From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
This illustrious pontiff was deservedly placed in the calendar of the Church side by side with the glorious bishop of Myra. Nicholas confessed, at Nicæa, the divinity of the Redeemer; Ambrose, in his pity of Milan, was the object of the hatred of the Arians, and, by his invincible courage, triumphed over the enemies of Christ. Let Ambrose, then, unite his voice, as doctor of the Church, with that of St. Peter Chrysologus, and preach to the world the glories and the humiliations of the Messias. But, as doctor of the Church, he has a special claim to our veneration: it is, that among the bright luminaries of the Latin Church, four great masters head the list of sacred interpreters of the faith: Gregory, Augustine, Jerome; and then our glorious Ambrose, bishop of Milan, makes up the mystic number.
Ambrose owes his noble position in the calendar to the ancient custom of the Church, whereby, in the early ages, no saint’s feast was allowed to be kept in Lent. The day of his departure from this world and of his entrance into heaven was the fourth of April, which, more frequently than not, comes during Lent; so that it was requisite that the memory of his sacred death should be solemnized on some other day, and the seventh of December naturally presented itself for such a feast, inasmuch as it was the anniversary-day of Ambrose’s consecration as bishop.
But, independently of these considerations, the road which leads us to Bethlehem could be perfumed by nothing so fragrant as this feast of St. Ambrose. Does not the thought of this saintly and amiable bishop impress us with the image of dignity and sweetness combined? of the strength of the lion United with the gentleness of the dove? Time removes the deepest human impressions; but the memory of Ambrose is as vivid and dear in men’s minds as though he were still among us. Who can ever forget the young, yet staid and learned governor of Liguria and Emilia, who comes to Milan as a simple catechumen, and finds himself forced, by the acclamations of the people, to ascend the episcopal throne of this great city? And how indelibly impressed upon us are certain touching incidents of his early life! For instance, that beautiful presage of his irresistible eloquence—the swarm of bees coming round him as he was sleeping one day in his father’s garden, and entering into his mouth, as though they would tell us how sweet that babe’s words would be! And the prophetic gravity with which Ambrose, when quite a boy, would hold out his hand to his mother and sister, bidding them kiss it, for that one day it would be the hand of a bishop!
But what hard work awaited the neophyte of Milan, who was no sooner regenerated in the waters of Baptism, than he was consecrated priest and bishop! He had to apply himself, there and then, to close study of the sacred Scriptures, that so he might prepare himself to become the defender of the Church, which was * attacked, in the fundamental dogma of the Incarnation, by the false science of the Arians. In a short time he attained such proficiency in the sacred sciences, as to become, like the prophet, a wall of brass, which checked the further progress of Arianism: moreover, the works written by Ambrose possess such plenitude and surety of doctrine, as to be numbered by the Church among the most faithful and authoritative interpretations of her teaching.
But Ambrose had other and fiercer contests than those of religious controversy to encounter: his very life was more than once threatened by the heretics whom he had silenced. What a sublime spectacle that of a bishop blockaded in his church by the troops of the empress Justina, and defended within by his people, day and night! Pastor and flock, both are admirable. How had Ambrose merited such fidelity and confidence on the part of his people? By a whole life spent for the welfare of his city and his country. He had never ceased to preach Jesus to all men; and now, the people see their bishop become, by his zeal, his devotedness, and his selfsacrificing conduct, a living image of Jesus.
In the midst of these dangers which threatened his person, his great soul was calm and seemingly unconscious of the fury of his enemies. It was on that very occasion that he instituted, at Milan, the choral singing of the psalms. Up to that time, the holy canticles had been given from the ambo by the single voice of a lector; but Ambrose, shut up in his basilica with his people, takes the opportunity, and forms two choirs, bidding them respond to each other the verses of the psalms. The people forgot their trouble in the delight of this heavenly music; nay, the very howling of the tempest, and the fierceness of the siege they were sustaining, added enthusiasm to this first exercise of their new privilege. Such was the chivalrous origin of alternate psalmody in the western Church. Rome adopted the practice, which Ambrose was the first to introduce, and which will continue to be observed to the end of time. During these hours of struggle with his enemies the glorious bishop has another gift wherewith to enrich the faithful people who are defending him at the risk of their own lives. Ambrose is a poet, and he has frequently sung, in verses full of sweetness and sublimity, the greatness of the God of the Christians, and the mysteries of man’s salvation. He now gives to his devoted people these hymns, which he had composed only for his own private devotion. The basilicas of Milan soon echoed these accents of the sublime soul which first uttered them. Later on, the whole Latin Church adopted them; and in honour of the holy bishop who had thus opened one of the richest sources of the sacred liturgy, a hymn was, for a long time, called after his name, an Ambrosian. The Divine Office thus received a new mode of celebrating the divine praise, and the Church, the bride of Christ, possessed one means more of giving expression to the sentiments which animate her.
Thus our hymns, and the alternate singing of the psalms, are trophies of Ambrose’s victory. He had been raised up by God not for his own age alone, but also for those which were to follow. Hence, the Holy Ghost infused into him the knowledge of Christian jurisprudence, that he might be the defender of the rights of the Church at a period when paganism still lived, though defeated; and imperialism, or cæsarism, had still the instinct, though not the uncontrolled power, to exercise its tyranny. Ambrose’s law was the Gospel, and he would acknowledge no law which was in opposition to that. He could not understand such imperial policy as that of ordering a basilica to be given up to the Arians, for quietness’ sake! He would defend the inheritance of the Church; and in that defence, would shed the last drop of his blood. Certain courtiers dared to accuse him of tyranny:
‘No,’ answered the saint, ‘bishops are not tyrants, but have often to suffer from tyranny.’ The eunuch Calligonus, high chamberlain of the Emperor Valentinian II., had said to Ambrose; ‘What! darest thou, in my presence, to care so little for Valentinian! I will cut off thy head.' 'I would it might be so,' answered Ambrose, 'I should then die as a bishop, and thou wouldst have done what eunuchs are wont to do.'
This noble courage in the defence of the rights of the Church showed itself even more clearly on another occasion. The Roman senate, or rather that portion of the senate which, though a minority, was still pagan, was instigated by Symmachus, the prefect of Rome, to ask the emperor for the re-erection of the altar of victory in the Capitol, under the pretext of averting the misfortunes which threatened the empire. Ambrose, who had said to these politicians, 'I hate the religion of the Neros,' vehemently opposed this last effort of idolatry. He presented most eloquent petitions to Valentinian, in which he protested against an attempt which aimed at bringing a Christian prince to recognize that false doctrines have rights, and which would, if permitted to be tried, rob the one only Master of nations of the victories which He had won. Valentinian yielded to these earnest remonstrances, which taught him 'that a Christian emperor can honour only one altar—the altar of Christ and when the senators had to receive their answer, the prince told them that Rome was his mother, and he loved her: but that God was his Saviour, and he would obey Him.
If the empire of Rome had not been irrevocably condemned by God to destruction, the influence which St. Ambrose had over such well-intentioned princes as Valentinian would probably have saved it. The saint’s maxim was a strong one; but it was not to be realized until new kingdoms, springing up out of the ruins of the Roman empire, should be organized by the Christian Church. ‘An emperor’s grandest title,’ said Ambrose, 'is to be a son of the Church. An emperor is in the Church, he is not over her.’
It is beautiful to see the affectionate solicitude of St. Ambrose for the young emperor Gratian, at whose death he shed floods of tears. How tenderly, too, did he love Theodosius, that model Christian prince, for whose sake God retarded the fall of the empire, by the uninterrupted victory over all its enemies! On one occasion, indeed, this son of the Church showed in himself the pagan Cæsar; but his holy father Ambrose, by a severity which was inflexible because his affection for the culprit was great, brought him back to his duty and his God. ‘I loved,' says the holy bishop, in the funeral oration which he preached over Theodosius, ‘I loved this prince, who preferred correction to flattery. He stripped himself of his royal robes and publicly wept in the Church for the sin he had committed, and into which he had been led by evil counsel. In sighs and tears he sought to be forgiven. He, an emperor, did what common men would be ashamed to do, he did public penance; and for the rest of his life, he passed not a day without bewailing his sin.'
But we should have a very false idea of St. Ambrose if we thought that he turned his attention only to affairs of importance like these, which brought him before the notice of the world. No pastor could be more solicitous than he about the slightest detail which affected the interests of his flock. We have his life written by his deacon, Paulinus, who knew secrets which intimacy alone can know, and these fortunately he has revealed to us. Among other things, he tells us that when Ambrose heard confessions, he shed so many tears that the sinner was forced to weep: ‘You would have thought,’ says Paulinus, ‘that they were his own sins that he was listening to.’ We all know the tender paternal interest he felt for Augustine, when he was a slave to error and to his passions; and if we would have a faithful portrait of Ambrose, we must read in the Confessions of the bishop of Hippo the fine passage where he expresses his admiration and gratitude for his spiritual father. Ambrose had told Monica that her son Augustine, who gave her so much anxiety, would be converted. That happy day at last came; it was Ambrose’s hand which immersed in the cleansing waters of Baptism him who was to be the prince of the Doctors of the Church.
A heart thus loyal in its friendship could not but be affectionate to those who were related by ties of blood. He tenderly loved his brother Satyrus, as we may see from the two funeral orations which he has left us upon this brother, wherein he speaks his praises with all the warmth of enthusiastic admiration. He had a sister, too, named Marcellina, who was equally dear to her saintly brother. From her earliest years, she had spurned the world and its pomps, and the position which she might expect to enjoy in it, being a patrician’s daughter. She had received the veil of virginity from the hands of Pope Liberius, but lived in her father’s house at Rome. Her brother Ambrose was separated from her, but he seemed to love her the more for that; and he communicated with her in her holy retirement by frequent letters, several of which are still extant. She deserved all the esteem which Ambrose had for her; she had a great love for the Church of God, and she was heart and soul in all the great undertakings of her brother the bishop. The very heading of these letters shows the affection of the saint: ‘The brother to the sister or;’ To my sister Marcellina, dearer to me than mine own eyes and life.’ Then follows the letter, in an energetic and animated style, well suited to the soul-stirring communications he had to make to her about his struggles. One of them was written in the midst of the storm, when the courageous pontiff was besieged in his basilica by Justina’s soldiers. His discourses to the people of Milan, his consolations and his trials, the heroic sentiments of his great soul, all is told in these despatches to his sister, where every line shows how strong and holy was the attachment between Ambrose and Marcellina. The great basilica of Milan still contains the tombs of the brother and sister: and over them both is daily offered the divine sacrifice.
Such was Ambrose, of whom Theodosius was one day heard to say: 'There is but one bishop in the world.' Let us glorify the holy Spirit, who has vouchsafed to produce this sublime model in the Church, and let us beg of the holy pontiff to obtain for us, by his prayers, a share in that lively faith and ardent love which he himself had, and which he evinces in the delicious and eloquent writings he has left us on the mystery of the Incarnation. During these days, which are preparing us for the birth of our Incarnate Lord, Ambrose is one of our most powerful patrons.
His love towards the blessed Mother of God teaches us what admiration and love we ought to have for Mary. St. Ephrem and St. Ambrose are the two fathers of the fourth century who are the most explicit upon the glories of the office and the person of the Mother of Jesus. To confine ourselves to St. Ambrose, he has completely mastered this mystery, which he understood, and appreciated, and defined in his writings. Mary’s exemption from every stain of sin; Mary’s uniting herself, at the foot of the cross, with her divine Son for the salvation of the world; Jesus’ appearing, after His resurrection, to Mary first of all—on these and so many other points St. Ambrose has spoken so clearly as to deserve to be considered one of the most prominent witnesses of the primitive traditions respecting the privileges and dignity of the holy Mother of God.
This his devotion to Mary explains St. Ambrose’s enthusiastic admiration for the holy state of Christian virginity, of which he might justly be called the doctor. He surpasses all the fathers in the beautiful and eloquent manner in which he speaks of the dignity and happiness of virginity. Four of his writings are devoted to the praises of this sublime state. The pagans would fain have an imitation of it by instituting seven Vestal virgins, whom they loaded with honours and riches, and to whom they in due time restored liberty. St. Ambrose shows how contemptible these were, compared with the innumerable virgins of the Christian Church, who filled the whole world with the fragrance of their humility, constancy, and disinterestedness. But on this magnificent subject, his words were even more telling than his writings; and we learn from his contemporaries, that when he went to preach in any town, mothers would not allow their daughters to be present at his sermon, lest this irresistible panegyrist of the eternal nuptials with the Lamb should convince them that that was the better part, and persuade them to make it the object of their desires.
But our partiality and devotion to the great saint of Milan have made us exceed our usual limits: it is time to read the account of his virtues given us by the Church:
Ambrosius episcopus Mediolanensis, Ambrosii civis Romani filius, patre Galliae præfecto natus est. In hujus infantis oro examen apum consedisse dicitur: quæ res divinam viri eloquentiam præmonstrabat. Romæ liberalibus disciplinis eruditus est. Post a Probo praefecto Liguriae et Æmiliae præpositus: unde postea ejusdem Probi jussu cum potestate Mediolanum venit: ubi mortuo Auxentio, Ariano episcopo, populus de successore deligendo dissidebat. Quare Ambrosius, pro officii sui munere ecclesiam ingressus ut commotam seditionem sedaret, quum multa de quiete et tranquillitate reipublicæ præclare dixisset, derepente puero Ambrosium episcopum exclamante, universi populi vox erupit, Ambrosium episcopum deposcentis.
Recusante illo, et eorum precibus resistente, ardens populi studium ad Valentinianum imperatorem delatum est, cui gratissimum fuit a se delectos judices ad sacerdotium postulari. Fuit id etiam Probo præfecto jucundum, qui Ambrosio proficiscenti quasi divinans dixerat: Vade, age, non ut judex, sed ut episcopus. Itaque quum ad populi desiderium imperatoris voluntas accederet, Ambrosius baptizatus (erat enim catechumenus) sacrisque initiatus, ac servatis omnibus ex instituto Ecclesiæ Ordinum gradibus, octavo die, qui fuit septimo Idus Decembris, episcopale onus suscepit. Factus episcopus, Catholioam fidem et disciplinam ecclesiasticam acerrime defendit: multosque Arianos, et alios hæreticos, ad fidei veritatem convertit, in quibus clarissimum Ecclesiae lumen sanctum Augustinum Jesu Christo peperit.
Gratiano imperatore occiso, ad Maximum ejus interfectorem legatus iterum profectus est; eoque poenitentiam agere recusante, se ab ejus communione semovit. Theodosium imperatorem propter cædem Thessalonicae factam ingressu ecclesiae prohibuit. Cui, quum ille David quoque regem adulterum et homicidam fuisse dixisset, respondit Ambrosius: Qui secutus es errantem, sequere pœnitentem. Quare Theodosius sibi ab eo impositam publicam pœnitentiam humiliter egit. Ergo sanctus episcopus pro Ecclesia Dei maximis laboribus curisque perfunctus, multis libris etiam egregie conscriptis, antequam in morbum incideret, mortis suæ diem praedixit. Ad quem aegrotum Honoratus Vercellensis episcopus, Dei voce ter admonitus accurrit, eique sanctum Domini Corpus præbuit: quo ille sumpto, conformatis in crucis similitudinem manibus orans, animam Deo reddidit, pridie Nonas Aprilis, anno post Christum natum trecentesimo nonagesimo septimo.
Ambrose, bishop of Milan, was the son of a Roman citizen, whose name was also Ambrose, and who held the office of prefect of Cisalpine Gaul. It is related that when the saint was an infant, a swarm of bees rested on his lips; it was a presage of his future extraordinary eloquence. He received a liberal education at Rome, and not long after was appointed, by the prefect Probus, to be governor of Liguria and Emilia, whence, later on, he was sent, by order of the same Probus, to Milan, with power of judge; for the people of that city were quarrelling among themselves about the successor of the Arian bishop, Auxentius, who had died. Wherefore, Ambrose, having entered the church that he might fulfil the duty that had been imposed on him, and quell the disturbance that had arisen, delivered an eloquent discourse on the advantages of peace and tranquillity in a State. Scarcely had he finished speaking, than a boy exclaimed: ‘Ambrose, bishop!’ The whole multitude shouted: ‘Ambrose, bishop!'
On his refusing to accede to their entreaties, the earnest request of the people was presented to the emperor Valentinian, who was gratified that they whom he selected as judges were thus sought after to be made priests. It was also pleasing to the prefect Probus, who, as though he foresaw the event, said to Ambrose on his setting out: 'Go, act not as judge, but as bishop.' The desire of the people being thus seconded by the will of the emperor, Ambrose was baptized (for he was only a catechumen), and was admitted to sacred Orders, ascending by all the degrees of Orders as proscribed by the Church; and on the eighth day, which was the seventh of the Ides of December (December 7), he received the burden of the episcopacy. Being made bishop, he most strenuously defended the Catholic faith, and ecclesiastical discipline. He converted to the true faith many Arians, and other heretics, among whom was that brightest luminary of the Church, St. Augustine, the spiritual child of Ambrose in Christ Jesus.
