Twelvetide, or the Twelve Days of Christmas

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.

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, Θεοτόκος, are the respective Latin and Greek terms.
[3] Meditations on the Life of Christ, by St Bonaventura.





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.






From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

THE Octave of the Beloved Disciple closes to-day: let us devoutly offer him our parting homage. We shall meet him again, during the year; for, on May 6, when the Resurrection of his Divine Master is gladdening the Church with the Easter joys, we shall have the Feast of our Apostle's Confession made before the Latin Gate: but his grand Feast ends to-day, and he has done too much on our behalf this Christmas for us to allow this Octave Day to pass without returning him our warmest thanks. Let us begin by exciting ourselves to a great reverence for our Saint; and to this end, let us continue the considerations we were making this day week on the favours conferred upon him by Jesus.

The Apostolate of St John produced a plentiful harvest among the people to whom he was sent. The Parthians received the Gospel from him, and most of the Churches of Asia Minor were founded by him. Of these latter, seven, together with their Angels, were chosen by Christ himself[1] to typify the several kinds of Pastors; and probably, as some have interpreted this passage of the Apocalypse, these Seven may be taken as representing the seven Ages of the Church herself. Neither must we forget that these Churches of Asia Minor, shortly after St John had founded them, sent Apostles into western Europe. Thus, for example, the illustrious Church of Lyons was one of the conquests made by these early Missioners; and St Pothinus, the first Bishop of Lyons, was a disciple of the disciple of St John—St Polycarp—the Angel of the Church of Smyrna,[2] whose Feast we shall keep a few days hence.

But St John’s apostolic labours in no wise interfered with the care which his own filial affection and the injunctions of our Saviour imposed upon him—the care of the Blessed Mother and Virgin Mary. So long as Jesus judged her visible presence on the earth to be necessary for the consolidation of his Church, so long did John enjoy the immense happiness of her society, and of being permitted to treat her as his most beloved Mother. After a certain number of years, during which he had dwelt with her in the city of Ephesus, he returned with her to Jerusalem, whence she ascended to heaven from the desert of this world, as the Church sings of her, as a pillar of smoke of aromatic spices of myrrh and frankincense.[3] The holy Apostle had to bear this second separation, and continue preaching the Gospel until that happy day should come when he also should ascend to that blissful region where Jesus his Divine Friend, and Mary his incomparable Mother, were awaiting his arrival.

The Apostles, those Lights placed by the hand of Jesus himself upon the candlestick[4] of the Church, died out by martyrdom one after the other, leaving St John the sole survivor of the Twelve. His white hair, as the early Fathers tell us, was encircled with a thin plate of gold, the mark of episcopal dignity; the Churches treasured up the words which fell from his inspired lips, and considered them as their rule of Faith; and his prophecy of Patmos, the Apocalypse, proves that the future of the Church was also revealed to him. Notwithstanding all this, John was humble and simple, like the Divine Infant of Bethlehem; and one cannot read without emotion what the early writers tell us of him, how he was often seen fondling a pet bird in his venerable hands.

He who had, when young, leaned his head upon the Breast of God, whose delights are to he with the children of men;[5] who had stood near his Lord during the Crucifixion, when all the other Apostles kept away in fear; who had seen the soldiers Spear pierce the Sacred Heart which so loved the world; when old age had come upon him, was for ever urging upon all he met the duty of loving one another. His tender compassion for sinners was such as we might naturally look for from the favourite Disciple of the Redeemer; and we are not surprised at that example, which would have been wonderful in any other Saint than John, of his going in search of a young man, whom he had loved with a Father's love, and who had abandoned himself, during the Apostle’s absence, to every sort of sin: old age was no hindrance to this fatiguing search, which ended in his finding the young man amidst the mountains, and leading him back to repentance.

