Source: Dom Prosper Guéranger, OSB, Advent, ca. 1841, Volume 1, The Liturgical Year, translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B., ca. 1867. London: Stanbrook Abbey, 1918.
I. The History of Advent
II. The Mystery of Advent
III. The Practice of Advent
IV. Christmas Eve
I. The History of Advent
Source: Dom Prosper Guéranger, OSB, Advent, ca. 1841, Volume 1, The Liturgical Year, translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B., ca. 1867. London: Stanbrook Abbey, 1918.
The name Advent 1 is applied, in the Latin Church, to that period of the year, during which the Church requires the faithful to prepare for the celebration of the feast of Christmas, the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. The mystery of that great day had every right to the honour of being prepared for by prayer and works of penance; and, in fact, it is impossible to state, with any certainty, when this season of preparation (which had long been observed before receiving its present name of Advent) was first instituted. It would seem, however, that its observance first began in the west, since it is evident that Advent could not have been looked on as a preparation for the feast of Christmas, until that feast was definitively fixed to the twenty-fifth of December; which was done in the east only towards the close of the fourth century; whereas it is certain that the Church of Rome kept the feast on that day at a much earlier period.
We must look upon Advent in two different lights: first, as a time of preparation, properly so called, for the birth of our Saviour, by works of penance; and secondly, as a series of ecclesiastical Offices drawn up for the same purpose. We find, as far back as the fifth century, the custom of giving exhortations to the people in order to prepare them for the feast of Christmas. We have two sermons of Saint Maximus of Turin on this subject, not to speak of several others which were formerly attributed to St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, but which were probably written by St. Cesarius of Arles. If these documents do not tell us what was the duration and what the exercises of this holy season, they at least show us how ancient was the practice of distinguishing the time of Advent by special sermons. Saint Ivo of Chartres, St. Bernard, and several other doctors of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, have left us set sermons de Adventu Domini, quite distinct from their Sunday homilies on the Gospels of that season. In the capitularia of Charles the Bald, in 846, the bishops admonish that prince not to call them away from their Churches during Lent or Advent, under pretext of affairs of the State or the necessities of war, seeing that they have special duties to fulfill, and particularly that of preaching during those sacred times.
The oldest document in which we find the length and exercises of Advent mentioned with anything like clearness, is a passage in the second book of the History of the Franks by St. Gregory of Tours, where he says that St. Perpetuus, one of his predecessors, who held that see about the year 480, had decreed a fast three times a week, from the feast of St. Martin until Christmas. It would be impossible to decide whether St. Perpetuus, by his regulations, established a new custom, or merely enforced an already existing law. Let us, however, note this interval of forty, or rather of forty-three days, so expressly mentioned, and consecrated to penance, as though it were a second Lent, though less strict and severe than that which precedes Easter.
Later on, we find the ninth canon of the first Council of Macon, held in 582, ordaining that during the same interval between St. Martin's day and Christmas, the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, should be fasting days, and that the Sacrifice should be celebrated according to the lenten rite. Not many years before that, namely in 567, the second Council of Tours had enjoined the monks to fast from the beginning of December till Christmas. This practice of penance soon extended to the whole forty days, even for the laity: and it was commonly called St. Martin's Lent. The capitularia of Charlemagne, in the sixth book, leave us no doubt on the matter; and Rabanus Maurus, in the second book of his Institution of clerics, bears testimony to this observance. There were even special rejoicings made on St. Martin's Feast, just as we see them practised now at the approach of Lent and Easter.
The obligation of observing this Lent, which, though introduced so imperceptibly, had by degrees acquired the force of a sacred law, began to be relaxed, and the forty days from St. Martin's day to Christmas were reduced to four weeks. We have seen that this fast began to be observed first in France; but thence it spread into England, as we find from Venerable Bede's history; into Italy, as appears from a diploma of Astolphus, king of the Lombards, dated 753; into Germany, Spain, &c., of which the proofs may be seen in the learned work of Dom Martène, On the ancient rites of the Church. The first allusion to Advent's being reduced to four weeks is to be found in the ninth century, in a letter of Pope St. Nicholas I to the Bulgarians. The testimony of Ratherius of Verona, and of Abbo of Fleury, both writers of the tenth century, goes also to prove that, even then, the question of reducing the duration of the Advent fast by one-third was seriously entertained. It is true that St. Peter Damian, in the eleventh century, speaks of the Advent fast as still being for forty days; and that St. Louis, two centuries later, kept it for that length of time; but as far as this holy king is concerned, it is, probable that it was only his own devotion which prompted him to this practice.
The discipline of the Churches of the west, after having reduced the time of the Advent fast, so far relented, in a few years, as to change the fast into a simple abstinence; and we even find Councils of the twelfth century, for instance Selingstadt in 1122, and Avranches in 1172, which seem to require only the clergy to observe this abstinence. The Council of Salisbury, held in 1281, would seem to expect none but monks to keep it. On the other hand (for the whole subject is very confused, owing, no doubt, to there never having been any uniformity of discipline regarding it in the western Church), we find Pope Innocent III, in his letter to the bishop of Braga, mentioning the custom of fasting during the whole of Advent, as being at that time observed in Rome; and Durandus, in the same thirteenth century, in his Rational on the Divine Offices, tells us that, in France, fasting was uninterruptedly observed during the whole of that holy time.
This much is certain, that, by degrees, the custom of fasting so far fell into disuse, that when, in 1362, Pope Urban V endeavoured to prevent the total decay of the Advent penance, all he insisted upon was that all the clerics of his court should keep abstinence during Advent, without in any way including others, either clergy or laity, in this law. St. Charles Borromeo also strove to bring back his people of Milan to the spirit, if not to the letter, of ancient; times. In his fourth Council, he enjoins the parish priests to exhort the faithful to go to Communion on the Sundays, at least, of Lent and Advent; and afterwards addressed to the faithful themselves a pastoral letter, in which, after having reminded them of the dispositions wherewith they ought to spend this holy time, he strongly urges them to fast on the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, at least, of each Advent. Finally, Pope Benedict XIV, when archbishop of Bologna, following these illustrious examples, wrote his eleventh Ecclesiastical Institution for the purpose of exciting in the minds of his diocesans the exalted idea which the Christians of former times had of the holy season of Advent, and of removing an erroneous opinion which prevailed in those parts, namely, that Advent concerned religious only and not the laity. He shows them that such an opinion, unless it be limited to the two practices of fasting and abstinence, is, strictly speaking, rash and scandalous, since it cannot be denied that, in the laws and usages of the universal Church, there exist special practices, having for their end to prepare the faithful for the great feast of the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Greek Church still continues to observe the fast of Advent, though with much less rigour than that of Lent. It consists of forty days, beginning with November 14, the day on which this Church keeps the feast of the apostle St. Philip. During this entire period, the people abstain from flesh-meat, butter, milk, and eggs; but they are allowed, which they are not during Lent, fish, oil, and wine. Fasting, in its strict sense, is binding only on seven out of the forty days; and the whole period goes under the name of St. Philip's Lent. The Greeks justify these relaxations by this distinction: that the Lent before Christmas is, so they say, only an institution of the monks, whereas the Lent before Easter is of Apostolic institution.
