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Twelvetide, or the Twelve Days of Christmas

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

THE feast of the beloved Disciple is followed by that of the Holy Innocents. The Crib of Jesus, where we have already met and venerated the Prince of Martyrs and the Eagle of Patmos, has to-day standing round it a lovely choir of little Children, clad in snow-white robes, and holding green branches in their hands. The Divine Babe smiles upon them: he is their King; and these Innocents are smiling upon the Church of God. Courage and Fidelity first led us to the Crib; Innocence now comes, and bids us tarry there.

Herod intended to include the Son of God amongst the murdered Babes of Bethlehem. The Daughters of Rachel wept over their little ones, and the land streamed with blood; but the Tyrant’s policy can do no more: it cannot reach Jesus, and its whole plot ends in recruiting an immense army of Martyrs for heaven. These Children were not capable of knowing what an honour it was for them to be made victims for the sake of the Saviour of the world; but the very first instant after their immolation, all was revealed to them: they had gone through this world without knowing it, and now that they know it, they possess an infinitely better. God showed here the riches of his mercy: he asks of them but a momentary suffering, and that over, they wake up in Abraham's Bosom: no further trial awaits them, they are in spotless innocence, and the glory due to a soldier who died to save the life of his Prince belongs eternally to them.

They died for Jesus’ sake; therefore their death was a real Martyrdom, and the Church calls them by the beautiful name of the Flowers of the Martyrs, because of their tender age and their innocence. Justly then does the ecclesiastical Cycle bring them before us to-day, immediately after the two valiant Champions of Christ, Stephen and John. The connection of these three Feasts is thus admirably explained by St Bernard:

In St Stephen, we have both the act and the desire of Martyrdom; in St John, we have but the desire; in the Holy Innocents, we have but the act. ... Will anyone doubt whether a crown was given to these Innocents? . . . If you ask me what merit could they have that God should crown them? let me ask you what was the fault for which Herod slew them? What! is the mercy of Jesus less than the cruelty of Herod? and whilst Herod could put these Babes to death, who had done him no injury, Jesus may not crown them for dying for him?

Stephen, therefore, is a Martyr by a Martyrdom of which men can judge, for he gave this evident proof of his sufferings being felt and accepted, that, at the very moment of his death, his solicitude both for his own soul and for those of his persecutors increased; the pangs of his bodily passion were less intense than the affection of his soul's compassion, which made him weep more for their sins than for his own wounds. John was a Martyr, by a Martyrdom which only Angels could see, for the proofs of his sacrifice being spiritual, only spiritual creatures could ken them. But the Innocents were Martyrs, to none other eye save thine, O God! Man could find no merit; Angel could find no merit: the extraordinary prerogative of thy grace is the more boldly brought out. From the mouth of the Infants and the Sucklings thou hast perfected praise.[1] The praise the Angels give thee is: Glory he to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will:[2] it is a magnificent praise, but I make bold to say that it is not Perfect till he cometh who will say: “Suffer Little Children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven;[3] and in the mystery of my mercy, there shall be peace to men that cannot even use their will.”

(Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Innocents.)

Yes, God did for these Innocents, who were immolated on his Son’s account, what he is doing every moment now by the sacrament of regeneration in the case of children who die before coming to the use of reason. We, who have been baptized by water, should be all the more ready to honour these Little Ones, who were baptized in their own blood, and thereby associated to all the mysteries of the Divine Infancy. We ought, together with the Church, to congratulate them, for that a glorious and premature death secured them their innocence. They have lived upon our earth, and yet it defiled them not! Truly, these tender Lambs deserve to be for ever with the Lamb of God! May this same earth of ours, grown old in wickedness, draw down the divine mercy on itself, by the love and honour it gives each year to these sweet Children of Bethlehem, who, like the Dove of Noah’s Ark, could not find whereon to rest their feet.

In the midst of the joy which, at this holy time, fills both heaven and earth, the Holy Church of Rome forgets not the lamentations of the Mothers who beheld their Children cruelly butchered by Herod’s soldiers. She hears the wailing of Rachel, and condoles with her; and unless it be a Sunday, she suspends on this Feast some of the manifestations of the joy which inundates her soul during the Octave of her Jesus’ Birth. The Red vestments of a Martyr’s Day would be too expressive of that stream of infant blood which forbids the Mothers to be comforted, and joyous White would ill suit their poignant grief; she therefore vests in Purple, the symbol of mournfulness.[4] The Gloria in excelsis, the Hymn she loves so passionately during these days, when Angels come down from heaven to sing it—even that must be hushed to-day: and in the Holy Sacrifice she sings no Alleluia. In this, as in everything she does, the Church acts with an exquisite delicacy of feeling. Her Liturgy is a school of refined Christian considerateness.

This expression of sympathy gives to-day’s Office a pathetic sadness, which, however, in no way interferes with the joy which the Church feels in celebrating the Feast of the Holy Innocents. She keeps it with an Octave, as she does the two preceding Feasts of St Stephen and St John. She sanctions the practice, observed in Cathedrals and Collegiate Churches, of allowing young boys to share in the duties of the Choir, and blend their innocent chanting with that of the Ministers of God. She grants them several privileges, and takes pleasure in seeing the delight wherewith these children perform the several functions entrusted to them. This joy, this simplicity, this innocence, all add a charm to the divine Service; and through these youthful Choristers the Church pays honour to the Infant Jesus, and to the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem.

In Rome, the Station for the Feast of St Stephen is in the Church dedicated to the holy Protomartyr, on Monte Celio; that for St John is in the Basilica of St Mary Major; to-day the Station is made at St Paul's without the Walls, which possesses several of the bodies of the Holy Innocents. In the sixteenth century, Pope Xystus V caused a portion of these Relics to be translated to St Mary Major's, and put near the holy Relic of our Lord’s Crib.


In the Introit, the Church proclaims the wisdom of God in disconcerting the impious plans of Herod, and turning the murder of the Innocents into his own glory, by raising them to the dignity of Martyrs of Christ, whose praises they gratefully sing for ever.


Ex ore infantium, Deus, et lactentium perfecisti laudem propter inimicos tuos.

Ps. Domine, Dominus noster, quam admirabile est Nomen tuum in universa terra! ℣. Gloria Patri. Ex ore.
Out of the mouth of infants and sucklings thou hast perfected praise, O God, to confound thine enemies.

Ps. O Lord our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth. ℣. Glory, etc. Out of.

In the Collect, the Church prays that her children may confess by their works their faith in Christ. The Holy Innocents give their testimony—the only one in their power—of suffering for their divine Master: but the Christian who has attained the use of reason has more to do than suffer for his faith: he must confess it before persecutors and tyrants when they bid him deny it, and also before that more permanent tribunal of the world and his own passions. No man has received the glorious character of a Christian on the condition that he should never own himself one.


Deus, cujus hodierna die præconium Innocentes martyres non loquendo, sed moriendo confessi sunt: omnia in nobis vitiorum mala mortifica, ut fidem tuam, quam lingua nostra loquitur, etiam moribus vita fateatur. Per Dominum.
O God, whose praise the holy Martyrs, the Innocents, published this day, not by speaking, but by dying; mortify us in all our vicious inclinations: that we may show forth in our actions thy faith which we profess with our lips. Through, etc.

Commemoration of Christmas Day

Concede, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus; ut nos Unigeniti tui nova per carnem nativitas liberet, quos sub peccati jugo vetusta servitus tenet. Per eundem.
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we who groan under the old captivity of sin, may be freed therefrom by the new birth of thine Only-Begotten Son. Through, etc.


Lectio libri Apocalypsis beati Joannis Apostoli.

Cap. XIV.

In diebus illus: Vidi supra montem Sion Agnum stantem, et cum eo centum quadraginta quatuor millia, habentes nomen ejus, et nomen Patris ejus scriptum in frontibus suis. Et audivi vocem de cœlo tamquam vocem aquarum multarum, et tamquam vocem tonitrui magni; et vocem quam audivi, sicut citharædorum citharizantium in citharis suis. Et cantabant quasi canticum novum ante sedem, et ante quatuor animalia et seniores; et nemo poterat dicere canticum, nisi illa centum quadraginta quatuor millia, qui empti sunt de terra. Hi sunt qui cum mulieribus non sunt coinquinati: virgines enim sunt. Hi sequuntur Agnum quocumque ierit. Hi empti sunt ex hominibus primitiæ Deo et Agno, et in ore eorum non est inventum mendacium: sine macula enim sunt ante thronum Dei.

Lesson from the book of the Apocalypse of St John the Apostle.

Ch. XIV.

In those days: I beheld the Lamb standing on Mount Sion, and with him a hundred fortyfour thousand, having his name, and the name of his Father, written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of great thunder; and the voice which I heard was as the voice of harpers harping on their harps. And they sung as it were a new canticle before the throne, and before the four living creatures and the ancients; and no man could say the canticle but those hundred forty-four thousand, who were purchased from the earth. These are they who are not defiled with women: for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were purchased from among men, the first-fruits to God and to the Lamb, and in their mouths there was found no lie: for they are without spot before the throne of God.

The Church shows us, by her choice of this mysterious passage of the Apocalypse, how great a value she sets on Innocence, and what our own esteem of it ought to be. The Holy Innocents follow the Lamb, because they are pure. Personal merits on earth they could not have; but they went rapidly through this world, and its defilements never reached them. Their purity was not tried, as was St John's; but it is beautified by the blood they shed for the Divine Lamb, and he is pleased with it, and makes them his companions. Let the Christian, therefore, be ambitious for this Innocence, which is thus singularly honoured. If he have preserved it, let him keep and guard it as his most precious treasure; if he have lost it, let him repair the loss by repentance, and having done so, let him say with the Spouse in the Canticle: I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?[5]

In the Gradual, we have the Innocents blessing their God for having broken the snare, wherewith the world would have made them captive. They have fled as a bird set free; there was nothing to clog their flight.

The Tract expresses the lamentation of Rachel over the cruelty of Herod and his minions. It invokes the divine vengeance which swept away the whole family of this vile Tyrant.


Anima nostra, sicut passer, erepta est de laqueo venantium.

℣. Laqueus contritus est, et nos liberati sumus: adjutorium nostrum in nomine Domini, qui fecit cœlum et terram.
Our soul hath been delivered, as a sparrow, out of the snare of the fowlers.

℣. The snare is broken, and we are delivered: our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.


Effuderunt sanguinem Sanctorum velut aquam in circuitu Jerusalem.
℣. Et non erat qui sepeliret.
℣. Vindica, Domine, sanguinem Sanctorum tuorum, qui effusus est super terram.
They have spilt the blood of the Saints like water about Jerusalem.
℣. And there was none to bury them.
℣. Revenge, O Lord, the blood of thy Saints, which hath been spilt on earth.

If the Feast of the Holy Innocents fall on a Sunday, the Tract is not sung, but, in its place, the usual Alleluia verse, as follows:

Alleluia, alleluia. ℣. Laudate pueri Dominum, laudate nomen Domini. Alleluia.
Alleluia, alleluia, ℣. Praise the Lord, ye children, praise ye the name of the Lord. Alleluia.


Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Matthæum.

Cap. II.

In illo tempore: Angelus Domini apparuit in somnis Joseph, dicens: surge, et accipe puerum et matrem ejus, et fuge in Ægyptum, et esto ibi usque dum dicam tibi. Futurum est enim, ut Herodes quærat puerum ad perdendum eum. Qui consurgens, accepit puerum et matrem cjus nocte, et secessit in Ægyptum, et erat ibi usque ad obitum Herodis: ut adimpleretur quod dictum est a Domino per Prophetam dicentem: Ex Ægypto vocavi Filium meum. Tunc Herodes videns quoniam illusus esset a Magis, iratus est valde: et mittens, occidit omnes pueros qui erant in Bethlehem, et in omnibus finibus ejus, a bimatu et infra, secundum tempus quod exquisierat a Magis. Tunc adimpletum est quod dictum est per Jeremiam Prophetam dicentem: Vox in Rama audita est, ploratus et ululatus multus: Rachel plorans filios suos; et noluit consolari, quia non sunt.
Sequel to the holy Gospel according to Matthew.

Ch. II.

At that time: An Angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the Child and his Mother, and fly into Egypt, and be there until I shall tell thee. For it shall come to pass that Herod will seek the Child to destroy him. Who arose, and took the Child and his Mother by night, and retired into Egypt, and he was there until the death of Herod; that it might be fulfilled which the Lord spoke by the Prophet, saying: Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, perceiving that he was deluded by the Wise Men, was exceedingly angry, and sending, killed all the men children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the Wise Men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremias the Prophet, saying: A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and great mourning: Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

Thus does the Gospel, in its sublime simplicity, relate the Martyrdom of the Innocents. Herod, sending, killed all the Children!The earth paid no attention to the fell tyranny, which made so rich a harvest for heaven: there was heard a voice in Rama, Rachel wailing her little ones; it went up to heaven, and Bethlehem was still again, as though nothing had happened. But these favoured Victims had been accepted by God, and they were to be the companions of his Son. Jesus looked at them from his crib, and blessed them; Mary compassionated with them and their mothers; the Church, which Jesus had come to form, would, for all future ages, glorify these youthful Martyrs, and place the greatest confidence in the patronage of these Children, for she knows how powerful their intercession is with her heavenly Spouse.

During the Offertory, it is the choir of our Holy Innocents again singing their beautiful Canticle: as birds set free, they give praise to him who broke the snare which held them.


Anima nostra, sicut passer erepta est de laqueo venantium: laqueus contritus est, et nos liberati sumus.
Our soul hath been delivered, as a sparrow, out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are delivered.


Sanctorum tuorum. Domine, nobis pia non desit oratio; quæ et munera nostra conciliet, et tuam nobis indulgentiam semper obtineat. Per Dominum.
May the pious prayers of thy Saints, O Lord, be never wanting to us; both to make our offerings acceptable, and to obtain for us thy mercy. Through, etc.

Commemoration of Christmas Day

Oblata, Domine, munera, nova Unigeniti tui Nativitate sanctifica, nosque a peccatorum nostrorum maculis emunda. Per eundem.
Sanctify, O Lord, our offerings, by the new Birth of thine Only-Begotten Son, and cleanse us from the stains of our sins. Through, etc.

In the Communion Anthem we again hear the voice of Rachel's lamentation. Now that the Church has been nourished by the mystery of divine charity, she could not forget the affliction of the mothers of her dear Innocents. She compassionates them all through her Office, and turns to him who alone can comfort them that are in sorrow.


Vox in Rama audita est, ploratus et ululatus: Rachel plorans filios suos; et noluit consolari, quia non sunt.
A voice in Rama was heard; lamentation and great mourning: Rachel bewailing her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.


Votiva, Domine, dona percepimus: quæ Sanctorum nobis precibus, et præsentis quæsumus vitæ, pariter et æternæ tribue conferre subsidium. Per Dominum.
Now we have partaken, O Lord, of the votive offerings: grant, we beseech thee, that by the prayers of thy Saints, they may procure us the helps of this present life, and those of that which is to come. Through, etc.

Commemoration of Christmas Day

Præsta, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus: ut natus hodie Salvator mundi, sicut divinæ nobis generationis est auctor, ita et immortalitatis sit ipse largitor. Qui tecum.
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that as the Saviour of the world, who was born this day, procured for us a divine birth, he may, also, bestow on us immortality. Who liveth, etc.


The Antiphons and Psalms of Christmas Day having been sung, as given on p. 210, the rest of the Office is as follows:

(Apoc. xiv)

Vidi supra montem Sion Agnum stantem, et cum eo centum quadraginta quatuor millia, habentes nomen ejus, et nomen Patris ejus scriptum in frontibus suis.
I saw upon Mount Sion a Lamb standing, and with him a hundred forty-four thousand, having his name, and the name of his Father written on their foreheads.


Salvete, flores Martyrum,
Quos lucis ipso in limine
Christi insecutor sustulit,
Ceu turbo nascentes rosas.

Vos, prima Christi victima,
Grex immolatorum tener,
Aram sub ipsam simplices
Palma et coronis luditis.

Jesu, tibi sit gloria,
Qui natus es de Virgine,
Cum Patre et almo Spiritu
In sempiterna sæcula.


. Sub throno Dei omnes sancti clamant.
℟. Vindica sanguinem nostrum, Deus noster

Hail, ye flowers of the Martyrs,
whom, on the very threshold of the light,
he who sought to slay Christ bare away,
as doth the biting wind the rosebuds.

Ye, Christ’s first victim,
tender flock of lambs ready for sacrifice,
now in your simplicity play with your palms and crowns
beneath the very altar.

Glory be to thee, O Jesus,
who art born of a Virgin,
with Father and Holy Spirit,
for ever and ever.


℣. Beneath the throne of God all the Saints cry out.
℟. Avenge our blood, O our God.

Antiphon of the Magnificat

Ant. Innocentes pro Christo infantes occisi sunt, ab iniquo rege lactentes interfecti sunt: ipsum sequuntur Agnum sine macula, et dicunt semper: Gloria tibi, Domine.


Deus, cujus hodierna die præconium Innocentes Martyres non loquendo sed moriendo confessi sunt, omnia in nobis vitiorum mala mortifica; ut fidem tuam, quam lingua nostra loquitur, etiam moribus vita fateatur. Per Dominum.
Ant. Innocent infants were slain for Christ, children at the breast were murdered by a wicked king; they follow the spotless Lamb himself, and ever say: Glory be to thee, O Lord.

Let Us Pray

O God, whose praise thy Holy Martyrs the Innocents published this day, not by speaking, but by dying; mortify in us all our vicious inclinations, that we may show forth in our actions thy faith which we profess with our lips. Through our Lord.

Commemoration of St Thomas

Ant. Iste sanctus pro lege Dei sui certavit usque ad mortem, et a verbis impiorum non timuit: fundatus enim erat supra firmam petram.

℣. Gloria et honore coronasti eum, Domine.
℟. Et constituisti eum super opera manuum tuarum.


Deus, pro cujus Ecclesia gloriosus Pontifex Thomas gladiis impiorum occubuit: præsta, quæsumus, ut omnes qui ejus implorant auxilium, petitionis suæ salutarem consequantur effectum. Per Dominum.
Ant. This Saint fought even to death for the law of his God, and feared not the words of the wicked; for he was founded upon a firm rock.

. Thou hast crowned him with glory and honour, O Lord.
℟. And hast set him over the works of thy hands.

Let us Pray

O God, in defence of whose Church the glorious Prelate Thomas fell by the swords of wicked men; grant, we beseech thee, that all who implore his assistance may find comfort in the grant of their petition. Through, etc.

Commemoration of Christmas Day

Ant. Hodie Christus natus est, hodie Salvator apparuit, hodie in terra canunt Angeli, lætantur Archangeli: hodie exsultant justi, dicentes: Gloria in excelsis Deo, alleluia.

℣. Notum fecit Dominus, alleluia.
. Salutare suum, alleluia.


Concede, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus, ut nos Unigeniti tui nova per carnem Nativitas liberet, quos sub peccati jugo vetusta servitus tenet. Per eumdem.

Ant. This day Christ is born; this day the Saviour hath appeared; this day Angels sing on earth; the Archangels rejoice; this day the just exult, saying: Glory be to God in the highest, alleluia.

℣. The Lord hath made known, alleluia.
. His salvation, alleluia.

Let Us Pray

Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we who groan under the old captivity of sin, may be freed therefrom by the new Birth of thine OnlyBegotten Son. Through the same, etc.

And now let us listen to the several Churches celebrating the triumph of the Holy Innocents. Their chants for this Feast are very beautiful. We will begin with the following fine Preface, which is in both the Ambrosian Missal and the Leonine Sacramentary:


Vere dignum et justum est, æquum et salutare: nos in pretiosa morte parvulorum te, sancte Pater omnipotens, gloriosius collaudare: quos propter Filii tui Domini nostri Salvatoris infantiam immani sævitia Herodes funestus occidit: immensa clementiæ tuæ dona cognoscimus. Fulget namque sola magis gratia, quam voluntas: et clara est prius confessio, quam loquela. Ante passio, quam membra passionis existerent: testes Christi, qui ejus nondum fuerant agnitores. O infinita benignitas Omnipotentis: cum pro suo nomine trucidatis, etiam nescientibus, æternæ meritum gloriæ perire non patitur; sed proprio cruore perfusis et salus regenerationis expletur et imputatur corona martyrii!
It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should exceedingly praise thee, O holy Almighty Father, in the precious death of the Infants whom the unhappy Herod with savage cruelty slew because of the Infant Jesus, thy Son our Lord. Herein do we recognize how immeasurable are the gifts of thy mercy, for the splendour of thy free grace outshines the martyrs' will; and they nobly confess thy name, who are not yet able to speak. They suffer martyrdom before their bodies are ripe for martyrdom: they bear testimony to Christ before they have even known him. O the infinite goodness of the Omnipotent God! He suffers not the merit of everlasting glory to be lost by them that are slain for his sake, though they know not what they do: and being bathed in their own blood, he effects in them the salvation of regeneration, and gives them the crown of martyrdom.

The following is from the Mozarabic Missal, and is full of unction and eloquence:

Dignum et justum est: vere dignum et justum est, nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere, Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, æterne Deus, pro his præcipue, quorum hodierno die annua festivitate recolentes memoriam passionis celebramus: quos Herodianus satelles lactantum matrum uberibus abstraxit. Qui jure dicuntur Martyrum flores; qui in medio frigore infidelitatis exorti, velut primas erumpentes Ecclesiæ gemmas quædam persecutionis pruina discussit, rutilante fonte in Bethlehem civitate. Infantes enim quia ætate loqui non poterant, laudem Domini cum gaudio resonabant. Occisi prædicant: quod vivi non poterant. Loquuntur sanguine, quod lingua nequiverunt. Contulit his Martyrium laudem; quibus abnegaverat lingua sermonem. Præmittit infantes Infans Christus ad coelos; transmittit nova xenia Patri; primitias exhibet Genitori parvulorum prima martyria, Herodis scelere perpetrata. Præstat hostis corpori; dum nocet, beneficium tribuit; dum occidit, moriendo vivitur: cadendo resurgitur: victoria per interitum comprobatur
It is meet and just, yea truly right and just, that we should always and in all places, give thanks to thee, O Holy Lord, Almighty Father, Eternal God, and now especially for these whose yearly feast we this day keep, celebrating the memory of their passion. These are they whom Herod's satellites snatched from their mothers' breasts. Rightly are they called The Flowers of the Martyrs, for they grew in the mid-winter of infidelity as the first buds of the Church, and being nipped by the frost of persecution, filled the city of Bethlehem with a ruddy stream. They were Babes, and could not speak; yet did they joyfully proclaim the praise of the Lord. Their deaths profess what their lives could not. They say by their blood what they could not with their tongue. Martyrdom gave them power to praise, though their tongue denied them that of speech. The Infant Jesus sends these Infants, before himself, to heaven: he presents these new gifts to his Father, and offers to him, as the first fruits of martyrdom, this of the Innocents, who were slain by the wicked Herod. This enemy confers on them what their body could not; while he injures their body, he benefits it; whilst their body falls, it lives by its death, it rises by its fall, it conquers by its defeat.

Our own Venerable Bede offers us the following Hymn, which is full of melody and pathos:


Hymnum canentes Martyrum
Dicamus Innocentium,
Quos terra flendo perdidit,
Gaudens sed æthra suscipit.

Vultum Patris per sæcula,
Quorum tuentur Angeli,
Ejusque laudant gratiam,
Hymnum canentes Martyrum.

Quos rex peremit impius,
Pius sed Auctor colligit,
Secum beatos collocans,
In luce regni perpetis.

Qui mansiones singulis
Largitus in domo Patris;
Donat supernis sedibus,
Quos rex peremit impius.

Bimos et infra parvulos,
Herodis ira perculit;
Finesque Bethlehemiticos,
Sancto respersit sanguine.

Præclara Christo splenduit
Mors innocens fidelium:
Cœlis ferebant Angeli
Bimos et infra parvulos.

Vox in Rama percrebuit,
Lamenta luctus maximi,
Rachel suos, cum lacrymis
Perfusa, flevit filios.

Gaudent triumpho perpeti,
Tormenta quique vicerant,
Quorum gemens ob verbera,
Vox in Rama percrebuit.

Ne, grex pusille, formides
Dentes leonis perfidos!
Pastor bonus nam pascua
Vobis dabit cœlestia.

Agnum Dei qui candidum
Mundo sequeris tramite;
Manus latronis impias
Ne, grex pusille, formides.

Absterget omnem lacrymam
Vestris Pater de vultibus;
Mors vobis ultra non nocet,
Vitae receptis mœnibus.

Qui seminant in lacrymis,
Longo metent in gaudio.
Genis lugentum Conditor
Absterget omnem lacrymam.

O quam beata civitas.
In qua Redemptor nascitur:
Natoque primae
Martyrum In qua dicantur hostiæ.

Nunquam vocaris parvula,
In civitatuin millibus,
Ex qua novus dux ortus est;
O quam beata civitas.

Adstant nitentcs fulgidis
Ejus throno nunc vestibus,
Stolas suas qui laverant
Agni rubentes sanguine.

Qui perpetis pro patriae
Regno gementes fleverant:
Læti Deo cum laudibus
Adstant nitentes fulgidis.

Let us chant the hymn
of the martyred Innocents,
whom earth lost and wept,
but heaven gained and was glad.

Their Angels see
the Face of the Eternal Father,
and sing the Hymn of their Martyrs,
lauding the grace of God.

A cruel king destroyed them,
the merciful Creator received them,
making them happy with himself
in the brightness of the never-ending kingdom.

He that gives to each elect
a mansion in his Father's house,
places the Innocents, massacred by the impious king,
on thrones in heaven above.

Herod was angry,
and slew every child below the age of two,
staining with their sacred blood
the borders of Bethlehem.

Precious in the sight of Jesus
shone the innocent death of these his faithful ones;
and Angels came down
to carry them to the land of heaven.

A voice in Rama was heard,
lamentation of poignant grief,
and Rachel shed a flood of tears
over her infant sons,

Who now rejoice in endless triumph,
for they overcame their torments,
whose cruel blows filled Rama
with the voice of wailing.

Fear not, Little Flock,
the prowling Lion’s tooth!
for the Good Shepherd
will give you the pastures of heaven.

Following the spotless Lamb of God
in the path of purity,
ye need not fear, dear Little Flock,
a robber’s wicked grasp.

The Father will wipe every tear
from off your cheeks;
death shall have no further power to hurt you,
inclosed now within the walls of Life.

They that sow in tears,
reap eternal joy:
and the Creator wipes every tear away
from the mourner's face.

O truly happy Bethlehem!
city wherein our Redeemer was born,
and where he was presented with the first Martyrs
—the first Victims dedicated to the new-born King.

No, Bethlehem! thou shalt not be called
the least among the thousand cities,
for out of thee came the divine Leader!
O truly blessed City!

Around his throne now stand,
glittering in their fair bright robes,
these Innocents that washed their garments
red in the Blood of the Lamb.

They had sighed and wept
for the kingdom of the everlasting world:
now they stand joyfully before God,
and bright in their robes of glory are ever singing his praise.

The Greek Church is, of course, profuse in her praises of the Holy Innocents. We extract from her Menæa the following stanzas:
XXVI Decembris, in magno Vespertino, et passim.

Thesaurum occultatum exquirens impius, Innocentes pueros immolavit, et Rachel inconsolabilis exundantem intuens cladem iniquam, mortemque præmaturam; quos ploravit, imis visceribus cominota, eos nunc in sinu Abrahæ contemplata gaudet.

Regem sine tempore sub tempore natum, rex impius exquirebat, et non inveniens quomodo occideret, puerorum messuit malinesciam multitudinem, quos (et non cogitabat) fecit Martyres, supernique regni habitatores, et illius in sæcula impietatem exprobantes.

Te ex Virgine nato, autesæcularis Domine, teque parvulo, ob tuam bonitatem facto; parvulorum chorus tibi oblatus est in Martyrum sanguine; limpida anima justissime fulgidus; quos inhabitare fecisti in mansionibus sempiternis, Herodis infamantes malitiam et crudelissimam iniquitatem.

Rachel damans lacrymatur, ut scriptum est, super filios: parvulos enim Herodes occidens impius implebat Scripturam, Judæam inundans innocuo sanguine;nam terra rubescebat infantium sanguinibus, Ecclesiaque ex gentibus mystice purificatur, et stola induitur. Venit Veritas, sedentibus in umbra mortis Deus apparuit, ex Virgine natus ad salvandum nos.

Sursum et deorsum exsultantibus omnibus in Regis omnium manifestatione, solus Herodes tristatur cum Prophetarum homicidis Judæis; decet enim illos solos lamentan; deinceps enim non amplius regnant, sed regnum Domini, posthac dominabitur, inimicorum depulsans audaciam, et multitudinem Fidelium convocans, ad videndum cum venerandis pueris illum qui in præsepio jacet velut infans.

Herbivirentem agellum puerorum impius Herodes mittens emessuit præmaturum timidus; et natum Dominum cum nequit interficere, omni impletur confusione.

Plorat Rachel infantes, et in Rama vox magna auditur hodie: Herodes furit et impie fremescit: Joannes fugit ad montes, petra matrem recipit,Zacharias in templo cæditur, et Christus fugit, desertam linquens Hebræorum habitationem.