And yet this same gentle and loving Saint was the inflexible enemy of heresy; for heresy, by destroying Faith, poisons Charity in its very source. It is from this Apostle that the Church has received the maxim she gives to us, of shunning heresy as we would shun a plague: If any man come to you and bring not the doctrine of Christ, receive him not into the house, nor say to him ''God speed thee for he that saith unto him, 'God speed thee,’ communicateth with his wicked works.[6] St John having one day entered one of the public baths, he was no sooner informed that the heresiarch Cerinthus was in the same building, than he instantly left the place as though it were infected. The disciples of Cerinthus were indignant at this conduct of the Apostle, and endeavoured to take away his life by putting poison into the cup from which he used to drink; but St John having made the sign of the cross over the cup, a serpent was seen to issue from it, testifying both to the wickedness of his enemies and to the divinity of Christ. This apostolic firmness in resisting the enemies of the Faith made him the dread of the heretics of Asia; and hereby he proved how justly he had received from Jesus the surname of Son of Thunder, a name which he shared with his Brother, James the Greater, the Apostle of Spain.

The miracle we have just related has suggested assigning to St John, as one of his emblems, a cup with a serpent coming from it; and in many countries, in Germany particularly, is a custom of blessing wine on the Feast of St John; and the prayer used on the occasion alludes to the miracle. In these same countries prevails also the custom of taking at the end of meals what is called St John’s Cup, putting as it were under the Saint’s protection the repast just taken.

For brevity’s sake, we omit several other traditions regarding our holy Apostle, to which allusion is made in many of the Medieval Liturgical pieces which we have quoted: but we cannot refrain from saying a few words in reference to his Death.

The passage of the holy Gospel read on the Feast of St John has often been interpreted in the sense that the Beloved Disciple was never to die, although our Lord’s words are easily explained without putting such a meaning upon them. The Greek Church, as we have already seen in her Offices, professes her belief in St John’s exemption from death. It was also the opinion of several holy Doctors of the Church, and found its way into some of the Hymns of the Western Church. The Church of Rome seems to countenance it, by one of the Antiphons at Lauds of the Feast; but it must be acknowledged that she has never favoured this opinion, although she has not thought proper to condemn it. Moreover, the Tomb of St John once existed at Ephesus; we have early traditions regarding it, and miracles are related which were wrought by the miraculous oil which flowed for centuries from the Tomb.

Still it is strange that no mention has ever been made of any Translation of the Body of St John; no Church has ever boasted of its possessing it; and as to particular Relics of this Apostle, they are not only very rare, but a great deal of vagueness has always clung to them. At Rome, when a Relic of St John is asked for, the only one given is a small piece of the Tomb. With these facts before us, we are forced into the idea that there is something mysterious in this total ignorance with regard to the Body of a Saint so dear to the whole Church; whereas the Bodies of all the other Apostles have been the subject of most interesting and detailed accounts, and we can name the Churches which have possessed either the whole or a portion of their venerable remains. Has our Redeemer willed that the Body of his dear Disciple should be glorified before the Day of Judgement? Has he, in his own inscrutable designs, withdrawn it from the sight of man, as he did that of Moses? These are questions which will, perhaps, never be solved on this earth; but it is almost impossible not to acknowledge, as so many holy writers have done, that the mystery wherewith it has pleased our Lord to shroud the virginal Body of St John may be considered as an additional reward given to the Disciple whom he so tenderly loved during life, on account of his purity.

The Mass is given above, p. 255, the other prayers are given on pp. 415-417.

Let us listen, once more, to the sweet praises given to St John in the various Liturgies. And first, let us open the Roman Breviary, where we shall find the following Responsories:


℟. Iste est Joannes qui supra pectus Domini in cœna recubuit: * Beatus Apostolus, cui revelata sunt secreta cœlestia.

℣. Fluenta Evangelii de ipso sacro Dominici pectoris fonte potavit. * Beatus.

℟. Diligebat autem eum Jesus, quoniam specialis prærogativa castitatis ampliori dilectione fecerat dignum: * Quia virgo electus ab ipso, virgo in ævum permansit.

