain who it is that reveals to you the mystery of my Son, that He is a King in your region."

29. "It is likewise seemly for thee to accept this, that unless the truth had led us we had not wandered hither from the ends of the earth, nor come for the sake of thy Son."

30. "All the mystery as it was wrought among you there in your country, reveal ye to me now as friends. Who was He that called you to come to me?"

31. "A mighty Star appeared to us that was glorious exceedingly above the stars, and our land by its fire was kindled; that this King had appeared it bore tidings to us."

32. "Do not, I beseech you, speak of these things in our land lest they rage, and the kings of the earth join together against the Child in their envy."

33. "Be not thou dismayed, O Virgin! Thy Son shall bring to nought all diadems, and set them underneath his heel; and they shall not subdue Him Whom they envy."

34. "Because of Herod I am afraid, that unclean wolf, lest he assail me, and draw his sword and with it cut off the sweet cluster before it be ripe."

35. "Because of Herod fear thou not; for in the hands of thy Son is his throne placed: and as soon as He shall reign it shall be laid low, and his diadem shall fall on the earth beneath."

36. "A torrent of blood is Jerusalem, wherein the excellent ones are slain; and if she perceives Him she will assail Him. In mystery speak ye, and noise it not abroad."

37. "All torrents, and likewise swords, by the hands of thy Son shall be appeased; and the sword of Jerusalem shall be blunted, and shall not desire at all to kill."

38. "The scribes of the priests of Jerusalem pour forth blood and heed not. They will arouse murderous strife against me and against the Child; O Magi, be silent!"

39. "The scribes and the priests will be unable to hurt thy son in their envy; for by Him their priesthood shall be dissolved, and their festivals brought to nought."

40. "A Watcher revealed to me, when I received conception of the Babe, that my Son is a King; that His diadem is from on high and is not dissolved, he declared to me even as ye do."

41. "The Watcher, therefore, of whom thou hast spoken is he who came as a star, and was shown to us and brought us good tidings that He is great and glorious above the stars."

42. "That Angel declared to me in his good tidings, when he appeared to me, that to His Kingdom no end shall be and the mystery is kept and shall not be revealed."

43. "The Star also declared again to us that thy Son is He that shall keep the diadem. His aspect was something changed, and he was the Angel and made it not known to us."

44. "Before me when the Watcher showed himself, he called Him his Lord before He was conceived; and as the Son of the Highest announced Him to me: but where His Father is he made not known to me."

45. "Before us he proclaimed in the form of a star that the Lord of the Highest is He Who is born; and over the stars of light thy Son is ruler, and unless He commands they rise not."

46. "In your presence, lo! there are revealed other mysteries, that ye may learn the truth; how in virginity I bare my Son, and He is Son of God; go ye, proclaim Him!"

47. "In our presence the Star taught us that His Birth is exalted above the world and above all beings is thy Son, and is Son of God according to thy saying."

48. "The world on high and the world below bear witness to Him, all the Watchers and the stars, that He is Son of God and Lord. Bear ye His fame to your lands!"

49. "All the world on high, in one star, has stirred up Persia and she has learnt the truth, that thy Son is Son of God, and to Him shall all peoples be subject."

50. "Peace bear ye to your lands: peace be multiplied in your borders apostles of truth may ye be believed in all the way that ye shall pass through."

51. "The peace of thy Son, it shall bear us in tranquility to our land, as it has led us hither; and when His power shall have grasped the worlds, may He visit our land and bless it!

52. "May Persia rejoice in your glad tidings! may Assyria exult in your coming, And when my Son's Kingdom shall arise, may He plant His standard in your country!"

53. Let the Church sing with rejoicing," Glory in the Birth of the Highest, by Whom the world above and the world below are illumined!" Blessed be He in Whose Birth all are made glad!


The Eve of the Feast of the Epiphany is the twelfth day of Christmas, and tonight is known as"Twelfth Night" (or "Twelfthnight"). It begins the celebration of Christ's revealing His Divinity in three ways, which is formally celebrated tomorrow:

to the Magi who, guided by the great and mysterious Star of Bethlehem, came to visit Him when He was a Baby (Matthew 2:1-19)

through His Baptism by St. John, when "the Spirit of God descending as a dove" came upon Him and there was heard a voice from Heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3, John 1), and all Three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity were manifest (Note: the Baptism of Our Lord is also commemorated on the 13th of January)

through His first public miracle -- that of the wedding at Cana when Our Lord turned water into wine at the request of His Mother (John 2). Just as God's first miracle before the Egyptian pharaoh, through Moses, was turning the waters of the Nile into blood, Our Lord's first miracle was turning water into wine.
In many Catholic homes (especially Italian ones), it's not Christmas Day that is for giving presents to children, but the Feast of Epiphany, when the gifts are given in a way related to the Magi. So today will have a "feel" of Christmas Eve, and because of the Epiphany's association with the Magis' gift-giving, tomorrow is often referred to colloquially as the "Little Christmas."