Immaculatæ tuæ nativitati, Domine, prima hostia fuerunt infantes; Herodes enim manu apprehendere te imprehensibilem volens deceptus est, Martyrum adducens tibi chorum; ideo te deprecamur hominem factum salvare animas nostras.

Ad aures Domini Sabaoth pervenit cædes vestra, Infantes honorandi; per eam enim sanguinem effudistis, et in sinu Abrahæ requiescitis, Herodis in sæcula odiosam malitiam repelientes, virtute Christi nati.

Odiosa Herodis puerorum internecio per illius cruentam militiam, et veneranda puerorum hostia, qui Christi coætanei præsacrificati et præpassi sunt: noli flere, Rachel, filios, recordata Abrahæ sinum, ubi eorum omnium lætantium est cohabitatio.

The impious Herod, searching out Jesus the Hidden Treasure, slew the Innocent Children; and the inconsolable Rachel, seeing the iniquitous shedding of blood and the premature death of her Babes, first grieving from the bottom of her heart, now rejoices seeing them in Abraham’s Bosom.

The wicked king sought for the King Eternal, yet born in time: and not finding how to kill him, he mowed down the innocent multitude of children, thinking not that he was making them Martyrs, and citizens of the heavenly kingdom, and eternal accusers of his impiety.

Thou, O Lord! being born of the Virgin, that wast born of the Father before all ages, and having become out of thy infinite goodness a Little Child, there was presented unto thee a choir of little children, made Martyrs by the shedding of their blood, and clad in brightness, the most just reward of their innocence of soul. Thou didst give them to dwell in eternal mansions, where they proclaim Herod's malice and most cruel injustice.

Rachel wailing, weeps, as ’tis written, over her Babes, for Herod fulfilled the Scripture when he slew the little ones, and inundated Judea with innocent blood. The earth was reddened by the Infants’ blood, and the Gentile Church mystically made pure and beautiful. The Truth had come: to them that were sitting in the shadow of death God had shown himself, born of a Virgin for our salvation.

In this manifestation of the King of all, all exulted in heaven and on earth, save only Herod and the Jews, the murderers of the Prophets: they are sad, for they alone have cause for sadness, seeing that their kingdom is at an end; but the kingdom of the Lord henceforth shall rule, repelling the daring of our enemies, and calling the multitude of the Faithful to come with the holy Children, and see him the Little Child, that lies in the manger.

The impious Herod fearing, sent his reapers to cut the tender grass of Bethlehem's little field, the Innocents: and failing in the murder of the Infant-God, confusion fills his soul.

Rachel bewails her sons, and a loud cry is heard to-day in Rama: Herod rages and maddens in impiety: John flees to the mountains, his mother Elizabeth hides in a cave, Zachary is slain in the temple, and Jesus escapes, leaving the Hebrew land a desert.

The Innocents were the first offering consecrated to thy immaculate Birth, O Jesus! for Herod, that fain would apprehend Thee, the Incomprehensible God, was fooled in his craft, and gave thee a choir of Martyrs. Therefore, O God made Man! save us, we beseech thee!

Most honoured Innocents! the cry of your murder has ascended to the ears of the God of Sabaoth. Your blood was shed by the massacre, but ye are resting in Abraham's bosom, and by the power of the Infant Christ, your triumph over Herod’s detested malice is eternal.

Hateful is Herod’s massacre of thy Children, O Rachel, by his cruel soldiers, but venerable the holocaust of thy Babes, the companions of Jesus in age, but his predecessors in their sacrifice and passion: weep not then for thy Children, Rachel, remembering Abraham’s Bosom, where is the one dwelling of them all, and they are in joy.

Into this sublime concert of the Liturgies singing the praises of the Innocents, we must admit the Latin Churches of the Middle Ages. We have selected a Prose of the eleventh century, found in most of the ancient Roman-French Missals.


Celsa pueri concrepent melodia,
Pia Innocentum colentes tripudia.
Quos infans Christus hodie vexit ad astra,
Hos trucidavit frendens insania
Herodianæ fraudis, ob nulla crimina,
In Bethlehem ipsius cuncta.
Et per confinia,
A bimatu et infra,
Juxta nascendi tempora,
Herodes rex, Christi nati Verens, infelix! imperia,
Infremit totus, erigit arma Superba dextera.
Quærit lucis et cœli Regem,
Cum mente turbida;
Ut extinguat, qui vitam præstat,
Per sua jacula.
Dum non valet intueri lucem splendidam, Nebulosa quærentis pectora.
Ira fervet, fraudes auget Herodes sævus,
Ut perdat piorum agmina.
Castra militum dux iniquus aggregat,
Ferrum figit in membra tenera.
Inter ubera lac effundit,
Antequam sanguinis fierent coagula.
Hostis naturae natos eviscerat
Atque jugulat:
Ante prosternit, quam ætas parvula
Sumat robora.
Quam beata sunt Innocentum cæsa
Quam felices existunt matres,
Funerunt quæ talia pignora!
O dulces Innocentum acies!
O pia lactantum pro Christo certamina!
Parvorum trucidantur millia:
Membris ex teneris manant lactis flumina.
Cives angelici veniunt obviam,
Mira victoria,
Vitæ captat merita
Turba candidissima.
Te, Christe, petimus, mente devotissima,
Nostra qui venisti reformare sæcula,
Innocentum gloria
Perfrui nos concedas per æterna.

Sound forth, O Children! your shrill melodies
In honour of the holy joys of the Innocents.
The Infant Jesus took them this day to the realms above,
When the rabid madness of Herod’s craft slew them,
Though guilty of no crime:
They were the Children in the city,
And all the confines of Bethlehem,
Two years old and under,
Dating from the time of their birth.
The unhappy King Herod, fearing the kingdom of the Infant Christ,
Trembles from head to foot, and brandishes his sword with his haughty hand.
He, with his troubled mind,
seeks for the King of Light and heaven;
That by his weapons
he might put to death him that gives life:
For his eye cannot look on the bright Light of him who searcheth clouded hearts.
Herod is inflamed with rage, and cruelly
plots the death of thousands of Innocents.
A wicked chieftain takes with him a troop of soldiers,
and plunges his sword in the tender flesh.
The pure stream of infant veins
(for blood is scarce yet formed) flows upon the mothers’ breasts.
The brutal enemy tears the flesh with gaping wounds,
and on the throat inflicts a fatal gash:
Trampling out life, e'er the tender age
is sinewed into strength.
Oh! how glorious
the bodies of these murdered Innocents!
How happy the Mothers
of such Children!
O lovable legion of Innocents!
O holy infant combats fought for Christ!
The Babes lay slain in thou sands,
and from their tender limbs there flows a stream of sinless blood.
The citizens of heaven come forth
to meet the snow-white troop
that takes the crown of Life,
won by a singular victory.
We most devoutly beseech thee, O Jesus!
who camest to reform the world,
That thou grant us to enjoy
for everlasting ages the glory of the Innocents.


And we, too, blessed Babes! celebrate your triumph, and we congratulate you on your having been chosen as the companions of Jesus when in his Crib. What a glad waking was yours, from the darkness of unconscious infancy to the precious light of Abraham's bosom, where were congregated all the elect! How dear to you the sword that thus transformed you! What gratitude had you not to God, who thus chose you, out of millions of other children, to do honour to the birth of his Son by this sacrifice of your blood and lives! Too young to fight the battle, yet did you win the crown. The Martyr's Palm waved in those tiny hands which had not strength to pluck it. God would give proof of his munificence: he would teach us that he is Master of his gifts. And was it not fitting that the birth of the Son of this great King should be commemorated by largess such as this? Sweet Infant Martyrs! we give praise to our God for having thus favoured you, and with the whole Church we rejoice in the privileges you have received.

Flowers of the Martyrs! we confide in your intercession, and beseech you, by the reward so gratuitously conferred on you, to be mindful of us your brethren, who are struggling amidst the dangers of this sinful world. We too desire to receive those same Palms and Crowns which you have won, but with such innocence and simplicity that the Church says you played with them:[6] whereas we have to fight hard and long for them, and are so often on the point of losing them for ever! The God that has glorified you is our last end as truly as he is yours; in him alone can our hearts find their rest; pray for us, that we may possess him for all eternity.

Pray for us, that we may obtain child-like simplicity of heart, whence comes that unreserved confidence in God which leads man to the perfect accomplishment of his holy will. May we bear the cross with patience when he sends it, and desire nothing but his holy will. You gazed upon the murderers who broke your gentle sleep, and you found nothing to make you fear; the bright sword they held over your cradle had but the look of a toy with which you asked to play; death stared you in the face, and you smiled on him. May we imitate you, and be meek and graceful in the trials that come to us; making them our martyrdom by the quiet endurance of our courage, and the conformity of our will with that of our Sovereign Lord and Master, who only gives the cross that he may give the crown. May we never object to or hate the instruments he uses wherewith to try us; may no harshness nor injustice nor pain ever quench the fire of our charity, nor any event ever deprive us of that peace without which our souls live not to God.

And, lastly, O ye Innocent Lambs, slain for Jesus, and following him whithersoever he goeth, because ye are pure, pray for us to the Lamb of God, that he permit us to come to him in Bethlehem, and, like you, fix our dwelling there, for it is the abode of love and innocence. Speak for us to Mary, a Mother more compassionate than Rachel; tell her that we are her children, and your brethren. She that compassionated your momentary sufferings will pity us and help us in our long years of temptation, pain and sorrow.

Three days have passed since the Birth of Jesus: let us visit him in the Stable, and humbly adore Emmanuel. Let us think on the mercy which led him to become a Little Child in order to bring us near to himself: let us be filled with astonishment at seeing our God thus close to his creatures.

‘He,’ says the holy Abbot Guerric,[7] ‘that in heaven, surpasses the sublime intellects of the Angels, is here on earth palpable to the dull sense of men. For whereas God could not speak to us as spiritual beings, for we are carnal, his Word was made Flesh, that all flesh might not only hear, but might even see him whom the mouth of the Lord had spoken.[8] And whereas the world knew not the Wisdom of God in his wisdom, that same wisdom, by an ineffable condescension, made himself Foolishness[9] ... I give thee praise, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for that thou hast hid this Wisdom from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed it to little ones.[10] . . . The haughtiness of the proud is exceedingly adverse to the humility of this Little One; and that which is high to men is an abomination before God.[11] . . . This Little One finds sympathy with none save with them that are little in heart, and he takes up his abode with none save with them that are humble and peaceful. As, therefore, these Little Children sing, glorying in him: A little Child is born unto us;[12] so does he say of them: Behold me and my Children, whom the Lord hath given unto me![13] Thus it was that the glory of Martyrdom began with innocent Babes; for the Father would give to his Son, the Infant Jesus, Companions of his own tender age; and hereby the Holy Ghost taught us that of such is the Kingdom of heaven.’[14]

In honour of this Childhood of the Great King, let us recite the following admirable Hymn, composed by one of the most learned men of the primitive Church, Clement of Alexandria.


Frænuin pullorum indocilium,
Penna volucrum non errantium,
Verus clavus infantium,
Pastor agnorum regalium,
Tuos simplices Pueros congrega,
Ad sancte laudandum,
Sincere canendum,
Ore innoxio,
Christum puerorum ducem.

Rex sanctorum,
Verbum, qui domas omnia,
Patris altissimi
Sapientiæ rector,
Laborum sustentaculum,
Ævo gaudens,
Humani generis Servator, Jesu,

Pastor, arator,
Clavus, frænum,
Penna cœlestis
Sanctissimi gregis,
Piscator hominum
Qui salvi fiunt;
Pelagi vitii,
Pisces castos
Unda ex infesta,
Dulci vita inescans.

Sis dux, ovium
Rationalium pastor;
Sancte, sis dux,
Rex puerorum intactorum:
Vestigia Christi,
Via cœlestis.

Verbum perenne,
Ævum infinitum,
Lux æterna,
Fons misericordiæ,
Operatrix virtutis,
Honesta vita
Deum laudantium, Christe Jesu,

Lac cœleste,
Dulcibus uberibus
Nymphæ gratiarum,
Sapientiæ tuæ expressum,
Ore tenero
Mammæ rationalis
Roscido spiritu Impleti,
Laudes simplices,
Hymnos veraces
Regi Christo.

Mercedes sanctas
Vitæ doctrinæ
Canamus simul.
Canamus simpliciter
Puerum valentem.
Chorus pacis,
Christo geniti,
Populus modestus,
Psallamus simul Deum pacis.
Curb of the young untamed ones,
Wing that protectest chickens which keep nigh their mother,
sure Rudder of infant age,
Shepherd of the King’s lambs!
call together thy simple children,
and bid them praise with holy hearts,
and sweetly sing with pure lips Jesus,
the King of Infants.

King of Saints,
Incarnate Word
that rulest all things,
Dispenser of the Most High,
the Father,
support of them that toil,
joy eternal,
Saviour of mankind, Jesus!

Shepherd, Husbandman,
Rudder, Curb,
Wing celestial
of the most holy flock,
Fisher of the elect,
drawing the chaste fish
by the bait
of the sweet
Bread of Life
from the boisterous sea of sin.

O Shepherd of the spiritual flock,
be thou our Guide!
Guide us, O Holy One,
O King of spotless Children!
The way to heaven
is to follow the footsteps of Christ.

O Eternal Word,
Infinite duration,
Light Eternal,
Fount of mercy,
Author of virtue,
the Holy Life
of them that praise God, Christ Jesus!

We thy little ones,
whose infant mouths
have drunk the milk of heaven,
drawn from the sweet breasts
of thy wisdom,
grace’s virgin spring:
filled with the dewy spirit
of thy divine breast,
we sing
to Christ the King
our simple praises
and our truthful hymns.

Let us together sing
the holy recompense
of the doctrine of Life!
Let us together sing
to the Almighty Babe!
O choir of peace,
O children of Christ,
O wisdom-loving people,
let us together praise the God of Peace!

Let us also salute Mary, the Mother of this Divine Infant, in the words of this beautiful Prose, taken from the ancient Missals of Germany.


Imperatrix gloriosa,
Potens et imperiosa,
Jesu Christi generosa
Mater atque filia:
Radix Jesse speciosa,
Virga florens et frondosa
Quam rigavit copiosa
Deitatis gratia.

Auster levis te perflavit,
Et perflando fœcundavit,
Aquilonem qui fugavit
Sua cum potentia.
Florem ergo genuisti,
Fructum ex quo protulisti,
Gabrieli dum fuisti
Paranympho credula.

Joseph, justus vir, expavit,
Ista dum consideravit,
Sciens quod non irrigavit
Florescentem virgulam:
Bene tamen conservavit
Arcanum, nec divulgavit;
Sponsam sed magnificavit,
Honorans ut Dominam.

Cœli quoniam roraverunt,
Nubes ex quo concreverunt,
Concretæque stillaverunt
Virginis in útero.
Res miranda! res novella!
Nam procedit sol de stella,
Regem dum parit puella.
Viri tori nescia.

Ergo demens et benigna,
Cunctorumque laudem digna,
Tuo nato nos consigna
Pia per suffragia;
Ut mortali, quo gravamur,
Compede sic absolvamur,
Ut soluti transferamur
Ad cæli palatia.


Glorious, powerful,
and sovereign Empress!
Noble Mother
and daughter of Jesus!
Fair Root of Jesse,
Branch lovely in thy bloom and leaf,
watered by the plentiful
grace of God!

The soft south zephyr breathed upon thee,
and breathing gave thee Fruit,
and by his power
put the rough north wind to flight.
Thou therefore,
believing the Angel Gabriel’s word,
didst conceive a Flower,
one day to bring him forth, thy Fruit.

Joseph, the Just Man,
saw his lovely Branch in Flower;
none else could know like him
and tremble at the Mystery.
But the secret was sacred and well did he keep it,
revealing it to no mortal ear.
Mary was his Spouse, and he extolled her:
she was his Lady, and he honoured her.

The heavens had truly dropped down their dew,
and the clouds, laden with a mystic rain,
rained the Holy One;
He dwelt in the Virgin's womb.
O wondrous thing! O thing most strange!
A Star brings forth the Sun!
A Maid, a Virgin most pure,
brings forth the King of Heaven.

Then, by thy loving prayers,
commend us to thy Son,
O Mother sweet and kind,
and worthy of this and every praise!
Pray for us,
that loosened from the shackle of mortality
that weighs us down,
we may take wing to the heavenly courts.


[1] Ps. viii 3.
[2] St Luke ii 14.
[3] St Matt xix 14.
[4] Unless it be a Sunday; in which case the colour used is Red.
[5] Cant. v 3.
[6] . . . . Simplices
Palma et coronis luditis.
(Hymn for Vespers.)
[7] Sermon the Fifth, On the Wonderful Providence of God in the Nativity of Christ.
[8] Isa. xl 5.
[9] 1 Cor i 25.
[10] St Matt. xi 25.
[11] St Luke xvi 15.
[12] Isa. ix 6.
[13] Ibid, viii 18.
[14] St Matt, xix 14.

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

ANOTHER Martyr comes to-day to take his place round the Crib of our Jesus. He does not belong to the first ages of the Church: his name is not written in the Books of the New Testament, like those of Stephen, John and the Innocents of Bethlehem. Yet does he stand most prominent in the ranks of that Martyr Host which has been receiving fresh recruits in every age, and is one of those visible abiding proofs of the vitality of the Church, and of the undecaying energy infused into her by her divine Founder. This glorious Martyr did not shed his blood for the faith; he was not dragged before the tribunals of pagans or heretics, there to confess the truths revealed by Christ and taught by the Church. He was slain by Christian hands; it was a Catholic King that condemned him to death; it was by the majority of his own brethren, and they his countrymen, that he was abandoned and blamed. How, then, could he be a Martyr? How did he gain a Palm like Stephen's? He was the Martyr for the liberty of the Church.

Every Christian is obliged to lay down his life rather than deny any of the articles of our holy Faith: it was the debt we contracted with Jesus Christ when he adopted us in Baptism as his Brethren. All are not called to the honour of Martyrdom, that is, all are not required to bear that testimony to the Truth which consists in shedding one's blood for it: but all must so love their Faith as to be ready to die rather than deny it, under pain of incurring the eternal death from which the grace of our Redeemer has already delivered us. The same obligation lies still more heavily on the Pastors of the Church. It is the pledge of the truth of their teachings. Hence we find in almost every page of the History of the Church the glorious names of saintly Bishops, who laid down their lives for the Faith they had delivered to their people. It was the last and dearest pledge they could give of their devotedness to the Vineyard entrusted to them, in which they had spent years of care and toil. The blood of their Martyrdom was more than a fertilizing element—it was a guarantee, the highest that man can give, that the seed they had sown in the hearts of men was in very truth the revealed Word of God.

But beyond the debt which every Christian has, of shedding his blood rather than denying his Faith, that is, of allowing no threats or dangers to make him disown the sacred ties which unite him to the Church, and through her to Jesus Christ; beyond this, Pastors have another debt to pay, which is that of defending the liberty of the Church. To Kings and Rulers, and, in general to all diplomatists and politicians, there are few expressions so unwelcome as this of the liberty of the Church; with them it means a sort of conspiracy. The world talks of it as being an unfortunate scandal, originating in priestly ambition. Timid temporizing Catholics regret that it can elicit anyone’s zeal, and will endeavour to persuade us that we have no need to fear anything, so long as our Faith is not attacked. Notwithstanding all this, the Church has put upon her altars the glorious St Thomas of Canterbury, who was slain in his Cathedral in the twelfth century because he resisted a King's infringements on the extrinsic rights of the Church. She sanctions the noble maxim of St Anselm, one of St Thomas’s predecessors in the See of Canterbury: Nothing does God love so much in this world as the liberty of his Church; and the Apostolic See declares by the mouth of Pius VIII, in the nineteenth century, the very same doctrine she would have taught by St Gregory VII, in the eleventh century: The Church, the spotless Spouse of Jesus Christ the immaculate Lamb, is by God’s appointment Free, and subject to no earthly power.[1]

But in what does this sacred liberty consist? It consists in the Church’s absolute independence of every secular power in the ministry of the Word of God, which she is bound to preach in season and out of season, as St Paul says, to all mankind, without distinction of nation or race or age or sex: in the administration of the Sacraments, to which she must invite all men without exception, in order to the world’s salvation: in the practice, free from all human control, of the Counsels, as well as of the Precepts, of the Gospel: in the unobstructed intercommunication of the several degrees of her sacred hierarchy: in the publication and application of her decrees and ordinances in matters of discipline: in the maintenance and development of the Institutions she has founded: in holding and governing her temporal patrimony: and lastly in the defence of those privileges which have been adjudged to her by the civil authority itself, in order that her ministry of peace and charity might be unembarrassed and respected.

Such is the Liberty of the Church. It is the bulwark of the Sanctuary. Every breach there imperils the Hierarchy, and even the very Faith. A Bishop may not flee, as the hireling, nor hold his peace, like those dumb dogs of which the Prophet Isaias speaks, and which are not able to bark.[2] He is the Watchman of Israel: he is a traitor if he first lets the enemy enter the citadel, and then, but only then, gives the alarm and risks his person and his life. The obligation of laying down his life for his flock begins to be in force at the enemy’s first attack upon the very outposts of the City, which is only safe when they are strongly guarded.

The consequence of the Pastor’s resistance may be of the most serious nature; in which event we must remember a truth which has been admirably expressed by Bossuet in his magnificent panegyric on St Thomas of Canterbury, which we regret not being able to give from beginning to end. 'It is an established law,' he says, 'that every success the Church acquires costs her the life of some of her children, and that in order to secure her rights she must shed her own blood. Her Divine Spouse redeemed her by the Blood he shed for her; and he wishes that she should purchase on the same terms the graces he bestows upon her. It was by the blood of the Martyrs that she extended her conquests far beyond the limits of the Roman Empire. It was her blood that procured her both the peace she enjoyed under the Christian, and the victory she gained over the Pagan Emperors. So that as she had to shed her blood for the propagation of her teaching, she had also to bleed in order to make her authority accepted. The discipline, therefore, as well as the faith of the Church, was to have its Martyrs.’

Hence it was that St Thomas, and the rest of the martyrs for ecclesiastical liberty, never once stopped to consider how it was possible, with such weak means as were at their disposal, to oppose the invaders of the rights of the Church. One great element of Martyrdom is simplicity united with courage; and this explains how there have been martyrs amongst the lowest classes of the faithful, and that young girls, and even children, can show their rich palm-branch. God has put into the heart of a Christian a capability of humble and inflexible resistance which makes every opposition give way. What, then, must that fidelity be, which the Holy Ghost has put into the souls of Bishops, whom he has constituted the Spouses of his Church, and the defenders of his beloved Jerusalem? 'St Thomas,' says Bossuet, ‘yields not to injustice, under the pretext that it is armed with the sword, and that it is a King who commits it; on the contrary, seeing that its source is high up, he feels his obligation of resisting it to be the greater, just as men throw the embankments higher when the torrent swells.'

But the Pastor may lose his life in the contest! Yes, it may be so: he may possibly have this glorious privilege. Our Lord came into this world to fight against it and conquer it; but he shed his blood in the contest, he died on a Cross. So likewise were the martyrs put to death. Can the Church, then, which was founded by the Precious Blood of her Divine Master, and was established by the blood of the martyrs—can she ever do without the saving laver of blood, which reanimates her with vigour, and vests her with the rich crimson of her royalty? St Thomas understood this: and when we remember how he laboured to mortify his flesh by a life of penance, and how every sort of privation and adversity had taught him to crucify to this world every affection of his heart, we cannot be surprised at his possessing, within his soul, the qualities which fit a man for martyrdom—calmness of courage, and a patience proof against every trial. In other words, he had received from God the Spirit of Fortitude, and he faithfully corresponded to it.

'In the language of the Church,' continues Bossuet, 'fortitude has not the meaning it has in the language of the world. Fortitude, as the world understands it, is undertaking great things; according to the Church, it goes not beyond suffering every sort of trial, and there it stops. Listen to the words of St Paul: Ye have not yet resisted unto blood; as though he would say: “You have not yet gone the whole length of your duty, because you have not resisted your enemies unto blood.” He does not say, You have not attacked your enemies and shed their blood;” but, Your resistance to your enemies has not yet cost you your blood.”

'These are the high principles of St Thomas; but see how he makes use of them. He arms himself with this sword of the Apostle's teaching, not to make a parade of courage, and gain a name for heroism, but simply because the Church is threatened, and he must hold over her the shield of his resistance. The strength of the holy Archbishop lies not in any way either in the interference of sympathizers, or in a plot ably conducted. He has but to publish the sufferings he has so patiently borne, and odium will fall upon his persecutor: certain secret springs need only to be touched by such a man as this, and the people would be roused to indignation against the King! But the Saint scorns both plans. All he has on his side is the prayer of the poor, and the sighs of the widow and the orphan: these, as St Ambrose would say, these are the Bishop's defenders, these his guard, these his army! He is powerful, because he has a soul that knows not either how to fear or how to murmur. He can in all truth say to Henry, King of England, what Tertullian said in the name of the whole Church to a magistrate of the Roman Empire, who was a cruel persecutor of the Church: We neither frighten thee nor fear thee:[3] we Christians are neither dangerous men, nor cowards; not dangerous, because we cannot cabal, and not cowards, because we fear not the sword.'

Our panegyrist proceeds to describe the victory won for the Church by her intrepid martyr of Canterbury. We can scarcely be surprised when we are told that during the very year in which he preached this eloquent Sermon, Bossuet was raised to the episcopal dignity. We need offer no apology for giving the following fine passage.

'Christians! give me your attention. If there ever were a martyrdom, which bore a resemblance to a sacrifice, it was the one I have to describe to you. First of all there is the preparation: the Bishop is in the Church with his ministers, and all are robed in the sacred vestments. And the victim? The victim is near at hand—the Bishop is the victim chosen by God, and he is ready. So that all is prepared for the sacrifice, and they that are to strike the blow enter the Church. The holy man walks before them, as Jesus did before his enemies. He forbids his clergy to make the slightest resistance, and all he asks of his enemies is that they injure none of them that are present: it is the close imitation of his Divine Master, who said to them that apprehended him: If it be I whom you seek, suffer these to go their way. And when all this had been done, and the moment for the sacrifice was come, St Thomas begins the ceremony. He is both victim and priest: he bows down his head, and offers the prayer. Listen to the solemn prayer, and the mystical words of the sacrifice: And I am ready to die for God, and for the claims of justice, and for the liberty of the Church, if only she may gain peace and liberty by this shedding of my blood![4] He prostrates himself before God: and as in the Holy Sacrifice there is the invocation of the Saints our intercessors, Thomas omits not so important a ceremony; he beseeches the holy Martyrs and the Blessed Mary ever a Virgin to deliver the Church from oppression. He can pray for nothing but the Church; his heart beats but for the Church; his lips can speak nothing but the Church; and when the blow has been struck, his cold and lifeless tongue seems still to be saying: The Church!'

Thus did our glorious Martyr, the type of a Bishop of the Church, consummate his sacrifice, thus did he gain his victory; and his victory will produce the total abolition of the sinful laws which would have made the Church the creature of the State, and an object of contempt to the people. The tomb of the Saint will become an altar; and at the foot of that altar, there will one day kneel a penitent King, humbly praying for pardon and blessing. What has wrought this change? Has the death of Thomas of Canterbury stirred up the people to revolt? Has his martyrdom found its avengers? No. It is the blood of one who died for Christ producing its fruit. The world is hard to teach, else it would have long since learned this truth, that a Christian people can never see with indifference a pastor put to death for fidelity to his charge; and that a government that dares to make a martyr will pay dearly for the crime. Modem diplomacy has learned the secret; experience has given it the instinctive craft of waging war against the liberty of the Church with less violence and more intrigue—the intrigue of enslaving her by political administration. It was this crafty diplomacy which forged the chains wherewith so many churches are now shackled, and which, be they ever so gilded, are insupportable. There is but one way to unlink such fetters—to break them. He that breaks them will be great in the Church of heaven and earth, for he must be a martyr: he will not have to fight with the sword, or be a political agitator, but simply to resist the plotters against the liberty of the Spouse of Christ, and suffer patiently whatever may be said or done against him.

Let us give ear once more to the sublime panegyrist of our St Thomas: he is alluding to this patient resistance which made the Archbishop triumph over tyranny.

'My brethren, see what manner of men the Church finds rising up to defend her in her weakness, and how truly she may say with the Apostle: When I am weak, then am I powerful.[5] It is this blessed weakness which provides her with invincible power,and enlists in her cause the bravest soldiers and the mightiest conquerors this world has ever seen—the Martyrs. He that infringes on the authority of the Church, let him dread that precious blood of the martyrs which consecrates and protects it.’

Now all this fortitude, and the whole of this victory, came from the Crib of the Infant Jesus: therefore it is that we find St Thomas standing near it, in company with the Protomartyr Stephen. Any example of humility, and of what the world calls poverty and weakness, which had been less eloquent than this of the mystery of God made a little Child, would have been insufficient to teach man what real power is. Up to that time, man had no other idea of power than that which the sword can give, or of greatness than that which comes of riches, or of joy than such as triumph brings: but when God came into this world, and showed himself weak and poor and persecuted, everything was changed. Men were found who loved the lowly Crib of Jesus, with all its humiliations, better than the whole world besides: and from this mystery of the weakness of an Infant God they imbibed a greatness of soul which even the world could not help admiring.