. In cruce denique moriturus, huic Matrem suam virginem virgini commendavit. * Quia.

. In illum diem suscipiam te servum meum, et ponam te sicut signaculum in conspectu meo: * Quoniam ego elegi te, dicit Dominus.

℣. Esto fidelis usque ad mortem, et dabo tibi coronam vitæ. * Quoniam.

This is John, who at the Supper reclined his head on the Lord’s Breast: * Blessed Apostle, unto whom the secrets of heaven were revealed.

℣. He drank in the streams of the Gospel from the sacred fount itself of our Lord's Breast. * Blessed.

℟. Jesus loved him, for the special prerogative of his chastity made him worthy of a special love: * Because, being chosen by Christ as a virgin, he remained a virgin for ever.

. When at length he was about to die on the Cross, he commended his Virgin-Mother to this his virgin disciple. * Because.

. In that day I will take thee to be my Servant, and I will make thee as a signet in my sight: * For I have chosen thee, saith the Lord.

. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life. * For.

The Mozarabic Breviary, in the Office of St John the Evangelist, contains the following beautiful prayer:


Ineffabilia sunt, Domine, fiuenta uteri tui, quibus præ cæteris dilectus ille a te discipulus, recubans in sinu tuo, satiari promeruit: quæsumus ergo, ut mortificatis membris nostris, tuis semper mereamur inhærere vestigiis: ut intercessu hujus sancti Joannis, ita nos ignis amoris tui concremet et absumat, qualiter beneplacitum nos tibi in toto holocaustum efficiat.
Ineffable, O Lord, are the streams of thy Heart, wherewith the Disciple whom thou lovedst above the rest deserved to be filled, when leaning on thy Breast: we therefore humbly beseech thee that, our senses being mortified, we may deserve to walk at all times in thy footsteps: that thus, by the intercession of this thy holy disciple John, the fire of thy love may so burn and consume us, as to make us in all things a holocaust well-pleasing unto thee.

We find also this other prayer in the Missal of the same Gothic Liturgy.


Vide, vide, Deus, quibus gravati delictis obruimur; qualiterque nobis ipsi quotidie efficimur causa veneni et pœna supplicii, dum cum quotidiano carnis nostræ veneno polluimur, et de reparatione melioris vitæ nullo modo cogitamus. Sed quia certuni est quod hoc videas, qui semper es clemens; et ideo per confessionem nos ad te redituros exspectas, ideo suggerimus ut Apostolo tuo Joanne intercedente, qui invocato nomine tuo lethale ebibens virus, non solum ipse evasit, sed etiam alios ex eodem extinctos populo suscitavit. Procul a nobis efficias et incentivam carnis nostræ libidinem, et virus persuasionis hostis antiqui, ut fide te colentes, sicut Joannem Apostolum non nocuit oblatum venenum, ita nos non noceat latentium vitiorum virus occultum.
See, see, O God, the sins whereby we are weighed down, and how we daily create to ourselves the poison that destroys and the pain that punishes, inasmuch as we are each day infected with the poison of the deeds of our flesh, yet give we no thought to the amending our lives. But whereas faith teaches us that thou seest our sins, and because thou art merciful, thou awaitest us that we return to thee by humble confession; therefore do we beg the intercession of John thine Apostle, who having drunk a deadly poison, not only, by the invocation of thy name, escaped hurt himself, but raised them to life who had been poisoned by that same cup. By this his intercession, drive far from us both the lustful flames of our own flesh, and the poison of the old enemy’s suggestions; that worshipping thee by our faith, we may be guarded against the hidden poison of latent passions, as the poison offered to the Apostle John left him uninjured.

We take from the Menæa of the Greek Church a second selection of stanzas in honour of the holy Evangelist.

