Feast of the Epiphany

On January 6, Christians celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. Along with Easter and Christmas, Epiphany is one of the three principal and oldest festival days of the Christian Church.

Epiphany – sometimes called Three Kings Day – commemorates the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. The Magi (and the shepherds who arrived before them) were among the first to recognize Jesus’ divinity. Thus, Epiphany celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ.

The Three Kings

The Gospel according to Matthew describes the visit of the Magi:

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 path.

Matthew 2:1-12

The Magi are regarded as saints in Western Christianity. In Christian tradition, they are known as:

  • Balthazar, of Arabia
  • Melchior, of Persia
  • Gaspar, of India

The Gifts

Gold, myrrh and frankincense were gifts that would be offered to a king at the time. But the three gifts also had spiritual meanings:

  • Gold symbolized an earthly kingship
  • Myrrh, an embalming oil, symbolized mortality
  • Frankincense, a type of incense, symbolized deity

Homily of Pope Francis

In 2019, Pope Francis delivered an inspirational homily that elucidates the true meaning of Epiphany for Christians. Read the full English translation here.