From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
On this same day, we have also the fifth of the wise virgins, whose bright lamps light us, during Advent, to the crib of Jesus their Spouse. Odilia did not shed her blood for Him, as did Bibiana, Barbara, Eulalia, and Lucy; her offering was her tears and her love. Her wreath of lilies blends sweetly with the roses, which form the crowns of her four companions. Her name is held in special veneration in the east of France, and beyond the Rhine. The holy hill whereon her tomb has rested now these thousand years, is still visited by numerous and devout pilgrims. Several kings of the Capetian race, and several emperors of the house of Hapsburg, were descendants of the father of our saint, Adalric or Atticus, Duke of Alsace.
Odilia was born blind. Her father insisted on her being removed from the house, for her presence would have been a continual humiliation to him. It seems as though this affliction was permitted by Providence, in order that the action and power of divine grace might be the more clearly manifested in her regard. The little exile was taken from her mother, and placed in a monastery. God, who designed to show the virtue of the holy Sacrament of regeneration, permitted that her Baptism should be deferred until she had reached her thirteenth year. The time at length came for Odilia to be made a child of God. No sooner was she taken from the baptismal font, than she received her eyesight, which was but a feeble figure of the light which faith had lit up in her soul. This prodigy restored Odilia to her father and to the world; and from that time forward, she had to defend, against unceasing attacks, the virginity which she had vowed to God. Her personal beauty, and her father’s wealth and power, attracted to her many rich suitors. She refused them all; and her father himself built a monastery on the rocks of Hohenburg, wherein she served her divine Lord, governed a large community, and gave relief to every sort of suffering.
After a long life spent in prayer, penance, and works of mercy, the day came which was to reward her for it all. It was this very day, the thirteenth of December, the feast of the holy virgin Lucy. The sisters of Hohenburg, desirous of treasuring up her last words, assembled round their saintly abbess. She was in an ecstasy, and already dead to the things of this life. Fearing lest she should die before she had received that holy Viaticum, which leads the soul to Him who is her last end, the sisters thought it their duty to rouse her from the mystic sleep, which, so it seemed to them, rendered her forgetful of the duties which she had to perform. Being thus brought to herself, she turned to the community, and said to them: ‘Dear sisters, why have you disturbed me? Why would you again oblige me to feel the weight of this corruptible body, when I had once left it? By the favour of His divine Majesty, I was in the company of the virgin Lucy, and the delights I was enjoying were so great that no tongue could tell them, nor ear hear them, nor human eye see them.’ No time was lost in giving her the Bread of life and the Chalice of salvation, which having received, she immediately rejoined her heavenly companion, and the thirteenth day of December thus united into one the feasts of the abbess of Hohenburg and of the martyr of Syracuse.
The Church of Strasburg, which honours Odilia as one of its greatest glories, has the following lessons for this feast. By giving them a place here, we do not adopt the statement they contain with regard to the rule which was followed in the monastery of Hohenburg. Mabillon, who proves that St. Odilia followed the rule of St. Benedict, shows that the Canonical Rule, as it was called, did not exist at that time.
Odilia, suæ decus et præsidium patriæ, Attici Alsatiæ ducis et Beresindæ primogenita soboles fuit; sed quod cæcis oculis nata esset, a patre repudiatam, mater humanior clam nutrici alendam tradidit. Post in Balmensi parthenio haud procul Vesontione educata, divinisque erudita litteris crevit aetate et sapientia. Jam adulta, dum a beato Erhardo præsule baptizatur, visum miraculo accepit. Interjectis aliquot annis, paternam in domum et gratiam reducitur. Ibi quidquid mundus amat despiciens, inter amplissimas opes paupertatis amorem, in medio aulae tumultu solitudinem anachoretarum retinebat; nuptiasque constanter aversata, post longum et acre certamen a patre obtinuit, ut sibi liceret cum aliis virginibus Deo se in perpetuum consecrare. Quare Atticus in vertice excelsi montis sacram sedem et monasterium ære suo excitavit, latos eidem fundos et prædia concessit, Odiliamque ei regendo præposuit.