It is most just, therefore, that the two laurelwreaths of St Thomas and St Stephen should intertwine round the Crib of the Babe of Bethlehem, for they are the two trophies of his two dear martyrs. As regards St Thomas, divine Providence marked out most clearly the place he was to occupy in the cycle of the Christian year, by permitting his martyrdom to happen on the day following the Feast of the Holy Innocents; so that the Church could have no hesitation in assigning December 29 as the day for celebrating the memory of the saintly Archbishop of Canterbury. As long as the world lasts, this day will be a feast of dearest interest to the whole Church of God; and the name of Thomas of Canterbury will be, to the day of judgement, terrible to the enemies of the liberty of the Church, and music breathing hope and consolation to hearts that love that liberty, which Jesus bought at the price of his Precious Blood.

We will now listen to this dear Mother of ours, the Church, who gives us, in her Divine Office, a short history of the life and sufferings of St Thomas.

Thomas, Londini in Anglia natus, Theobaldo successit Cantuariensi episcopo: et qui antea in administrando Cancellariæ munere præclare se gesserat, in episcopali officio fortis et invictus fuit. Cum enim Henricus Secundus Angliæ Rex, convocatis ad se episcopis et proceribus regni, leges ferret utilitati ac dignitati ecclesiasticæ repugnantes, adeo constanter obstitit regiæ cupiditati, ut neque pollicitationibus, neque terroribus de sententia decedens proxime conjiciendus in carcerem clam recesserit. Inde propinqui ejus omnis ætatis ejecti, amici, fautores omnes, iis, quibus per ætatem liceret, jurejurando adstrictis, universos Thomam adituros, si fortasse miserabili suorum calamitatis aspectu moveretur, qui a sancto proposito privatis incommodis deterreri minime potuisset. Non respexit carnem aut sanguinem, neque ullus in eo humanitatis sensus, pastoralis officii constantiam labefactavit.

Contulit igitur se ad Alexandrum Tertium Pontificem, a quo benigne acceptus est: et inde profectus, monachis Pontiniacensis monasterii, Cisterciensis Ordinis, ab eodem commendatus. Quod ut cognovit Henricus, missis ad conventum Fratrum Cisterciensium minacibus litteris, Thomam e Pontiniaco monasterio exturbare conatur. Quare vir sanctus veritus ne sua causa Cisterciensis familia pateretur, sponte discessit, et Ludovicum Galliæ regem ejus invitatu convenit: ubi tamdiu fuit, quoad Pontifice Maximo et ipso Rege agentibus ab exilio summa totius regni gratulatione revocatur. Qui dum boni pastoris officium securus exsequitur, ecce calumniatores ad regem deferunt eum multa contra regnum et publicam quietem moliri: ut propterea sæpius conquereretur rex, se in suo regno cum uno sacerdote pacem habere non posse.

Ex qua regis voce neiarii satellites sperantes gratum se regi facturos, si Thomam e medio tollerent; clam convenientes Cantuariam, Episcopum in templo vespertinis horis operam dantem aggrediuntur. Qui clericis templi aditus præcludere conantibus accurrens, ostium aperuit, illis usus verbis ad suos: Non est Dei Ecclesia custodienda more castrorum; et ego pro Ecclesia Dei libenter mortem subibo. Tum ad milites: Vos Dei jussu cavete ne cuipiam meorum noceatis. Deinde flexis genibus, Deo, beatæ Mariæ, sancto Dionysio et reliquis Sanctis, ejus Ecclesiæ patronis, Ecclesiam et seipsum commendans, sacrum caput eadem constantia qua iniquissimi regis legibus restiterat, impio ferro præcindendum obtulit, quarto Kalendas Januarii, anno Domini millesimo centesimo septuagesimo primo, cujus cerebro respersum est totius templi pavimentum. Quem multis postea illustrem miraculis idem Alexander Pontifex retulit in Sanctorum numerum.
Thomas was born in England, in the city of London. He succeeded Theobald as Bishop of Canterbury. He had previously acquitted himself with much honour as Chancellor, and was strenuous and unflinching in his duty as Bishop; for when Henry II, King of England, in an assembly of the Bishops and nobles of the realm, passed certain laws inconsistent with the interests and the honour of the Church, the Bishop withstood the King's avarice so courageously that neither fair promises nor threats could draw him over to the King's side, and being in danger of imprisonment, he privately withdrew. Not long after, all his relatives young and old, all his friends and household, were banished, and such of them as had attained the age of discretion were made to promise on oath that they would go to Thomas, as perhaps he, who could not be made to swerve from his holy purpose by any personal consideration, might relent at the heart-rending spectacle of the sufferings of them who were dear to him. But he regarded not the demands of flesh and blood, neither did he permit the feelings of natural affection to weaken the firmness required of him as Bishop.

He therefore repaired to Pope Alexander III, from whom he met with a kind reception, and who commended him on his departure to the Cistercian Monks of Pontigny. As soon as Henry came to know this, he strove to have Thomas expelled from Pontigny, and for this purpose sent threatening letters to the General Chapter of Citeaux. Whereupon the holy man, fearing lest the Cistercian Order should be made to suffer on his account, left the monastery of his own accord, and betook himself to the hospitable shelter to which he had been invited by Louis, King of France. There he remained until, by the intervention of the Pope and Louis the King, he was called home from his banishment, to the joy of the whole kingdom. Whilst resuming the intrepid discharge of the duty of a good shepherd, certain calumniators denounced him to King Henry as one that was plotting sundry things against the country and the public peace. Wherefore the King was heard frequently complaining that there was only one Priest in his kingdom with whom he could not be in peace.

Certain wicked satellites concluded from this expression of the King that he would be pleased at their ridding him of Thomas. Accordingly, they stealthily entered Canterbury, and finding the Bishop was in the church officiating at Vespers, they began their attack. The clergy were using means to prevent them from entering the church, when the Saint coming to them forbade their opposition, and opening the door, thus spoke to them: The church is not to be guarded like a citadel, and I am glad to die for God's Church. Then turning to the soldiers, he said: I command you in the name of God that you hurt not any of them that are with me. After this he knelt down, and commending his church and himself to God, to the Blessed Mary, to St Denis, and to the other Patron Saints of his Cathedral, with the same courage that he had shown in resisting the King's execrable laws, he bowed down his head to the impious murderers, on the Fourth of the Calends of January (December 29), in the year of our Lord 1171. His brains were scattered on the floor of the entire church. God having shown the holiness of his servant by many miracles, he was canonized by the same Pope, Alexander III.


The solemn Introit of to-day’s Mass shows the transport of joy wherewith the Church celebrates the Feast of our holy Martyr. The words, and the chant which accompanies them, are only used about four times in the year. Both words and music bespeak enthusiasm and joy: and the Church on earth is elated at the thought that she and the Angels are making one choir to the praise of the victory of Thomas of Canterbury.


Gaudeamus omnes in Domino, diem festum celebrantes sub honore beati Thomæ Martyris: de cujus passione gaudent Angeli, et collaudant Filium Dei.

Ps. Exsultate justi in Domino; rectos decet collaudatio. ℣. Gloria Patri.

Let us all rejoice in the Lord, and celebrate this festival in honour of Blessed Thomas the Martyr: for whose martyrdom the Angels rejoice, and praise the Son of God.

Rejoice in the Lord, O ye just, praise becometh the upright. ℣. Glory, etc.

Let us, etc.

In the Collect, Holy Church emphasizes the merit of the glorious Martyr by saying that it was for the very Spouse of the Son of God that he shed his blood. After this, she expresses the special confidence she has in his intercession.


Deus, pro cujus Ecclesia gloriosus Pontifex Thomas gladiis impiorum occubuit; præsta, quæsumus: ut omnes qui ejus implorant auxilium, petitionis suæ salutarem consequantur effectum. Per Dominum.
O God, in defence of whose Church the glorious Pontiff Thomas fell by the swords of wicked men: grant, we beseech thee, that all who implore his assistance may find comfort in the grant of their petition. Through, etc.

Commemoration of the Octave of Christmas, p. 203.


Lectio Epistolæ beati Pauli Apostoli ad Hebræos.

Cap. V.

Fratres: Omnis pontifex ex hominibus assumptus, pro hominibus constituitur in iis quæ sunt ad Deum, ut offerat dona et sacrificia pro peccatis: qui condolere possit iis qui ignorant et errant: quoniam et ipse circumdatus est infirmitate: et propterea debet, quemadmodum pro populo, ita etiam et pro semetipso offerre pro peccatis. Nec quisquam sumat sibi honorem, sed qui vocatur a Deo, tamquam Aaron. Sic et Christus non semetipsum clarificavit ut Pontifex fieret: sed qui locutus est ad eum: Filius meus es tu, ego hodie genui te. Quemadmodum et in alio loco dicit: Tu es Sacerdos in æternum, secundum ordinem Melchisedech.
Lesson of the Epistle of St Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews.

Ch. V.

Brethren: Every High Priest taken from among men is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts and sacrifices for sins: who can have compassion on them that are ignorant and that err: because he himself also is compassed with infirmity: and therefore he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. Neither doth any man take the honour to himself, but he that is called by God, as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify himself that he might be made a High Priest: but he that said to him: Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. As he saith also in another place: Thou art a Priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech.

When we meet in the annals of the Church with the names of those great Bishops who have been the glory of the Christian Pontificate, we are at once sure that these men, the true images of the great High Priest Jesus our Lord, did not intrude themselves uncalled into the dread honours of the Sanctuary. The history of their lives shows us that they were called by God himself, asAaron was; and when we come to examine how it was that they were so great, we soon find that the source of their greatness was their humility, which led them to refuse the honourable burden that others would put upon them. God assisted them in the day of trouble and trial, because their exaltation to the episcopacy had been his own work.

Thus was it with St Thomas, who sat on his episcopal throne of Canterbury, the dignified and courageous Primate. He began by declining the high honour that was offered him. He boldly tells the King, as St Gregory VII, before ascending the Papal Throne, told the Emperor who fain would see him Pope, that if forced to accept the proffered dignity, he is determined to oppose abuses. He thought by this to frighten men from putting him into the honours and responsibilities of the pastoral charge, and hoped that they would no longer wish him to be a Bishop, when they suspected that he would be a true one: but the decree of God had gone forth, and Thomas, called by God, was obliged to bow down his head and receive the holy anointing. And what a Bishop he, that begins by humility, and the determination to sacrifice his very life in the discharge of his duty! He is worthy to follow, and that to Calvary, the God-Man, who being called by his Father to Priesthood and to Sacrifice, enters this world saying: Behold! I come to do thy will, O God![6]

The Gradual, in its first Versicle, applies to St Thomas the encomium given by the Sacred Scripture to Abraham. These words, which speak the praises of one who surpassed all others in merit, are singularly applicable to our illustrious Martyr, whose glory exceeds that of most other holy Bishops whose memory is celebrated by the Church.

The Alleluia-Verse repeats the words of our Saviour, in which he declares himself to be the Good Shepherd. Why does the Church use them on this feast? She would thereby tell us that St Thomas was a faithful representation of him whom St Peter calls the Prince of Pastors.[7]


Ecce Sacerdos magnus, qui in diebus suis placuit Deo.

. Non est inventus similis illi, qui conservaret legem Excelsi.

Alleluia, alleluia.

. Ego sum Pastor bonus: et cognosco oves meas, et cognoscunt me meæ. Alleluia.
Behold a great Prelate, who in his days pleased God.

. There was none found like him in keeping the law of the Most High.

Alleluia, alleluia.

. I am the Good Shepherd: and I know my sheep, and my sheep know me. Alleluia.


Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Joannem.

Cap. X.

In illo tempore: Dixit Jesus Pharisæis: Ego sum Pastor bonus. Bonus pastor animem suam dat pro ovibus suis. Mercenarius autem, et qui non est pastor, cujus non sunt oves propriæ, videt lupum venientem, et dimittit oves, et fugit; et lupus rapit et dispergit oves: mercenarius autem fugit, quia mercenarius est, et non pertinet ad eum de ovibus. Ego sum Pastor bonus: et cognosco oves meas, et cognoscunt me meæ. Sicut novit me Pater, et ego agnosco Patrem: et animam meam pono pro ovibus meis. Et alias oves habeo, quæ non sunt ex hoc ovili: et illas oportet me adducere, et vocem meam audient, et fiet unum ovile et unus Pastor.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to John.

Ch. X.

At that time: Jesus said to the Pharisees: I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But the hireling, and he that is not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and flieth: and the wolf catcheth and scattereth the sheep; and the hireling flieth, because he is a hireling, and he hath no care for the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd: and I know mine, and mine know me. As the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep. And other sheep I have, that are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one Shepherd.

All the strength of the Pontiffs and Pastors of the Church consists in their imitation of Jesus. It is not enough that they have in them the character of his Priesthood; they must also be ready, like him, to lay down their lives for their sheep. The Shepherd who thinks more of his own life than of the salvation of his flock, is a hireling, not a shepherd: he loves himself, and not his sheep. His flock has a claim upon his shedding his blood for them; and if he will not, he is no longer an image of the Good Shepherd, Jesus. See how calmly St Thomas lays down his life! He bows down his head to receive the blows of his executioners, as though he were simply acquitting himself of a duty, or paying a debt. After the example of Jesus, he gives his blood for the deliverance of his people; and no sooner has the sword done its work, than the Church, over which God had placed him, is set free: his blood has brought peace.[8] He withstood the wolf that threatened destruction to his flock; he vanquished him; the wolf himself was turned into a lamb, for the king visited the tomb of his victim, and sought in prostrate supplication the Martyr’s blessing.

Thomas knew his sheep, that is, he loved them; it was a happiness to him, therefore, to die for them. He was made Pastor on the condition that he would die for them; just as our Emmanuel was made High Priest in order that he might offer Sacrifice, in which, too, he was both Priest and Victim. Jesus’ sheep know their divine Shepherd: they know that he came in order to save them; therefore is it that his Birth at Bethlehem is so dear to them. The Shepherd of Canterbury, too, is also known by his sheep; and, therefore the feast of his triumphant martyrdom is very dear to them, not only in the century when it happened, but even now, and so will it ever be, even to the end of time. In return for this love and devotion paid him by the Church on earth, Thomas blesses her from heaven. We cannot doubt it—the wonderful return to the ancient Faith which we are now witnessing in our dear England, is due in no little measure to the powerful intercession of St Thomas of Canterbury; and this intercession is the return made by our glorious Martyr for that fervent and filial devotion which is shown him, and which the faithful will ever show to him who was so heroically what only the true Church can produce: a true Pastor.

In the Offertory, holy Church sings of the crown of glory wherewith Emmanuel encircled the brow of his Martyr. The Pastor gave his blood to purchase that crown; and his death gave him life.


Posuisti, Domine, in capite ejus coronam de lapide pretioso: vitam petiit a te, et tribuisti ei, alleluia.
Thou hast set, O Lord, on his head a crown of precious stones: he asked life of thee, and thou didst give it him, alleluia.

The Secret shows us that the merits of the Martyr are united with those of the Divine Victim. Whilst offering the Blood of the Lamb to the Eternal Father, we remind him of that shed by his Martyr.


Munera tibi, Domine, dicata sanctifica: et intercedente beato Thoma, Martyre tuo atque Pontifice, per eadem nos placatus intende. Per Dominum.
Sanctify, O Lord, the offer· ings consecrated to thee; and being appeased thereby, mercifully look upon us, by the intercession of blessed Thomas, thy Martyr and Bishop. Through, etc.

In the Communion Verse, we have our Divine Pastor Jesus speaking to us, the same that has just been giving himself to his sheep as their food. It is by this Holy Sacrament that the Sheep more intimately know their Shepherd, and that the Shepherd, who has just been born in the House of Bread, Bethlehem, receives a proof of their love to him.


Ego sum Pastor bonus: et cognosco oves meas, et cognoscunt me meæ.
I am the Good Shepherd: and I know my sheep, and my sheep know me.

In the Postcommunion, the Church once more pronounces the name of our great Martyr. She prays that she may obtain through his intercession the grace of receiving more fully than ever the effects of the divine Mystery which cleanses our souls, and is the remedy of their infirmities.


Hæc nos communio, Domine, purget a crimine: et intercedente beato Thoma, Martyre tuo atque Pontifice, cœlestis remedii faciat esse participes. Per Dominum.
May this communion, O Lord, cleanse us from sin: and by the intercession of blessed Thomas, thy Martyr and Bishop, make us effectually partakers of this heavenly remedy. Through, etc.


The Antiphons and Psalms of Christmas Day, as given on pages 210-216, having been sung, the rest of the Office is as follows:

(Jas. i)

Beatus vir qui suffert tentationem: quoniam, cum probatus fuerit, accipiet coronam vitæ, quam repromisit Deus diligentibus se.
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he hath been proved, he shall receive the crown of life which God hath promised to them that love him.


Deus tuorum militum, p. 234.

. Justus ut palma florebit.

℟. Sicut cedrus Libani multiplicabitur.
℣. The just man shall flourish like the palm-tree.

. He shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus.

At the Magnificat

Ant. Qui vult venire past me, abneget semetipsum, et tollat crucem suam, et sequatur me.


Deus, pro cujus Ecclesia gloriosus Pontifex Thomas gladiis impiorum occubuit: præsta, quæsumus, ut omnes qui ejus implorant auxilium, petitionis suæ salutarem consequantur effectum. Per Dominum.

Ant. He that willeth to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Let us Pray

O God, in defence of whose Church the glorious bishop Thomas fell by the swords of wicked men: grant, we beseech thee, that all who implore his assistance may find comfort in the grant of their petitions. Through, etc.

Commemoration of the Sunday
(This is said only if the Office of the Sunday in the Octave is said on the following day.)

Ant. Dum medium silentium tenerent omnia, et nox in suo cursu medium iter perageret, omnipotens sermo tuus, Domine, a regalibus sedibus venit, alleluia.

℣. Verbum caro factum est, alleluia.

℟. Et habitavit in nobis, alleluia.


Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, dirige actus nostros in beneplacito tuo: ut in nomine dilecti Filii tui mereamur bonis operibus abundare.

Ant. 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, alleluia.

℣. The Word was made flesh, alleluia.

℟. And dwelt among us, alleluia.

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.

Commemoration of Christmas Day

Ant. Hodie Christus natus est; hodie Salvator apparuit; hodie in terra canunt Angeli; lætantur Archangeli; hodie exsultant justi, dicentes: Gloria in excelsis Deo, alleluia.

℣. Notum fecit Dominus, alleluia.

℟. Salutare suum, alleluia.


Concede, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus, ut nos Unigeniti tui nova per carnem Nativitas liberet, quos sub peccati jugo vetusta servitus tenet. Per eumdem.

Ant. This day Christ is born; this day the Saviour hath appeared; this day the Angels sing on earth, the Archangels rejoice; this day the just exult, saying: Glory be to God in the highest, alleluia.

℣. The Lord hath made known, alleluia.

℟. His Salvation, alleluia.

Let us Pray

Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we who groan under the old captivity of sin, may be freed therefrom by the new Birth of thine OnlyBegotten Son. Through the same, etc.

As we might expect, the Liturgy of our English Church honours her beloved Martyr with an affectionate and enthusiastic homage. We copy from the ancient Salisbury Breviary several passages, and we begin with some of the Antiphons of Matins and Lauds. The whole Office is rhymed, according to the custom observed in the thirteenth century, the time when this Office of St Thomas was composed.

Summo sacerdotio Thomas sublimatus, et in virum alium subito mutatus.

Monachus sub clerico clam ciliciatus, carnis, carne fortior, edomat conatus.
Cultor agri Domini tribuios evellit, et vulpes a vineis arcet et expellit.
Nec in agnos sustinet lupos desævire, nec in hortum olerum tineam transire.
Exulantis prædia præda sunt malignis, sed in igne positum non exurit ignis.
Satanæ satellites irrumpentes templum, inauditum perpetrant sceleris exemplum.
Strictis Thoma ensibus obviam procedit, non minis, non gladiis, sed nec morti cedit.
Felix locus, felix ecclesia in qua Thomæ vivit memoria: Felix terra quæ dedit præsulem, felix illa quæ fovit exulem.Granum cadit, copiam germinat frumenti: alabastrum frangitur, fragrat vis unguenti.
Totus orbis Martyris certat in amorem, cujus signa singulos agunt in stuporem.

Thomas being raised to the fulness of the Priesthood, was suddenly transformed into a new man.
A monk, wearing the hairshirt secretly under his cleric's dress, he subdues the rebellion of his flesh, for he was not a slave to the flesh.
Husbandman of the Lord’s vineyard, he roots up the brambles, and drives the foxes from the vines.
He neither suffers wolves to prowl among the lambs, nor slugs to crawl in the garden.
He is sent into exile, and his possessions made over to wicked men; but the fire of tribulation burns him not.
The satellites of Satan rush into the Temple, and perpetrate the unheard-of crime.
Thomas advances to meet the unsheathed swords: nor threats nor swords nor very death can make him yield.
Happy Canterbury! Happy Church that cherishes the memory of her Thomas! Happy land that gave such a Bishop, and happy too the country that harboured such an exile!The grain of wheat falls, and bringeth forth much fruit: the precious vase is broken, and perfumes all the earth!
The whole earth seeks how most to love our Martyr, and men look in wonder at each other as they hear or see the miracles that are wrought.

Our next selection is of passages equally interesting as showing the affection and confidence of the faithful in our glorious Martyr.

Ant. Pastor cæsus in gregis medio, pacem emit cruoris pretio: lætus dolor in tristi gaudio! Grex respirat, pastore mortuo; plangens plaudit mater in filio, quia vivit victor sub gladio.
. Mundi florem a mundo conteri, Rachel plorans, jam cessa conqueri; Thomas cæsus dum datur funeri, novus Abel succedit veteri.
Ant. Salve, Thoma, virga justitiæ, mundi jubar, robur Ecclesiæ, plebis amor, deri deliciæ. Salve, gregis tutor egregie, salva tuæ gaudentes gloriæ.
Ant. The Shepherd, slain in the midst of his flock, purchaseth peace at the price of his blood. O joyful mourning, O mournful joy! The Shepherd dead, new life is in the Flock I The Mother speaks, through her tears, the praises of her Son, for still he lives, the conqueror of the sword.
℟. Cease now to mourn, that the flower of the world hath been broken by the world, O sorrowing Rachel! The tomb of thy martyred Thomas gives thee back an Abel for the Abel thou didst lose.
Ant. Hail, O Thomas I sceptre of justice, light of the earth, strong champion of the Church, beloved of the people, favourite of the clergy! Hail, admirable keeper of the Flock! keep in safety all us who rejoice in thy glory.

We cannot resist adding the following Responsory from the same Salisbury Breviary. It is remarkable for containing an entire prose, inserted as a verse, with the repetition of the Cælum domo at the end. We need scarcely draw the attention of our readers to the freshness and beauty of this liturgical gem.

℟. Jacet granum oppressum palea, justus cæsus pravorum framea.
* Coelum domo commutans lutea.
℣. Cadit custos vitis in vinea, dux in castris, cultor in area.
* Coelum domo commutans lútea.

Clangat pastor in tuba cornea,
Ut libera sit Christi vinea,Quam assumpsit, sub carnis trabea,Liberavit cruce purpurea.
Adversatrix ovis erronea,
Fit pastoris cæde sanguinea.
Pavimenta Christi marmorea
Sacro madent cruore rubea.
Martyr, vitæ donatus laurea,
Velut granum purgatum palea,
In divina transfertur horrea.
* Coelum domo commutans lútea.
℟. The grain of wheat lies smothered by the chaff, the just man slain by the sword of sinners. * Changing his house of clay for heaven.
℣. The vine-keeper dies in his vineyard, the general in his camp, the husbandman on the place of his toil.m* Changing his house of clay for heaven.

Let the Pastor, trumpet-tongued, cry out to men
That Christ’s vineyard must be free:
The vineyard that he took unto himself, when he clothed himself with our flesh,
And made free by the blood he shed upon the Cross.
A lost sheep, become an enemy,
Is blood-stained by the murder of his Shepherd.
The marble pavement of Christ's sanctuary
Is purpled with the stream of holy blood.
The Martyr, decked with the laurel-crown of life,
Is, like wheat well winnowed from its chaff.
Carried into the garner-house of heaven.
* Changing his house of clay for heaven.

The Church of France also testified by its Liturgy its admiration for our illustrious Martyr. Adam of Samt Victor composed as many as three Sequences, which are given below, in honour of his triumph over the enemies of God. They breathe the warmest sympathy for the saintly Archbishop of Canterbury, and prove how dear was the liberty of the Church to the faithful of those days, and how the cause for which St Thomas was the Martyr, was then looked upon as the cause of the whole of Christendom.

First Sequence

Gaude, Sion, et lætare,
Voce, voto jocundare
Solemni lætitia.

Tuus Thomas trucidatur:
Pro te, Christe, immolatur
Salutaris hostia.

Archipræsul et legatus
Nullo tamen est elatus
Honoris fastigio.

Dispensator summi Regis,
Pro tutela sui gregis
Damnatur exilio.

Telo certans pastorali.
Ense cinctus spiritali,
Triumphare meruit.

Hic pro Dei sui lege.
Et pro suo mori grege,
Decertare studuit.

Tunc rectore desolatam,
Et pastore viduatam,
Se plangebat Cantua.

Versa vice, plausu miro,
Exsultavit tanto viro
Senonensis Gallia.

Quo absente infirmatur,
Infirmata conculcatur
Libertas Ecclesiæ.

Sic nos, pastor, reliquisti,
Nec a vero recessisti
Tramite justitiae.

Quondam cœtu curiali
Primus eras, et regali
Militans palatio.

Plebis aura favorali,
Et, ut mos est, temporali
Plaudebas præconio.

Consequenter es mutatus,
Præsulatu sublimatus,
Novus homo reparatus
Felici commercio.

Ex adverso ascendisti,
Et te murum objecisti,
Caput tuum obtulisti
Christi sacrificio.

Carnis tuæ morte spreta,
Triumphalis es athleta;
Palma tibi datur læta,
Quod testantur insueta
Plurima miracula.

Cleri gemma, clare Thoma,
Motus carnis nostræ doma
Precum efficacia.

Ut in Christo, vera vite,
Radicati, vera vitæ
Capiamus præmia.

Rejoice, O Sion! and be glad;
in voice and heart make holiday
on this joyous solemnity.

Thy Thomas, O Jesus! is slain:
for thee is he immolated
as a saving host.

He is Archbishop and Legate,
yet is he humble
amidst all these great honours.

Steward of the Almighty King,
he is sentenced to exile
for having defended his flock.

He combats with a Pastor’s weapons;
he is girt with the sword of the spirit;
he deserved his victory.

He sought to fight and die
for the law of his God,
and for the flock entrusted to him.

Then did Canterbury weep
to see herself left lonely without her guide,
and widowed of her Shepherd.

Whilst she wept, another city was in strangest joy:
it was Sens in France,
exulting in her possession of so great a man.

While he was absent,
the liberty of the Church was weakened,
and being weakened was trampled on.

Thus, dear Shepherd, didst thou leave us,
nor ever didst thou turn
from the right path of justice.

There was a time when thou wast
first Lord of the Court, serving as a faithful minister
in the palace of a King.

Thou didst enjoy the public favour and praise
—short-lived things,
as they ever are.

But being raised to the episcopal dignity,
thy whole heart is changed.
It was a happy barter of office,
for it made thee a new man.

Thou didst set thyself up
as a wall against iniquity:
thou didst offer thy head
as a sacrifice to Christ.

The death of thy body
was a small thing in thy eyes,
brave champion and conqueror!
Thou didst receive a splendid palm,
as thy extraordinary and numerous miracles testify.

O glorious Martyr Thomas!
thou pearl of priests, tame the rebellion of our flesh
by thy powerful prayers.

That so, being rooted in the True Vine, Jesus,
we may receive the solid rewards
of eternal life.


Second Sequence

Pia mater plangat Ecclesia
Quod patravit major Britannia
Factum detestabile;
Pietate movetur Francia;
Fugit cœlum, tellus et maria,
Scelus execrabile!

Scelus, inquam, non dicendum,
Grande scelus et horrendum
Perpetravit Anglia.
Patrem suum prædamnavit,
Et in sede trucidavit
Restitutum propria.

Thomas totius Angliæ
Flos vernans, et Ecclesiæ
Specialis gloria,
In templo Cantuariæ
Pro legibus justitiæ
Fit sacerdos et hostia.

Inter templum et altare,
Templi super liminare
Concutitur, non frangitur;
Sed gladiis conscinditur
Velum templi medium.

Eliseus decalvatur,
Zacharias trucidatur,
Pax tradita dissolvitur
Et organum convertitur
In lamentum flentium.

Prope festum Innocentum,
Innocenter ad tormentum
Pertrahitur, concutitur,
Et cerebrum effunditur
Cuspide mucionis.

Ad decoris ornamentum,
Templi rubet pavimentum,
Quod sanguine respergitur,
Dum Sacerdos induitur
Veste passionis.

Furor ingens debacchatur,
Sanguis justus condemnatur,
Ense caput dissecatur
In conspectu Domini;

Cum sacrabat, hic sacratur,
Immolator immolatur,
Ut virtutis relinquatur
Hoc exemplum homini.

Holocaustum medullatum,
Jam per orbem propalatum.
In odorem Deo gratum
Est pontifex oblatus;

Pro corona quæ secatur
Duplex stola præparatur,
Ubi sedes restauratur

Synagoga derogat, ridet paganismus,
Insultant idolatræ, quod Christianismus
Fœdus violaverit,
Nec patri pepercerit Christianitatis.

