Gifts of the Magi


A meditation for the Feast of Epiphany

With Saint Thomas Aquinas

“Opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matth. II, 11.)

Ever since the birth of Christ, and perhaps before the Saviour’s birth, gold was considered precious and as something greatly to be prized.  St. Matthew (II, 11) tells us of the wise men who offered the Saviour gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  “Entering into the house, they found the Child with Mary, His Mother, and falling down they adored Him.  Opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

In a spiritual sense gold means heavenly wisdom.  The wise men were called wise because they followed the star, found the Saviour, gave Him their gold (in place of hoarding if), for they recognized Jesus as the Giver of all good gifts and realized that whatever good things they had were from God.  To recognize that important fact and to appreciate it is the highest wisdom and more precious to us than gold and silver.

— The Magi also brought frankincense to the Crib of Bethlehem and offered it to the world’s Redeemer.  Frankincense is a fragrant inflammable resin, burnt as incense, producing a sweet smelling odor.  In the spiritual order it signifies a devout prayer.  Hence King David, the royal Psalmist says, “O Lord, hear my voice, and let my prayer be directed as incense in Thy sight.” (Ps. CXL, 2.)  To have our prayers thus directed to God, they must be fervent and inflamed with the fire of charity.

— Myrrh is the aromatic gummy resin of Balsamodendron.    Myrrh that grows in Arabia and Abyssinia and is of an agreeable or spicy nature.  By Myrrh, in the spiritual sense, is understood the mortification of the flesh (so much needed in this age of luxury, ease and up-to-date comfort).  Wherefore, we read in Canticles (V, 5) “I arose up to open to My Beloved.  My hands dropped with myrrh and my fingers were full of the choicest myrrh.”  In these words the Church mystically describes Christ to those who know Him not, that is, to infidels; in order to convert them to the true faith.

By the visible things namely, gold, frankincense and myrrh when considered in a spiritual manner, we rise to a knowledge of the invisible things of God; and only then do we realize how much we need heavenly wisdom, devout prayer and mortification of the flesh. These three are the spiritual gold of the human soul.

(The Humanity of Christ.)

(From: Saint Thomas Meditations for every day, by Fr E.C. McEnery O.P., Columbus [Ohio], Long’s College book company, 1951)