• Isa 60:1-6
• Psa 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13
• Eph 3:2-3A, 5-6
• Mt 2:1-12
Pope Paul VI, in the Apostolic Exhortation, “Marialis Cultus” (Feb. 1974), emphasized that the “Christmas season is a prolonged commemoration of the divine, virginal and salvific motherhood of her whose ‘inviolate virginity brought the Saviour into the world.’” This is so much the case, he wrote, that “on the Solemnity of the Birth of Christ the Church both adores the Savior and venerates His glorious Mother.”
He then stated the following about today’s great feast: “On the Epiphany, when she celebrates the universal call to salvation, the Church contemplates the Blessed Virgin, the true Seat of Wisdom and true Mother of the King, who presents to the Wise Men, for their adoration, the Redeemer of all peoples (cf. Mt. 2:11).”
Mary’s presentation of her Son to the wise men was another demonstration of her mysterious and maternal role in salvation history. It was mysterious—not magical—because Mary, sinless from conception by the power of the Holy Spirit, conceived the sinless Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Her faith is that of a disciple—but not just any disciple, for she is the first and perfect disciple of her Lord.
Her role, then, is truly maternal, for she is both mother of the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, but also mother of the Church, the mystical body of Christ. Mary, although not divine by nature, is at the heart of the culmination of divine revelation: the coming of God in the flesh.
And so the Solemnity of the Epiphany is a celebration of the epiphaneia—that revelation and manifestation—of God become man, Jesus the Christ. The feast, going back to the early centuries of the Church, has focused on three key events, related to one another by virtue of being revelatory in nature: the visitation of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan, and the turning of water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana.
Each manifests the astounding, transforming truth of the Incarnation. Each, in turn, opens up further the mystery of God and calls us to worship and adore the Messiah.
Consider that Mary and Joseph did not have to receive the magi. We also recognize that Mary did not have to accept God’s invitation to be the mother of the Savior, nor did Joseph, the foster father of Christ, have to obey the directives given to him by angels. Mary and Joseph were not stock characters or tools used by an impersonal force, but real people who accepted the call and the word of God with free will and full faith. Then, in turn, they opened up their hearts and home to those seeking the Word who is the way, the truth, and the life.
The magi represent those who earnestly desire the fullness of truth and who yearn to see the face of God. I am struck again by how Matthew’s account presents, so simply but powerfully, the four actions or responses of the magi. First, they were filled with joy upon recognizing the star and being brought to the home of the Christ child. Secondly, they entered into His home and into communion with Him and His Mother. Third, they worshipped Him. And, finally, they offered Him the finest gifts they possessed.
The readings from the prophet Isaiah and from Saint Paul to the Ephesians draw out this fact about the magi: they were not Jews. The Kingdom of God is offered to and includes peoples from all nations; it is not for a people united by ethnicity or geography, but by grace and the fullness of revelation. Thus, the magi represent the first of a vast number of Gentiles brought into the family of God through the Christ-child, who is the King of the Jews and the King of kings.
And Mary, the true Seat of Wisdom and true Mother of the King, continues to open the doors to her Son so we can see him, know him, and worship him.
(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the January 8, 2012, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)