Catholic Activity: Epiphany Feast Suggestions
Suggestions on how to celebrate Epiphany, including the Blessing of Chalk and Blessing of Homes taken from the older form of the Roman Ritual.
The feast of manifestation, or Epiphany, is traditionally celebrated the 12th day after Christmas, January 6th. In the dioceses of the United States this feast has been moved to the Sunday between January 2 and January 8.
January 6 is the feast of the Epiphany, the celebration of the Three Kings' journey to Bethlehem with their gifts; the day the children of the household journey to Bethlehem to take Him the gifts they have made during Advent, and the day the tiny kings join the rest of the Nativity figures in the creche. They have been slowly inching their way across the mantel with their camel train, nearer each day. We bake a delicious Crown cake for the evening. Crown cake, King's cake, Epiphany cake — any name you wish to give it — is baked in a tube pan so that it looks like a crown. We have borrowed Mrs. Berger's icing from Cooking for Christ, fluffy white and decorated with gumdrop jewels. From the French we borrow the custom of baking a bean and a pea in the cake, as well as assorted objects of our own inspiration which have symbolisms entirely invented.
The bean and pea were supposed to fall to the king and queen for the night, but we have the bean portend a trip to Boston and the pea tells that you are a princess (secretly of course). A button means you will be a bachelor; a thimble — a seamstress. A penny means that you are going to be poor, and a dime, rich. A ring? You'll be married for sure; a raisin — I hate to tell you — you'll be wrinkled. A chocolate bit? You're sweet. You got nothing? That is to remind you that God loves you. Remember what Our Lord said: "Blessed are those who believe and yet do not see."
These things have only one purpose — fun. One caution: chew carefully.
Next the crowns are cut from aluminum foil or leftover Christmas wrappings. Where there are more than three children the limited number would seem to pose a problem; but happily there is a possibility that there were more than three kings! Some say it was assumed that the kings were three because the gifts were three; and some say it is because in Psalm 71 used in the Epiphany Mass it is stated: "The kings of Tharsis and the Islands shall offer presents: the kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall bring gifts." They were probably not kings as we think of kings, for "Magi were Persian pseudo-scientists devoted especially to astrology and medicine." The Jews of the Dispersion who had been captured in wars or had migrated to foreign ports to trade had kept their faith, and it was undoubtedly from these that the Magi knew of the expected Messias.
In the Middle Ages the kings were given the familiar names Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. The Fathers of the Church interpreted their gifts mystically as symbols of Christ's Kingship (gold), His Divinity (frankincense because it was used for worship in the temple) and His mortal Humanity (myrrh because it was used in the burial of the dead).
As for the attempts of modern astronomers to identify the Star as a juncture of comets or as Halley's or another comet, they have entirely ignored the miraculous nature of the Star of Bethlehem, its appearance, movement, and disappearance.
This may seem to complicate the celebration of the feast of the three kings — who were not kings, nor three. But if not kings by rank they were kings by faith and noble bearing and persevering determination. So we arrange crowns for the heads of as many kings as we must crown (visiting kings as well).
Epiphany means manifestation: this is the feast of God's showing His Son to the world. One week after Epiphany we will celebrate another manifestation: when Our Lord was baptized by St. John the Baptist, and God the Father spoke from Heaven, identifying Him. And the second Sunday after Epiphany we celebrate the third great manifestation, heralding the beginning of His public life: the miracle at the wedding feast at Cana, where Our Lord showed openly His divine power.
Many blessings are given traditionally on the Epiphany. The Blessing of Chalk, the Blessing of Gold and Frankincense, the Blessing of Bread, of Eggs and of Salt, and the Blessing of Homes.
There is a difference between blessings given by a priest and the same blessings read by the father or some older member of the family when it is not possible to have the priest present. But it is a mistake to consider them without efficacy when the layman reads them. By our Baptism we have a share in Christ's Priesthood. If we are part of Christ in His Mystical Body, and He is High Priest, we share this with Him. Ours is not the same as the power of the consecrated priest, but it is our right and privilege to ask God's blessing on the things we use in daily life, and we should exercise this privilege often.
The Blessing of Chalk is usually given by a priest at church. The chalk is then distributed to the people, who take it home to use after the Blessing of the Home.
In some parishes it is a custom for the pastor to bless the homes of the parish from the church doorway, the people reading the words of the blessing at the same hour in their homes, and going in procession from room to room sprinkling the house with holy water. At the end of this procession, the father or other grownup writes over the front door with the blessed chalk:
Now follows the reading of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). The home is sprinkled with holy water, and following the Magnificat the antiphon is repeated: From the east. . . . Then the Our Father, silently.
V. And lead us not into temptation. R. But deliver us from evil. V. Many shall come from Saba R. Bearing gold and incense. V. O Lord, hear my prayer. R. And let my cry come unto thee. V. The Lord be with you. R. And with thy spirit. Let us pray. O God, Who by the guidance of a star didst this day reveal thy Sole-Begotten Son to the Gentiles, grant that we who now know thee by faith may be brought to the contemplation of thy heavenly majesty. Through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord Who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. Amen.
Responsory: Be enlightened and shine forth, O Jerusalem, for thy light is come, and upon thee is risen the glory of the Lord, Jesus Christ born of the Virgin Mary. V. Nations shall walk in thy light, and kings in the splendor of thy birth. R. And the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. Let us pray. Bless, O Lord, almighty God, this home that it be the shelter of health, chastity, self-conquest, humility, goodness, mildness, obedience to the commandments, and thanksgiving to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May blessing remain for all time upon this dwelling and them that live herein. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Blessing of Bread is found in chapter 3. The Blessing of Any Victual may be used for the salt:
(Sprinkle salt with holy water.) Last, there is the Blessing of Eggs: Let us pray. Let thy blessing, Lord, come upon these eggs, that they be salutary food for the faithful who eat them in thanksgiving for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee forever and ever.
(Sprinkle eggs with holy water.) We have neither gold nor frankincense to bless this day, alas, unless we include our "Magi's Gold" when we bless the food. This is nothing more than candied orange peel made with the rinds of the Christmas oranges (navel oranges are best — but watch out that the children don't peel them in little scraps and throw the peel away). Packed in small tin boxes with gilt paper and gilt bows, they are lovely gifts for friends. All cookbooks have recipes for candied orange peel. Be sure to sprinkle the peel with granulated sugar (not all include this) because it gives it a beautiful jeweled look. Save the sugar that falls off for the tops of cookies.
Activity Source: Year and Our Children, The by Mary Reed Newland, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York, 1956