But, if the exterior practices of penance which formerly sanctified the season of Advent, have been, in the western Church, so gradually relaxed as to have become now quite obsolete except in monasteries, 2 the general character of the liturgy of this holy time has not changed; and it is by zeal in following its spirit, that the faithful will prove their earnestness in preparing for Christmas.
The liturgical form of Advent as it now exists in the Roman Church, has gone through certain modifications. St. Gregory seems to have been the first to draw up the Office for this season, which originally included five Sundays, as is evident from the most ancient sacramentaries of this great Pope. It even appears probable, and the opinion has been adopted by Amalarius of Metz, Berno of Reichnau, Dom Martène, and Benedict XIV, that St. Gregory originated the ecclesiastical precept of Advent, although the custom of devoting a longer or shorter period to a preparation for Christmas has been observed from time immemorial, and the abstinence and fast of this holy season first began in France. St. Gregory therefore fixed, for the Churches of the Latin rite, the form of the Office for this Lent-like season, and sanctioned the fast which had been established, granting a certain latitude to the several Churches as to the manner of its observance.
The sacramentary of St. Gelasius has neither Mass nor Office of preparation for Christmas; the first we meet with are in the Gregorian sacramentary, and, as we just observed, these Masses are five in number. It is remarkable that these Sundays were then counted inversely, that is, the nearest to Christmas was called the first Sunday, and so on with the rest. So far back as the ninth and tenth centuries, these Sundays were reduced to four, as we learn from Amalarius St. Nicholas I, Berno of Reichnau, Ratherius of Verona, &c., and such also is their number in the Gregorian sacramentary of Pamelius, which appears to have been transcribed about this same period. From that time, the Roman Church has always observed this arrangement of Advent, which gives it four weeks, the fourth being that in which Christmas Day falls, unless December 25 be a Sunday. We may therefore consider the present discipline of the observance of Advent as having lasted a thousand years, at least as far as the Church of Rome is concerned; for some of the Churches in France kept up the number of five Sundays as late as the thirteenth century.
The Ambrosian liturgy, even to this day, has six weeks of Advent; so has the Gothic or Mozarabic missal. As regards the Gallican liturgy, the fragments collected by Dom Mabillon give us no information; but it is natural to suppose with this learned man, whose opinion has been confirmed by Dom Martène, that the Church of Gaul adopted, in this as in so many other points, the usages of the Gothic Church, that is to say, that its Advent consisted of six Sundays and six weeks.
With regard to the Greeks, their rubrics for Advent are given in the Menæa, immediately after the Office for November 14. They have no proper Office for Advent, neither do they celebrate during this time the Mass of the Presanctified, as they do in Lent. There are only in the Offices for the Saints, whose feasts occur between November 14 and the Sunday nearest Christmas, frequent allusions to the birth of the Saviour, to the maternity of Mary, to the cave of Bethlehem, &c. On the Sunday preceding Christmas, in order to celebrate the expected coming of the Messias, they keep what they call the feast of the holy fathers, that is the commemoration of the Saints of the old Law. They give the name of Ante-Feast of the Nativity to December 20, 21, 22, and 23; and although they say the Office of several Saints on these four days, yet the mystery of the birth of Jesus pervades the whole liturgy.
Editor's Note: The Feast Day of St. Martin of Tours is November 11.
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II. The Mystery of Advent
Source: Dom Prosper Guéranger, OSB, Advent, ca. 1841, Volume 1, The Liturgical Year, translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B., ca. 1867. London: Stanbrook Abbey, 1918.
If, having described the characteristic features of Advent which distinguish it from the rest of the year, we would penetrate into the profound Mystery which occupies the mind of the Church during this season, we find that the Mystery of this Coming, or Advent, of Jesus is at once simple and threefold. It is simple for it is the one same Son of God that is coming; it is threefold because He comes at three different times and in three different ways.
'In the first coming,' says St. Bernard, 'He comes in the flesh and in weakness; in the second, He comes in spirit and power; in the third, He comes in glory and majesty; and the second coming is the means whereby we pass from the first to the third.' 3
This, then, is the mystery of Advent. Let us now listen to an explanation of this threefold visit of Christ, given to us by Peter of Blois, in his third sermon de Adventu: 'There are three comings of Our Lord; the first in the flesh; the second in the soul; the third at judgment. The first was at midnight according to the words of the Gospel: At Midnight there was a cry made, Lo, the Bridegroom cometh! But this first coming is long since past for Christ has been seen on the earth and has conversed among men. We are now in the second coming, provided only we are such as that He may thus come to us; for He has said that if we love Him, He will come to us and take up His abode with us. So that this second coming is full of uncertainty for us; for who, save the spirit of God, knows them that are of God? They that are raised out of themselves by the desire of heavenly things, know indeed when He comes, but whence He cometh or whither He goeth they know not. As for the third coming, it is most certain that it will be, most uncertain when it will be; for nothing is more sure than death, and nothing less sure than the hour of death. When they shall say, peace and security, says the apostle, then shall sudden destruction come upon them, as the pains upon her that is with child, and they shall not escape. So that the first coming was humble and hidden, the second is mysterious and full of love, the third will be majestic and terrible. In His first coming, Christ was judged by men unjustly; in His second, He renders us just by His grace; in His third, He will judge all things with justice. In His first, a lamb; in His last, a lion; in the one between the two, the tenderest of friends.' 4
The holy Church, therefore, during Advent, awaits in tears and with ardour the arrival of her Jesus in His first coming. For this, she borrows the fervid expressions of the prophets, to which she joins her own supplications. These longings for the Messias expressed by the Church, are not a mere commemoration of the desires of the ancient Jewish people; they have a reality and efficacy of their own, an influence in the great act of God's munificence, whereby He gave us His own Son. From all eternity, the prayers of the ancient Jewish people and the prayers of the Christian Church ascended together to the prescient hearing of God; and it was after the receiving and granting them, that He sent, in the appointed time, that blessed Dew upon the earth, which made it bud forth the Savior.