Vixdum patuerat hoc sanctitatis asylum, quum ingens eo affluxit virginum multitudo; centum triginta fuisse traditum est. Hae primum nullis religiosae vitae legibus adscriptæ erant: Odiliam imitari pro legibus habebatur. Deliberantibus postmodo cuinam se regulæ addicerent, monasticae an canonicae; sapientissima praeses suadente loci natura, hanc alteri praetulit.
Cum vero esset in omnes lenis, se solam durius arctabat; pane hordeaceo et aqua, subinde modico legumine, tolerabat vitam. In rerum divinarum contemplatione defixa, vigilabat majorem noctis partem; quod supererat, quieti datum: pellis hirsuta pro lecto, saxum pro pulvinari erat.
Inter haec, materno erga pauperes et infirmos amore, aliud monasterium amplumque xenodochium in infimo clivo extraxit, quo facilius afflictae suae fortunae perfugium invenirent. Illic non solum sacras virgines collocavit, quae operam suam navarent miseris; sed etiam ipsa quotidie eos invisebat, cibis, solatiis refocillabat, neque pavebat leprosorum ulcera suis manibus fovere. Tandem meritis annisque gravis, quum se morti vicinam intelligeret, suas sodales in sacellum sancti Joannis Baptistae convocat: hortatur ut pii propositi tenaces arctiorem cœli viam nunquam deserant. Accepto deinde ibidem Corporis et Sanguinis Christi Viatico, vita cessit Idibus Decembris, anno, ut probabilius traditur, septingentesimo vigesimo. Corpus virginis in eodem sacello conditimi est, statimque sepulchrum ejus maxima veneratione coli ac miraculis clarere coepit.
Odilia, the glory and the protectress of her country, was the eldest child of Adalric, Duke of Alsace, and of Beresind his wife. Being born blind, she was repudiated by her father; but the mother, with more compassion, had her nursed privately. Later on she was sent to the monastery of Baume, not far from Besancon, where she was educated, and instructed in the holy Scriptures, and grew in age and wisdom. When an adult, she was baptized by the holy bishop Erhard, and was on that occasion miraculously cured of her blindness. After the lapse of some years, she was recalled to her father’s house, and became the object of his affection. During this time, she despised all that the world loves, preferring poverty to the greatest wealth, and leading a hermit’s life, amidst all the distractions of her father’s palace. She rejected, with great resolution, all the offers of marriage which were made to her, and, after a long and hard contest, obtained her father’s consent to devote herself for ever to God, with several other virgins. For this end, Adalric built, at his own cost, a church and monastery on the top of a high hill, and richly endowed it with land and possessions. It was at his request that Odilia was appointed to govern the monastery.
Scarce was this abode of sanctity established, when many sought for admission, and, as it is related, the community numbered no less than a hundred and thirty. At the commencement, no special rule was followed, the imitation of Odilia was their rale. When afterwards it was deliberated on which of the two rales should be adopted, the monastic or the canonical, this latter was preferred by the discreet Abbess, as being better adapted to the circumstances of the place.
To all around her she was indulgent; to herself alone she was severe. Her only food was barley-bread and water, to which she sometimes added a few herbs. Her contemplation of divine things was continual; she gave to it the greatest part of the night, and spent the rest in sleep. Her bed was a rough skin, and a stone her pillow.
To this she added a maternal solicitude for the poor and sick, for whom she built another monastery, and also a large hospital at the foot of the hill, that so they might have readier assistance in their various miseries. She not only placed there several of the nuns to take care of the poor inmates, but every day visited them herself, fed them and comforted them, and hesitated not to dress with her own hands the loathsome sores of lepers. At length, weighed down by age and merit, and knowing that her death was at hand, she assembles her sisters in the oratory of St. John the Baptist, and there exhorts them to continue firm to their holy engagements, and never to leave the narrow path which leads to heaven. Having received in the same place the Viaticum of the Body and Blood of Christ, she departed this life on the Ides of December (Dec. 13), and according to the more probable opinion, in the year seven hundred and twenty. The body of the holy virgin was buried in the same oratory, and her tomb became immediately an object of the greatest veneration to the faithful, and was celebrated for the miracles wrought there.
