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From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

THE Magi have reached Bethlehem; the humble dwelling of the King of the Jews has been thrown open to them; there, says St Matthew, they found the Child with Mary his Mother.[1] Falling down, they adore the divine King they have so fervently sought after, and for whom the whole earth has been longing.

Here we have the commencement of the Christian Church. In this humble stable we have the Son of God made Man, presiding as Head over his mystical body; Mary is present, as the co-operatrix in the world's salvation, and as the Mother of divine Grace; Juda is represented by this holy Queen and her Spouse St Joseph; the Gentiles are adoring, in the person of the Magi, whose faith is perfect now that they have seen the Child. It is not a Prophet that they are honouring, nor is it to an earthly King that they open their treasures; he before whom they prostrate in adoration is their God. ‘See, I pray you,’ says St Bernard, ‘and attentively consider how keen is the eye of faith. It recognizes the Son of God whether feeding at his Mother's breasts, or hanging on the Cross, or dying in the midst of suffering; for the Good Thief recognizes him on the Cross, and the Magi recognize him in the stable; he in spite of the nails which fasten him, and they in spite of the clouts which swathe him.’[2]

So that all is consummated, Bethlehem is not merely the birthplace of our Redeemer; it is the cradle of the Church. Well did the Prophet say of it: And thou, Bethlehem, art not the least among the princes of Juda.[3] We can understand St Jerome leaving all the ambitions and comforts of Rome to go and bury himself in the seclusion of this cave, where all these mysteries were accomplished. Who would not gladly live and die in this privileged place, sanctified as it is by the presence of our Jesus, embalmed with the fragrance of the Queen of Heaven, filled with the lingering echoes of the songs of Angels, and fresh, even yet, with the memory of those ancestors of our faith, the holy Magi!

These happy kings are not scandalized at the sight they behold on entering the humble dwelling. They are not disappointed at finding at the end of their long journey a weak Babe, a poor Mother, and a wretched stable. On the contrary, they rightly understand the mystery. Once believing in the promise that the Infinite God would visit his creature Man, and show him how he loved him, they are not surprised at seeing him humble himself, and take upon himself all our miseries that he might be like us in all save sin. Their own hearts told them that the wound inflicted on man by pride was too deep to be healed by anything short of an extreme remedy; so that to them these strange humiliations at Bethlehem bespeak the design and action of a God. Israel, too, is in expectation of the Messias, but he must be mighty and wealthy and exalted above all other kings in earthly glory; the Magi, on the contrary, see in the humility and poverty of this weak Babe of Bethlehem the indications of the true Messias. The grace of God has triumphed in these faithful men; they fall down before him, and, full of admiration and love, they adore him.

Who could describe the sweet conversations they held with his blessed Mother? for the King himself, of whom they were come in search, broke not, even for their sakes, the voluntary silence he had imposed on himself by becoming an Infant. He accepted their homage, he sweetly smiled upon them, he blessed them; but he would not speak to them; Mary alone was to satisfy, by her sublime communications, the holy curiosity of the three pilgrims, who represented the entire human race. How amply must she not have rewarded their faith and love, by announcing to them the Mystery of that virginal Birth which was to bring salvation to the world; by telling them of the joys of her own maternal heart; and by describing to them the sweet perfections of the divine Child! They themselves would fix their eyes on the blessed Mother, and listen to her every word with devout attention; and oh! how sweetly must not divine grace have penetrated their hearts through the words of her whom God himself has chosen as the means to lead men to the knowledge and the love of his sovereign Majesty! The star which, but an hour ago, had brightly shone for them in the heavens, was replaced by another, of a lovelier light and stronger influence; and it prepared them for the contemplation of that God who calls himself the bright and morning Star![4] The whole world seemed now a mere nothing in their eyes; the stable of Bethlehem held within it all the riches of heaven and earth. They had shared in that long expectation of the human race, the expectation of four thousand years—and now it seemed but as a moment, so full and perfect was their joy at having found the God who alone can satisfy the desires of man's heart.

They understood and entered into the merciful designs of their Emmanuel; they gratefully and humbly contracted with him the alliance he so mercifully made, through them, with the human race; they adored the just judgements of God, who was about to cast off an unbelieving people; they rejoiced at the glories of the Christian Church, which had thus been begun in their persons; they prayed for us, their posterity in that same Church.