When the emperor Gratian was killed by Maximus, Ambrose was twice deputed to go to the murderer, and insist on his doing penance for his crime; which he refusing to do, Ambrose refused to hold communion with him. The emperor Theodosius having made himself guilty of the massacre at Thessalonica, was forbidden by the saint to enter the church. On the emperor’s excusing himself by saying that king David had also committed murder and adultery, Ambrose replied: ‘Thou hast imitated his sin, now imitate his repentance.’ Upon which, Theodosius humbly performed the public penance which the bishop imposed upon him. The holy bishop having thus gone through the greatest labours and solicitudes for God’s Church, and having written several admirable books, foretold the day of his death, before he was taken with his last sickness. Honoratus, the bishop of Vercelli, was thrice admonished by the voice of God to go to the dying saint: he went, and administered to him the sacred Body of our Lord. Ambrose having received it, and placing his hands in the form of the cross, prayed, and yielded his soul up to God, on the eve of the Nones of April (April 4), in the year of our Lord 397.
Let us salute this great doctor in the words which the holy Church addresses to him in the Office of Vespers.
O doctor optime, Ecclesiæ sanctæ lumen, beate Ambrosi, divinæ legis amator, deprecare pro nobis Filium Dei.
O most admirable doctor, light of Holy Church, blessed Ambrose, lover of the divine law, pray for us to the Son of God.
The Ambrosian liturgy is not so rich in its praises of St. Ambrose as we might naturally expect it to be. Even the Preface of the Mass is so short and so wanting in any special allusion to the saint, that we think it useless to insert it. We will content ourselves with giving two of the responsories of the night Office, the hymn, and the collect, which strikes us as being the finest. With regard to the hymn, it is well to mention that almost the whole of it is a modern composition, having been, like a great many other hymns of the Ambrosian breviary, subjected to very considerable corrections. The ancient hymn began with the verse Miraculum laudabile; but is extremely poor both in sentiment and expression.
R. Super quem requiescam, dicit Dominus, nisi super humilem et mansuetum, * Trementem verba mea? V. Inveni David servum meum, oleo sancto meo unxi eum. * Trementem verba mea?
R. Directus est vir inclytus, ut Arium destrueret: splendor Ecclesiæ, claritas vatum; * Infulas dum gerit saeculi, acquisivit paradisi. V. Dictum enim fuerat proficiscenti: Vade, age non ut judex sed ut episcopus. * Infulas dum gerit sæculi, acquisivit paradisi.
R. Upon whom shall I rest, saith the Lord, but upon him that is humble and meek. * Who trembleth at my words? V. I have found David my servant, and with my holy oil have I anointed him. * Who trembleth at my words?
R. This illustrious man was sent that he might destroy Arius: he was the glory of the Church, the ornament of pontiffs; * Whilst wearing an earthly mitre, he gained that of heaven. V. It was said to him as he set out: Go, act not as judge, but as bishop. * Whilst wearing an earthly mitre, he gained that of heaven.
Nostrum parentem maximum
Canamus omnes, turbidas
Qui fluctuantis sæculi
Terris procellas expulit.
Puer quiescit: floreis
Apes labellis insident;
Mellis magistræ, melicum
Signant ducem facundiæ.
Parvam, futuri praescius,
Dextram coli vult osculis;
Vixdum solutus fasciis,
Quaerit tiaræ tænias.
Infans locutus, Insubrum
Ambrosio fert infulam;
Hanc fugit: at semper fugam
Honos fefellit obvius.
Velat sacrata denique
Doctum tiara verticem:
Ceu tectus ora casside,
Bellum minatur Ario.
Nen sceptra concussas timet,
Non imperantem fœminam,
Temploque, clausis postibus,
Arcet cruentum Cæsarem.
Sordes fluentis abluit
Fide coaequans martyres,
Invenit artus martyrum.
Jam nunc furentem tartari
Lupum flagello submove;
Quem Pastor olim rexeris,
Gregem tuere jugiter.
Deo Patri sit gloria,
Ejusque soli Filio,
Cum Spiritu Paraclito,
Nunc et per omne saeculum.
Let us all sing the praise of our august father,
who drove from the land
the turbid storms
of a tempestuous age.
A babe, he sleeps;
when lo! a swarm of bees lights on his flowery lips;
these honeymakers thus telling us that here was one
who would captivate men by the sweetness of his eloquence.
Prescient of the future,
he must have his infant hand honoured with kisses;
and he who has scarce been freed from swathing bands,
plays with the fillets of a mitre.
A boy cries out,
and Milan would have Ambrose receive the mitre;
Ambrose flees from it,
but honours ever pursue those who run from them.
At last the sacred mitre
crowns this head where wisdom sits;
the helmet once on,
our warrior gives Arius battle.
Unflinching, he fears neither sceptres,
nor a haughty empress;
and when a blood-stained Cæsar attempts to enter the church,
he closes the doors against him and repels him from the holy spot.
He washes away the sins of Augustine
in the heavenly laver of baptism;
companion to the martyrs by his faith,
he discovers the relics of martyrs.
Holy pontiff, now with thy scourge
drive away far from us the furious wolf of hell:
that flock which thou once didst govern,
let it for ever enjoy thy protection.
To God the Father,
and to his only Son,
and to the holy Paraclete,
be glory now and for all ages.
Æterne omnipotens Deus, qui beatum Ambrosium, tui nominis Confessorem, non solum huic Ecclesiæ, sed omnibus per mundum diffusis Ecclesiis Doctorem dedisti: præsta ut, quod ille divino afflatus Spiritu docuit, nostris jugiter stabiliatur in cordibus, et quem patronum, te donante, amplectimur, eum apud tuam misericordiam defensorem habeamus. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
O almighty and eternal God, who hast given the blessed Ambrose, the Confessor of thy holy name, to be a Doctor of heavenly truth, not to this Church (of Milan) alone, but to all the Churches throughout the world: grant, that the doctrine he taught by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, may be ever firmly fixed in our hearts, and that he whom we tenderly love as the patron thou hast given to us, may be to us a defender, powerful to obtain us thy mercy. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Mozarabic liturgy has nothing proper on St. Ambrose. The Greeks, on the contrary, honour the memory of the great bishop of Milan by hymns replete with the most magnificent praises. We give a few of the most striking passages.
HYMN TO ST. AMBROSE
(Taken from the Menæa of the Greeks. December 7)
Præfecturæ thronum exornans virtute duplici, divina inspiratione hierarchiæ thronum utiliter implevisti: ideo fidelis œconomus principatus in utroque factus, duplicem coronam hæreditasti.
In continentia, et laboribus, et vigiliis multis, et precibus intensis animam corpusque purificasti, Dei sapiens, vas electionis Dei nostri, apostolis similis demonstratus, accepisti dona.
Pium regem post peccatum, ut olim David Nathan, audacter animadvertens, Ambrosi beatissime, sapienter excommunicationi subjecisti, et poenitentiam docens Deo digne, in gregem tuum revocasti.
Sancte pater, sacratissime Ambrosi, lyra resonans, salutare melos orthodoxorum dogmatum, attrahens fidelium animas, canora divini Paracliti cithara: Dei magnum organum, laudandissima Ecclesiae tuba, fons limpidissimus, fluentum eluens libidinum; Christum ora, Christum deprecare dari Ecclesias unanimem pacem et magnam misericordiam.
Eliam prophetam imitatus, Baptistamque similiter, reges inique agentes animadvertisti viriliter; hierarchiæ thronum divinitus ornasti, et miraculorum multitudine mundum ditasti, ideoque divinæ Scripturae alimonia fideles roborasti, et infideles immutasti. Sacerdos Ambrosi, Christum Deum deprecare dare peccatorum remissionem recolentibus cum amore tuam sanctam memoriam.
Ab omni noxa adversariorum servasti gregem, beate; et Arii errorem omnem delevisti splendore verborum tuorum.
In divina tua memoria sacerdotum coetus oblectatur, et fidelium chori cum angelis incorporati exsultant et delectantur, nutriturque hodie spiritualiter Ecclesia in verbis tuis, Ambrosi pater.
Agricola videris sulcans fidei promptum agrum et doctrinae; inseminans, Deisapiens, dogmata: et spica multiplicata, distribuis Ecclesiae cœlestem Spiritus panem.
Roma tua celebrat præclara gesta; fulgidus enim ut sidus undique miraculorum magnas faces, sacerdos, cum fide immisisti, vere mirande.
Mane accedens ad Christum, splendoribus fulgebas ditanter: ideo divinum nactus lumen, illuminas honorantes te ubique cum fide.
Corpus tuum et animam Deo consecrasti: et capax donorum, pater, cor tuum conglutinasti dulci amori enixe inhærens.
Accepto, sapiens, verbi talento, ut servus fidelis ad mensam illud dedisti et multiplicasti, atque adsportasti integrum cum fructu Domino tuo, Ambrosi.
Claram fecisti stolam sacram laboribus tuis, et visus es pastor rationabilium alumnorum sapiens, quos baculo tuo in doctrinae pascua antepellebas.
Thou that didst adora with twofold virtue the throne of the prefecture, didst meritoriously fill the throne of the hierarchy on which divine inspiration placed thee: faithful steward, therefore, in both dignities, thou hast inherited a double crown.
Thou didst purify thy soul and body by continency, and labours, and much watching, and intense prayer, O divinely wise one, O vessel of election of our God! thou wast like to the apostles, thou didst receive, like them, the gifts of the Holy Ghost.
As heretofore Nathan reproved David, so didst thou boldly chide the good emperor after his sin, O most blessed Ambrose! Thou didst wisely subject him to excommunication, and didst teach him to do condign penance: thus restoring him to thy fold.
Holy father, most saintly Ambrose, sweet sounding lute, refreshing melody of true dogmas, attracting the souls of believers, sweet harp of the holy Spirit, organ of God, incomparable trumpet of the Church, most limpid fountain which cleansest the turbid passions! offer thy prayers to Christ, and beseech him to bestow on his Church unanimity and peace and plentiful mercy.
Following the examples of the prophet Elias and of the Baptist, thou didst fearlessly reprove kings for their evil doings; thou didst admirably adorn the throne of the hierarchy; thou didst enrich the world with the multitude of thy miracles; and therefore thou didst strengthen the faithful and convert the unbelievers, by the nourishment of the divine Scriptures. O Ambrose! O holy priest! pray to Christ our Lord that he grant the forgiveness of their sins to them that celebrate with love thy holy memory.
Thou, O blessed pastor, didst defend thy flock from all their enemies; and by the splendour of thy teachings, didst dissipate every error of Arius.
The assembly of the priests rejoices in celebrating thy holy memory, and the choirs of the faithful, united with the angelic spirits, exult and are glad; the Church to-day is spiritually nourished by thy words, O father Ambrose!
Thou art the husbandman, that tillest the field, which is open to all men, of faith and doctrine; thou there sowest the dogmas of truth, for thou art filled with heavenly wisdom; and the grain being multiplied, thou distributest to the Church the heavenly bread of the holy Spirit.
Rome celebrates thy glorious deeds, for, bright as a star, thou shootest forth everywhere the great blaze of thy miracles, O truly admirable pontiff.
From the earliest dawn thou didst approach to Christ, richly bright with his rays upon thee: therefore, having reached the divine light, thou enlightenest them that, throughout the world, honour thee with faith.
Thou didst consecrate thy body and soul to God; and thy heart, O father, which was made for great gifts, thou didst fasten to his sweet love, and there it clung intensely.
Entrusted with the talent of the word, thou didst, as a wise and prudent servant, put it out to usury and multiply it and bring it with interest to thy Lord, O Ambrose!
The holy robe of the pontiff thou didst adorn with thy labours: thou wast the wise shepherd of the intellectual flock, and with thy pastoral staff thou didst lead them before thee into the pastures of doctrine.
And we, too, O immortal Ambrose, unworthy though we be to take part in such a choir, we, too, will praise thee! We will praise the magnificent gifts which our Lord bestowed upon thee. Thou art the light of the Church and the salt of the earth by thy heavenly teachings; thou art the vigilant pastor, the affectionate father, the unyielding pontiff; oh! how must thy heart have loved that Jesus, for whom we are now preparing! With what undaunted courage thou didst, at the risk of thy life, resist them that blasphemed this divine Word! Well indeed hast thou thereby merited to be made one of the patrons of the faithful, to lead them, each year, to Him who is their Saviour, and their King! Let, then, a ray of the truth, which filled thy sublime soul whilst here on earth, penetrate even into our hearts; give us a relish for thy sweet and eloquent writings; get us a sentiment of devoted love for the Jesus who is so soon to be with us. Obtain for us, after thy example, to take up His cause with energy, against the enemies of our holy faith, against the spirits of darkness, and against ourselves. Let everything yield, let everything be annihilated, let every knee bow, let every heart confess itself conquered, in the presence of Jesus, the eternal Word of the Father, the Son of God, and the Son of Mary, our Redeemer, our Judge, our All.
Glorious saint! humble us, as thou didst Theodosius; raise us up again contrite and converted, as thou didst lovingly raise up this thy strayed sheep and carry him back to thy fold. Pray, too, for the Catholic hierarchy, of which thou wast one of the brightest ornaments. Ask of God, for the priests and bishops of His Church, that humble yet inflexible courage wherewith they should resist the powers of the world, as often as these abuse the authority which God has put into their hands. Let their face, as our Lord Himself speaks, become hard as adamant against the enemies of the Church, and may they set themselves as a wall for the house of Israel; may they consider it as the highest privilege, and the greatest happiness, to be permitted to expose their property, and peace, and life, for the liberty of this holy bride of Christ.
Valiant champion of the truth! arm thyself with thy scourge, which the Church has given thee as thy emblem; and drive far from the flock of Christ the wolves of the Arian tribe, which, under various names, are even now prowling round the fold. Let our ears be no longer shocked with the blasphemies of these proud teachers, who presume to scan, judge, approve, and blame, by the measure of their vain conceits, the great God who has given them everything they are and have, and who, out of infinite love for His creatures, has deigned to humble Himself and become one of ourselves, although knowing that men would make this very condescension an argument for denying that He is God.
Remove our prejudices, O thou great lover of truth! and crush within us those time-serving and unwise theories, which tend to make us Christians forget that Jesus is the King of this world, and look on the law, which equally protects error and truth, as the perfection of modem systems. May we understand that the rights of the Son of God and of His Church do not cease to exist, because the world ceases to acknowledge them; that to give the same protection to the true religion and to those false doctrines which men have set up in opposition to the teachings of the Church, is to deny that all power has been given to Jesus in heaven and on earth; that those scourges which periodically come upon the world are the lessons which Jesus gives to those who trample on the rights of His Church, rights which He so justly acquired by dying on the cross for all mankind; that, finally, though it be out of our power to restore those rights to people that have had the misfortune to resign them, yet it is our duty, under pain of being accomplices with those who would not have Jesus reign over them, to acknowledge that they are the rights of the Church.
And lastly, dear saint, in the midst of the dark clouds which lower over the world, console our holy mother the Church, who is now but a stranger and a pilgrim amidst those nations which were her children, but have now denied her; may she cull the flowers of holy virginity among the faithful, and may that holy state be the attraction of those fortunate souls who understand how grand is the dignity of being a bride of Christ. If, at the very commencement of her ministry, during the ages of persecution, the holy Church could lead countless virgins to Jesus, may it be so even now in our own age of crime and sensuality; may those pure and generous hearts, formed and consecrated to the Lamb by this holy mother, become more and more numerous; and so give to her enemies this irresistible proof that she is not barren, as they pretend, and that it is she that alone preserves the world from universal corruption, by leavening it with angelic purity.
Let us consider that last visible preparation for the coming of the Messias: a universal peace. The din of war is silenced, and the entire world is intent in expectation. ‘There are three silences to be considered,’ says St. Bonaventure, in one of his sermons for Advent; ‘the first in the days of Noah, after the deluge had destroyed all sinners; the second, in the days of Cæsar Augustus, when all nations were subjected to the empire; the third will be at the death of Antichrist, when the Jews shall be converted.’ O Jesus! Prince of peace, Thou wiliest that the world shall be in peace, when Thou art coming down to dwell in it. Thou didst foretell this by the psalmist, Thy ancestor in the flesh, who, speaking of Thee, said: ‘He shall make wars to cease even to the end of the earth, He shall destroy the bow, and break the weapons; and the shield He shall bum in the fire.’ And why is this, O Jesus? It is, that hearts which Thou art to visit must be silent and attentive. It is that before Thou enterest a soul, Thou troublest it in Thy great mercy, as the world was troubled and agitated before the universal peace; then Thou bringest peace into that soul, and Thou takest possession of her. Oh! come quickly, dear Lord, subdue our rebellious senses, bring low the haughtiness of our spirit, crucify our flesh, rouse our hearts from their sleep: and then may Thy entrance into our souls be a feast-day of triumph, as when a conqueror enters a city which he has taken after a long siege. Sweet Jesus, Prince of peace! give us peace; fix Thy kingdom so firmly in our hearts, that Thou mayst reign in us for ever.