On The Feast Of St John The Theologian
(XXVI Septembris)

Maris abyssum derelinquens, crucis calamo omnes sapienter fidei piscatus es gentes velut pisces; nam, ut dixit tibi Christus, apparuisti piscator hominum carpens eos ad pietatem; ideo sparsisti Verbi gnosim; Patmos et Ephesum sermonibus cepisti tuis, Theologe Apostole; deprecare Christum Deum ut det lapsuum remissionem celebrantibus cum amore tuam sanctam commemorationem.

Lingua tua facta est calamus scriptoris Spiritus sancti, deifice demonstrans venerabile et divinum Evangelium.

Magnæ divinæque tuæ theologiæ faces totam; gloriose, illuminarunt terrain luce trisolari splendentem.

Vere fuit tamquam calamus velociter scribentis tua lingua theodica, veram pulchre scribens gnosim et legem novissimam in tabulis, theologe, cordium nostrorum.

Cœlorum scire celsitudines, marisque explorare abyssos temerarium et intentabile; astra autem numerare vel littoralem arenam par est. Sic de theologo dici non potest quot ipsum coronis quem amabat coronavit Christus, supra cujus pectus recubuit, et in mystica cœna eum lautissime refecit sicut theologum et Christi amicum.

Terrestrem peristi apud Christum sedem habere; at ille tibi pectus suum donat, o vocate theologe, tranquilla et permanente sede pulchritudinis ditatus es Apostolorum gloria.

Virginitatis florem, venerandarum virtutum electum habitaculum, sapientiæ instrumentum, templum Spiritus, os Ecclesiæ igniferum, charitatis manifestissimum oculum, venerandissimum Joannem, spiritualibus canticis nunc sursum celebremus, tamquam Christi famulum.

Evangelista Joannes, par Angelo, virgo a Deo docte, limpidissimum latus sanguine et aqua fluens prædicasti, per quem deducimur ad vitam æternam animabus nostris.

Leaving the waters of the sea, thou didst, with much wisdom, draw all nations to the Faith by the rod of the Cross; for, as Christ told thee, thou wast a Fisher of men, drawing them unto holiness. Therefore didst thou spread abroad the knowledge of the Word, and by thy preachings, O Theologian Apostle, thoudidst gain over Patmos and Ephesus. Beseech Christ our Lord to grant forgiveness of sin to us who lovingly celebrate thy holy memory.

Thy tongue was made the pen of him who wrote by thee, the Holy Ghost; it showed us, by divine inspiration, the venerable and divine Gospel.

The blaze of thy great and divine Theology, O glorious Apostle, illumined the earth that was shining with a triple light.

Truly was thy divinely taught tongue, O Theologian, as the pen of one that writes swiftly, for it beautifully wrote on the tablets of our hearts the true knowledge and the New Law.
To measure the height of the heavens, and explore the depths of the sea, is a rash and vain attempt: so too is it to count the stars or the sand on the shore. In like manner we may not count the number of crowns wherewith Christ crowned his Beloved Disciple, who reposed on his Breast, and in the mystic Supper was most sumptuously regaled as the Theologian and Friend of Jesus.

Thou didst once ask to sit near Jesus on a terrestrial throne; but he gave thee to recline on his Breast, and placed thee on a peaceful and eternal throne of beauty, O thou that art called the Theologian, and art the glory of the Apostles!

Let us now loudly celebrate in spiritual canticles this servant of Christ: he is the flower of holy Virginity, the chosen dwelling of sublime virtues, the instrument of wisdom, the temple of the Spirit, the burning tongue of the Church, the most bright eye of charity, the most venerable John.

O Evangelist John! angelic, virgin taught of God! 'twas thou didst tell us of that Sacred Side, from whence, as from a most limpid stream, flowed Blood and Water: thus didst thou teach our souls the way to life eternal.

The Latin Churches of the Middle Ages were fervent in their praises of St John, and have left us a great many Hymns in his honour. Out of the number we select only two; the first is the composition of Adam of St Victor, and is the finest of the four written on St John by the great lyric poet of those times.


Gratulemur ad festivum,
Jocundemur ad votivum Joannis præconium.