Rachel plorat filium, non vult consolari,
Quem in matris utero vidit trucidari;
Super cujus obitum
Dant in fletu gemitum
Mentes pietatis.

Hic est ille Pontifex,
Quem supernus artifex
In cœlorum culmine Magnum stabilivit,
Postquam pertransivit
Gladios Anglorum.

Cum mori non timuit,
Sed cervicem præbuit
In suo sanguine;
Ut abhinc exivit,
Semel introivit
In Sancta sanctorum.

Cujus mortem pretiosam
Testantur miracula:
Christe, nobis suffragetur
Per æterna sæcula.

Our loving mother the Church weeps
over Britannia’s hateful deed.
France is moved to compassion,
and Heaven, earth and sea
turn away from
the execrable crime.

Yea, England perpetrated a crime too great to tell:
a heinous, horrid crime.
She gave sentence
against her own Father,
and having restored him
to his See, she slew him.

Thomas, England’s
fair flower, the Church's
special glory,
is made Priest and Victim,
for the laws of justice,
in Canterbury’s Church.

Between the temple and the altar,
on the threshold of God's House,
he is struck, but is not vanquished;
it is the rending of the veil of the temple
by the edge of the sword.

'Tis Eliseus made bald,
'tis Zacharias slain.
The kiss of peace just given is broken,
and the voice of the organ
is changed into lamentation and weeping.

'Twas the morrow of the Innocents' Feast
when this innocent victim was dragged
to execution and struck down,
and his brains picked out
with a sword's point.

The pavement of God’s House
is enriched with rubies:
it is sprinkled with blood,
as its Priest puts on
the vestment of the Passion.

The murderers are wild with rage;
the blood of the just man is condemned,
and his head is split with a sword,
in the very presence of our Lord.

He that celebrates the sacred rite
is himself made sacred;
the sacrificer is made the sacrifice,
leaving the world this example of courage.

The Pontiff is offered up,
a holocaust full of marrow:
the whole world is filled with its fame,
and its fragrance is most sweet unto God.

For the blow which cut off the top part of his head,
whereon was marked the tonsure-crown,
he receives a twofold robe
when the Archiepiscopal See is restored.

The Jews scoff, and Pagans laugh,
and Idolaters reproach
a Christian people that broke the sacred vow
and murdered a Bishop of the Christian Church.

Rachel bewails her Son, nor will she be comforted,
for she saw him murdered whilst in her sacred lap;
and every feeling heart
sheds o’er this glorious death
the tears of its sad grief.

This is the Pontiff who,
after he had passed
the English swords,
was magnified in high heaven
by the supreme Creator.

Not having feared to die
and shed his blood,
he left this world,
and entered once
and for ever
into the Holy of Holies.

Miracles attest
how precious was this death;
may it, O Jesus!
draw down thy grace
upon us for eternity.



Aquas plenas amaritudine
Novi salis nova dulcedine,
Ollam plenam lethali gramme
Novi farris sanat pinguedine

Novus vervex pro grege moritur,
Et pro matre proles occiditur;
In obscuris sol novus oritur
In quo serus annus promittitur

Abel novum Cayn malitia,
Novum Jacob Seir sævitia,
Novum Joseph fratrum invidia,
Intercepit fraude nefaria,
His diebus.

Surrexerunt in patrem pueri,
Non materno parcentes uberi;
Thomas præsul dum datur funeri,
Novum chaos videtur ingeri
Mundi rebus.

Sed occumbit Abel in gloria,
Jacob servat Mesopotamia,
Joseph regnat in aula regia,
Thomas noster in cœli curia

Renovantur Anglorum gaudia
Bethel novus fit Dorovernia,
Fit piscina propitiaria,
In qua fugis et multifaria
Salus datur.

Dilatatur Jordanis fluvius,
Fit Naaman alter et tertius,
Derivatur Siloe longius,
Coelum pluit manna profusius
Quam solebat.

Duplicatur solaris radius,
Magnus Annæ donatur filius.
Novum vatem Herodis gladius
Trucidavit inverecundius
Quam decebat.

Trucidato non desunt præmia;
Sancto namque, pro sanctimonia,
Pro sinceræ mentis constantia,
Vita, salus, et lux ætherea

Abhinc multa facit prodigia
Lepram curat, fugat dæmonia;
Cæcis visum, claudis vestigia.
Verba mutis, ægris remedia

Vir Belial luit blasphemias
Quas in Sanctum arsit injurias;
Visu dempto, tristes exsequias,
Maturando nefandas furias

Vir devotus in Sanctum Domini,
Zelo pravo sustractus lumini,
Sed mox datus visus acumini,
Laudes lætus divino nomini

Cruces, factæ manu angelica,
Pii Patris prece benefica,
Crebro pollent virtute cœlica;
Far fit humi, quod paralytica
Membra sanat.

Immolentur lucernæ geminæ
Accenduntur coelesti lumine;
Declaratur in vasis fragmine
Locum sanctum fraudes molimine
Qui profanat.

Calce puer qui matrem læserat,
Pœnitendo calcem absciderat;
Mox, ut opem Sancti petierat,
Bipedalem gressum meruerat,
Res stupenda!

Nauta potens in navi mystica,
Nostra, Thoma, laudes et cantica
Summo Regi prece gratifica
Et eidem prece magnifica
Nos commenda.

Our Eliseus turns the bitter waters into sweet,
by putting into them a new vase of salt;
and by the seasoning of fresh meal,
removed the bitterness from the pot
of poisonous herbs;

He is slain, as a sheep that dies to save the flock,
or as a child that is sacrificed that the mother may be spared.
He rises as a new Sun in a night-covered world,
promising a long year
of Jubilee.

In these our days, by a wicked plot,
a new Abel has been sacrificed by a wicked Cain,
a new Jacob by a cruel Esau,
and a new Joseph by
envious brethren.

Children have risen up against their father,
harrowing the bosom of their Mother.
A new chaos seems to have enveloped all things on earth;
how else could the Pontiff Thomas have
met with death?

But Abel falls in glory,
Jacob is safe in Mesopotamia,
Joseph rules in the court of the king,
and our Martyr, Thomas, wears a crown in the
palace of heaven.

’Tis merry England now once more,
and Canterbury becomes a new Bethel,
and a land where
is a pool of ever and many-healing

The Jordan river flows through England’s vales,
and who could tell how many Naamans there receive their cure?
The spring of Siloe has sent her stream to Albion,
and heaven's manna falls where
once it was not known.

A long summer smiles on the fair island.
The barren Anna is blessed with a noble Son.
But, oh! shame above that of old!
a Herod’s sword has slain
the new Prophet.

How great is the reward of the martyred Saint!
Life, salvation and celestial light
are bestowed on him for his holy deeds,
and for the courage of his upright

And now from heaven he works so many miracles!
He heals leprosy, he puts devils to flight,
he gives sight to the blind, he makes the lame walk,
he gives speech to the dumb, he obtains a cure for
every sickness.

A son of Belial, who had
poured out blasphemies against the Saint,
was struck blind; and whereas he desisted not
from his mad fury, he met with a wretched

A man who had great devotion to the Saint,
had, through a false zeal, lost his sight;
he recovered it immediately on praying to the Saint,
and went his way singing joyfully his praises
to God.

Crosses made by an Angel's hand
are often known to have a heavenly power,
by the powerful prayer of the loving Pastor.
The dust from round his sepulchre is known
to heal paralysis.

Two lamps had been presented to his shrine, as a votive offering;
they were lit by a light from heaven.
A man who had attempted to profane the holy spot,
was found out by the breaking
of a vase.

A boy had kicked his mother,
and repenting of his deed, had maimed himself.
No sooner has he begged the prayers of the Saint,
than, wonderful miracle! he recovers the use of both
his feet.

O Thomas! thou skilful pilot in the mystic Bark!
let thy prayers give worth to our praises and hymns,
that they be pleasing to the King our God;
and by thy powerful intercession, commend us
to the same!



Laureata novo Thoma,
Sicut suo Petro Roma,
Gaude Cantuaria!

Immo tota sit devota,
Pia laudum solvens vota,
Militans Ecclesia.

Thomas iste dum tuetur
Legem Dei, promeretur
Iram regis Angliæ.

Ergo pulsus urbe cedit,
Et transcurso mari, credit
Sese regi Franciæ.

Quem gratanter et condigne,
Tam devote quam benigne,
Sicut patrem visitat.

Ubi, velut novus tyro,
Thomas, in fervore miro,
Regi regum militat.

Tandem pace reformata,
Pace dolis palliata,
Regressus ad propria.

Jura servans, Deo servit;
Inde sævit et protervit,
Hostis arte varia.

Nunc ut vulpes fradulenta,
Nunc ut tygris virulenta,
Tentat omnes aditus.

Nunc minatur, nunc blanditur,
Ille nihil emollitur,
Idem manens penitus.

Rex compertus non moveri
Virum assertorem veri,
Nec frangi propositum;

Omnes armatrin Pastorem,
Cohortatur ad cruorem
Cohortem satellitum.

Ergo nequam patricidæ
Tam in fraude quam in fide,
Libertatis ut Patronum
Tollant et usurpent thronum,
Ruunt in Ecclesia.

Præsul orans in secreto,
Palam prodit, hoste spreto;
Nec turbatur quies mentis
Turbæ metu sævientis,
Sed procedit obviam.

Sancti caput Sacerdotis,
Exoptatum mille votis
Suæ matris gremio,
Ferrum bibit, cruor manat,
Et ibidem cæcos sanat
In tumultu medio.

Quid loquamur quæ loquuntur,
Per se satis eloquuntur,
Ubique miracula?
Dæmon cedit, mors obedit,
Desperatis salus redit,
Fugit lepræ macula.

Cleri gemma, clare Thoma,
Motus nostræ carnis doma
Precum efficacia.

Ut in Christo, vera vite,
Radicati, vere vitæ
Capiamus præmia.

Rejoice, O Canterbury adorned
with thy late Martyr, Thomas,
as Rome is with her Peter.

Nay, let the whole Church Militant
be devout to thy Saint,
and pay him the holy tribute of her praise.

This is the Pontiff who draws on himself
the anger of England's king,
because he defends the law of God.

For which reason he is sent into banishment,
and crossing the sea,
seeks protection from the King of France.

The king receives him gladly, as he well deserved;
and visits the Pontiff devoutly and affectionately,
as he would a father.

In France Thomas, like a young novice,
serves the King of kings
with wonderful fervour.

At length, when peace was restored,
though it was but the crafty show of peace,
he returns to his country.

He asserts the Church's right, and serves his God;
wherefore the king, his artful enemy, grows mad with rage
and wantons in his wrath.

Now like a cunning fox,
and now like a savage tigress,
he tries each door, each scheme:

At one time threats; at another flattery;
but Thomas is nothing moved,
unflinching as at first.

The king finding that the champion of the truth
was not to be moved,
and that his resolve was inflexible:

He turns all men
against the Pastor
and whispers murder to a minion troop.

The parricides have understood the king;
crafty and faithless, they enter the church,
that they may make away with
the champion of liberty,
and usurp his throne.

The Pontiff was at prayer in the sanctuary;
he comes forth, heeding not the enemy.
The serenity of his soul is ruffled not
with fear of the raging troop;
he goes to meet them.

The head of that saintly Priest,
which had been fondly caressed on a mother's breast,
Now feels the edge of deadly steel;
the blood gushes forth;
and there, in the midst of all the disorder,
gives sight to a blind man.

But why need we tell what his miracles so eloquently
proclaimed throughout the world?
Devils are put to flight, death yields up her victims,
health is restored to them that had lost all hope,
and lepers are cleansed.

O thou gem of the Priesthood!
O glorious Pontiff Thomas! thy prayers are ne'er refused
—oh! calm the rebellion of our flesh.

That being rooted in Christ,
the true Vine,
we may receive the solid rewards of eternal life.


O glorious Martyr Thomas! courageous defender of the Church of thy divine Master! we come on this day of thy feast to do honour to the wonderful graces bestowed upon thee by God. As children of the Church, we look with delighted admiration on him who so loved her, and to whom the honour of this Spouse of Christ was so dear that he gladly sacrificed his life in order to secure her independence and liberty. Because thou didst so love the Church as to sacrifice thy peace, thy temporal happiness, and thy very life for her; because, too, thy sacrifice was for nothing of thine own, but for God alone; therefore have the tongues of sinners and cowards spoken ill of thee, and heaped calumnies upon thee. O Martyr truly worthy of the name! for the testimony thou didst render was against thine own interests. O Pastor! who, after the example of Jesus the Good Shepherd, didst shed thy blood for the deliverance of thy flock! we venerate thee because the enemies of the Church insulted thee; we love thee because they hated thee; and we humbly ask thee to pardon them that have been ashamed of thee, and have wished that thy Martyrdom had never been written in the history of the Church, because they could not understand it!

How great is thy glory, O faithful Pontiff! in being chosen, together with Stephen, John and the Innocents, to attend on the Infant Jesus in the stable of Bethlehem! Thou didst enter on the battle-field at the eleventh hour; and far from being on that account deprived of the reward granted to the earliest of thy brother-combatants, thou art great even amongst the Martyrs. How dear must thou not be to the Divine Babe whose Birthday we are keeping, and who came into the world that he might be the King of Martyrs! What will he refuse to his grand Martyr of Canterbury? Then pray for us, and gain us admission into Bethlehem. Our ambition is to love the Church as thou didst—that dear Church for love of which Jesus has come down upon the earth; that sweet Church our Mother, who is now unfolding to us such heavenly consolations by the celebration of the great Mysteries of Christmas, with which thy name is now inseparably associated. Obtain for us by thy prayers the grace of Fortitude, that so we may courageously go through any suffering, and make any sacrifice, rather than dishonour our proud title of Catholic.

Speak for us to the Infant Jesus—to him that is to bear the Cross upon his shoulders, as the insignia of his government[9]—and tell him that we are resolved, by the assistance of his grace, never to be ashamed of his cause or its defenders; that, full of simple filial love for the Holy Church, which he has given us to be our Mother, we will ever put her interests above all others; for she alone has the words of eternal life, she alone has the power and the authority to lead men to that better world which is our last end, and passes not away as do the things of this world; for everything in this world is but vanity, illusion, and more frequently than not, obstacles to the only real happiness of mankind.

But in order that this Holy Church of God may fulfil her mission, and avoid the snares which are being laid for her along the whole road of her earthly pilgrimage, she has need, above all things else, of Pastors like thee, O Holy Martyr of Christ! Pray, therefore, the Lord of the vineyard that he send her labourers who will not only plant and water what they plant, but will also defend her from those enemies that are at all times seeking to enter in and lay waste, and whose character is marked by the sacred Scripture, where she calls them the wild boar[10] and the fox.[11] May the voice of thy blood cry out more suppliantly than ever to God, for in these days of anarchy the Church of Christ is treated in many lands as the creature and slave of the State.

Pray for thine own dear England, which, three hundred years ago, made shipwreck of the faith through the apostacy of so many Prelates who submitted to those usurpations which thou didst resist even unto blood. Now that the Faith is reviving in her midst, stretch out thy helping hand to her, and thus avenge the outrages offered to thy venerable name by thy country, when she, the once fair Island of Saints, was sinking into the abyss of heresy. Pray also for the Church of France, for she harboured thee in thy exile, and in times past was fervent in her devotion to thee. Obtain for her Bishops the spirit that animated thee; arm them with episcopal courage, and like thee they will save the liberty of the Church. Wheresoever and in what way soever this sacred Liberty is trampled on or threatened, do thou be its deliverer and guardian, and by thy prayers and thine example win victory for the Spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our new-born King is five days old to-day! Let us contemplate him seated on his Throne. The Holy Scriptures tell us[12] that our God sitteth upon the Cherubim in heaven: and that, under the old and figurative Law, he chose for his throne on earth the Ark of the Covenant.[13] Blessed be his name, for thus revealing to us the mystery of his Throne! But beyond this, the Psalmist told us of another place where God rested. Adore, said he, the footstool of his feet.[14] The adoration here commanded to be paid, not to God himself, but to the resting-place of his Divine Majesty, seems to contrast with so many other passages of the Sacred Volume, wherein God commands us to adore only himself. But, as the Holy Fathers observe, the mystery is now explained. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word, the Son of God, has assumed our human nature; he has united it in unity of Person to his Divine Nature; and he commands us to adore this his Humanity, this Body and Soul which are like our own, this Throne of his Majesty, in a word, this ineffable holy Footstool of his Feet.

But this Humanity itself has its Throne. The Blessed Mother, Mary, raises the Divine Infant from the Crib; she presses him to her heart; she places him on her knees; it is our God, Emmanuel, throned, but with such love and majesty! on the Ark of the New Covenant. How far is the glory of Mary above that of the other living Throne formed for the Eternal Word by the trembling wings of Cherubim! And the Ark of Moses, made of corruptible wood, covered with plates of gold, holding within it the Manna and the Rod of Aaron and the very Tables of the Law—is it not a figure that pales in the presence of the holiness and the dignity of the Mother of God?

How adorable art thou on this Throne, O Jesus! and how lovable and easy of approach! Those tiny hands stretched out to sinners, and the smile of Mary, the Living Throne: both bid us go near. Oh! the happiness of being subjects of a King so great and yet so endearing! Mary is the Seat of Wisdom because thou, O Wisdom of the Father! art reposing on her. Reign there for ever, sweet Jesus! be thou our King and Lord, and rule us in thy comeliness and beauty and meekness![15] We are thy subjects, and we offer thee our adoring loyalty and love; and to Mary, the Queen thou hast given us, we promise the homage of our best devotion!

We will celebrate the Birth of our Divine King to-day, in the words used by the Greek Church in her Office of Christmas Day.


Nato Domino Jesu et sacra Virgine, lucida facta sunt omnia; pastoribus enim de nocte vigilantibus, Magis adorantibus, Angelis hymnificantibus, Herodes turbabatur, quia Deus in carne apparuit Salvator animarum nostrarum.

Regnum tuum, Christe Deus, regnum omnium sæculorum, et dominatio tua in omni generatione et generationem. Qui caro factus est ex Spiritu Sancto et homofactus ex Maria semper virgine, lumen illuxit. Tuus adventus, Christe Deus, lumen de lumine, Patris splendor, omnem creaturam exhilaravit. Omnis spiritus laudavit characterem gloriæ Patris; qui es et ante fuisti, et illuxisti ex virgine, Deus, miserere nobis.

Quid tibi offeremus, Christe, quia visus es super terrain sicut homo pro nobis? Quælibet enim creaturarum tibi submissarum ad te profert gratiarum actionem: Angeli hymnum, cœli stellam, magi dona, pastores admirationem, terra speluncam, solitudo præsepium, nos vero matrem virginem: qui es ante sæcula, Deus, miserere nobis.

Regnante Augusto super terram, hominum cessata est polyarchia, et te homine facto ex agna, idolorum debilitata est polytheia: sub uno mundano civitates factæ sunt regno, et in unam dominationem divinitatis gentes crediderunt. Inscripti sunt populi decreto Cæsaris, inscripti sumus fideles sub divinitatis nomine, te homine facto, Deus noster.
Magna tua misericordia; Domine, gloria tibi.
All things were made light when Jesus our Lord was born of the Holy Virgin; for the Shepherds watched at night, the Magi adored, the Angels sang hymns, Herod was troubled, because God, the Saviour of our souls, had appeared.

Thy Kingdom, O Christ our God! is a Kingdom of all ages, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations. The Light hath shone, He that was made flesh by the Holy Ghost, and was made Man of the ever Blessed Virgin Mary. Thy coming, O Jesus, Light of Light, Brightness of the Father, hath gladdened every creature. Every spirit hath given praise to thee the image of the Father's glory; who art, and who wast before all ages, and hast shone forth from the Virgin; O God! have mercy on us.

What shall we offer unto thee, O Jesus! for that thou, for our sakes, hast been seen on earth as Man? For every creature is subject to thee, and rendereth thee thanks: the Angels give thee their hymns, the heavens the Star, the Magi their gifts, the Shepherds their admiration, the earth a Cave, solitude a Crib, and we, we give thee thy Virgin Mother. O God, that wast before all ages! have mercy on us.

During the reign of Augustus on this earth, the various other kingdoms ceased; and when thou, O Jesus, wast made Man from thy Virginal Mother, thine own dear Lamb, the idolatrous religion of many gods was sapped. As the cities of the world were confederated under one Kingdom; so were all nations brought to the obedience of faith in one God. People were enrolled by the decree of Cæsar; and we, thy faithful, were enrolled under the divine name of thee our God, when thou didst become Man. Glory be to thee, O Lord! for great is thy mercy.

And now a Hymn to our Lady, the Seat of Wisdom! Let us offer her this beautiful one, taken from the Cluny Missal of 1523.


Ave, mundi spes, Maria,
Ave mitis, ave pia,
Ave, plena gratia.

Ave, Virgo singularis,
Quæ per rubum designaris
Non passum incendia.

Ave, rosa speciosa,
Ave, Jesse virgula,
Cujus fructus
Nostri luctus
Relaxavit vincula.

Ave, cujus viscera
Contra mundi fœdera,
Ediderunt filium.

Ave, carens simili,
Mundo diu flebili
Reparasti gaudium.

Ave, virginum lucerna,
Per quam fulsit lux superna
His quos unda tenuit.

Ave, Virgo de qua nasci
Et de cujus lacte pasci
Rex cœlorum voluit.

Ave, gemma, cœli luminarium,
Ave, sancti Spiritus sacrarium.
O quam mirabilis,
Et quam laudabilis
Hæc est virginitas.

In qua per Spiritum
Facta Paraclitum
Fulsit fœcunditas!

O quam sancta!
Quam serena!
Quam benigna!
Esse virgo creditur!
Quam amœna.

Per quam servitus finitur.
Porta cœli aperitur,
Et libertas redditur.

O castitatis lilium,
Tuum precare filium,
Qui salus est humilium,

Ne nos pro nostro vitio,
In flebili judicio,
Subjiciat supplicio.

Sed nos tua sancta prece,
Mundans a peccati fæce,
Collocet in lucis domo.
Amen dicat omnis homo.
Hail Mary! sweet hope of the world!
Hail, gentle Queen!
Hail, loving Mother! Hail, full of grace!

Hail, peerless Virgin!
imaged in the Bush that burned,
yet was not burnt.

Hail, lovely Rose!
Hail, Jesse’s Rod!
whose Fruit
broke the chains
of our misery.

Hail, Holy Mother!
for whom God set aside all nature’s laws,
and made thy virginal womb bring forth his Son.

Hail, matchless Queen!
’twas thou didst make
the long sad world rejoice.

Hail, Beacon of Virgins!
pouring out thy celestial light
on them whom tempests toss.

Hail, Virgin! of whom the King of heaven would be born,
and suck the food
whereon he deigned to live.

Hail, Pearl! Hail Heavenly Orb!
Hail, Temple of the Holy Ghost!
Oh! how wonderful
and how venerable
is this Virginity!

In it shone forth
a fruitfulness produced
by the Holy Paraclete.

And she, the Virgin, how holy!
how peaceful
I how kind!
how lovely
must we deem her!

By the gift she gave us slavery was abolished,
the gate of heaven was opened,
and liberty brought back again.

O Lily of purity!
pray for us to thy Son,
the Saviour of the humble.

That in the awful judgement
he may not sentence us
to torments for our sins;

But moved by thy holy prayers,
may he cleanse us from the dross of sin;
And admit us into mansions of eternal light.
Amen! let every Christian say, Amen!

[1] Litter a Apostolica ad Episcopos Provinciæ Rhenanæ. 30 Junii 1830
[2] Isa. lvi 10.
[3] Non te terremus, qui nec timemus.
[4] Et ego pro Deo mori paratus sum, et pro assertione justitiæ, et pro Ecclesiæ libertate; dummodo effusione sanguinis mei pacem et libertatem consequatur!
[5] 2 Cor. xii 10.
[6] Heb. x 9.
[7] 1 St Pet. v 4.
[8] Col. i 20.
[9] Isa. ix 6.
[10] Ps. lxxix 14.
[11] Cant. ii 15.
[12] Isa. xxxvii 16, and frequently elsewhere.
[13] Exod. xxv 22.
[14] Ps. xcviii 5.
[15] Ps. xliv 5.

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.

Cap. IV.

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.

Ch. IV.

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.

Cap. II.

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.

Ch. II.

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.

(Gal. iv)

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.


Omnipotens 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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3]

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[4] and St John,[5] 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![6]

The Prophet Zachary,[7] 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.

Adam vetus,
Tandem lætus,
Novum promat canticum;

Et captivus,
Prodeat in publicum.

Eva luctum,
Vitae fructum
Virgo gaudens edidit.

Nec sigillum
Propter illum
Castitatis perdidit.

Si crystallus sit humecta,
Atque soli sit objecta,
Scintillat igniculum:

Nec crystallus rumpitur,
Nec in partu solvitur
Pudoris signaculum.

Super tali genitura
Stupet usus et natura,
Deficitque ratio.

Res est ineffabilis:
Tam pia, tam humilis
Christi generatio.

Frondem, florem, nucem sicca
Virga profert, et pudica
Virgo Dei Filium.

Fert cœlestem
Vellus rorem,
Creatura creatorem,
Creaturæ pretium.

Frondis, floris,
Nucis, roris;
Pietati Salvatoris
Congruunt mysteria.

Frons est Christus,
Flos, dulcore;
Nux, pascendo:
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
Piis animalibus.

O quam dulce sacramentum!
Fœnum carnis in frumentum
Convertit fidelibus.

Quos sub umbra Sacramenti,
Jesu, pascis in præsenti,
Tuo vultu satia.

Splendor, Patri coæterne,
Nos hinc transfer ad paternæ
Claritatis gaudia.

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
and captive
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
thereby lose
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.

Gedeon's fleece
bears the dew from heaven;
the creature bears the creature's ransom
—the Creator.

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.

[1] Isa. i 3.

[2] Rom. viii 19, 20.
[3] Wisd. v 21.
[4] Ezech. i 10.
[5] Apoc. iv 7.
[6] Heb. x 8, 9.
[7] Zach. ix 9, quoted by St Matt, xxi 5.

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

SO far, the only ones we have seen standing round the Crib of our Jesus have been Martyrs: Stephen, overwhelmed with the shower of stones; John, the Martyr in heart, who survived his fiery torture; the Holy Innocents, massacred by the sword; Thomas, murdered in his cathedral; these are the champions of Christ, who keep guard in the palace of Bethlehem. Yet all Christians are not called to be Martyrs. Besides this countless battalion of the King's favourite soldiers, there are other troops of sainted heroes which form the heavenly army; and amongst these there are the Confessors, who conquered the world without shedding their blood in the combat. Though the place of honour in the service of the King belongs to the Martyrs, yet did the Confessors fight manfully for the glory of his name and the spreading of his Kingdom. The palm is not in their hands, but they are crowned with the crown of justice, and Jesus, who gave it to them, has made it be part of his own glory that they should be near his throne.

The Church would therefore grace this glorious Christmas Octave with the name of one of her children, who should represent at Bethlehem the whole class of her unmartyred Saints. She chose a Confessor—St Sylvester: a Confessor who governed the Church of Rome, and therefore the universal Church; a Pontiff whose reign was long and peaceful; a Servant of Jesus Christ adorned with every virtue, who was sent to edify and guide the world immediately after those fearful combats that had lasted for three hundred years, in which millions of Christians had gained victory by martyrdom, under the leadership of thirty Popes—predecessors of St Sylvester—and they, too, all Martyrs.

So that Sylvester is messenger of the Peace which Christ came to give to the world, of which the Angels sang on Christmas Night. He is the friend of Constantine; he confirms the Council of Nicæa; he organizes the discipline of the Church for the new era on which she is now entering: the era of Peace. His predecessors in the See of Peter imaged Jesus in his sufferings; Sylvester represented Jesus in his triumph. His appearance during this Octave reminds us that the Divine Child who lies wrapped in swaddling-clothes, and is the object of Herod's persecution, is, notwithstanding all these humiliations, the Prince of Peace, the Father of the world to come.[1]

Let us read the history of Sylvester's peaceful Pontificate, as related by the Church in her Breviary. The character of our work excludes purely critical discussions, and we, therefore, say nothing of the objections that have been raised against the Emperor Constantine’s having received Baptism in Rome at the hands of St Sylvester. It is sufficient for us to tell our readers that the Roman tradition regarding that event has been adopted by the most learned men, such as Baronius, Schelstrate, Bianchini, Marangoni, Vignoli, etc.

Silvester Romanus, patre Ruffino, a prima ætate operam dedit Cyrino presbytero, cujus doctrinam et mores egregie imitatus, trigesimum annum agens, Presbyter sanctæ Romanæ Ecclesiæ a Marcellino Pontifice creatur. Quo in munere cum omni laude clericis aliis antecelleret, in Melchiadis postea locum successit, imperatore Constantino. Cui imperatori, cum leprae curandæ causa, sibi ex infantium sanguine, medicorum consilio, balneum parari jussisset, sancti Apostoli Petrus et Paulus in quiete apparuerunt, præcipientes ei, ut si ex lepra liberari vellet, omissa impii balnei immanitate, Silvestrum in Soracte monte latitantem accerseret: a quo salutari lavacro recreatus, in omni ditione Romani imperii templa Christiano more ædificari imperaret; sublatisque inanium deorum simulacris, vero Deo cultum adhiberet. Constantinus igitur, cœlestibus monitis obtemperans, Silvestrum diligentissime conquisitum vocat: a quo, Apostolorum imagines recognoscens, baptismo sanatur, et ad tuendam propagandamque Christi religionem infiammatur.