RESPONSORY OF ADVENT
(Roman breviary, Matins of the first Sunday)
R. Aspiciebam in visti noctis, et ecce in nubibus cœli Filius hominis veniebat: et datum est ei regnum et honor. * Et omnis populus, tribus et linguæ servient ei.
V. Potestas ejus potestas æterna, quæ non auferetur, et regnum ejus quod non corrumpetur. * Et omnis populus, tribus et linguæ servient ei.
R. I looked in the vision of night, and lo! in the clouds of heaven there came the Son of Man: and empire and honour was given unto him. * And all peoples, and tribes, and tongues, shall serve him.
V. His power is an everlasting power that shall not be taken away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. * And allpeoples, and tribes, and tongues, shall serve him.
 Ezech. iii. 9.
 Ibid. xiii. 5.
 Ps. xlv. 10.
At length, on the distant horizon, rises, with a soft and radiant light, the aurora of the Sun which has been so long desired. The happy Mother of the Messias was to be born before the Messias Himself; and this is the day of the Conception of Mary. The earth already possesses a first pledge of the divine mercy; the Son of Man is near at hand. Two true Israelites, Joachim and Anne, noble branches of the family of David, find their union, after a long barrenness, made fruitful by the divine omnipotence. Glory be to God, who has been mindful of His promises, and who deigns to announce, from the high heavens, the end of the deluge of iniquity, by sending upon the earth the sweet white dove that bears the tidings of peace!
The feast of the blessed Virgin’s Immaculate Conception is the most solemn of all those which the Church celebrates during the holy time of Advent; and if the first part of the cycle had to offer us the commemoration of some one of the mysteries of Mary, there was none whose object could better harmonize with the spirit of the Church in this mystic season of expectation. Let us, then, celebrate this solemnity with joy; for the Conception of Mary tells us that the Birth of Jesus is not far off.
The intention of the Church, in this feast, is not only to celebrate the anniversary of the happy moment in which began, in the womb of the pious Anne, the life of the ever-glorious Virgin Mary; but also to honour the sublime privilege, by which Mary was preserved from the original stain, which, by a sovereign and universal decree, is contracted by all the children of Adam the very moment they are conceived in their mother’s womb. The faith of the Catholic Church on the subject of the Conception of Mary is this: that at the very instant when God united the soul of Mary, which He had created, to the body which it was to animate, this ever-blessed soul did not only not contract the stain, which at that same instant defiles every human soul, but was filled with an immeasurable grace which rendered her, from that moment, the mirror of the sanctity of God Himself, as far as this is possible to a creature. The Church with her infallible authority, declared, by the lips of Pius IX., that this article of her faith had been revealed by God Himself. The Definition was received with enthusiasm by the whole of Christendom, and the eighth of December of the year 1854 was thus made one of the most memorable days of the Church’s history.
It was due to His own infinite sanctity that God should suspend, in this instance, the law which His divine justice had passed upon all the children of Adam. The relations which Mary was to bear to the Divinity, could not be reconciled with her undergoing the humiliation of this punishment. She was not only daughter of the eternal Father; she was destined also to become the very Mother of the Son, and the veritable bride of the Holy Ghost. Nothing defiled could be permitted to enter, even for an instant of time, into the creature that was thus predestined to contract such close relations with the adorable Trinity; not a speck could be permitted to tarnish in Mary that perfect purity which the infinitely holy God requires even in those who are one day to be admitted to enjoy the sight of His divine majesty in heaven; in a word, as the great Doctor St. Anselm says, ‘it was just that this holy Virgin should be adorned with the greatest purity which can be conceived after that of God Himself, since God the Father was to give to her, as her Child, that only-begotten Son, whom He loved as Himself, as being begotten to Him from His own bosom; and this in such a manner, that the selfsame Son of God was, by nature, the Son of both God the Father and this blessed Virgin. This same Son chose her to be substantially His Mother; and the Holy Ghost willed that in her womb He would operate the conception and birth of Him from whom He Himself proceeded.’
Moreover, the close ties which were to unite the Son of God with Mary, and which would elicit from Him the tenderest love and the most filial reverence for her, had been present to the divine thought from all eternity: and the conclusion forces itself upon us that therefore the divine Word had for this His future Mother a love infinitely greater than that which He bore to all His other creatures. Mary’s honour was infinitely dear to Him, because she was to be His Mother, chosen to be so by His eternal and merciful decrees. The Son’s love protected the Mother. She, indeed, in her sublime humility, willingly submitted to whatever the rest of God’s creatures had brought on themselves, and obeyed every tittle of those laws which were never meant for her: but that humiliating barrier, which confronts every child of Adam at the first moment of his existence, and keeps him from light and grace until he shall have been regenerated by a new birth—oh! this could not be permitted to stand in Mary’s way, her Son forbade it.
The eternal Father would not do less for the second Eve than He had done for the first, who was created, as was also the first Adam, in the state of original justice, which she afterwards forfeited by sin. The Son of God would not permit that the woman, from whom He was to take the nature of Man, should be deprived of that gift which He had given even to her who was the mother of sin. The Holy Ghost, who was to overshadow Mary and produce Jesus within her by His divine operation, would not permit that foul stain, in which we are all conceived, to rest, even for an instant, on this His Bride. All men were to contract the sin of Adam; the sentence was universal; but God’s own Mother is not included. God who is the author of that law, God who was free to make it as He willed, had power to exclude from it her whom He had predestined to be His own in so many ways; He could exempt her, and it was just that He should exempt her; therefore, He did it.
Was it not this grand exemption which God Himself foretold, when the guilty pair, whose children we all are, appeared before Him in the garden of Eden? In the anathema which fell upon the serpent, there was included a promise of mercy to us. ‘I will put enmities,’ said the Lord, ‘between thee and the Woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head.’ Thus was salvation promised the human race under the form of a victory over satan; and this victory is to be gained by the Woman, and she will gain it for us also. Even granting, as some read this text, that it is the Son of the Woman that is alone to gain this victory, the enmity between the Woman and the serpent is clearly expressed, and she, the Woman, with her own foot, is to crush the head of the hated serpent. The second Eve is to be worthy of the second Adam, conquering and not to be conquered. The human race is one day to be avenged not only by God made Man, but also by the Woman miraculously exempted from every stain of sin, in whom the primeval creation, which was in justice and holiness, will thus reappear, just as though the original sin had never been committed.
Raise up your heads, then, ye children of Adam, and shake off your chains! This day the humiliation which weighed you down is annihilated. Behold!
Mary, who is of the same flesh and blood as yourselves, has seen the torrent of sin, which swept along all the generations of mankind, flow back at her presence and not touch her: the infernal dragon has turned away his head, not daring to breathe his venom upon her; the dignity of your origin is given to her in all its primitive grandeur. This happy day, then, on which the original purity of your race is renewed, must be a feast to you. The second Eve is created; and from her own blood (which, with the exception of the element of sin, is the same as that which makes you to be the children of Adam), she is shortly to give you the God-Man, who proceeds from her according to the flesh, as He proceeds from the Father according to the eternal generation.
And how can we do less than admire and love the incomparable purity of Mary in her Immaculate Conception, when we hear even God, who thus prepared her to become His Mother, saying to her, in the divine Canticle, these words of complacent love: ‘Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee!’ It is the God of all holiness that here speaks; that eye, which sees all things, finds not a vestige, not a shadow of sin; therefore does He delight in her, and admire in her that gift of His own condescending munificence. We cannot be surprised after this, that Gabriel, when he came down from heaven to announce the Incarnation to her, should be full of admiration at the sight of that purity, whose beginning was so glorious and whose progress was immeasurable; and that this blessed spirit should bow down profoundly before this young Maid of Nazareth, and salute her with, ‘Hail, O full of grace!’ And who is this Gabriel? An Archangel, that lives amidst the grandest magnificences of God’s creation, amidst all the gorgeous riches of heaven; who is brother to the Cherubim and Seraphim, to the Thrones and Dominations; whose eye is accustomed to gaze on those nine angelic choirs with their dazzling brightness of countless degrees of light and grace; he has found on earth, in a creature of a nature below that of angels, the fulness of grace, of that grace which had been given to the angels measuredly. This fulness of grace was in Mary from the very first instant of her existence. She is the future Mother of God, and she was ever holy, ever pure, ever Immaculate.
This truth of Mary’s Immaculate Conception—which was revealed to the apostles by the divine Son of Mary, inherited by the Church, taught by the holy fathers, believed by each generation of the Christian people with an ever increasing explicitness—was implied in the very notion of a Mother of God. To believe that Mary was Mother of God, was implicitly to believe that she, on whom this sublime dignity was conferred, had never been defiled with the slightest stain of sin, and that God had bestowed upon her an absolute exemption from sin. But now the Immaculate Conception of Mary rests on an explicit definition dictated by the Holy Ghost. Peter has spoken by the mouth of Pius; and when Peter has spoken, every Christian should believe; for the Son of God has said: ‘I have prayed for thee, Peter, that thy faith fail not.’ And again: ‘The Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.’
The Symbol of our faith has therefore received not a new truth, but a new light on a truth which was previously the object of the universal belief. On that great day of the definition, the infernal serpent was again crushed beneath the victorious foot of the Virgin-Mother, and the Lord graciously gave us the strongest pledge of His mercy. He still loves this guilty earth, since He has deigned to enlighten it with one of the brightest rays of His Mother’s glory. How this earth of ours exulted! The present generation will never forget the enthusiasm with which the entire universe received the tidings of the definition. It was an event of mysterious importance which thus marked this second half of our century; and we shall look forward to the future with renewed confidence; for if the Holy Ghost bids us tremble for the days when truths are diminished among the children of men, He would, consequently, have us look on those times as blessed by God in which we receive an increase of truth; an increase both in light and authority.
The Church, even before the solemn proclamation of the grand dogma, kept the feast of this eighth day of December; which was, in reality, a profession of her faith. It is true that the feast was not called the Immaculate Conception, but simply the Conception of Mary. But the fact of such a feast being instituted and kept, was an unmistakable expression of the faith of Christendom in that truth. St. Bernard and the angelical doctor, St. Thomas, both teach that the Church cannot celebrate the feast of what is not holy; the Conception of Mary, therefore, was holy and immaculate, since the Church has, for ages past, honoured it with a special feast. The Nativity of the same holy Virgin is kept as a solemnity in the Church, because Mary was born full of grace; therefore, had the first moment of Mary’s existence been one of sin, as is that of all the other children of Adam, it never could have been made the subject of the reverence of the Church. Now, there are few feasts so generally and so firmly established in the Church as this which we are keeping to-day.
The Greek Church, which, more easily than the Latin, could learn what were the pious traditions of the east, kept this feast even in the sixth century, as is evident from the ceremonial or, as it is called, the Type, of St. Sabas. In the west, we find it established in the Gothic Church of Spain as far back as the eighth century. A celebrated calendar which was engraved on marble, in the ninth century, for the use of the Church of Naples, attests that it had already been introduced there. Paul the deacon, secretary to the emperor Charlemagne, and afterwards monk at Monte-Cassino, composed a celebrated hymn on the mystery of the Immaculate Conception; we will insert this piece later on, as it is given in the manuscript copies of Monte-Cassino and Benevento. In 1066, the feast was first established in England, in consequence of the pious Abbot Helsyn’s being miraculously preserved from shipwreck; and shortly after that, was made general through the whole island by the zeal of the great St. Anselm, monk of the Order of St. Benedict, and archbishop of Canterbury. From England it passed into Normandy, and took root in France. We find it sanctioned in Germany, in a council held in 1049, at which St. Leo IX. was present; in Navarre, 1090, at the abbey of Irach; in Belgium, at Liège, in 1142. Thus did the Churches of the west testify their faith in this mystery, by accepting its feast, which is the expression of faith.
Lastly, it was adopted by Rome herself, and her doing so rendered the united testimony of her children, the other Churches, more imposing than ever. It was Pope Sixtus IV. who, in the year 1476, published the decree of the feast of our Lady’s Conception for the city of St. Peter. In the next century, 1568, St. Pius V. published the universal edition of the Roman breviary, and in its calendar was inserted this feast as one of those Christian solemnities which the faithful are every year bound to observe. It was not from Rome that the devotion of the Catholic world to this mystery received its first impulse; she sanctioned it by her liturgical authority, just as she has confirmed it by her doctrinal authority in these our own days.
The three great Catholic nations of Europe, Germany, France, and Spain, vied with each other in their devotion to this mystery of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. France, by her king Louis XIV., obtained from Clement IX. that this feast should be kept with an octave throughout the kingdom; which favour was afterwards extended to the universal Church by Innocent XII. For centuries previous to this, the theological faculty of Paris had always exacted from its professors the oath that they would defend this privilege of Mary; a pious practice which continued as long as the university itself.
As regards Germany, the emperor Ferdinand III., in 1647, ordered a splendid monument to be erected in the great square of Vienna. It is covered with emblems and figures symbolical of Mary’s victory over sin, and on the top is the statue of the Immaculate Queen, with this solemn and truly Catholic inscription:
TO GOD, INFINITE IN GOODNESS AND POWER,
KING OF HEAVEN AND EARTH,
BY WHOM KINGS REIGN;
TO THE VIRGIN MOTHER OF GOD
CONCEIVED WITHOUT SIN,
BY WHOM PRINCES COMMAND,
WHOM AUSTRIA, DEVOUTLY LOVING, HOLDS AS HER
QUEEN AND PATRON;
FERDINAND III., EMPEROR,
CONFIDES, GIVES, CONSECRATES HIMSELF,
CHILDREN, PEOPLE, ARMIES, PROVINCES,
AND ALL THAT IS HIS,
AND ERECTS IN ACCOMPLISHMENT OF A VOW
AS A PERPETUAL MEMORIAL.
But the zeal of Spain for the privilege of the holy Mother of God surpassed that of all other nations. In the year 1398, John I., king of Arragon, issued a chart in which he solemnly places his person and kingdom under the protection of Mary Immaculate. Later on, kings Philip III. and Philip IV. sent ambassadors to Rome, soliciting, in their names, the solemn definition, which heaven reserved, in its mercy, for our days. King Charles III., in the eighteenth century, obtained permission from Clement XIII., that the Immaculate Conception should be the patronal feast of Spain. The people of Spain, which is so justly called the Catholic kingdom, put over the door, or on the front of their houses, a tablet with the words of Mary’s privilege written on it; and when they meet, they greet each other with an expression in honour of the same dear mystery. It was a Spanish nun, Mary of Jesus, abbess of the convent of the Immaculate Conception of Agreda, who wrote God’s Mystic City, which inspired Murillo with his Immaculate Conception, the masterpiece of the Spanish school.
But, whilst thus mentioning the different nations which have been foremost in their zeal for this article of our holy faith, the Immaculate Conception, it were unjust to pass over the immense share which the seraphic Order, the Order of St. Francis of Assisi, has had in the earthly triumph of our blessed Mother, the Queen of heaven and earth. As often as this feast comes round, is it not just that we should think with reverence and gratitude on him, who was the first theologian that showed how closely connected with the divine mystery of the Incarnation is this dogma of the Immaculate Conception? First, then, all honour to the name of the pious and learned John Duns Scotus! And when at length the great day of the definition of the Immaculate Conception came, how justly merited was that grand audience, which the Vicar of Christ granted to the Franciscan Order, and with which closed the pageant of the glorious solemnity! Pius IX. received from the hands of the children of St. Francis a tribute of homage and thankfulness, which the Scotist school, after having fought four hundred years in defence of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, now presented to the Pontiff.
In the presence of the fifty-four Cardinals, forty-two archbishops, and ninety-two bishops; before an immense concourse of people that filled St. Peter’s, and had united in prayer, begging the assistance of the Spirit of truth; the Vicar of Christ had just pronounced the decision which so many ages had hoped to hear. The Pontiff had offered the holy Sacrifice on the Confession of St. Peter. He had crowned the statue of the Immaculate Queen with a splendid diadem. Carried on his lofty throne, and wearing his triple crown, he had reached the portico of the basilica; there he is met by the two representatives of St. Francis: they prostrate before the throne: the triumphal procession halts: and first, the General of the Friars Minor Observantines advances, and presents to the holy Father a branch of silver lilies: he is followed by the General of the Conventual Friars, holding in his hand a branch of silver roses. The Pope graciously accepted both. The lilies and the roses were symbolical of Mary’s purity and love; the whiteness of the silver was the emblem of the lovely brightness of that orb, on which is reflected the light of the Sun; for, as the Canticle says of Mary, ‘she is beautiful as the moon.’ The Pontiff was overcome with emotion at these gifts of the family of the seraphic patriarch, to which we might justly apply what was said of the banner of the Maid of Orleans: ‘It had stood the brunt of the battle; it deserved to share in the glory of the victory.’ And thus ended the glories of that grand morning of the eighth of December, eighteen hundred and fifty-four.
