The Mass draws us into the mystery of Epiphany

Epiphany of the Lord: Gospel – Matthew 2:1-12

During our celebration of Epiphany, let us not only hear the familiar story of the Magi who came from afar to honor the baby Jesus. Let us put ourselves in their place, recognizing that we too come to worship, giving gifts and doing homage before the Lord really, truly, substantially present in the Eucharist.

“Holy Mass repeats the scene at Bethlehem,” comments the liturgical scholar Pius Parsch:

See, the Offertory procession is taking shape; we join in eagerly and with the Magi proceed to the altar. We too are kings, and our gifts today are kingly gifts.

At Mass a wondrous exchange of gifts takes place: we give ourselves to the Lord, Who gives Himself to us. Our gifts of bread and wine will become, upon consecration, the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ:

the Church’s sacrificial Offering is more precious than gold, frankincense, and myrrh – it is Christ Himself. Our offering is Christ, mirrored in our hearts in the gold-like purity of the love that attends our oblation; our offering is Christ, immolated like frankincense; our offering is Christ, received at the sacrificial Banquet and penetrating our inmost soul like myrrh. At the Communion, we have come with the Magi to the goal of our journey. The star that once shone on high shines now within our hearts; and having found the Lord, we worship Him.

And at the same time, we are uniting ourselves with His sacrifice on the Cross: “Our offering represents our person; in other words, we offer ourselves.”

On Epiphany, let us

make a special offering, one that includes all our going and coming during the year; and we ought bring gifts that match gold in preciousness, frankincense in holiness, and bitter myrrh in willing submissiveness to the divine Infant.

— The Church’s Year of Grace, Vol. I, pp. 270-71.

Question for reflection: What gift am I giving to Jesus?

Christmas: a feast of God’s personal love for us

I think God must have said to Himself: Man does not love Me because he does not see Me; I will show Myself to him and thus make him love Me. God’s love for man was very great, and had been great from all eternity, but this love had not yet become visible…Then, it really appeared; the Son of God let Himself be seen as a tiny Babe in a stable, lying on a little straw.

— St. Alphonsus Liguori, quoted by Fr. Gabriel in Divine Intimacy, p. 83.

May these poignant words of St. Alphonsus help us to grasp more fully the meaning of Christmas. Jesus’ birth isn’t simply an historical event from long ago, which we may feel is too distant and remote from us.

It does involve us, in a deeply personal way, for the Eternal Son of God became man with each one of us in mind. The Lord thought of every human being that has ever existed, and ever will exist. Loving us with a personal love, He acted to save us from our sins and restore us to His friendship.

This same Jesus, Who humbled Himself to come as a vulnerable infant, continues to come to us – preeminently in the Eucharist.

When fashioning the entire arc of salvation history, God carved out our own special place within His design. We belong to this divine love story, if we would only accept Our Lord’s invitation.

One of the great figures of the 20th century Liturgical Movement, Pius Parsch, expressed it thus:

In the night of eternity, you were chosen by the Father; in the holy night of our Savior’s birth, you were remembered in the heart of God’s newborn Son and made His brother and sister; and now the Father draws you to His loving heart: With My Son, born in the stable, you have become My dearest child. With Jesus you are celebrating a birthday, reborn unto God in the holiest of nights.

— The Church’s Year of Grace, Vol. I, p. 213.

Lent as our Spring Training

Lent is a privileged season for spiritual renewal – our time for spring cleaning within our souls, or literally, our spring training.

Aside from deepening our prayer life, we are called to embrace fasting and almsgiving.

These forms of self-denial are called ascetical practices, from the Greek askesis, meaning training for athletic contests.

The root word helps us to understand the “why” behind our Lenten observances. We do not give more of our time or resources simply for the sake of doing something extra, nor do we “give up” things just to feel the pinch of missing them.

Rather, we are letting go of ourselves, and our attachments, in an intentional way because we are working toward something, and Someone. We are striving to grow closer to the Lord by concretely repenting for our sins, and by participating in Jesus’ own self-denial.

One of the great figures of the 20th century Liturgical Movement, Pius Parsch, describes the true meaning of Lent:

…the mystery is re-enacted in each person’s heart: in your soul Christ is wrestling with the devil; or better, by the very fact that you are a member of the mystical Christ, you are involved in this fight….

Therefore we must re-live our Savior’s Passion in Lent…as disciples we must die with Christ in order to rise with Him as new men on Easter.

Parsch sees our supernatural life in God as the key to Lent:

I view Lent, indeed the whole Easter cycle, from the approach of a life filled with God. The Christmas cycle was dominated by the idea of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that was expected during Advent and established at Christmas and Epiphany. Dominating the Easter cycle, however, is the theme of supernatural life engendered, renewed, and perfected.

Fasting is a means toward the goal of a “more flourishing inner life” —

We must remember that we are members of Christ’s Body; by sin we defiled this Body, but now we will help to purify it.

Parsch emphasizes that our life in Christ is the whole point of our self-denial, or else it becomes meaningless:

The essential lesson contained in the Gospel discourse is that the fast should be a deep inward matter of the soul devoid of all selfishness or ulterior motivation….

Fasting of itself, therefore, is of no value; only when linked with the sacrifice of Jesus does it become useful and meritorious….

First we follow Him as the penitent par excellence into the desert of self-denial to fast with Him for forty days. Our fast will be spiritually fruitful if we keep it in unity with Him, if it is an extension of His fasting.

–The Church’s Year of Grace, Volume II

The Greatest Gift


From Pius Parsch’s The Church’s Year of Grace:

The Church foresees the entire work of redemption accomplished in the birth of Christ. In Christ we have received every good, in Him we have received God’s greatest gift.

Everything our faith holds as worthy of desire we obtain in Christ — divine adoption, the Church, the Eucharist, heaven…It is as though Mother Church wishes to pour out anew at Christmas the fullness of her grace-treasures.

Shouldn’t these reflections help in understanding the symbolism of the Christmas tree? Yes, shower your gifts, your joy, your kindness, and your love upon all, for these are symbols of Christ, the greatest Gift heaven itself could send us.

Vol. I: Advent to Candlemas, p. 138

May you have a blessed Christmas season!