Mystery of the Vocation of the Magi
A reflection each day during the Octave of the Epiphany
by Dom Prosper Gueranger, 1870
January 11th: The Sixth Day
Within the Octave of the Epiphany
The Magi were not satisfied with paying their adorations to the great King, whom Mary presented to them. After the example of the Queen of Saba, who paid her homage to the Prince of Peace, in the person of King Solomon, these three Eastern Kings opened their treasures, and presented their offerings to Jesus. Our Emmanuel graciously accepted these mystic gifts, and suffered them not to leave him until he had loaded them with gifts infinitely more precious than those he had vouchsafed to receive. The Magi had given him of the riches which this earth produces; Jesus repays them with heavenly gifts. He strengthened in their hearts the virtues of faith, hope, and charity; he enriched, in their persons, the Church of which they were the representatives; and the words of the Canticle of Mary were fulfilled in them: He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he hath sent empty away (St. Luke, i. 53), for the Synagogue refused to follow them in their search after the King of the Jews.
But let us consider the gifts made by the Magi, and let us, together with the Church and the Holy Fathers, acknowledge the Mysteries expressed by them. The gifts were three in number, in order to honour the sacred number of the Persons in the divine Essence, as likewise to express the triple character of the Emmanuel. He had come, that He might be King over the whole world; it was fitting that men should offer Gold to Him, for it is the emblem of sovereign power. He had come to be High Priest, and, by His mediation, reconcile earth to heaven; Incense, then, was an appropriate gift, for the Priest uses it when he offers sacrifice. But, thirdly, it was only by His own death that he was to obtain possession of the throne, which was prepared for His glorified Human Nature, and the perpetual Sacrifice of the Divine Lamb was to be inaugurated by this same His Death; the gift of Myrrh was expressive of the Death and Burial of an immortal Victim. The Holy Ghost, who inspired the Prophets, had guided the Magi in their selection of these three gifts. Let us listen to St. Leo, who speaking of this Mystery, says with his usual eloquence:
“O admirable Faith, which leads to Knowledge and perfect Knowledge, and which was not taught in the school of earthly wisdom, but was enlightened by the Holy Ghost Himself! For, whence had they learnt the supernatural beauty of their three Gifts?–they that had come straight from “their own country, and had not, as yet, seen Jesus, nor beheld, in his Infant Face, the Light which directed them in the choice of their offerings? Whilst the Star met the gaze of the bodily eye, their hearts were instructed by a stronger light–the ray of Truth. Before setting out on the fatiguing journey, they knew Him, to whom were due, by Gold, the honours of a King; by Incense, the worship of God; by Myrrh, the faith in His Mortal Nature (Sermon the Fourth On the Epiphany).”
But these three gifts, which so sublimely express the three characters of the Man-God, are fraught with instruction for us. They signify three great virtues, which the Divine Infant found in the souls of the Magi, and to which He added increase by His grace. Gold signifies charity, which unites us to God; Frankincense prayer, which brings God into man’s heart; and Myrrh self-abnegation, suffering, and mortification, whereby we are delivered from the slavery of corrupt nature. Find a heart that loves God, that raises herself up to Him by prayer, that understands and relishes the power of the cross–and you have in that heart the worthiest offering which can be made to God, and one which He always accepts.
We, too, O Jesus! offer Thee our treasure and our gifts. We confess Thee to be God, and Priest, and Man. We beseech Thee to accept the desire we have of corresponding to the love Thou showest us by giving Thee our love in return; we love Thee, dear Saviour! do Thou increase our love. Receive, also, the gift of our Prayer, for, though of itself it be tepid and poor, yet it is pleasing to Thee because united with the prayer of Thy Church: teach us how to make it worthy of Thee and how to give it the power of obtaining what Thou desirest to grant: form within us the gift of prayer, that it may unceasingly ascend up like sweet Incense in Thy sight. And, lastly, receive the homage of our contrite and humble hearts, and the resolution we have formed of restraining and purifying our senses by mortification and penance.
The sublime Mysteries, which we are celebrating during this holy season, have taught us the greatness of our own misery, and the immensity of Thy love for us, and we feel more than ever the obligation we are under of fleeing from the world and its concupiscences, and of uniting ourselves to Thee. The Star shall not have shone upon us in vain: it has brought us to Thee, dear King of Bethlehem! and Thou shalt be King of our hearts. What have we that we prize and hold dear, which we can hesitate to give Thee in return for the sweet infinite treasure of Thyself, which Thou hast given to us?
Dear Mother of our Jesus! we put these our offerings into thy hands. The gifts of the Magi were made through thee, and they were pleasing to thy Son; thou must present ours to Him, and He will be pleased with them, in spite of their poverty. Our love is deficient; fill up its measure by uniting it with thine own immense love. Second our prayer by thy maternal intercession. Encourage us in our warfare against the world and the flesh. Make sure our perseverance, by obtaining for us the grace of a continual remembrance of the sweet Mysteries which we are now celebrating; pray for us, that, after thine own example, we may keep all these things in our hearts. That must be a hard and depraved heart, which could offend Jesus in Bethlehem; or refuse Him anything, now that He is seated on thy lap, waiting for our offering! O Mary! keep us from forgetting that we are the children of the Magi, and that Bethlehem is ever open to receive us.
Let us borrow the language of the ancient Liturgies, in order to give expression to the sentiments awakened in us by all these ineffable Mysteries. Let us begin with this Hymn on the Nativity of our Lord, left us by the saintly Bishop of Poitiers, Venantius Fortunatus.
Hymn: Agnoscat Omne Saeculum
Let all ages acknowledge that He is come, who is the reward of life. After mankind had carried the yoke of its cruel enemy, our Redemption appeared.
What Isaias foretold, has been fulfilled in the Virgin; an Angel announced the mystery to her, and the Holy Ghost filled her by His power.
Mary conceived in her womb, for she believed in the word that was spoken to her: the womb of a youthful maid holds Him, whom the whole earth cannot contain.
The Root of Jesse has given its flower, and the Branch has borne its fruit: Mary has given birth to Jesus, and the Mother is still the spotless Virgin.
He that created the light suffers Himself to be laid in a manger; He that, with the Father, made the heavens, is now wrapt by His Mother’s hand in swaddling-clothes.
He that gave to the world the Ten Commandments of the law, deigns, by becoming Man, to be under the bond of the law.
What the old Adam defiled, that the new Adam has purified; and what the first cast down by his pride, the second raised up again by His humility.
Light and salvation are now born to us, night is driven away, and death is vanquished: oh! come, all ye people, believe; God is born of Mary. Amen.