It is thus, O thou the humblest of creatures, that thy Immaculate Conception has been glorified on earth! And how could it be other than a great joy to men, that thou art honoured by them, thou the aurora of the Sun of justice? Dost thou not bring them the tidings of their salvation? Art not thou, O Mary, that bright ray of hope, which suddenly bursts forth in the deep abyss of the world’s misery? What should we have been without Jesus? And thou art His dearest Mother, the holiest of God’s creatures, the purest of virgins, and our own most loving Mother!
How thy gentle light gladdens our wearied eyes, sweet Mother! Generation had followed generation on this earth of ours. Men looked up to heaven through their tears, hoping to see appear on the horizon the star which they had been told should disperse the gloomy horrors of the world’s darkness; but death came, and they sank into the tomb, without seeing even the dawn of the light, for which alone they cared to live. It is for us that God had reserved the blessing of seeing thy lovely rising, O thou fair morning star! which sheddest thy blessed rays on the sea, and bringest calm after the long stormy night! Oh! prepare our eyes that they may behold the divine Sun which will soon follow in thy path, and give to the world His reign of light and day. Prepare our hearts, for it is to our hearts that this Jesus of thine wishes to show Himself. To see Him, our hearts must be pure: purify them, O thou Immaculate Mother! The divine wisdom has willed that of the feasts which the Church dedicates to thee, this of thy Immaculate Conception should be celebrated during Advent; that thus the children of the Church, reflecting on the jealous care wherewith God preserved thee from every stain of sin because thou wast to be the Mother of His divine Son, might prepare to receive this same Jesus by the most perfect renunciation of every sin and of every attachment to sin. This great change must be made; and thy prayers, O Mary! will help us to make it. Pray—we ask it of thee by the grace God gave thee in thy Immaculate Conception—that our covetousness may be destroyed, our concupiscence extinguished, and our pride turned into humility. Despise not our prayers, dear Mother of that Jesus who chose thee, for His dwelling-place, that He might afterwards find one in each of us.
O Mary! Ark of the covenant, built of an incorruptible wood, and covered over with the purest gold! help us to correspond with those wonderful designs of our God, who, after having found His glory in thine incomparable purity, wills now to seek His glory in our unworthiness, by making us, from being slaves of the devil, His temples and His abode, where He may find His delight. Help us to this, O thou that by the mercy of thy Son hast never known sin! and receive this day our devoutest praise. Thou art the ark of salvation; the one creature unwrecked in the universal deluge; the white fleece filled with the dew of heaven, whilst the earth around is parched; the flame which the many waters could not quench; the lily blooming amidst thorns; the garden shut against the infernal serpent; the fountain sealed, whose limpid water was never ruffled; the house of the Lord, whereon His eyes were ever fixed, and into which nothing defiled could ever enter; the mystic city, of which such glorious things are said. We delight in telling all thy glorious titles, O Mary! for thou art our Mother, and we love thee, and the Mother’s glory is the glory of her children. Cease not to bless and protect all those that honour thy immense privilege, O thou who wert conceived on this day! May this feast fit us for that mystery, for which thy Conception, thy Birth, and thy Annunciation, are all preparations—the Birth of thy Jesus in Bethlehem: yea, dear Mother, we desire thy Jesus, give Him to us and satisfy the longings of our love.
The five psalms which are chanted by the Church in this Office, are those which she always employs on the feasts of our Lady.
The first celebrates the royalty, the priesthood, and the supreme judgeship of Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary; it implies, therefore, the great dignity and the incomparable purity of her who was to give Him birth.
Antiphona. Tota pulchra es, Maria, et macula originalis non est in te.
Dixit Dominus Domino meo: * Sede a dextris meis.
Donec ponam inimicos tuos: * scabellum pedum tuorum.
Virgam virtutis tuae emittet Dominus ex Sion: * dominare in medio inimicorum tuorum.
Tecum principium in die virtutis tuæ in splendoribus sanctorum: * ex utero ante luciferum genui te.
Juravit Dominus, et non pœnitebit eum: * Tu es Sacerdos in æternum secundum ordinem Melchisedech.
Dominus a dextris tuis: * confregit in die iræ suse reges.
Judicabit in nationibus, implebit ruinas: * conquassabit capita in terra multorum.
De torrente in via bibet: * propterea exaltabit caput.
Ant. Tota pulchra es, Maria, et macula originalis non est in te.
Ant. Vestimentum tuum candidum quasi nix, et facies tua sicut sol.
Antiphon. Thou art all fair, O Mary, and the stain of original sin is not in thee.
The Lord said to my Lord, his Son: Sit thou at my right hand, and reign with me.
Until I make thy enemies thy footstool.
O Christ! the Lord thy Father will send forth the sceptre of thy power out of Sion: from thence rule thou in the midst of thy enemies.
With thee is the principality in the day of thy strength, in the brightness of the saints: for the Father hath said to thee: From the womb before the day-star I begot thee.
The Lord hath sworn, and he will not repent: he hath said, speaking of thee, the God-Man: Thou art a Priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech.
Therefore, O Father, the Lord thy Son, is at thy right hand: he hath broken kings in the day of his wrath.
He shall also judge among nations: in that terrible coming, he shall fill the ruins of the world; he shall crush the heads in the land of many.
He cometh now in humility; he shall drink, in the way, of the torrent of sufferings: therefore shall he lift up the head.
Ant. Thou art all fair, O Mary, and the stain of original sin is not in thee.
Ant. Thy garment is white as snow, and thy face is as the sun.
The second psalm celebrates the greatness of God, yet shows Him to us as looking down with complacency on the humble of heart. It is the humility of Mary which made Him choose her for His own Mother, and crown her as the Queen of the universe. She ever remained a pure Virgin, and yet our Lord made her to be Mother of all mankind.
Laudate, pueri, Dominum: * laudate nomen Domini.
Sit nomen Domini benedictum: * ex hoc nunc et usque in sæculum.
A solis ortu usque ad occasum: * laudabile nomen Domini,
Excelsus super omnes gentes Dominus: * et super cœlos gloria ejus.
Quis sicut Dominus Deus noster qui in altis habitat: * et humilia respicit in cœlo et in terra?
Suscitans a terra inopem: * et de stercore erigens pauperem.
Ut collocet eum cum principibus: * cum principibus populi sui.
Qui habitare facit sterilem in domo: * matrem filiorum lætantem.
Ant. Vestimentum tuum candidum quasi nix, et facies tua sicut sol.
Ant. Tu gloria Jerusalem, tu lætitia Israel, tu honorificentia populi nostri.
Praise the Lord, ye children: praise ye the name of the Lord.
Blessed be the name of the Lord: from henceforth now and for ever.
Prom the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, the name of the Lord is worthy of praise.
The Lord is high above all nations: and his glory above the heavens.
Who is as the Lord our God, who dwelleth on high: and looketh down on the low things in heaven and on earth?
Raising up the needy from the earth: and lifting up the poor out of the dunghill.
That he may place him with princes: with the princes of his people.
Who maketh a barren woman to dwell in a house, the joyful mother of children.
Ant. Thy garment is white as snow, and thy face is as the sun.
Ant. Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the honour of our people.
The third psalm sings the glory of Jerusalem, the city of God. Mary, who was the dwelling which the Most High had chosen for Himself, was signified by this blessed city. It is in her, in the admiration which her dignity excites, and in the confidence which her exhaustless love inspires, that the children of the Church are now assembled. The Church herself is also the city of God.
Lætatus sum in his quæ dicta sunt mihi: * In domum Domini ibimus.
Stantes erant pedes nostri: * in atriis tuis Jerusalem.
Jerusalem quæ ædificatur ut civitas: * cujus participatio ejus in idipsum.
Illuc enim ascenderunt tribus, tribus Domini: * testimonium Israel ad confitendum nomini Domini.
Quia illio sederunt sedes in judicio: * sedes super domum David.
Rogate quae ad pacem sunt Jerusalem: * et abundantia diligentibus te.
Fiat pax in virtute tua: * et abundantia in turribus tuis.
Propter fratres meos et proximos meos: * loquebar pacem de te.
Propter domum Domini Dei nostri: * quaesivi bona tibi.
Ant. Tu gloria Jerusalem, tu lætitia Israel, tu honorificentia populi nostri.
Ant. Benedicta es tu, Virgo Maria, a Domino Deo excelso, præ omnibus mulieribus super terram.
I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord.
Our feet were standing in thy courts, O Jerusalem! Our heart loves and confides in thee, O Mary.
Mary is like to Jerusalem that is built as a city; which is compact together.
For thither did the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord: the testimony of Israel, to praise the name of the Lord.
Because seats sat there in judgement; seats upon the house of David; and Mary is of a kingly race.
Pray ye, through Mary, for the things that are for the peace of Jerusalem: and may abundance be on them that love thee, O Church of our God!
The voice of Mary: Let peace be in thy strength, O thou new Sion! and abundance in thy towers.
I, a daughter of Israel, for the sake of my brethren and of my neighbours, spoke peace of thee.
Because of the house of the Lord our God, I have sought good things for thee.
Ant. Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the honour of our people.
Ant. Blessed art thou, O Virgin Mary, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth.
The following psalm is inserted in the Office of our Lady on account of the allusion made in it to a house which God Himself has built, and to a city of which He is the guardian. Mary is this house, which God built for Himself; she is this city, which He has protected from every insult and attack.
Nisi Dominus ædificaverit domum: * in vanum laboraverunt qui aedificant eam.
Nisi Dominus custodierit civitatem: * frustra vigilat qui custodit eam.
Vanum est vobis ante lucem surgere: * surgite postquam sederitis, qui manducatis panem doloris.
Cum dederit dilectis suis somnum: * ecce hæreditas Domini, filii: merces, fructus ventris.
Sicut sagittæ in manu potentis: * ita filii excussorum.
Beatus vir, qui implevit desiderium suum ex ipsis: * non confundetur cum loquetur inimicis suis in porta.
Ant. Benedicta es tu, Virgo Maria, a Domino Deo excelso, præ omnibus mulieribus super terram.
Ant. Trahe nos, Virgo immaculata: post te curremus in odorem unguentorum tuorum.
Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.
Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it.
It is vain for you to rise before light; rise ye after you have sitten, you that eat of the bread of sorrow.
When he shall give sleep to his beloved: behold the inheritance of the Lord are children: the reward, the fruit of the womb.
As arrows in the hand of the mighty, so the children of them that have been shaken.
Blessed is the man that hath filled his desire with them; he shall not be confounded when he shall speak to his enemies at the gate.
Ant. Blessed art thou, O Virgin Mary, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth.
Ant. Draw us, O Immaculate Virgin! we will run after thee to the odour of thy ointments.
Again it is Mary, the mystic city of God, that the Church has in view when she sings, on these feasts, the following beautiful psalm. On this day of her Conception, our Lord strengthened the gates of His beloved city; the enemy could not enter. God owed this defence to her, by whom He intended to send His Word upon the earth.
Lauda, Jerusalem, Dominum: * lauda Deum tuum, Sion.
Quoniam confortavit seras portarum tuarum: * benedixit filiis tuis in te.
Qui posuit fines tuos pacem: * et adipe frumenti satiat te.
Qui emittit eloquium suum terrae: * velociter currit sermo ejus.
Qui dat nivem sicut lanam: * nebulam sicut cinerem spargit.
Mittit crystallum suam sicut buccellas: * ante faciem frigoris ejus quis sustinebit?
Emittet verbum suum, et liquefaciet ea; * flabit spiritus ejus, et fluent aquæ.
Qui annuntiat verbum suum Jacob: * justitias, et judicia sua Israel.
Non fecit taliter omni nationi: * et judicia sua non manifestavit eis.
Ant. Trahe nos Virgo immaculata: post te curremus in odorem unguentorum tuorum.
Praise the Lord, O Mary, thou true Jerusalem: O Mary, O Sion ever holy, praise thy God.
Because he hath strengthened against sin the bolts of thy gates: he hath blessed thy children within thee.
Who hath placed peace in thy borders, and filleth thee with the fat of com, with Jesus, who is the Bread of life.
Who sendeth forth by thee his Word to the earth; his Word runneth swiftly.
Who giveth snow like wool: scattereth mists like ashes.
He sendeth his crystal like morsels: who shall stand before the face of his cold?
He shall send forth his Word by Mary, and shall melt them: his spirit shall breathe, and the waters shall run.
Who declareth his Word to Jacob: his justices and his judgements to Israel.
He hath not done in like manner to every nation; and his judgements he hath not made manifest to them.
Ant. Draw us, O Immaculate Virgin! we will run after thee to the odour of thy ointments.
The capitulum is a passage from the Book of Proverbs of Solomon, in which divine Wisdom, the Son of God, publishes the eternity of the divine decree of the Incarnation. The Church, on this day, puts these same words in the mouth of Mary, inasmuch as this privileged creature was also decreed, before all time, to be the Mother of the ManGod.
Dominus possedit me in initio viarum suarum, antequam quidquam faceret a principio: ab æterno ordinata sum, et ex antiquis antequam terra fieret: nondum erant abyssi, et ego jam concepta eram.
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways before he made anything from the beginning: I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made: the depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived.
The hymn is that venerable song of the Catholic Church, which is chanted on all the feasts of our Lady. No heart can resist the confidence and love which this canticle inspires. How often soever repeated, it seems ever fresh. The nun in her peaceful cloister, and the mariner in the hour of storm, both love their Ave Maris Stella.
Ave, maria stella!
Dei Mater alma,
Atque semper Virgo,
Felix cœli porta.
Sumens illud Ave
Funda nos in pace,
Mutans Evæ nomen.
Solve vincla reis,
Profer lumen caecis,
Mala nostra pelle,
Bona cuncta posce.
Monstra te esse Matrem,
Sumat per te preces,
Qui pro nobis natus,
Tulit esse tuus.
Inter omnes mitis,
Nos culpis solutos
Mites fac et castos.
Vitam præsta puram,
Iter para tutum;
Ut videntes Jesum,
Sit laus Deo Patri,
Summo Christo decus,
Tribus honor unus.
V. Immaculata Conceptio est hodie sanctæ Mariæ Virginis.
R. Quæ serpentis caput virgineo pede contrivit.
Hail, star of the sea!
blessed Mother of God,
yet ever a Virgin!
O happy gate of heaven!
Thou that didst receive the Ave
from Gabriel’s lips,
confirm us in peace,
and so let Eva be changed into an Ave of blessing for us.
Loose the sinner’s chains,
bring light to the blind,
drive from us our evils,
and ask all good things for us.
Show thyself a Mother,
and offer our prayers to him,
who would be born of thee,
when born for us.
O incomparable Virgin,
and meekest of the meek,
obtain us the forgiveness of our sins,
and make us meek and chaste.
Obtain us purity of life,
and a safe pilgrimage;
that we may be united
with thee in the blissful vision of Jesus.
Praise be to God the Father,
and to the Lord Jesus,
and to the Holy Ghost:
to the Three one selfsame praise.
V. To-day is the Immaculate Conception of the blessed Virgin Mary.
R. Who with virgin foot crushed the serpent’s head.
Antiphon of the Magnificat
Beatam me dicent omnes generationes, quia fecit mihi magna qui potensest, alleluia.
All generations shall call me blessed, because he that is mighty hath done great things in me, alleluia.
Deus, qui per immaculatam Virginis Conceptionem, dignum Filio tuo habitaculum praeparasti; quaesumus, ut qui ex morte ejusdem Filii tui prævisa, eam ab omni labe præservasti, nos quoque mundos ejus intercessione ad te pervenire concedas. Per eumdem.
O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin didst prepare a worthy dwelling-place for thy divine Son; grant, we beseech thee, that, as by the foreseen merits of the death of this thy Son, thou didst preserve her from every stain of sin, we also may, through her intercession, be cleansed from our sins and united with thee. Through the same, &c.
A commemoration is here made of Advent, by the antiphon, versicle, and prayer of the day.
The Introit is a song of thanksgiving, taken from Isaias and the Psalms. Mary extols the wonderful gifts of God to her, and the victory which He has granted her over satan and sin.
Gaudens gaudebo in Domino, et exsultabit anima mea in Deo meo: quia induit me vestimentis salutis; et indumento justitiæ circumdedit me, quasi sponsam ornatam monilibus suis.
Ps. Exaltabo te, Domine, quoniam suscepisti me: nec delectasti inimicos meos super me. Gloria Patri. Gaudens gaudebo.
I will rejoice with exceeding joy in the Lord, and my soul shall exult in my God: for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation; and with the robe of justice he hath covered me, as a bride adorned with her jewels.
Ps. I will extol thee, O Lord, for thou hast upheld me: and hast not made my enemies to rejoice over me. Glory be to the Father, &c. I will rejoice, &c.
The Collect gives us the moral explanation of the mystery. Mary was preserved from original sin because she was to be the dwelling-place of the Most Holy: let this teach us to beg of this same God, that He would purify our souls.