Sic versetur laus in ore,
Ne fraudetur cor sapore
Quo degustet gaudium.

Hic est Christi prædilectus
Qui reclinans supra pectus,
Hausit sapientiam.

Huic in cruce commendavit
Matrem Christus; hic servavit
Virgo viri nesciam.

Intus ardens charitate,
Foris lucens honestate,
Signis et eloquio,

Ut ab æstu criminali,
Sic immunis a pœnali,
Prodiit ex dolio.

Vim veneni superavit,
Morti, morbis imperavit,
Nec non et demonibus.

Sed vir tantæ potestatis,
Non minoris pietatis
Erat tribulantibus.

Cum gemmarum partes fractas
Solidasset, has distractas
Tribuit pauperibus.

Inexhaustum fert thesaurum,
Qui de virgis fecit aurum,
Gemmas de lapidibus.

Invitatur ab amico Convivan;
Christum dico
Visum cum discipulis.

De sepulcro quo descendit
Redivivus sic ascendit,
Frui summis epulis.

Testem habes populum,
Immo, si vis, oculum,
Quod ad ejus tumulum
Manna scatet, epulum
De Christi convivio.

Scribens Evangelium,
Aquilæ fert proprium,
Cernens solis radium,
Scilicet Principium
Verbum in Principio.

Hujus signis est conversa
Gens gentilis, gens perversa,
Gens totius Asiæ.

Hujus scriptis illustratur,
Illustrata solidatur
Unitas Ecclesiæ.

Salve, salvi vas pudoris,
Vas cœlestis plenum roris,
Mundum intus, clarum foris,
Nobile per omnia!

Fac nos sequi sanctitatem;
Fac per mentis puritatem
Contemplan Trinitatem
In una substantia.


'Tis the Feast of St John:
let us rejoice; let us sing his praise with glad hearts.

But let our lips so speak his praise
that our hearts be not devoid of fervour,
and so relish the hidden joy.

This is the Disciple the Beloved of Christ,
who leaned on his sacred breast,
and imbibed wisdom.

'Twas to him that Jesus,
dying on the Cross, left his Mother:
John, the virgin, was guardian of the Virgin.

His heart was filled with burning charity;
his exterior, his miracles,
his words, were a shining light.

As the fire of criminal passion had never impaired his soul,
so did he come unhurt
from the caldron of boiling oil.

He checked the power of poison;
death, disease and demons
fled at his bidding.

And yet, with all this heavenly power,
he was the tenderest-hearted friend
to them that were in grief.

Some precious stones had been broken;
he miraculously brought the fragments together,
and thus pieced, gave them to the poor.

He was a living treasure,
for he changed the branches of a tree into gold,
and stones into gems.

He is invited to a banquet by a Friend;
that Friend was Jesus,
surrounded by his Disciples:

From the tomb wherein he had been laid,
he then came forth alive,
and ascended to enjoy the infinite feast.

Innumerable witnesses will tell thee
(though thyself may see it, if thou wilt),
that round his tomb there falls a Manna,
the symbol of that Banquet
which Jesus gave him.

The Eagle is the emblem
of this Evangelist,
for he looks steadfastly at the Sun,
that is, at the Eternal Word
in the Bosom of the Eternal Father.

By his miracles the gentile world,
a stubborn world,
the world of Asia, was converted.

His writings enlighten,
and by their light confirm
the one true Church.

Hail then, vessel of unsullied chastity!
vessel filled with heavenly dew!
pure within, fair without,
and noble in every part.

Oh! pray for us, that we may follow the path of holiness,
and by the cleanliness of our hearts
be rewarded with the vision
of the Triune God.


Our second Sequence is taken from the ancient Missals of the Churches of Germany, and is extremely beautiful.


Verbum Dei,
Deo natum,
Quod nec factum nec creatum,

Venit de cœlestibus:
Hoc vidit, hoc attrectavit,
Hoc de cœlo reseravit
Joannes hominibus.

