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Feast of the Epiphany

By Tonia Long


Epiphany is a holy day that celebrates the revelation of Jesus to three Wise Men (or Kings) when they arrived at His place of birth after following the unusual star in the sky. Often, we picture the Wise Men arriving on Christmas night and gathering around the manger of the newborn Jesus along with the shepherds, but in fact they arrived perhaps as much as two years later, which is why Epiphany is celebrated 12 days after Christmas.

The feast of the Epiphany, which was kept in the East and in certain Western Churches before being observed in Rome, seems to have been originally a feast of the nativity. January 6, for those churches where it was kept, was the equivalent of Christmas (December 25) in the Roman Church. The feast was introduced at Rome in the second half of the sixth century and became the complement and, so to say, the crown of the Christmas festival.

Adoration of the MagiEpiphany means manifestation, originating from the Greek word epiphaneia. What the Church celebrates on this day is the manifestation of Our Lord to the whole world.

After first being made known to the shepherds of Bethlehem, representing the Jewish race, He is revealed to the Magi who have come from the East to adore Him. Christian tradition has always seen in the Magi the first fruits of the Gentiles; they lead in their wake all the peoples of the earth, and thus the Epiphany is an affirmation of universal salvation.

That is the meaning, too, of the wonderful prophecy from Isaias which the liturgy appoints to be read in the first nocturn at Matins and at the Epistle of the Mass. The Church returns to this same thought of universal redemption as she sings, in the antiphon to the Magnificat at 2nd Vespers, applying the words to herself, of the union with Christ typified by the wedding feast at Cana, by the baptism of her children foreshadowed by that of Christ in the waters of the Jordan. Formerly the Epiphany was an additional day for solemn baptisms.

Although many of its rich traditions have fallen into neglect, Epiphany is a day too full of history and heritage to ignore. As Catholics of the twenty-first century, we are free to choose any of the traditions of this marvelous feast day as described below.


1) The arrival of the Three Kings

Stained Glass window of the Adoration of the MagiThis is a simple little tradition, but adds to the festivity of the season. A few days after Christmas the three kings can be moved from the manger scene and placed at a distance. Each day, they can progress closer and closer to the Child Jesus until they finally arrive on January 6th.

Children especially love watching the Wise Men move, and it can be very enjoyable to let them take turns being the ones to move them. Speaking of children, in some cultures the Wise Men bring little gifts for the children. They would probably be just as happy with some family crafting time, though. There are many activities from making little paper figurines to creating individualized crowns.


2) Twelfth Night party

‘Tis the season to keep partying. When everyone else has put the holidays behind them and are glumly just waiting for winter to be over, Epiphany is the perfect occasion to celebrate with friends and family. Traditionally, the party would be on the eve of Epiphany and is called a Twelfth Night party for the last day of Christmas.

How to celebrate? With food, of course! A typical Twelfth Night party menu might look something like this:

 Soup or Salad

Meals begin with a light soup or salad that features local ingredients. Since many countries that celebrate Twelfth Night are in the Mediterranean, Costa Rica, Mexico or other warm regions, this course is generally kept light and suitable for dining al fresco in a warm climate.
Mexican soups and salads may feature yucca, nopales and plantains. You can duplicate the same idea by preparing a soup or salad featuring locally grown produce.

Picadillo Meat Course

Picadillo is an all-purpose Spanish word for leftover or slow-cooked meat, sautéed with onions, tomatoes, garlic and herbs. Picadillo is used as a filling in tamales, enchiladas and as a layer in casseroles.

Create your own picadillo main course with hamburger, slow-cooked brisket, beef roast or pork tenderloin. Estimate 4 to 6 ounces of meat per serving and 2 to 3 ounces of produce per serving. Add 2 tablespoons of oil to a large frying pan and sauté one diced whole white onion over medium heat until translucent and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes and chopped hot or sweet peppers if desired, and sauté another 10 minutes. Add the meat and two to three cloves of minced garlic and cook the meat thoroughly if raw, or heat through if pre-cooked.

Traditionally, picadillo is served over rice, but you can also serve it over pasta or mashed potatoes.

Rice, With Legumes or Corn

Traditional side dishes for a Twelfth Night meal are black beans and rice, which are also staple accompaniments for many Spanish-influenced daily meals. However, some families have a tradition of serving the rice with peas or corn instead.

Prepare the beans and rice separately. Dried beans will require more time and may require overnight soaking and use of a slow cooker or pressure cooker. For a speedier solution, simply use canned beans, which should be warmed in their juice for 10 minutes over medium heat. Drain before serving. A rice cooker will make preparing rice much easier, but with either a rice cooker or stovetop, figure at least 40 minutes for the rice.

Serve rice and beans side by side on a platter. Fresh peas or corn may be mixed into the rice while the rice is steaming.