It is today that the Three Kings should reach the creche (heretofore, they should be kept away from it) and that Baby Jesus should be adorned with signs of royalty, such as a crown, ermine, and gold or purple cloth. Set up golden candlesticks around the manger where He lies.

Along with the crowns, scepters, gold, and royal purple, peacocks are also a symbol for the day. They are more generally a symbol of immortality (and therefore a good symbol for Easter, too), but also a symbol of royalty and of the glory revealed by Christ today. The most profound symbols of all, though, are light as a symbol of theophany; wine in memory of the miracle at the wedding in Cana; water and the dove in memory of Christ's Baptism by St. John; the Three Kings, their gifts, and the Star of Bethlehem.

The Magi and Their Gifts

Typified in the Old Testament by the Queen of Saba (Sheba), who entered Jerusalem "with a great train, and riches, and camels that carried spices, and an immense quantity of gold, and precious stones" in order to ascertain King Solomon's greatness (III Kings 10), the three Magi entered Jerusalem bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the newborn King. The Fathers see in their gifts omens of Christ's life:

the gold as a sign of His Kingship. The gifts of gold and frankincense were both prophesied by Isaias in the sixth chapter of his book.

the frankincense -- a gum resin (i.e., dried tree sap) from the Boswellia tree, native to Somalia and southern coastal Arabia -- as a sign of His Deity. Mixed with stacte, and onycha, and sweet galbanum, it was used by Moses to set before the tabernacle as an offering to God, and was considered so "holy to the Lord" that it was forbidden to use profanely (see Numbers 30).

the myrrh -- a brownish gum resin from the Commiphora abyssinica tree, native to eastern Africa and Arabia, and used in embalming -- as a sign of His death. Myrrh, along with cinnamon and cassius, was used by Moses to "anoint the tabernacle of the testimony, and the ark of the testament" (Numbers 30). It has analgesic properties, too, and was offered, mixed with wine, to Christ on the Cross, which He refused (Mark 15:23). Nicodemus brought myrrh to annoint Our Lord's Body after death (John 19:39).


The three Magi -- Caspar (a.k.a., Gaspar, Kaspar or Jaspar), Melchior, and Balthasar -- are seen as the "first fruits of the Gentiles" -- those outside of Israel who came to faith. They undoubtedly travelled from Persia (modern Iran, a distance of about a thousand miles from Bethlehem), and their ancestral origins are probably found in Persia, Babylon (modern Iraq), Arabia, India, and/or Ethiopia.

...How do we know there were three? We don't know that from Scripture, but tradition relates that were were three, and that there were three gifts mentioned supports this notion as well. Tradition says, too, that these three men were representative of the three ages of man and of the three "racial types" of man, the three families that descended from Noe's three sons (Sem, Cham, and Japheth). According to tradition, Caspar was the young, beardless, ruddy descendant of Ham who brought frankincense. Melchior was an old, white-haired, bearded descendant of Sem who brought gold. And Balthasar was a bearded black descendant of Japheth, in the prime of his life, who brought myrrh (see the works of the Venerable Bede).

Tradition also has it that the kings were baptized by St. Thomas, and they are considered Saints of the Church. Though their feasts aren't celebrated liturgically, the dates given for them in the martyrology are as follows: St. Caspar on 1 January; St. Melchior on 6 January; and St. Balthasar on 11 January.

The cathedral in Cologne, Germany contains the relics of the Magi, discovered in Persia and brought to Constantinople by St. Helena, transferred to Milan in the fifth century, and then to Cologne in 1163. Their trip to Cologne -- said to have taken place on three separate ships -- is the genesis of the carol "I Saw Three Ships", the lyrics of which were later amended to speak of the Holy Family rather than the Magi, and of their sailing to Bethlehem (a physical impossibility in real life) rather than to Cologne.

...The three stars that make up the belt of the constellation Orion are often called "The Three Kings" or "the Magi" in honor of the men who travelled so far to honor Our Lord. On a clear night, this constellation is easily seen in Winter's southern sky, so take your children outside to see a beautiful symbol, made of stars, of the men who followed the Star of Bethlehem. If you follow the line of the belt southward, you will see lovely bluish-white Sirius (the Dog Star), the brightest star in the night sky. It's as if "the Magi" are following the "Star of Bethlehem" forever...

Other Customs for the Day

After a nice candlelight feast (try adding some myrrh or frankincense fragrance oil to your candles tonight!), there is the tradition of drinking a medieval wassail called "Lamb's Wool," which is said to take its name from "La Mas Ubhal," which means "the day of the apple fruit" (and was pronounced like "lamasool"). "Three Kings Cake" is eaten in honor of the three kings, one slice being set aside "for God." Recipes for the latter vary from country to country, but they almost always include a trinket or dried bean hidden inside. The person who gets the slice with the trinket or dried bean is the King or Queen of the Day and gets to choose a consort (this is the French method). The King and Queen, once chosen, are honored, obeyed, treated and addressed as royalty. ...

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Fisheaters is such an awesome site. When I have any question having to do with anything Catholic (truly Catholic), I look there and find the answer, and so much more!