03 January 2014

'They saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage.' Sunday Reflections, Epiphany


In countries where this is a holyday of obligation, eg, Ireland, the solemnity is celebrated on the traditional date, 6 January. Where it is not a holyday of obligation, eg, the Philippines, it is observed on this Sunday.

The Epiphany has two different Mass formularies, At the Vigil Mass, celebrated on Saturday evening, and At the Mass during the Day. While the prayers and chants are different, the same readings are used at both Masses.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)                                  

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)


Readings (Jerusalem Bible) 


Gospel Matthew 2:1-12 (New RevisedStandard Version, Catholic Edition, Canada) 

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 all Jerusalem with him; 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.

The Adoration of the MagiVelásquez, 1619

When I entered St Columban's seminary in Ireland in 1961 the vast majority of Catholic missionaries were Westerners. We Columbans were predominantly Irish, with a good number of Americans, Australians, New Zealanders and a few from England and Scotland. There were many seminaries in Ireland preparing men to be priests overseas. And the vast majority of missionaries were priests and religious. That was before Vatican II.

The Council, the first to have a significant number of bishops from outside the Western world, called on the Church in each country to be a sending and receiving Church. 

When I came to the Philippines in 1971 most of the bishops and priests in Mindanao were foreign missionaries. Now the Philippine hierarchy is totally Filipino and a number of the bishops have themselves worked overseas as missionaries. The first bishop in the history of Mongolia is a Filipino, Bishop Wenceslao Padilla CICM. Most of the missionaries there are Asians and Africans and have included lay missionaries from Japan, a country where fewer than one in 200 is a Catholic.

This new reality in the Church was unimaginable to me when I joined the Columbans. I could not foresee that in less than 50 years there would be priests from countries such as India and Nigeria working in my native Dublin, including a Nigerian ordained for the Archdiocese.

The Solemnity of the Epiphany celebrates the fact that Jesus came into the world for everyone. I'm not sure how the convention developed, but many of the great artists, such as Murillo and Velásquez (above) have depicted one of the Wise Men / Kings as a black African, representing the peoples outside of Europe.

Three or four years ago when I was celebrating Sunday Mass in St Brigid's, Blanchardstown, a village outside of Dublin when I was a child but now a built-up area with many immigrants and the place I go home to in Ireland, I saw a young family arrive late. I smiled inwardly when I saw that they were Filipinos. But I felt a great sense of joy when I saw them come right up to the front pew, the father carrying his infant. I felt a surge of hope that immigrant Catholics from the Philippines, India, Nigeria, Poland and other countries would bring a renewal of Christian faith to an Ireland that has to a great extent lost that faith after 1,500 years.

One element of the Christian faith that has remained very strong in Ireland is generosity, especially to people in countries devastated by wars and natural calamities such as Supertyphoon Haiyan/Yolanda in the Philippines in November, as the video above shows. The Filipinos who have migrated to Ireland in the last 14 years or so have been a tremendous gift from God to the Irish people. Nurses and caregivers from the Philippines and Kerala, India, in particular, have been the 'Wise Men and Women from the East' whose 'gold, frankincense and myrrh' is their strong Catholic faith and their professional competence with genuine care for those they are looking after. Filipino nurses held a birthday party for a friend of mine who was in a coma in hospital in Dublin just a few months before she died, something that was of enormous help to her husband and adult sons. A Filipino nurse who works in a large government hospital in Dublin used to visit a gravely ill Columban priest there  when she was off-duty - he wasn't one of her patients - because he had spent most of his life in the Philippines and was a friend of mine. She texted me when he died.

The Magi, when they saw the child with Mary his mother, they knelt down and paid him homage. Today's feast invites us to see Mary and her Child present among immigrants to our native countries and invites us to pay homage to that Child in our celebrations of the Holy Mass, in our daily prayer and through the joyful way we try to live our Christian faith, with a profound sense of gratitude for the priceless gift that it is.

Antiphona at introitum

Ecce advenit
Dominator Dominus:
et regnum in manu ejus, 
et potestas, et imperium.

Psalm 71 [72]:1) Deus, judicium tuum regi da:
et justitiam tuam Filio regis.
Gloria Patri . . .

Entrance Antiphon

Behold, the Lord,
the Mighty One, has come,
And kingship is in his grasp,
And power and dominion.

Psalm 71 [72]:1) Give the king your justice, O God,
    and your righteousness to a king’s son.
Glory . . .

The words in italics are sung when the longer form of the Entrance Antiphon is used, as it is in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

The Vatican Council's Sacrosantum Concilium tells us in No 36.1 that the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. The same document says in No 116, The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, other things being equal, it should be given pride of place in liturgical services.

Sacrosanctum Concilium also brought in a much wider use of the mother tongue in the liturgy. Here is a setting of the Kyrie (the only part of the Latin Mass in Greek), Gloria  and Sanctus-Benedictus in Japanese by Saburo Takada (1913-2000).

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