From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
(If December 30 falls on a Saturday, it is called the Sixth Day within the Octave, and the third Mass of Christmas Day, page 202, is repeated, except for the Epistle and Gospel, which are taken from the second Mass, pages 191, 192, the extra prayers are given on page 415, and in this case the Office of the Sunday in the Octave is said on December 31, with a commemoration of St Silvester. But if December 30 falls on any other day of the week, the Office is of the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas.)
THIS is the only day within the Christmas Octave which is not a Saint’s Feast. During the Octaves of the Epiphany, Easter and Pentecost, the Church is so absorbed in the respective mysteries that she puts off everything that could share her attention; whereas during this of Christmas, there is only one day which does not celebrate the memory of some glorious Saint, and our Infant Jesus is surrounded by a choir of heroes who loved and served him. Thus the Church, or, more correctly, God—for God is the first author of the cycle of the year—shows us how the Incarnate Word, who came to save mankind, desires to give mankind confidence by this his adorable familiarity.
We have already shown that the Birth of our Lord took place on a Sunday, the Day on which, in the beginning of the world, God created Light. We shall find, later on, that his Resurrection also was on a Sunday. This the first day of creation, and the first of the week, was consecrated by the old Pagans to the Sun: with us Christians, it is most sacred and holy, on account of the two risings of our divine Sun of Justice—his Birth and his Resurrection. Whilst the solemnity of Easter is always kept on a Sunday, that of Christmas falls by turns on each of the days of the week—we have already had this difference explained to us by the Holy Fathers: but the mystery of Jesus’ Birth is more aptly and strongly expressed, when its anniversary falls on a Sunday. Other years, when the coincidence does not happen, the Faithful will at least be led by their Christian instincts, to give especial honour to the day within the Octave which falls on the Sunday. The Church has honoured it with a proper Mass and Office, and we of course insert them.
It was at midnight that the Lord delivered his people from bondage, by the Passage of his destroying Angel over the land of the Egyptians: so also was it in the still hour of midnight that Jesus, the Angel of Great Counsel, came down from his royal throne, bringing mercy to our earth. It is just, that whilst commemorating this second Passage, the Church should sing the praises of her Emmanuel, who comes, clad in his strength and beauty, to take possession of his Kingdom.
Dum medium silentium tenerent omnia, et nox in suo cursu medium iter haberet, omnipotens sermo tuus, Domine, de cælis, a regalibus sedibus venit.
Ps. Dominus regnavit, decorem indutus est: indutus est Dominus fortitudinem, et præcinxit se. ℣. Gloria Patri. Dum medium.
While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, thy Almighty Word, O Lord, came down from thy royal throne.
Ps. The Lord hath reigned, he is clothed with beauty: the Lord is clothed with strength, and hath girded himself, ℣. Glory, etc. While all.
In the Collect the Church prays to be directed by that divine rule which was taught us by our Saviour, the Sun of Justice, who shone upon us in order to enlighten and guide our steps in the path of good works.
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, dirige actus nostros in beneplacito tuo: ut in nomine dilecti Filii tui mereamur bonis operibus abundare. Qui tecum.
O Almighty and Eternal God, regulate our actions according to thy divine will: that in the name of thy beloved Son, we may abound in good works. Who liveth, etc.
The Commemoration of the Octave of Christmas is given on page 228.
Lectio Epistolæ beati Pauli Apostoli ad Galatas.
Fratres, quanto tempore hæres parvulus est, nihil differt a servo, cum sit dominus omnium: sed sub tutoribus et actoribus est usque ad præfinitum tempus a patre: ita et nos, cum essemus parvuli, sub elementis mundi eramus servientes. At ubi venit plenitudo temporis, misit Deus Filium suum factum ex muliere, factum sub lege, ut eos, qui sub lege erant, redimeret, ut adoptionem filiorum reciperemus. Quoniam autem estis filii, misit Deus Spiritum Filii sui in corda vestra, clamantem: Abba, Pater. Itaque jam non est servus, sed filius. Quod si filius: et hæres per Deum,
Lesson of the Epistle of St Paul the Apostle to the Galatians.
Brethren: As long as the heir is a child, he differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all: but is under tutors and governors, until the time appointed by the father: so we also, when we were children, were serving under the elements of the world. But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that he might redeem them who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying: Abba, Father. Therefore now he is not a servant, but a son. And if a son, an heir also, through God.