The Church aspires also to the second coming, the consequence of the first, which consists, as we have just seen, in the visit of the Bridegroom to the bride. This coming takes place, each year, at the feast of Christmas, when the new birth of the Son of God delivers the faithful from that yoke of bondage, under which the enemy would oppress them. 5 The Church, therefore, during Advent, prays that she may be visited by Him who is her Head and her Spouse; visited in her hierarchy; visited in her members, of whom some are living, and some are dead, but may come to life again; visited, lastly, in those who are not in communion with her, and even in the very infidels, that so they may be converted to the true light, which shines even for them. The expressions of the liturgy which the Church makes use of to ask for this loving and invisible coming, are those which she employs when begging for the coming of Jesus in the flesh; for the two visits are for the same object. In vain would the Son of God have come, nineteen hundred years ago, to visit and save mankind, unless He came again for each one of us and at every moment of our lives, bringing to us and cherishing within us that supernatural life, of which He and His holy Spirit are the sole principle.
But this annual visit of the Spouse does not content the Church; she aspires after a third coming which will complete all things by opening the gates of eternity. She has caught up the last words of her Spouse, 'Surely I am coming quickly;' 6 and she cries out to Him, 'Ah! Lord Jesus Come!' 7 She is impatient to be loosed from her present temporal state; she longs for the number of the elect to be filled up, and to see appear, in the clouds of heaven, the sign of her Deliverer and her Spouse. Her desires, expressed by her Advent liturgy, go even as far as this: and here we have the explanation of these words of the beloved disciple in his prophecy: 'The nuptials of the Lamb are come, and His wife hath prepared herself.' 8
But the day of His last coming to her will be a day of terror. The Church frequently trembles at the very thought of that awful judgment, in which all mankind is to be tried. She calls it 'a day of wrath, on which, as David and the Sibyl have foretold, the world will be reduced to ashes; a day of weeping and of fear.' Not that she fears for herself, since she knows that this day will for ever secure for her the crown, as being the bride of Jesus; but her maternal heart is troubled at the thought that, on the same day, so many of her children will be on the left hand of that Judge, and having no share with the elect, will be bound hand and foot, and cast into the darkness, where there shall be everlasting weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is the reason why the Church, in the liturgy of Advent, so frequently speaks of the coming of Christ as a terrible coming, and selects from the Scriptures those passages which are most calculated to awaken a salutary fear in the mind of such of her children as may be sleeping the sleep of sin.
This, then, is the threefold mystery of Advent. The liturgical forms in which it is embodied, are of two kinds: the one consists of prayers, passages from the Bible, and similar formulae, in all of which, words themselves are employed to convey the sentiments which we have been explaining; the other consists of external rites peculiar to this holy time, which by speaking to the outward senses, complete the expressiveness of the chants and words.
First of all, there is the number of the days of Advent. Forty was the number originally adopted by the Church, and it is still maintained in the Ambrosian liturgy, and in the eastern Church. If, at a later period, the Church of Rome, and those which follow her liturgy, have changed the number of days, the same idea is still expressed in the four weeks which have been substituted for the forty days. The new birth of our Redeemer takes place after four weeks, as the first nativity happened after four thousand years, according to the Hebrew and Vulgate chronology.
As in Lent, so likewise during Advent, marriage is not solemnized, lest worldly joy should distract Christians from those serious thoughts wherewith the expected coming of the sovereign Judge ought to inspire them or from that dearly cherished hope which the friends of the Bridegroom 9 have of being soon called to the eternal nuptial-feast.
The people are forcibly reminded of the sadness which fills the heart of the Church, by the sombre colour of the vestments. Excepting on the feasts of the saints, purple is the colour she uses; the deacon does not wear the dalmatic, nor the sub-deacon the tunic. Formerly it was the custom, in some places, to wear black vestments. This mourning of the Church shows how fully she unites herself with those true Israelites of old who, clothed in sack-cloth and ashes, waited for the Messias, and bewailed Sion that she had not her beauty, and 'Juda, that the sceptre had been taken from him, till He should come who was to be sent, the expectation of nations.' 10 It also signifies the works of penance, whereby she prepares for the second coming, full as it is of sweetness and mystery, which is realized in the souls of men, in proportion as they appreciate the tender love of that divine Guest, who has said: 'My delights are to be with the children of men.' 11 It expresses, thirdly, the desolation of this bride who yearns after her Beloved, who is long a-coming. Like the turtle dove, she moans her loneliness, longing for the voice which will say to her: 'Come from Libanus, my bride! come and thou shalt be crowned. Thou has responded to my heart.' 12
The Church also, during Advent, excepting on the feasts of saints, suppresses the angelic canticle, Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonæ voluntatis; for this glorious song was sung at Bethlehem over the crib of the divine Babe; the tongues of the angels are not loosened yet; the Virgin has not yet brought forth her divine Treasure; it is not yet time to sing, it is not even true to say, 'Glory be to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will.'
Again, at the end of Mass, the deacon does not dismiss the assembly of the faithful by the words: Ite missa est. He substitutes the ordinary greeting: Benedicamus Domino! as though the Church feared to interrupt the prayers of the people, which could scarce be too long during these days of expectation.
In the night Office, the holy Church also suspends, on those same days, the hymn of jubilation, Te Deum laudamus.13 It is in deep humility that she awaits the supreme blessing which is to come to her; and, in the interval, she presumes only to ask, and entreat, and hope. But let the glorious hour come, when in the midst of darkest night the Sun of justice will suddenly rise upon the world: then indeed she will resume her hymn of thanksgiving, and all over the face of the earth the silence of midnight will be broken by this shout of enthusiasm: 'We praise Thee, O God! we acknowledge Thee to be our Lord! Thou, O Christ, art the King of glory, the everlasting Son of the Father! Thou being to deliver man didst not disdain the Virgin's womb!'
On the ferial days, the rubrics of Advent prescribe that certain prayers should be said kneeling, at the end of each canonical Hour, and that the choir should also kneel during a considerable portion of the Mass. In this respect, the usages of Advent are precisely the same as those of Lent.
