Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh
Double of the First Class Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord
Comprehensive Catholic Commentary
Fr. George Leo Haydock
Editor's Note: This special feature, provided by John Gregory with the Haydock Commentary found at the bottom of each page of the Douay-Rheims Bible, With the type so small in most bibles, we publish it here in larger type in conjunction with the Epistle and Gospel for the Sunday Mass provided by John Gregory with the cogent comprehensive Catholic Commentary penned by Father George Leo Haydock on the Douay-Rheims version of the New Testament. The commentary for the Double of the First Class Feast of the Epiphany shows the fullfillment of the Prophet Isaias that "Gentiles shall walk in Thy light, and kings in the brightness of Thy rising" while "bringing gold and frankincense: and shewing forth praise to the Lord." This is carried out, as we see, in the Gospel of St. Matthew that they were indeed non-Jewish kings from the East, who honored the newborn King with "gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh."
Epistle: Isaias 60: 1-6
Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
Commentary on Verse l O Jerusalem, is not in Hebrew or Saint Jerome, but in the Septuagint. Some few things may refer to the terrestrial Jerusalem, though the prophet speaks chiefly of the celestial and of the Church. – Lord, very great. Christ came to save us. (Calmet) – God prevents by His grace, but man must cooperate to be justified. (Worthington)
For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.
Commentary on Verse 2 People. Babylon shall suffer, while thou art relieved. (Calmet) – The Gentiles continue in darkness till they embrace the faith, verse 3. (Haydock) – Only those who are in the Church receive the light of truth. (Worthington)
And the Gentiles shall walk in Thy light, and kings in the brightness of Thy rising.
Commentary on Verse 3 Rising. The three wise men were the first.
Lift up thy eyes round about, and see: all these are gathered together, they are come to thee: thy sons shall come from afar, and thy daughters shall rise up at thy side.
Commentary on Verse 4 Rise up. Saint Jerome, “suck,” as the Hebrew may imply. (Calmet) – Septuagint, “shall be carried on the shoulders.” (Haydock) – This may refer to the captives and to the Church.
Then shalt thou see, and abound, and thy heart shall wonder and be enlarged, when the multitude of the sea shall be converted to thee, the strength of the Gentiles shall come to thee.
Commentary on Verse 5 Wonder. Hebrew and Septuagint in Saint Jerome, “fear.” This sensation is often mixed with joy, Matthew 28: 8. – Thee. No such nations joined the Jews, as they did the Church.
The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Madian and Epha: all they from Saba shall come, bringing gold and frankincense: and shewing forth praise to the Lord.
Commentary on Verse 6 Epha. Abraham’s grandson, who dwelt near his father, Madian, in Arabia, which was famous for camels. (Calmet) – Saba. India mittit ebur, molles sua thura Sabaei? (Geor. i.) – The Arabians embraced the gospel, but never brought their treasures to Jerusalem. (Calmet) – The three kings came on swift beasts to adore Christ, and fulfilled His prophecy, Matthew 2. (Worthington)
Gospel: St. Matthew 2: 1-12
1 When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the
days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem.
Commentary on Verse 1 King Herod the Great, surnamed Ascalonite, was a foreigner, but a
proselyte to the Jewish religion. Saint Jerome – This city is called Bethlehem
of Juda, to distinguish it from another Bethlehem, which was situated in the
division of the tribe of Zabulon. (Haydock) Wise men. Both the Latin
and the Greek text may signify wise philosophers and astronomers, which is the
common exposition. The same word is also many times taken for a magician or
soothsayer, as it is applied to Simon, (Acts 8: 9) and to Elymas, (Acts 8: 6
& 8) Some ancient interpreters think these very men might have been
magicians before their conversion. See Cornelius a Lapide, & c. – From
the east. Some say from Arabia, other from Chaldea, others from Persia. Divers interpreters speak of them as if they had been kings, princes, or lords of
some small territories. (See Baron. An. i. sect. 29. Tillemont, note 12. on
Jesus Christ) The number of these wise men is uncertain. Saint Leo, in his
sermons on the Epiphany, speaks of them as if they had been three, perhaps on
account of their three-fold offerings. What is mentioned in later writers as
their names, is still of less authority, as Bollandus observed. There are also
very different opinions as to the time that the star appeared to these wise
men, whether before Christ’s birth, or about the very time He was born, which
seems more probable. The interpreters are again divided as to the year, and
day of the year, when they arrived at Bethlehem, and adored the Saviour of the
world. Some think not till two years after Christ’s birth. (See Saint
Epiphanius haer. 30 number 29 page 134) And Saint Jerome puts the massacre of
the Holy Innocents about that time in his chronicle. But taking it for granted
that the wise men came to Jerusalem and to Bethlehem the same year that Christ
was born, it is not certain on what day of the year they adored Him at Bethlehem. It is true the Latin Church, ever since the 4th or 5th age,
has kept the feast of the Epiphany on the 6th day of January. But
when it is said in that day’s office, This day a star led the wise men to
the manger, it may bear this sense only, this day we keep the remembrance
of it; especially since we read in a sermon of Saint Maximus (appointed to be
read in the Roman Breviary on the 5th day within the octave of the
Epiphany) these words: What happened on this day, He knows that wrought it;
whatever it was, we cannot doubt it was done in favour of us. The wise men,
by the 11th verse, found Jesus at Bethlehem, where His blessed
mother was to remain forty days, till the time of her purification was
expired. And it seemed most probable that the wise men came to Bethlehem about
that time, rather than within thirteen days after Christ’s birth: for had they
come so soon after Christ was born, and been directed to go, and make diligent
inquiry at Bethlehem, which was not above five miles from Jerusalem, it can
scarcely be imagined that so suspicious and jealous a prince as Herod was,
would have waited almost a month for their return without searching for the
new-born king. But it is likely, being again alarmed by what happened when
Jesus was presented in the temple at His Mother’s purification, he thereupon
gave those cruel and barbarous orders for the massacre of those innocent
2 Saying, Where is He that is born king of the Jews? For we
have seen His star in the east, and are come to adore Him.
