The great Mystery of the Alliance of the Son of God with the universal Church, and which is represented in the Epiphany by the Magi, was looked forward to by the world in every age previous to the coming of our Emmanuel. The Patriarchs and Prophets had propagated the tradition; and the Gentile world gave frequent proofs that the tradition prevailed even with them.
When Adam, in Eden, first beheld her whom God had formed from one of his ribs, and whom he called Eve, because she was the Mother of all the living (Genesis 3:20) —he exclaimed, “This is the bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. Man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh.” (Genesis 2:23-24) In uttering these words, the soul of our first Parent was enlightened by the Holy Spirit and, as we are told by the most profound interpreters of the Sacred Scriptures (such as Tertullian, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, &c.), he foretold the Alliance of the Son of God with his Church, which issued from his Side when opened by the spear on the Cross; for the love of which Spouse, he left the right hand of his Father, and the heavenly Jerusalem, his mother, that he might dwell with us, in this our earthly abode.
The second father of the human race, Noe—after he had seen the Rainbow in the heavens, announcing that now God’s anger was appeased—prophesied to his three Sons their own respective future and, in theirs, that of the world. Cham had drawn upon himself his father’s curse; Sem seemed to be the favored son—for from his race, there should come the Savior of the world; but the Patriarch immediately adds: “May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Sem.” (Genesis 9:27) In the course of time, the ancient alliance that had been made between God and the people of Israel was broken; the Semitic race fluctuated in its religion, and finally fell into infidelity; and at length, God adopts the family of Japheth, that is, the Gentiles of the west, as his own people; for ages, they had been without God, and now the very Seat of religion is established in their midst, and they are put at the head of the whole human race.
Later on, it is the great God himself that speaks to Abraham, promising him that he shall be the father of a countless family. “I will bless thee,” says the Lord, “and I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven.” (Genesis 22:17) As the Apostle tells us, more numerous was to be the family of Abraham according to the faith than that which should be born to him of Sara. All they that have received the faith of a Mediator to come, and all they that, being warned by the Star, have come to Jesus as their God—all are the children of Abraham.
The Mystery is again expressed in Rebecca, the wife of Isaac. She feels that there are two children struggling within her womb; and this is the answer she receives from God when she consulted him: “Two nations are in thy womb, (Genesis 25:22) and two peoples shall be divided out of thy womb; and one people shall overcome the other, and the elder shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23) Now, who is this “younger” child that overcomes the elder but the Gentiles, who struggle with Juda for the light and who, though but the child of the promise, supplants him who was son according to the flesh? Such is the teaching of St. Leo and St. Augustine.
Next, it is Jacob who, when dying, calls his twelve sons, the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel, around his bed, and prophetically assigns to each of them the career they were to run. Juda is put before the rest; he is to be the King of his brethren, and from his royal race shall come the Messias. But the prophecy concludes with the prediction of Israel’s humiliation, which humiliation is to be the glory of the rest of the human race. “The scepter shall not be taken away from Juda, nor a Ruler from his thigh, till He come that is to be sent, and he shall be the Expectation of the Nations.” (Genesis 49:10)
When Israel had gone out of Egypt and was in possession of the Promised Land, Balaam cried out, setting his face towards the desert, where Israel was encamped: “I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold him, but not near. A Star shall rise out of Jacob, and a scepter shall spring up from Israel … Who shall live when God shall do these things? They shall come in galleys from Italy; they shall overcome the Assyrians, and shall waste the Hebrews, and at the last, they themselves also shall perish.” (Numbers 24:17, 23-24) And what kingdom shall succeed this? The kingdom of Christ, who is the Star, and the King that shall rule forever.