Itaque auctore Silvestro multas basilicas ædificavit, quas sacris imaginibus, donisque ac muneribus magnificentissimis exornavit, facultate etiam data Christianis, quod antea negatum erat, publice templa extruendi. Hoc Pontifice habita sunt duo Concilia, Nicænum, ubi præsidentibus ejus legatis, præsenteque Constantino, et trecentis decem et octo Episcopis, sancta et catholica Fides explicata est, Ario ej usque sectatoribus condemnatis; quam etiam Synodum confirmavit, petentibus Concilii Patribus universis: et Romanum, in quo interfuere ducenti octoginta quatuor Episcopi, ubi iterum Arius condemnatus est.

Multa item decreta fecit Ecclesiæ Dei utilia. In his: Ut a solo Episcopo Chrisma conficeretur; Ut presbyter Chrismate baptizati summum liniret verticem; Ut Diaconi dalmaticis in Ecclesia, et palla linostima ad lævam uterentur; Ut in lineo tantum velo Sacrificium altaris conficeretur. Præscripsit tempus, omnibus qui Ordinibus initiati essent, exercendi singulos ordines in Ecclesia, antequam quisque ad altiorem gradum ascenderet. Ut laicus clerico non inferret crimen. Ne clericus apud profanum judicem causam diceret. Sabbati, et Dominici diei nomine retento, reliquos hebdomadæ dies Feriarum nomine distinctos, ut jam ante in Ecclesia vocari cœperant, appellari voluit: quo significaretur quotidie clericos, abjecta ceterarum rerum cura, uni Deo prorsus vacare debere. Huic cœlesti prudentiæ, qua Ecclesiam administrabat, insignis vitæsanctitas, et benignitas in pauperes perpetuo respondit. Quo in genereprovidit, ut clericis copiosis egentes conjungeret: et sacris virginibus quæad victum necessaria essent suppeditarentur. Vixit in Pontificatu annos viginti unum, menses decem, diem unum. Sepultus est in cœmeterio Priscillæ, via Salaria. Fecit ordinationes septem mense Decembri, quibus creavit Presbyteros quadraginta duos, Diaconos viginti quinque, Episcopos per diversa loca sexaginta quinque.
Sylvester, a Roman by birth, and son of Rufinus, was brought up from childhood by the priest Cyrinus. He imitated his master by his learning and a good life, and when in his thirtieth year, was ordained Priest of the holy Roman Church by Pope Marcellinus. He surpassed the rest of the clergy in the admirable manner wherein he performed his sacred duties, and was chosen as the successor of Pope Melchiades, under the reign of the Emperor Constantine. This Emperor, having been advised by his physicians to seek the cure of his leprosy by bathing in infants’ blood, was visited in his sleep by the holy Apostles Peter and Paul. They bade him refuse the sinful remedy of the bath, if he desired to be cleansed from his leprosy, and go to Sylvester, who was then hiding on mount Soracte; that having been regenerated in the saving waters of baptism, he should give orders that Churches, after the manner of the Christians, should be built in every part of the Roman empire; and that he should destroy the idols of the false gods, and worship the true God. Constantine therefore, obeying the heavenly admonition, caused the most diligent search to be made for Sylvester, and ordered him, when found, to be brought to him. This being done, and the Pontiff having shown Constantine the portraits of the two Apostles he had seen in his sleep, the Emperor was baptized and healed, and became exceedingly zealous for the defence and propagation of the Christian religion.

By the persuasion of the holy Pontiff, Constantine also built several Basilicas, which he enriched with sacred images, and most princely donations and gifts: he moreover granted permission to the Christians publicly to erect churches, which previously they were forbidden to do. Two Councils were held during the reign of this Pontiff: firstly that of Nicæa, over which presided his Legates; Constantine was present, and 318 Bishops were assembled there; the holy and Catholic faith was explained, and Arius and his followers were condemned; the Council was confirmed by Sylvester, at the request of all the Fathers assembled: the second was that of Rome, at which 284 Bishops were present, and there again Arius was condemned.

Sylvester also passed several decrees most useful to the Church of God. For example: That the Chrism should be blessed by a Bishop only; That the Priest should anoint the crown of the head of the person he baptized; That Deacons should wear Dalmatics in the church, and a linen ornament on the left arm; That the Sacrifice of the Altar should not be celebrated excepting on a linen veil. He laid down the length of time during which they who received Orders should exercise the functions belonging to each Order before passing to a higher grade. He made it illegal for a layman to be the public accuser of a cleric, and forbade a cleric to plead before a civil tribunal. The names of Saturday and Sunday were to be still used; but all the other days of the week were to be called Ferias (Second Feria, Third Feria, and the rest) as the Church had already begun to call them; hereby signifying that the clergy should put aside all other cares, and spend every day in the undisturbed service of God. To this heavenly prudence wherewith he governed the Church he ever joined the most admirable holiness of life and charity towards the poor. For instance, he arranged that those among the clergy who had no means should live with wealthy members of the clergy; and again, that everything needed for their maintenance should be supplied to Virgins consecrated to God. He governed the Church twenty-one years, ten months and a day. He was buried in the cemetery of Priscilla on the Salarian Way. He seven times held ordinations in the December month: the number of the ordained was forty-two Priests, twenty-five Deacons and sixtyfive Bishops for various places.

The ancient Liturgical Books of Italy had a Proper Office for St Sylvester. We have found, in the Breviary of the old Abbatial (now the Collegiate) Church of St Barbara, at Mantua, a very beautiful Office; and from this we extract the following Antiphons and Responsories:

Sedatis persecutionum fluctibus, beato Silvestro Pontifice, in omnem Romani imperii ditionem propagatur Christi Domini religio.

Omnia pie Silvester administravit, fidem propagavit, evangelicæque prædicationi in urbe cui regna subjiciuntur, libertatem et fiduciam dedit.

Multa sustinuit ad meritum vitæ, multa constituit ad documentum scientiæ.

Erat Silvester vir sanctus, ac cœlestem in terris vitam præ se ferebat; ut insigni sanctitate fuit, sic cœlesti prudentia administravit Ecclesiam Dei.

Electus Dei Pontifex, tyranni Maxentii declinans immanitatem, in Soracte monte latitans, Dominum exorabat, ut pacem suam tandem daret Ecclesiæ.

Dum latitat, Apostolorum Petri et Pauli admonitu, ab imperatore Constantino vocatur, quem lepra laborantem salutari baptismi lavacro recreat ac sanat.

Constantinum Cæsarem in Christi fide plenius instruens, Augusti basilicam in Salvatoris nomine Ecclesiam primus publice consecravit.

De gloria Dei et hominum salute sollicitus Silvester, salutaris doctrinæ præceptis populum instruens, eum a versuti serpentis dogmate mirabiliter liberavit.

In mystico Sacerdotum numero universalem Nicænam Synodum convocans, hæreticorum machinas Spiritus Sancti virtute prostravit.

Hic est sanctus Pontifex cujus temporibus Christus pacem dedit Ecclesiæ, et Romanum imperium sublimem antiquæ gloriæ apicem sacerdotis pedibus inclinavit.

O beate Pontifex, et universæ Ecclesiæ Pastor mirifice, quem Dominus in conspectu omnium gentium magnificavit et Romano Cæsari celsiorem præposuit, in cœlesti gloria exsultans, ora pro nobis Dominum.

O lux et splendor coruscans, beate Silvester sanctissime, cujus temporibus persecutionis nubes a fideli populo disjectæ sunt, et pacis tranquillitas apparuit, tuis nos precibus adjuva, ut quietis munere gaudeamus in æternum.
The storm of persecution being calmed, the religion of Christ our Lord was spread, in the Pontificate of blessed Sylvester, throughout the entire dominions of the Roman Empire.

Holily did Sylvester administer all things; he propagated the faith, and gave liberty and confidence for the preaching the Gospel in the City, the Mistress of kingdoms.

He suffered much, and it filled his life with merit; he made many rules, and they proved his wisdom.
Sylvester was a holy man, and led a life of heaven whilst on this earth: being a Pontiff of exceeding virtue, he governed the Church with heavenly prudence.

Being chosen Pontiff of God's Church, he sought a hiding place on Mount Soracte, that he might escape the cruelty of the tyrant Maxentius: there he besought God to bless the Church at length with peace.

Whilst hid on the mount, the Apostles Peter and Paul admonish the Emperor to call the Pontiff: Sylvester regenerates Constantine in the saving waters of baptism, and heals him of leprosy.

Having fully instructed the Emperor Constantine in the faith of Christ, he was the first publicly to consecrate a Church, and it was the Basilica built by the Emperor: he called it Our Saviour's.

Sylvester, solicitous for the glory of God and the salvation of men, instructed the people in the knowledge of saving doctrine, and delivered them in a wonderful manner from the errors of a wily serpent.

Convoking the General Council of Nicæa, where was assembled a mystic number of Bishops, he subverted the machinations of heretics by the power of the Holy Ghost.

This is the holy Pontiff in whose day Christ gave peace to the Church, and the Roman Empire prostrated at the feet of a Priest the lofty summit of its ancient glory.

O blessed Pontiff, and admirable Pastor of the universal Church! whom the Lord glorified in the sight of all nations, and exalted above the Emperor of Rome; O thou that art now exulting in heavenly glory, pray for us to our Lord.

O shining Light and Brightness, blessed and most holy Sylvester! in whose time the clouds of persecution were scattered over the heads of the Faithful, and the calmness of peace appeared: help us by thy prayers, that we may for ever enjoy the blessing of peace.

The Greek Church is enthusiastic in its hymns of praise to St Sylvester. In the stanzas we extract from her Menæa, she gives to this great Pope the whole honour of the Nicene Council, and honours him as the conqueror of the Arian heresy.
(In magno Vespertino, et passim)

Pater, hierarcha, Silvester, sanctitatis lumine sancte illuminatus, fideles illuminasti luciferis documentis ad adorandam unitatem naturae tripersonalem, et depulsisti hæreseon tenebras; ideoque splendide tuam hodie fulgentem memoriam gaudentes hymnificamus.

Pater Deifer, Sylvester, visibilis columna ignis sacre prægradiens sancto agmini, nubes umbrifera, educens semper fideles ex Ægypti errore tuis inerrabilibus præceptis; gloriosam ideo atque sacratissimam tuam veneramur memoriam.

Pater divineloquens, Silvester, fluminibus tuarum precum multiformem luto inclusisti draconem; sacer et mirabilis, Ethnicorum ad Deum adduxisti multitudines, Hebræorum humiliasti audaciam, miracula maxima operans ante illorum oculos sapienter; ideo te honoramus et beatiftcamus.

Legi divinitus obediens divinæ, divineque inspiritæ Scripturæ cognitione deornatus, Ethnicorum sapientes veritatem docuisti, et Christum confiteri cum Patre et Spiritu, clamantes: Cantemus Domino; gloriose enim magnificatus est.

Hierarcha a Deo inspiratus, ungens Sacerdotes in divino Spiritu demonstratus es, Silvester Pater, et populos illuminans, o sacerrime. Hæreseon errorem effugasti, gregem pavisti, pietatis salire faciens undas in divinæ cognitionis gramina.

Tuorum sermonum nodis omnino solvisti vanum ligamen, et ad divinam fidem errore ligatos alligasti, adaperiens, Pater, illorum mentem Scripturarum explicatione, Hierarcha beatissime.

Immobilem et æternaliter conclusum fecisti precibus tuis malignum, invidiosa peste infestantem eos qui ad te accedebant, o beate, qui draconibus, velut portas et pessulos, crucis sigillum imposuisti.
Father and Hierarch, Sylvester! holily enlightened by the light of holiness! thou didst enlighten the Faithful by thy light-giving teachings, to adore the unity of nature in the Three Persons, and didst dispel the darkness of heresies. Therefore we, with great solemnity, joyfully hymn to-day thy glorious memory.

O Father Sylvester, that carriest God with thee! thou visible pillar of fire, that goest before the holy flock! thou shade-giving cloud, that ever leadest the faithful out of Egyptian errors by thy incomparable precepts! we venerate thy glorious and most holy memory.

O Sylvester, divinely speaking Father! by the torrent of thy prayers thou didst sink the many-headed dragon in the mire. Holy and admirable Pontiff! thou didst lead thousands of Pagans unto God, and didst humble the haughty Jews by the astounding miracles thou didst so wisely work before their eyes. Therefore do we honour and bless thee.

Perfect in thy obedience to the Law of God, and admirably versed in the knowledge of the inspired Scriptures, thou didst teach the truth to the heathen philosophers; thou didst lead them to confess Christ together with the Father and Spirit, and say: Let us sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously magnified.

Hierarch inspired of God, Sylvester our Father! thou art shown to us as anointing Priests in the Holy Ghost, and enlightening the people, O most sacred Pontiff! Thou didst put the errors of heresy to flight, and didst feed the flock, making the waters of holiness to flow upon the pastures of souls that know God.

By thy words, which left no escape, thou didst unravel the knots of sophistry; thou didst bind to the faith them that were bound by error, opening their minds by thy interpretation of the Scriptures, most blessed Hierarch, our Father.

By thy prayers, O blessed one! thou didst for ever paralyze and imprison the wicked serpent, who sought to infect with his detestable pestilence them that approached thee: thou didst fasten down the dragons with the seal of the Cross, as with prison-gates and bolts.

Supreme Pastor of the Church of Christ! thou lendest to the beauty of the holy Octave of Christmas the lustre of thy glorious merits. There thou worthily representest the countless choir of Confessors, for it was thou didst steer the bark of Peter after the three hundred years' tempest, leading her with watchful love in her first hours of calm. The pontifical Diadem, reflecting heaven in its gems, sits on thy venerable brow. The Keys of the Kingdom of heaven are in thy hands; thou openest it for the admission of the Gentiles who embraced the faith of Christ; thou shuttest it against the Arians, in that august Council of Nicæa, where thou presidest by thy Legates, and to which thou givest authority, by confirming it with thy apostolic approbation. The furious storms will again soon rage against the Church, and the angry billows of heresy will beat against her; thou wilt then be in the bosom of God; but together with St Peter, thou wilt keep guard over the purity of the Faith of Rome. Thou wilt support Julius; thou wilt rescue Liberius; and Athanasius, aided by thy prayers, will find a shelter within the walls of Rome.

Under thy peaceful reign, Christian Rome receives the reward of her long-endured persecution. She is acknowledged as Queen of Christendom, and her empire becomes the sole empire that is universal. The son of thy pastoral zeal, Constantine, leaves the city of Romulus, which has now become the City of Peter; the imperial majesty would be eclipsed by that greater one of the Vicar of Christ; he makes Byzantium his capital, leaving Rome to be that of the Pontiff-King. The temples of the false gods become ruins, and make room for the Christian Basilicas, in which are enshrined the Relics of the Apostles and Martyrs. In a word, the Church has triumphed over the Prince of this world, and the victory is typified by the destruction of that Dragon which infected the air by its poisonous breath.

Honoured with all these wonderful prerogatives, saintly Vicar of Christ! forget not the Christian people, which was once thy flock. It asks thee, on this thy Feast, to make it know and love the mystery of the Birth of Jesus. By the sublime Symbol which embodies the Faith of Nicæa, and which thou didst confirm and promulgate throughout the whole Church, thou hast taught us to acknowledge this sweet Infant as God of God, Light of Light, begotten not made, Consubstantial with the Father. Thou biddest us to come and adore this little Child as he by whom all things were made. Holy Confessor of Christ! vouchsafe to present us to him, as the Martyrs have done, whose feasts have filled up the days since this Nativity. Pray to him for us, that our desires for true virtue may be fulfilled, that we may persevere in his holy love, that we may conquer the world and our passions, and that we may at length obtain the Crown of justice, which is to be the reward of our confessing him before men, and is the only object of our ambition.

Pontiff of Peace! from the abode of rest where thou now dwellest, look down upon the Church of God, surrounded as she is by implacable enemies, and beseech Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to hasten her triumph. Cast thine eye on that Rome which is so dear to thee, and which is so faithful in her love of thee. Protect and direct her Father, King and Pontiff. May she triumph over the wiles of political intrigue, the violence of tyranny, the craft of heretics, the perfidy of schismatics, the apathy of worldlings, and the cowardice of her own children. May she be honoured, loved, and obeyed. May the sublime dignity of the Priesthood be recognized. May the spiritual power enjoy freedom of action. May the civil authority work hand in hand with the Church. May the Kingdom of God now come, and be received throughout the whole world, and may there be but one Fold and one Shepherd.

Still watch, O holy Sylvester! over the sacred treasure of the Faith, which thou didst defend when on earth against every danger. May its light put out the vapours of man's proud dreams, those false and daring doctrines which mislead countless souls. May every mortal bow down his understanding to the obedience of faith in the divine Mysteries, without which all human wisdom is but folly. May Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Mary, be King, by his Church, over the minds and hearts of all men.

Pray for Byzantium, that was once called the New Rome, but which so soon became the capital of heresies, and the scene of everything that could degrade a Christian country. Pray that the days of her deep humiliation may be shortened; that she may again see herself united with Rome; that she may honour Christ and his Vicar; that she may obey, and by her obedience be saved. May the people, misled and debased by her influence and rule, recover their dignity as men, which can only subsist when men have faith, or be regained by a return to the faith.

And lastly, O Conqueror of Satan! keep this hellish monster in the prison whither thou didst drive him; confound his pride and his schemes; let him no longer seduce the people of God’s earth; but may all the Children of the Church, according to the word of Peter thy predecessor, resist him, by the strength of their faith.[2]

Let us, on this the Seventh Day within the Christmas Octave, consider the new-born Babe wrapped in the swaddling-clothes of Infancy. They are the indications of weakness; the Child that is swathed in them is helpless, and dependent on others; another’s hand must loosen his bands, and until then he is not free to move. It was in this infantine helplessness, and in the bondage of human weakness, that he who gives life and motion to every creature first appeared on our earth!

Let us contemplate our Blessed Lady wrapping the limbs of her Child, her God, in these swathing-bands: but who can picture to himself the respectful love wherewith she does it? She adores his humiliations—humiliations which he has taken upon himself in order that he may sanctify every period of man’s life, even that feeblest of all, infancy. So deep was the wound of our pride, that it needed a remedy of such exceeding efficacy as this! Can we refuse to become little children, now that he who gives us the precept sets us so touching an example? Sweet Jesus! we adore thee wrapped in thy Swaddling-Clothes, and our ambition is to imitate thy divine humility.

'Let not,' says the holy Abbot Guerric, 'let not the eye of your faith be offended or shocked, brethren, at these outward humble coverings. As the Mother of Jesus wrapped him in swaddling-clothes, so do Grace and Wisdom, your spiritual mother, veil over with certain material things the truth of our Incarnate God, and hide under the representation of symbolical figures the majesty of this same Jesus. When I, brethren, deliver to you, by my words, the Truth, which is Jesus, I am swathing Jesus in bands of exceeding great poverty. Happy the soul that loves and adores its Jesus not the less because he receives him thus poorly clad! Let us therefore most devoutly think upon our Lord clothed in the swathing-bands wherewith his Mother covered his infant limbs; that so, in the world of eternal happiness, we may see the glory and beauty wherewith his Father hath clad him; and this glory is that of the Only-Begotten Son of the Father.'[3]

Let us once more celebrate the joyous Birth of our Jesus, making use of this ancient Prose so redolent of the piety of the ages of Faith. It is found in the old Roman-French Missals.


Nato canunt omnia Domino pie agmina, Syllabatim neumata Perstringendo organica.

Hæc dies sacrata, In qua nova sunt gaudia Mundo plene dedita.

Hac nocte præcelsa Intonuit et Gloria In voce angelica.

Fulserunt immania, Nocte media, Pastoribus lumina.

Dum fovent sua pecora, Subito divina Percipiunt monita:

Est immensa In cœlo gloria,
Pax et in terra:
Natus alma Virgine Qui exstat ante sæcula.

Sic ergo cœli caterva Altissime jubila,
Ut tanto canore tremat alta
Poli machina.

Confracta sunt imperia Hostis crudelissima.
Humana concrepant cuncta
Deum natum in terra.

Pax in terra reddita,
Nunc lætentur omnia Nati per exordia.

Sonet et per omnia Hac in die gloria,
Voce clara reddita.

Solus qui tuetur omnia,
Solus qui gubernat omnia,
Ipse sua pietate salvet omnia pacata regna.

Every choir devoutly sings to the new-born King, Melodising each word with organ-notes.

Dear holiday! whereon the earth is filled with joy, ne’er felt before.

'Twas on this grand night that Angels’ voices intoned the sweet Gloria.

A dazzling light shone at midnight on the Shepherds.

They are tending their flocks, when suddenly they hear the divine announcement:

‘Glory infinite in the heavens—and on earth Peace:
* He that is eternal is born of the glorious Virgin!’

Then let the heavenly host give forth excessive jubilee,
And earth, from pole to pole, thrill with the loud melodious song.

The enemy’s intolerable cruelty is crushed.

Let the whole race of men sing praise to the God now born upon the earth.

Peace is restored to the world; let all things rejoice at the birth of the Child.

Let our Gloria be sung to-day with voices full and clear, that it may echo through creation.

May he that alone rules all things—
May he that alone governs all things—
In his mercy save all kingdoms, and give them Peace.


The saintly Abbot of Cluny, Peter the Venerable, is the author of the hymn we will now offer to the incomparable Mother. It is full of that scriptural unction which filled the writer’s fervent soul.


Cœlum gaude, terra plaude,
Nemo mutus sit in laude:

Ad antiquam originem
Redit homo per Virginem.

Virgo Deum est enixa,
Unde vetus perit rixa:

Perit vetus discordia,
Succedit pax et gloria.

Tunc de cœno surgit reus,
Cum in fœno jacet Deus.

Tunc vile celat stabulum
Cœlestis escæ pabulum.

Nutrit virgo creatorem,
Ex se factum Redemptorem.

Latet in pueritia
Divina Sapientia.

Lac stillant matris ubera,
Lac fundunt nati viscera,

Dum gratiæ dulcedinem
Per assumptum dat hominem.

Ergo dulci melodia
Personemus, o Maria,

Religiosis vocibus,
Et clamosis affectibus.

Salve, Virgo benedicta,
Quæ fugasti maledicta.

Salve, Mater Altissimi,
Agni Sponsa mitissimi.

Tu serpentem evicisti,
Cujus caput contrivisti,

Cum Deus ex te genitus
Ejus fuit interitus.

Tu cœlorum Imperatrix,
Tu terrarum reparatrix,

Ad quam suspirant homines,
Quam nequam tremunt dœmones.

Tu fenestra, porta, vellus,
Aula, domus, templum, tellus:

Virginitatis lilium,
Et rosa per martyrium:

Hortus clausus, fons hortorum,
Sordes lavans peccatorum.

Inquinatos purificans;
Et mortuos vivificans.

Dominatrix Angelorum,
Spes, post Deum, sæculorum.

Regis reclinatorium
Et deitatis solium.

Stella fulgens Orientis,
Umbras fugans Occidentis,

Aurora solis prævia,
Et dies noctis nescia.

Parens nostri tu Parentis,
Et genitrix nos gignentis.

Piæ matris fiducia,
Natos Patri concilia.

Ora Mater Deum natum,
Nostrum solvat ut reatum,

Et post concessam veniam,
Det gratiam et gloriam.

Rejoice, ye Heavens! and be glad, O earth!
let no man keep his lips from praise.

It was by the Virgin
that man was restored to the primeval state.

A Virgin brought forth our God,
and the ancient anger ceased:

The ancient discord ceased,
and Peace and Glory came in its stead.

Guilty man was drawn from the mire,
when God lay on his Crib of straw.

A wretched Stable held then within it
the Food of heaven's own gift.

The Virgin feeds the Creator
—the Redeemer, who had become her Child.

Divine Wisdom
lay hid in childhood.

The milk of the Mother’s breast fed her Jesus;
her Jesus feeds us with the milk of his tender mercy.

Giving us the sweetness of grace
through the assuming our human nature.

Therefore let our sweetest music
give our Ave Maria

In sacred words,
and with speaking hearts.

Hail! Virgin ever Blest,
that didst destroy the curse.

Hail! Mother of the Most High,
and Spouse of the Lamb most meek.

Thou didst conquer the serpent,
and crush his head,

For the God that was born of thee
was the serpent's death.

Thou art the Queen of heaven,
and Reparatrix of the earth,

The loved Mother of men,
and the terror of the demons of hell.

The Scriptural figures of Window, Gate, Fleece,
Palace, House, Temple and Earth—all are fulfilled in thee.

Thou art the Lily by thy virginity;
thou art the Rose by thy martyrdom:

The Garden enclosed, the Fountain of gardens
that cleansest the defilements of sin,

Purifiest them that are unclean,
and bringest the dead to life.

O Queen of the Angels,
and, after God, the Hope of mankind!

Thou art the couch of the King
and the Throne of God.

Thou art the Star of the East,
that puttest to flight the shadows of the Western night.

Thou art the Aurora, the Sun's harbinger,
and the Day that knowest not night.

Thou art Mother of the God who is our Father;
thou givest life to him who giveth life to us.

Oh! may the Holy Mother’s confidence in her Son
reconcile him to us his children!

Mother of Jesus! pray for us to thy Divine Son,
that he forgive us our sins,

And after this our pardon,
give us grace and glory.


The Civil Year ends to-day. At Midnight, a New Year will begin, as the world counts time, and the present one will sink into the abyss of eternity. It is one step further on in our lives, and brings us nearer to that end of all things, which St Peter says is at hand[4] The Liturgy, which begins a new ecclesiastical year on the First Sunday of Advent, has no special prayers, in the Roman Church, for the beginning of the year on the First of January; but her spirit, which takes an interest in everything affecting the well-being of individuals or of society at large—her spirit is that we should, sometime in the course of this last day of the year, make a fervent act of thanksgiving to God for the blessings he has bestowed upon us during the past twelve months.

Rome sets us the example. To-day the Sovereign Pontiff goes in state to the Gesu (or, as we should call it, Jesus Church) and there assists at a solemn Te Deum; the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament follows it, blessing, as it were, the public act of thanksgiving, and giving a pledge of blessings for the coming year.

The only Church that has given a liturgical expression to the sentiments, which the close of the Year inspires, is that of the Mozarabic Rite, in which there occurs the following beautiful Preface, which we gladly offer to our readers. It is part of the Mass of the Sunday which immediately precedes the Feast of the Epiphany.


Dignum et justum est nos tibi gratias agere, Domine sancte, Pater æterne, omnipotens Deus, per Jesum Christum Filium tuum, Dominum nostrum. Qui ante tempus natus ex te, Deo Patre, tecum pariter et cum Spiritu Sancto condidit tempora, dignatus est nasci et ipse sub tempore, ex utero virginis Mariæ. Qui tamen eum sit sempiternus, statutos annorum discrevit recursus, per quos evolutus deduceretur hic mundus. Distinguensannum certis atque congruentibus vicissitudinibus temporum, quibus sol certa cursus sui dimensione anni orbem inconfusa varietate distingueret. Illi etenim Deo vivo hodie et finem expleti anni, et subsequentis initium oblatis muneribus dedicamus; per quem et decursum annorum transegimus, et principium alterius inchoamus. Hunc igitur quia in annum nos ad supplicandum sancta et communis fecit devotio convenire, tibi, Deus Pater, simplices fundimus preces. Ut qui in nativitate ejusdem Filii tui præsentis temporis curricula consecraste præbeas nobis hunc annum habere placabilem, et dies ejus in tua transigere servitute. Terram quoque fructibus reple, animas corporaque facito morbis delictisque carere. Scandala remove, contere hostem, cohibe famem, et omnes in commune nocivorum casuum eventus a nostris finibus procul exclude. Per Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum. Amen.
It is meet and just that we should give thanks to thee, O Holy Lord, Eternal Father, Almighty God, through Jesus Christ thy Son, our Lord; who being before all time born of thee God the Father, did together with thee and the Holy Ghost create all seasons, and deigned himself to be born in time from the womb of the Virgin Mary. He, though the eternal One, established the fixed revolutions of years through which this world runs its course, and divided the year by regular and suitable changes of seasons, wherewith the Sun should in orderly variety mark the round of the year, as he ran the measured circuit of his course. For we this day dedicate by the gifts we offer the close of the past year, and the commencement of that which follows, unto him, the living God, by whose mercy we have lived through the years gone by, and are about to commence the beginning of another. Since, therefore, a sacred devotion wherein we all share has this year brought us together to invoke this thy Divine Son, we pour out our humble prayers unto thee, O God the Father! that whereas thou hast consecrated the present portion of the year by the Birth of this same thy Son, thou mayest vouchsafe to make this year a happy one unto us, and to give us to spend it in thy service. Fill, too, the earth with its fruits, and deliver our souls and bodies from sickness and sin. Take away scandal, defeat our enemy, keep down famine, and drive far from our country all such events as would bring evil upon her. Through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

[1] Isa. ix 6.
[2] 1 St Pet. v 9.
[3] Sermon the Fifth On our Lord's Nativity.
[4] 1 St Pet. iv 7.

