From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
HAVING laid their offerings at the feet of Jesus, as the sign of the alliance they had, in the name of all mankind, contracted with him, and laden with his graces and blessings, the Magi take their leave of the Divine Babe; for such was his will. They take their departure from Bethlehem, and the rest of the world seems a wilderness to them. Oh, if they might be permitted to fix their abode near the new-born King and his incomparable Mother! But no; God's plan for the salvation of the world requires that everything savouring of human pomp and glory should be far from him who had come to take upon himself all our miseries.
Besides, they are to be the first messengers of the Gospel; they must go and tell to the Gentiles that the Mystery of Salvation has begun, that the earth is in possession of its Saviour, and that their salvation is nigh at hand. The star does not return to them; they needed it to find Jesus; but now they have him in their hearts, and will never lose him. These three men are sent back into the midst of the Gentile world, as the leaven of the Gospel which, notwithstanding its being so little, is to leaven the whole paste. For their sakes, God will bless the nations of the earth; from this day forward infidelity will lose ground, and faith will progress; and when, the Blood of the Lamb having been shed, Baptism shall be promulgated, the Magi shall be, not merely men of desire, but perfect Christians, initiated into all the Mysteries of the Church.
The ancient tradition, which is quoted by the author of The Imperfect Work on St Matthew, which is put in all the editions of St John Chrysostom, and was probably written about the close of the 6th century, tells us that the three Magi were baptized by St Thomas the Apostle, and devoted themselves to the preaching of the Gospel. But we scarcely need a tradition on such a point as this. The vocation of these three Princes could never be limited to the mere privilege of being the first among the Gentiles to visit the eternal King who had come down from heaven to be born on this earth and show himself to his creatures; a second vocation was the consequence of the first, the vocation of preaching Jesus to men.
There are many details relating to the life and actions of the Magi, after they had become Christians, which have been handed down to us; but we refrain from mentioning them, as not being sufficiently ancient or important traditions to have induced the Church to give them place in her Liturgy. We would make the same observation with regard to the names assigned to them of Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthassar; the custom of thus naming them is too modern to deserve credit; and though it might be indiscreet to deny that these were their true names, it seems very difficult to give proofs of their correctness.
The Relics of these holy Kings were translated from Persia to Constantinople, under the first Christian Emperors, and, for a long time, were kept in the Church of Saint Sophia. At a later period, they were translated to Milan, when Eustorgius was Bishop of that city. There they remained till the 12th century, when, through the influence of the Emperor Frederic Barbarossa, they were translated to the Cathedral Church of Cologne by Reynold, Archbishop of that metropolitan see. The Relics are in a magnificent Shrine, perhaps the finest specimen now extant of medieval metallic art, and the superb Cathedral where it is religiously kept is, by its size and architectural beauty, one of the grandest Churches of the Christian world.
Thus have we followed you, O Blessed Magi! Fathers of the Gentile world! from your first setting out from the East for Bethlehem to your return to your own country, and even to your sacred resting-place; which the goodness of God has made to be in this cold West of ours. It was the love of children for their parents that made us thus cling to you. Besides, were we not ourselves in search of that dear King whom you so longed for and found? Blessed be those ardent desires of yours, blessed be your obedience to the guidance of the star, blessed be your devotion at the Crib of Jesus, blessed be the gifts you made him, which, while they were acceptable to God, were full of instruction to us! We revere you as Prophets, for you foretold the characters of the Messias by the selection of your three gifts. We honour you as Apostles, for you preached, even to Jerusalem herself, the Birth of the humble Jesus of Bethlehem, of that Jesus whom his Disciples preached not till after the triumph of his Resurrection. We hail you as the Spring Flowers of the Gentile world, but Flowers which produced abundant and rich fruits, for you brought over entire nations and countless people to the service of our divine King. Watch over us, and protect the Church. Be mindful of those Eastern countries, whence rises to the earth the light of day, the beautiful image of your own journey towards Bethlehem. Bless this Western world of ours, which was buried in darkness when you first saw the star, and is now the favoured portion of God's earth, and on which the Divine Sun of Justice pours forth his brightest and warmest rays. Faith has grown weak among us; reenkindle it. Obtain of the divine mercy that the West may ever send forth her messengers of salvation to the South and North, and even to that infidel East, where are laid the tents of Sem, and where the light that you gave her has been long extinguished by her apostasy. Pray for the Church of Cologne, that illustrious sister of our holiest Churches in the West; may she preserve the faith, may she defend her sacred rights and liberty; may she be the bulwark of Catholic Germany, and be ever blessed by the protection of her Three Kings, and the patronage of the glorious Ursula and her virginal army. Lastly, we beseech you, O venerable Magi! to introduce us to the Infant Jesus, and his Blessed Mother; and grant us to go through these forty days, which the Church consecrates to the Mystery of Christmas, with hearts burning with love for the Divine Child, and may that same love abide with us during the pilgrimage of our life on this earth.