David has this great day continually before his mind. He is forever celebrating in his Psalms the Kingship of his Son according to the flesh: he shows him to us bearing the Scepter, girt with the Sword, anointed by God his Father, and extending his kingdom from sea to sea: he tells us how the Kings of Tharsis and the Islands, the Kings of the Arabians and of Saba, and the Princes of Ethiopia shall prostrate at his feet and adore him: he mentions their gifts of gold. (Psalm 71)
In his mysterious Canticle of Canticles, Solomon describes the joy of the spiritual union between the divine Spouse and his Church, and that Church is not the Synagogue. Christ invites her, in words of tenderest love, to come and be crowned; and she, to whom he addresses these words, is dwelling beyond the confines of the land where lives the people of God. “Come from Libanus, my Spouse, come from Libanus, come! Thou shalt be crowned from the top of Amana, from the top of Sanir and Hermon, from the dens of the lions, from the mountains of the leopards.” (Song of Solomon 4:8) This daughter of Pharaoh confesses her unworthiness: I am black, she says; but she immediately adds that she has been made beautiful by the grace of her Spouse. (Song of Solomon 1:4)
The Prophet Osee follows with his inspired prediction: “And it shall be in that day, saith the Lord, that she shall call me, My Husband, and she shall call me no more Baali. And I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth and she shall no more remember their name … And I will espouse thee to me forever … And I will sow her unto me in the earth, and I will have mercy on her that was without mercy. And I will say to that which was not my people: Thou art my people; and they shall say: Thou art my God. (Hosea 2:16-17)
The elder Tobias, while captive in Babylon, prophesies the same alliance. The Jerusalem which was to receive the Jews after their deliverance by Cyrus, is not the City of which he speaks in such glowing terms; it is a new and richer and lovelier Jerusalem. “Jerusalem! City of God! bless the God eternal, that he may rebuild his tabernacle in thee, and may call back all the captives to thee. Thou shalt shine with a glorious light. Nations from afar shall come to thee, and shall bring gifts, and shall esteem thy land as holy. For they shall call upon the great Name in thee … All that fear God shall return thither. And the Gentiles shall leave their idols, and shall come into Jerusalem, and shall dwell in it. And all the kings of the earth shall rejoice in it, adoring the King of Israel.” (Tobias 13, 14)
It is true, the Gentiles shall be severely chastised by God, on account of their crimes; but that justice is for no other end than to prepare those very Gentiles for an eternal alliance with the great Jehovah. He thus speaks, by his Prophet Sophonias: “My judgment is to assemble the Gentiles, and to gather the kingdoms: and to pour upon them my indignation, all my fierce anger: for with the fire of my jealousy shall all the earth be devoured. Because then I will restore to the people a chosen lip, that all may call upon the name of the Lord, and may serve him with one shoulder. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia shall my suppliants, the children of my dispersed people, bring me an offering.” (Zephaniah 3:8-10)
He promises the same mercy by his Prophet Ezechiel: “One King shall be over all, and they shall no more be two nations, neither shall they be divided any more into two kingdoms. Nor shall they be defiled any more with their idols: and I will save them out of all the places in which they have sinned. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. And they shall have One Shepherd. And I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will establish them, and will multiply them, and will set my Sanctuary in the midst of them forever.” (Ezekiel 37:22)
After the Prophet Daniel has described the three great Kingdoms, which were successively to pass away, he says there shall be a Kingdom “which is an everlasting Kingdom, and all kings shall serve him (the King), and shall obey him.” He had previously said: “The power” (that was to be given to the Son of man) “is an everlasting power that shall not be taken away; and his Kingdom shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:27)
Aggeus thus foretells the great events (Haggai 2:7-8) which were to happen before the coming of the One Shepherd, and the establishment of that everlasting Sanctuary, which was to be set up in the very midst of the Gentiles: “Yet one little while, and I will move the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land. And I will move all Nations, and the Desired of all nations shall come.”
But we should have to cite all the Prophets in order to describe, in all its grandeur, the glorious spectacle promised by God to the world when, being mindful of the Gentiles, he should lead them to the feet of Jesus. The Church has quoted the Prophet Isaias in the Epistle of the Feast, and no Prophet is so explicit and so sublime as this son of Amos.
