It’s time to follow the light.
This Sunday we celebrate Epiphany. This great feast celebrates the first revelations of God’s glory revealed in Christ. Part of the Epiphany celebration is the visit by the Magi from the East to the Christ Child in Bethlehem.
This Sunday, most of us will sing the familiar carol, “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” and some parishes will even have a procession at the beginning of Mass to commemorate the Three Kings. Children dressed as kings complete with little crowns and carrying a star will come down the aisle and proudly arrive at the manger.
These processions carry on a tradition going to the ninth and tenth centuries. Dramatic presentations, as a way of enhancing the liturgical experience, first with music and then set in plays, developed in church services for special feasts around the ninth century. One of the most popular was called “The Adoration of the Magi.”
In some European countries — such as England and its Star Boys, Germany’s sternsingers and Sweden’s starngossar — groups of children, sometimes choir boys, traveled to houses during the 12 days between Christmas and Epiphany singing carols. These singing performances developed out of the Magi plays and other pageants in church. To this day, star singers visit homes and churches and are treated to special foods and drink. The singers often wear costumes and carry a star on a pole.
Their purpose is to bring song and the light of Christ into the world. Besides singing songs, modern star singers may collect money for children’s charities and perform the traditional Epiphany house blessing tied to the Magi.
Using a piece of blessed chalk, the doorway of the house is marked with the new year and the initials of the three kings: 20+C+M+B+12 (Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar). Besides being the initials of the kings, the C+M+B also refers to the Latin blessing: “Christus mansionem benedicat” or “Christ, bless this house.” Some people give the acrostic a broader meaning and say “Christus mundum benedicat” or “May Christ bless the world.”
Look around at Mass this weekend and see the many ways that the star that signals the light of Christ reveals itself in the church: in candles on the altar, the lights on the Christmas trees, the light over the manger scene, children carrying a star or a glint of light off the chalice.
Christ’s light shines in the dark of winter, just as the star shown in the dark of night drew the Magi to the Christ Child’s manger. During the coming week, remember the star singers, the Magi and the song: “bearing gifts we traverse afar … following yonder star.” The Magi and the star singers lead the way and we must also do our part to lead others to the Light of Christ.
Kasten is an associate editor of The Compass and the author of “Linking Your Beads: The Rosary’s History, Mysteries and Prayers.”