Sunday, January 5, 2020

Twelfth Night


The Eve of the Feast of the Epiphany, January 5, marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas. It is known as Twelfth Night. It celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings to the birthplace of Christ. The Three Kings, also known as the Wise Men or the Magi, were: Caspar, King of Tarsus, the Land of Myrrh; Melchior, King of Arabia, the Land of Gold; and Balthasar, King of Saba, where Frankincense was said to flow from the trees.

The Kings presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ Child. Gold symbolized kingship, frankincense depicted godliness, and myrhhr represented a painful death. In return, charity and spiritual riches would be offered for the gold, faith for incense, and truth and meekness for the present of myrrh. The Wise Men returned home and, in 7 A.D., Saint Thomas discovered the Kings in India and baptized them. They are said to have become martyrs and their bodies buried within the walls of Jerusalem. It is believed the remains were later moved to Turkey by the Emperor Constaine's mother and, later still, to Milan until they were finally laid to rest in Cologne.

Twelfth Night also begins the celebration of Christ's revealing His Divinity in three ways, which is formally celebrated on January 6, The Epiphany.

Jesus revealved His divinity to . .

- 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 Christian 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.

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 Golden Legend, written in A.D. 1275 by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, describes the gifts thus:

...by these three be signified three things that be in Jesu Christ: The precious Deity, the soul full of holiness, and the entire Flesh all pure and without corruption. And these three things be signified that were in the ark of Moses. The rod which flourished, that was the Flesh of Jesu Christ that rose from death to life; the tables wherein the commandments were written, that is the soul, wherein be all the treasures of sapience and science of Godhead. The manna signifieth the Godhead, which hath all sweetness of suavity. By the gold which is most precious of all metals is understood the Deity; by the incense the soul right devout, for the incense signifieth devotion and orison; by the myrrh which preserveth from corruption, is understood the Flesh which was without corruption.

A song perfect for the day, "We Three Kings of Orient Are," (listen here),written in 1857, speaks of the gifts' symbolism:

We three kings of Orient are,
bearing gifts we traverse afar
field and fountain, moor and mountain,
following yonder star.

Refrain:

O star of wonder, star of night,
star with royal beauty bright;
westward leading, still proceeding,
guide us to thy perfect light!

Born a King on Bethlehem's plain,

gold I bring to crown him again,
King for ever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign. (Refrain)

Frankincense to offer have I:

incense owns a Deity nigh;
prayer and praising, gladly raising.
worship him, God Most High. (Refrain)

Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume

Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
sealed in the stone-cold tomb. (Refrain)

Glorious now behold him arise,

King and God and Sacrifice;,
heaven sings, alleluia;
alleluia the earth replies. (Refrain)

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.
Now, if they were Magi -- members of the priestly class -- why are they called "Kings"? Because of these verses from Sacred Scripture:

"He shall come down like rain upon the fleece; and as showers falling gently upon the earth. In his days shall justice spring up, and abundance of peace, till the moon be taken sway. And he shall rule from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. Before him the Ethiopians shall fall down: and his enemies shall lick the ground. The kings of Tharsis and the islands shall offer presents: the kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall bring gifts: And all kings of the earth shall adore him: all nations shall serve him"

- Psalm 71::6-11

"Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising. Lift up thy eyes round about, and see: all these are gathered together, they are come to thee: thy sons shall come from afar, and thy daughters shall rise up at thy side. Then shalt thou see, and abound, and thy heart shall wonder and be enlarged, when the multitude of the sea shall be converted to thee, the. strength of the Gentiles shall come to thee. The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Madian and Epha: all they from Saba shall come, bringing gold and frankincense: and shewing forth praise to the Lord."

Isaiah 60:1-6

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). The three Magi: symbols of all the races of man, invited to worship the One God as one, and all equally beloved by Him. As different as the peoples of the world may be, as different as the cultures and languages that have arisen, and as prudent or imprudent our living together in one place may be given differences in various groups' ways of life, we are all potentially one in Him.

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" (listen here). 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 modern lyrics are:
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas day in the morning.

And what was in those ships all three,

On Christmas day, on Christmas day?
And what was in those ships all three,
On Christmas day in the morning?

Our Savior Christ and His lady,

On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
Our Savior Christ and His lady,
On Christmas day in the morning.

Pray whither sailed those ships all three,

On Christmas day, on Christmas day?
Pray whither sailed those ships all three,
On Christmas day in the morning?

O they sailed into Bethlehem,

On Christmas day, on Christmas day,
O they sailed into Bethlehem,
On Christmas day in the morning.

And all the bells on earth shall ring,

On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas day in the morning.

And all the angels in Heav’n shall sing,

On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
And all the angels in Heav’n shall sing,
On Christmas day in the morning.

And all the souls on Earth shall sing,

On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
And all the souls on Earth shall sing,
On Christmas day in the morning.

Then let us all rejoice again,

On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
Then let us rejoice again,
On Christmas day in the morning.

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.

Text from various sources, primarily found at Fish Eaters

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