Christmas Visit -- Bishop O'Connell and clergy from St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan, celebrate a Mass for the Feast of the Epiphany Jan. 7 in the parish church. Bishop O'Connell was principal celebrant of the Mass and homilist. Mike Ehrmann photos

Christmas Visit -- Bishop O'Connell and clergy from St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan, celebrate a Mass for the Feast of the Epiphany Jan. 7 in the parish church. Bishop O'Connell was principal celebrant of the Mass and homilist. Mike Ehrmann photos

By Lois Rogers | Correspondent

In the back of St. Thomas More Church, behind hundreds of faithful, Diana Saverino sat transfixed in the glow of the Feast of the Epiphany.

Calling it a Mass to cherish, the parishioner of 25 years was moved by the Manalapan church that was illuminated by thousands of lights and bathed in soaring music and the reverence of the homily, given by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

“[It was the] uplifting homily from the Bishop that really placed Christ in our lives, in our church,” she said.

Photo Gallery: Bishop celebrates Mass for Epiphany in Manalapan

A church full of faithful gathered Jan. 7 as Bishop O’Connell celebrated Mass commemorating God’s manifestation to all nations. Concelebrating were Father Mark W. Crane, parish pastor, and Msgr. Peter Kochery and Father John Large, parochial vicars.

Bishop O’Connell’s homily, with its insight on the journey of the magi who followed the star to the infant Jesus and bestowed portentous gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh upon him and his mother, called the near future of Lent and Easter to mind.

“The star, the magi, the gifts for the Child – these were and are the revelation and the manifestation of God that the Messiah, the Christ foretold by the prophets, had arrived in Bethlehem ‘since’ as Isaiah foretold, ‘from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel,’” he said.

Throughout history, he noted, wise men have debated the Scriptural details of the Christmas and Epiphany accounts in the Gospels and “still do, but our deeper faith in the promised Messiah of God and the whole of his life from Bethlehem onward to the foot of the Cross and every moment between and after are the foundation for Christianity.”

More important than the “story line of these accounts is the interpretation that we hold sacred and true: Christ has come, Christ has walked among us, Christ has delivered us from Sin, Christ, the ‘Word made Flesh’ has mingled his divinity with our humanity and, in so doing, has shown us the way to authentic human life here on earth and eternal life in heaven,” Bishop O’Connell said.

“As the Christmas season comes to its conclusion tomorrow with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, as Christians, we still proclaim and sing, ‘O come let us adore him,’” he concluded.

That call to adoration was evidenced as Bishop O’Connell blessed a new relief of Jesus, the Lamb of God, that adorns the wall on the right side of the sanctuary.

In remarks before the blessing ceremony, Father Crane explained how the work had been commissioned from the Demetz Art Studio, Ortisei, Italy, to replace tapestries that had become worn over the years.

The carving, which arrived in early December, is a reverent image of Jesus, Father Crane said, one that opens a window on the “deep Mystery of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

As the Mass concluded, the church’s gathering space became a whirlwind of activity as Bishop O’Connell visited with parishioners and members of the parish youth group busily handed out what they called Epiphany kits.

The youth spent part of their Christmas break creating the kits so parishioners could follow the ancient Epiphany tradition of blessing their homes for the new year, said Ann Marie Enge, one of the ministry leaders of Teen BLAST, which stands for Belonging Learning Serving Together.

Each kit contained a small piece of chalk and instructions on how to write the traditional formula on the entryway to one’s home. Also included were prayers for blessings rooms of a house and a small vial of holy water.

Enge said that during Advent, the group of about 35 youth had been looking at ways to give back to the parish and focus on Advent and Christmas as a season. Making Epiphany kits emerged as a great project for keeping that focus, said her three children, Mary Grace and Christopher, 14, and Nicholas, 12.

All active in youth ministry, they agreed that the kits were a way of sharing the message that Christmas lingers beyond Dec. 25. “It’s nice to show that it lasts for days,” Mary Grace said.