To-day, also, we will make use of the formulas employed by the several ancient Churches in honour of the Mystery of the Epiphany. Our first selection is a hymn written by the great Fulbert of Chartres.
Nuntium vobis fero de supernis;
Natus est Christus, Dominator orbis,
In Bethlehem Judæ; sic enim Propheta
Hunc canit lætus chorus Angelorum,
Stella declarat, veniunt Eoi
Principes, dignum celebrare cultum,
Thus Deo, myrrham tribuunt sepulchro,
Auream Regi speciem decenti,
Dum colunt unum, meminere Trino
Tres dare terna.
Gloriam trinæ monadi canamus,
Cum Deo divæ Genitore Proli,
Flamini necnon ab utroque fuso
'I bring you tidings from heaven above:
Christ, the Ruler of the earth,
is born in Bethlehem of Juda:
for thus was it foretold by the Prophet.’
Thus sing the glad choir of Angels;
the same is announced by the Star,
and the Eastern Kings come to offer to Jesus
the worthy homage of their mystic gifts.
They offer their Frankincense to him as to their God;
the Myrrh honours his sepulchre; the Gold is the token of his Kingly character.
Whilst thus worshipping One,
the three offerers give three gifts to the Blessed Three,
Let us, too, sing praise to our Triune God:
glory to the Father, and to his divine Son,
and to the Holy Spirit, who is sent into the hearts of the faithful
by the Father and the Son.
Tu es. Domine, stella veritatis oriens ex Jacob, homoque consurgens ex Isræl: et in novo sidere ostenderis Deus, et in præsepio positus Deus et homo, unus crederis Christus: propter magnam misericordiam tuam visionis tuæ nobisproroga gratiam: appareat in nobis lucis tuæ radiabile signum, quod expellat omnes tenebras vitiorum; ut qui visionis tuæ desiderio anhelamus, visionis tuæ præmio consolemur. Amen.
Thou, O Lord, art the Star of truth, that riseth out of Jacob, and the man that springeth from Israel. In the new Star thou showest thyself as God, and lying in the Crib God and Man, we confess thee to be the one Christ. In thy great mercy grant us the grace of seeing thee, and show unto us the radiant sign of thy light, whereby all the darkness of our sins may be put to flight: that so we who now languish with the desire of seeing thee, may be refreshed with the enjoyment of that blissful vision. Amen.
Fulget, Domine, cœlum rutilum serenitate astrorum, terraque ipsa refulgenti lumine serenatur, quia apparere dignatus es mundo de habitaculo sancto tuo; sana ergo cordis nostri mœstitiam, quia ad hoc venisti, ut redimas universa: illudque nostris oculis lumen attribue, quo te purificati semper mereamur aspicere: ut qui Apparitionis tuæ gaudia lætabunda nuntiamus in gentibus, infinita tecum lætitia gaudeamus. Amen.
The heavens are shining with the clear beauty of the stars, O Lord, and the very earth is made beautiful by a shining light, because thou didst vouchsafe to appear to the world from out thy holy dwelling place. Remove, therefore, from our hearts all sadness, for unto this end art thou come, that thou mayest make all things new. Grant also that light unto our eyes which may purify us and fit us to behold thee for ever; that thus we who preach to the nations the glad joys of thy Apparition, may be made glad with thee in infinite joy. Amen.