Deus, qui per immaculatam Virginis Conceptionem dignum Filio tuo habitaculum praeparasti; quaesumus, ut qui, ex morte ejusdem Filii tui praevisa, eam ab omni labe præservasti, nos quoque mundos ejus intercessione ad te pervenire concedas. Per eumdem.
O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin didst prepare a worthy dwelling-place for thy divine Son; grant, we beseech thee, that, as by the foreseen merits of the death of this thy Son, thou didst preserve her from every stain of sin, we also may, through her intercession, be cleansed from our sins and united with thee. Through the same, &c.
Here is made a commemoration of Advent, by the Collect of the preceding Sunday.
Lectio libri Sapientiæ.
Prov. Cap. viii.
Dominus possedit me in initio viarum suarum, antequam quidquam faceret a principio. Ab æterno ordinata sum, et ex antiquis, antequam terra fieret. Nondum erant abyssi, et ego jam concepta eram: necdum fontes aquarum eruperant; necdum montes gravi mole constiterant: ante colles ego parturiebar: adhuc terram non fecerat, et flumina, et cardines orbis terræ. Quando præparabat cœlos, aderam: quando certa lege, et gyro vallabat abyssos: quando aethera firmabat sursum, et librabat fontes aquarum: quando circumdabat mari terminum suum, et legem ponebat aquis, ne transirent fines suos: quando appendebat fundamenta terrae: cum eo eram cuncta componens: et delectabar per singulos dies, ludens coram eo omni tempore, ludens in orbe terrarum: et deliciæ meæ, esse cum filiis hominum. Nunc ergo, filii, audite me. Beati qui custodiunt vias meas. Audite disciplinam, et estote sapientes, et nolite abjicere eam. Beatus homo qui audit me, et qui vigilat ad fores meas quotidie, et observat ad postes ostii mei. Qui me invenerit, inveniet vitam; et hauriet salutem a Domino.
Lesson from the Book of Wisdom.
Prov. Ch. viii.
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made anything from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived; neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out; the mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth: he had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was present: when with a certain law and compass he enclosed the depths: when he established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters: when he compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters, that they should not pass their limits: when he balanced the foundations of the earth: I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times, playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men. Now, therefore, ye children, hear me. Blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that heareth me, and that watcheth daily at my gates, and waiteth at the posts of my doors. He that shall find me, shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord.
The apostle teaches us that Jesus, our Emmanuel, is the firstborn of every creature. These mysterious words signify not only that He is, as God, eternally begotten of the Father; but also that the divine Word is, as Man, anterior to all created beings. Yet, how is this? The world had been created, and the human race had dwelt on this earth full four thousand years, before the Son of God took to Himself the nature of man. It is not in the order of time, but in the eternal intention of God, that the Man-God preceded every creature. The eternal Father decreed first to give to His eternal Son a created nature, namely, the nature of man; and, in consequence of this decree, to create all beings, whether spiritual or material, as a kingdom for this Man-God. This explains to us how it is, that the divine Wisdom, the Son of God, in the passage of the sacred Scripture which forms the Epistle of this feast, proclaims His having existed before all the creatures of the universe. As God, He was begotten from all eternity in the bosom of the Father; as Man, He was, in the mind of God, the type of all creatures, before those creatures were made. But the Son of God could not be of our race, as the divine will decreed He should be, unless He were born in time, and born of a Mother as other men; and therefore she that was to be His Mother was eternally present to the thought of God, as the means whereby the Word would assume the human nature. The Son and the Mother are therefore united in the plan of the Incarnation: Mary, therefore, existed, as did Jesus, in the divine decree, before creation began. This is the reason of the Church’s having, from the earliest ages of Christianity, interpreted this sublime passage of the sacred volume of Jesus and of Mary unitedly, and ordering it and analogous passages of the Scriptures to be read in the assembly of the faithful on the solemnities or feasts of the Mother of God. But if Mary be thus prominent in the divine and eternal plan; if, in the sense in which these mysterious texts are understood by the Church, she was, with Jesus, before every creature; could God permit her to be subjected to the original sin, which was to fall on all the children of Adam? She is, it is true, to be a child of Adam like her divine Son Himself, and to be bora at the time fixed; but that torrent, which sweeps all mankind along, shall be turned away from her by God’s grace; it shall not come near to her; and she shall transmit to her Son, who is also the Son of God, the human nature in its original perfection, created, as the apostle says, in holiness and justice.
The Gradual is the application to the Immaculate Mother of God of those praises with which the ancients of Bethulia greeted Judith, after she had slain the enemy of God’s people. Judith is one of the types of Mary, who crushed the head of the serpent.
The Alleluia verse applies to our blessed Lady those words of the divine Canticle, which proclaim the bride of God to be all fair and spotless.
Benedicta es tu, Virgo Maria, a Domino Deo excelso, præ omnibus mulieribus super terram.
V. Tu gloria Jerusalem, tu lætitia Israel, tu honorificentia populi nostri.
V. Tota pulchra es, Maria, et macula originalis non est in te. Alleluia.
Blessed art thou, O Virgin Mary, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth.
V. Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the honour of our people.
V. Thou art all fair, O Mary, and the stain original is not in thee. Alleluia.
Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Lucam.
In illo tempore: Missus est angelus Gabriel a Deo in civitatem Galilææ, cui nomen Nazareth, ad Virginem desponsatam viro, cui nomen erat Joseph, de domo David; et nomen Virginis, Maria. Et ingressus angelus ad eam, dixit: Ave, gratia plena; Dominus tecum: benedicta tu in mulieribus.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Luke.
At that time the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a Virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David: and the Virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.
This is the salutation with which the Archangel greets Mary. It shows us what was his admiration and his profound veneration for the Virgin of Nazareth. The holy Gospel tells us that Mary was troubled at these words, and thought within herself what such a salutation as this could imply. The sacred Scriptures record many angelical salutations: but, as St. Ambrose, St. Andrew of Crete, and, before them, Origen had remarked, there is not one which contains such praises as this does. The prudent Virgin was, therefore, naturally surprised at the extraordinary words of the angel, and, as the early fathers observe, they would remind her of that other interview between Eve and the serpent. She therefore remained silent, and it was only after the Archangel had spoken to her a second time, that she made him a reply.
And yet, Gabriel had spoken not only with all the eloquence, but with all the profound wisdom of a celestial spirit initiated into the divine mysteries; and, in his own superhuman language, he announced that the moment had come when Eve was to be transformed into Mary. There was present before him a woman destined for the sublimest dignity, the woman that was to be the Mother of God; yet, up to this solemn moment, Mary was but a daughter of the human race. Think, then, taking Gabriel’s words as your guide, what must have been the holiness of Mary in this her first estate: is it not evident that the prophecy, made in the earthly paradise, had already been accomplished in her?
The Archangel proclaims her full of grace. What means this, but that the second woman possesses in herself that element of which sin had deprived the first? And observe, he does not say merely that divine grace works in her, but that she is full of it. ‘She is not merely in grace as others are,’ as Saint Peter Chrysologus told us on his feast, 'but she is filled with it.’ Everything in her is resplendent with heavenly purity, and sin has never cast its shadow on her beauty. To appreciate the full import of Gabriel’s expression, we must consider what is the force of the words in the language which the sacred historian used. Grammarians tell us that the single word which he employs is much more comprehensive than our expression ‘full of grace.’ It implies not only the present time, but the past as well, an incorporation of grace from the very commencement, the full and complete affirmation of grace, the total permanence of grace. Our translation has unavoidably weakened the term.
The better to feel the full force of our translation, let us compare this with an analogous text from the Gospel of St. John. This evangelist, speaking of the Humanity of the Incarnate Word, expresses all by saying that Jesus is full of grace and truth. Now, would this fulness have been real, had sin ever been there, instead of grace, even for a single instant? Could we call him full of grace, who had once stood in need of being cleansed? Undoubtedly, we must ever respectfully bear in mind the distance between the Humanity of the Incarnate Word and the person of Mary, from whose womb the Son of God assumed that Humanity; but the sacred text obliges us to confess, that the fulness of grace was, proportionately, in both Jesus and Mary.
Gabriel goes on still enumerating the supernatural riches of Mary. He says to her: 'The Lord is with thee.’ What means this? It means, that even before Mary had conceived our Lord in her chaste womb, she already possessed Him in her soul. But, would the words be true, if that union with God had once not been, and had begun only when her disunion with Him by sin had been removed? The solemn occasion, on which the angel uses this language, forbids us to think that he conveyed by it any other idea, than that she had always had the Lord with her. We feel the allusion to a contrast between the first and the second Eve; the first lost the God who had once been with her; the second had, like the first, received our Lord into her from the first moment of her existence, and never lost Him, but continued from first to last and for ever to have Him with her.
Let us listen once more to the salutation, and we shall find from its last words that Gabriel is announcing the fulfilment of the divine oracle, and is addressing Mary as the woman foretold to be the instrument of the victory over satan. ‘Blessed art thou among women.’ For four thousand years, every woman has been under the curse of God, and has brought forth her children in suffering and sorrow: but here is the one among women, that has been ever blessed of God, that has ever been the enemy of the serpent, and that shall bring forth the fruit of her womb without travail.
The Immaculate Conception of Mary is therefore declared in the Archangel’s salutation; and we can now understand why the Church selected this portion of the Gospel to be read to-day in the assembly of the faithful.
After the glorious chant of the Symbol of our faith, the choir intones the Offertory: it is composed of the words of the angelical salutation. Let us say to Mary with Gabriel: Verily, O Mary, thou art full of grace.
Ave, Maria, gratia plena: Dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus, alleluia.
Hail Mary, full of grace: the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women, alleluia.
Salutarem hostiam, quam in solemnitate immaculatæ Conceptionis beatae Virginis Mariae tibi, Domine, offerimus, suscipe, et praesta: ut sicut illam, tua gratia praeveniente, ab omni labe immunem profitemur: ita ejus intercessione a culpis omnibus liberemur. Per Dominum.
Receive, O Lord, this host of salvation, which we offer unto thee on this solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the blessed Virgin Mary; and grant, that, as we confess her to have been preserved, by thy preventing grace, from every stain of sin, we may, by her intercession, be freed from all our sins. Through, &c.
A commemoration is here made of Advent, by the Secret of the preceding Sunday.
The Church is too full of joy on this great feast to be satisfied with her usual form of thanksgiving; she employs one which makes mention of the holy Mother of God, whose Conception revives her hopes, and announces the rising of Him who is the eternal light.
Vere dignum et justum est, æquum et salutare, nos tibi semper, et ubique gratias agere: Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, æterne Deus. Et te in Conceptione Immaculata beatæ Mariæ semper Virginis collaudare, benedicere, et prædicare. Quae et Unigenitum tuum sancti Spiritus obumbratione concepit: et virginitatis gloria permanente, lumen æternum mundo effudit, Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum. Per quem Majestatem tuam laudant Angeli, adorant Dominationes, tremunt Potestates, Cœli, cœlorumque Virtutes, ac beata Seraphim, socia exsultatione concelebrant. Cum quibus et nostras voces, ut admitti jubeas deprecamur, supplici confessione dicentes: Sanctus! Sanctus! Sanctus!
It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should always, and in all places, give thanks to thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, eternal God. And that we should praise, bless, and glorify thee on the Immaculate Conception of the blessed Mary, ever a Virgin, who by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost conceived thine only begotten Son, and, the glory of her virginity still remaining, brought forth the eternal light to the world, Jesus Christ our Lord. By whom the Angels praise thy Majesty, the Dominations adore it, the Powers tremble before it, the Heavens, the heavenly Virtues, and blessed Seraphim, with common jubilee glorify it. Together with whom we beseech thee that we may be admitted to join our humble voices, saying: Holy! Holy! Holy!
During the Communion, the Church shares in the holy enthusiasm, wherewith David proclaims the glories and the privileges of the mystic city of God.
Gloriosa dicta sunt de te, Maria, quia fecit tibi magna qui potens est.
Glorious things are said of thee, O Mary! for he that is mighty hath done great things in thee.
Sacramenta quæ sumpsimus, Domine Deus noster, illius in nobis culpæ vulnera reparent; a qua immaculatam beatæ Mariæ Conceptionem singulariter præservasti. Per Dominum, &c.
May the mysteries we have received, O Lord our God, repair in us the wounds of that sin, from which thou hast, with exceptional providence, preserved the Immaculate Conception of the ever blessed Mary. Through, &c.
Then is made a commemoration of Advent, by the Postcommunion of the preceding Sunday.
The antiphons, psalms, capitulum, hymn, and versicle, are the same as in first Vespers, pages 390 to 397.
Antiphon of the Magnificat
Hodie egressa est virga de radice Jesse: hodie sine ulla peccati labe concepta est Maria: hodie contritum est ab ea caput serpentis antiqui, alleluia.
This day there went forth a branch from the root of Jesse: this day was Mary conceived without any stain of sin: this day was the head of the old serpent crushed by her, alleluia.
The Prayer as in the first Vespers, page 397.
We will now give three liturgical hymns composed in honour of the mystery of Mary’s Immaculate Conception; they will assist the faithful to enter more fully into the spirit of to-day’s feast. We must give the precedence to the beautiful strophes, in which Prudentius, in his hymn Ante cibum, celebrates the triumph of the woman over the serpent. We find, then, early in the fifth century, that the prince of Christian poets mentions, as one of the glories of Mary, her having triumphed over all the poisons of the infernal dragon, because there was to be bestowed upon her the dignity of Mother of God.
Ecce venit nova progenies,
Æthere proditus alter homo,
Non luteus, velut ille prior,
Sed Deus ipse gerens hominem,
Corporeisque carens vitiis.
Fit caro vivida Sermo Patris,
Numine quem rutilante gravis
Non thalamo, neque jure tori,
Nec genialibus illecebris,
Intemerata puella parit.
Hoc odium vetus illud erat,
Hoc erat aspidis, atque hominis
Quod modo cernua femineis
Vipera proteritur pedibus.
Edere namque Deum merita,
Omnia Virgo venena domat.
Tractibus anguis inexplicitis,
Virus inerme piger revomit,
Gramine concolor in viridi
Quae feritas modo non trepidat,
Territa de grege candidulo?
Impavidas lupus inter oves
Tristis obambulat, et rabidum
Sanguinis immemor os cohibet.
Agnus enim vice mirifica
Ecce leonibus imperitat,
Exagitansque truces aquilas
Per vaga nubila, perque notos
Sidere lapsa Columba fugat.
Lo! there comes a new progeny:
a new man come from heaven,
not formed of clay as was that first Adam;
no, it is God himself that has assumed human nature,
though without that nature’s sins.
The Word of the Father is made living flesh;
a spotless Virgin is his Mother,
not made so by the ordinary laws of wedlock,
but by the overshadowing of that bright Spirit,
who is God, yet chooses Mary for his bride.
Here is the cause of that ancient hate,
that ever-warring quarrel
between the serpent and man
—that now the crouching viper
is crushed by the woman’s foot.
The Virgin, that was made worthy to be Mother of God,
triumphs over all the poisons of satan:
the green monster, now sluggish and disabled,
coils his huge folds round himself,
and on the grass vomits out his venom.
Well may the fierce wolf tremble,
and flee from the dear white lambs of the fold!
Sulky and vexed, he prowls around the inclosure
wherein they safely browse:
he dare not think of blood, nor show his rabid teeth.
O wonderful change!
the lamb commands the lion,
and the heavenly Dove in her descent to earth
makes the ravenous eagle
flutter through the clouds and the winds.
The following hymn belongs to the eighth century. It was written by the celebrated Paul the deacon, who, after being secretary to Charlemagne, became a monk at Monte-Cassino. Here, too, we find the clearest profession of faith in the Immaculate Conception. The poison of original sin, as the author expresses it, has run its infection through the entire human race; but the Creator sees that the womb of Mary is pure, and there he enters.
Quis possit amplo famine præpotens
Digne fateri præmia Virginis,
Per quam veternæ sub laqueo necis
Orbi retento reddita vita est?
Hæc virga Jesse, Virgo puerpera,
Hortus superno germine consitus,
Signatus alto munere fons sacer,
Mundum beavit viscere cœlibi.
Hausto maligni primus ut occidit
Virus chelydri terrigenum parens;
Hinc lapsa pestis per genus irrepens
Cunctum profundo vulnere perculit.
Rerum misertus sed Sator, inscia
Cernens piaculi viscera Virginis,
Hic ferre mortis crimine languido
Mandat salutis gaudia sæculo.
Emissus astris Gabriel innubæ
Æterna portat nuntia Virgini:
Verbo tumescit latior æthere
Alvus replentem sæcula continens.
Intacta mater, virgoque fit parens,
Orbis Creator ortus in orbe est;
Hostis pavendi sceptra remota sunt,
Toto refulsit lux nova saeculo.
Sit Trinitati gloria unicae,
Virtus, potestas, summa potentia,
Regnum retentans, quae Deus unus est,
Per cuncta semper saecula saeculi.
Where is the man with words
sublime enough to tell the gifts bestowed on the Virgin,
by whom life was restored to the world,
which was prisoner in the snare of the old death?
