Hey, Wise Up! The Epiphany Story Revealed in New Light

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Mystic Ven. Mary of Agreda’s writings invites us into a deeper reflection of the Theophanic Mysteries

As Abbot Dom Guéranger instructs us in The Liturgical Year, a Solemnity of such importance as the Epiphany should not be observed as a merely one day, but as an Octave. The only Octaves during the year that are superior to the Epiphany are those of Easter and Pentecost, being ranked even above Christmas! This was signified based on the historical practice where no Feast can be kept during the Octave unless it be that of a principal Patron; observing that Feasts of double and semi-double rites occur during the Christmas Octave. Indeed, judging from the most ancient Sacramentary texts, the two days immediately following the Epiphany were originally Holy Days of Obligation.

Furthermore, we know from historical record that in the first several centuries, early Christians observed the Nativity on January 6, appearing to include it with the Visitation of the Magi, before being moved to December 25th as a means of co-opting and Christianizing the growing pagan celebrations of the start of winter. Therefore, it seems eminently suitable to observe the Epiphany over a period of multiple days, recognizing that the full Epiphany story unfolds as well over a number of days.

The stories of the Magi are the stuff of fanciful legend and pious tradition, with so many inferences made regarding historical backstories and claims made based on various works of art, scattered fragments of historical writings and verbal traditions. Historical claims vary in both the number of Magi and the distant and time travelled, with some sources suggesting more than three Magi (some claim as many of 12!), and periods of travel that may have taken months, or even up to two years (inferred by Herod’s command to slay children two years and under).

While our dear Lord always veils these great stories in some mystery to excite our imagination and wonder (and limit our pride in knowing too much!), we do have one particular and specific historical account from the mystical private revelations of Venerable Mary of Agreda, which included some particular instructions reputed to come directly from the Blessed Virgin Mary. I have summarized these accounts from her writings in this retelling of the story of the Epiphany.

The Birth Story Continues…

The Virgin Mary, most often referred by our venerable storyteller by her Queen honorific, foreknew that other visitors besides the shepherds would come and that angels had sought out the Magi to announce the birth. This would be confirmed to the Magi by announcements made of these additional visitors by the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, who had been attending and guarding the cave along with numerous other angels. For lack of nearby accommodations and perhaps more importantly loving the humble poverty and sacred significance of their current lodging, the Holy Family remained in the cave days after the birth, even returning there after the Circumcision, to receive these additional visitors.

Being mindful of the cold winter conditions, the Queen made use of her power to command the elements not to harm the Christ Child, but rather to affect her alone. By her command, the snow and rain approached no closer than ten yards, with the freezing winds dissipating around the cave. Yet Mary alone did suffer effects of the cold, as she did not wish to exempt herself from these struggles and sufferings.

We Three Kings In Deed

Mary of Agreda affirms the epiphany story tradition that there were indeed Three Kings, representing the Nations of Persia, Arabia and Sabba (formerly Sheba) as prophesized by the Psalmist (Psalm 71:10).

We are told that these Three Kings were learned and well versed in natural sciences as well as Jewish Scripture. While likely to be pagan, they conferred with Jewish authorities in their studies and became convinced of the prophecies of the forthcoming Jewish Messiah (Editor note: Some historians believe they would have practiced the religion of Zoroastrianism, a religion that grew parallel to Abraham. This uniquely monotheistic pagan religion may have helped them become predisposed to the acceptance of Christianity. In their sacred writings, their prophet unwittingly cooperated, with many prophecies and teachings paralleling Christianity).

Mary of Agreda tells us that they were upright men, truthful and just, in the governance of their small nations. As a result, they governed their territories easily and could personally administer a just rule as wise and prudent sovereigns (dispelling the modernist notion from critical scholarship that they weren’t technically “Kings.”).

As such, they were noble and magnanimous, free from the greed and ambition that so often inflicts rulers with pride-fueled ambition. They governed adjoining countries and were mutual friends, willingly sharing knowledge and consulting each other regarding the events of the region.