The Child that is born of Mary and is couched in the Crib at Bethlehem, raises his feeble voice to the Eternal Father, and calls him, My Father! He turns towards us and calls us My Brethren! We, consequently, when we speak to his Father, may call him Our Father! This is the mystery of adoption, revealed to us by the great event we are solemnizing. All things are changed, both in heaven and on earth: God has not only one Son, he has many sons; henceforth we stand before this our God, not merely creatures drawn out of nothing by his power, but children that he fondly loves. Heaven is now not only the throne of his sovereign Majesty; it is become our inheritance, in which we are joint-heirs with our Brother Jesus, the Son of Mary, Son of Eve, Son of Adam, according to his Human Nature, and (in the unity of Person) Son of God according to his Divine Nature. Let us turn our wondering and loving thoughts first to this sweet Babe, that has brought us all these blessings, and then to the blessings themselves, to the dear inheritance made ours by him. Let our mind be seized with astonishment at creatures having such a destiny! and then let our heart pour out its thanks for the incomprehensible gift!
Speciosus forma præ filiis hominum: diffusa est gratia in labiis tuis.
℣. Eructavit cor meum verbum bonum; dico ego opera mea Regi: lingua mea calamus scribæ velociter scribentis. Alleluia, alleluia.
℣. Dominus regnavit, decorem induit: induit Dominus fortitudinem, et præcinxit se virtute. Alleluia.
Thou art beautiful above the sons of men: grace is poured abroad in thy lips.
℣. My heart hath uttered a good word; I speak my works to the King: my tongue is the pen of a scrivener, that writeth swiftly. Alleluia, alleluia.
℣. The Lord hath reigned: he hath clothed himself with beauty: he hath clothed himself with strength, and armed himself with might. Alleluia.
Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Lucam.
In illo tempore: Erat Joseph, et Maria mater Jesu, mirantes super his quæ dicebantur de illo. Et benedixit illis Simeon, et dixit ad Mariam matrem ejus: Ecce positus est hic in ruinam et in resurrectionem multorum in Israel: et in signum cui contradicetur: et tuam ipsius animam pertransibit gladius, ut revelentur ex multis cordibus cogitationes. Et erat Anna Prophetissa, filia Phanuel, de tribu Aser. Hæc processerat in diebus multis, et vixerat eum viro suo annis septem a virginitate sua. Et hæc vidua usque ad annos octoginta quatuor: quæ non discedebat de templo, jejuniis et obsecrationibus serviens nocte ac die. Et hæc, ipsa hora superveniens, confitebatur Domino, et loquebatur de illo omnibus, qui exspectabant redemptionem Israel. Et ut perfecerunt omnia secundum legem Domini, reversi sunt in Galilæam, in civitatem suam Nazareth. Puer autem crescebat, et confortabatur, pienus sapientia: et gratia Dei erat in illo.
Sequel to the holy Gospel according to Luke.
At that time: Joseph, and Mary the Mother of Jesus, were wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his Mother: Behold, this Child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel: and for a sign which shall be contradicted: and thine own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed. And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was far advanced in years, and had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity. And she was a widow until fourscore and four years: who departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving day and night. Now she at the same hour, coming in, confessed to the Lord, and spoke of him to all that looked for the redemption of Israel. And after they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their city Nazareth. And the Child grew and waxed strong, full of wisdom: and the grace of God was in him.
The passage of the Gospel selected for this Mass, though bearing on the Divine Infancy, yet gives us, we may almost say prematurely, the terrible prophecy of Simeon regarding the dear Babe of Bethlehem. The heart of Mary, that was overflowing with joy at the miraculous Birth of her Child, is here made to feel the sword spoken of by the venerable Priest of the temple. Her Son, then, is to be but a sign that shall he contradicted! The mystery of man's adoption by God is to cost this Child of hers his life! We that are the Re deemed in his Blood, we may not yet dwell on the fatigues and the Passion and the Death of our Emmanuel; the time will come for that; at present we are forbidden to think of him other than as the sweet Child that is born to us, the source of all our happiness by his having come among us. Let us catch up the words of Anna, who calls him the Redemption of Israel. Let our eye delight in the sight of the earth regenerated by the birth of its Saviour. Let us admire and study well this Jesus newly born among us, and adore in humble love the wisdom and grace that are in him.
During the Offertory, the Church celebrates the wonderful renovation wrought in the world, a renovation which saved it from destruction. She sings the praises of the great God who came down into the poor Stable of Bethlehem, yet left not his eternal throne.
Deus firmavit orbem terræ, qui non commovebitur; parata sedes tua, Deus, ex tunc: a sæculo tu es.
God hath established the world, which shall not be moved; thy throne, O God, is prepared from of old; thou art from everlasting.