The ways of God in thy regard, O holy virgin, were admirable indeed, and He manifested in thee the riches and power of His grace. He deprived thee of sight, that so thy soul might the more eagerly cling to His own infinite beauty; and when afterwards He bestowed on thee thy bodily vision, thou hadst already made choice of the better part. The harshness of thy father deprived thee of the innocent pleasures of home; but it prepared thee to become the spiritual mother of so many noble virgins, who, following thy example, trampled on all the vanities of the world. Thou didst choose a life of humility, because thy heavenly Spouse Jesus had humbled Himself for our sake. Thou didst imitate Him also in His being our divine Deliverer, and taking upon Himself all our miseries, for thou hadst the tenderest compassion on the poor and the sick. Thou didst take on thyself the care of a poor leper, that had been abandoned by all else; with a mother’s courage thou didst feed him, and affectionately dress his loathsome sores. And is it not this that our Jesus is coming down from heaven to do for us; to heal our wounds by embracing our human nature, and to nourish us with that food, which He is preparing to give us at Bethlehem? Whilst the leper was receiving thy loving care, the frightful disease which excluded him from the society of his fellow-creatures suddenly disappeared; a delicious odour came from his whole person, whereas before, none but a saint like thyself could have borne to approach him. Is it not this which Jesus is coming down to do for us? The leprosy of sin was upon us; His grace heals us, and man regenerated sheds around him the good odour of Christ.
In the midst of the joys which thou art now sharing with Lucy, remember us, O thou that wast ever so compassionate to the needy! We cannot forget the tears thou didst shed, and the prayers thou didst offer up for the soul of thy father after his death, whereby thou didst deliver him from purgatory, and open the gates of heaven to him that had banished thee from his house. Thou art no longer in the land of tears; thine eyes are opened to the light of heaven, and contemplate God in His glory: pray therefore for us, for thy prayers are now more powerful than heretofore. Think of us who are poor and infirm; obtain the cure of our maladies. The Emmanuel, who is coming to us, tells us that He is the Physician of our souls, for He has said: 'They that are in health need not the Physician, but they that are ill.’ Ask Him to cure us of the leprosy of sin, and make us become even like unto Himself. Pray for France, thy country, and help her to maintain the purity of the Catholic faith. Watch over the ruins of the holy empire. Heresy has disunited the members of that great body; but it will once more flourish, if our Lord, propitiated by such prayers as thine, vouchsafe to bring Germany back again to the true faith and to submission to the Church. Yes, pray that these glorious things be brought about for the honour and glory of thy divine Spouse, and that nations, now weary of their errors and disunion, may unite together in propagating the kingdom of God upon earth.
Let us consider the ever blessed Mother of God leaving her humble dwelling at Nazareth, in order to visit her cousin, St. Elizabeth. The Church honours this mystery of the Visitation on the Friday in Ember Week of Advent, as we have mentioned above, in the Proper of the Time. We will let St. Bonaventure relate this sublime incident of Mary’s life, convinced that our readers will be pleased to hear the seraphic Doctor revealing to them, with his wonderful unction, these preludes to the birth of Jesus.
‘After, this, our Lady, pondering the words spoken unto her by the angel concerning her cousin Elizabeth, resolved to visit her, that she might congratulate with her and render her service. She, therefore, together with Joseph her spouse, set out from Nazareth for the house of Elizabeth, which might perhaps be fourteen or fifteen miles distant from Jerusalem. Neither the roughness nor the length of the journey discouraged her; but she walked with haste, forasmuch as she wished to be little seen in public. She was not like other mothers, burthened by her Child, nor was it to be thought that the Lord Jesus would be a burthen to His Mother. See, therefore, how the Queen of heaven and earth takes this journey alone, with none but her spouse Joseph; not riding, but walking; neither is she escorted by troops of soldiers and barons, nor attended by handmaids and fine ladies. Her train is poverty, humility, modesty, and the beauty of all virtues. The Lord Himself, too, is with her; and He verily hath a numerous and honourable suite, but it is not that of the world, vain and pompous.
