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Three Kings from Persian Lands Afar

A meditation for Epiphany from Holy Name Church, Manchester, led by Father Brendan Callaghan. The preacher is Father William Pearsall. With the Kantos Chamber Choir.

A Meditation for Epiphany from Holy Name Church in Manchester's student district

Live from Holy Name Church in Manchester's busy student district, reflecting on the universality of the Christian message at the start of the season of Epiphany. Hymns include 'As with gladness men of old' and 'Hail Redeemer, King Divine!' alongside carols for choir including Cornelius' 'The Three Kings' and Thomas Hewitt Jones' 'What child is this?'. The service is led by Father Brendan Callaghan and the preacher is Father William Pearsall. The Kantos Chamber Choir is directed by Ellie Slorach with organist Simon Leach.

Producer: Andrew Earis.

38 minutes

Last on

Sun 7 Jan 2018 08:10


This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.
It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events.

BBC Radio 4. It’s ten past eight and time for Sunday Worship, which is a celebration of Epiphany and comes live from the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus in Manchester. The service is led by Father William Pearsall and begins as the choir sings the Epiphany plainsong Ecce Advenit, Behold the Lord the Ruler is come.

Choir: Ecce Advenit – Plainsong (part 1)

Ecce advenit dominator Dominus: et regnum in manu ejus, et potestas, et imperium.

Welcome – Fr William
Good morning and welcome to Manchester! Resembling a small cathedral, this splendid church was once the heart of a thriving Catholic parish. It is now part of an equally thriving chaplaincy which serves the surrounding university complex and one of the largest student populations in Europe. Most of our students are still away on their Christmas break, but we are happy to celebrate with you the Feast of the Epiphany.

Choir: Ecce Advenit – Plainsong (part 2)
Deus, judicium tuum regi da: et justitiam tuam Filio regis.
Ecce advenit dominator Dominus: et regnum in manu ejus, et potestas, et imperium.

Fr William
Epiphany means revelation or manifestation. On this day, traditionally the twelfth day of Christmas, we remember the coming of the wise men from the east and the homage they pay to the infant Jesus. In this event the Messiah, long-awaited by God’s chosen people, is shown to be God’s gift to all the nations. The wise men are foreigners. They have followed a star. They come with gifts. Their journey has been long. They reach their destination with gladness.

Hymn: As with gladness men of old

Confession– Fr William
As we kneel before the Christ child, we recognise our need for this divine presence in our world and in our lives. We humbly ask God to change us and to help us find innocence once more.

Lord Jesus, you are mighty God and Prince of Peace. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy
You are the Son of God and the son of Mary. Christ, have mercy. Christ, have mercy
You are the Word made Flesh, the splendour of the Father. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy

May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.

Let us pray: O God, who on this day revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations by the guidance of a star, grant in your mercy that we, who know you already by faith, may one day behold the beauty of your sublime glory. Through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Choir: O nata lux – Tallis

Reading: Isaiah 60.1-6
Arise, shine out, Jerusalem, for your light has come, the glory of the Lord is rising on you,
though night still covers the earth
and darkness the peoples.

Above you the Lord now rises
and above you his glory appears.
The nations come to your light
and kings to your dawning brightness.

Lift up your eyes and look round:
all are assembling and coming towards you,
your sons from far away
and your daughters being tenderly carried.

At this sight you will grow radiant,
your heart throbbing and full;
since the riches of the sea will flow to you,
the wealth of the nations come to you;

camels in throngs will cover you,
and dromedaries of Midian and Ephah;
everyone in Sheba will come,
bringing gold and incense
and singing the praise of the Lord.

The word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm 71

Gospel alleluia

Reading: Matthew 2.1-12

The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 2.
Glory to you, O Lord.

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign
of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. 'Where is the infant king of the Jews?' they asked. 'We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.' When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 'At Bethlehem in Judaea,' they told him, 'for this is what the prophet wrote: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah, for out of you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel.'

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. 'Go and find out all about the child,' he said, 'and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.' Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the start filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ

Homily 1: Fr Brendan
The celebration of the Epiphany – the showing-forth of Emmanuel to the nations – is one of the key moments of the Christmas season. In our English culture it often doesn’t feel like that, but in some countries its importance is marked by the Three Kings being the bearers of presents to children: I remember envying one of my childhood friends, half-English-and-half-Belgian, who having celebrated Christmas in England would cross the Channel and cash in on a second sets of presents.

We celebrate Christmas as a family feast, and the first Christmas itself, the birth in the stable at Bethlehem, might have been simply the coming of “the promised one of Israel’s’ story”. But what is happening today reaches beyond the confines of Bethlehem, beyond any set of borders. The Epiphany requires a new understanding of what it means to be a child of God.

That we are here celebrating at all as followers of Jesus reflects that new understanding, because in the first Christmas story we are not in the cosy inside circle: we are with the Kings, we are among those who had been outsiders, but who are now included among “the people in whom God delights”. That’s true of all of us: the Epiphany is where the breaking down of barriers promised by the prophets really begins, where we are not called strangers but invited to be pilgrims.