The expression of the same universal expectation and desire is found also among the Gentiles. The Sibyls kept up the hope in the heart of the people; and in Rome itself, we find the Poet Virgil repeating, in one of his poems, the oracles they had pronounced. “The last age,” says he, “foretold by the Cumean Sibyl, is at hand; a new and glorious era is coming: a new race is being sent down to earth from heaven. At the birth of this Child, the iron age will cease, and one of gold will rise upon the whole world … No remnants of our crimes will be left, and their removal will free the earth from its never-ending fear.” (Virgil, Eclog. IV)
If we are unwilling to accept, as did St. Augustine and so many other holy Fathers, these Sibylline oracles as the expression of the ancient traditions—we have pagan philosophers and historians, such as Cicero, Tacitus, and Suetonius, testifying that, in their times, the world was in expectation of a Deliverer; that this Deliverer would come not only from the East, but from Judea; and that a Kingdom was on the point of being established which would include the entire world.
O Jesus, our Emmanuel! this universal expectation was that of the holy Magi, to whom thou didst send the Star. No sooner do they receive the signal of thy having come than they set out in search of thee, asking—where is He born that is King of the Jews? The oracles of thy Prophets were verified in them; but if they received the first-fruits of the great promise, we possess it in all its fullness. The Alliance is made; and our souls, for love of which thou didst come down from heaven, are thine. The Church is come forth from thy divine side, with the Blood and Water; and all that thou dost for this thy chosen Spouse, thou accomplishest in each of her faithful children. We are the sons of Japheth, and we have supplanted the race of Sem, which refused us the entrance of its tents; the birthright, which belonged to Juda, has been transferred to us. Each age, do our numbers increase, for we are to become numerous as the stars of heaven. We are no longer in the anxious period of expectation; the Star has risen, and the Kingdom it predicted will now forever protect and bless us. The Kings of Tharsis and the Islands, the Kings of Arabia and Saba, the Princes of Ethiopia, are come, bringing their gifts with them; all generations have followed them. The Spouse has received all her honors, and has long since forgotten Amana, and Sanir, and Hermon, where she once dwelt in the midst of wild beasts; she is not black, she is beautiful, with neither spot nor wrinkle upon her, but in every way is worthy of her divine Lord. Baal is forgotten forever, and she lovingly speaks the language given her by her God. The One Shepherd feeds the one flock. The last Kingdom, the Kingdom which is to continue forever, is faithfully fulfilling its glorious destiny.
It is thou, O Divine Infant! that bringest us all these graces and receivest all this devoted homage of thy creatures. The time will soon come, dear Jesus! when thou wilt break the silence thou hast imposed on thyself in order that thou mightest teach us humility—thou wilt speak to us as our Master. Cæsar Augustus has long ruled over Pagan Rome, and she thinks herself the kingdom that is to have no end; but she and her Rulers must yield to the Eternal King and his eternal City: the throne of earthly power must now give place for the Throne of Christian charity, and a new Rome is to spring up, grander than the first. The Gentiles are looking for thee, their King; but the day will come when they will have no need to seek thee, but thou, in thy mercy, wilt go in search of them, by sending them apostles and missioners, who will preach thy Gospel to them. Show thyself to them, as He to whom all power has been given in heaven and on earth; and show them also Her whom thou hast made to be Queen of the universe. May this august Mother of thine be raised up from the poor Stable of Bethlehem, and from the humble dwelling of Nazareth, and be taken on the wings of Angels to that throne of mercy which thou hast made for her, and from which she will bless all peoples and generations with her loving protection.
We will now borrow some of those Canticles, wherewith the several Churches were formerly wont to celebrate the Epiphany. Prudentius, the Prince of our Latin Liturgical Poets, thus sings the Magi’s journey to Bethlehem.
|En Persici ex orbis sinu,
Sol unde sumit januam,
Cernunt periti interpretes
Regale vexillum Magi.
|Lo! in the heart of Persia’s world, where opens first the gate unto the rising sun, the Magi, most wise interpreters, perceive the standard of the King.|
|Quod ut refulsit, cæteri
Cessere signorum globi:
Nec pulcher est ausus suam
Conferre formam Lucifer.
|It sone, and the other stars of heaven put out their lights: not even would the lovely Day-Star show his face.|
|Quis iste tantus, inquiunt,
Regnator, astris imperans:
Quem sic tremunt cœlestia,
Cui lux, et æthra inserviunt?