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

OUR new-born King and Saviour is eight days old to-day; the Star that guides the Magi is advancing towards Bethlehem, and five days hence will be standing over the Stable where our Jesus is being nursed by his Mother. To-day the Son of Man is to be circumcised; this first sacrifice of his innocent Flesh must honour the eighth day of his mortal life. To-day also a Name is to be given him: the Name will be Jesus, and it means Saviour. So that mysteries abound on this day: let us not pass one of them over, but honour them with all possible devotion and love.

But this day is not exclusively devoted to the Circumcision of Jesus. The mystery of this Circumcision forms part of that other great mystery, the Incarnation and Infancy of our Saviour—a mystery on which the Church fixes her heart not only during this Octave, but during the whole forty days of Christmastide. Then, as regards our Lord's receiving the Name of Jesus, a special Feast, which we shall soon be keeping, is set apart in honour of it. There is another object that shares the love and devotion of the Faithful on this great Solemnity. This object is Mary, the Mother of God. The Church celebrates to-day the august prerogative of this divine Maternity which was conferred on a mere creature, and made her the co-operatrix with Jesus in the great work of man's salvation.

The holy Church of Rome used formerly to say two Masses on the first of January; one was for the Octave of Christmas Day, the other was in honour of Mary. She now unites the two intentions in one Sacrifice, in the same manner as, in the rest of this Day’s Office, she unites together the acts of her adoration of the Son, and the expressions of her admiration for and confidence in the Mother.

The Greek Church does not wait for this eighth day, in order to pay her tribute of homage to her who has given us our Emmanuel. She consecrates to Mary the first day after Christmas, that is December 26, and calls it the Synaxis of the Mother of God, making the two days one continued Feast. She is thus obliged to defer the Feast of St Stephen to December 27.

But it is to-day that we, the children of the Roman Church, must pour forth all the love of our hearts for the Virgin-Mother, and rejoice with her in the exceeding happiness she feels at having given birth to her and our Lord. During Advent we contemplated her as pregnant with the world’s salvation; we proclaimed the glory of that Ark of the New Covenant, whose chaste womb was the earthly paradise chosen by the King of Ages for his dwelling-place. Now she has brought him forth, the Infant-God; she adores him, him who is her Son. She has the right to call him her Child; and he, God as he is, calls her in strictest truth his Mother.

Let us not be surprised, therefore, at the enthusiasm and profound respect wherewith the Church extols the Blessed Virgin and her prerogatives. Let us on the contrary be convinced that all the praise the Church can give her, and all the devotion she can ever bear towards her, are far below what is due to her as Mother of the Incarnate God. No mortal will ever be able to describe, or even comprehend, how great a glory accrues to her from this sublime dignity. For, as the glory of Mary comes from her being the Mother of God, one would have first to comprehend God himself in order to measure the greatness of her dignity. It is to God that Mary gave our human nature; it is God whom she had as her Child; it is God who gloried in rendering himself, inasmuch as he is Man, subject to her: hence, the true value of such a dignity, possessed by a mere creature, can only be appreciated in proportion to our knowledge of the sovereign perfections of the great God, who thus deigns to make himself dependent upon that favoured creature. Let us therefore bow down in deepest adoration before the Majesty of our God; let us therefore acknowledge that we cannot respect as it deserves the extraordinary dignity of her whom he chose for his Mother.

The same sublime Mystery overpowers the mind from another point of view: what were the feelings of such a Mother towards such a Son? The Child she holds in her arms and presses to her heart is the Fruit of her virginal womb, and she loves him as her own; she loves him because she is his Mother, and a Mother loves her Child as herself, nay, more than herself: but when she thinks upon the infinite majesty of him who has thus given himself to her to be the object of her love and her fond caresses, she trembles in her humility, and her soul has to turn, in order to bear up against the overwhelming truth, to the other thought of the nine months she held this Babe in her womb, and of the filial smile he gave her when her eyes first met his. These two deep-rooted feelings—of a creature that adores, and of a Mother that loves—are in Mary’s heart. To be Mother of God implies all this: and may we not well say that no pure creature could be exalted more than she? and that in order to comprehend her dignity, we should first have to comprehend God himself? and that only God’s infinite wisdom could plan such a work, and only his infinite power accomplish it?

A Mother of God! It is the mystery whose fulfilment the world, without knowing it, was awaiting for four thousand years. It is the work which, in God’s eyes, was incomparably greater than that of the creation of a million new worlds, for such a creation would cost him nothing; he has but to speak, and all whatsoever he wills is made. But that a creature should become Mother of God, he has had not only to suspend the laws of nature by making a Virgin Mother, but also to put himself in a state of dependence upon the happy creature he chose for his Mother. He had to give her rights over himself, and contract the obligation of certain duties towards her. He had to make her his Mother, and himself her Son.

It follows from all this, that the blessings of the Incarnation, for which we are indebted to the love wherewith the Divine Word loved us, may and ought to be referred, though in an inferior degree, to Mary herself. If she be the Mother of God, it is because she consented to it, for God vouchsafed not only to ask her consent, but moreover to make the coming of his Son into this world depend upon her giving it. As this his Son, the Eternal Word, spoke his Fiat over chaos, and the answer to his word was creation; so did Mary use the same word Fiat: let it be done unto me,[1] she said. God heard her word, and immediately the Son of God descended into her virginal womb. After God, then, it is to Mary, his ever Blessed Mother, that we are indebted for our Emmanuel.

The divine plan for the world's salvation included the existence of a Mother of God: and as heresy sought to deny the mystery of the Incarnation, it equally sought to deny the glorious prerogative of Mary. Nestorius asserted that Jesus was only man; Mary consequently was not Mother of God, but merely Mother of a Man called Jesus. This impious doctrine roused the indignation of the Catholic world. The East and West united in proclaiming that Jesus was God and Man, in unity of Person; and that Mary, being his Mother, was, in strict truth, ‘Mother of God.’[2] This victory over Nestorianism was won at the Council of Ephesus. It was hailed by the Christians of those times with an enthusiasm of faith which not only proved the tender love they had for the Mother of Jesus, but was sure to result in the setting up of some solemn trophy that would perpetuate the memory of the victory. It was then that the pious custom began, in both the Greek and Latin Churches, of uniting during Christmas the veneration due to the Mother with the supreme worship given to the Son. The day assigned for the united commemoration varied in the several countries, but the sentiment of religion which suggested the Feast was one and the same throughout the entire Church.

The holy Pope Xystus III ordered an immense mosaic to be worked into the chancel-arch of the Church of St Mary Major, in Rome, as a monument to the holy Mother of God. The mosaic still exists, bearing testimony as to what was the faith held in the fifth century. It represents the various scriptural types of our Lady, and the inscription of the holy Pontiff is still legible in its bold letters: Xystus Episcopus plebi Dei (Xystus Bishop to the people of God): for the Saint had dedicated to the faithful this his offering to Mary, the Mother of God.

Special chants were also composed at Rome for the celebration of the great mystery of the Word made Man through Mary. Sublime Responsories and Antiphons, accompanied by appropriate music, were written to serve the Church and her children as the expression of their faith, and they are the ones we now use. The Greek Church makes use of some of these very antiphons for the Christmas Solemnity; so that with regard to the mystery of the Incarnation there is not only unity of faith, there is also oneness of devotional sentiment.


The First Vespers of the Circumcision are made peculiarly solemn by the chanting of the five venerable Antiphons to which we have just alluded. The Psalms are those which are sung at the Vespers of the Feasts of our Lady.

The first of these Psalms celebrates the kingly character, the Priesthood and the sovereign Judgeship of our Emmanuel, and implies, consequently, the wonderful dignity of her who gave him Birth. The second contains the praise of God, who exalts the humble, and gives the joys of maternity where nature has refused them; it announces with an air of triumph the glories and the maternity of Mary, Mother of God and Mother of men. The last three Psalms chant the praises of Jerusalem, the City of God; the symbol of Mary, who is the City of God.

Ant. O admirabile commercium! Creator generis humani animatum corpus sumens, de Virgine nasci dignatus est; et procedens homo sine semine,largitus est nobis suam deitatem.
Ant. O admirable Interchange! The Creator of mankind, assuming a living Body, deigned to be born of a Virgin; and becoming Man without man’s aid, bestowed on us his Divinity.

Psalm 109

Dixit Dominus Domino meo: * Sede a dextris meis.
Donec ponam inimicos tuos: * scabellum pedum tuorum.
Virgam virtutis tuæ 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 poenitebit eum: * Tu es sacerdos in æternum, secundum ordinem Melchisedech.
Dominus a dextris tuis: * confregit in die iræ suæ reges.
Judicabit in nationibus, implebit ruinas: * conquassabit capita in terra multorum.
De torrente in via bibet; * propterea exaltabit caput.

Ant. O admirabile commercium! Creator generis humani animatum corpus sumens, de Virgine nasci dignatus est; et procedens homo sine semine,largitus est nobis suam deitatem.
Ant. Quando natus es ineffabiliter ex Virgine, tunc impletæ sunt Scripturæ; sicut pluvia in vellus descendisti, ut salvum faceres genus humanum: te laudamus, Deus noster.
The Lord said to my Lord, his Son: Sit thou at my right hand, and reign with me.
Until, on the day of thy last coming, 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 GodMan: 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; 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. O admirable Interchange! The Creator of mankind, assuming a living Body, deigned to be born of a Virgin, and becoming Man without man’s aid, bestowed on us his Divinity.
Ant. When thou wast born ineffably of the Virgin, the Scriptures were fulfilled. As dew upon Gedeon’s Fleece, thou camest down to save mankind. O Lord our God! we praise thee.

Psalm 112

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. Quando natus es ineffabiliter ex Virgine, tune impletæ sunt Scripturæ; sicut pluvia in vellus descendisti, ut salvum faceres genus humanum: te laudamus, Deus noster.
Ant. Rubum, quem viderat Moyses incombustum, conservatam agnovimus tuam laudabilem virginitatem: Dei Genitrix, intercede pro nobis.

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. When thou wast born ineffably of the Virgin, the Scriptures were fulfilled. As dew upon Gedeon’s Fleece, thou camest down to save mankind. O Lord our God! we praise thee.
Ant. In the bush seen by Moses as burning yet unconsumed, we recognize the preservation of thy glorious Virginity. O Mother of God, intercede for us.

Psalm 121

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. Rubum, quem viderat Moyses incombustum, conservatam agnovimus tuam laudabilem virginitatem: Dei Genitrix, intercede pro nobis.
Ant. Germinavit radix Jesse; orta est stella ex Jacob; Virgo peperit Salvatorem: te laudamus, Deus noster.

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. In the Bush seen by Moses as burning yet unconsumed, we recognize the preservation of thy glorious virginity. O Mother of God! intercede for us.
Ant. The Root of Jesse hath budded; the Star hath risen out of Jacob; a Virgin hath brought forth the Saviour. O Lord our God! we praise thee.

Psalm 126

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. Germinavit radix Jesse; orta est stella ex Jacob; Virgo peperit Salvatorem: te laudamus, Deus noster.
Ant. Ecce Maria genuit nobis Salvatorem, quem Joannes videns exclamavit, dicens: Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccata mundi, alleluia.

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. The Root of Jesse hath budded; the Star hath risen out of Jacob; a Virgin hath brought forth the Saviour. O Lord our God! we praise thee.
Ant. Lo! Mary hath brought forth a Saviour unto us, whom John seeing exclaimed: Behold the Lamb of God I Behold him that taketh away the sins of the world, alleluia.

Psalm 147

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. Ecce Maria genuit nobis Salvatorem, quem Joannes videns exclamavit, dicens: Ecce Agnus Dei, ecce qui tollit peccata mundi, alleluia.
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. Lo! Mary hath brought forth a Saviour unto us, whom John seeing exclaimed: Behold the Lamb of God! Behold him that taketh away the sins of the world, alleluia.

(Tit. ii)

Apparuit gratia Dei Salvatoris nostri omnibus hominibus, erudiens nos, ut abnegantes impietatem et sæcularia desideria, sobrie et juste et pie vivamus in hoc sæculo.
The grace of God our Saviour hath appeared to all men, instructing us, that denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly and justly and godly in this world.

Then is sung the Hymn of Christmas Day, Jesu, Redemptor omnium, as on p. 116.

℣. Verbum caro factum est, alleluia.
℟. Et habitavit in nobis, alleluia.
. The Word was made flesh, alleluia.
℟. And dwelt among us, alleluia.

Antiphon Of The Magnificat

Ant. Propter nimiam charitatem suam qua dilexit nos Deus, Filium suum misit in similitudinem carnis peccati. Alleluia.


Deus, qui salutis æternæ, beatæ Mariæ virginitate fœcunda, humano generi præmia præstitisti: tribue, quæsumus, ut ipsam pro nobis intercedere sentiamus, per quam meruimus auctorem vitæ suscipere, Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, Filium tuum. Qui tecum.
Ant. By reason of the exceeding charity wherewith God loved us, he sent us his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. Alleluia.

Let us Pray

O God, who by the fruitful Virginity of the Blessed Mary hast given to mankind the rewards of eternal salvation; grant, we beseech thee, that we may experience her intercession, by whom we received the Author of Life, our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son. Who liveth, etc.


This Station is at St Mary's across the Tiber. It was but just that this Basilica should receive such an honour, for it is the most ancient of all the Churches raised by the devotion of the faithful of Rome in honour of our Blessed Lady. It was consecrated in the third century by St Callixtus, on the site of the ancient Taberna Meritoria, celebrated even among the Pagans, for the fountain of oil which sprang up in that spot in the reign of Augustus, and flowed into the Tiber. The piety of the Christians interpreted this as a symbol of the Christ that was afterwards born; and the Basilica is sometimes called, even to this day, Fons Olei.

The Introit is that of the Third Mass of Christmas Day, as are also most of the portions that are chanted by the choir. It celebrates the Birth of the Child who is born unto us, and is to-day eight days old.


Puer natus est nobis, et Filius datus est nobis: cujus imperium super humerum ejus; et vocabitur nomen ejus magni Consilii Angelus.

Ps. Cantate Domino canticum novum: quia mirabilia fecit, ℣. Gloria Patri. Puer.
A Child is born to us, and a Son is given to us: and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called the Angel of great Counsel.

Ps. Sing to the Lord a new canticle: for he hath done wonderful things. ℣.Glory, etc. A Child.

In the Collect the Church celebrates the Fruitful Virginity of the Mother of God, and shows Mary to us as the source whence God poured out upon mankind the blessing of the Incarnation. She expresses to God himself the hopes we have in the intercession of this privileged creature.


Deus, qui salutis æternæ, beatæ Mariæ virginitate fœcunda, humanogeneri præmia præstitisti: tribue, quæsumus, ut ipsam pro nobis intercederesentiamus, per quam meruimus auctorem vitæ suscipere Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, Filium tuum. Qui tecum.
O God, who by the fruitful Virginity of Blessed Mary hast given to mankind the rewards of eternal salvation; grant, we beseech thee, that we may experience her intercession, by whom we received the Author of Life, our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son. Who liveth, etc.


Lectio Epistolæ beati Pauli Apostoli ad Titum.

Cap. II.

Carissime, apparuit gratia Dei Salvatoris nostri omnibus hominibus, erudiens nos, ut abnegantes impietatem et sæcularia desideria, sobrie et juste et pie vivamus in hoc sæculo, exspectantes beatam spem, et adventum gloriæ magni Dei et Salvatoris nostri Jesu Christi: qui dedit semetipsum pro nobis, ut nos redimeret ab omni iniquitate et mundaret sibi populum acceptabilem, sectatorem bonorum operum. Hæc loquere et exhortare: in Christo Jesu Domino nostro.
Lesson of the Epistle of St Paul the Apostle to Titus.

Ch. II.

Dearly beloved: The grace of God our Saviour hath appeared to all men, instructing us that denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly and justly and godly in this world, looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ: who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and might cleanse to himself a people acceptable, a pursuer of good works. These things speak and exhort: in Christ Jesus our Lord.

These counsels of our great Apostle, who warns -the Faithful of the obligation they are under of making a good use of the present life, are most appropriate to this first day of January, which is now the beginning of the new Civil Year. Let us, therefore, renounce all worldly desires; let us live soberly, justly, and piously, and permit nothing to distract us from the expectation of that blessedness, which is our hope. The great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who shows himself to us in these days of his mercy in order to instruct us, will come to us in a second coming in order to give us our reward. The beginning of a New Year tells us plainly enough that this last day is fast approaching; let us cleanse ourselves from all iniquity, and become a people acceptable to our Redeemer, a people doing good works.

The Gradual proclaims the grand tidings of the Birth of our Jesus, and invites all nations to give praise to him, as also to the Eternal Father, who had promised him by the Prophets, and at length sent him.


Viderunt omnes fines terræ Salutare Dei nostri: jubilate Deo omnis terra.

℣. Notum fecit Dominus Salutare suum: ante conspectum gentium revelavit justitiam suam.

Alleluia, alleluia. ℣. Multifarie olim Deus loquens patribus in Prophetis, novissime diebus istis locutus est nobis in Filio. Alleluia.
All the ends of the earth have seen the Salvation of our God: sing joyfully to the Lord, ail the earth.

℣. The Lord hath made known his Salvation; he hath revealed his justice in the sight of the Gentiles.

Alleluia, alleluia. ℣. God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past to our fathers by the Prophets, last of all in these days hath spoken to us by his Son. Alleluia.


Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Lucam.

Cap. II.

In illo tempore: Postquam consummati sunt dies octo, ut circumcideretur Puer; vocatum est nomen ejus Jesus, quod vocatum est ab Angelo priusquam in utero conciperetur.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Luke.

Ch. II.

At that time: After eight days were accomplished that the Child should be circumcised, his name was called Jesus, which was called by the Angel before he was conceived in the womb.

The Child is circumcised: he is now not only a member of the human race; he is made to-day a member of God's chosen People. He subjects himself to this painful ceremony, to this symbol of one devoted to the Divine service, in order that he may fulfil all justice. He receives, at the same time, his Name: the Name is Jesus, and it means a Saviour. A Saviour! Then he is to save us? Yes; and he is to save us by his Blood. Such is the divine appointment, and he has bowed down his will to it. The Incarnate Word is upon the earth in order to offer a Sacrifice, and the Sacrifice is begun to-day. This first shedding of the Blood of the Man-God was sufficient to the fulness and perfection of a Sacrifice; but he is come to win the heart of the sinner, and that heart is so hard that all the streams of that Precious Blood, which flow from the Cross on Calvary, will scarcely make it yield. The drops that were shed to-day would have been enough to satisfy the justice of the Eternal Father, but not to cure man's miseries, and the Babe's Heart would not be satisfied to leave us uncured. He came for man's sake, and his love for man will go to what looks like excess—he will carry out the whole meaning of his dear name—he will be our ‘Jesus,’ our Saviour.

The Offertory extols the power of our Emmanuel. Now that he is humbled by the wound of the Circumcision, it must be our delight to proclaim his power, his riches, his independence. Let us also magnify his love for us, for it is in order to cure our wounds that he so humbly condescends to feel their smart himself.


Tui sunt cœli, et tua est terra: orbem terrarum et plenitudinem ejus tu fundasti: justitia et judicium præparatio sedis tuæ.
Thine are the heavens, and thine is the earth: the world and the fulness thereof thou hast founded: justice and judgement are the preparation of thy throne.


Muneribus nostris, quæsumus, Domine, precibusque susceptis: et cœlestibus nos munda mysteriis, et clementer exaudi. Per Dominum.
Receive, O Lord, our offerings and prayers: cleanse us by these mysteries, and mercifully hear us. Through, etc.

At the Communion, the Church rejoices in the Jesus, the Saviour, who visits her, and acts up to his sweet Name with such perfection by redeeming the inhabitants of the whole earth. In the Post communion she prays that by the intercession of Mary the Holy Communion may cure our hearts of their sins, that thus we may offer to God the homage of that spiritual circumcision of which the Apostle so often speaks.


Viderunt omnes fines terræ Salutare Dei nostri.
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.


Hæc nos communio, Domine, purget a crimine: et intercedente beata Virgine Dei Genitrice Maria, cœlestis remedii faciat esse consortes. Per Dominum.
May this communion, O Lord, cleanse us from sin: and by the intercession of Blessed Mary, the Virgin-Mother of God, make us partakers of thy heavenly remedy. Through, etc.


The Antiphons and Psalms are the same as in First Vespers, p. 376. The Capitulum and Hymn of yesterday are repeated; after which are said the following:

℣. Notum fecit Dominus, alleluia.
. Salutare suum, alleluia.

℣. The Lord hath made known, alleluia.
℟. His salvation, alleluia.

Antiphon of the Magnificat

Ant. Magnum hæreditatis mysterium! Templum Dei factus est uterus nesciens virum: non est pollutus ex ea carnem assumens; omnes gentes venient, dicentes: Gloria tibi, Domine.

Let us Pray

O God, who by the fruitful Virginity of Blessed Mary hast given to mankind the rewards of eternal salvation; grant, we beseech thee, that we may experience her intercession, by whom we received the Author of Life, our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son. Who liveth, etc.
Ant. Great is the mystery of our inheritance! The womb of a most pure Virgin became the Temple of God. He is not defiled assuming to himself Flesh from her. All nations shall come, saying: Glory be to thee, O Lord!


Deus, qui salutis æternæ, beatæ Mariæ virginitate fœcunda, humanogeneri præmia præstitisti: tribue, quæsumus, ut ipsam pro nobis intercederesentiamus, per quam meruimus auctorem vitæ suscipere Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum. Qui tecum.

We now give a short selection from the Offices of this Octave of Christmas Day, which will assist the Faithful in their devotion to the Holy Mother of God. We begin with the Roman Breviary, and take from it the following Responsories of the Matins of the Circumcision.

℟. Congratulamini mihi omnes qui diligitis Dominum: * Quia cum essem parvula, placui Altissimo, et de meis visceribus genui Deum et hominem.
℣. Beatam me dicent omnes generationes, quia ancillam humilem respexit Deus. * Quia.
℟. Confirmatum est cor Virginis, in quo divina mysteria, Angelo nuntiante, concepit: tunc speciosum forma præ filiis hominum castis suscepit visceribus: * Et benedicta in æternum, Deum nobis protulit et hominem.
℟. Benedicta et venerabilis es, Virgo Maria, quæ sine tactu pudoris inventa es Mater Salvatoris: * Jacebat in præsepio, et fulgebat in cœlo.
℣. Domine, audivi auditionem tuam et timui: consideravi opera tua et expavi: in medio duorum animalium * Jacebat in præsepio, et fulgebat in cœlo.
℟. Nesciens Mater Virgo virum peperit sine dolore * Salvatorem sæculorum; ipsum Regem Angelorum, sola Virgo lactabat ubere de cœlo pleno.℣. Domus pudici pectoris templum repente fit Dei: intacta nesciens virum, verbo concepit Filium; * Salva torem.
℟. Rejoice with me all ye that love the Lord: * For that I, when I was little in my own eyes, pleased the Most High, and gave birth to him that is God and Man.
℣. All generations shall call me Blessed, because God hath regarded the humility of his Handmaid. For that I.
℟. The heart of the Virgin was strengthened, wherein at the message of the Angel she conceived the divine mysteries. Then did she receive into her chaste womb him that is beautiful above all the children of men: * And she that is Blessed for ever brought forth unto us Jesus, God and Man.
℟. Blessed and venerable art thou, O Virgin Mary! that wast found to be Mother of the Saviour, yet still the purest Virgin: * He was laid in the Crib, and yet filled heaven with his brightness.
℣. I have heard thy hearing, and I feared; I meditated on thy works, and I trembled: between two animals * He was laid in the Crib, and yet filled heaven with his brightness.
℟. A purest Virgin-Mother brought forth without travail * The Saviour of the world: He that was very King of Angels drank at the breast of the Virgin-Mother the food that heaven gave.℣. This chastest living dwelling becomes, in an instant, God’s own Temple: the purest of Virgins conceives, at the Angel’s word, her Son: * The Saviour.

The Greek Church, on December 26, the day she consecrates to the Mother of Jesus, pours forth to Mary her praises with her wonted profusion. We take from the Menæa the two following strophes, the former of which is also the Benedictus-Antiphon for the Feast of the Circumcision, in the Roman Breviary.

Mirabile mysterium declarator hodie: innovantur naturae, Deus homo factus est: id quod fuit permansit, et quod non erat, assumpsit; non commixtionem passus, neque divisionem.

Uvam incultam postquam germinasset vitis mystica, in brachiis velut ramusculis ferebat: Tu, aiebat, fructus meus, tu es vita mea, a te novi quia quod eram adhuc sum, O Deus meus; sigillum enim virginitatis meæ videns infractum, praedico te immutabile Verbum caro factum; virum non novi; te autem novi perniciei solutorem. Casta enim sum, te ex me egresso, sicut invenisti, sic uterum meum reliquisti: ideo concinit omnis creatura ad me damans: Gaude, gratia plena.
An admirable mystery is this day revealed: the two Natures are united in a new way, God is made Man: he remained what he was, and he assumed what he was not, suffering neither confusion nor division.

When the mystic Vine had produced, without human aid, the Grape-bunch, she carried him in her arms, as the branches their fruit; and she said to him: Thou art my Fruit, thou art my Life, and I know from thyself, O my God, that I am what I was: the treasure of my virginity is preserved, and therefore do I confess thee to be the Immutable One, the Word made Flesh. Man I know not; but I acknowledge thee as the Redeemer of lost man. Thy Birth impaired not the purity thou gavest me, for what I was when thou didst enter into my womb, that thou didst leave me at thy Nativity. Therefore is it that every creature sings to me saying: Rejoice, O full of grace!

On this the eighth day since the Birth of our Emmanuel, let us consider the great mystery which the Gospel tells us was accomplished in his divine Flesh: the Circumcision. On this day the earth sees the first-fruits of that Blood-shedding which is to be its Redemption, and the first sufferings of that Divine Lamb who is to atone for our sins. Let us compassionate our sweet Jesus, who meekly submits to the knife which is to put upon him the sign of a Servant of God.

Mary, who has watched over him with the most affectionate solicitude, has felt her heart sink within her as each day brought her nearer to this hour of her Child's first suffering. She knows that the justice of God does not necessarily require this first sacrifice, or might accept it, on account of its infinite value, for the world’s salvation: and yet, the innocent Flesh of her Son must, even so early as this, be tom, and his Blood flow down his infant limbs.

What must be her affliction at seeing the preparations for this painful ceremony! She cannot leave her Jesus, and yet how shall she bear to see him writhe under this his first experience of suffering? She must stay, then, and hear his sobs and heartrending cries; she must bear the sight of the tears of her Divine Babe, forced from him by the violence of the pain. We need St Bonaventura to describe this wonderful mystery.

‘And if he weeps, thinkest thou his Mother could keep in her tears? No: she, too, wept, and when the Babe, who was standing on her lap, perceived her tears, he raised his little hand to her mouth and face, as though he would beckon to her not to weep, for it grieved him to see her weeping, whom he so tenderly loved. The Mother, on her side, was touched to the quick at the suffering and tears of the Babe, and she consoled him by caresses and fond words; and as she was quick to see his thoughts, as though he had expressed them in words, she said to him: If thou wishest me to cease weeping, weep not thou, my Child! If thou weepest, I must weep too. Then the Babe, from compassion for the Mother, repressed his sobs, and Mary wiped his eyes and her own, and put his Face to her own, and gave him her Breast, and consoled him in every way she could.’[3]

And now, what shall we give in return to this Saviour of our souls for the Circumcision which he has deigned to suffer in order to show us how much he loved us? We must, according to the teaching of the Apostle, circumcise our heart from all its evil affections, its sins and its wicked inclinations; we must begin at once to live that new life of which the Infant Jesus is the sublime model. Let us thus show him our compassion for this his earliest suffering for us, and be more attentive than we have hitherto been to the example he sets us.

The following beautiful Sequence will assist us to praise this mystery of the Divine Infancy. We have taken it from the ancient Missal of the Church of Paris.


Apparuit hodie
Mira virtus gratiæ,
Quae Deum circumcidit.

Nomen ei cœlicum,
Nomen et salvificum,
Quod est Jesus, indidit.

Nomen salus homini,
Nomen quod os Domini
Ab æterno nominat.

Dudum Matri Numinis
Hoc et sponso Virginis
Angelus denuntiat.

Tu nequam vim Zabuli,
Tu peccatum sæculi
Nomen sacrum superas.

Jesu, nostrum pretium,
Jesu, spes mœrentium,
Mentes sana miseras.

Quod deest in homine
Supple tuo nomine,
Quod est salutiferum.

Tua circumcisio
Cordis sit præcisio,
Efficax cauterium.

Sanguis fusus sordidos
Lavet, riget aridos,
Mœstis det solatium.

Anni nunc initio,
Pro felici xenio
Para, Jesu, præmium.

This day there hath been shown to us
the wonderful power of grace
in the Circumcision of the Infant-God.

A Name of heaven's making,
a Name that means Salvation
—and it is ‘Jesus’—is given to him.

This Name imports Salvation to man:
it is the Name which the mouth of the Lord
hath uttered from eternity.

The Angel revealed it, months ago,
to the Mother of God,
and to her holy spouse.

Sacred name!
thou conquerest Satan’s wicked power,
and the sins of the world.