We, dear Babe of Bethlehem!—we, the Gentiles, who by our regeneration have become the posterity of these first Christians—we adore thee as they did. Since their entrance into Bethlehem, long ages have passed away; but there has been an unbroken procession of people and nations tending towards thee under the guidance of the Star of Faith. We have been made members of thy Church, and we adore thee with the Magi. In one thing are we happier than these firstborn of the Church; we have heard thy sacred words and teachings, we have contemplated thy sufferings and thy Cross, we have been witnesses of thy Resurrection, we have heard the whole universe, from the rising to the setting of the sun, hymning thy blessed and glorious Name: well may we adore and love thee as King of the earth! The Sacrifice whereby all thy Mysteries are perpetuated and renewed is now offered up daily in every part of the world; the voice of thy Church is heard speaking to all men; and all this light and all these graces are ours! The Church, the ever-enduring Bethlehem, the House of the Bread of Life, gives thee to us; and we are for ever feasting on thy adorable beauty. Yea, sweet Jesus, we adore thee with the Magi.

And thou, O Mary! teach us as thou didst teach the Magi. Unfold to us, and each year more clearly, the sweet Mystery of thy Jesus, and at length win us over unreservedly to his service. Thou art our Mother; watch over us, and suffer us not to lose any of the lessons he teaches us. May Bethlehem, wherein we have entered in company with the holy Magi, work in us the renovation of our whole lives.

Let us close the day by reciting some of the ancient hymns written in honour of the Mystery of our new-born King. Let us begin with these stanzas of one composed by St Ambrose.

Hymn

Fit porta Christi pervia,
Referta plena gratia,
Transitque Rex, et permanet
Clausa ut fuit per sæcula.

Genus superni Numinis
Processit aula Virginis,
Sponsus, Redemptor, conditor,
Suæ gigas Ecclesiæ.

Honor Matris et gaudium,
Immensa spes credentium,
Per atra mortis pocula
Resolvit nostra crimina.

Lapis de monte veniens,
Mundumque replens gratia,
Quem non præcisum manibus
Vates vetusti nuntiant.

Qui Verbum caro factus est
Præconio angelico,
De claustris virginalibus
Virginis virgo natus est.

Rorem dederunt æthera,
Nubesque justum fuderunt,
Patens excepit Dominum
Terra salutem generans.

Mirabilis conceptio:
Christum protulit sobolem,
Ut Virgo partum funderet,
Post partum virgo sisteret.

Exsulta omnis anima,
Nunc Redemptorem gentium
Mundi venisse Dominum
Redimere quos condidit.

Creator cuncti generis,
Orbis quem totus non capit,
In tua, sancta Genitrix,
Sese reclusit viscera.

Quem Pater ante tempora
Deus Deumque genuit,
Matris almæ virginitas
Cum tempore partum edidit.

Tollens cuncta facinora.
Et donans sancta munera,
Augmentum lucis afferens,
Tenebris damnum inferens.
The Gate of Christ is opened
—a Gate all filled with grace:
—the King passes, and the Gate remains
shut, as it had for ever been

The Son of the infinite God
came forth from the Virgin's womb:
he is the Spouse, Redeemer, Creator,
and (as the Psalm speaks) the Giant of his Church.

He is the glory and the joy of his Mother;
he is the immense hope of them that believe in him.
He drank the bitter cup of death,
and so absolved our sins.

He is the Stone that came from the mountain,
filling the world with grace.
The ancient prophets tell us that this Stone is to come,
and is not to be cut by the hand.

It is he, the Word, who was made Flesh
as the Angel was speaking;
He was born a Virgin
from the Virgin’s virginal womb.

The heavens gave forth their Dew,
and the clouds rained down the Just One;
the earth opens
and buds forth its Saviour, our Lord.

O wonderful conception!
the Child it has produced is Christ,
and the Mother that was Virgin in giving him birth
remained a Virgin after she had given him birth.

Let every soul be glad,
for the Redeemer of nations,
the Lord of the world,
is come to redeem the creatures he had made.

The Creator of the human race,
whom the whole world is too little to hold,
has hid himself, O holy Mother!
in thy womb.

He that was born of his Father
before all ages, God of God,
is now born in time
of his dear Virgin-Mother.

He takes away all sin,
and gives his sacred gifts;
he brings increase of light,
and breaks the power of night.

The following prayer is from the Breviary of the Gothic Church of Spain.

