“Ask a Priest: What About Those Gifts of the Magi?”

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Q: Did the magi in the Gospel really give gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ Child, and what would they have done with it? – S.B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The Gospel says what it says. The gifts would have been especially fitting.

Gold is a gift for a king (in this case the newborn King of Kings). Frankincense is tied to worship of God (the rising smoke symbolizes our prayers going up to the Almighty). Myrrh is an ointment used, among other things, for burial (and thus foreshadows Jesus’ sacrificial death).

One could imagine that these gifts would have been a timely and practical help for the Holy Family.

Perhaps Joseph sold or bartered the gifts in order to pay for the emergency flight into Egypt. “They” – I’ll assume you mean the Holy Family — would have needed resources quickly to enable them to go into exile and care for the Child.

In that case, the gift of the magi would have both served a symbolic function and met a practical need.

To go deeper in the meaning of the biblical passage of the magi, you might want to watch Starlight: An Advent Retreat Guide on the Three Wise Men.

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