But there is one feature which distinguishes Advent most markedy from Lent: the word of gladness, the joyful Alleluia, is not interrupted during Advent, except once or twice during the ferial Office. It is sung in the Masses of the four Sundays, and vividly contrasts with the sombre colour of the vestments. On one of these Sundays, the third, the prohibitionof using the organ is removed, and we are gladdened by the grand notes, and rose-coloured vestments may be used instead of the purple. These vestiges of joy, thus blended with the holy mournfulness of the Church, tell us, in a most expressive way, that though she unites with the ancient people of God (thus paying the debt which the entire human race owes to the justice and mercy of God), she does not forget that the Emmanuel is already come to her, that He is in her, and that even before she has opened her lips to ask Him to save her, she has already been redeemed and pre-destined to an eternal union with Him. This is the reason why the Alleluia accompanies even her sighs, and why she seems to be at once joyous and sad, waiting for the coming of that holy night which will be brighter to her than the most sunny of days, and on which her joy will expel all her sorrow.
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III. Practice During Advent
If our holy mother the Church spends the time of Advent in this solemn preparation for the threefold coming of Jesus Christ; if, after the example of the prudent virgins, she keeps her lamp lit ready for the coming of the Bridegroom; we, being her members and her children, ought to enter into her spirit, and apply to ourselves this warning of our Saviour: ‘Let your loins be girt, and lamps burning in your hands, and ye yourselves be like unto men who wait for their Lord !' 14 The Church and we have, in reality, the same hopes. Each one of us is, on the part of God, an object of mercy and care, as is the Church herself. If she is the temple of God, it is because she is built of living stones; if she is the bride, it is because she consists of all the souls which are invited to eternal union with God. If it is written that the Saviour hath purchased the Church with His own Blood, 15 may not each one of us say of himself those words of St. Paul, ‘Christ hath loved me, and hath delivered Himself up for me ‘ ? 16 Our destiny being the same, then, as that of the Church, we should endeavour during Advent, to enter into the spirit of preparation, which is, as we have seen, that of the Church herself.
And firstly, it is our duty to join with the saints of the old Law in asking for the Messias, and thus pay the debt which the whole human race owes to the divine mercy. In order to fulfil this duty with fervour, let us go back in thought to those four thousand years, represented by the four weeks of Advent, and reflect on the darkness and crime which filled the world before our Saviour’s coming. Let our hearts be filled with lively gratitude towards Him who saved His creature man from death, and who came down from heaven that He might know our miseries by Himself experiencing them, yes, all of them excepting sin. Let us cry to Him with confidence from the depths of our misery; for, notwithstanding His having saved the work of His hands, He still wishes us to beseech Him to save us. Let therefore our desires and our confidence have their free utterance in the ardent supplications of the ancient prophets, which the Church puts on our lips during these days of expectation; let us give our closest attention to the sentiments which they express.
This first duty complied with, we must next turn our minds to the coming which our Saviour wishes to accomplish in our own hearts. It is, as we have seen, a coming full of sweetness and mystery, and a consequence of the first; for the good Shepherd comes not only to visit the flock in general, but He extends His solicitude to each one of the sheep, even to the hundredth which is lost. Now, in order to appreciate the whole of this ineffable mystery, we must remember that, since we can be pleasing to our heavenly Father only inasmuch as He sees within us His Son Jesus Christ, this amiable Saviour deigns to come into each one of us, and transform us, if we will but consent, into Himself, so that henceforth we may live, not we, but He in us. This is, in reality, the one grand aim of the Christian religion, to make man divine through Jesus Christ: it is the task which God has given to His Church to do, and she says to the faithful what St. Paul said to his Galatians: ‘My little children, of whom I am in labour again, until Christ be formed within you !‘ 17
But as, on His entering into this world, our divine Saviour first showed Himself under the form of a weak Babe, before attaining the fulness of the age of manhood, and this to the end that nothing might be wanting to His sacrifice, so does He intend to do in us; there is to be a progress in His growth within us. Now, it is at the feast of Christmas that He delights to be born in our souls, and that He pours out over the whole Church a grace of being born, to which, however, not all are faithful.
For this glorious solemnity, as often as it comes round, finds three classes of men. The first, and the smallest number, are those who live, in all its plenitude, the life of Jesus who is within them, and aspire incessantly after the increase of this life. The second class of souls is more numerous; they are living, it is true, because Jesus is in them; but they are sick and weakly, because they care not to grow in this divine life their charity has become cold ! 18 The rest of men make up the third division, and are they that have no part of this life in them, and are dead; for Christ has said: ‘I am the Life,’19
Now, during the season of Advent, our Lord knocks at the door of all men’s hearts, at one time so forcibly that they must needs notice Him; at another, so softly that it requires attention to know that Jesus is asking admission. He comes to ask them if they have room for Him, for He wishes to be born in their house. The house indeed is His, for he built it and preserves it; yet He complains that His own refused to receive Him ; 20 at least the greater number did. ‘But as many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God, born not of blood, nor of the flesh, but of God.’ 21
He will be born, then, with more beauty and lustre and might than you have hitherto seen in Him, O ye faithful ones, who hold Him within you as your only treasure, and who have long lived no other life than His, shaping your thoughts and works on the model of His. You will feel the necessity of words to suit and express your love; such words as He delights to hear you speak to Him. You will find them in the holy liturgy.
You, who have had Him within you without knowing Him, and have possessed Him without relishing the sweetness of His presence, open your hearts to welcome Him, this time, with more care and love. He repeats His visit of this year with an untiring tenderness; He has forgotten your past slights; He would ‘that all things be new.' 22 Make room for the divine Infant, for He desires to grow within your soul. The time of His coming is close at hand: let your heart, then, be on the watch; and lest you should slumber when He arrives, watch and pray, yea, sing. The words of the liturgy are intended also for your use: they speak of darkness, which only God can enlighten; of wounds, which only His mercy can heal; of a faintness, which can be braced only by His divine energy.
And you, Christians, for whom the good tidings are as things that are not, because you are dead in sin, lo! He who is very life is coming among you. Yes, whether this death of sin has held you as its slave for long years, or has but freshly inflicted on you the wound which made you its victim, Jesus, your Life, is coming: ‘why, then, will you die? He desireth not the death of the sinner, but rather that he be converted and live,’ 23 The grand feast of His birth will be a day of mercy for the whole world; at least, for all who will give Him admission into their hearts : they will rise to life again in Him, their past life will be destroyed, and where sin abounded, there grace will more abound. 24
But, if the tenderness and the attractiveness of this mysterious coming make no impression on you, because your heart is too weighed down to be able to rise to confidence, and because, having so long drunk sin like water, you know not what it is to long with love for the caresses of a Father whom you have slighted — then turn your thoughts to that other coming, which is full of terror, and is to follow the silent one of grace that is now offered. Think within yourselves, how this earth of ours will tremble at the approach of the dread Judge; how the heavens will flee from before His face, and fold up as a book ; 25 how man will wince under His angry look; how the creature will wither away with fear, as the two-edged sword, which comes from the mouth of his Creator,26 pierces him; and how sinners will cry out, ‘Ye mountains, fall on us! ye rocks, cover us !' 27 Those unhappy souls who would not know the time of their visitation, 28 shall then vainly wish to hide themselves from the face of Jesus. They shut their hearts against this Man-God, who, in His excessive love for them, wept over them: therefore, on the day of judgement they will descend alive into those everlasting fires, whose flame devoureth the earth with her increase, and burneth the foundations of the mountains, 29 The worm that never dieth,30 the useless eternal repentance, will gnaw them for ever.
