“What are you doing, Mr Lark?”
Hayden, our young neighbour, looked up at me with some interest. Above our doorway, using the chalk blessed a dozen years ago by our then-priest, Fr Kenneth Novak, I was marking out what I’m sure to Hayden appeared a curious design:
“What does it mean?” he asked.
It was Jan 6: Epiphany or Twelfth Night––the Twelfth Day of Christmas and the time when, according to Tradition, the Three Kings (or Wise Men or Magi) found the Holy Family and brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Infant Christ.
“It’s a thing that Catholics the world over do every year on this day,” I explained. “The ‘CMB’ is an abbreviation, representing the first letters of Christus mansionem benedicat, which in Latin means ‘Christ bless our home.’ It’s asking for the blessing of God upon our home for the coming year, which you see bookended here. And it also has a double-meaning.”
“Yes. It also refers to the first letters of Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar.”
“Who were they?”
“They were the Three Kings––the Three Wise Men––who came from afar and, on this very day, found the Baby Jesus and His Family in that stable in Bethlehem. And this sign upon the door also means that if they should come to us, they’re welcome here, and they’ll find the Christ Child inside.”
“Oh,” said Hayden, his eyes wide.
“It’s a custom––a kind of religious metaphor.”
I thought for a second.
“A symbol,” I added.
He thanked me and went on his way, going to his own home to walk Bella, his little dog. A good kid.
I smiled and thought more about Epiphanytide. It might last 40 to 60 days or so, depending on when Easter falls. This year, Ash Wednesday is March 2, a full month after Candlemas or the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (also Groundhog Day), when Christmastide finally ends. Following Lent, Easter comes April 17 this year.
Sadly, most of our neighbours and indeed most Americans no longer know the proper observance of the liturgical seasons. Shaped by the world, mass media and Madison Avenue, they’ve already stripped their homes of Christmas decorations and hoiked their trees out on to the kerb. Modern life continues along its lamentable lurch, and most folks, God love ’em, simply know no better.
What to do, then? Keep Christmas in your hearts and carry on. And remember the Three Kings and how very wise they were. They’re popularly represented in countless depictions as representing the three races of man: European, Asian and African. And that’s as it should be, for it reveals the universality of Christ and His Church: how He came for all men and to free us all from sin, if only we will listen, open our hearts and attach ourselves to Him and His Mystical Body.
The first 14 verses of the first chapter of the Gospel of St John form the Last Gospel with which every Mass concludes. In part, it reads:
But to as many as received Him, He gave the power to become the sons of God, to them that believe in His Name, which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
The word “epiphany” comes to us from the Greek, and it means “to reveal” or “a striking manifestation.” It has also come to mean discovering something new in a startling, clear way: a revelation or a striking illumination that comes upon you all of a sudden, like a thunderclap of inspiration. And thus we may say that Jesus Himself is the greatest epiphany of all.
I wish you all a blesséd Epiphanytide.