Catholic Beliefs and Practices
“Adoration of the Magi (detail)” by Gentile da fabriano (1423)
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CCC 528, 724: the Epiphany
CCC 280, 529, 748, 1165, 2466, 2715: Christ the light of the nations
CCC 60, 442, 674, 755, 767, 774-776, 781, 831: the Church, sacrament of human unity
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528 The Epiphany is the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, Son of God and Savior of the world. The great feast of Epiphany celebrates the adoration of Jesus by the wise men (magi) from the East, together with his baptism in the Jordan and the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee.212
In the magi, representatives of the neighboring pagan religions, the Gospel sees the first-fruits of the nations, who welcome the good news of salvation through the Incarnation. The magi’s coming to Jerusalem in order to pay homage to the king of the Jews shows that they seek in Israel, in the messianic light of the star of David, the one who will be king of the nations.213 Their coming means that pagans can discover Jesus and worship him as Son of God and Savior of the world only by turning towards the Jews and receiving from them the messianic promise as contained in the Old Testament.214 The Epiphany shows that “the full number of the nations” now takes its “place in the family of the patriarchs”, and acquires Israelitica dignitas215 (is made “worthy of the heritage of Israel”).
724 In Mary, the Holy Spirit manifests the Son of the Father, now become the Son of the Virgin. She is the burning bush of the definitive theophany. Filled with the Holy Spirit she makes the Word visible in the humility of his flesh. It is to the poor and the first representatives of the gentiles that she makes him known.106
Christ the light of nations
280 Creation is the foundation of “all God’s saving plans,” the “beginning of the history of salvation”117 that culminates in Christ. Conversely, the mystery of Christ casts conclusive light on the mystery of creation and reveals the end for which “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”: from the beginning, God envisaged the glory of the new creation in Christ.118
529 The presentation of Jesus in the temple shows him to be the firstborn Son who belongs to the Lord.216
With Simeon and Anna, all Israel awaits its encounter with the Savior-the name given to this event in the Byzantine tradition. Jesus is recognized as the long-expected Messiah, the “light to the nations” and the “glory of Israel”, but also “a sign that is spoken against”.
The sword of sorrow predicted for Mary announces Christ’s perfect and unique oblation on the cross that will impart the salvation God had “prepared in the presence of all peoples”.
748 “Christ is the light of humanity; and it is, accordingly, the heart-felt desire of this sacred Council, being gathered together in the Holy Spirit, that, by proclaiming his Gospel to every creature, it may bring to all men that light of Christ which shines out visibly from the Church.”135 These words open the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. By choosing this starting point, the Council demonstrates that the article of faith about the Church depends entirely on the articles concerning Christ Jesus.
The Church has no other light than Christ’s; according to a favorite image of the Church Fathers, the Church is like the moon, all its light reflected from the sun.
1165 When the Church celebrates the mystery of Christ, there is a word that marks her prayer: “Today!” – a word echoing the prayer her Lord taught her and the call of the Holy Spirit.34 This “today” of the living God which man is called to enter is “the hour” of Jesus’ Passover, which reaches across and underlies all history:
- Life extends over all beings and fills them with unlimited light; the Orient of orients pervades the universe, and he who was “before the daystar” and before the heavenly bodies, immortal and vast, the great Christ, shines over all beings more brightly than the sun. Therefore a day of long, eternal light is ushered in for us who believe in him, a day which is never blotted out: the mystical Passover.35
2466 In Jesus Christ, the whole of God’s truth has been made manifest. “Full of grace and truth,” he came as the “light of the world,” he is the Truth.257 “Whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”258 The disciple of Jesus continues in his word so as to know “the truth [that] will make you free” and that sanctifies.259 To follow Jesus is to live in “the Spirit of truth,” whom the Father sends in his name and who leads “into all the truth.”260 To his disciples Jesus teaches the unconditional love of truth: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes or No.'”261
2715 Contemplation is a gaze of faith, fixed on Jesus.
“I look at him and he looks at me”: this is what a certain peasant of Ars in the time of his holy curé used to say while praying before the tabernacle.