Inter illos primitivos
Veros veri fontis rivos
Joannes exsiliit,
Toti mundo propinare
Nectar illud salutare
Quod de throno prodiit.

Coelum transit, veri rotam
Solis ibi vidit, totam
Mentis figens aciem;
Speculator spiritalis
Quasi Seraphim sub alis
Dei videt faciem.

Audiit in gyro sedis
Quid psallant cum citharœdis
Quater seni proceres:
De sigillo Trinitatis
Nostræ nummo civitatis
Impressit characteres.

Iste custos Virginis
Arcanum originis
Divinæ mysterium,
Scribens Evangelium,
Mundo demonstravit:
Cordis cui sacrarium
Suum Christus lilium,
Filio tonitrui
Sub amoris mutui
Pace commendavit.

Haurit virus hic lethale,
Ubi corpus virginale
Virtus servat fidei:
Pœna stupet quod in pœna
Sit Joannes sine poena
Bullientis olei.

Hic naturis imperat
Ut et saxa transferat
In decus gemmarum:
Quo jubente riguit,
Auri fulvum induit
Virgula silvarum.

Hic infernum reserat,
Morti jubet, referat
Quos venenum stravit:
Obstruit quod Ebion,
Cerinthus et Marcion
Perfide latravit.

Volat avis sine meta
Quo nec vates, nec Propheta
Evolavit altius:
Tam implenda, quam impleta
Numquam vidit tot secreta
Purus homo purius.

Sponsus rubra veste tectus,
Visus sed non intellectus,
Redit ad palatium:
Aquilam Ezechielis
Sponsæ misit quæ de cœlis
Referret mysterium.

Dic, dilecte, de dilecto,
Qualis sit, et ex dilecto
Sponsus sponsæ nuncia:
Dic quis cibus Angelorum,
Quæ sint festa superorum
De sponsi præsentia.

Veri panem intellectus,
Cœnam Christi supra pectus
Christi sumptam resera:
Ut cantemus de patrono,
Coram Agno, coram throno,
Laudes super aethera.

The Word of God,
who was born of God,
and was not made nor created,
and who came down from heaven
—this Word was seen and handled
and revealed to men
by John the Evangelist.

John sprang up amidst those true rivulets,
which from the commencement
flowed from the True Fountain;
he has made the whole world
drink of that life-giving nectar
that flows from the throne of God.

He soared above the heavens,
and gazed with the fixedness of his soul's eye
on the brightness of the true Sun;
this spiritual contemplator saw,
as it were from under the wings of the Seraphim,
the Face of God.

He hears what songs are sung
round the Throne by the four
and twenty elders and the heavenly Harpers.
He has stamped upon the coin
of our terrestrial city the impress
and seal of the Holy Trinity.

He, the guardian of the Virgin,
wrote his Gospel,
that he might show to the world
the profound mystery
of the Divine Generation:
and Jesus, after allowing him
to recline on his Sacred Heart,
commended his own pure Lily,
Mary, to this his and her much loved one,
the Son of Thunder.

He drinks a deadly poison!
but the virtue of his faith
preserves his virginal body from death.
Nay, the very creature that was prepared to torture him
—the boiling oil—stood wondering
at his feeling not its cruel power to pain.

Nature is obedient to him.
He bids the stones be gems,
and they obey:
he bids the branch of a tree turn its pliant fibres
into the precious metal of gold,
and it obeys.

He bids the sepulchre and death
yield back them whom poison
had made their victims; they obey.
He stops the blasphemous
howlings of Ebion,
Cerinthus, and Marcion.

He is the Eagle,
soaring to the infinite;
nor Seer nor Prophet passed him in his flight.
No pure mind ever saw more clearly
than he so many mysteries,
already past or yet to come.

Jesus, the Bridegroom,
clothed in his scarlet robe,
after being seen by men, but not understood,
returned to his palace above:
he sent to his Bride the Eagle of Ezechiel,
that he might relate to her the mystery seen in heaven.