Let those, then, who are not touched by the tidings of the coming of the heavenly Physician and the good Shepherd who giveth His life for His sheep, meditate during Advent on the awful yet certain truth, that so many render the redemption unavailable to themselves by refusing to co-operate in their own salvation. They may treat the Child who is to be born 31 with disdain; but He is also the mighty God, and do they think they can withstand Him on that day, when He is to come, not to save, as now, but to judge? Would that they knew more of this divine Judge, before whom the very saints tremble! Let these, also, use the liturgy of this season, and they will there learn how much He is to be feared by sinners.
We would not imply by this that only sinners need to fear ; no, every Christian ought to fear. Fear, when there is no nobler sentiment with it, makes man a slave; when it accompanies love, it is a feeling which fills the heart of a child who has offended his father, yet seeks for pardon; when, at length, love casteth out fear, 32 even then this holy fear will sometimes come, and, like a flash of lightning, pervade the deepest recesses of the soul. It does the soul good. She wakes up afresh to a keener sense of her own misery and of the unmerited mercy of her Redeemer. Let no one, therefore, think that he may safely pass his Advent without taking any share in the holy fear which animates the Church, She, though so beloved by God, prays to Him to give her this fear; and in her Office of Sext, she thus cries out to Him: ‘Pierce my flesh with Thy fear.’ It is, however, to those who are beginning a good life, that this part of the Advent liturgy will be peculiarly serviceable.
It is evident, from what we have said, that Advent is a season specially devoted to the exercises of what is called the purgative life, which is implied in that expression of St. John, so continually repeated by the Church during this holy time : Prepare ye the way of the Lord! Let all, therefore, strive earnestly to make straight the path by which Jesus will enter into their souls. Let the just, agreeably to the teaching of the apostle, forget the things that are behind, 33 and labour to acquire fresh merit. Let sinners begin at once and break the chains which now enslave them. Let them give up those bad habits which they have contracted. Let them weaken the flesh, and enter upon the hard work of subjecting it to the spirit. Let them, above all things, pray with the Church. And when our Lord comes, they may hope that He will not pass them by, but that He will enter and dwell within them ; for He spoke of all when He said these words : ‘Behold I stand at the gate and knock: if any man shall hear My voice and open to Me the door, I will come in unto him.' 34
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IV. Christmas Eve
Source: Abbott Prosper Louis Paschal Guéranger, O.S.B., Advent. Vol. 1, The Liturgical Year, London: Stanbrook Abbey, 1918, pp. 506-520. Translation by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B.
' At length,’ says St. Peter Damian, in his sermon for this holy eve, ‘at length we have come from the stormy sea into the tranquil port; hitherto it was the promise, now it is the prize; hitherto labour, now rest; hitherto despair, now hope; hitherto the way, now our home. The heralds of the divine promise came to us; but they gave us nothing but rich promises. Hence our psalmist himself grew wearied and slept, and, with a seemingly reproachful tone, thus sings his lamentation to God: "But Thou hast rejected and despised us; Thou hast deferred the coming of Thy Christ." 35 At another time he assumes a tone of command and thus prays: "O Thou that sittest upon the Cherubim, show Thyself !" 36 Seated on Thy high throne, with myriads of adoring angels around Thee, look down upon the children of men, who are victims of that sin, which was committed indeed by Adam, but permitted by Thy justice. Remember what my substance is ; 37 Thou didst make it to the likeness of Thine own; for though every living man is vanity, yet inasmuch as he is made to Thy image, he is not a passing vanity. 38 Bend Thy heavens and come down, and turn the eyes of Thy mercy upon us Thy miserable suppliants, and forget us not unto the end!
‘Isaias, also, in the vehemence of his desire, thus spoke : "For Sion’s sake I will net hold my peace, and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not rest, till her Just One come forth as brightness. Oh! that thou wouldst rend the heavens, and wouldst come down !" So, too, all the prophets, tired of the long delay of the coming, have prayed to Thee, now with supplication, now with lamentation, and now with cries of impatience. We have listened to these their prayers; we have made use of them as our own, and now, nothing can give us joy or gladness, till our Saviour come to us, and, kissing us with the kiss of His lips, say to us: "I have heard and granted your prayers."
‘But, what is this that has been said to us: "Sanctify yourselves, O ye children of Israel, and be ready ; for on the morrow the Lord will come down "? We are, then, but one half day and night from the grand visit, the admirable, birth of the Infant God! Hurry on your course, ye fleeting hours, that we may the sooner see the Son of God in His crib, and pay our homage to this world-saving birth. You, brethren, are the children of Israel, that are sanctified, and cleansed from every defilement of soul and body, ready, by your earnest devotion, for to morrow’s mysteries. Such, indeed, you are, if I may judge from the manner in which you have spent these sacred days of preparation for the coming of your Saviour.
‘But if, notwithstanding all your care, some drops of the stream of this life’s frailties are still on your hearts, wipe them away and cover them with the snow-white robe of confession, This I can promise you from the mercy of the divine Infant: he that shall confess his sins and be sorry for them, shall have born within him the Light of the world; the darkness that deceived him shall be dispelled; and he shall enjoy the brightness of the true Light. For how can mercy be denied to the miserable this night, in which the merciful and compassionate Lord is so mercifully born ? Therefore, drive away from you all haughty looks, and idle words, and unjust works; let your loins be girt, and your feet walk in the right paths; and then come, and accuse the Lord, if this night He rend not the heavens, and come down to you, and throw all your sins into the depths of the sea.’