Prayer

Domine Jesu Christe, qui ad interrogationem Herodis, ita Magorum ora præconio veritatis tuæ irradias, ut te Regem regum per eos nuntiatum ostendas, dum se vidisse aiunt stellæ refulgentis indicium, quod mundum illuminet universum: Te quæsumus, te precamur, ut des in Ecclesia tua visionis tuæ lumen optatum: appareas etiam in ea sidus omnibus pretiosum, quod nulla adversarii interrogatione deterriti, sic magnalia tua prædicemus ore diffuso, ut in æternæ lucis radiemus usquequaque præsidio. Amen.
O Lord Jesus Christ, who, when the Magi were questioned by Herod, didst enlighten them with the announcement of thy truth by showing thyself to be the King of kings whom they declared by saying that they had seen thy sign, the bright Star, which gives light to the whole world: we beseech and implore thee that thou grant to thy Church the light she so much desires of thy vision. Show thyself also in her as the Star prized by all; that so, when questioned by our enemy, we may not be afraid, but may so boldly confess thy mysteries as that we may shine for all eternity in the mansion of eternal light. Amen.

The Church of Syria received the following Hymn of the Magi from her admirable Poet, St Ephrem.

Hymn

Exsultantes Principes Persidis ex sua regione acceperunt munera, et Filio Virginis attulerunt aurum, myrrham et incensum.

Ingressi ut infantem repererunt illum in domo jacentem pauperculæ: at procidentes exsultando adoraverunt eum, et suos ipsi obtulerunt thesauros.

Dixit Maria: Cui hæc? et ad quid? et quæ causa vocavit vos ex vestra regione, ut ad puerum cura thesauris vestris veniretis?

Respondent illi: Rex est filius tuus, et diademata connectit cum sit Rex omnium, altiusque mundo est regnum ejus, ac imperioipsiussingula parent.

Quando contigit hoc unquam, ut paupercula Regem pariat? Inops sane sum, ac egena, undeque mihi erit ut Regem pariam?

Tibi soli hoc contigit, ut magnum Regem parias; et per te magnificabitur paupertas, filioque tuo subjicientur diademata.

Non sunt mihi gazæ regum, nec divitiæ unquam mihi obvenerunt; domus en paupercula est, et vacuum domicilium: cur ergo filium meum Regem prædicatis?

Gazæ magnæ est filius tuus, et divitiæ, quæ omnes ditare valent; gazæ namque regum deficiunt; ille vero nec deficiet, nec mensurabitur.

Ne alius forte sit vester Rex, qui natus est, hunc perquirite; etenim hic pauperculæ est filius, quæ Regem vel videre nequit.

Numquid fieri unquam potest, ut aberret viam lumen, quando immittitur? Siquidem non tenebræ nos vocarunt et adduxerunt: sed in lumine ambulavimus, et filius tuus Rex est.

Ecce videtis infantem silientem, et matris domum inanem et vacuam, nullumque in ea Regis apparere vestigium; quomodo ergo ejusmodi incolans domum Rex est?

Ecce sane videmus ilium silentem, et quietum; sed Regem, etsi pauperem, ut dixisti: at videmus etiam eum suo commovere imperio astra cœli, ut prænuntient ortum ejus.

Parvulus est infans, et ecce, ut cernitis, nec diadema regium habet, nec thronum: quid ergo videtis ut honoretis eum thesauris vestris, ut Regem?

Parvulus est, quia ipse voluit, et diliget mansuetudinem, et humilitatem, donec manifestetur. At erit tempus, cum incurvabuntur illi diademata, ac illum adorabunt.

Virtutes nullas habet, neque legiones; neque cohortes filius meus, in paupertate suæ jacet matris; et Rex a vobis quomodo appellatur?

Virtutes filii tui desuper sunt, cœlum equitant, et micant flammis, ex quorum numero unus nos vocare venit, totaque perterrita est regio nostra.
The Persian Princes were filled with joy, and took with them such gifts as their country yielded, and brought to the Son of the Virgin gold, myrrh, and frankincense.

Having entered, they found the Child lying in the house of a poor maid: but falling down they adored him with much joy, and offered him their treasures.

Mary spoke to them and said: To whom offer ye these things? and why offer ye them? what has brought you from your country, to come to my Child with your treasures?

They answered: Thy Child is King, and all diadems are made by him, for he is the King of all kings, and his kingdom is above this world, and all things are subject to his dominion.

But how could this have happened, that a poor maid should have given birth to a King? I am indeed needy and poor: could I have brought forth a King?

Thou alone hast had this happiness, to give birth to the great King. Poverty shall now be honoured on thy account, and thrones shall be subject to thy Son.

But I have no treasures such as kings have, nor did I ever possess riches. Lo! my house is little and poor, and empty is this my dwelling: why then call you my Son King?

Thy Son himself is treasure and riches enough to enrich all men; for the treasures of kings fail; but he shall never fail, and there shall be no limits to his wealth.