This focus on Jesus is a renunciation of self. His gaze purifies our heart; the light of the countenance of Jesus illumines the eyes of our heart and teaches us to see everything in the light of his truth and his compassion for all men.
Contemplation also turns its gaze on the mysteries of the life of Christ. Thus it learns the “interior knowledge of our Lord,” the more to love him and follow him.11
The Church, sacrament of human unity
60 The people descended from Abraham would be the trustee of the promise made to the patriarchs, the chosen people, called to prepare for that day when God would gather all his children into the unity of the Church.18 They would be the root on to which the Gentiles would be grafted, once they came to believe.19
442 Such is not the case for Simon Peter when he confesses Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God”, for Jesus responds solemnly: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”46 Similarly Paul will write, regarding his conversion on the road to Damascus, “When he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles. . .”47 “And in the synagogues immediately [Paul] proclaimed Jesus, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.'”48 From the beginning this acknowledgment of Christ’s divine sonship will be the center of the apostolic faith, first professed by Peter as the Church’s foundation.49
674 The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by “all Israel”, for “a hardening has come upon part of Israel” in their “unbelief” toward Jesus.569 St. Peter says to the Jews of Jerusalem after Pentecost: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.”570 St. Paul echoes him: “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?”571 The “full inclusion” of the Jews in the Messiah’s salvation, in the wake of “the full number of the Gentiles”,572 will enable the People of God to achieve “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”, in which “God may be all in all”.573
755 “The Church is a cultivated field, the tillage of God. On that land the ancient olive tree grows whose holy roots were the prophets and in which the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles has been brought about and will be brought about again. That land, like a choice vineyard, has been planted by the heavenly cultivator. Yet the true vine is Christ who gives life and fruitfulness to the branches, that is, to us, who through the Church remain in Christ, without whom we can do nothing.147
767 “When the work which the Father gave the Son to do on earth was accomplished, the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost in order that he might continually sanctify the Church.”174 Then “the Church was openly displayed to the crowds and the spread of the Gospel among the nations, through preaching, was begun.”175 As the “convocation” of all men for salvation, the Church in her very nature is missionary, sent by Christ to all the nations to make disciples of them.176
774 The Greek word mysterion was translated into Latin by two terms: mysterium and sacramentum. In later usage the term sacramentum emphasizes the visible sign of the hidden reality of salvation which was indicated by the term mysterium. In this sense, Christ himself is the mystery of salvation: “For there is no other mystery of God, except Christ.”196 The saving work of his holy and sanctifying humanity is the sacrament of salvation, which is revealed and active in the Church’s sacraments (which the Eastern Churches also call “the holy mysteries”). The seven sacraments are the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body. The Church, then, both contains and communicates the invisible grace she signifies. It is in this analogical sense, that the Church is called a “sacrament.”
775 “The Church, in Christ, is like a sacrament – a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men.”197 The Church’s first purpose is to be the sacrament of the inner union of men with God. Because men’s communion with one another is rooted in that union with God, the Church is also the sacrament of the unity of the human race. In her, this unity is already begun, since she gathers men “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues”;198 at the same time, the Church is the “sign and instrument” of the full realization of the unity yet to come.
776 As sacrament, the Church is Christ’s instrument. “She is taken up by him also as the instrument for the salvation of all,” “the universal sacrament of salvation,” by which Christ is “at once manifesting and actualizing the mystery of God’s love for men.”199 The Church “is the visible plan of God’s love for humanity,” because God desires “that the whole human race may become one People of God, form one Body of Christ, and be built up into one temple of the Holy Spirit.”200
781 “At all times and in every race, anyone who fears God and does what is right has been acceptable to him. He has, however, willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness. He therefore chose the Israelite race to be his own people and established a covenant with it. He gradually instructed this people. . . . All these things, however, happened as a preparation for and figure of that new and perfect covenant which was to be ratified in Christ . . . the New Covenant in his blood; he called together a race made up of Jews and Gentiles which would be one, not according to the flesh, but in the Spirit.”201
831 Secondly, the Church is catholic because she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race:310
- All men are called to belong to the new People of God. This People, therefore, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and to all ages in order that the design of God’s will may be fulfilled: he made human nature one in the beginning and has decreed that all his children who were scattered should be finally gathered together as one. . . . The character of universality which adorns the People of God is a gift from the Lord himself whereby the Catholic Church ceaselessly and efficaciously seeks for the return of all humanity and all its goods, under Christ the Head in the unity of his Spirit.311
Faith Sharing Questions
Introductory video to this Sunday by Larry Broding at Word-Sunday.com.
