Epiphany celebrates the three kings’ visit to Jesus

For many residents in the area, Christmas has been over for 12 days. The ornaments have been packed, the tree has been pitched and the leftovers have dwindled into crumbs.

But for area Roman Catholics, Jan. 6 is one of the most important holidays on the calendar, called “Epiphany of the Lord,” which celebrates the three kings of the Orient visiting the newly born Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem.

Deacon Steve Clifford of the St. John Bosco Parish in Woodstock said the day is similar to Christmas for Hispanics, where children receive presents from the three kings rather than Santa Claus.

“It is a Latin American country tradition,” Clifford said.

Clifford said when the Epiphany falls on a weekday, the Catholic Church holds a special mass on the Sunday preceding it. The Epiphany is meant to celebrate one of the three instances the Lord was manifested to humanity, Clifford said.

“The Epiphany is the celebration of his manifestation to the Magis, or the three kings, at the manger, the other is his baptism at the River Jordan by John the Baptist and the third is the wedding feast where he turned water into wine,” Clifford said.

Clifford continued, “Those three events are key to recognizing the divinity of Christ in the Catholic tradition.”

The Baptism of Our Lord is celebrated on the Sunday following the Epiphany, Clifford said.

Christmas, which marks the birth of Jesus, and Easter, which marks the resurrection of Jesus, have the highest priority in the Catholic faith, Clifford said. However, the Epiphany also holds a high place in the faith, Clifford said.

“The three kings were obviously wealthy and kings of earthly kingdoms and they came to worship the king of the heavenly kingdom,” Clifford said. “It’s not usual for a king to come and worship another king unless they [were] in submission to that king. It’s significant they came to worship the king of kings.”

In the Catholic tradition, the liturgical calendar, which dictates what kind of mass is given on what day of the year, is broken up into four seasons, which are represented by colors. The ordinary time of year is represented by green, purple represents the advent and lent seasons, white is for the Christmas and Easter seasons and red is used for specific occasions, such as celebrating a martyr.

Clifford said the Epiphany is amongst the highest priority of masses.

“The absolute highest priority of mass, such as Easter, Christmas, the Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord, are called solemnities, which are the highest priority of mass,” Clifford said. “Sundays are the day of the Lord, so Sunday has priority over everything else except solemnities.”

“Under solemnities, we have mandatory memorials, we have optional memorials, then we have feasts,” Clifford continued. “If we have no solemnities, no memorials or no feasts, we have ordinary mass.”

Clifford said a traditional Catholic Christmas is celebrated a little differently than how most Americans celebrate it.

“A Catholic should not put up their Christmas tree until midnight on Christmas Eve,” Clifford said. “We celebrate Christmas all the way through until the Baptism of Our Lord. After this Sunday, that’s when the decoration should come down.”

Most practicing Catholics, Clifford said, celebrate Christmas according to the tradition.

“A lot of our regular church-goers celebrate the holiday in this manner, because that’s what they see at church,” Clifford said. “Maybe some other people in our congregation who don’t come to church as often don’t follow the traditions as closely.”

Clifford said the Catholic church tries to avoid celebrating Christmas according to retailers’ calendars.

“We don’t start celebrating Christmas at Halloween,” Clifford said. “We try to avoid the shopping frenzy, the overdone gifts and all that. We try to downplay the materialism of some people associate with the holiday.”

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com