Saturday, January 6, 2007

The Epiphany

Today is the traditional day on which the Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated in the western Church. Epiphany is from the Greek επιφάνεια, which means miraculous appearance. It is the celebration of the revelation of Christ in human form. Because the Eastern Church still uses the Julian calendar it is celebrated on a different date.
Part of the celebration has always been the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles in the persons of the Magi. The names of the Wise Men are never given in the bible, but traditionally they are known as Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Thier number is also not given in the Bible, and it is likely that the traditional number of three comes form the three gifts given to the Baby Jesus, gold, frankincense and myrrh .
The gift themselves have meaning. They are most often ascribed as being prophetic. Gold as a symbol of kingship , frankincense as a symbol of priestship, and myrrh used as an embalming oil as a symbol of sacrifice.
Throughout most of the United States Epiphany is celebrated on the Sunday that occurs between January 2 and January 8. Some traditional Catholic parishes continue to celebrate it on January 6. It is the end of the twelve day festival of Christmas and occurs after the Octave of Christmas.

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