Concede, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus; ut oculis tuæ majestatis munus oblatum et gratiam nobis piæ devotionis obtineat, et effectum beatæ perennitatis acquirat. Per Dominum.
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that this sacrifice, offered to thy divine majesty, may obtain for us the grace of true devotion, and a happy eternity. Through, etc.
The Commemoration of the Octave is given above, p. 232.
The words chanted by the Church at the Communion are those spoken by the Angel to St Joseph. She has given this Divine Infant to her faithful children in Holy Communion, in order that they may carry him in their hearts, and bids them guard him against the snares laid for him by his and their enemies. Let the
Christian, therefore, take heed lest Jesus should be taken from him. Let him, by strict watchfulness and by good works, crush the tyrant sin that seeks the life of the Divine Guest of his soul. It is for this reason that, in the Postcommunion, the Church prays that our vices may be destroyed, and our desires for a virtuous life be blessed.
Tolle puerum et matrem ejus, et vade in terram Israel; defuncti sunt enim qui quærebant animam pueri.
Take the Child and his Mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead who sought the life of the Child.
Per hujus, Domine, operationem mysterii et vitia nostra purgentur, et justa desideria compleantur. Per Dominum.
May the efficacy of this sacrament, O Lord, cleanse us from our sins, and obtain for us the accomplishment of our just desires. Through, etc.
The Commemoration of the Octave is given above, p. 233.
If December 30 be kept as the Sunday in the Octave of Christmas, Vespers are as follows:
The Antiphons and Psalms are those of Christmas Day, p. 210.
Fratres: Quanto tempore heres parvulus est, nihil differt a servo, cum sit Dominus omnium; sed sub tutoribus et actoribus est usque ad præfinitum tempus a patre.
Brethren: As long as the heir is a child, he differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors, until the time appointed by the father.
Hymn, Jesu Redemptor omnium, p. 217.
℣. Verbum Caro factum est, alleluia.
℟. Et habitavit in nobis, alleluia.
℣. The Word was made Flesh, alleluia.
℟. And dwelt among us, alleluia.
Antiphon to the Magnificat
Ant. Puer Jesus proficiebat ætate et sapientia coram Deo et hominibus.
OremusOmnipotens sempiterne Deus, dirige actus nostros in beneplacito tuo: ut in nomine dilecti Filii tui Mereamur bonis operibus abundare: Qui tecum vivit.
Ant. The child Jesus increased in age and wisdom before God and men.
Let us Pray
O Almighty and eternal God, regulate our actions according to thy divine will: that in the name of thy beloved Son we may abound in good works. Who liveth, etc.
Commemoration of St Sylvester, Pope
Ant. Sacerdos et Pontifex, et virtutum opifex, pastor bone in populo, ora pro nobis Dominum.
℣. Amavit eum Dominus, et ornavit eum.
℟. Stolam gloriæ induit eum.
Da, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus, ut beati Silvestri, Confessoris tui atque Pontificis, veneranda solemnitas et devotionem nobis augeat et salutem. Per Dominum.
Ant. O Priest and Pontiff, and worker of virtuous deeds, good shepherd of thy people, pray for us to the Lord.
℣. The Lord loved him and adorned him.
℟. And hath clothed him with a robe of glory.
Let us Pray
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that the venerable solemnity of blessed Sylvester thy Confessor and Bishop may improve our devotion, and strengthen in us the hopes of salvation. Through, etc.
Then Commemoration of Christmas Day, p.321.
But if the Sunday in the Octave be kept on December 31, Vespers are as above, except that the Antiphon to the Magnificat is Dum medium silentium, as on p.321; and commemorations are made of St Sylvester, as above, and of the Octave of Christmas, as on p. 321.
On this the sixth day since the Birth of our Emmanuel, let us consider how the Divine Infant lies in the Crib of a Stable, and is warmed by the breath of the Ox and the Ass, as Isaias had foretold: The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel hath not known me. Thus does the great God enter that world which his own hands have created! The dwellings of men are refused him, for man has a hard heart for his God, and an indifference which is a real contempt. The only shelter he can find to be born in is a Stable; and that necessitates his coming into the world in the company of poor dumb brutes.
At all events, these animals are his own work. When he created the irrational world of living things, he subjected it, as the inferior part of creation, to man; and man was to ennoble it, by referring it to the Creator. When Adam sinned, this subjection, this harmony, was broken. The apostle teaches us that the brute creation is not insensible to the degradation thus forced upon it by sinful man. It obeys him with reluctance; it not infrequently rebels against and deservedly punishes him; and on the day of judgement it will take the side of its Creator, and avenge itself of that wickedness of which man has made it the unwilling instrument.