|‘Who,’ say they, ‘is this great King, wo commands the stars? at whose presence the heavens tremble, and light and air do his bidding?|
|Illustre quiddam cernimus,
Qod nesciat finem pati:
Sublime, celsum, interminum,
Antiquius cœlo, et chao.
|‘The sign we see tells us of that great Being, wo is eternal and infinite—the most high, exalted, boundless One, who existed before heaven and earth were made.|
|Hic ille Rex est Gentium,
Populique Rex Judaïci,
Promissus Abrahæ Patri,
Ejusque in ævum semini.
|‘This is he that is King of the Gentiles, and King of the Jews: he was promised to our Father Abraham, and to his seed for ever.|
|Æquanda nam stellis sua
Cognovit olim germina
Primus sator credentium,
Nati imolator unici.
|‘For Abraham, the first parent of believers, and the sacrificer of his only Son, was told that his race should become numerous as the stars of heaven.|
|Jam flos subit Davidicus,
Radice Jesse editus:
Sceptrique per virgam virens,
Rerum cacumen occupat.
|‘At length the Flower of David is come, springing from Jesse’s root: blooming by his sceptre’s rod, he now rules over the universe.’|
|Exin sequuntur perciti
Fixis in altum vultibus,
Qua stella sulcum traxerat,
Claramqe signabat viam.
|Then quickly do they follow, with their gaze fixed aloft, and the Star sails through the air, pointing the bright path to be pursued.|
|Sed verticem pueri supra
Signum pependit imminens,
Pronaque submissum face
Caput sacratum prodidit.
|But when the Star had reached the point direct above the Child’s head, it hovered there: then stooping down its torch, it showed the sacred face they sought.|
|Videre quod postquam Magi,
Eoa promunt munera,
Stratique votis offerunt
Thus, myrrham, et aurum regium.
|The Magi looked upon the Babe, then opening their eastern treasures, prostrate, and offer him the votive homage of incense, myrrh, and kingly gold.|
|Agnosce clara insignia
Virtutis, ac regni tui,
Puero, cui trinam Pater
|These, dear Babe, are the rich tokens of thy power and kingdom, for they mark the triple character which thy Father would have us recognize.|
|Regem Deumque annuntiant
Thesaurus et fragrans odor
Thuris Sabæi: ac myrrheus
Pulvis sepulcrum prædocet.
|The Gold proclaims him King; the sweet-smelling Saba Incense declares him to be God; and the Myrrh signifies that he is Man, for it is the symbol of his future tomb;|
|Hoc est sepulcrum, quo Deus,
Dum corpus exstingui sinit,
Atque id sepulcrum suscitat,
Mortis refregit carcerem.
|That Tomb, whereby God broke open the prison of Death, after he had permitted his sacred Body to suffer death, and the Tomb had raised it up again to life.|
We find in the Sacramentary of the ancient Gallican Church the following beautiful prayer.
|Deus qui dives es in omnibus misericordia, Pater gloriæ, qui posuisti Filium tuum lumen in nationibus, prædicare captivis redemptionem, cæcis visum, remissionem peccatorum, et sortem inter sanctos per fidem, qui es in Christo largus miserator indulge. Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.||O God, who in all thy works art rich in mercy! Father of glory! who didst set thy Son as a light to the Gentiles, that he might preach redemption to captives, and give sight to the blind; O thou that art through Christ plenteous in thy mercy! grant us the remission of our sins, and fellowship through faith with the Saints. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.|
Let us celebrate the mystery of the Birth of Jesus and his alliance with mankind, by this Sequence taken from the ancient Roman-French Missals.
