Thursday, January 7, 2010

Gifts of Glory

The hymn for Lauds in the older Roman Catholic breviary proclaims:

See, the eastern kings appear;
See them bend to offer their gifts :
Gifts of incense, gold and myrrh --
Solemn things of mystic meaning!
Incense discloses the God;
Gold proclaims a royal Child;
Myrrh foreshows a future tomb.

Pope Gregory the Great, commenting on the gifts, notes that gold is fitting for a king; incense is offered to a God; and with myrrh the dead are embalmed. "By their mystic gifts the Magi, therefore, reveal the nature of Him whom they adore; to their King they offer gold; to their God they present incense; and to One dedicated to death, myrrh..." He goes on to encourage his hearers to resolve to offer Christ, who reigns over earth and heaven, the gold of faith. Our gift of incense is the belief that the One who is God from eternity appeared to us in our time and space. And we should offer Christ our myrrh, our own sacrifice, in token of our recognition and gratitude that the One who couldn't suffer in his Godhead yet died for us in our very human nature with which he was incarnated.

Gregory continues: "Other interpretations, too, may be attached to the gifts the Magi brought. Gold often denotes wisdom, as Solomon implied when he said: 'A most desirable treasure reposes in the mouth of the wise.' Frankincense, which is burnt in honor of God, may be associated with the virtue of habitual prayer, as is evident from the psalmist's words: 'Let my prayer, O Lord, come like incense before You.' And myrrh symbolizes well the mortification of our flesh. Therefore, Holy Church says of her valiant servants who struggle in God's service unto death: 'From my hands trickles myrrh.'"

O God, by the leading of a star
you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth:
Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence,
where we may see your glory face to face...

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