And so we celebrate particularly in Epiphany-tide the way in which the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is no respecter of boundaries. The God who is always Emmanuel, God in our midst, reveals God’s presence in all sorts of ways, “churchy” and non-“churchy”, “sacred” and everyday, to help us to hear and to celebrate the fullness of the truth – a fullness and a truth which can still take us by surprise. God’s saving work reaches beyond all our expectations. God’s power breaks down all our barriers. God’s love revealed in this child includes all peoples.

Choir: What child is this? – Thomas Hewitt Jones

Homily 2: Fr Brendan

The King of kings reaches out to us all. Isaiah saw that, and gave it graphic image in the passage we have heard this morning, as he speaks to Jerusalem, the Holy City:
The nations come to your light
…Lift up your eyes and look round:
…all are assembling and coming towards you,
your sons from far away
and your daughters being tenderly carried.

It’s a wonderful vision – just think what a modern film-director could make of it with the special effects at their disposal !  But what we need to catch and to hold onto is that this is an all-inclusive vision: God’s plans reach out to a future for all people.

Five years ago, not that long before he retired, Pope Benedict wrote about the Three Kings, the Wise Men. What was important, he said, was not that they were astronomers, but that

‘They were “wise”… In a way they are the successors of Abraham, who set off on a journey in response to God’s call. In another way they are the successors of Socrates and his habit of questioning above and beyond conventional religion toward the higher truth. In this sense, these figures are forerunners, preparers of the way, seekers after truth, such as we find in every age.”

So you can arrive from a different country, come from a long way off, come with a way of living that maybe seems far too different and “other”: you can come into the presence of Jesus, and know that that is where you belong. So you can find your way to Jesus, your own way, without being a student of the Gospels, without having studied theology or got to grips with all that the different religious authorities have codified and set down; you can be a seeker after truth, an asker of questions; you can be a pilgrim; you can follow a star and be led to the right place – the place where Jesus is waiting for you, not somewhere at the end of a distant journey, but right there in your own life, which is at once the strangest and the most familiar place of all. 

Hymn: O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness

Homily 3: Fr Brendan

“Truth in its beauty, and love in its tenderness…
Trust for our trembling and hope for our fear.”

With the Kings we can bring our own true gifts – however strange and exotic they might seem to some, however “inappropriate” they might be judged according to others – and we can know that they carry our trust and our trembling, our hopes and our fears, and that God (who is the giver of all true gifts, including the ‘inappropriate’ ones) receives and accepts and uses all our gifts as what they have all always been: channels of God’s graceful love.

And more: just as we delight in the gifts that people bring to us, and delight in the people who bring them, so God delights in us and God delights in the gifts that we bring in ourselves.

At the Epiphany, the coming of the Wise Men from the East, the welcoming of people from afar who are revealed as the objects of God’s delight, tells us that there is no-one, no-one in the life of the world who is excluded from the reach of God’s love and God’s delight. The strange and exotic gifts the Wise Men bring tell us that there is nothing, nothing in the life of each one of us that is excluded from the reach of God’s love and God’s delight.

From thinking of ourselves as being in some way strangers, not worthy to be close to the God revealed in Jesus, we now know that we are invited with the Kings to be pilgrims, always welcome to be with God closer and closer, with every single part of our lives open in its own way to making visible the God who loves to be with us – to being an Epiphany.

My master Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, lived in and shared his utter conviction that we can learn to recognise these little epiphanies that are there before us, that we can learn to see the hand of God who is the giver of all gifts, the God to be found in all things.

“The star of mercy, the star of grace, shall lead thy soul to its resting place. … Offer thy heart!”

Choir: The three kings – Cornelius


God has revealed his Son as the light of the world and has offered Himself as a gift to the human family. As we celebrate the coming of this gift into the world, we pray for the needs of the world around us and for our own needs.

For the nations of the world: may leaders and legislators be guided by the star of justice; may those who take part in public life work for the common good and not for personal gain. Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

For the Christian Church: may the Church reveal the face of Christ to the world – above all, his love and compassion; may Christians be known for the welcome they extend to the stranger and for the generosity of their service to those in need. Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

For our communities and our families: may the joys of the Christmas season be with us throughout the year; may we grow in love and respect for one another; may we find healing and reconciliation as we renew our Christian faith. Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

For ourselves: we ask God to help us in our particular needs and especially to bring us peace of mind if we are anxious or worried or unhappy in any way; as we look lovingly at the baby Jesus let us place all our trust in the God who cares for us and keeps us safe. Lord, hear us. Lord, graciously hear us.

Introduction to Lord’s Prayer: Fr William
Jesus taught his disciples to pray to God as a loving parent, as a father who provides for his children; as the one who forgives our sins, whose kingdom is among us and whose name is holy. The Lord’s Prayer is the family prayer of Christians throughout the world, prayed every day in every language on earth. Let us open our hearts to God as we pray once more in the words our Saviour gave us:

Choir: Lord’s Prayer (Plainsong)

Blessing: Fr William

The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.

May God pour out his blessing upon you: may He fill your hearts with faith, hope and love; may He make you a light for your sisters and brothers; may He guide you on your journey and reveal Himself to you in all His radiance at your journey’s end. And may the blessing of Almighty God come down on you and remain with you for ever: the Father and the son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Hymn: Hail redeemer king divine (all verses)

Organ voluntary


  • Sun 7 Jan 2018 08:10

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