We take the following Sequence from the ancient Missals of the Churches of Germany.
Nato nobis Salvatore
Celebremus cum honore
Nobis datus, nobis natus,
Et nobiscum conversatus,
Lux et salus gentium.
Eva prius interemit;
Sed Salvator nos redemit
Carnis suæ merito.
Prima parens nobis luctum,
Sed Maria vitæ fructum
Protulit cum gaudio.
Negligentes non neglexit,
Sed ex alto nos prospexit
Pater mittens Filium.
Præsens mundo, sed abs consus,
De secreto tamquam sponsu:
Prodiit in publicum.
Gigas velox, gigas fortis,
Gigas nostræ victor mortis,
Ad currendam venit viam,
Complens in se prophetiam
Et Legis mysteria.
Jesu, nostra salutaris
Nostra pax et gloria;
Quia servis redimendis
Tam decenter condescendis,
Te collaudant omnia.
Our Saviour is born unto us!
Let us solemnly celebrate
To us was he given, unto us was he born,
and with us has he lived,
he the light and salvation of the Gentiles.
In the beginning Eve caused our death;
but Jesus, by the merits of the human nature he assumed,
has redeemed us.
Our first mother brought us woe;
but Mary joyfully brought forth
for us the fruit of life.
We neglected our heavenly Father, but he did not neglect us;
he looked down upon us from heaven,
and sent us his only Son.
This Jesus, though in the world, was hidden from the s world;
but, at length he came forth as a Bridegroom from the nuptial chamber,
and made himself known.
He is the Giant foretold by the Psalmist—swift, and strong,
and vanquishing our death,
for he was girt with power.
He came that he might run his course,
and so verify the prophecy,
and the mysteries of the Law.
Jesus, thou our
our only Peace and glory!
May all creatures give thee praise,
for that thou didst so mercifully condescend
to redeem us thy servants!
This beautiful canticle in honour of the Infant Jesus is from the pen of St Ephrem, the sublime bard of the Syrian Church.
Hebrææ virgines assuetæ alias Jeremiæ Threnos recantare, pro lugubri suarum Scripturarum carmine, indidem acceptos lætitiæ hymnos hujusmodi refuderunt, Spiritu ipsarum ora movente:
Læta jam nunc oculos ab inferis attollat Eva hunc visura diem, in quo ipsius nepos vitæ auctor descendit extinctam Matris suæ genitricem excitaturus. Adoran dus puer caput serpentis contudit, cujus illa olim infecta veneno periit.
A cunis decori Isaac, Sara mater tuam speculabatur infantiam, teque illo adumbratum suo mulcebat cantu; relegensque infantiæ tuæ mysteria in eo puero expressa:Euge, fili, votorum fructus meorum, cantabat; jam nunc video in te, qui latet in te Dominum, omnium piorum vota precesque suscipiens, et ratas efficiens.
Nazaræus Samson juvenis fortissimus tuæ fortitudinis umbra fuit; leonem laceravit, mortis quam concidisti typum; rupisti scilicet mortem, vitamque ex ejus amarissimo ventre exclusisti, cujus usura nobis futura erat jucundissima.
Anna pariter te in Samuele figuratum, suo non semel pectori oppressiti tum primum, quando tuam præsensit justissimam severitatem ab illo repræsentatam eo die, quo regem Agag in frusta dissectum occidit, expressam diaboli imaginem: tum iterum, quando tuam contemplabatur clementiam ab eodem velut rudiore manu descriptam, eo tempore quo Saulis ruinam piis et veris lacrymis lugere non destitit.
The Hebrew maidens, who heretofore had been wont to chant the Lamentations of Jeremias in the plaintive strain of their Scriptures, now borrowed from the same holy volume joyful thoughts, and, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, sang them thus in hymns:
'Let Eve, in Limbo, now raise up her eyes, and see this day whereon one of her race, and he the author of life, descends to raise up from death the mother of his own dear Mother. The adorable Infant crushed the head of the serpent, by whose poison Eve had perished.
