I'll admit, when I was a young'n, I thought "We Three Kings" was a silly song. I mean, it was just about a star, right? After all, since I only knew the chorus, and the first verse:

We three kings of Orient are / Bearing gifts we traverse afar. Field and fountain, moor and mountain, Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of night, Star with royal beauty bright, Westward leading, still proceeding, Guide us to thy perfect Light.

I figured, what a tame song. I kinda wondered what separated this from your standard, pithy 7-11 chorus (seven words, eleven times).

Then, I started singing the whole song:

Born a king on Bethlehem's plain, Gold I bring to crown Him again, King forever, ceasing never Over us all to reign.

Frankincense to offer have I. Incense owns a Deity nigh. Prayer and praising all men raising, Worship Him, God on high.

Myrrh is mine: it's bitter perfume Breaths a life of gathering gloom. Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying, Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.

Glorious now behold Him arise, King and God and Sacrifice. Alleluia, alleluia! Sounds through the earth and skies.

Now, as I read through through this amazingly, deep, insightful sermon of a text - reading the crucifixion into the gifts of the wise men, I'm kinda blown away. In five short verses, we have the entire life story of Jesus, prefigured in the verses.

Given that understanding, then, why is this hymn restricted to Epiphany, and not also pulled out during the Lenten preparation for the cross?

  • And yes, I know this is bordering on rhetorical, but a serious answer making the case for this as a Christmas hymn over a Lenten one is desired. Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 5:28
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    From what I understand, Catholics could not use it in Lenten services because it uses the word "Alleluia". From what little I understand the prohibition on the liturgical use of "Alleluia" fits the mournful tone of Lent. Also, how often are "Christmas texts" preached on outside of the 'Christmas season'? As noted this is such a sermon.
    – user3331
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 14:34
  • @PaulA.Clayton That's actually a pretty good reason, and I know of at least 1 +1 that would garner :) Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 15:00
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    Why does it have to be one or the other, and not both? Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 15:38
  • I'm going to change my question to "also pulled out..." Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 16:26

1 Answer 1


Just noticed this during Mass today (Feast of the Epiphany). After the gospel is read, the proclamation of dates for the movable feasts can be read


So, We Three Kings, although often thought of as a Christmas hymn is really the only popular English Epiphany hymn that I know of. And that event may have taken place 2 years after Jesus' birth for all we know. Anyway, it's a pretty good bridge for the end of the Christmas season to the beginning of Lent.

Oh, and nobody but Lew Wallace is still thinking about the three kings when Lent comes around.

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    I've used Bethlehem Down halfway between Epiphany and Lent in the past, to Peter Warlock's setting as a choir piece (rather than Sting). It's a useful turning-point from one to the other. Commented Jan 6, 2013 at 23:33

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