|Ecce jam votiva festa recurrunt annua.||Lo! the year has brought us once again the much loved Feasts.|
|Addat se vox nostra ad Angelorum carmina.||Let our voices unite in the hymns of the Angels.|
|Christus hac ut sponsus materna die processit clausula.||On this day, Christ, as a Bridegroom, came from his Mother’s womb.|
|Exsultans ut gigas ad hujus vitæ currendas semitas.||He hath rejoiced to run, as a giant, the way of this our life.|
|Angelica gloriam reboant in excelsis agmina.||The Angelis host make earth re-echo with their song: Glory in the highest!|
|Pax in terra homines teneat, cum benevolentia.||Peace on earth to men of good will!|
|Jam se replicat sæculi series maxima: venit etiam vatis Cumææ veridica jam ætas carminis ultima.||Now begins the most glorious of the eras of time; now too has come that truthful last age of the Cumæan Sibyl’s song.|
|Vigo remeat sæcla revehens altera: adsunt tempora quo gens ferrea jam desinat, et mundo pullulet aurea.||Let the Virgin come, bringing new times to the world. The day is at hand for the iron age to cease, and the golden one to spring up on the earth.|
|Adauctus solis jubar die pluscula menses producere inchoat.||The bright sun begins to lengthen out our days and months.|
|Nocturnas stella fugat, Magos excitat, Balaamitica tenebras.||Balaam’s Star wakens up the Magi, and puts to flight the night’s dark gloom.|
|Impleta, quæ prædixerat plebs utraque, et Gentilitas et Hebræa, oracula, Christo nascente, sunt omnia.||Christ is born:—all the prophecies are fulfilled which were fore-spoken by the two people, the Gentiles and the Jews.|
|Sunt cuncta jam nunc scelerum recidiva et recentia et antiqua vestiia, quæque remanserant irrita.||The vestiges of crime, both new and old, are now all wiped away and destroyed.|
|O mira atque nova genitura! fit gravida Virgo fideliter credula.||O wonderful and unheard-of Mother! A irgin faithfully believes, and the Fruit is in her womb.|
|Et porta, quæ fuerat semper clausa, est reserata.||The gate, which was ever closed, is opened to the Lord.|
|Naturam dum hominis induit Deitas.||When he, the great God, assumed the nature of man.|
|Conserva hæc, quæsumus, Christe, nobis munera tanta, a te prærogata. Amen.||Grant us, O Jesus! ever to hold fast these wondrous gifts, which thou hast bestowed upon us. Amen.|
The sublime Poet of the Syrian Church, St. Ephrem, thus sings the sweet mysteries of the Birth of Jesus.
|Venere agrorum cultores, et vitæ sospitatorem suæ venerati sunt, lætique talia prophetabant: Ave, designatus nostrorum cultor agrorum, tu cordium nostrorum arva coles, et frumenta inde collecta in horreum vtæ congregabis.||There came the husbandmen of Bethlehem, and they paid homage to him who was the protector of their life, and thus, in their joy, did they prophesy: ‘Hail! thou the appointed cultivator of our lands! Thou shalt till the soil of our hearts, and thou shalt put into the garnerhouse of life the harvests they yield.’|
|Secuti sunt vinitores, vineamque laudarunt ex radice ramisque Jesse propagatam,quæ virginem botrum ex veneranda vite protulit, nos, quæso, refingito in vasa digna vino tuo novo inovante omnia; statum vineæ tuæ restitue, quæso; nil illa præter siliquas hucusque protulit; tuos jam insere vitibus surculos.||The vine-dressers came next. They spoke the praises of the Vine grown from the root and branch of Jesse, that bore, from its venerable stock, the virginal Fruit. ‘We beseech thee,’ said they, ‘reform us into vessels worthy of thy new Wine, which maketh all things new. Restore thy vineyard to its former state. Hitherto, it has produced nought but wild grapes. Ingraft thine own scions on our vines.’|