‘Now, when she had entered the house of Elizabeth, she greeted her saying: “ Hail! my sister Elizabeth!” But she, exulting, and all full of joy, and inflamed by the holy Spirit, rises and most tenderly embraces Mary, exclaiming for joy: “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb! And whence is this to me, that there should come unto me the Mother of my Lord?” For as soon as the Virgin had greeted Elizabeth, John, in his mother’s womb, was filled with the Holy Ghost, as was likewise the mother. Nor was it that the mother was filled and then her child, but contrariwise the child was filled first, and he communicated the Spirit unto the mother. The babe effected nought in Elizabeth’s soul, but he merited that the Holy Ghost should do a work in her soul, because the grace of the divine Spirit had descended into him with greater abundance, and he was the first to receive the grace. And as Elizabeth had perceived the coming of Mary, so did John perceive the coming of Jesus. Therefore was it that he leaped for joy, and she prophesied. See the virtue of our Lady’s words, when by their utterance the Holy Ghost is conferred; for so replenished was Mary with Him, that, by her merits, He filled others also with Himself. Upon this, Mary made answer unto Elizabeth, saying: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.”
Sequence in Honor of the Mother of God
(Taken from the ancient Roman-French missals)
Hodiernæ lux diei
Celebris in Matris Dei
Decantemus in hac die
Semper Virginis Mariæ
Landes et præconia.
Omnis homo, omni hora,
Ipsam ora et implora
Psalle, psalle, nisu toto,
Cordis, oris, voce, voto:
Ave plena gratia!
Ave, Domina cœlorum,
Inexperta viri torum,
Parens paris nescia.
Fœcundata sine viro,
Genuisti more miro
Florens hortus Austro flante,
Porta clausa post et ante,
Via viris invia.
Fusa cœli rore tellus,
Fusum Gedeonis vellus,
Salve, splendor firmamenti:
Tu caliginosae menti
Placa mare, maris stella,
Ne involvat nos procella
Et tempestas obvia.
A happy day is this!
for on it we make commemoration of Mary,
the Mother of God.
Lot us sing to-day
the praises and the dignity of the ever blessed
Whoe’er thou art,
and where’er thou art,
pray to her, beseech her to help thee.
Sing, sing, with all thy heart
and voice’s power;
Hail Mary! full of grace.
Hail, Queen of heaven,
purest of Virgins,
yet incomparable Mother!
Made fruitful by God,
thou, his creature, didst give birth,
O prodigy of prodigies! to thy Creator.
Here was the prophecy fulfilled;
that a garden should flower under the breath of the south wind;
that all its gates were closed, and no man could enter.
Mary is the earth spoken of as enriched with the dew of heaven;
she is as Gedeon’s fleece prefigured her,
filled with the dew of the Godhead.
Hail, Mary, thou brightness of heaven!
bring to our darkness
the light that is from above.
O star of the sea,
calm its storms,
and suffer not that they overwhelm us.
Introit of Advent
(Ambrosian missal, sixth Sunday, Ingressa)
Videsne Elisabeth cum Dei Genitrice Maria disputantem: Quid ad me venisti, Mater Domini mei? Si enim scirem, in tuum venirem occursum. Tu enim Regnatorem portas, et ego prophetam: tu legem dantem, et ego legem accipientem: tu Verbum, et ego vocem proclamantis adventum Salvatoris.
Seest thou not Elizabeth thus speaking to Mary the Mother of God: How is it that thou, the Mother of my Lord, art come unto me? for if I had known of thy coming, I would have come to meet thee. For thou bearest the King, and I the prophet; thou him that giveth the law, and I him that receiveth the law; thou the Word, and I the Voice that proclaimeth the coming of the Redeemer.
 2 Cor. ii. 14, 15.
 St. Matt. ix. 12.