Directions: On this page you will find questions on the Sunday Readings that can be used in RCIA or Faith Sharing groups. Clicking on the PDF icons at bottom right will give participants additional commentary and resources.
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Small Group Questions
by Fr. Eamon Tobin
1. Share with the group or person next to you what spoke to you most in the Gospel. With this first question try to refrain from commenting on what others said. Just share what spoke to you and then move on to the next person.
2. The Magi symbolize our search for God and meaning in life. What gives meaning to your life? Has some recent discovery or new passion brought new meaning and depth to your life?
3. In the Epiphany, Jesus is manifested to the Magi and Gentile world. Can you name a recent epiphany experience in your life, a recent discovery?
4. Name one thing today’s Gospel says to us that we disciples of Jesus need to heed and act on.
©2020 Fr. Eamon Tobin. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
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by Fr. Clement Thibodeau
1. How many people do you know who have traveled to distant places in search of special religious experiences? Have you ever been to St. Anne de Beaupre? To Cap de Madeleine, to St. Joseph’s Oratory in Canada? To Guadalupe in Mexico? To Lourdes in France? To Fatima in Portugal? To Jerusalem, Bethlehem orto Nazareth? To LaSallette in France? To Garabandal in Spain? To Our Lady of Knock in Ireland? To Our Lady of Walshingham in England? To Bosnia-Herzegovina? Why do people do that?
2. Discuss the journey of the Magi in terms of your own life journey. Have you been willing to search for a deeper fulfillment of your religious longings and spiritual needs? What have you had to do to find fulfillment? Have you had to undertake an inner journey of conversion and personal change? What difficulties have you encountered? Have you met opposition on the way? Has anyone or anything tried to thwart your intentions or to block your progress? Have you had to “go home by another route?”
3. Discuss the journey that the Church is on in pursuit of the kingdom of God. What “star” is the Church following through the winding roads of this world? What are the powers in the world today trying to divert the Churchfrom its purposes? What falsehoods are being told the Christian community in an effort to lead it into other paths? Who is there to keep it going on a true course?
© 2017 Portland Diocese / Father Clement D. Thibodeau. Used with permission.
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Bible Study Questions
by Vince Contreras
1. The 1st Reading from Isaiah contains a prophecy which is directed to the Jews returning from Exile, but it is not primarily about them. Who does it describe and what will be their experience? What will Israel’s response to this be? What should our response be to seeing people who were formerly “outsiders” entering the Church?
2. In the 2nd Reading, what is the “great mystery” of which St. Paul speaks of in verse 3? Why is this significant for the Church of his time? Of our time?
3. Why was it important for Jesus to be born in the city of David, Bethlehem, a name which means “house of bread” (verses 4-6; Micah 5:1-3; 2 Samuel 5:2)?
4. What do the star, the Magi, the gifts, the homage, the hostility and the prophecy teach about the significance of Jesus?
5. Since the Magi were pagan astrologers, why would they leave everything to follow that star? In your journey toward God, how are you like the Magi? Unlike them? Have you had to leave anything to follow Jesus?
6. Note the responses of the Magi upon finding Jesus. How are they similar to the response that Christians make to Jesus, including before the Blessed Sacrament?
7. What is the “gold, frankincense, and myrrh” in your life? How have you offered this to Jesus?