Three Kings

While already foreknowing the Messianic prophecies, they were independently informed of His Birth by one of the Guardian Angels of Queen Mary, who transmitted the knowledge to the guardian angels of the Kings. Their guardian angels would then come to them in the dreams with the news of the Great Tidings and fulfillment of Scripture. They thus became inflamed with a desire to see and adore this Christ Child.

After receiving these heavenly visions in a dream, they each awoke at the same hour and prostrated themselves in prayer and great humility before God in thanks for this great blessing and privilege received.

Charged by the same spiritual impulse, the Kings then each prepared similar gifts of gold, incense and myrrh (as opposed to the common belief linking one gift to each King!). Then, the camels, servant help and additional provisions were immediately procured for the journey, not knowing exactly their destination or length of journey, but only to follow the path of the Great Star of Beauty. Leaving quickly soon after the Birth, they independently begun their travels, and soon met each other on the road. They conferred and were remarkably consoled and awed at the similarities of their individual personal revelations.

The Mystical City of God Set

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mystical city of god

Finding the Hidden Child

It was a ten-day journey in total that commenced on the day of His birth. They arrived in Jerusalem, the capital city, assuming that any successor King would most likely be born there. Their inquiries regarding where the Child Savior was born reached the hearing of King Herod, who requested an audience with them. Herod consulted Jewish scribes, who advised based on the words of the Prophet Micah (5:2) that the new Ruler of Israel would be born in Bethlehem.

Herod’s evil devices are obvious from Scripture and Mary of Agreda tells us nothing further, except to expound later on the great evil of the slaughter of the Holy Innocents that would later follow. Mary of Agreda echoes the teachings other commentators who have contrasted the paths of the virtuous Three Kings with the evil King Herod.

The Magi followed the Great Star by daylight over the two-hour journey to Bethlehem to come to find the Holy Family residing in the cave.

The First Visitation, Empty-Handed and Full Hearts

Mary held Jesus in her arms at the entrance to the cave and received them warmly as she had known of their approach. They prostrated themselves to adore the Child for some time, then arising to reverence the Holy Mother on their knees with a customary kiss of her hand. She gently refused, offering the hand of Jesus in its place (Ed. note: the practice of kissing the hand of a priest by the laity during certain liturgical ceremonies is preserved by some traditional orders). The servants of the Kings remained outside, unaware of the import of the wonderous event that had just occurred.

Three hours were spent in adoration and discussion of the wonder and good fortune of the circumstances among the Holy Parents and their visitors. They then returned to Jerusalem to retire to their lodging.

The Kings continued to talk of the marvels of what they had witnessed and how their affections and aspirations had been aroused. This included not only the great love and reverence for the Child, but also were so amazed at the great prudence, modesty and charity of the Blessed Mother and her spouse Joseph and how such great majesty and royalty was remarkably concealed within the veil of such poverty.

Recalling of these things among themselves thus reminded them of the gifts (which they had seemed to have forgotten about)! They instructed their servants thence to prepare these gifts and procure even more gifts from the town’s vendors.

three wise men

The Second Visitation and Presenting of the Gifts

On the following day at dawn, they returned to visit the Cave of the Nativity to present these gifts. Mary of Agreda instructs us that it was divinely ordered that these gifts only be presented secondarily, as giving adoration and due reverence to God from the heart is the ultimate gift, with gifts of matter being of lesser value. The Blessed Mother further instructs Mary of Agreda that the voluntary poverty of devout religious life is the greatest gift that can be given to our Lord.

The Kings again prostrated themselves as they presented these gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. Some precious gems were also offered as was customary, but these were politely refused by the Queen as not containing any special signification. We are told of the symbols of these gifts as the essential elements of the virtuous life: gold represents charity, the incense represents continual prayer and myrrh represents the patient acceptance of labors and mortifications. These are the gifts that WE should give the Lord with fervent affection and expedient willingness.

The Kings also offered the Holy Family land and to build them a home. The Queen thanked them but did not accept their offer.

