Catholic Activity: Epiphany Home Ceremony
Epiphany is a wonderful feast for children, because the story has so much for the imagination. This day we honor the Christ Child as King. The following is a home ceremony (without a priest), with other ideas on decorations, crowns, gifts and special foods for the day.
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.
Like so many of our family customs, the celebration of the King's Feast, or Epiphany, began when our children were toddlers. They put their shoes outside the door for gifts from the Kings, and a few almond cookies with a small toy were all they received. In their visit the Wise Men left a tiny gold paper crown on each Christ-Child figure, and raised the family manger to a throne draped in red corduroy and gold paper. (Red crepe paper is equally elective). At the Nativity scene they left figures of the Magi and their retinue.
I used to make paper crowns of gold so each of our children could be a King. Then, using bright pieces of fabric, I would hem both ends and draw a contrasting wide ribbon through one. This gathered the material into a cape for the King. The children chose their names — Caspar, Balthassar, Melchior. Their day was spent journeying to Bethlehem on rocking-horse or tiny saw-horse camels. At supper we served a simple cake with white frosting topped by a crown of gumdrops. Three pieces of the cake were given away in honor of the Wise Men. It was always a job to keep the crown from losing its "jewels" before it was served. After supper each child was tossed to the ceiling three times, in honor of each of the Magi; then the ritual began.
With three Kings in procession we blessed the house with holy water and marked the doors with blessed chalk. We put 19 + C + M + B + 70, using the initials of the Magi and the year, so that our coming and going would be in search of the Truth. The baby would be rocked to sleep with We Three Kings of Orient Are, while the others cuddled up to hear carols. We lived in a Spanish neighborhood and were not alone in celebrating "The King's Feast." Although small, the children had fulfilled its chief purpose — to honor Christ as King.
Epiphany means the revelation of the Messiah's coming to the Gentiles whom the Magi represent. It is one of the five days of the year called "a day most holy" in the Canon of the Mass. In Spain, Portugal, Central and South America, the feast is kept with almost as much solemnity as Christmas. Now that our children are older — the oldest ten — the blessing of our apartment is sometimes given by a priest. Using water blessed on the eve of Epiphany, he reads a Christmas antiphon, the Magnificat, two prayers, and the final blessing.
In the absence of a priest the family gathers around the crib with lighted candles and recites or sings: All: A Child is born in Bethlehem, alleluia! Full joyous sings Jerusalem, alleluia, alleluia. From Orient, behold the star, alleluia, And holy kings come from afar, alleluia, alleluia.
The father reads the Gospel for the Feast of the Epiphany, St. Matthew 2:1-12.
All: From the East came the Magi to Bethlehem to adore the Lord; and opening their treasures, they offered costly gifts: gold to the Great King, incense to the true God, and myrrh in symbol of His burial, alleluia!
While the father sprinkles the rooms of the house with Epiphany water obtained from the church or with ordinary holy water, the mother and children recite the canticle of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Magnificat.
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, Because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid, for behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name; And His mercy is from generation to generation toward those who fear Him. He has shown might with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He has put down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly. The hungry He has filled with good things and the rich He has sent empty away. He has given help to Israel His servant, mindful of His mercy — As He promised our fathers — toward Abraham and his descendants forever. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Alleluia.All: From the East came the Magi to Bethlehem to adore the Lord; and opening their treasures, they offered costly gifts: gold to the great King, incense to the true God, and myrrh in symbol of His burial, alleluia!
Father: Many shall come from Saba.
All: Bearing gold and incense.
Father: O Lord, hear my prayer.
All: And let my cry come unto Thee.
Father: Let us pray. O God, who by the guidance of a star didst this day reveal Thy Only-Begotten Son to the Gentiles, grant that we who know Thee by faith may be brought to the contemplation of the heavenly majesty. Through the same Jesus Christ.
All: 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.
Father: Nations shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brilliance of thy rising.
All: And the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
Father: Let us pray. O Lord, Almighty God, bless this house that it may become a shelter of health, chastity, self-conquest, humility, goodness, mildness, obedience to the Commandments, and thanksgiving to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Upon this house and those who dwell herein may Thy blessing remain forever. Through Christ our Lord.
With blessed chalk the lintels above the door are marked with the initials of the three kings and with crosses. We use the following form:
Father: Let us pray. O Lord God, through the power of the priest Thou didst bless this creature chalk to make it helpful to man. Grant that we who use it with faith and inscribe with it the names of Thy saints Caspar, Melchior, and Balthassar upon the entrance of our homes, may through their merits and petition enjoy physical health and spiritual protection. Through Christ our Lord.
The father then writes the initials of the names of the Magi separated by crosses and the year above the door in this manner:
19 + C + M + B + 70
In conclusion the following hymn is sung or prayed:
The star of Jacob leadeth them, alleluia! From Saba to blest Bethlehem, alleluia, alleluia. Gold, myrrh, and incense pure they bring, alleluia. To Mary's Child, God, Man and King, alleluia, alleluia!This home service may also be used the evening before Epiphany or any day during the Octave.
Sometimes a mother will say, "Our children are too big for processions — John is eleven." Boys of eleven or any age love cake. Forget the processions if your children are older, and teach them a joyful wholesome use of food, as the Church intends, by celebrating feast days. For King's Day let a boy or girl bake a cake with prepared mixes and then build a gumdrop crown on it. Better still, fill the house with a feeling of the Epiphany by baking a traditional cake with a bean in it, letting whoever receives the bean be King for the day.
Activity Source: Christmas to Candlemas in a Catholic Home by Helen McLoughlin, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota