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Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord 2006

Pope Benedict XVI's Homily at Mass  
- in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The light which, at Christmas,
shone in the night illuminating the grotto of Bethlehem, where Mary, Joseph and the shepherds stayed in silent adoration, today shines out and is manifested to everyone. The Epiphany is the mystery of light, symbolically represented by the star that guided the journey of the Magi. However, the true luminous source, the "sun that rises from on high" (Lk 1, 78), is Christ. In the mystery of Christmas, the light of Christ radiates upon the earth, diffusing as in concentric circles. Foremost upon the Holy Family of Nazareth: the Virgin Mary and Joseph are illuminated by the divine presence of the Child Jesus. The light of the Redeemer is then manifested to the shepherds of Bethlehem, who, informed by an angel, hasten immediately to the grotto and there find the "sign" that had been announced to them: a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger (cf Lk 2, 12). The shepherds, together with Mary and Joseph, represent that "remnant of Israel", the poor, the anawim, to whom the Good News is announced. The radiance of Christ finally reaches the Magi, who constitute the first-fruits of the pagan peoples. The palaces of the power of Jerusalem remain in shadow, where the news of the Messiah's birth is taken, paradoxically, by the Magi themselves, and rouses not joy but fear and hostile reactions. The mysterious divine plan: "the light came into the world, but men preferred the darkness to the light, because their deeds were evil" (Jn 3: 19).

But what is this light? Is it just an evocative metaphor or does this image correspond to a reality? The Apostle John writes in his First Letter: "God is light and in him there is no darkness" (I Jn 1, 5); and further on he adds: "God is love". These two affirmations, taken together, help us better understand: the light, shone forth at Christmas, which today is manifested to the peoples, is the love of God, revealed in the Person of the Verb incarnate. Attracted by this light, the Magi arrived from the East. In the mystery of the Epiphany, therefore, alongside a movement of radiation toward the outside, a movement of attraction is manifested toward the centre, which brings to fulfillment the movement already written about in the Old Covenant. The source of such dynamism is God, One in substance and Three in Persons, who draws to Himself everything and everyone. The Incarnate Person of the Verb is presented thus as the principle of universal reconciliation and recapitulation (cf Eph 1, 9-10). He is the final destination of history, the point of arrival of an "exodus", of a providential pathway of redemption, which culminates in his death and resurrection. This is why, on the Solemnity of the Epiphany, the liturgy foresees the so-called "Announcement of Easter": indeed, the liturgical year sums up the entire parable of the history of salvation, at whose centre is "the Triduum of the Lord, crucified, buried and risen".

In the liturgy of Christmastide, this verse from Psalm 98[97] frequently recurs as a refrain: "The Lord has made known his salvation, in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice" (v 2). They are words that the Church uses to emphasize the "epiphanic" dimension of the Incarnation: the Son of God became man, his entry into history is the culminating moment of God's self-revelation to Israel and to all the peoples. In the Child of Bethlehem God has revealed himself in the humility of "human form", in the "condition of a slave", indeed of one crucified (cf Phil 2, 6-8). It is the Christian paradox. It is precisely this concealment which constitutes the most eloquent "manifestation" of God: the humility, poverty, the very ignominy of the Passion makes us know how God truly is. The face of the Son faithfully reveals that of the Father. This is why the mystery of Christmas is all, so to speak, an "epiphany". The manifestation to the Magi does not add something extraneous to God's plan, but reveals a perennial and constitutive dimension, that is "the Gentiles are called, in Christ Jesus, to participate in the same inheritance, to form the same body, and to be participants in the promise through the Gospel" (Eph 3, 6).

At a superficial glance, God's faithfulness to Israel and his manifestation to the peoples may appear to have divergent aspects; in reality, they are two sides of the same coin. In fact, according to the Scriptures, it is precisely by remaining faithful to his pact of love with the people of Israel that God also reveals his glory to other peoples. "Grace and faithfulness" (Ps 88, 2), "mercy and truth" (Ps 84, 11), are the content of God's glory, they are his "name", destined to be known and sanctified by men of every language and nation. But this "content" is inseparable from the "method" that God has chosen to reveal himself, which is absolute faithfulness to the covenant, which reaches its culmination in Christ. The Lord Jesus is, at the same time and inseparably, "the light to illuminate the peoples and the glory of his people Israel" (Lk 2, 32), as the elderly Simeon, inspired by God, exclaimed taking the Child in his arms, when the parents presented him at the temple. The light that illuminates the peoples - the light of the Epiphany - emanates from the glory of Israel - the glory of the Messiah born, according to the Scriptures, in Bethlehem, "the city of David" (Lk 2, 4). The Magi worshipped a simple Child in the arms of his Mother Mary, because in Him they recognized the source of the double light that had guided them: the light of the star and the light of the Scriptures. They recognized in Him the King of the Jews, the glory of Israel, but also the King of all the peoples.

In the liturgical context of the Epiphany, the mystery of the Church and her missionary dimension is also manifested. She is called to make the light of Christ shine in the world, reflecting it in herself as the moon reflects the light of the sun. In the Church the ancient prophecies referring to the holy city of Jerusalem have found their fulfillment, like the wonderful one in Isaiah that we have just heard: "Arise, clothed in light, because your light has come.... The peoples shall walk by your light, the kings by the splendour of your rising" (Is 60, 1-3). The disciples of Christ must realize this: trained by Him to live in the style of the Beatitudes, through their witness of love they must attract all men to God: "Thus let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Mt 5, 16). By listening to these words of Jesus, we, members of the Church, cannot not/but be alert to the total inadequacy of our human condition, marked by sin. The Church is holy, but made up of men and women with their limitations and errors. It is Christ, Him alone, who in giving us the Holy Spirit can transform our misery and renew us constantly. He is the light of the peoples, lumen gentium, who has chosen to illuminate the world through his Church (cf Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, 1).

"How can this come about?", we also ask ourselves with the words that the Virgin addressed to the archangel Gabriel. And she herself, the Mother of Christ and of the Church, gives us the answer: with her example of total availability to will of God - "fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum" (Lk 1: 38) - She teaches us to be an "epiphany" of the Lord, in opening our hearts to the strength of grace and in faithful adherence to the word of her Son, light of the world and the final goal of history. So be it!"

Papa Benedetto's words at the Angelus in St Peter's Square
- in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today we are celebrating the Epiphany of the Lord, that is, his manifestation to the peoples, represented by the Magi, mysterious figures who came from the East of whom the Gospel of St Matthew speaks (Mt 2: 1-12). The adoration of Jesus by the Magi was immediately recognized as the fulfilment of the prophetic Scriptures. "Nations shall walk by your light", we read in the Book of Isaiah, "and kings by your shining radiance... bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord" (Is 60: 3, 6). Today, the light of Christ, which was as it were contained in the Grotto of Bethlehem, reaches its full universal importance. My thoughts go in particular to the beloved brothers and sisters of the Eastern Churches which, in line with the Julian Calendar, will be celebrating Holy Christmas tomorrow:  I address my most cordial good wishes to them for peace and good in the Lord.

Today, the memory of World Youth Day spontaneously springs to mind. Many of you were there last August when more than a million young people came to Cologne, who had taken as their motto the words of the Magi referring to Jesus:  "We have come to worship him" (Mt 2: 2). How often we have heard and repeated these words! We cannot hear them now without returning in spirit to that memorable event which was an authentic "epiphany". Indeed, in its deepest dimension, the youth pilgrimage can be seen as a journey guided by the light of a "star", the star of faith. And today, I would like to extend to the whole Church the message I proposed at the time to the young people gathered on the banks of the Rhine:  "Open wide your hearts to God!", I said to them, and today I repeat to all of you, "Let yourselves be surprised by Christ!... Open the doors of your freedom to his merciful love! Share your joys and pains with Christ, and let him enlighten your minds with his light and touch your hearts with his grace" (Address, Welcome Celebration, Poller Rheinwiesen Wharf, Cologne, 18 August 2005; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 24 August, p. 4).

I wish that the whole Church, as in Cologne, could breathe the atmosphere of an "epiphany" and of authentic missionary commitment, inspired by the manifestation of Christ, the light of the world, sent by God the Father to reconcile and unify humanity with the power of love. In this spirit, let us pray fervently for the full unity of all Christians, so that their witness may become a leaven of communion for the whole world. For this, let us invoke the intercession of Mary Most Holy, Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church."

After the Angelus

"Cari amici,
Nella festa dell'Epifania si celebra la Giornata Missionaria dei Bambini, istituita dal Papa Pio XII, di venerata memoria. Con il motto "I bambini aiutano i bambini", migliaia di iniziative di solidarietà vengono sostenute dalla Pontificia Opera dell'Infanzia Missionaria, educando i ragazzi a crescere con uno spirito di apertura al mondo e di attenzione alle difficoltà dei loro coetanei più svantaggiati. Anch'io, per il mio ministero, conto sulla preghiera dei bambini, e vedo che conto giustamente, e sulla loro attiva partecipazione alla missione della Chiesa.

Chers pèlerins francophones, en ce jour de l’Épiphanie, je vous invite à adorer le Christ comme les Mages, afin de vous laisser transformer par lui et de repartir vers vos frères pour en rendre témoignage, par des chemins nouveaux. Avec mes vœux de sainte année et mon affectueuse Bénédiction.

I greet all the English-speaking visitors present at this Angelus. The Epiphany of Our Lord is the manifestation of Jesus as the divine Saviour for people of all races and nations. May Christians everywhere deepen their personal communion with Christ, and bear constant witness to the Gospel of God’s universal love!

Sehr herzlich grüße ich die Pilger aus dem deutschen Sprachraum. Im Kind in der Krippe haben die Weisen aus dem Morgenland den Herrn gefunden. Der Stern von Bethlehem führe auch euch zu Christus, dem Erlöser aller Menschen und Völker. Bringt Ihm eure Gaben und euch selbst dar! Er wird euch mit seiner Gnade reich beschenken. - Einen frohen und gesegneten Festtag!

Me es grato saludar cordialmente a los fieles de lengua española que participan en la oración del Ángelus. En esta solemnidad de la Epifanía la liturgia nos invita a adorar a Jesús, como hicieron los Magos de Oriente, por ser el Señor de todos los pueblos, y ofrecerle el regalo más preciado: nuestra entrega a Él y el amor a nuestros hermanos. ¡Feliz fiesta para todos!

Pozdrawiam wszystkich Polaków. Boże światło, które prowadziło mędrców do Chrystusa niech stale wam towarzyszy. Niech Bóg wam błogosławi!

Saluto i pellegrini di lingua italiana, auguri in particolare ai giovani del Movimento "Tra Noi", come pure ai ragazzi di Gioventù Studentesca di Milano, che concludono con questa visita il cammino di fede sulle orme di San Benedetto. Ecco, siamo tutti su questo cammino. Saluto, inoltre, gli amici della Fraterna Domus, i ragazzi del gruppo "I Cavalieri di Sobieski" e i partecipanti al corteo storico-folcloristico dedicato quest'anno alle tradizioni di Cascia e della Valnerina. Auguro a tutti una buona festa dell'Epifania. "

BXVI - Friday, 6 January 2006 - © Copyright 2006 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana