Magi Still Bearing Gifts of Truth and Grace Today

News: Commentary
by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  January 6, 2017   

Catholics match their gifts and chalk their initials over doors in the home

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The Magi's gifts to the Christ Child 2,000 years ago need to be given spiritually to Christ the King in every generation.

January 6 is the day traditionally set aside to commemorate Epiphany, as recorded in Matthew 2, summarized as follows:

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judah ... behold, there came Wise Men from the east to Jerusalem. ... And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they adored him; and opening their treasures they offered him gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

These gifts were foretold by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 60: "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."

Catholic teaching relates that the gold paid tribute to Christ as King, the frankincense signified Christ's divinity, and the myrrh, used in those days to embalm bodies, heralded Christ as the sacrificial Messiah. The Wise Men's gift of gold correlates with almsgiving, the frankincense with prayers, and the myrrh points to redemptive suffering, typified by fasting. Catholics in every age are called to give likeminded gifts in the form of alms, prayers and fasting.

In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6, Our Lord speaks of all three of these spiritual acts: "But when you give alms let not your left hand know what your right hand is doing. ... And when you are praying, speak not much as the heathens. ... And when you fast, be not sad as the hypocrites."

The names of the Three Magi, or Wise Men, according to a tradition are Caspar, Melchior and Baltazar. They are said to have been baptized in India by St. Thomas the Apostle. Historians believe their relics were brought back to Constantinople by St. Helena in the fourth century. These relics were later moved to Milan and then to Cologne, Germany. The relics are reportedly kept in the Shrine of the Three Kings at the Cologne Cathedral. January 6 is considered to be their feast day.

Catholics bless their homes by writing the initials of the three kings — C + M + B — above the doors of their houses during the Christmas season from Epiphany until the Feast of the Purification on February 2. Chalk, especially blessed by a priest at the Epiphany Mass, can be used by a priest or the head of the household for this purpose. This chalk is a sacramental like blessed incense, salt or water, which are also given a special blessing at Epiphany for use in the home.

Signing the doors of homes with the blood of the lamb was first done by the Hebrew people, as noted in Exodus 12:

And they shall take of the blood thereof and put it upon both side posts, and on the upper door posts of the house ... and I shall see the blood, and shall pass over you: and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I shall strike the land of Egypt.

Writing over the doors of homes was also mandated by Moses in Deuteronomy 11 for the purpose of reminding families of God's teachings: "Lay up these my words in your hearts and minds. ... Teach your children that they meditate on them. ... Thou shalt write them upon the posts and the doors of thy house ... that thy days may be multiplied."

By way of the Epiphany blessing, the three kings are thus instrumental in bringing God's blessings to Catholic homes. Because their initials over the doors of homes call to mind the truths of their symbolic gifts, they also encourage Catholics to continually give Christ the threefold gifts of almsgiving, prayers and fasting.


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