O Beloved Disciple! speak to us of thy Beloved:
tell the Church the beauty of this thy Jesus,
who is her chosen Spouse:
tell her who is the Bread of the Angels:
tell her what feasts her Spouse's presence
causes to the citizens of heaven.

Speak to her of that Bread which feeds the soul with truth;
reveal to her that Supper of thy Lord taken
on the Breast of thy Lord: we will sing to the Lamb,
we will sing round the Throne, we will praise him
above the heavens, for his having given
us such a Patron as thee.

O glorious Saint! we thank thee with all the gratitude of our hearts for the assistance thou hast so lovingly granted us during the celebration of this grand Feast of Jesus' Birth. Thou art ever with us at Christmas; but it is only to help us to know Jesus the more; for, in considering thy prerogatives, we are giving praise to him who gave them to thee. We offer thee, then, the homage of our admiration and thanks, dear Friend of Jesus, and adopted Child of Mary! Before leaving us, suffer us to offer thee once more our humble petitions.

Pray, sweet Apostle of Fraternal Love! that the hearts of all men may be united in holy charity; that dissensions may cease; that the simplicity of the dove, of which thou wast such a touching example, may become the spirit of our present age, adverse though it seem to this commandment of our Lord. May Faith, without which love and charity cannot exist, be maintained in all its purity; may the serpent of heresy be crushed, and its poisoned cup find neither teachers to offer it, nor disciples to drink it. May the attachment to the doctrines of the Church be firm and courageous; may no human schemes or theories, or cowardly toleration of error, enervate the principles of truth and morals; may the children of light boldly disown fellowship with the children of darkness.

Remember, O holy Prophet! the sublime vision granted thee of the Churches of Asia Minor; and obtain for the Angels who are set over ours, that unflinching faithfulness which alone wins the victory and the Crown. Pray also for those countries which received the Gospel from thee, but have since deserved to lose the Faith. They have been suffering now for ages the consequences of false doctrines, slavery and degradation; intercede for them, that they may be regenerated by Jesus and his Spouse the Church. From thy heavenly home send Peace to thine own dear Church of Ephesus, and to her Sister Churches of Smyrna, Pergamus, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea; may they awake from their sleep; may they rise from their tomb; may Mohammedanism cease its brutalizing tyranny over them; may schism and heresy, which now keep the East in a state of barbarism, be extinguished; and may the whole flock be once more united in the one Fold. Cover with thy protecting love the holy Church of Rome, which was witness of thy glorious Confession, which she counts as one of those her grand glories which began with the Martyrdom of thy fellow Apostles, Peter and Paul. May she receive a fresh infusion of light and charity, now that the harvest is whitening over so many countries.[7] And, lastly, Beloved Disciple of the Saviour of mankind! pray that, on the last day we may enjoy the sight of thy glorified Body; and after having so often presented us on this earth to Jesus and Mary in Bethlehem, present us on that day to the same Jesus and Mary in the glories of the eternal Vision.









[1] Apoc.
[2] Apoc. ii 8.
[3] Cant. iii 6.
[4] St Matt. v 15.
[5] Prov. viii 31.
[6] 2 St John i 10, 11.
[7] St John iv 35.




From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

WE finish to-day the Octave consecrated to the memory of the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem. Thanks be to God, who has given them to us to be our intercessors and our models! Their name will not reappear on the Church’s Calendar until the return of the Christmas Solemnity; let us therefore devoutly approach these sweet Infant Saints—venerate them, love them, and address to them our farewell prayers.

The Holy Church, which on the Feast vested in the colour of mourning, and this out of condolence with Rachel’s grief, now on the Octave Day clothes herself in the red of her Martyrs, in order to honour these Babes who shed their Blood for Jesus. Notwithstanding, she is full of tender compassion for those poor Mothers, who suffered such agonies of grief at the sight of the murder of their little ones; she continually alludes to them in to-day’s Liturgy, and reads in the Office of Matins a passage from an ancient Sermon which vividly describes their feelings. We cannot withhold it from our readers. The Sermon from which it is taken was for a long time attributed to St Augustine.