This holy eve is, indeed, a day of grace and hope, and we ought to spend it in spiritual joy. The Church, contrary to her general practice, prescribes that, if Christmas Eve fall on a Sunday, the fasting alone shall be anticipated on the Saturday; but that the Office and Mass of the vigil should take precedence of the Office and Mass of the fourth Sunday of Advent. How solemn, then, in the eyes of the Church, are these few hours, which separate us from the great feast! On all other feasts, no matter how great they may be, the solemnity begins with first Vespers, and until then the Church restrains her joy, and celebrates the Divine Office and Sacrifice according to the lenten rite. Christmas, on the contrary, seems to begin with the vigil; and one would suppose that this morning’s Lauds were the opening of the feast; for the solemn intonation of this portion of the Office is that of a double, and the antiphons are sung before and after each psalm or canticle. The purple vestments are used at the Mass, but all the genuflexions peculiar to the Advent ferias are omitted; and only one Collect is said, instead of the three usually said when the Mass is not that of a solemnity.
Let us enter into the spirit of the Church, and prepare ourselves, in all the joy of our hearts, to meet the Saviour who is coming to us. Let us observe with strictness the fast which is prescribed; it will enable our bodies to aid the promptness of our spirit. Let us delight in the thought that, before we again lie down to rest, we shall have seen Him born, in the solemn midnight, who comes to give light to every creature. For surely it is the duty of every faithful child of the Catholic Church to celebrate with her this happy night, when, in spite of all the coldness of devotion, the whole universe keeps up its watch for the arrival of its Saviour. It is one of the last vestiges of the piety of ancient days, and God forbid it should ever be effaced!
Let us, in a spirit of prayer, look at the principal portions of the Office of this beautiful vigil. First, then, the Church makes a mysterious announcement to her children. It serves as’ the Invitatory of Matins, and as the Introit and Gradual of, the Mass. They are the words which Moses addressed to the people of God when he told them of the heavenly manna, which they would receive on the morrow. We, too, are expecting our Manna, our Jesus, the Bread of life, who is to be born in Bethlehem, which is the house of Bread.
Hodie scietis quia veniet Dominus, et mane videbitis gloriam ejus.
This day ye shall know that the Lord will come, and in the morning ye shall see his glory.
The responsories are full of sublimity and sweetness. Nothing can be more affecting than their lyric melody, sung to us by our mother the Church, on the very night which precedes the night of Jesus’ birth.
R. Sanctificamini hodie et estote parati: quia die crastina videbitis * Majestatern Dei in vobis. V. Hodie scietis quia veniet Dominus, et mane videbitis * Majestatem Dei in vobis.
R. Sanctify yourselves this day, and be ye ready: for on the morrow ye shall see the Majesty of God amongst you. V. This day ye shall know that the Lord will come, and in the morning ye shall see * the Majesty of God amongst you.
R. Constantes estote; videbitis auxilium Domini super vos; Judæa et Jerusalem, nolite timere: * Cras egrediemini, et Dominus erit vobiscum: V. Sanctificamini, filii Israël et estote parati. * Cras egrediemini, et Dominus erit vobiscum.
R. Be ye constant ; ye shall see the help of the Lord upon you: fear not, Judea and Jerusalem: * To-morrow ye shall go forth, and the Lord shall be with you: V. Sanctify yourselves, ye children of Israel, and be ye ready. * Tomorrow ye shall go forth, and the Lord shall be with you.
R. Sanctifieamini, filii Israël, dicit Dominus: die enim crastina descendet Dominus: * Et auferet a vobis omnern languorem. V. Crastina die delebitur iniquitas terræ, et regnabit super nos Salvator mundi. * Et auferet a vobis omnem languorern.
R. Sanctify yourselves, ye children of Israel, saith the Lord: for on the morrow, the Lord shall come down: * And shall take from you all that is languid. V. To-morrow the iniquity of the earth shall be cancelled, and over us shall reign the Saviour of the world. * And be shall take from you all that is languid.
At the Office of Prime, in cathedral chapters and monasteries, the announcement of to-morrow’s feast is made with unusual solemnity. The lector, who frequently is one of the dignitaries of the choir, sings, to a magnificent chant, the following lesson from the martyrology. All the assistants remain standing during it, until the lector comes to the word Bethlehem, at which all genuflect, and continue in that posture until all the glad tidings are told.
OCTAVO KALENDAS JANUARII
THE EIGHTH OF THE CALENDS OF JANUARY
Anno a creatione mundi, quando in principio Deus creavit cœlum et terram, quinquies millesimo centesimo nonagesimo nono: A diluvio vero, anno bis millesimo nongentesimo quinquagesimo septimo: A nativitate Abrahæ, anno bis millesimo quintodecime: A Moyse et egressu populi Israel de Ægypto, anno millesimo quingentesimo decimo: Ab unctiono David in regem, anno mullesimo trigesimo secundo: Hebdomada sexagesima quinta juxta Danielis prophetiam: Olympiade centesima nonagesima quarta: Ab urbe Roma condita, anno septingentesimo quinquagesimo secundo: Anno imperii Octaviani Augusti quadragesimo secundo: toto orbe in pace composito, sexta mundi ætate, Jesus Christus æternus Deus, æternique Patris Filius, mundum volens adventu suo piissimo consecrare, de Spiritu sancto conceptus, novemque post conceptionem decursis mensibus, in Bethlehem Judæ nascitur ax Maria Virgine factus homo: NATIVITAS DOMINI NOSTRI JESU CHRISTI SECUNDUM CARNEM !
The year from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created heaven and earth, five thousand one hundred and ninety-nine: from the deluge, the year two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seven: from the birth of Abraham, the year two thousand and fifteen: from Moses and the going out of the people of Israel from Egypt, the year one thousand five hundred and ten: from David’s being anointed king, the year one thousand and thirty-two: in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel: in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad: from the building of the city of Rome, the year seven hundred and fifty-two: in the forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus: the whole world being in peace: in the sixth age of the world: Jesus Christ, the eternal God, and Son of the eternal Father, wishing to consecrate this world by his most merciful coming, being conceived of the Holy Ghost, and nine months since his conception having passed, in Bethlehem of Juda, is born of the Virgin Mary, being made Man: THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO THE FLESH !