She is the branch of Jesse, the Virgin Mother,
the garden wherein grew the divine plant,
the holy fountain sealed with the mysterious gift:
she it is that made the world happy by the fruit of her virginal womb.
Our first parent brought death on himself,
by drinking in the poison of the wicked serpent;
thence came the pestilence on all mankind,
and it was mortal
But the Creator of the world took compassion on man,
and seeing the womb of the Virgin, that was pure from sin,
it is by her he decrees to convey the joys of salvation
to the world that languished in crime.
Gabriel is sent from heaven
bearing to the chaste Virgin the eternal decree:
and she becomes Mother of the Word,
her womb containing within it him that fills the earth.
A chaste maid, yet a mother! a virgin, yet a parent!
The Creator of the world was born in his own world;
the sceptre was wrested from the hands of the dreaded enemy;
a new light shone throughout the whole world.
To the Trinity, the one only God,
be glory, honour, power,
highest strength, and kingdom,
for ever and for ever.
The following Prose was used in many Churches, two hundred years ago, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
Dies iste celebretur,
In quo pie recensetur
Virgo Mater generatur;
Concipitur et creatur
Dulcis vena veniæ.
Adæ vetus exsilium,
Et Joachim opprobrium,
Hinc habent remedium.
Hoc prophetæ præviderunt,
Virga prolem conceptura,
Stella solem paritura,
Flos de virga processurus,
Sol de stella nasciturus,
O quam felix et praeclara,
Nobis grata, Deo chara,
Fuit hæc Conceptio!
Luctus cedit gaudio.
Nova mater novam prolem,
Nova stella novum solem,
Nova profert gratia.
Patrem parit filia.
O mirandam novitatem,
Novam quoque dignitatem!
Ditat matris castitatem
Gaude, Virgo gratiosa,
Virga flore speciosa,
Mater prole generosa,
Vere plena gaudio.
Quod præcessit in figura,
Nube latens sub obscura,
Hoc declarat genitura
Piæ matris: Virgo pura,
Pariendi vertit jura,
Fusa, mirante natura,
Triste fuit in Eva vœ!
Sed ex Eva format ave,
Versa vice, sed non prave;
Intus ferens in conclave
Verbum bonum et suave;
Nobis, Mater Virgo, fave
Tua frui gratia.
Omnis homo, sine mora,
Laude plena solvens ora
Istam colas, ipsam ora:
Omni die, omni hora,
Sit mens supplex, vox sonora;
Sio supplica, sic implora
Tu spes certa miserorum,
Vere mater orphanorum,
Tu levamen oppressorum,
Omnibus es omnia.
Te rogamus voto pari,
Laude digna singulari,
Ut errantes in hoc mari,
Nos in portu salutari
Tua sistat gratia.
Let this day be kept as a feast,
on which is celebrated
the Conception of Mary.
The Virgin-Mother is begotten;
she, the sweet source of pardon,
is conceived on this day.
It is the remedy of those two evils,
the long exile of Adam,
and the disgrace of Joachim.
It is this that the inspiring grace of God
made the prophets foretell,
and the patriarchs foresee.
This day is conceived Jesse’s branch,
that was to produce a Flower,
the star that was to bring forth the Sun.
Who is the Flower that was to rise from the branch,
who the Sun that was to be born from the star,
but Christ our Lord?
O happy and glorious Conception!
so welcome to us,
and so dear to God!
Misery is at an end;
mercy is given to us;
sadness is succeeded by joy.
By a new, unheard-of grace,
a new Mother gives birth to a new offspring,
and a new star produces a new Sun.
She that is made brings forth him that made her,
the creature her Creator,
the daughter her Father.
O wonderful novelty!
O novel prerogative!
the Mother’s purity is made purer
by the conception of her Child!
Be glad, thou gracious Maid,
thou branch so lovely with thy Flower,
thou Mother so venerable with thy divine Babe,
thou truly full of joy!
That which was heretofore hid under the thick cloud of figures,
is now made manifest by the daughter of the holy Anne;
the dew of the Deity enriches this her Child,
and she, a pure Virgin,
brings forth Jesus,
whilst nature beholds with astonishment
an exception made to all her laws.
There was a sound of malediction
in the very name of Eva;
but Gabriel’s salutation,
by an admirable change, formed Ave out of Eva.
Virgin-Mother! that didst receive this good and sweet word
in thy little cell at Nazareth;
grant us the consolation of thy favour.
Come, all ye faithful, delay not;
open your lips, and with hearty praise
honour the Mother of Jesus:
pray to her;
every day and every hour,
let the mind concord with the voice in prayer and praise:
yea, even so must ye beg and implore her patronage.
Mary! thou the unfailing hope of the wretched,
the true Mother of orphans,
the consolation of the afflicted,
the health of the sick,
thou art all to all
O thou that art worthy of special praise,
hear our united prayer,
and may thy intercession lead us,
poor wanderers on this sea of life,
to the haven of salvation.
 De conceptu virginali, cap. xviii.
 Gen. iii. 15.
 Eph. iv. 24.
 Cant. iv. 7.
 St. Luke i. 28.
 St. Luke xxii. 32.
 St. John xiv, 26.
 Ps. xi. 2.
 Some writers call him Elsym, and others Elpyn. See Baronius in his notes on the Roman Martyrology, Dec. 8. [Tr.]
 D. O. M. supremo cœli terraeque imperatori, per quem regos regnant; Virgini Deiparæ Immaculatae Conceptæ, per quam principes imperant, in peculiarem Dominam, Austriæ Patronam, singulari pietate susceptae, se, liberos, populos, exercitus, provincias, omnia denique confidit, donat, consecrat, et in perpetuam rei memoriam statuam hanc ex voto ponit Ferdinandus III. Augustus.
 Cant. vi. 9.
 Pa. lxxxvi. 3.
 In monastic churches it is preceded by this responsory:—R. In hoc cognovi * Quoniam voluisti me. In hoc. V. Quoniam non gaudebit inimicus meus super me. * Quoniam. Gloria. In hoc.
 1Col i. 15.
 Eph. iv. 24.
 St. John i. 14.
From Dom Gueranger's The Liturgical Year.
Let us consider how the immaculate Mary came into this world nine months after her conception, and how each day of her life gave man fresh reason to hope for the great promises made him by God. Let us admire the fulness of grace which God has given to her, and contemplate the respect and the love wherewith the holy angels look upon her as the future Mother of Him who is to be their Head and King, as well as ours. Let us follow this august Queen to the temple of Jerusalem, where she is presented by her parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne. When but three years of age, she was initiated into all the secrets of divine love. 'I always rose at midnight (thus she spoke of herself, in a revelation to St. Elizabeth of Hungary), and went before the altar of the temple, where I besought of God that I might observe all the commandments of His Law, and be enriched with those graces which would render me pleasing to His Majesty. I most earnestly prayed Him, that I might live to see that most holy virgin who was to bring forth into this world His own divine Son. I asked Him to grant me to enjoy the use of my eyes that I might see her, of my tongue that I might praise her, of my hands that I might serve her, of my feet that I might go her errands, and of my knees that I might adore the Son of God resting in her arms.’
Thou, O Mary, thou thyself wast this Virgin, who was worthy of the praises of men and angels! But God had not yet revealed it to thee, and thy heavenly humility forbade thy thinking that the immense dignity, which thou didst so deeply venerate, could ever be thine. Nay, thou wast the first and the only one of the daughters of Israel that had renounced all hope of ever being the Mother of the Messias. To be Mother of the Messias was, indeed, an ineffable honour; but it seemed as though it could only be received on the condition of having another spouse besides God, and this thou wouldst not suffer; thou wouldst be united to God alone, and thy vow of virginity which made thee so, was dearer to thee than the possibility of any privilege, which would rob thee of even a tittle of that. Thy marriage with St. Joseph, therefore, was a fresh lustre added to thy incomparable purity, whilst, in the designs of God, it provided thee with the protection which thy coming honours would soon require. We follow thee, O bride of Joseph, into thy house at Nazareth, where is to be spent thy humble life. There we behold thee diligent in all thy duties, the valiant woman of the Scriptures, the object of the admiration of God and of His angels. Suffer us, O Mary! to unite our Advent devotions with the prayers which thou didst offer up for the coming of the Messias; with the veneration wherewith thou didst think upon her that was to be His Mother; and with the inflamed desires wherewith thou didst long for the divine Saviour. We salute thee as the Virgin foretold by Isaias; it is thyself, O blessed Mother, that deservest the praise and love of the holy people and city, the redeemed of the Lord.
(Taken from the Cluny Missal of 1523)
Hæc est aula regia,
Virgo plena gratia,
Hæc est meile dulcior,
O fons admirabilis,
Vas virtutis pretium.
Tu es regis speciosi
Odor nardi pretiosi,
Arbor vitae digna laude,
Generosa Mater, gaude,
Tu medela peccatorum,
Peperisti florem florum,
Christum fontem gaudii.
Virga Jesse, lux sanctorum,
Memor esto miserorum,
In die judicii.
Tu es mundi gaudium,
Sit tibi, flos omnium,
Virgo sine macula,
Honor et imperium,
Per aeterna saecula.
Let us venerate the Virgin,
the Mother of grace,
the sweetness of salvation,
the fount of Wisdom.
She is the palace of the King,
the Queen of prudence,
the Virgin full of grace,
the aurora of joy.
She is sweeter than honey,
the lily of chastity;
she is brighter than the jasper,
our solace in sorrow.
O fountain most admirable,
source whence came the author of our faith,
Mother most admirable,
precious vessel of virtue.
Thou art the purest
Mother of the beautiful King;
thou art the perfume of precious ointment;
thou art the sweetest rose.
Rejoice, O glorious tree of life,
O brightest of stars,
O noblest of mothers,
O Virgin most holy!
Thou, the sinner’s help,
and Queen of counsel,
didst bring forth the flower of flowers,
Jesus the source of our joy.
Branch of Jesse, light of the saints,
help of the needy,
be mindful of us sinners
on the day of judgement.
Thou art the joy of the world,
the model of charity,
the encouragement to victory,
the treasury of every fragrance.
To thee, O sweetest flower,
be queenly honour
Prayer from the Gregorian Sacramentary
(In the daily Prayers for Advent)
Exsultemus, quæsumus, Domine Deus noster, omnes recti corde inunitate fidei congregati: ut veniente Salvatore nostro Filio tuo, immaculati occurramus illi in ejus sanctorum comitatu. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord our God, that all we, who are united with upright hearts in the unity of faith, may rejoice: that so, when thy Son our Saviour shall come, we, being purified, may meet him in the society of his saints. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 Prov. xxxi. 10.
 Is. vii. 14.
 Ibid. lxii. 12.
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
Let us contemplate our blessed Lady as visited by the angel Gabriel, and conceiving in her chaste womb the Creator of the universe and the Redeemer of mankind. But that we may the better relish the sweetness of this great mystery, let us listen to the seraphic St. Bonaventure, who, in his Meditations on the Life of Christ, has brought these sublime scenes of the Gospel so vividly before us, that one would almost suppose an eye-witness was speaking to us. No human language has ever surpassed the unction and pathos of these Meditations.
‘Now, when the fulness of that time had come, wherein the most high Trinity, in exceeding love, had decreed to save mankind by the Incarnation of the Word; the divine mercy, and the instant prayers of the blessed spirits, pressed for the accomplishment of this redemption. The blessed Virgin Mary having returned to Nazareth, the Almighty called unto Him the Archangel Gabriel, and thus spake unto him: “ Go thou unto our well-beloved daughter Mary, that is espoused unto Joseph, and that is dear unto us above all our creatures; and say unto her, that the Son of God hath been taken with her beauty, and chosen her that she be His Mother, Pray her that she accept Him joyously, for that through her have I decreed to save all mankind, and no longer remember the injuries done unto Me.”
‘Whereupon, Gabriel arose joyous and glad, and flew from on high, and suddenly stood in a human form before the Virgin Mary, who was in the inner chamber of her cot. But not so quick had been his flight, but that he found already there the holy Trinity, that had gone before Their ambassador. As soon, therefore, as the faithful spirit Gabriel perceived the Virgin Mary, he said; “Hail full of grace; the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” But she was troubled, and answered him not a word. Her trouble came not from a guilty fear, nor from the sight of Gabriel, for oft-times did she receive the visits of the angels; but, according to what the Gospel saith, she was troubled at his saying, thinking within herself upon it, for that it was strange unto her to hear Gabriel speak such manner of salutation.
‘The humble Virgin was perforce troubled at it, finding therein three praises of herself. She was praised for that she was full of grace; and that the Lord was with her; and that she was blessed above all women. He that is humble cannot hear his own praise without blushes and trouble. Therefore Mary was troubled with fitting and virtuous shame. She began wondering how this that she heard could be true; not forasmuch as she suspected the angel’s having said aught that was false, but by reason that the humble ever ponder their defects and not their virtues, whereby they may always advance; counting their great virtue to be little, and their little defects great. As one that was prudent and wary, timid and bashful, she answered not. In truth, what could she say? Do thou learn, from her example, to be silent, and to love to speak little, for exceeding great and useful is this virtue. Twice is she spoken unto, before she speaks once, for it is a thing intolerable that a virgin should be a great talker.
‘As soon, therefore, as the angel saw that she was thus in doubt, he said: "Fear not, Mary, neither blush thou at the praises I have spoken unto thee, for they are most true. Thou thyself art full of grace; nay, verily I tell thee, that thou hast found for man the grace he had lost. For behold! thou shalt conceive and bring forth a Son, that hath chosen thee for His Mother, and He shall save all that put their trust in Him.” Whereupon she made answer, heeding nothing the praises of the angel, but seeking how it could be that that should not be taken from her, which was precious unto her above measure; and she asked of the angel, saying: "How shall this be? for I have vowed my virginity for ever unto God, that I never should know man.” The angel answered, and said: "It shall be done by the operation of the Holy Ghost, who shall fill thee as no tongue can speak. Thou shalt conceive by His power, yet shalt remain a pure Virgin, and therefore shall thy Son be called the Son of God, For unto God nothing is impossible. For thy cousin Elizabeth, that is old and called barren, has conceived a son by the power of God, now these six months past.”
'Consider here, I beseech thee, for God’s sake, how the Trinity is there, waiting the answer and consent of this Their most beloved daughter, and taking delight in her modesty, and ways, and words; and also, how diligent and wise is the angel in his endeavour to obtain her consent, and how admirable are his words, and how he stands with his head bowed down before his and our Lady, with a placid and recollected look, doing his embassy with exactitude, and attentively noting Mary’s words, so as to be able to satisfy her in his answers, and execute the divine will in this wondrous work. See, too, how our Lady stands in holy fear and humility, showing in her face the blush of modesty, and surprise at this so sudden visit of the angel. Neither have his words extolled her in her own esteem: and albeit they were such as never had been spoken to mortal, yet does she attribute nought to herself but all to grace. Learn, therefore, of her to have modesty and humility, for without them even virginity availeth little. The most prudent Virgin is full of joy, and gives consent unto the words of the angel. Then, as is related in the revelations made to a devout servant of God, throwing herself on her knees with intense devotion, and joining her hands together, she said unto the angel: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.” Then straightway did the Son of God enter the Virgin’s womb, and took unto Himself flesh of her substance, and though His whole Person was there, yet did He not cease to abide still wholly in the bosom of His Father.
‘Then did Gabriel also kneel down, and shortly after rise up together with our Lady. He once more bowed down even unto the ground, and wishing her farewell, he disappeared: and going back to heaven, he related all these things, and a new joy was there, and a new feast, and exceeding great jubilee. But our Lady, all devout, and burning with a love of God such as she had not felt before, for she perceived what was done within her, knelt to give thanks for this so great gift, humbly and devoutly supplicating the divine Majesty that He would vouchsafe to teach her how she should comport herself with all perfection in her treatment of this His only-begotten Son.’
Such is the description of the mystery of the Annunciation given us by the seraphic Doctor. Let us profoundly adore our Creator, who has thus humbled Himself out of love for us from the desire He has to succour us in our misery. Let us also salute Mary, the Mother of God and of men.
(Taken from the Cluny Missal of 1523)
In honorem Mariæ Virginis,
Quæ nos lavit a labe criminis,
Dies est lætitiæ.
De radice Jesse propaginis
Hanc eduxit Sol veri luminis,
Templum suæ gratiæ.
Stella nova noviter oritur,
Cujus ortu mors nostra moritur:
Evæ lapsus jam restituitur
Et aurora surgens progreditur;
Sicut luna pulchra describitur;
Super cuncta ut sol erigitur
Virgo Mater et Virgo unica,
Virga fumi, sol aromatica,
In te cœli, mundique fabrica
Verbum Patris processu temporis
Intra tui secretum corporis;
In te totum, et totum deforis
In te fuit.
Fructus virens arentis arboris
Christus, gigas immensi roboris,
Nos a nexu funesti pignoris
Condoluit humano generi
Virginalis filius uteri:
Accingantur senes et pueri
Ad laudem Virginis.