‘Jesus,’ our ransom!
‘Jesus,’ hope of the afflicted!
our souls are sick—do thou heal them.

What is wanting in man,
supply by thy Name,
which means and gives salvation.

May thy Circumcision
be the cleansing
and the healing of our heart’s wounds.

May the Blood thou didst shed purify our stains,
refresh our parched hearts,
and give consolation to the sad.

We are beginning now a New Year,
when friends give gifts to friends;
let thine, dear 'Jesus,' be the preparing us our recompense.


Adam of St Victor offers us one of his hymns to help us to speak the praises of the Holy Mother of Jesus, It is an extremely graceful poem, and, for a long period, was to be found in the ancient Roman-French Missals.


Salve, Mater Salvatoris,
Vas electum, vas honoris,
Vas cœlestis gratiæ.

Ab æterno vas provisum,
Vas insigne, vas excisum
Manu Sapientiæ.

Salve Verbi sacra Parens,
Flos de spinis, spina carens,
Flos spineti gratia.

Nos spinetum, nos peccati
Spina sumus cruentati,
Sed tu spinæ nescia.

Porta clausa, fons hortorum,
Celia custos unguentorum,
Celia pigmentaria.

Cinnamomi calamum,
Myrrham, thus et balsamum
Superas fragrantia.

Salve, decus virginum,
Mediatrix hominum,
Salutis puerpera.

Myrtus temperantiæ,
Rosa patientiæ,
Nardus odorifera.

Tu convallis humilis,
Terra non arabilis,
Quæ fructum parturiit.

Flos campi, convallium
Singulare lilium:
Christus ex te prodiit.

Tu cœlestis paradisus,
Libanusque non incisus,
Vaporans dulcedinem.

Tu candoris et decoris,
Tu dulcoris et odoris
Habes plenitudinem.

Tu thronus es Solomonis,
Cui nullus par in thronis,
Arte vel materia.

Ebur candens, castitatis,
Aurum fulvum, charitatis
Præsignant mysteria.

Palmam præfers singula rem,
Nec in terris habes parem,
Nec in cœli curia.

Laus humani generis,
Virtutum præ cæteris
Habens privilegia.

Sol luna lucidior,
Et luna sideribus:
Sic Maria dignior
Creaturis omnibus.

Lux eclipsim nesciens
Virginis est castitas;
Ardor indeficiens,
Immortalis charitas.

Salve, mater pietatis
Et totius Trinitatis
Nobile triclinium.

Verbi tamen incarnati
Speciale majestati
Præparans hospitium.

O Maria, stella maris,
Dignitate singularis,
Super omnes ordinaris
Ordines cœlcstium.

In supremo sita poli,
Nos assigna tuæ Proli,
Ne terrores, sive doli
Nos supplantent hostium.

In procinctu constituti,
Te tuente, simus tuti;
Pervicacis et versuti
Tuæ cedat vis virtuti,
Dolus, providentiæ.

Jesu, Verbum summi Patris,
Serva servos tuæ Matris,
Solve reos, salva gratis,
Et nos tuæ claritatis
Configura gloriæ.

Hail, Mother of the Saviour!
Vessel elect, Vessel of honour,
Vessel of heavenly grace!

Vessel predestined from eternity,
Vessel of singular beauty, Vessel formed
by the hand of the All-Wise One.

Hail, holy Mother of the Word!
the Flower that grew midst thorns, thyself the thornless
Flower that decked the thorny Earth.

The thorny earth are we,
bleeding from the prickly thorns of sin:
and thou art free from thorns.

Thou art the Gate of the sanctuary closed for the Prince.
Thou art the Fountain of the gardens,
the Casket of sweet ointments and perfumes.

Thy fragrance is sweeter
than that of cinnamon,
or myrrh, or frankincense, or aromatic balm.

Hail, Virgin of Virgins!
Mediatrix of men!
Mother of the Jesus who saved us.

Myrtle of temperance,
rose of patience,
spikenard most fragrant!

Vale of humility!
Soil most fruitful,
though untilled!

Flower of the field!
matchless lily of the valley,
that broughtest forth Christ!

Heavenly Paradise!
Cedartree untouched,
yet breathing forth such sweetness!

Purity and beauty,
sweetness and fragrance,
are all in thee above measure.

Thou art the throne of Solomon,
the throne rich above all others
in form and substance.

The whiteness of the ivory
prefigures thy chastity;
the glittering gold thy charity.

The palm thou holdest is like no other:
thou hast no equal among creatures
on earth or in heaven.

Thou art the glory of the human race,
and art privileged with virtues
above Angels and men.

As the sun is brighter than the moon,
and the moon is brighter than the stars;
so is Mary exalted above all creatures.

The sun's light,
which no eclipse quenches,
is Mary’s virginal purity:
the sun’s unfailing heat is her undying charity.

Hail, Mother of Mercy!
Thou art the noble dwelling
of the blessed Trinity;

But for the majesty
of the Incarnate Word
thou didst prepare a special sanctuary.

O Mary, Star of the Sea!
Peerless Queen,
set above all
the heavenly choirs!

Seated on thy lofty throne,
commend us to thy Son;
nor suffer our enemies
to defeat us by strength or craft.

In the battle we are fighting,
may we be safely shielded by thy protection.
Our enemy's obstinacy and skill
must needs yield to thy power,
and his treachery to thy watchful care.

O Jesu! Word of the Eternal Father!
save us the devoted servants of thy Mother.
We are guilty, absolve us.
Save us by thy grace,
and make us like to thee in the brightness of thy glory.


[1] St Luke i 38.
[2] Deipara, Θcotokos, are the respective Latin and Greek terms.
[3] Meditations on the Life of Christ, by St Bonaventura.

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

(When the first Sunday occurring in the year falls on January 1 or 6, or 7, the feast of the holy Name is kept on January 2.)

THE second Sunday after the Epiphany, which recalls the Marriage feast of Cana, was at first chosen as the day on which to honour the most holy Name of Jesus. It is on the Wedding Day that the Bridegroom gives his Name to the Bride, and it is the sign that, from that day forward, she belongs to him alone. The Church, therefore, wishing to honour a name so precious to her with a special feast, could find no day more appropriate for it than that of the Marriage at Cana. But now she has chosen for the celebration of this august Name, a day closer to the Anniversary on which it was given, ‘after eight days were accomplished, his name was called Jesus’; she leaves, however, the commemoration of the Sacred Nuptials to the Sunday of which it has ever been the glory.

In the Old Covenant, the Name of God inspired fear and awe: nor was the honour of pronouncing it granted to all the children of Israel. We can understand this. God had not yet come down from heaven to live on earth, and converse with men; he had not yet taken upon himself our poor nature, and become Man like ourselves; the sweet Name expressive of love and tenderness, could not be applied to him.

But, when the fulness of time had come—when the mystery of love was about to be revealed—then did heaven send down the Name of ‘Jesus ' to our earth, as a pledge of the speedy coming of him who was to bear it. The archangel Gabriel said to Mary: Thou shalt call his Name Jesus. ‘Jesus’ means Saviour. How sweet will this Name not be to poor lost man! It seems to link earth to heaven! No name is so amiable, none is so powerful. Every knee in heaven, on earth, and in hell, bows in adoration at hearing this Name! and yet, who can pronounce it, and not feel love spring up within his heart? But we need such a saint as Bernard, to tell us of the power and sweetness of this blessed Name. He thus speaks of it in one of his Sermons.

The Name of Jesus is Light, and Food, and Medicine. It is Light, when it is preached to us; it is Food, when we think upon it; it is the Medicine that soothes our pains when we invoke it. Let us say a word on each of these. Tell me, whence came there, into the whole world, so bright and sudden a light, if not from the preaching of the Name of Jesus? Was it not by the light of this Name that God called us unto his admirable Light? Wherewith being enlightened, and in this light, seeing the Light, we take these words of Paul as truly addressed to ourselves: Heretofore, you were darkness; but now, light in the Lord.

Nor is the Name of Jesus Light only; it is also Food. Art thou not strengthened, as often as thou thinkest of this Name? What is there that so feeds the mind of him that meditates upon this Name? What is there that so restores the wearied faculties, strengthens virtue, gives vigour to good and holy habits, and fosters chastity? Every food of the soul is dry, that is not steeped in this unction; it is insipid, if it be not seasoned with this salt. If thou write, I relish not thy writing, unless I read there the Name of Jesus. If thou teach me, or converse with me, I relish not thy words, unless I hear thee say the Name of Jesus. Jesus is honey to the mouth, and music to the ear, and gladness to the heart.

It is also Medicine. Is any one among you sad? Let but Jesus come into his heart, and the mouth echo him, saying Jesus! and lo! the light of that Name disperses every cloud, and brings sunshine back again. Have any of you committed sin? and is despair driving you into the snare of death? Invoke the Name of life, and life will come back to the soul. Was there ever a man, that, hearing this saving Name, could keep up that common fault of hardness of heart, or drowsiness of sluggishness, or rancour of soul, or languor of sloth? If any one, perchance, felt that the fountain of his tears was dry, did it not gush forth more plentifully than ever, and flow more sweetly than ever, as soon as he invoked the Name of Jesus? If any of us were ever in danger, and our heart beat with fear, did not this Name of power bring us confidence and courage the moment we pronounced it? When we were tossed to and fro by perplexing doubts, did not the evidence of what was right burst on us as we called upon the Name of light? When we were discouraged, and well nigh crushed, by adversity, did not our heart take courage, when our tongue uttered the Name of help? All this is most true; for all these miseries are the sicknesses and faintings of our soul, and the Name of Jesus is our Medicine.

But, let us see how all this comes to pass. Call upon me in the day of trouble, says the Lord; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.[1] There is nothing which so restrains the impulse of anger, calms the swelling of pride, heals the wound of envy, represses the insatiability of luxury, smothers the flame of lust, quenches the thirst of avarice, and dispels the fever of uncleanliness—as the Name of Jesus. For when I pronounce this Name, I bring before my mind the Man, who, by excellence, is meek and humble of heart, benign, sober, chaste, merciful, and filled with everything that is good and holy, nay, who is the very God Almighty—whose example heals me, and whose assistance strengthens me. I say all this, when I say Jesus. Here have I my model, for he is Man; and my help, for he is God; the one provides me with precious drugs, the other gives them efficacy; and from the two I make a potion such as no physician knows how to make.

Here is the electuary, my soul, hid in the casket of this Name Jesus; believe me, it is wholesome, and good for every ailment thou canst possibly have. Ever have it with thee, in thy bosom and in thy hand; so that all thy affections and actions may be directed to Jesus.[2]

The feast of the Holy Name is of comparatively recent origin, its first promoter was St Bernardine of Siena, who lived in the fifteenth century. This holy man established the practice of representing the Holy Name of Jesus surrounded with rays, and formed into a monogram of its three first letters, ihs.[3] The custom spread rapidly through Italy, and was zealously propagated by the great St John of Capestrano, who, like St Bernardine of Siena, was of the Order of Friars Minor. The Holy See gave its formal approbation to this manner of honouring the Name of our Saviour, and, in the early part of the sixteenth century, Pope Clement VI, after long entreaties, granted to the whole Franciscan Order the privilege of keeping a special Feast in honour of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.

Rome extended the same favour to various Churches; and, at length, the Feast was inserted in the universal Calendar. It was in the year 1721, at the request of Charles VI, Emperor of Germany, that Pope Innocent XII decreed that the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus should be kept throughout the whole Church; he also chose the Second Sunday after the Epiphany as the day, but as we have already explained, the feast is now fixed for the Sunday following the Circumcision.


The Church begins her chants by proclaiming the glory of the Name of her Spouse. Heaven, earth, and hell! bow ye down at the sound of this adorable Name, for the Son of Man, who bears this Name, is also the Son of God.


In Nomine Jesu omne genu flectatur, cœlestium, terrestrium et infernorum; et omnis lingua confiteatur, quia Dominus Jesus Christus in gloria est Dei Patris.

Ps. Domine, Dominus noster, quam admirabile est Nomen tuum in universa terra! ℣. Gloria Patri. In Nomine Jesu.
At the Name of Jesus, let every knee bend in heaven, on earth, and under the earth; and every tongue confess, that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.

Ps. O Lord, our Lord, how wonderful is thy name over the whole earth, ℣. Glory. At the Name.

In the Collect, the Church, which, during her exile, finds consolation in the Name of her divine Spouse, prays that she may see his blessed face in heaven.


Deus, qui unigenitum Filium tuum constituisti humani generis Salvatorem, et Jesum vocari jussisti: concede propitius, ut cujus sanctum Nomen veneramur in terris, ejus quoque aspectu perfruamur in cœlis. Per eumdem.
O God, who didst appoint thy Only-Begotten Son the Saviour of mankind, and commandedst that his name should be called Jesus: mercifully grant, that we who venerate this holy Name on earth, may also enjoy his sight in heaven. Through the same, etc.

No commemoration is made of the Sunday; but on January 2, 3, or 4 the occurring Octave Day is commemorated in private Masses only; and on January 5 the Vigil of the Epiphany is commemorated in all Masses, and St Telesphorus, Pope and Martyr, in private Masses.


Lectio Actuum Apostolorum.

Cap. IV.

In diebus illis, Petrus Spiritu Sancto repletus, dixit: Principes populi, et seniores, audite: si nos hodie dijudicamur in benefacto hominis infirmi, in quo iste salvus factus est; notum sit omnibus vobis, et omni plebi Israel, quia in Nomine Domini nostri Jesu Christi Nazareni, quem vos crucifixistis, quem Deus suscitavit a mortuis, in hoc iste adstat coram vobis sanus. Hic est lapis qui reprobatus est a vobis ædificantibus, qui factus est in caput anguli; et non est in alio aliquo salus. Nec enim aliud nomen est sub cœlo datum hominibus, in quo oporteat nos salvos fieri.
Lesson from the Acts of the Apostles.

Ch. IV.

In those days: Peter being filled with the Holy Ghost, said: Ye princes of the people and ancients, hear. If we this day are examined concerning the good deed done to the infirm man, by what means he hath been made whole, be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God hath raised from the dead, even by him this man standeth here before you whole. This is the stone which was rejected by you the builders, which is become the head of the corner; neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved.

Oh! how true is this, dear Jesus! no other Name but thine could give us salvation, and thy Name means Saviour. Be thou praised for having taken such a Name! Be thou praised for having saved us! Thou art of heaven heavenly, and yet thou takest a Name of earth, and one which our mortal lips can say.

The holy Church then commences a second canticle in praise of this divine Name, which is blessed by all nations, for it is the name of him who redeemed them all.


Salvos fac nos, Domine Deus noster; et congrega nos de nationibus: ut confiteamur Nomini sancto tuo, et gloriemur in laude tua.

℣. Tu, Domine, Pater noster, et Redemptor noster; a sæculo nomen tuum.
Alleluia, alleluia.

. Laudem Domini loquetur os meum, et benedicat omnis caro Nomen sanctum ejus. Alleluia.

Save us, O Lord, our God! and gather us from amidst the nations: that we may give thanks to thy holy Name, and may glory in thy praise.

. Thou, Lord, art our Father and Redeemer; thy Name is from eternity.

Alleluia, alleluia.

. My mouth shall publish the praises of the Lord, and let all flesh bless his holy Name. Alleluia.

After Septuagesima, the following Tract is sung, instead of the Alleluia.


Domine, Deus virtutum, converte nos; et ostende faciem tuam et salvi erimus: sonet vox tua in auribus meis.

. Vox enim tua dulcis, et facies tua decora nimis.

. Oleum effusum Nomen tuum, Jesu; ideo adolescentulæ dilexerunt te.
Convert us to thee, O Lord God of hosts; and show thy face, and we shall be saved: let thy voice sound in my ears.

. For sweet is thy voice, and very beautiful is thy countenance.

. Thy Name, O Jesus, is as oil poured out; therefore have virgins loved thee.


Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Lucam.

Cap. II.

In illo tempore: Postquam consummati sunt dies octo, ut circumcideretur Puer, vocatum est Nomen ejus Jesus; quod vocatum est ab Angelo, priusquam in utero conciperetur.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Luke.

Ch. II.

At that time, After eight days were accomplished that the Child should be circumcised, his name was called Jesus, which was called by the angel, before he was conceived in the womb.

It is during the first shedding of thy Blood, by the Circumcision, that thou didst receive this Name of Jesus, dear Lord! and it was fitting that it should be so, for this Name signifies Saviour, and we could not be saved but by thy Blood. Our immortal life is to be purchased at the price of thy Death! This truth is expressed to us by thy Name, O Jesus! Saviour! Thou art the Vine, and thou invitest us to drink of thy delicious Wine; but the heavenly Fruit must be first unsparingly pressed in the wine-press of thy Eternal Father’s justice; we cannot drink of its juice, until it shall have been tom from the branch and bruised for our sakes. May thy sacred Name ever remind us of this sublime Mystery, and may the remembrance keep us from sin, and make us always faithful.

During the Offertory, the holy Church resumes her chants in honour of the Holy Name; she celebrates the mercies, which are reserved for all them that call on this Name.


Confitebor tibi, Domine Deus meus, in toto corde meo; et glorificabo Nomen tuum in æternum. Quoniam tu, Domine, suavis et mitis es, multæmisericordiæ omnibus invocantibus te. Alleluia.
I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify thy name for ever; because, O Lord, thou art good and gracious, and full of mercy towards all that call upon thee. Alleluia.


Benedictio tua, clementissime Deus, qua omnis viget creatura, sanctificet, quæsumus, hoc sacrificium nostrum, quod ad gloriam Nominis Filii tui Domini nostri Jesu Christi offerimus tibi: ut majestati tuæ piacere possit ad laudem, et nobis proficere ad salutem. Per eumdem.
May thy blessing, O most merciful God, by which every creature is enlivened and subsists, sanctify this our sacrifice, which we offer thee in honour of the name of thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: that it may be acceptable to the praise of thy majesty, and available to our salvation. Through the same, etc.

The Faithful having received the heavenly food—the Body and Blood of their Saviour, Jesus—the Church, filled with gratitude towards her Lord, invites all nations to glorify the Name of him who made and redeemed them.


Omnes gentes quascumque fecisti venient, et adorabunt coram te. Domine, et glorificabunt Nomen tuum: quoniam magnus es tu, et faciens mirabilia; tu es Deus solus. Alleluia.
All the nations thou hast made shall come and adore before thee, O Lord, and they shall glorify thy name, for thou art great and dost wonderful things: thou art God alone. Alleluia.

The holy Church has now but one more prayer to make: it is, that the names of her children may be written, under the glorious Name of 'Jesus,' in the book of eternal predestination, which is, as it were, the deed of the contract made with us by our Saviour. This happiness will assuredly be ours, if we are but wise enough to profit by all that this sweet Name offers us, and to make our life conformable to the lessons it teaches us.


Omnipotens, aeterne Deus, qui creasti et redemisti nos: respice propitius vota nostra, et sacrrficium salutaris hostiæ, quod in honorem Nominis Filii tui Domini nostri Jesu Christi, majestati tuæ obtulimus, placido et benigno vultu suscipere digneris; ut gratia tua nobis infusa, sub glorioso Nomine Jesu, æternæ prædestinationis titulo, gaudeamus nomina nostra scripta esse in cœlis. Per eumdem.
O Almighty and Eternal God, who didst both create and redeem us, mercifully hear our prayers, and vouchsafe, with a pleasing and kind countenance, to receive the sacrifice of this victim of our salvation, which we have offered to thy divine Majesty, in honour of the Name of thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ; that thy grace being poured upon us, through the glorious Name of Jesus as a pledge of our eternal predestination, we may rejoice that our names are written in heaven. Through the same, etc.


Ant. Omnis qui invocaverit Nomen Domini salvus erit.
Ant. Whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord, shall be saved.

Psalm: Dixit Dominus, p. 89.

Ant. Sanctum et terribile Nomen ejus: initium sapientiæ timor Domini.
Ant. Holy and terrible is his Name: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Psalm: Confitebor, p. 90.

Ant. Ego autem in Domino gaudebo, et exsultabo in Deo Jesu meo.
Ant. But I will rejoice in the Lord, and I will joy in God my Jesus.

Psalm: Beatus vir, p. 91.

Ant. A solis ortu usque ad occasum, laudabile Nomen Domini.
Ant. From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, the Name of the Lord is worthy of praise.

Psalm: Laudate pueri, p. 92.

Ant. Sacrificabo hostiam laudis, et Nomen Domini invocabo.
Ant. I will sacrifice the sacrifice of praise, and I will call upon the Name of the Lord.

Psalm 115

Credidi, propter quod locutus sum: * ego autem humiliatus sum nimis.
Ego dixi in excessu meo: * Omnis homo mendax.
Quid retribuam Domino, * pro omnibus, quæ retribuit mihi?
Calicem salutaris accipiam: * et Nomen Domini invocabo.
Vota mea Domino reddam coram omni populo ejus: * pretiosa in conspectu Domini mors sanctorum ejus.
O Domine, quia ego servus tuus: * ego servus tuus et filius ancillæ tuæ.
Dirupisti vincula mea: * tibi sacrificabo hostiam laudis, et Nomen Domini invocabo.
Vota mea Domino reddam in conspectu omnis populi ejus: * in atriis domus Domini, in medio tui Jerusalem.

I have believed, therefore have I spoken: but I have been humbled exceedingly.
I said in my excess: Every man is a liar.
What shall I render to the Lord, for all the things that he hath rendered to me?
I will take the chalice of salvation: and I will call upon the Name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord before all his people: precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.
O Lord, for I am thy servant: I am thy servant, and the son of thy handmaid.
Thou hast broken my bonds: I will sacrifice to thee the sacrifice of praise, and I will call upon the Name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the sight of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem.

(Phil, ii)

Fratres, Christus humiliavit semetipsum, factus obediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis: propter quod et Deus exaltavit ilium, et donavit illi Nomen quod est super omne nomen: ut in Nomine Jesu omne genu flectatur.
Brethren, Christ humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross; for which cause, God also hath exalted him, and hath given him a Name, which is above all names: that in the Name of Jesus every knee should bow.


Jesu, dulcis memoria,
Dans vera cordi gaudia:
Sed super mel et omnia,
Ejus dulcis præsentia.

Nil canitur suavius,
Nil auditur jucundius,
Nil cogitatur dulcius,
Quam Jesus Dei Filius.

Jesu, spes pœnitentibus,
Quam pius es petentibus!
Quam bonus te quærentibus!
Sed quid invenientibus?

Nec lingua valet dicere,
Nec littera exprimere;
Expertus potest credere,
Quid sit Jesum diligere.

Sis Jesu nostrum gaudium,
Qui es futurus præmium,
Sit nostra in te gloria,
Per cuncta semper sæcula.


℣. Sit Nomen Domini benedictum, Alleluia.
. Ex hoc nunc, et usque in sæculum, Alleluia.
Jesus! how sweet the remembrance of that name,
which gives true joy to the heart!
But, the sweet presence of him who bears that Name
is sweeter than honey and every pleasure.

No song is so sweet,
no word is so sweet,
no thought is so sweet as
Jesus, the Son of God!

Dear Jesus! thou hope of penitent hearts!
how merciful thou art to them that ask for thee!
how good to them that seek thee!
but, oh! what art thou to them that find thee!

No tongue can tell,
no pen can describe,
what it is to love Jesus.
He that has felt it, can alone believe the bliss.

Jesus! be thou our joy,
as thou wilt, one day,
be our reward.
May our glory for eternal ages be in thee.


℣. Blessed be the Name of the Lord, Alleluia.
. From henceforth, now, and for ever, Alleluia.

Antiphons Of The Magnificat

Ant. (1 Vp.). Fecit mihi magna qui potens est, et sanctum nomen ejus, alleluia.

Ant. (2 Vp.). Vocabis Nomen ejus Jesum; ipse enim salvum faciet populum suum a peccatis eorum. Alleluia.


Deus qui unigenitum Filium tuum constituisti humani generis Salvatorem, et Jesum vocari jussisti; concede propitius, ut, cujus sanctum Nomen veneramur in terris, ejus quoque aspectu perfruamur in cœlis. Per eumdem.

Ant. (1 Vp.). For he that is mighty has done great things to me, and holy is his Name, alleluia.

Ant. (2 Vp.). Thou shalt call his Name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins. Alleluia.

Let us Pray

O God, who didst appoint thy Only-Begotten Son, the Saviour of mankind, and commandedst that his Name should be called Jesus: mercifully grant, that we who venerate his holy Name on earth, may also enjoy his sight in heaven. Through the same, etc.

The two Hymns which follow, and which are used by the Church for the Matins and Lauds of the Feast, are by the same writer as the Hymn of Vespers, Jesu dulcis memoria. They were for a long time attributed to St Bernard; but Manuscripts have been found, which prove beyond a doubt, that they were composed by a holy Abbess of the Order of St Benedict, who lived in the fourteenth century.


Jesu, Rex admirabilis,
Et triumphator nobilis,
Dulcedo inefabilis,
Totus desiderabilis.

Quando cor nostrum visitas,
Tunc lucet ei veritas,
Mundi vilescit vanitas,
Et intus fervet charitas.

Jesu, dulcedo cordium,
Fons vivus, lumen mentium,
Excedens omne gaudium,
Et omne desiderium.

Jesum omnes agnoscite;
Amorera ejus poscite;
Jesum ardenter quærite,
Quærendo inardescite.

Te nostra, Jesu, vox sonnet.
Nostri te mores exprimant,
Te corda nostra diligant,
Et nunc et in perpetuum.


O Jesus! admirable King!
noble Conqueror!
ineffable Sweetness!
most lovely Jesus!

When thou visitest the heart,
then does truth shine upon her,
the vanity of the world grows contemptible,
and charity burns within.

O Jesus! Sweetness of the heart!
Fount of life! Light of the soul!
Thou surpassest every joy,
and every desire.

Acknowledge this Jesus, all ye people!
Pray for his love,
seek him with all eagerness,
and, as ye seek him, burn with love of him.

May our tongue proclaim thee, O Jesu!
may our lives reflect thy virtues!
may our hearts love thee,
both now and for eternity!



Jesu decus Angelicum,
In aure dulce canticum,
In ore mel mirificum,
In corde nectar cœlicum.

Qui te gustant esuriunt;
Qui bibunt adhuc sitiunt;
Desiderare nesciunt
Nisi Jesum, quem diligunt.

O Jesu, mi dulcissime,
Spes suspirantis animæ!
Te quærunt piæ lacrymæ,
Te clamor mentis intimæ.

Mane nobiscum, Domine,
Et nos illustra lumine;
Pulsa mentis caligine,
Mundum reple dulcedine.

Jesu, flos Matris virginis,
Amor nostræ dulcedinis,
Tibi laus, honor Nominis,
Regnum beatitudinis.


My Jesus, thou glory of the Angels!
Thou art sweet music to the ear,
sweetest honey to the mouth,
heavenly nectar to the heart!

They that taste thee, still hunger after thee;
they that drink, still thirst to drink;
they know not what to desire
save the Jesus whom they love.

O Jesus! my sweetest Jesus!
hope of this panting heart!
these tears of love, this cry of my innermost soul,
both ask thee to be mine.

Abide with us, O Lord!
and illumine us with light;
drive darkness from our souls,
and fill the world with thy sweetness.

To thee, O Jesus! thou Flower of thy Virgin-Mother,
thou love of our delighted nature!
be praise, and the honour of thy Name,
and the kingdom of eternal bliss.


The following Sequence is the composition of the devout Bernardine de Bustis, a Franciscan, who also composed, during the pontificate of Sixtus IV, an Office and a Mass of the Holy Name of Jesus.


Dulcis Jesus Nazarenus,
Judæorum Rex amœnus,
Pius, pulcher, floridus.

Pro salute suæ gentis
Subit mortem cum tormentis,
Factus pallens, lividus.

Dulce Nomen et cognomen,
Hoc transcendens est prænomen
Omnibus nominibus.

Mulcet reos, sanat eos;
Fovet justos, munit eos;
Servans ab insultibus.

Hujus Regis sub vexillo
Statu degis in tranquillo:
Hostes tui fugiunt.

Nomen Jesu meditatum
Belli fugat apparatum,
Hostes victi fugiunt.

Hoc est Nomen recolendum,
Quod sic semper est tremendum
Malignis spiritibus.

Hoc est Nomen salutare,
Et solamen singulare,
Quod succurrit tristibus.

Hoc nos decet honorare,
Arca cordis inserare,
Cogitare, peramare,
Amore sed heroico.

Ignatius hoc docuit,
Hoc passus insonuit,
Cor ejus scissum patuit
Inscriptum Jesu cœlico.

Ut quid majora cupimus
Quam quod Jesus sit intimus:
Qui est præamantissimus,
Et quærit nos amare.

Amat ferventissime,
Amat constantissime,
Amat fidelissime,
Et suos vult juvare.

Nomen suum fecit tale.
Ut sit cunctis cordiale,
Capitale, principale,
Dilectum ex intimis.

Habent hoc naturae jura:
Ut amantem tota cura
Redamemus, placitura
Præstantes ex animis.

Jesu Nomen omne bonum
Tenet, dulcem facit sonum:
Promeretur regni thronum,
Auditum lætificat.

In hoc lucet splendor Patris,
In hoc patet decor Matris:
In hoc fulget honor Patris,
Hoc fratres magnificat.