Commentary on Verse 2
We have seen His star. They knew it to be His star, either by some
prophecy among them, or by divine revelation. This star was some lightsome
body in the air, which at last seemed to point to them the very place where the
world’s Redeemer lay. We know not whether it guided them during the whole
course of their journey from the East to Jerusalem. We
read nothing more in the gospel, but that it appeared to them in the East, and
that they saw it again, upon their leaving Jerusalem to go to Bethlehem. (Witham)
– The wise men, in the Syrian tongue maguscha, are supposed to have come from
Stony Arabia, near the Euphrates. They might have preserved in this country
the remembrance of the prophecy of Balaam, which had announced the coming of
the Messias by the emblem of a star, (Numbers 24: 17) which was to arise from
Jacob. The star which appeared then, was the symbol of the star which Balaam
had predicted. (Haydock)
3 And king Herod hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
Commentary on Verse 3 Through fear of losing his kingdom, he being a foreigner, and had
obtained the sovereignty by violence. But why was all Jerusalem to be alarmed
at the news of a king so long and so ardently expected? 1. Because the people,
well acquainted with the cruelty of Herod, feared a more galling slavery. 2.
Through apprehension of riots, and of a revolution, which could not be effected
without bloodshed, as the Romans had such strong hold. They had also been so
worn down with perpetual wars, that the most miserable servitude, with peace,
was to the Jews an object rather of envy than deprecation. (Haydock)
4 And assembling together all the chief priests and the
scribes of the people, he inquired of them where Christ should be born.
5 But they said to him: In Bethlehem of
Juda. For so it is written by the prophet:
6 And thou Bethlehem
the land of Juda art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee
shall come forth the captain that shall rule my people Israel.
Commentary on Verse 6 And thou Bethlehem, & c. This was a clear prophecy concerning the Messias, foretold by
Micheas; (5: 2) yet the words which we read in the evangelist are not quite the
same as we find in the prophet, either according to the Hebrew or to the Greek
text of the Septuagint. The chief difference is, that in the prophet we read:
And thou Bethlehem art little; but in the evangelist, thou art not
the least. Some answer that the words of the prophet are to be expounded
by way of an interrogation, art thou little? Saint Jerome’s observation
seems to clear this point: he tells us, that the Jewish priests, who were
consulted, gave Herod the sense, and not the very words of the prophet; and the
evangelist, as an historian, relates to us the words of these priests to Herod,
not the very words of the prophet. (Witham) – The testimony of the chief
priests proves that this text of Micheas was even then generally applied to the
Messias, and that to Him alone it must be referred according to the letter.
7 Then Herod, privately calling the wise men, learned
diligently of them the time of the star which appeared to them;
8 And sending them into Bethlehem, said:
Go and diligently inquire after the child, and when you have found Him, bring
me word again, that I also may come to adore Him.
9 Who having heard the king, went their way; and behold the
star which they had seen in the east, went before them, until it came and stood
over where the child was.
10 And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great
11 And entering into the house, they found the child with
Mary His mother, and falling down they adored Him; and opening their treasures,
they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Commentary on Verse 12 And going into the house. Several of the Fathers in their homilies, represent
the wise men adoring Jesus in the stable, and in the manger. Yet
others, with Saint Chrysostom take notice, that before their arrival, Jesus
might be removed into some little house in Bethlehem. – Prostrating themselves,
or falling down, they adored Him, not with a civil worship only, but
enlightened by divine inspiration, they worshipped and adored Him as their
Saviour and their God. – Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Divers of the
ancient Fathers take notice of the mystical signification of these offerings;
that by gold was signified the tribute they paid to Him, as to their king;
by incense, that He was God; and by myrrh, (with which
dead bodies used to be embalmed) that now He was also become a mortal man. (See
Saint Ambrose lib. 2. in Luc. Chapter 2; Saint Gregory & c) (Witham) – The Church
sings, “hodie stella Magos duxit ad praesepium,” but it is not probable that
the blessed Virgin should remain so long in the open stable, and the less so,
because the multitude, who hindered Joseph from finding accommodations either
among his relatives or in the public caravansaries, had returned to their own
homes. (Estius) – They adored Him. Therefore, in the Eucharist also,
Christ is to be adored. For it is of no consequence under what appearance He
is pleased to give Himself to us, whether that of a perfect man, a speechless
child as here, or under the appearance of bread and wine, provided it is
evident that He is there; for in whatever manner or place He appears, He is
true God, and for that alone He is to be adored. Frivolous is the objection of
certain sectarists, that Christ does not give Himself to us in the blessed Eucharist
to be adored, but to be eaten. For Christ was not in Bethlehem, nor did He
descend from heaven to be adored: He tells us in the 20th chapter
of Matthew, verse 28, that the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto,
but to minister; yet He was adored on earth, even while He was in His
mortal state, by the magi, by His disciples, by the blind man that was cured of
His blindness, & c. & c. “Let us imitate the magi. Thou seest Him not
now in the crib, but on the altar; not a woman holding Him, but the priest
present, and the Holy Ghost poured out abundantly upon the sacrifice.” (Saint
Chrysostom, homily 24. in 1 Cor.; Homily 7 de Sancto Philog.)