After all this food, you may want to have a sing-a-long to work up an appetite for the crowning presentation of the King’s cake. A highly underrated form of entertainment in our digital age is to actually gather around and sing. For Epiphany, “We Three Kings” is the obvious choice. If you have willing singers, have each of the middle verses sung by a different person to represent a different wise man. Bonus points if the Kings have elaborate costumes!

Epiphany Food


3) Epiphany cake

The Epiphany Cake, or King Cake, is easily the best part of Epiphany because well, who doesn’t love cake? The King Cake is also eaten at Mardi Gras, but Epiphany is more in keeping with the liturgical season. The King's Cake is shaped into an open circle, or wreath, and studded with candied fruit and nuts to represent the jewels in the Magi's crowns. One tradition explains the round shape of the cake as representing the circuitous route the Magi took to avoid King Herod, who hunted for the Christ child to harm him. There are plenty of recipes for King's Cake, but you can also use frozen bread or biscuit dough to create a wreath shape or oval braid, or even buy a fruitcake ring from your local grocer.

Epiphany CakeThe King Cake hides surprises. The surprises are only little trinkets; some people include a single (dry) bean or a plastic baby and the one who finds it is “King of the Feast.” Others like to spread the wealth around with other symbolic trinkets. Cautionary remark: enjoying the sugary treat isn’t without its risks, though. If an adult bites into the piece with the baby and becomes King of the Feast, they’re committed to hosting the party next year.

There is an important connection between hospitality and the Epiphany: did not the Magi enjoy the hospitality of the Holy Family? Did not King Herod display a considerable lack of hospitality when he deceived and exploited his guests? As we give and receive hospitality during Christmas and Epiphany, we participate in the story of the Magi and their search for the Christ Child, we celebrate the joy of Jesus’ appearance, and we find God at a surprisingly familiar place: around the table surrounded by family and friends.


4) Chalk blessing

Another tradition of Epiphany invokes the Magi’s blessing upon the household that hosts the party. Participants typically read a brief, responsive liturgy (included at the end of this article) that includes the biblical account of the Magi’s visit and then “chalk the door” with a series of marks.

What may look like an incomprehensible algebraic formula – “20 + C + B + M + 20” – is actually a rich Epiphany expression steeped in Catholic tradition. The number is the year itself split into two parts and the letters in between stand for the traditional names of the three Wise Men who followed the star: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. The letters are also an acronym for the Latin phrase “Christus mansionem benedicat,” meaning, “May Christ bless this house.” The “+” signs represent the cross.


Any chalk will do, but be sure it is blessed by a priest. Many parish priests already bless a whole basket of chalk around Epiphany, but if yours doesn’t, you can get your own and ask him to bless it. Warn him ahead of time so he can find the prayers, but he’ll be happy to do it. Once you’re home on the front porch, be sure to mark the doors as a family and remember that the symbols represent a manifestation of your Christian faith and a protection against the powers of evil. Even if you can’t host a party this year, it is good to bless your home in the New Year.

The chalk eventually fades or washes off in the rain, but the acknowledgement of Christ as the King of our household, and the blessings that brings, remain forever.


Extra Credit

If you really want to go the extra mile with the Three Kings this Epiphany, here are a few more colorful suggestions.

Act it Out:

The Middle Ages, with its love for pageantry and the picturesque, celebrated the Feast of the Three Kings with much pomp and ceremony. The lives of the Three Wise Men were dramatized, picturing them first as Magi, members of a learned and respected priesthood, then as counselors of a king, tutors of princes, skillful astrologers, and interpreters of dreams, and finally as kings with their offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

What little was known about them offered fascinating material for dramatization: their call, their wanderings in the desert as they followed the star, their detention by Herod, their adoration of the Christ Child, their return home to Babylon and Persia, and the subsequent conversion of their people to Christianity.

Sing it Out:

Another custom peculiar to this feast and prevalent in Germany and other European countries is "star caroling." Three young children, colorfully dressed, accompanied by a star-bearer, go singing from house to house. In return for their "star songs" they receive some little recompense. In many localities these young men are altar boys who are thus rewarded in some slight way for their serving at Mass.


Three KingsLiturgy of the Magi’s Blessing

Peace be with this house and all who dwell in it,
and peace to all who enter here.

In keeping the feast of Epiphany, we celebrate the Magi’s search for the infant king, the Christ Child’s appearing to the world, and the peace and hospitality shared between the Magi and the Holy Family.


Let us hear again the Magi’s story:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared.

Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.

On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Matthew 2:1–12
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

(Participants now take turns using the chalk to make part of the Magi’s blessing on the inside lintel of the front door as shown above)

May this home in the coming year be a place where Christ is pleased to dwell.
May all our homes share the peace and hospitality of Christ
which is revealed in the fragile flesh of an infant. Amen.





Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for April 8, 2020

Every virtue in your soul is a precious ornament which makes...

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April 8

Every virtue in your soul
is a precious ornament
which makes you dear to God and to man.
But holy purity, the queen of virtues, the angelic virtue,
is a jewel so precious
that those who possess it become like the angels of God in Heaven,
even though clothed in mortal flesh.

St. John Bosco

My Mother, I will stand with you on OCTOBER 10, 2020


Saint of the day


St. Julie Billiart

She was miraculously healed of the paralysis of her legs on...

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St. Julie Billiart

Born on July 12, 1751 in Cuvilly, France, Marie Rose Julie Billiard was the daughter of fairly well-to-do peasant farmers who also owned a small shop. From early childhood Julie had a keen interest in spiritual things and by seven years of age she had memorized the catechism and attained an understanding of it beyond her years.

During her youth, her father’s shop was robbed and her father attacked. This so traumatized his daughter that she became ill and gradually a physical paralysis took hold of her. Deprived of the use of her legs, she eventually had great difficulty in even speaking. Julie's paralysis lasted for twenty-two years, and throughout this whole trial she continued to teach her beloved catechism to children and to trust unwaveringly in the everlasting goodness of “le bon Dieu”. Her infirmities drove her to an even deeper life of prayer and union with God.

During the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution when the pastor of Cuvilly was superseded by a constitutional priest sworn to the new atheistic government, Julie influenced her friends and neighbors to boycott the intruder. Though an invalid herself, she worked to hide and assist fugitive priests who remained loyal to the Catholic Church, and for this charitable work she was herself persecuted and obliged to escape from place to place – on one occasion, hiding all night under a haystack.

While taking refuge with the aristocratic family of Gézaincourt, Julie met Françoise Blin de Bourdon, a noblewoman who had barely escaped the guillotine by the fall of Robespierre before her execution. The two became close friends and collaborators.

After the Terror, they both dedicated themselves to the spiritual care of poor children, and the Christian education of girls in a generation sorely neglected by the ravages of the Revolution.

In 1804, after a novena to Him, Julie Billiart was miraculously healed of the paralysis of her legs on the feast of Sacred Heart of Jesus. Now physically free to pursue a full range of activity, her educational work increased rapidly.

At odds with the bishop of Amiens through the meddling influence of a misguided young priest, Julie and Françoise were obliged to move to Namur, in present-day Belgium, where with the full support of the local bishop, they proceeded with their work, eventually founding the Institute of Notre Dame de Namur, today in sixteen countries around the world.

Julie Billiart died on April 8, 1816 while praying the Magnificat. She was canonized in 1969.

Weekly Story


He hung on a cross that day, writhing in pain and discomfort...

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And He Stole Heaven

He hung on a cross that day, writhing in pain and discomfort, the infamous highwayman.
On his left hung another man, covered in the matted blood of his wounds. Yet, with the exception of a few intermittent words, there was no sound from him.

As time passed, the thief became more and more engrossed in the silent crucified beside him, and less and less in his own plight.St Dismas Picture

Indeed life is ironic, mused Dismas, this man who had lived in the open, and was acclaimed as a healer and even as a king, now hung beside him who had spent his life lurking and hiding.

And now they were lifted up, both on a high parallel. He could see the roof tops of the city, he could see the highways he had stalked, and he could see the way they had walked. Now he looked down on those gathered around this place of execution, the Roman soldiers, the Pharisees, the curious, the friends of the man beside him…and a young man supporting a lady directly beneath them...

And then he knew her; that upturned face, that maidenly majesty now wracked by sorrow, her tear-filled eyes fastened on the man on his left–Yes, he knew that face.

As the wheels of time rolled back in his mind,  his heart gave a jolt as he remembered that blessed day in the desert, decades ago, when a young family making its way to Egypt, sought refuge for the night in his family’s hovel. The man was strong and kind, the woman was the fairest his child’s eyes had seen, and she carried a golden haired babe, as if nothing in the universe was more precious.

He remembered the lady’s gaze on him, her beautiful eyes full of concern for the leprous sores on his young body. Then she and his mother talked. And next, he was being bathed in the same water the lady had just washed her infant son.

And then the sores were gone.  His mother wept for joy, and kissed the lady’s hands, and the baby’s feet. And even his robber-father was moved, and offered the strong man and his family the best in the house.

Now, in one revealing flash, he knew the identity of the wounded man on his left.  He looked again at the lady, and her eyes, those same sweet eyes of old, were on him once more.  
He felt his heart quiver, as the power of gratitude filled his being and softened his criminal soul.  And then came tears, rivers of tears.  When he could speak, he turned to the left,

“Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

And the Lord turned his face to him, His divine eyes on him, and he heard the most beautiful voice he had ever heard, a voice at once full of pain and full of strength, full of sweetness and full of majesty, a judge’s voice, and a father’s voice,

“Amen, amen I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise.”


By Andrea F. Phillips
Based on: A Legend of St. Dismas and Other Poems,
Copyright by P. J. Kenedy and Sons. 1927, p. 18.


Free Meditation Booklet - Be Still and Know That I AM GOD

He hung on a cross that day, writhing in pain and discomfort, the infamous highwayman.

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