Sunday, January 5, 2014

Epiphany at Madonna House

Happy Epiphany! In Canada the feasts that fall during the week tend to be moved to the nearest Sunday, so we are celebrating the feast of the Epiphany, the revelation of God’s saving plan to the world, today.

In the Eastern churches today is Theophany which corresponds to our Baptism of Christ feast next Sunday. The Church has always woven together the three events of the magi, the baptism, and the wedding feast of Cana as a unified whole showing forth the scope of Christ’s self-revealing. The best summary of it is in the antiphon for the Benedictus at Lauds:

Today the Bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed her sins away in Jordan’s waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the wedding guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia.

Time and space collapse here into one event, one great outpouring of love and joy as Christ weds himself to all humanity personified in the Church, an act of union that is filled with the joy of the Spirit.
This is a feast that in Madonna House is surrounded by customs and traditions. It is a rich, rich feast. 

After our Sunday liturgy, celebrated with as much beauty and joy as we can muster, we gather for brunch. On the table are sweet breads baked to resemble crowns. The ‘king’s bread’, besides being tasty, contains a surprise.

There are three coins hidden somewhere in the breads distributed among the tables. When one of the coins is found, that person is ‘king.’ But in Madonna House we know that a king is called to be a servant to the people, and so the three people who find the coins express their kingship by spending a hour in adoration praying for the community.

At supper that night we have the blessing of the door lintels. Chalk is blessed by a priest, and special prayers are said, and then the main door lintel of our dining room is marked with the following: 20 + C + B + M + 14. The year, the crosses, and the letters CBM, which alternately refer to the traditional names of the three kings Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior, or to the Latin Christus Benedicit Mansiorum: Christ, bless this house.

Chalk is taken away by the various houseparents and department heads and virtually every doorway in MH is marked with the Epiphany blessing. A simple custom, but how deep in meaning it is! The wise men were on a journey to Bethlehem, to see the child. It was a journey to truth, and to adoration. When we bless the doors of our house we are asking that every journey we take, whether it is across the country or the world or the yard, be a similar journey—that we seek Christ in all our comings and goings, and that the end of each journey be adoration of the Child.

We’re not done with Epiphany customs yet, though. Next, the kings themselves come to visit us—three of our guests dressed up in royal regalia. Having left their gifts at the manger, they bring us gifts from the Christ Child—each of us receives a word on a little slip of paper appropriately decorated in some Epiphany style, which is to be our word from the Child for this year. It may be a virtue like generosity or meekness, or a spiritual gift like joy or peace or atonement, or something along those lines.

Personally I have always found these little gifts to be very meaningful, a genuine gift from the Child to me that has proved quite relevant in the year following. So that’s our Epiphany here, folks. We join you in rejoicing in the feast and celebrating it. Don’t forget to do something fun today, in honor of the wise men and the revelation of God.

Meanwhile I am travelling this week down to Long Island NY to give a retreat to seminarians down there. I hope to keep up the blog, but if I disappear, that’s why. And if so, God bless you and I will talk to you next week again.


  1. I miss everything just now.
    Pick a word for me, would you?

    1. Alas, I ended up, shortly after writing the above post, going down sick for the day and as a result missed all of the customs this year. Meanwhile I'm flying down to New York today to give a retreat to seminarians and still feeling pretty marginal, so a few prayers would be appreciated. (Typing this in the Ottawa airport). So, sorry I wasn't able to pick a gift for you!

    2. Well, actually, praying for the sick is my specialty! Praying!
      Bless you.


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