'Sara, the fair Isaac’s mother, foresaw thine Infancy, O Jesus, in her own son’s crib; the lullaby she sang over him told the mysteries of thy Childhood, which were foreshadowed and prefigured in her own child. Thus did she sing: “Sweet Babe! fruit of my prayers! I see in thee the Lord, who is hidden in thee as in his type: ’tis he receives the wishes and the prayers of pious hearts, and grants them their requests."
'The Nazarite Samson, the youth of exceeding strength, was a figure of thy strength, O Jesus! He tore a lion to pieces, typifying the death thou didst slay, for thou didst crush death, and from its bitter entrails didst draw forth life, whose taste would be most sweet to us.
'Anna, too, pressed thee to her bosom in the person of Samuel the Prophet, who was twice a figure of thy ministry; firstly when he prefigured thy most just severity on the day when he slew King Agag, the figure of the devil, and cut him to pieces; secondly, by imitating thy mercy, though imperfectly, when he unceasingly shed his tears of loving and sincere compassion over the fall of Saul.'
The Menæa of the Greek Church furnish us with these beautiful stanzas in honour of the holy Mother of God.
Die XVI Januarii
Terra inarata apparuisti, o augustissima, quæ spicam nobis protulisti, universi nutritorem Dominum Jesum, ex quo nos comedentes, ad vitam revocamur.
Deum ex te incarnatum videntes, o Virgo casta, Deiparam te proprie confitemur, quæ omnium reformationis, absque ulla dubitatione, causa fuisti.
Superessentialis ille, qui carnis erat expers, ex venerandis sanguinibus tuis incarnatus est, o castissima; et caro sine ulla mutatione factus, cum hominibus conversatus est.
Naturæ leges in te, o purissima Virgo, revera innovantur: Virgo quippe post partum manes, velut ante partum, Christum legislatorem enixa.
Miserabilis animæ meæ passionibus medere, o Dei Genitrix castissima; mentem tranquilla hostilibus invasionibus velut tempestatibus jactatam, et cor meum pacatum redde, o puella.
Rosam in medio spinarum te vere invenit in hujus mundi convallibus, o casta Virgo, Jesus omnium piantator atque ex utero tuo natus, nos divinæ cognitionis suavissimo perfudit odore.
Te spirituale candelabrum, qua lucem inaccessibilem suscepisti, agnovimus, o Virgo Maria, quæ omnium fidelium animos illuminasti, et peccati tenebras eliminasti.
Vocibus gratiarum actione plenis ad te clamamus: Ave, immaterialis, lucis habitaculum purissimum; ave, causa deificationis omnium; ave, maledictionis dissolutio; ave, terrigenarum expulsorum revocatio.
O most august Queen! thou wast the untilled land that gavest us our Wheat, Jesus, the Lord and feeder of the universe; by eating this Bread we are restored to life.
Seeing our Lord made incarnate from thee, chaste Virgin! we confess thee to be in very deed the Mother of God, that didst thus become, we hesitate not to proclaim it, the cause of the regeneration of all things.
He, the Being above all beings, who was a pure spirit, took flesh to himself from thy pure blood, O Spotless Maid! and remaining God as before, he was made flesh, and lived among men.
Nature’s Laws were truly suspended in thee, most pure Virgin! for thou remainest a Virgin after thy delivery, as thou wast before it, for thou didst give birth to him who is the giver of all laws, Christ.
Spotless Mother of God! heal the passions of my wretched soul: appease my mind, tossed by the attacks of my enemy as with tempests, and bring, O Virgin, peace unto my heart.
Jesus, the divine Husbandman of the world, found thee, chaste Virgin! in the lowly valley of this earth, growing as a Rose amidst thorns. He entered thy womb, and was born of thee, refreshing us with the delicious fragrance of the knowledge of divine things.
O Virgin Mary! we acknowledge thee to be the mystic candlestick on which was placed the Light inaccessible; thereby thou hast enlightened the minds of all the faithful, and hast put to flight the darkness of sin.
Thus do we cry out to thee in words of thankful love: Hail, most pure dwelling of spiritual Light! Hail, cause of our union with God! Hail, destroyer of the curse! Hail, O thou that didst call from their exile the children of this earth.
 St Matt. xiii 33.