In the mystery of his Birth, the Son of God visits this part of his creation; men refused to receive him, and he accepts the hospitality of the dwelling of brutes. It is from their dwelling that he begins the divine career of the three and thirty years. The first human beings he invites into the company of his blessed Mother and his dear St Joseph, the first he admits into the Stable to see and adore himself, are shepherds, who were busy watching their flocks, and whose simple hearts have not been corrupted by the atmosphere of cities.
The Ox—which, as we learn from Ezechiel and St John, is one of the symbolic creatures standing round God’s throne—is the figure of the sacrifices of the Old Law. The blood of oxen has flowed in torrents upon the altar of the Temple: it was the imperfect and material offering prescribed to be made to God, until he should send the true Victim. The Infant Jesus, who lies in the Crib, is that Victim, and St Paul tells us what he says to his Eternal Father: Sacrifices and Oblations and Holocausts for sin thou wouldst not have, neither are they pleasing to thee; behold, I come!
The Prophet Zachary, foretelling the peaceful triumph of the Meek King, says that he will make his entry into Sion riding upon an Ass. We shall assist, further on in the year, at the accomplishment of this prophecy. Now that we are at Bethlehem, in our Christmas mystery, let us observe how the heavenly Father places his Divine Son between the instrument of his peaceful triumph and the symbol of his Sacrifice on Calvary.
Ah! dear Jesus! Creator of heaven and earth! how strange is this thy entrance into thine own world! The whole universe should have given thee a welcome of love and adoration: and yet what motionless indifference! Not one house to take thee in! Men buried in sleep! And when Mary had placed thee in the Crib, thy first sight was that of two poor animals, the slaves of him who proudly rejected thee! Yet this sight did not displease thee, for thou dost not despise the work of thy hands. What afflicts thy loving Heart is the presence of sin in our souls, the sight of that enemy of thine which has so often caused thee to suffer. Oh! hateful sin! we renounce it, and wish, dear Jesus, to acknowledge thee for our Lord and Master, at did the Ox and the Ass. We will unite in that hymn of praise which creation is ever sending up to thee, by henceforth adding to it the homage of our adoration and gratitude; nay, we will lend speech to nature, and give it soul, and sanctify it, by referring all creatures to thy service.
The following Prose is the composition of Adam of St Victor, and is one of the most mystical of the Sequences in the Missals of the Middle Ages. It will serve us as a further tribute of praise to the Divine Infant.
Splendor Patris et figura,
Se conformans homini,
Potestate, non natura, Partum dedit virgini.
Novum promat canticum;
Prodeat in publicum.
Virgo gaudens edidit.
Si crystallus sit humecta,
Atque soli sit objecta,
Nec crystallus rumpitur,
Nec in partu solvitur
Super tali genitura
Stupet usus et natura,
Res est ineffabilis:
Tam pia, tam humilis
Frondem, florem, nucem sicca
Virga profert, et pudica
Virgo Dei Filium.
Frons est Christus,
Ros, cœlesti gratia.
Cur quod Virgo peperit
Est Judæis scandalum,
Cum virga produxerit
Sicca sic amygdalum?
Contemplemur adhuc nucem:
Nam prolata nux in lucem
Lucis est mysterium.
Trinam gerens unionem,
Tria confert, unctionem,
Lumen et edulium.
Nux est Christus; cortex nucis,
Circa carnem pæna crucis,
Testa, corpus osseum.
Carne tecta deitas,
Et Christi suavitas
Signatur per nucleum.
Lux est cæcis, et unguentum
Christus ægris, et fomentum
O quam dulce sacramentum!
Fœnum carnis in frumentum
Quos sub umbra Sacramenti,
Jesu, pascis in præsenti,
Tuo vultu satia.
Splendor, Patri coæterne,
Nos hinc transfer ad paternæ
He that is the brightness of the Father, and his figure,
taking to himself the likeness and nature of man,
Gave fruitfulness to the Virgin, who became Mother not by nature, but by his divine power.
The old Adam
is at length made glad,
and may sing a new canticle;
And he that was a fugitive
may now come before the world.
Eve brought forth sadness to mankind;
Mary, the glad Virgin,
brought forth the Fruit of Life.
Neither did she
the treasure of virginity.
Hold a dew-wet crystal
up to the sun;
the spark glitters through,
Yet breaks not the crystal;
so in the Birth of Jesus,
it injured naught of the Mother's purity.