Qui potuit de nobis conqueri
Pro peccato parentis veteris,
Mediator voluit fieri
Dei et hominis.
O Maria, dulce commercium
Intrat tuum cœleste gremium,
Quo salutis reis remedium
O spes vera et verum gaudium,
Fac post vitae praesentis stadium
Ut optatum in cœlis bravium
This is a day of joy!
let us celebrate it
in honour of the blessed Virgin Mary,
who gave us him that cleansed us from sin.
He that is the source of true light,
brought up this branch from the root of Jesse;
and his wisdom has made her
the temple of his grace.
It is a new rising of a new star,
at which our death dies:
it is now that what was lost by the fall of Eve,
is found again by Mary.
This is the holy Virgin that is described as the aurora rising,
as the lovely moon,
as the sun,
the brightest of orbs.
O Virgin Mother, Virgin of virgins,
fragrant cloud of smoke,
sun shedding the perfume of its light!
in thee both heaven and earth delight.
In the fulness of time, the Word of the Father
entered into thy chaste womb;
wholly in thee
and wholly in the bosom of his Father.
Jesus, the beautiful fruit of a virgin tree,
snatched us, in his giant strength,
from the claims
which sin and hell had upon us.
This God, that saved the human race,
is the Son of the Virgin:
in that Virgin’s praise
all may justly speak and sing.
He that might have punished us
for the sin of our first parents,
became himself the Mediator
between God and man.
In thy chaste womb, O Mary!
was made that merciful barter,
was given to the sinner.
Truly, then, thou art the cause of our joy and hope!
Oh! pray, that after running the race of this present life,
we may receive
the lookedfor prize in heaven.
 Prov. xxxi. 10.
 Is. vii. 14.
 Ibid. lxii. 12.
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
The Church makes a commemoration, on this same day within the octave, of the holy Pope Melchiades. This illustrious Pontiff, whom St. Augustine calls ‘the true child of the peace of Jesus Christ, the worthy father of the Christian people,’ ascended the papal throne in the year 311, that is, during the very fiercest storm of persecution. It is on this account that he is honoured with the title of martyr. Though he did not shed his blood for the name of Jesus, yet he shared in the glory of the martyrs, by reason of the great trials he had to suffer during the persecution, which afflicted the entire Church. It was the same with many of his predecessors. But the pontificate of Melchiades marks a very important period of the Church—the transition from persecution to peace. As early as the year 312, liberty was granted to the Christian religion by Constantine. So that Melchiades had the glory of governing the Church at the commencement of her period of temporal prosperity. His name now graces the calendar of the liturgical year, and reminds us of that peace which will soon descend upon us from heaven.
Deign then, O father of the Christian people, to pray for us to the Prince of peace, that, in His approaching visit, He may quell our troubles, remove the obstacles to His grace, and reign as absolute Master over our heart, our mind, and our senses. Pray also that peace may reign in the holy city and Church of Rome, of which thou wast the Bishop, and which will honour thy venerable memory to the end of time: help her by thy intercession now that thou art face to face with God, and hear the prayers which she addresses to thee.
Infirmitatem nostram respice, omnipotens Deus, et quia pondus propriæ actionis gravat, beati Melchiadis Martyris tui atque Pontificis intercessio gloriosa nos protegat. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
Have regard, O almighty God, to our weakness; and as we sink under the weight of our own doings, let the glorious intercession of blessed Melchiades, thy Martyr and Bishop, be a protection to us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
This feast is not one of those inserted in the universal calendar of the Church; but it is kept throughout Italy, and in many dioceses in various parts of the Christian world, and by a number of religious Orders. It was instituted in thanksgiving for the great favour bestowed on the western Church, whereby God, to console Christians for the loss of the holy sepulchre, miraculously translated into a Catholic land the humble yet ever venerable house, in which Mary received the message of the angel, and where, by the consent of this holy Virgin, the Word was made flesh and began to dwell among us. It is no unusual thing to meet with Catholics, who are sincerely devoted to their holy faith, yet who have never heard of the house of Loretto. It is for their sake that we have resolved to take the opportunity of this feast to give an exact and concise account of this wonderful event. We take it from the learned and judicious author of the Life of M. Olier.
‘It was during the pontificate of Celestine V., in 1291, when the Christians had irrevocably lost the holy places of Palestine, that the house, wherein was achieved the mystery of the Incarnation in the womb of Mary, was translated by the angels from Nazareth into Dalmatia or Sclavonia, and placed by them on a hill near a little town called Tersatto. The miracles which were being continually wrought in this holy house, the official enquiry made by chosen deputies who visited Nazareth in order to attest the translation, and, lastly, the universal belief of all countries, and the pilgrims who went from all parts to venerate a sanctuary which had ever been dear to Christians—all this seemed proof enough of the miracle. But God gave another testimony, of which the whole people of Italy and Dalmatia were the vouchers.
‘Three years and seven months had elapsed since this first translation, when, in the year 1294, the holy house was carried across the Adriatic Sea to the territory of Recanati, and placed in a forest the property of a lady called Loretta. The inhabitants of Dalmatia were in the deepest affliction: nothing could have been a greater trial to them. As a slight consolation to themselves, they erected a church on the spot where the house had stood; it was dedicated to our Lady, and was served later on by the Franciscan fathers. Over the porch was placed this inscription: This is the place where stood the holy House of Nazareth, which now is honoured in the territory of Recanati. Many of the people of Dalmatia went to live in Italy near the holy house, where they instituted the Society of Corpus Domini (known under the name of Sclavonians), which lasted even to the pontificate of Paul III.
‘This second translation was soon rumoured throughout Christendom. There came from almost every part of Europe innumerable pilgrims to Recanati, that they might visit the house, which has ever since gone under the name of The House of Loretto. The people of Recanati, anxious that every doubt upon this favour granted them should be removed, sent over, first to Dalmatia and afterwards to Nazareth, sixteen of the most respectable persons of the neighbourhood, who were instructed to make fresh inquiries in both places. But here again, God would certify the prodigy by a third and a fourth translation, which were made, close upon each other, in the same territory of Recanati. The holy house had not been in the forest of Loretto eight months, when it was found that the pilgrims were continually attacked by brigands, who were attracted to the neighbourhood by the hope of booty. The house was miraculously removed the distance of a mile, and placed on a piece of rising ground, which belonged to two brothers of the family of the Antici. These also laid hands on the offerings of the pilgrims; and having quarrelled about the division of their plunder, they took up arms against each other. Then it was that the holy house, in the year 1295, was once more translated: this time also to a very short distance, but near the high road. There has been built the town of Loretto, and there, to this day, remains the House of Loretto.’
This prodigy has been attested not only by the annalists of the Church, and by the local historians of Loretto (e.g., Tursellini and Martorelli), but by writers whose profound learning has gained them a world-wide reputation, and among them we may cite Papebroke, Natalis Alexander, Benedict XIV., Trombelli, etc. Who, that is not blinded by prejudice, could seriously think of preferring an idle repugnance to the authority of such writers as these, who are the received masters of historical criticism, and whose united opinion would not be rejected on any other question?
But, from a Catholic point of view, it is certain that those persons would be guilty of excessive temerity, who would disregard the countless miracles which have been wrought in the holy house of Loretto. They dare not deny all these miracles; and yet, by denying the fact in question, they are admitting that God is giving His sanction by miracles to what would be, if false, the grossest and most absurd deception. They would incur the imputation of temerity on another ground, inasmuch as they would be slighting the authority of the holy See, which has been, for upwards of five hundred years, so zealous in defending the truth of this translation, and in offering it to the veneration of the faithful as a means of honouring the Incarnate Word and His ever blessed Mother. Among the explicit approbations of the holy See regarding the miracle of Loretto, we will mention the Bulls of Paul II., of Leo X., of Paul III., of Paul IV., and of Xystus V.; the decree of Urban VIII., in 1632, establishing this feast in the marches of Ancona; the decree of Innocent XII., in 1699, approving the proper Office of the feast; the indults of Benedict XIII., and his successors, extending this feast to several provinces of the Catholic world; and finally, the indult of Benedict XV., extending the office to the whole of Italy.
That we may enter into the spirit of the holy See, which has spared nothing in order to encourage the confidence of the faithful in the holy house of Nazareth, or rather (as by the divine mercy it has now become) the House of Loretto, we will give the following from the Office of its miraculous translation:
Ecce tabernaculum Dei cum hominibus, et habitavit cum eis; et ipsi populus ejus erunt, et ipse Deus cum eis erit eorum Deus.
V. Introibimus in tabernaculum ejus.
R. Adorabimus in loco ubi steterunt pedes ejus.
Behold the tabernacle of God with men, wherein he dwelt with them; and they shall be his people, and God himself with them shall be their God.
V. We will go into his tabernacle.
R. We will adore in the place where his feet stood.
Deus, qui beatæ Mariæ Virginis Domum per incarnati Verbi mysterium misericorditer consecrasti, eamque in sinu Ecclesiæ tuæ mirabiliter collocasti: concede, ut segregati a tabernaculis peccatorum, digni efficiamur habitatores domus sanctæ tuæ. Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
O God, who didst mercifully consecrate the House of the blessed Virgin Mary by the mystery of the Word made Flesh, and hast now mercifully placed that House in the midst of thy Church; grant that, being separated from the abodes of sinners, we may be made worthy to dwell in thy holy house. Through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 Hic est locus in quo fuit sacra Domus Nazarena, quæ nunc in Recineti partibus colitur.
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
The Church of Spain, the fair pearl of Christendom, brings before us on this same tenth of December her illustrious martyr Eulalia, the glory of Merida, the ornament of Iberia, the joy of the universal Church. She is the third of those wise virgins, whose names are most prominent in the Church’s liturgy during the season of Advent. She is the worthy companion of Bibiana and Barbara, and that heroic Lucy whose feast we shall keep on the thirteenth. We give the whole of the beautiful poem on the life and martyrdom of Eulalia, written by Prudentius. Never, perhaps, did this prince of Christian poets write finer verses than these; nor can we be surprised that the Mozarabic liturgy, in its admiration of this exquisite canticle, should have made but one hymn of its forty-five stanzas. As it gives the life of our saint, we shall not add the legend of the proper Office as used in the Churches of Spain.
Germine nobilis Eulalia,
Mortis et indole nobilior,
Emeritam sacra virgo suam,
Cujus ab ubere progenita est,
Ossibus ornat, amore colit.
Proximus occiduo locus est,
Qui tulit hoc decus egregium,
Urbe potens, populis locuples:
Sed mage sanguine martyrii,
Virgineoque potens titulo.
Curriculis tribus atque novem,
Tres hyemes quater attigerat,
Quum crepitante pyra trepidos
Terruit aspera carnifices,
Supplicium sibi dulce rata.
Jam dederat prius indicium,
Tendere se Patris ad solium,
Nec sua membra dicata toro.
Ipsa crepundia repulerat,
Ludere nescia pusiola.
Spernere succina, flare rosas,
Fulva monilia respuere:
Ore severa, modesta gradu,
Moribus et nimium teneris
Canitiem meditata senum.
Ast ubi se furiata lues
Excitat in famulos Domini,
Christicolasque cruenta jubet
Thura cremare, jecur pecudis
Mortiferis adolere deis;
Infremuit sacer Eulaliæ
Spiritus ingeniique ferox
Turbida frangere bella parat,
Et, rude pectus anhela Deo,
Femina provocat arma virum.
Sed pia cura parentis agit,
Virgo animosa domi ut lateat.
Abdita rure, et ab urbe procul:
Ne fera sanguinis in pretium
Mortis amore puella ruat.
Illa perosa quietis opem
Degeneri tolerare mora,
Nocte fores sine teste movet,
Septaque claustra fugax aperit,
Inde per invia carpit iter.
Ingreditur pedibus laceris
Per loca senta situ, et vepribus,
Angelico comitata choro:
Et licet horrida nox sileat,
Lucis habet tamen illa ducem.
Sic habuit generosa patrum
Turba columniferum radium:
Scindere qui tenebrosa potens,
Nocte viam face perspicua
Praestitit, intereunte chao.
Non aliter pia virgo, viam
Nocte secuta, diem meruit,
Nec tenebris adoperta fuit,
Regna canopica quum fugeret,
Et super astra pararet iter.
Illa gradu cita pervigili,
Millia multa prius peragit,
Quam plaga pandat eoa polum:
Mane superba tribunal adit,
Fascibus adstat et in mediis.
Vociferans: Rogo, quis furor est
Perdere præcipites animas,
Et male prodiga corda sui
Sternere rasilibus scopulis,
Omnipatremque negare Deum?
Quæritis, O miseranda manus,
Christicolum genus? En ego sum
Daemonicis inimica sacris:
Idola protero sub pedibus:
Pectore, et ore Deum fateor.
Isis, Apollo, Venus nihil est.
Maximianus et ipse nihil:
Illa nihil, quia facta manu:
Hic manuum quia facta colit:
Fivola utraque, et utraque nihil.
Maximianus opum dominus,
Et tamen ipse cliens lapidum,
Prostituat, voveatque suis
Numinibus caput ipse suum:
Pectora cur generosa quatit?
Dux bonus, arbiter egregius
Sanguine pascitur innocuo:
Corporibusque piis inhians
Viscera sobria dilacerat,
Gaudet et excruciare fidem.
Ergo age, tortor, adure, seca,
Divide membra coacta luto.
Solvere rem fragilem facile est:
Non penetrabitur interior
Exagitante dolore animus.
Talibus excitus in furias Praetor, ait:
Lictor, et obrue suppliciis;
Sentiat esse deos patrios.
Nec leve principis imperium.
Quam cuperem tamen ante necem,
Si potis est, revocare tuam,
Torva puellula, nequitiam!
Respice, gaudia quanta metas,
Quæ tibi fert genialis honor.
Te lacrymis labefacta domus
Prosequitur, generisque tui
Ingemit anxia nobilitas,
Flore quod occidis in tenero,
Proxima dotibus et thalamo.
Non movet aurea pompa tori,
Non pietas veneranda senum,
Quos temeraria debilitas?
Ecce parata ministeria
Aut gladio feriere caput,
Aut laniabere membra feris,
Aut facibus data fumificis,
Flebiliterque ululanda tuis
In cineres resoluta flues.
Haec, rogo, quis labor est fugere?
Si modicum salis eminulis
Thuris et exiguum digitis
Tangere, virgo, benigna velis,
Poena gravis procul abfuerit.
Martyr ad ista nihil: sed enim
Infremit, inque tyranni oculos
Sputa jacit. Simulacra dehinc
Dissipat, impositamque molam
Thuribulis pede prosubigit.
Nec more, carnifices gemini
Juncea pectora dilacerant,
Et latus ungula virgineum
Pulsat utrinque, et ad ossa secat,
Eulalia numerante notas.
Scriberis ecce mihi, Domine,
Quam juvat hos apices legere,
Qui tua, Christe, trophea notant!
Nomen et ipsa sacrum loquitur
Purpura sanguinis eliciti.
Hæc sine fletibus et gemitu
Læta canebat, et intrepida.
Dirus abest dolor ex animo.
Membraque picta cruore novo
Fonte cutem recalente lavant.
Ultima carnificina dehinc,
Non laceratio vulnifica,
Crate tenus neo arata cutis:
Flamma sed undique lampadibus
In latera, stomachumque furit.
Crinis odorus et in jugulos
Fluxerat, involitans humeris,
Quo pudibunda pudicitia,
Virgineusque lateret honos,
Tegmine verticis opposito.
Flamma crepans volat in faciem,
Perque comas vegetata, caput
Occupat, exsuperatque apicem:
Virgo, citum cupiens obitum,
Appetit, et bibit ore rogum.
Emicat inde columba repens,
Martyris os nive candidior
Visa relinquere, et astra sequi:
Spiritus hio erat Eulaliæ
Lacteolus, celer, innocuus.
Colla fluunt, abeunte anima,
Et rogus igneus emoritur;
Pax datur artubus exanimis,
Flatus in æthera plaudit ovans,
Templaque celsa petit volucer.
Vidit et ipse satelles avem,
Feminæ ab ore meare palam,
Obstupefactus, et attonitus
Prosilit, et sua gesta fugit,
Lictor et ipse fugit pavidus.
Ecce nivem glacialis hyems
Ingerit, et tegit omne forum:
Membra tegit simul Eulaliæ,
Axe jacentia sub gelido,
Pallioli vice linteoli.
Cedat amor lacrymantum hominum,
Qui celebrare suprema solent,
Flebile cedat et officium:
Ipsa elementa, jubente Deo,
Exsequias tibi, virgo, ferunt.
Nunc locus Emerita est tumulo
Clara colonia Vettoniæ:
Quam memorabilis amnis Ana
Præterit, et viridante rapax
Gurgite mænia pulchra lavit.
Hic, ubi marmore perspicuo
Atria luminat alma nitor
Et peregrinus, et indigena,
Relliquias, cineresque sacros
Servat humus veneranda sinu.