|Ad filium Joseph propter Joseph venere fabri. Beatum natalem tum auguramur, aiebant, arificum Princeps, qui Noeticam arcam delineasti; atque tabernaculum architectatus es illud extemporaneum, et ad tempus duraturum; nostra te laudant opificia: esto, precamur, tu gloria nostra, jugum fabricare, futurum gestaturi, leve et suave onus.||Then, because Joseph was a Carpenter, Carpenters approach to this his Son. ‘We greet thy happy birth,’ say they: ‘we hail thee as our Prince, for thou it was didst plan the Ark of Noe. Thou wast Architect of that tabernacle so soon built, and to last but for a time. We beseech thee, be thou our glory, and make for us that yoke of thine, which we intend to carry; for it is a light yoke, and a sweet burden.’|
|Simili instinctu salutavere natum infantem novi conjuges, ut dicerent: Salve puer, cujus mater sponsa Sancti facta est. Beatas nuptias, quibus inter futurus es, beatos sponsos, quibus, cum vinum defuerit, tuo repente nutu, illud affluere cernent.||A like instinct brought the newly married to the new-born Babe: they saluted him, and said: ‘Hail, Child! wose Mother is the Spouse of the Holy One! O blessed nuptals those, where thou art to be present! O blessed Spouses they, who shall see the Wine that had failed flow out abundantly at thy bidding!|
|Clamavere simul parvuli: O nos beatos, quibus contigit habere te fratrem, et in foris sodalem: felicem diem, felices pueros, quibus continget laudare te arborem vitæ, qui celsitudinem tuam ad nostram ætatulam demisisti.||Little Children, too, cried out: ‘O happy we, to whom it has been given to have thee for our Brother and our Companion! Happy day! and happy children who, on that day, shall be permitted to praise thee, the tree of life, who hast humbled thy immensity to the littleness of our infant age!’|
|Rumor pervaserat aures feminarum, fore ut virgo aliquando pareret; injecta est cuilibet illarum hujusmodi partus spes; speravere nobiles, speravere formosæ tuas se fore matres. Tibi, Altissime, benedicimus, quod pauperem matrem elegeris.||The report of the prophecy that a Virgin would one day bring forth a Child, came to the women’s ears; and each one hoped that this privilege would fall to their lot. ‘Noble women, and beautiful women, hoped that they might be thy mother.We bless thee, O Most High God, that thou choosest for thy Mother one that was poor.’|
|Prophetavere etiam puellæ, quibus obtigit ad illum deferri, dicentes: Seu deformis sim, seu formosa sim, seu humilis sim, tibi ero, adhærebo tibi: mortales thalami tuo numquam mihi erunt potiores.||Young Maidens, too, were presented to Jesus, and they prophesied, saying: ‘I may be uncomely, or I may be beautiful, or I may be poor: but thine will I be,and to thee will I cling. I will prefer espousals with thee to those I could contract with mortal man.’|
Let us, in honour of the Blessed Mother, sing this sweet Hymn used by some Churches in the Middle Ages.
|Verbum bonum et suave,
Personemus illud Ave
Per quod Christi fit conclave
Virgo, mater, filia.
|Let us sing that word, so good and sweet: Ave—Hail! It was by that salutation that the Virgin was made the sanctuary of Christ—the irgin, who was both his Mother and his Child.|
|Per qod Ave salutata
Mox concepit fœcundata
Virgo David stirpe nata,
Inter spinas lilia.
|Greeted by that Hail, the Virgin, born of the family of Davd, conceived the Divine Fruit in her womb&mdas;She that was the Lily amidst the thorns.|
|Ave, veri Salomonis
Mater, vellus Gedeonis,
Cujus Magis tribus donis
|Hail! thou Mother of the true Solomon, thou Fleece of Gedeon! The Magi, by their three gifts, praise thy delivery.|
|Ave, solem genuisti;
Ave, solem protulisti,
Mundo lapso contulisti
Vitam et imperium.
|Hail! thou hast given birth to the Sun! Hail! thou hast given us to see the Sun, and thereby hast restored life and power to this fallen world.|
|Ave, sponsa Verbi summi,
Maris portus, signum dumi,
Aromatum virga fumi,
|Hail! thou Spouse of the Divine Word! Haven of the sea! Burning Bush! Cloud of sweet aromatic spices! Queen of Angels!|
|Supplicamus: nos emenda,
Emendatos nos commenda
Tuo Nato, ad habenda
Sempiterna gaudia. Amen.
|We beseech thee, convert us; and commend us, so converted, to thy Son, that he bestow upon us the eternal joys of heaven. Amen.|
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)