Thus have passed before us, in succession, all the generations of the world. 39 Each of them is asked if it have seen Him whom we are expecting, and each is silent; until the name of Mary is pronounced, and then is proclaimed the Nativity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, made Man. St. Bernard, speaking of this announcement, says: ‘The voice of joy has gone forth in our land, the voice of rejoicing and of salvation is in the tabernacles of the just. There has been heard a good word, a word that gives consolation, a word that is full of gladsomeness, a word worthy of all acceptance. Resound with praise, ye mountains, and all ye trees of the forests clap your hands before the face of the Lord, for He is coming. Hearken, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth! be astounded and give praise, O all ye creatures! but thou, O man, more than all they! JESUS CHRIST, THE SON OF GOD, IS BORN IN BETHLEHEM OF JUDA! Who, is there that is so hard of heart, that this word does not touch him? Could anything be told us sweeter than this? Could any news delight us like this? Was such a thing ever heard, or anything like it ever told to the world? JESUS CHRIST, THE SON OF God, is BORN IN BETHLEHEM OF JUDA! O brief word of the Word abridged ! 40 and yet how full of heavenly beauty! The heart, charmed with the honeyed sweetness of the expression, would fain diffuse it and spread it out into more words; but no, it must be given just as it is, or you spoil it: JESUS CHRIST, THE SON OF GOD, IS BORN IN BETHLEHEM OF JUDA ! 41
Hodie scietis, quia veniet Dominus, et salvabit nos: mane videbitis gloriam ejus. Ps. Domini est terra et plenitudo ejus; orbis terrarum, et universi qui habitant in eo. V. Gloria.
This day ye shall know at that the Lord will come, and save us: and in the morning ye shall see his glory. Ps. The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world and all that dwell therein. V. Glory.
In the Collect, the Church makes a last allusion to the coming of Jesus as our Judge at the end of the world. But after this, she can look upon her Jesus only as the Prince of peace, and as the Spouse who comes to her. Her children must imitate her confidence.
Deus, qui nos redemptionis nostræ annua exspectatione lætifcas: præsta, ut Unigeniturn tuum, quem Redemptorem læti suscipimus, venientem quoque Judicem securi videamus, Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum. Qui tecum.
O God, who makest us rejoice in the yearly expectation of the feast of our redemption: grant that we who joyfully receive thy only - begotten Son as a Redeemer, may behold, without fear, the same Lord Jesus Christ corning as our Judge. Who liveth, &c.
In the Epistle, the apostle St. Paul, addressing himself to the Romans, makes known to them the dignity and holiness of the Gospel, that is, of those good tidings, which the angels are to bring to us this very night. Now, the subject of this Gospel is Jesus, the Son that is born unto God, of the family of David, according to the flesh. This Jesus comes that He may be to His Church the source of grace and apostleship. It is by these two gifts that we are still associated, after so many ages, to the joys of the great mystery of His birth in Bethlehem.
Lectio Epistolæ beati Pauli Apostoli ad Romanos.
Lesson of the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Romans.
Hodie scietis quia veniet Dominus, et salvabit nos: et mane videbitis gloriam ejus.
This day ye shall know that the Lord will come, and save us: and in the morning ye shall see his glory.
V. Qui regis Israël intende: qui deducis velut ovem Joseph: qui sedes super Cherubim, appare coram Ephraim, Benjamin et Manàsse.
V. Thou who rulest Israel, hearken: thou who leadest Joseph like a sheep: thou who sittest on the Cherubim, show thyself to Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasses.
If the vigil of Christmas fall on a Sunday, the following is added:
V. Crastina die delebitur iniquitas terræ, et regnabit super nos Salvator mundi. Alleluia.
V. To-morrow the sins of the earth shall be cancelled, and the Saviour of the world shall reign over us. Allelula.
The Gospel of to-day’s Mass is the passage which relates the trouble of St. Joseph and the visit he received from the angel. This incident, which forms one of the preludes to the birth of our Saviour, could not but enter into the liturgy for Advent; and so far, there was no suitable occasion for its insertion. The vigil of Christmas was the right day for this Gospel, for another reason: the angel, in speaking to St. Joseph, tells him that the name to be given to the Child of Mary is Jesus, which signifies that He will save His people from their sins.
Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Matthæum
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Matthew
Quum esset desponsata Mater Jesu Maria Joseph, antequam convenirent, inventa est in utero habens de Spinitu sancto. Joseph autem vir ejus, quurn esset justus, et nollet eam traducere, voluit occulte dirnittere eam. Hæc autem eo cogitante, ecce angelus Domini apparuit in somnis ei, dicens: Joseph, fili David, noli timere accipere Mariam conjugem tuam: quod enim in ea natum est, de Spiritu sancto est. Pariet autem Filium : et vocabis nomen ejus Jesum: ipse enim salvum faciet populum suum a peccatis eorum.
When Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately. But while he thought on these things behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David,’ fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a Son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins.
Tollite portas, principes, vestras, et elevarnini portæ æternales: et introibit Rex gloriæ.
Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lifted up, O eternal gates; and the King of glory shall enter in.
Da nobis, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus: ut sicut adoranda Filii tui natalitia prævenimus; sic ejus munera capiamus sempiterna gaudentes. Qui tecum.
Grant, we beseech thee, O almighty God, that as we celebrate the eve of the adorable birth of thy Son; we may one day receive with joy his eternal rewards. Who liveth, &c.
During the Communion, the Church expresses her joy at receiving, in the Eucharistic Sacrament, Him whose flesh purifies and nourishes ours. She is strengthened by the consolation given to her by the divine Food, to wait yet a little longer for that happy moment, in which angels will come and invite her to the crib of the Messias.
Revelabitur gloria Domini: at videbit omnis caro salutare Eei nostri.
The glory of the Lord shall be revealed: and all flesh shall see the salvation of our God.
Da nobis, quæsumus, Domine, unigeniti Filii tui recensita Nativitate respirare: cujus cœlesti mysterio pascimur, at potamur. Per eumdem.
Grant us, we beseech thee, O Lord, relief by celebrating the birth of thy only Son, whose sacred mystery is our meat and drink. Through, &c.
The Ambrosian and Mozarabic liturgies have nothing in their Office and Mass for this vigil which we deem telling enough for insertion here. In the anthology of the Greeks there is a hymn, which will assist our devotion, and from which we take the following stanzas. It is called : The beginning of the Hours of the Nativity: Tierce, Sext, and None.
HYMN FOR THE VIGIL OF CHRISTMAS
(Taken from the Anthology of the Greeks)
Inscribebatur die quadam cum sene Joseph, tanquam ax semine David, in Bethlehem, Maria, sine semine fœtum utero gestans; advenerat pariendi tempus, at nullus erat in diversorio locus, sed pro splendido palatio spelunca Reginæ aderat.
On a certain day, there was enrolled at Bethlehem, together with the old man Joseph, as being of the family of David, Mary, who bore in her virginal womb the divine fruit. The time of her delivery was come, and there was no place in the inn; and instead of a splendid palace for the Queen there was but a cave.
Adimpleri nuno urget propheticum præconium mystice nuncians: Et tu Bethlehem, terra Juda, nequaquam minima es in principibus, prima adornans speluncam. Ex te enim mihi veniet dux gentium, per carnem ex puella Virgine, Christus Deus qui reget populum suum novum Israël. Demus ei omnes magnificentiam.