Ergo si quis velit scire
Quare Nomen Jesu mire
Facit bonos concupire
Sui inhærentia.

Jesu, pulcher in decore,
Summe bonus in valore,
Mitis, lenis, cum dulcore
Pronus ad clementiam.

Jesus est Rex gloriosus,
Jesus forma speciosus:
Jesus lingua gratiosus,
Et mirandus opere.

Jesus fortis, animosus,
Jesus pugil vigorosus,
Jesus donis copiosus,
Et gaudet tribuere.

Jesus pie viscerosus,
Jesus ductor luminosus,
Jesus est deliciosus,
Et sapit dulcissime.

Jesus fama gloriosus,
Jesus cunctis fructuosus,
Jesus totus virtuosus,
Fovet suos optime.

Summe celsus in honore,
Summe gratus in amore,
Omnem laudem obtinet.

In sciendo omne sapit,
Ambiendo cuncta capit,
Diligendo corda rapit,
Et illata detinet.

Eia nobis Nomen gratum,
Dulcis Jesus appellatum:
Sit in corde sic firmatum,
Ut non possit erui.

Hoc reatum peccatorum
Tollat, præstet jubilorum
Odas: sede beatorum
Donet nobis perfrui.


Sweet Jesus of Nazareth!
dear King of the Jews!
the good, the beautiful, the flowerlike Jesus!

He suffers death and torments
for the salvation of his people:
he is pale and livid with his wounds.

Sweet Name and epithet!
It is the Name
surpassing all names.

It softens the sinner's heart, and heals him:
it warms up the just, and strengthens them,
and defends them from temptation.

Under this King's standard,
thou livest in peace,
for thine enemies fly before thee.

Think upon the Name of Jesus,
and it will break up thine enemies' plans,
conquer them, and put them to flight.

This is the Name deserving of all honour,
at which the wicked spirits
ever tremble.

This is the Name of salvation,
and the wonderful consolation
which comforts the sorrowful.

It behoves us to honour this Name,
put it in the treasury of our heart,
think on it, love it,
but love it bravely.

Ignatius taught men this Name;
when he suffered martyrdom he had it on his lips,
and when his heart was opened,
there was found written on it this heavenly word Jesus.

What could we wish for better than this,
to have Jesus as a bosom-friend?
He is lovely above all measure,
and desires to love us.

He loves most ardently,
he loves most constantly,
he loves most faithfully,
and seeks how to assist his friends.

He made his own Name,
and he made it such as that all should love it above all names,
and before all names,
and more intimately than all other names.

This is nature’s law:
that we study our best to love him who loves us,
and cordially do all we can
to please him.

The Name of Jesus includes all good things;
its sound is sweet;
it merits for us a throne in the kingdom;
it gladdens our hearing.

The brightness of the Father shines in it;
the beauty of the Mother beams through it;
the honour of the Father is reflected in it;
the glory of the Brethren comes from it.

Would any one, therefore, know,
how it is that the Name of Jesus
so wonderfully causes the good
to desire him whose Name it is?

It is that Jesus is beautiful in comeliness,
infinitely good in worth,
meek, gentle, and sweetly
prone to mercy.

Jesus is the King of glory;
Jesus is beautiful in appearance;
Jesus is graceful in speech,
and admirable in his works.

Jesus is strong, and valiant;
Jesus is a vigorous combatant;
Jesus is generous in his gifts,
and loves to give.

Jesus is tenderly compassionate;
Jesus is the enlightened guide;
Jesus is the delight of all who know him,
and most sweet is his company.

Jesus is glorified throughout the world;
Jesus brings the fruit of blessings to all;
Jesus is the source of every virtue,
and takes the tenderest care of those that are his.

There is none equal to him in honour,
there is none like him in affection,
and all the earth praises him.

He knows all things,
and holds all things in his omnipresent providence;
his love wins him the hearts of his creatures
and keeps them fastened to himself.

All hail, then, to this Name so loved
—‘Sweet Jesus'!
May it be so fixed within our hearts,
that no power may take it from us!

May it bring us the forgiveness of our sins;
may it inspire us to hymn God's praise;
may it lead us to the possession
of our blissful throne in heaven.


We cannot refuse to our readers the following Hymn from the ancient Missals of Germany, notwithstanding its being, in several of the ideas and expressions, a repetition of the one just given.


Nomen jure sublimatum,
In excelsis adoratum,
Nomen summæ gloriæ:

Gabrieli revelatum,
Et in terris nunciatum
Genitrici gratiæ.

Hæc octavo die natum,
Circumcisum more patrum,
Salvatorem nominat.

Universo publicatum
Mundo Nomen hoc beatum
Credentes salvificat.

In hoc lucet Trinitatis
Splendor atque unitatis;
Hoc cœlum lætificat.

In hoc fulget honor Patris,
In hoc patet decor Matris,
Hoc fratres glorificat.

Hoc est Nomen salutare,
Et solamen singulare,
Quod succurrit tristibus.

Hoc nos decet honorare,
Benedicere, laudare
Semper lætis mentibus.

Hoc est melos prædicatum,
Dulce mel est invocatum,
Servat ab insultibus.

Jubilus est cogitatum,
Nomen mire formidatum
Malignis spiritibus.

Ecce Nomen gratiosum,
Fructuosum, virtuosum
Præ cunctis nominibus.

Vultum Dei gratiosum,
Speciosum, amorosum,
Ostendit hominibus.

Nomen pulchrum in decore,
Summe bonum in valore,
Intus sapit dulciter;

Summe potens in vigore,
Summe celsum in honore
Delectat feliciter.

Ergo Pastor animarum,
Bone Jesu, et earum
Lumen indeficiens,

Propter Nomen tuum carum
Tetrum chaos tenebrarum
Obstrue, nos muniens.

O Reformator cunctarum
Nationum humanarum,
Vita mortem auferens,
Restaurator ruinarum
Virtutum angelicarum,
Te ipsum sis largiens.


Jesus, Name so justly honoured,
adored in heaven,
and expressive of infinite glory!

It was revealed to Gabriel,
and announced on earth
to the Mother of divine grace.

She, on the eighth day,
when her Son had been circumcised according to the Jewish ceremony,
she called him Jesus.

The blessed Name was preached
to the whole world,
and saves them that believe.

The glory of the divine Trinity
and Unity blazes forth in this Name;
it gladdens heaven;

the brightness of the Father shines in it;
the beauty of the Mother beams through it;
the glory of the Brethren comes from it.

This is the Name of salvation,
and the wonderful consolation
which comforts the sorrowful.

It behoves us ever to honour,
and bless, and praise,
with joyful hearts, this dear Name.

It is music when preached to us;
it is sweet honey when invoked by us;
it defends us from temptation.

It is joy to us when we think on it,
and the wicked spirits are seized
with strange fear when they hear us say it.

This is the Name that is full of grace,
and fruit, and virtue,
above all names.

It makes known to men
the gracious, the beautiful,
the loving face of God.

It is fair in beauty,
it is surpassingly good in worth,
its inner relish is most sweet;

it is most powerful in energy,
most high in honour,
and gives a happy delight.

Do thou, therefore, good Jesus!
Shepherd and Light
unfailing of our souls!

defend us, and, for thy dear Name’s sake,
let not the dismal chaos of darkness
ingulf us.

O thou the Reformer
of all nations,
that destroyest death by thy Life!
O Restorer of the loss
sustained by the Angels,
give thyself unto us.

[1] Ps. xlix 15.
[2] Fifteenth Sermon on the Canticle of Canticles.
[3] The Name was, anciently, often written Ihesus; hence, in its contracted form alluded to, the letter h would be given: the e following was virtually included in the aspirate. [Translator.]
[4] In the Monastic Breviary, it is preceded by this Responsory. ℟.Adjutorium nostrum in Nomine Domini, * Alleluia, alleluia. Adjutorium. V. Qui fecit cœlum et terrain. * Alleluia. Gloria Patri. Adjutorium.

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

YESTERDAY we finished the Octave of the Birth of Jesus; to-day we shall finish the Octave of St Stephen; but this without losing sight one moment of the Divine Babe, whose Court is formed by Stephen, John the Beloved Disciple, the Holy Innocents, and St Thomas of Canterbury. In five days we shall see the Magi prostrate before the Crib of the new-born King; they are already on the way, and the Star is advancing towards Bethlehem. Let us spend the interval in reconsidering how great is the glory of our Emmanuel in his having lavished such extraordinary favours on these Saints whom he has chosen to be near him at his first coming into the world.

Let us begin with Stephen, for this is the last day of the Octave dedicated to him by the Church. We must take leave of him now till the month of August, when we shall again meet him on the Feast of the Finding of his Relics.

In a sermon which was for a long time thought to have been written by St Augustine, we find it mentioned that St Stephen was in the flower of his youth when he was called by the Apostles to receive the sacred character of deaconship. Six others were ordained deacons with him; and these seven, whose office was to minister at the Altar here below, represented the seven Angels, whom St John saw standing near the Altar in heaven. Stephen was appointed as the head of the Seven, and St Irenæus, who lived in the second century, calls him the Arch-Deacon.

The characteristic virtue of a Deacon is fidelity. Hence, he is intrusted with the care of the treasures of the Church, treasures which consist not merely in the alms destined for the poor, but in that which is the most precious thing in heaven and earth—the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, of which the Deacon is the minister, in virtue of his Order. For this reason, the Apostle St Paul, in his first Epistle to Timothy, bids the Deacons hold the Mystery of Faith in a pure conscience.[1]

It was, therefore, more than an appropriate coincidence, that the first of all the Martyrs was a Deacon, for Martyrdom is the great proof of fidelity, and fidelity is the official virtue of the Diaconate. This same truth is still more strongly impressed upon us by the fact that the three who stand pre-eminent amongst the Martyrs of Christ are vested in the holy Dalmatic—the three glorious Deacons: Stephen, the glory of Jerusalem; Laurence, the pride of Rome; and Vincent, of whom Spain so justly boasts. The present holy season gives us Stephen, who has been gladdening us with his festal presence ever since Christmas Day, and Vincent, whose feast falls on January 22. Laurence will come to us, with his rich waving Palm, in the sunny month of August; and Stephen, in the same month, will visit us, a second time, in the Feast of the Finding of his Relics.

With the intention of paying respect to the Holy Order of Deaconship in the person of its first representative, it is a custom in a great many Churches, on the Feast of St Stephen, that Deacons should fulfil every office which is not beyond their Order. For example, the Chanter yields his staff of office to a Deacon; the Choristers, who assist the Chanter, are also Deacons, vested in Dalmatics; and the Epistle of the Mass is sung by a Deacon, because it is the passage from the Acts of the Apostles which relates the history of the holy Martyr’s death.

The institution of St Stephen’s Feast, and its being fixed on the day immediately following that of our Lord’s Birth, are so ancient that it is impossible to assign their date. The Apostolic Constitutions, which were compiled at the latest towards the close of the third century, mention this Feast as already established, and that, too, on the morrow of Christmas Day. St Gregory of Nyssa and St Asterius of Amasea, both of them earlier than the miraculous discovery of the Holy Deacon’s Relics, have left us Homilies for the Feast of St Stephen, in which they lay stress on the circumstance of its having the honour to be kept the very day after the solemnity of Christmas. With regard to its Octave, the institution is less ancient, though the date cannot be defined. Amalarius, who wrote in the ninth century, speaks of this Octave as already established; and Notker's Martyrology, compiled in the tenth century, makes express mention of it.

But how comes it that the Feast of a mere Deacon has been thus honoured, whilst almost all those of the Apostles have no Octave? The rule followed by the Church in her Liturgy is to give more or less solemnity to the Feasts of the Saints, according to the importance of the services they rendered to mankind. Thus it is that the honour she pays to St Jerome, for example, who was only a Priest, is more marked than that she gives to a great number of holy Popes. It is her gratitude which guides her in assigning to the Saints their respective rank in her Calendar, and the devotion of the Faithful to the saintly benefactors whom she now venerates as members of the Church Triumphant is thus regulated by a safe standard. St Stephen led the way to Martyrdom; his example inaugurated that sublime witnessing by shedding one’s own blood, which is the very strength of the Church, ratifies the truths she teaches to the world, and confirms the hopes of eternal reward promised by those truths. Glory, then, and honour to the Prince of Martyrs! As long as time shall last, so long shall the Church on earth celebrate the name of Stephen, who was the first to shed his blood for the God who died on Calvary!

We have already noticed St Stephen's imitation of Jesus, by praying for and forgiving his enemies; it is the circumstance which the Church continually alludes to in her Office of his Feast. But there is another very important incident in the martyrdom of our Saint which we must, for a moment, dwell upon. One of the accomplices in the murder which was being committed under the walls of Jerusalem was a young man of the name of Saul. He made himself exceedingly active, for he was of an ardent temperament, and, as the Fathers observe, he helped every man who stoned the holy Deacon, because he took care of the murderers' garments whilst they committed the crime. Not long after, this same Saul, whilst travelling to Damascus, was converted into an Apostle of that Jesus whom he had heard Stephen confess as the Son of God. He was the fruit of Stephen's dying prayer. The blood of Stephen cried to heaven for mercy, and heaven sent to the Gentiles the Apostle who would bring them to the knowledge and love of Jesus. ‘What an admirable scene!’ cries out St Augustine. ‘Here is Stephen being stoned, and Saul taking care of the garments of them that stone him. But this Saul is now Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ, and Stephen is the servant of Jesus Christ. ... O Saul! thou hast been prostrated, and raised up again: prostrated a persecutor, raised up a preacher. Everywhere are thy Epistles read; everywhere art thou bringing to Christ them that are his enemies; everywhere art thou the good Shepherd, surrounded by a numerous flock. Thou art now reigning with Christ, in company with him thou didst once stone. Both of you are looking upon us; both of you now hear what I am saying; do both of you pray, also, for us. He who crowned you both will hear both. Stephen was a lamb; Saul was a wolf; now both are lambs, and both will acknowledge us as of the flock of Christ, and will pray for us, that the Church of their Master may be blessed with a peaceful and tranquil life.’[2] Stephen and Paul both visit us during this grand season of Christmas; for we shall keep the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul on January 25; and thus Stephen leads his spiritual conquest to the Crib of their common Lord and Master.

Catholic piety has chosen St Stephen as one of the Patrons of a Happy Death. This choice was suggested by the death of the Holy Martyr: a death so tranquil that the Scripture calls it a Sleep, in spite of the cruel torture to which his executioners put him. Let us, therefore, beg the intercession of St Stephen for that awful hour of our death, when we must return to our Creator these souls of ours; nay, let us ask him to pray that we may be habitually in such a disposition of mind as to be ever ready to make the total sacrifice of the life which God has given to us: it was a sacred deposit he intrusted to our keeping, which we were to hold in readiness for him whensoever he might demand it at our hands.

The Mass is given above, p. 228, except the Collect, which is as follows:


Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui primitias Martyrum in beati LevitæStephani sanguine dedicasti: tribue, quæsumus, ut pro nobis intercessor existat, qui pro suis etiam persecutoribus exoravit Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, Filium tuum.
O Almighty and eternal God, who didst consecrate the firstfruits of Martyrdom in the blood of blessed Stephen the Levite; grant, we beseech thee, that he may intercede for us, who even for his persecutors begged mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son.

Commemoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Deus qui salutis æternæ, beatæ Mariæ virginitate fœcunda, humano generi præmia præstitisti; tribue, quæsumus, ut ipsam pro nobis intercedere sentiamus, per quam meruimus auctorem vitæ suscipere, Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum.
O God, who, by the fruitful Virginity of the Blessed Mary, hast given to mankind the rewards of eternal salvation, grant, we beseech thee, that we may experience her intercession, by whom we received the Author of life, our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son.

The third Prayer is one of the following:

Against the persecutors of the Church

Ecclesiæ tuæ, quæsumus, Domine, preces placatus admitte: ut, destructis adversitatibus et erroribus universis, secura tibi serviat libertate.
Mercifully hear, we beseech thee, O Lord, the prayers of thy Church, that all oppositions and errors being removed, she may serve thee with a secure and undisturbed devotion.

For the Pope

Deus omnium fidelium Pastor et Rector, famulum tuum N. quem Pastorem Ecclesiæ tuæ praeesse voluisti, propitius respice; da ei, quæsumus, verbo et exemplo, quibus præest, proficere; ut ad vitam, una cum grege sibi credito, perveniat sempiternam. Per Dominum.
O God, the Pastor and Governor of all the Faithful, look down in thy mercy on thy servant N. whom thou hast appointed Pastor over thy Church; and grant, we beseech thee, that, both by word and example, he may edify all those that are under his charge, and, with the flock intrusted to him, arrive, at length, at eternal happiness. Through, etc.


Commemoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Tua, Domine, propitiatione, et beatæ Mariæ semper Virginis intercessione, ad perpetuam atque præsentem hæc oblatio nobis proficiat prosperitatem et pacem.
Being appeased, O Lord, by the intercession of blessed Mary ever Virgin, grant that this oblation may avail for our present and lasting prosperity and peace.

Against the persecutors of the Church

Protege nos, Domine, tuis mysteriis servientes: ut divinis rebus inhærentes, et corpore tibi famulemur et mente.
Protect us, O Lord, while we assist at thy sacred mysteries, that being employed in acts of religion, we may serve thee both in body and mind.

For the Pope

Oblatis, quæsumus, Domine, placare muneribus, et famulum tuum N., quem Pastorem Ecclesiæ tuæ præesse voluisti, assidua protectione guberna. Per Dominum.
Be appeased, O Lord, with the offering we have made, and cease not to protect thy servant N., whom thou hast been pleased to appoint Pastor over thy Church. Through, etc.


Commemoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Hæc nos communio, Domine, purget a crimine; et intercedente beata Virgine Dei Genitrice Maria, cœlestis remedii faciat esse consortes.
May this communion, O Lord, cleanse us from sin, and by the intercession of blessed Mary, the Virgin-Mother of God, make us partakers of thy heavenly remedy.

Against the persecutors of the Church

Quæsumus, Domine Deus noster, ut quos divina tribuis participatione gaudere, humanis non sinas subjacere periculis.
We beseech thee, O Almighty God, not to leave exposed to the dangers of human life, those whom thou hast permitted to partake of these divine mysteries.

For the Pope

Hæc nos, quæsumus, Domine, divini sacramenti perceptio protegat: et famulum tuum N., quem Pastorem Ecclesiæ tuæ præesse voluisti, una cum commisso sibi grege, salvet semper et muniat. Per Dominum.
May the participation of this divine Sacrament protect us, we beseech thee, O Lord; and always procure safety and defence to thy servant N., whom thou hast appointed Pastor over thy Church, together with the flock committed to his charge. Through, etc.

We will now select from the ancient Liturgies a few additional pieces in honour of our Saint. We begin with two Responsories as given in the Roman Breviary.

℟. Stephanus, servus Dei, quem lapidabant Judæi, vidit cœlos apertosi vidit et introivit: * Beatus homo, cui cœli patebant.

℣. Cum igitur saxorum crepitantium turbine quateretur, inter æthereos aulæ cœlestis sinus divina ei Claritas fulsit. * Beatus homo.

℟. Patefactæ sunt januæ cœli Christi Martyri beato Stephano, qui in numero Martyrum inventus est primus: * Et ideo triumphat in cœlis coronatus.

. Mortem enim, quam Salvator noster dignatus est pro nobis pati, hanc ille primus reddidit Salvatori. * Et ideo.

℟. Stephen, the servant of God, whom the Jews stoned, saw the heavens opened; he saw and entered: * Blessed man, to whom the heavens were opened.

℣. While, therefore, the loud pelting of the storm of stones was beating against him, a divine brightness shone upon him from the ethereal recesses of the heavenly court. * Blessed man.

℟. The gates of heaven were thrown open to Stephen, the blessed Martyr of Christ, who was the first among the Martyrs. * And he therefore triumphs in heaven, with his Crown upon him.

℣. For he was the first to pay back to the Saviour the Death our Saviour deigned to suffer for us. * And he.

The Church of Milan, in its Ambrosian Missal, consecrates this Preface to the praise of the Prince of Martyrs.


Vere dignum et justum est, æquum et salutare, nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere, aeterne Deus: qui Levitarum præconem vocasti Stephanum. Hic tibi primus dedicavit Martyrii nomen: hic tibi inchoavit primus effundere sanguinem: hic meruit videre cœlos apertos, et Filium stantem ad dexteram Patris. In terris hominem adorabat, et in cœlo Filium Patris esse clamabat. Hic Magistri verba referebat; quia, quod Christus dixit in cruce, hoc Stephanus docuit in sanguinis sui morte. Christus in cruce indulgentiam seminabat: et Stephanus pro suis lapidatoribus Dominum supplicabat.
It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should always and in all places give thanks to thee, O Eternal God, who didst call Stephen to be the first of Deacons. He was the first that dedicated unto thee the offering of Martyrdom: he was the first to shed his blood for thee: he it was that merited to see the heavens opened, and the Son standing at the right hand of the Father. He adored Jesus the Man-God on earth, and he proclaimed him to be the Son of the Father in heaven. He repeated the words of his Master; for what Christ said on the cross, that did Stephen teach when shedding his blood in death. Christ on the Cross sowed the seed of his pardon: so did Stephen beseech his Lord to have mercy on them that stoned him.

The same Liturgy has the following Collect for St Stephen’s Feast.


Ministrantium tibi, Deus, eruditor et rector, qui Ecclesiæ tuæprimordia beati Levitæ Stephani ministerio et pretioso martyrii sanguine decorasti; da, quæsumus: ut in excessu nostro veniam consequentes, mereamur exemplis ejus imbui, et intercessionibus adjuvari. Per Dominum Jesum Christum.
O God, the teacher and ruler of them that are thy ministers, who didst adorn the early days of thy Church by the ministry and precious blood of blessed Stephen the Levite; grant, we beseech thee, that meeting with pardon at the hour of our death, we may deserve to follow his example, and be aided by his intercession. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Gothic Liturgy of Spain gives us, in its Mozarabic Missal, the following admirable Prayer to St Stephen.


Beatissime Stephane, Protomartyr, vocabitur tibi nomen novum, quod os Domini nominavit: ut qui mortem pro illo sumeres, coronam per ilium et nomine et virtute susciperes: primus in Martyrio, primus in præmio; primus in aula mundi, primus in aula cœli: ut hic pro Christo lapidatus, illic ab ipso coronatus, exsuites; ut pro quo hic crudelissimam sustinuisti pœnam, illic pretiosissimam susciperes coronam: ergo qui exstitisti Ecclesiæ primitivus, nunc esto patronus assiduus: ut sit Christus nobis, te precante, propitius, pro quo Martyr exstitisti mirificus.
Most blessed Protomartyr Stephen! thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord hath named: for that thou, who didst suffer death for him, didst by him receive a Crown for thy name and a Crown for thy virtue. Thou wast the first in Martyrdom and first in its reward; first Martyr in the world, and the first in the courts of heaven. Here stoned for Christ; there exulting in the Crown he gave thee. Here thou didst suffer, for his sake, the most cruel torments; there thou didst receive the most precious Crown. Thou, therefore, that wast the first flower of the Church, be now her untiring patron; that so, by thy prayers, that Jesus for whose sake thou wast a glorious Martyr may be merciful unto us.

The following Hymn, remarkable for its unction and simplicity of style, is to be found in most of the ancient Roman-French Breviaries.


Sancte Dei pretiose
Protomartyr Stephane,
Qui virtute charitatis
Circumfultus undique,
Dominum pro inimico
Exorasti populo:

Tu cœlestis primitivus
Signifer militiæ,
Veritatis assertivus,
Testis primus gratiæ,
Fundamento lapis vivus,
Basis patientiæ.

Saxo cæsus, non mucrone,
Per saxorum cuspides,
Corpus membri passione
Circumcidi prævides:
Ad decorem sunt coronæ
Rubricati lapides.

Tu cœlorum primus stratam
Consternis lapideam,
Tu per Christum hebetatam
Primus transis rhomphæam,
Primum granum trituratum,
Ditans Christi aream.

Tibi primum reseratæ
Cœli patent januæ,
Jesum vides potestate,
Cui pugnas strenue;
Stans cum Patris majestate
Tecum est assidue.

Funde preces pro devoto
Tibi nunc collegio,
Ut tuo propitiatus
Interventu Dominus
Nos purgatos a peccatis
Jungat cœli civibus.

Gloria et honor Deo,
Qui te fiore roseo
Coronavit et locavit
In throno sidereo:
Salvet reos, solvens eos
A mortis aculeo.

O holy Protomartyr Stephen,
most dear to God!
in the virtue of charity wherewith
thou wast armed on every side,
thou didst beseech the Lord
to have mercy on thine enemies.

Thou art the Standardbearer
of heaven’s martyr-host;
the herald of truth;
the first witness of Christian grace;
the living foundation-stone,
and ground-work of martyrdom.

Stones were the instrument of thy martyrdom, not the sword. The sharp-edged stones,
like knives of a second circumcision,
tore thine innocent flesh;
but, tinged in thy blood,
they were made rubies for thy Crown.

Thou wast the first to tread the stony rugged path
that leads to heaven; thou wast the first to breast that sword
which had slain our Lord
and lost its keen edge by piercing him;
thou wast the earliest winnowed wheat that graced the granaries of Christ.

To thee were heaven’s gates first opened,
showing thee Jesus in his power,
for whom thou didst so bravely fight:
He, standing at the right hand
of his Father’s majesty,
is with thee incessantly.

Pray now for this thy devout people,
that our Lord,
through thy prayers,
may mercifully forgive us our sins,
and grant us fellowship
with the citizens of heaven.

Glory and honour to the God
who gave thee thy Crown of roses
and thy throne above the stars.
May he free us
from the sting of death,
and save us sinners.


We will close our selection with a Sequence composed by Notker; we find it in the collection of St Gall.


Hanc concordi famulatu, colamus solemnitatem,

Auctoris illius exemplo docti benigno,
Pro persecutorum precantis fraude suorum.
O Stephane, signifer Regis summe boni, nos exaudi:
Proficue qui es pro tuis exauditus inimicis.
Paulus tuis precibus, Stephane, te quondam persecutus Christo credit,
Et tecum tripudiat in regno, cui nullus persecutor appropinquat:
Nos proinde, nos supplices ad te clamantes et precibus te puisantes,
Oratio sanctissima nos tua semper conciliet Deo nostro.
Te Petrus Christi ministrum statuit: Tu Petro normam credenti adstruis, ad dextram summi Patris ostendendo, quem plebs furens crucifixit.
Se tibi Christus eligit, Stephane, per quem fideles suos corroboret, se tibi inter rotatus saxorum solatio manifestans.
Nunc inter inclytas Martyrum purpuras coruscas coronatus.

Let us solemnize this Feast in the union of fraternal charity,
Instructed by the sweet example of its Saint

Who prayed for his guilty persecutors.
Hear us, O Stephen, thou standard-bearer of the infinitely merciful King,
Who heard the prayers thou didst offer him for thine enemies.
By thy prayers, O Stephen, that very Paul who once persecuted thee was converted to believe in Jesus,
And now exults with thee in that Kingdom, nigh which no persecutors come.
We, then, who humbly cry to thee for pity, and besiege thee with our prayers,
We, surely, shall be reconciled to our God by thy most holy prayers.
Peter ordained thee as a minister of Christ: and thou to the faithful Peter didst affirm and show this truth, that he whom the mad populace crucified is at the right hand of the Father.
Christ chose thee, O Stephen! as the example whereby he would give courage to his faithful ones, for he showed himself to thee amidst the shower of stones, and sweetly consoled thee.
Now amidst the red-robed army of the Martyrs thou shinest as The Crowned Prince.

We return thee our grateful thanks, O glorious Stephen! for the help thou hast given us in this great Feast of Christmas. It is thy yearly office to initiate us into the sublime mystery of the Birth of Jesus. Thy Feast ever brings us into the company of this Divine Child, and the Church trusts thee to reveal him to the hearts of her children, as thou heretofore didst to the Jews. Thou hast done thy work, dear Saint! and here is our faith: we adore this Babe of Bethlehem as the Word of God; we hail him as our King; we offer ourselves to him, to serve him as thou didst; we acknowledge his absolute right over us, and our obligation of serving him even to the last drop of our blood, should he put our loyalty to that great test. Stephen, Faithful Deacon! pray for us, that we may have the grace to give our whole heart to Jesus from this time forward; that we may use our best efforts to please him; and that we may conform our lives and affections to his blessed will. Doing this, we shall have the grace to fight his Fight, if not before tyrants and persecutors, at least before the base passions of our own hearts. We are the descendants of the Martyrs, and the Martyrs conquered the world; for Jesus, the Babe of Bethlehem, had conquered it before them: shall we, then, be cowards, and re-enslave ourselves to our eternal enemy? Obtain for us also that fraternal charity which pardons every injury, and prays for them that hate us, and converts sinners and heretics when all means else have failed. O valiant Martyr of Jesus! watch over us at the hour of our death; assist us in our agony; show us that Jesus whom thou hast shown us so often as the dear Babe of Bethlehem; show us him then as the glorified, the triumphant, but above all as the merciful Jesus, holding in his divine hands the Crown he has prepared for us; and may our last words be those which thou didst utter when going to thy God: Lord Jesus! receive my Spirit![3]

[1] 1 Tim. iii 9.
[2] Sermon 316: The Third for the Feast of St Stephen.
[3] Acts vii 58.