In return, the Queen gave the Kings a gift of some of the swaddling clothing of the Christ Child. These Kings received these relics with great reverence and would later encase them in gold with precious stones consistent with the Catholic tradition of keeping reliquaries. These relics made themselves known of their import with the odor of sanctity to those disposed to believe. Many great miracles were attributed to these relics.

While so learned in many things, the Kings in their great humility asked the Blessed Mother to instruct them of the divine mysteries that had participated in, so they would be properly catechized in the teachings of this great Messianic revelation that they would spread the news of when they returned home. The Queen would consult interiorly of her divine Infant to assist her in these instructions. They asked many questions and would have desired to remain there as eager students of this new divine Law. However, an angel of the Lord appeared to them, reminding them of the urgency of returning to their own country before King Herod could find them.

The Other Visitors

It is also noted that during that time that the Holy Family also received many other visitors, all poor and uneducated in the faith, but Mary of Agreda makes no specific mention of them except for one unnamed pious woman. This nearby resident heard of the rumors of the Magi and went to investigate herself, visiting several times.

While its often claimed that the gifts of the Magi had the practical value of financing their flight to Egypt, Mary of Agreda does not affirm this. She tells us that the Holy Spouses in their love of poverty and reliance on the providence of Almighty God began soon thereafter to discuss the means of giving away these newfound riches. They gave this poor woman some gold in order to relieve her poverty and then designated the remainder for the Temple of Jerusalem, as a stipend for the priest who had circumcised Jesus and for distribution to the local poor.

The poor woman benefactor of their generosity pleaded with persistence that the Holy Family should come live with her, which they eventually accepted. They took leave of the cave with tenderest regret, understanding the holiness of this enshrined place. Some attendant angels took human form to join them in their stay. God, we are told, appointed an angel to guard this sacred place with sword in hand at the opening of the cave, as He had done in the Garden of Paradise. This angel has remained to this day–preventing defilement by neither animal nor infidel.

The Holy Family would remain at this residence for the remainder of the customary 40 days until the time that the Queen would present herself in the Temple for the ritual purification and for the consecration of their first-born according to the dictates of the Jewish Law and Custom.

Another Road Travelled

The Magi returned home by another route as Scripture informs us. The same or new star guided them on this other route home. After the departure of the Kings, they felt no reason to linger in that poor yet sacred place.

For the rest of their lives, these most fortunate Kings lived up to their divine vocation as true disciples of holiness, governing both their souls and instructing people in these new teachings. By the example of their lives and their knowledge of the Messiah, these Kings converted a great number of souls to the belief in the one true God and of the path of salvation. Finally, in their last days, full of merit from the exercise of sanctity and justice, they were found favored in their life and their death.

Thus concludes the stories of the additional visitations that we attribute to the celebration of the Epiphany.

Concluding Prayer for Meditation

The Liturgical Year provides us the following prayer (edited for clarity) as a suitable mediation of these great mysteries that we have just recounted:

“O Dear Jesus! During the long and dark night, in which the justice of thy Father left this sinful world, did the gleams of grace appear in the heavens. The rising of that Sun portends of thine own Justice, which would dissipate the shadows of death, and establish the reign of Light and Day. But now all these shadows have passed away; it is thyself we now possess; and though we wear not royal crowns upon our heads, like the Magi and the Queen of Saba, yet thou receive our visits with love. The very first to be invited to thy Crib, there to receive thy teachings, were simple Shepherds. Every member of the human family is called to form part of thy Heavenly Court.

Having become a Child, thou hast opened the treasures of thine infinite wisdom to all men. What gratitude do we owe for this gift of the light of Faith, without which we should know nothing, even while flattering ourselves that we are wise like the Magi in knowing many things! How narrow and uncertain and deceitful is human science, compared with that which has its source in Thee! May we ever prize this immense gift of Faith, this Light, O Infant Jesus! Shine this gift upon us, after having softened it under the veil of Thy humble Infancy. Preserve us from pride, which darkens the soul’s vision and dries up the heart. Confide us to the keeping of Thy Blessed Mother; and may our love attach us forever to Thee. May her maternal eye ever watch over us lest we should leave thee, O God, thou treasure of our heart! Amen.”

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