Go, seek this your King, who is born; for this Babe is the Child of a poor maid, who would not be allowed to even look at a king.

No, it cannot be that light sent down from heaven can mislead us. It is not darkness that has called and guided us; but we have walked in the light, and thy Son is King.

But this Babe is speechless, and his Mother’s house is poor and empty, and there is nought here that suits a King: how can he be King that dwells in such a house?

Silent indeed he is, and motionless, and as thou sayest, poor; still is he King, for we have seen him move the stars of heaven, when he bade them proclaim his birth.

He is but a tiny Babe, and as you see, he has neither crown nor throne: what is it that makes you honour him with your treasures, as though he were a King?

He is a little Child, for he wished so to be, and he will love meekness and humility, until the day shall come for him to show himself: but the time shall be when crowned heads shall bow before him and adore him.

My Son has no troops or legions or armies, but lies couched as best his Mother's poverty can provide: how, then call you him King?

The armies of thy Child are there above, they ride on the clouds of heaven, and light up the firmament with their brightness, and one of their number came down to call us, and all our people were in consternation.

As our offering to our Lady, we will recite this beautiful Sequence, which our own dear England used to sing in the Middle Ages.

Sequence

Flos pudicitiæ,
Aula munditiæ,
Mater misericordiæ.

Salve, Virgo serena,
Vitæ vena,
Lux amœna,
Rore plena
Septiformis Spiritus,
Virtutibus Ornantibus,
Ac moribus Vernantibus!

Rosa jucunda,
Castitatis lilium,
Prole fœcunda,
Gignis Dei Filium;
Virgoque munda
Tu post puerperium.

Modo miro,
Sine viro,
Prole fœcundaris.

Summi Ducis,
Veræ lucis
Partu decoraris.

Virga, flore,
Rubo, rore
Virgo designaris.

Vellereque
Madenteque
Digna Domini paris.

Virgo prolem,
Stella solem,
Profers, expers paris.

Ob hoc rite,
Via vitæ
Jure prædicaris.

Tu spes, et refugium
Lapsorum humilium:
Tu medela criminum,
Salus pœnitentium.

Tu solamen tristium,
Levamen debilium;
Tu purgatrix sordium,
Confirmatrix cordium.

Tu laus, tu remedium
In te confidentium:
Tu vitale præmium
Tibi servientium.

O pia Maria,
Lapsis advocata,
Tu cunctis miseris
Dulcis spes et grata.

Erige, dirige
Corda tuorum,
Ad pia gaudia
Regni cœlorum.

Quo vere gaudere
Per te possimus,
Cum Natoque tuo,
Regnantes simus.

Amen.
O flower of purity!
Sanctuary of chastity!
Mother of mercy!

Hail, gentle Maid!
Source of Life!
Beautiful light!
Full of the dew
of the sevenfold Spirit!
Adorned with all virtues,
and blooming in holiness of life!

Sweet Rose!
Lily of chastity!
Fruitful Mother,
thou givest birth to the Son of God!
And after thy delivery
thou remainest a pure Virgin!

Thou art made his Mother in a wonderful way
—nature stood aside
to let its God do all.

How beautiful art thou
by giving birth to him
that is the very Light—the great King!

Those ancient figures of the Law
—the Rod, the Flower, the Bush, the Dew
—all were types of thee, sweet Virgin-Mother!

And Gedeon's Fleece,
soaked with the dew of heaven, foreshadowed thee,
O Mary, the worthy Mother of our God!

Thou art a Virgin, and thou hast a Child!
Thou art a Star,
and thou bringest forth a Sun! Dear peerless Queen!

And after this,
can men be found who deem it wrong to call thee
‘the Way of Life'?

Thou art the Hope, and the Refuge of humble sinners:
thou healest them
whose hearts are sick from crime,
and thou winnest salvation for them that repent.

Thou art the comfortress of the afflicted,
and the support of the weak;
the unclean of heart ask thee to pray them pure,
and souls discouraged obtain bravery from thee.

Thou art the glory and the helper of them
that have confidence in thee;
and by thy prayers thou obtainest the reward
of eternal life for them that serve thee.

O Mary, full of motherly love!
thou art the sinner's advocate,
and the sweet consoling hope
of them that are in wretchedness.

Raise up the hearts
of us thy clients,
and turn them to the holy joys
of the heavenly kingdom.

Where we may,
by thy intercession,
truly rejoice,
and reign together with thy Son.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] St Matt, ii 11.
[2] Second Sermon for the Epiphany.
[3] St Matt. ii 6; Mich. v 2.
[4] Apoc. xxii 16.