Tecta corusca super rutilant
De laquearibus aureolis,
Saxaque caesa solum variant,
Floribus ut rosulenta putes
Prata rubescere multimodis.
Carpite purpureas violas,
Sanguineosque crocos metite:
Non caret his genialis hyems,
Laxat et arva tepens glacies,
Floribus ut cumulet calathos.
Ista comantibus e foliis
Munera, virgo, puerque, date:
Ast ego serta choro in medio
Texta feram pede dactylico,
Vilia, marcida, festa tamen.
Sic venerarier ossa libet,
Ossibus altar et impositum:
Illa Dei sita sub pedibus
Prospicit hæc, populosque suos
Carmine propitiata fovet.
Eulalia, noble by birth,
but still nobler by her death,
was born at Merida;
and this city the holy virgin adorns with her relics,
and cherishes with her loving protection.
Where the sun sets, there lies the birthplace of this splendid heroine:
it is a powerful and populous city,
but its proudest title to fame is that there
the saint shed her blood,
and there rests her shrine.
But thrice four winters had passed over Eulalia,
when she braved the fierce tortures of fire,
and made her executioners
tremble by her courage,
suffering as though it were sweet to suffer.
Already had she proved to men
that she would have no spouse but God,
and that earthly nuptials were too poor for her.
Though but a girl,
she despised the toys and sports of children.
Perfumes and wreaths of roses,
and golden trinkets, all were beneath her.
Her look demure, her gait modest,
her whole conduct, even at that tender age,
as though the gravity of old age were upon it.
But when a rabid persecution
began to threaten the servants of God,
and the Christians were commanded to burn incense
and the flesh of victims
before the dead gods of the pagans,
Oh! then did Eulalia’s soul
chafe within her,
and her high spirit thirst for the battle!
She, a girl, defies the threats of men that talk of war,
for her heart pants after God.
But her fond mother trembles for her courageous child,
and insists on her keeping at home.
She takes her into the country, as far as may be from the city,
lest the dauntless child, that longed to die for Christ,
should seek to purchase that glory at the price of her blood.
She ill brooks this quiet, this shelter which seems to her so unchristian:
the night comes on; she is alone;
she forces open the doors,
and escaping from her enclosure,
she tends she knows not whither.
The paths are rugged,
and thorns prick her feet at every step;
yet on she goes, with angels in her company.
All is silent in the dark grim night;
but she has light which leads her.
As our fathers, that brave Hebrew band,
had of old a pillar of light,
which piercing the murky gloom of night,
led them on by its bright blaze,
and turned darkness into day;
So this holy maid;
in her midnight journey, God gave her light;
and as she fled from the land of Egypt,
to enter into that of heaven,
she was not hindered by the darkness.
Many a mile had she walked with hasty step,
before the day-dawn broke upon the world:
and scarce had morn begun,
when there stood before the tribunal,
amidst the ensigns of the empire, the fearless virgin.
‘What madness is this,’ she cried,
'which makes you lose your unthinking souls?
wasting away your love
in adoring these chiselled lumps of stone,
whilst you deny God the Father of all?
O wretched men!
you are in search of the Christians:
lo! I am one: I hate your worship of devils:
I trample on your idols;
and with heart and mouth I acknowledge but one God,
Isis, Apollo, Venus, all are nothing;
Maximian, too, is nothing;
they, because they are idols;
he, because he worships idols;
both are vain, both are nothing.
Maximian calls himself lord,
and yet he makes himself a slave of stones,
ready to give his very head to such gods.
And why does he persecute them
that have nobler hearts?
This good emperor, this most upright judge,
feeds on the blood of the innocent.
He gluts himself on the bodies of the saints,
embowelling those temples of purity,
and cruelly insulting their holy faith.
Do thy worst, thou cruel butcher;
burn, cut, tear asunder
these clay-made bodies.
It is no hard thing to break a fragile vase like this.
But all thy tortures cannot reach the soul.’
At these words the prætor, maddening with rage, cried out:
‘Away, lictor, with this senseless prattler,
and punish her in every way thou canst.
Teach her that our country’s gods are gods,
and that our sovereign’s words are not to be slighted.
Yet stay, rash girl.
Would I could persuade thee
to recall thy impious words before it is too late!
Think on all the joys thou thus wilt obtain;
think on that noble marriage which we will procure thee.
Thy family is in search of thee,
and thy noble house weeps
and grieves after thee,
their tender floweret so near its prime,
yet so resolved to wither.
What! are nuptials like these I offer
not enough to move thee?
Wilt thou send the grey hairs of thy parents
into the tomb by thy rash disobedience?
Tremble at least at all these fearful instruments of torture and death.
There is a sword which will sever thy head;
there are wild beasts to tear thee to pieces;
there are fires on which to burn thee,
leaving to thy family
but thy ashes to weep over.
And what do we ask of thee
in order that thou mayst escape these tortures?
Do, I beseech thee, Eulalia,
touch but with the tip of thy finger these grains of salt and incense,
and not a hair of thy head shall be hurt.'
The martyr answered him not:
but full of indignation,
spat in the tyrant’s face;
then, with her foot,
upset idols, cakes, and incense.
Scarce had she done it,
two executioners seize her:
they tear her youthful breast,
and, one on each side, cut off her innocent flesh even to the very ribs.
Eulalia counts each gash, and says:
'See, dear Jesus, they write thee on my flesh!
Beautiful letters, that tell of thy victory!
Oh, how I love to read them!
So, this red stream of my blood
speaks thy holy name!'
Thus sang the joyous and intrepid virgin:
not a tear, not a moan.
The sharp tortures reach not her soul.
Her body is all stained with the fresh blood,
and the warm stream trickles down the snow-white skin.
But this is not the end.
It was not enough to plough
and harrow up her flesh:
it was time to burn:
torches, then, are applied to her sides and breast.
Her beauteous locks
fell veiling her
from worse than all their butchery,
the stare of these wretches.
The crackling flame mounts to her face,
and, running through her hair,
surrounds and blazes over her head.
The virgin, thirsting for death,
opens her mouth and drinks it in.
Suddenly is been a snowwhite dove
coming from the martyr’s mouth,
and flying up to heaven.
It was Eulalia’s spirit,
spotless, eager, innocent.
Her soul is fled: her head droops,
the fire dies out:
her lifeless body sleeps in peace,
while her glad spirit keeps feast in its ethereal home,
and this sweet dove rests in the house of her most high God.
The executioners, too,
see the dove issuing from the martyr’s mouth:
astonished and trembling
they flee from the spot.
The lictor, too, is seized with fear and takes to flight.
'Tis winter, and the snow in thick flakes
falls on the forum,
covering the tender corpse of Eulalia,
which lay stiffening in the cold,
with its fair pall of crystal.
Ye men that mourn at funerals,
weeping and sobbing out your love for the dead,
ye are not needed here: give place.
God bids his elements, O Eulalia,
do the honours of thy exequies.
Her tomb is now at Merida,
illustrious city of Vettonia,
whose beautiful walls are washed
by the swift green waters of Ana,
that celebrated stream.
'Tis there, in a temple
rich with polished marbles
both of Spain and foreign lands,
that repose in a venerable tomb
the holy relics of the martyr.
The roof, above, glitters
with its golden pendants;
and the pavement, with its mosaics,
looks like a meadow strewn
with the gayest flowers.
Cull the purple violet and the golden crocus,
which even winter spares us,
and with its hours of sunshine
lets our fields yield plentifully enough
to deck our Eulalia’s altar.
Twine them into your green garlands,
and these be your offering, dear children!
Mine shall be these verses for our choir;
poor I know they are and savouring of the dulness of my own old age;
still, they suit a feast.
Thus will we venerate Eulalia’s relics
and Eulalia’s altar:
she, standing before the throne of God,
will be pleased with our offerings,
and hearing our hymns and prayers will protect her devoted people.
Nothing can surpass the magnificence of the prayers in the missal and breviary of the Mozarabic liturgy for this feast. Out of a score of examples which we could here insert, we select, almost at hazard, two from the missal; but they will give only a faint idea of the eloquence with which the love for her martyr Eulalia inspired this ancient Church of Spain.
Lætetur in te, Domine, quæso, virginitas: et huic proxima congaudeat continentia. Non sexum quærunt hujus modi bella: sed animum. Non mucronis confidentiam, sed pudoris. Non etiam personas discussuras, sed causas. Impune inter armatas transit acies innocens conscientia: quæ superavit crimina, superat et metalla. Facile vincit alios quisque se vicerit; et cum laudabile sit viro fecisse virtutem, majoris tamen præconii est fecisse virginem rem virilem. Prophanum sacra ingreditur puella concilium: et solum Deum in pectore gestans infert violentiam passioni. Nec deest lictor tam impudens quam crudelis: qui sponsam (secure dixerim) Christi, fornicantium verberibus oculorum, supplicio libidinante torqueret: ut quæ pænas inadulterio non luebat, saltem pænas adulteras sustineret. Dudum quod gravius carnifex putat, exspectantium oculis corpus exponit, et per divaricatas viscerum partes, ictuum sulcos cursus fusi sanguinis antecedit. Periit timo tortoris iniqui commentum: sola patiuntur tormenta ludibrium. Habet quidem virginem nostram nuditas, sed pudicam. Discat ergo, discat uterque sexus ex virgine, non pulchritudinem colere, sed virtutem: fidem amare, non formam. Placiturus Domino, non decoris exspectare judicium, sed pudoris. Sed quia tuum est, Christe, totum quod meruit: tuum etiam quod peregit. Nec enim tela repellimus adversantium, nisi tuæ divinitatis beneficio sublevemur. Nunc præsta nobis, ut sicut hæc beatissima martyr tua pugnando præmium adepta est castitatis; ita nos commissorum nostrorum ad te dimissis contagiis, adipiscamur praemia tuæ promissionis.
Let virginity be glad in thee, O Lord, we beseech thee; and with it let its sister-virtue of continency rejoice. Battles like these are won not by sex but by courage; not by them that can well wield the sword, but by them that can be chaste; not by the combatant’s title, but by his motive. An innocent conscience fears not an armed legion. He that has vanquished sin, will not flinch at a sword. He that has conquered himself, easily conquers others: and if it be praiseworthy when a man does a virtuous act, it is more so when a virgin does a manly deed. The holy virgin Eulalia stands before a tribunal of ungodly men; and with God alone in her heart, she bids defiance to all their tortures. There comes a lictor as lustful as he is cruel: he punishes this bride of Christ as we may indeed call her, by the torture of his impure looks; and she that could have no adultery to atone for suffered its punishment from him that had. He reserves to the last what he knew was the worst; he exposes her body to the gaze of the spectators, and the stream of blood from the open gashes on her sides stains her flesh before the knife can open deeper wounds. Then was confounded the design of ths wicked tormentor, and his torments are insulted by the victim. Impiety strips our martyr, but modesty veils her. Let all, then, learn from this virgin to cultivate not beauty but virtue, not form but faith. He that would please the Lord must be tried not for how much comeliness he possesses, but for how much modesty he has. And yet, O Jesus! since it was from thee that Eulalia had all her merits, and from thee all that she achieved (for it is in vain that we would repel the darts of our enemies, unless we be shielded by thy divine mercy); grant, we beseech thee, that, as this thy most holy martyr won, by her combat, the reward of chastity, we also may be forgiven the uncleanness of our sins, and obtain the rewards thou hast promised.
Dignum et justum est, Domine Deus, qui tam prudentem virginem fidei sociatam apice gloriæ consecrasti, tibi gratias agere: Ut per quem facta est Mater Maria, fieret martyr Eulalia: illa pariendi affectu felix, ista moriendi. Illa implens Incarnationis officium, ista rapiens Passionis exemplum: illa credidit angelo, ista resistit inimico. Illa electa per quam Christus nasceretur: ista assumpta per quam diabolus vinceretur. Digna re Eulalia martyr et virgo placitura Domino suo: quæ, Spiritu sancto protegente, tenero sexu bellum forte sudaverit; et ultra opinionem humanæ virtutis ad tolerantiam pœnarum zelo tui amoris se obtulerit: quum in specie pretiosi Unigeniti tui sanguinem suum sub testimonio bonæ confessionis effuderit: et incorrupta flammis viscera in odorem suavissimi thymiamatis adoleverit. Vadit ad tribunal cruenti præsidis, non quaesita. In qua tam solum fuit animus incontihens ad secretum, quam locus competens ad triumphum. Lucratura regnum, contemptura supplicium, inventura quaesitum, visura confessum. Non trepida de pœna, non ambigua de corona, non defessa de equuleo, non diffisa de praemio. Interrogatur, confitetur; occiditur, coronatur. Ingentique miraculo majestas tua exhalatum virginis spiritum, quem assumpsit per flammam, suscepit per columbam. Ut hoc prodigio in cœlis martyr ascenderet, quo in terris Filium Pater ostenderat. Siquidem nec inhonorum patiuntur elementa corpusculum, quod deciduis nix aspersa velleribus, et virtutis rigorem et virginitatis tecta candorem eluceret, vestiret, absconderet. Superni velaminis operimento, cœlum funeri praestat exequias, et per misericordiam Redemptoris daret animae sedem, pro sepultura redderet dignitatem.
It is meet and just that we give thee thanks, O Lord, our God! who hast raised to the highest glory this most wise virgin that was loyal to the faith. Thus didst thou, that madest Mary be the Mother of Jesus, make Eulalia be a martyr of Jesus. The Mother was happy in giving him birth; the martyr in giving him her life. The Mother ministered to his Incarnation; the martyr imitated his Passion. Mary believed the angel that appeared to her; Eulalia withstood the enemy that tormented her. Mary was chosen by whom Christ should be born; Eulalia was elected by whom the devil should be conquered. Eulalia, the martyr and virgin, was indeed worthy to please her Lord, for, by the protection of the Holy Ghost, she, a young maiden, waged a fierce war; she, with more than human strength, made herself, for thy love, a victim of suffering; she, for the sake of thy beloved Son, shed her blood in the noble confession of her faith, and offered to him, as a fragrance of sweetest incense, the flesh which fire could not consume. She goes unbidden to the tribunal of the cruel persecutor. As fit as was the place for a triumph, so bold was her spirit to speak the secret of her faith. She wants a kingdom, she cares not for tortures, she would find him she longs for, she would see him that she confesses. Fearless of pain, certain of a crown, happy on her rack, hopeful of her prize. She is questioned, she confesses; men put her to death, God gives her the crown. By an admirable miracle, the virgin’s spirit, which thy divine Majesty did draw from its prison by a flame, thou didst take to thyself as a dove; thus under the same symbol whereby thou didst show thy Son to the earth, did thy martyr ascend into heaven. Neither did the elements withhold their homage; but over her body, which remained on the earth, they form a snowy canopy, that beautifies, and covers, and hides that body where there had ever been the inflexibility of virtue and the unsullied lily of virginity. Whilst thus her body lay palled in the coverlet of heaven’s making, her soul was placed, by the mercy of our Redeemer, on its throne. Rich compensation for the burial which men denied her!
And we too, O glorious martyr, would join our humble praises with these sublime expressions of the Church’s love for thee. The love of Jesus so filled thy heroic soul, that torments could not torture thee; nay, they satisfied thy love by giving thee to suffer for Him, until thy whole heart should be filled by possessing Him. And yet, with all this ardour which heeds no obstacle, with all this noble daring which makes thee confront a tyrant and a furious rabble, nothing is more gentle and meek than thy loving spirit. Pray for us to Him who made thee thus worthy to be His bride, that we also may be courageous in the fight against the enemies of our salvation, and full of that tender love for Jesus which can alone preserve us from hardness and pride of heart.
O thou, the glory of Iberia! O dove of peace, have pity on that Catholic land which prepared thee for heaven. Suffer not that the ancient faith grow dim in a country which, for ages, stood so prominent in the Catholic Church, as the faithful and fervent Spain. Pray for her, that the days of her trial may be shortened; that God may bring to nought the sacrilegious attempts of men, who have sworn to destroy His kingdom on earth; that He give to the clergy of Spain the courage and energy of former days; that He render fruitful the blood of her martyrs, who have already suffered; that He take away those scandals, which so readily mislead the simple and weak; and lastly, that He efface not thy beloved Spain from the number of Catholic nations, but spare, for the sake of the fathers, those among her children that are degenerate.
A Responsory of Advent
(Ambrosian breviary, fourth Sunday of Advent)
R. Per Gabrielis angeli os, nunciatum est Virgini Mariæ, et Verbum concepit e cœlo: * Et illum suscepit modicus uterus, cui parvus fuerat mundus. V. Spiritus sanctus in te ingredietur, et virtus Altissimi obumbrabit tibi: * Et illum suscepit modicus uterus, cui parvus fuerat mundus.
R. A message was announced to the Virgin Mary by the mouth of the angel Gabriel; and she conceived the Word from heaven: * And the womb of a tender Virgin contained him, whom the world was too little to contain. V. The Holy Ghost shall enter within thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: * And the womb of a tender Virgin contained him, whom the world was too little to contain.