The moment has come for the accomplishment of the mystic, prophecy: ‘And thou Bethlehem, land of Juda, art not the least among the princes, for thou art the first to adorn the cave. For there shall come to me from thee the leader of the nations, born of a Virgin-Maid according to the flesh; it is Christ, who is God, and he shall rule his new people of Israel.’ Let us all give him highest praise.
Iste Deus noster, præter eum non numerabitur alius, natus ex Virgine, et cum hominibus conversatus: in pauperculo jacens peæsepio Filius Unigenitus mortalis apparet, et fasciis implicatur gloriæ Dominus: stella Magis indicat ut ilium adorent, nosque canamus: Trinitas sancta, salva animas nostras.
This is our God, and there is none other; he was born of a Virgin, and he conversed with men; the only-begotten Son becomes mortal, and is laid in a poor crib; the Lord of glory is wrapped in swaddling clothes; the star invites the Magi to adore him, and let us sing: O holy Trinity, save our souls!
Venite, fideles: divinitus extollamur, Deumque videamus ex alto in Bethlehem manifeste descendentem, et sursum mentem elevantes, pro myrrha vitæ afferamus virtutes, præordinantes cum fide natalitium introitum, et dicamus: Gloria in excelsis Deo qui trinus est, cujus erga homines manifestatur benevolentia! qui Adam redimens et plasma tuum elevasti, philanthrope!
Come, all ye faithful: let us be transported with divine enthusiasm; let us look at God coming in a visible’ form from on high and descending into Bethlehem; then raising up our minds, let us bring to him our virtues as the myrrh we offer him, thus preparing, with faith, for his birth among us: let us sing, Glory in the highest be to God, one in three Persons, whose good-will to man is thus made manifest! for thou, O Jesus! the Lover of man, hast redeemed Adam and restored the work of thy hands!
Audi, cœlum, et auribus percipe, terra: commoveantur fundamenta orbis, tremorem apprehendant terrestria; quia Deus et auctor carnis plasmatis formam induit, et qui creaturam creatrice corroboravit manu, misericordia motus videtur forma indutus. O divitiarum sapientiæ scientiæque Dei abyssus! quam inscrutabilia illius judicia, et investigabiles viæ ejus!
Hear, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth! let the foundations of the earth be moved, and all the earth tremble: for ‘God the maker of man has himself put on a created form, and he whose creative hand upheld his creatures, has, by mercy moved, clothed himself with a body. Oh the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his judge meats, and how unsearchable his ways!
Venite, Christiferi populi, videamus prodigium omnem stupefaciens et cohibens cogitationem, et pie procumbentes cum fide hymnificemus. Hodie ad Bethlehem puella advenit paritura Dominum; præcurrunt angelorum choni: illamque videns Joseph sponsus ejus clamabat: Quidnam in te predigiosum mysternium, Virgo? Et quomodo parturire debes, jugi expers juvenca?
O come, ye Christian people! let us see the prodigy that stupefies all thought and holds it in suspense; then let us devoutly adore, and sing our hymns with hearts full of faith. This day there hath come to Bethlehem a Maid that is to give birth to God! Choirs of angels are already there! Joseph, her spouse, seeing her, has already received the answer to his question: What is this mystery which I see in thee, pure Virgin? How canst thou bring forth, that never hast borne a mother’s humiliation?
Hodie nascitur ex Virgine qui pugillo omnem creaturam continet: panniculis sicut mortalis fasciatur qui essentia intactibilis est; Deus in præsepio reclinatur, qui olim in principio cœlos stabilivit; ex ubenibus lacte nutritur per quem in deserto manna pluebat populo; Magos advocat Sponsus Ecclesiæ; dona iilorum accipit Virginis Filius, Adoramus tuam Nativitatem, Christe; ostende nobis tuas divinas Theophanias.
This day, there is born of a Virgin, he that holds in his hand the whole creation. He whose very essence ‘tis to be intangible, has become mortal and is bound in swathing bands. He who, of old, in the beginning, poised and set the heavens, is laid in a manger. He who rained down manna on, his people in the desert, is fed with milk at his Mother’s breast. The Spouse of the Church invites the Magi; the Son of the Virgin accepts their gifts. We adore thy Nativity, O Jesus! show unto us thy divine manifestations.
Let us contemplate our blessed Lady, and her faithful spouse Joseph, leaving the city of Jerusalem, and continuing their journey to Bethlehem, which they reach after’ a few hours, In obedience to the will of heaven, they immediately repair to the place where their names are to be enrolled, as the emperor’s edict requires. There is entered in the public register, Joseph, a carpenter of Nazareth in Galilee. To his name, there is, doubtless, added that of Mary, spouse of the above-named Joseph. Perhaps they enter her as a young woman, in the ninth month of her pregnancy. And this is all! O Incarnate Word! Thou art not yet counted by men! Thou art upon this earth of Thine, and men set Thee down as nothing ! And yet, all this excitement of the enrolment of the world is to be for nothing else but this, that Mary, Thy august Mother, may come to Bethlehem, and there give Thee birth!
O ineffable mystery! how grand is this apparent littleness! how mighty this divine weakness! But God has still lower to descend than merely coming on our earth, He goes from house to house of His people : not one will receive Him, He must go and seek a crib in the stable of poor dumb beasts. There, until such time as the angels sing to Him their hymn, and the shepherds and the Magi come with their offerings, He will meet ‘the ox that knoweth its Owner, and the ass that knoweth its Master’s crib !' 42 O Saviour of men, Emmanuel, Jesus! we, too, will go to this stable of Bethlehem. Thy new birth, which is to-night, shall not be without loving and devoted hearts to bless it. At this very hour, Thou art knocking at the doors of Bethlehem, and who is there that will take Thee in? Thou sayest to my soul in the words of the Canticle: ‘Open to me, my sister, my beloved! for my head is full of dew, and my looks of the drops of the night !‘ 43 Ah I sweet Jesus ! Thou shalt not be refused here ! I beseech Thee, enter my house. I have been watching and longing for Thee. Come, then, Lord Jesus! Come ! 44
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All footnotes from Dom Guéranger.
39. On this one day alone, and on this single occasion, does the Church adopt the Septuagint chronology, according to which the birth of our Saviour took place five thousand years after the creation ; whereas the Vulgate version, and the Hebrew text place only four thousand between the two events. This is not a fitting place to explain this discrepancy of chronology; we merely allude to it as showing the liberty which the Church allows us on this question. Return
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