Law and Nature stood wondering
at that divine Birth,
and reason was confounded.
Yea, the Birth of Christ
is an ineffable mystery
—so full of love, and so humble!
Aaron's sapless branch
yields leaf and flower and almond:
so does the chaste Virgin her Child, the Son of God.
bears the dew from heaven;
the creature bears the creature's ransom
The leaf and flower,
the almond and the dew,
are mystic emblems
of our Saviour’s love.
Jesus is the leaf
that shades us;
the sweet flower that regales us;
the almond-nut that feeds us;
the dew that waters us with heavenly grace.
Why is it that the Virgin’s delivery
should be a stumbling-block to the Jews?
Have they forgotten the dry branch of Aaron,
how it bore the almonds?
Let us once more contemplate the almond-nut;
for, viewed in its true light,
it is the mystic emblem of him that is the Light.
It unites in itself three things,
and all three it gives to man:
unction, light and food.
Jesus is the almond-nut. The rind is the cross and passion
he endured in the Flesh:
the shell is his Body—his Flesh and Bones.
The Divinity and the sweetness of Jesus,
which are sheathed within the Flesh,
are figured by the kernel.
Jesus is Light to the blind,
and unction to the sick,
and soothing to holy souls.
O how sweet a Sacrament!
He changes his Flesh, that lies as hay in the manger,
into the Wheat of the elect.
Give us, O Jesus! whom thou now feedest with thyself under the Sacramental veils,
to be satiated
with the sight of thy holy Face in heaven.
O Brightness of the Father, co-eternal with him!
take us hence to the joys
of thy Father's glory.
We borrow from the Syrian Church the following stanzas of one of its hymns, written by her sublime poet, St Ephrem the Deacon of Edessa.
Quis sciret quonam tuam, Domine, Genitricem nomine appellare deberet, nemo fuit: Virginemne diceret? at ejus in oculis omnium prostabat natus: Nuptamne affirmaret? at ad ejus nuptias neminem pervenisse certum erat.
Jam si Matrem tuam mente intelligentiaque assequi nemo potest, quis te attingere se posse credat? Mater tua Maria sola est, si solam cogito, alioquin soror, si cum reliquis confundo feminis.
Facta tibi Mater est, et in communi sanctarum feminarum choro soror quoque et sponsa: video ut omnibus illam decorasti modis, o matris tuæ decus.
Sponsa tibi data est, antequam venires; venisti, teque concepit, et hoc supra naturam, sicut et illud quod te peperit, et Virgo permansit.
Omnium nuptarum praerogativas habuit Maria: citra viri operam viscera prole, lacte implevit ubera; te jubente, statim fons lacteus erupit e terra sitiente.
Aspectu illo tuo magno recreata Mater te gestat, nec tamen ipso gravatur onere; cibum ministrat esurire volenti, porrigit poculum tibi ipsi ultro scienti sitim. Si illi amplexari te licuit, tua istud præstitit benignitas, prunam ardentem, ne pectus ejus exureret, attemperans.
By what name, O Lord Jesus! shall we call Mary thy Mother? A Virgin? Yet all eyes are on thee, her Son. Must we call her a Spouse? Yet we know she was not such as men would call a Spouse.
And now if thy Mother exceed the mind and understanding of all men; who shall think himself able to reach thee, O Jesus? Mary is thy Mother, if I think of her as she stands alone: if I think of her in what she has in common with other women, she is thy Sister.
Yea, she was made thy Mother; and she is, too, thy Sister and thy Spouse, in the company of other holy women. How truly art thou thy Mother's glory, who hast given her every kind of glory!
She was thy Spouse before thou camest into the world; and when thou didst come, she conceived thee in a supernatural way, and in the same did she give birth to thee, herself remaining a pure Virgin.
Mary had the prerogatives of other mothers, without their humiliations. She conceived thee, but was a Virgin; she fed thee at her breasts, but was a Virgin. It was thy bidding, O Jesus! and at once the purest Virgin was the perfect Mother
She carries thee in her arms, and refreshed with the lovely sight of her Jesus, she feels no weight. She gives thee food, for thou didst will to hunger; she gives thee drink, for thou didst will to thirst. And when she willed to press thee to her heart, thy love did temper down the burning fire of thine infinite perfection, that she might fondle thee and live.
 Isa. i 3.
 Rom. viii 19, 20.
 Wisd. v 21.
 Ezech. i 10.
 Apoc. iv 7.
 Heb. x 8, 9.
 Zach. ix 9, quoted by St Matt, xxi 5.