'When our Lord was born, there began lamentation, not indeed in heaven, but on earth! Lamentation for the Mothers, joy for the Angels, heaven for the Babes. He that is born is God: a victim must be offered him, and Innocents must be that offering, for he came to condemn the malice of this world. Tender lambs must be slain, for the Lamb who is come to take away the sins of the world is to be crucified. But the Mothers wail because they lose their lambs, that scarce have voice to make their bleatings heard. O wonderful martyrdom! O sight most cruel! The sword is unsheathed, and there is no enemy; jealousy alone spurs on the band, for he that is born would injure no man.

‘There, then, sit the Mothers, weeping over their lambs. A voice in Rama is heard, lamentation and great mourning. These sweet pledges are not mere things intrusted to their care, they are the children of their own wombs; they are pledges, but they are not given, they are cruelly stolen from them. Nature herself is witness, it betrays the children of whom the tyrant is in search. The Mother tears her hair, for she has lost her beauty in losing her babe. Oh! how she sought to hide him, and the innocent one betrayed himself! He knew not how to be silent, for he had not yet learnt to fear. The Mother struggled with the executioner; he seized her child, resolved to murder him; she clung to him, resolved to hold him to her bosom. "Why," she exclaimed, "why separate me from my child? I gave him birth, and I fed him at my breast untiringly. I bore him in my arms with fondest care, and thy cruel hand has dashed him on the ground! This fresh and lovely fruit—thus trampled on!"

'A second Mother bade the executioner take away her life together with that of her child; he would not, and she cried out to him: “ Why dost thou send me away, having slain my son? If there were any fault, I only could be guilty: if there were no fault, let me die with my babe, and rid me of my wretched life.” A third exclaimed: "What is it that ye seek? Ye are in search of one, and ye slay so many! and him who is One ye cannot find!" And again another cried out: “Come, O come, thou Saviour of the world! How long shalt thou be sought for? Thou fearest no man: let these soldiers see thee, and so not slay our children.” These were the lamentations of the Mothers; and the immolation of their Babes ascended as a sacrifice to heaven.’

Among these Children thus cruelly massacred, from the age of two years and under, there were some belonging to those Shepherds of Bethlehem who had been called on the Night of our Saviour's Birth to go and adore him in his Crib. These, after Mary and Joseph the first worshippers of the Incarnate Word, thus offered to the God who had called them the most precious treasure they possessed. They knew to what Child their children were sacrificed, and a holy pride filled their souls as they thought of this new proof of God's singular mercy to them in preference to so many others of their fellowcreatures.

As to Herod, he was foiled in his schemes, as must ever be the case with those who wage war against Christ and his Church. His edict for the murder of every male child that was two years old or younger, included Bethlehem and its entire neighbourhood; but the Child he alone cared for, and wished to destroy, escaped the sword and fled into Egypt. It was another proof of the world's folly in opposing the designs of God; and, in this instance, the very measure that was intended to effect evil produced good: the tyrant enriched the Church of heaven with Saints, and the Church militant with so many fresh patrons.

Jesus, the new-born King of the Jews,[1] who causes Herod to tremble on his throne, is but a Little Child, without so much as one single soldier to defend him. Herod, like all the persecutors of the Church, has an instinctive knowledge which teaches him that this apparent weakness is real and formidable power: what neither he nor his successors knew was that it is worse than useless, and worse than folly, to attempt to crush a spiritual power by the sword. This apparent weakness of the Babe of Bethlehem will increase with his years; now he flees from the tyrant who seeks his life; but later on, when he has grown into Manhood, he will not escape from his enemies; they will fasten him to an infamous gibbet, between two Thieves: but on that very day a Roman Governor will declare this Jesus to be King; he will write with his own hand the inscription to be nailed on the Cross: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Pilate will give Jesus with all possible formality that very Title which now makes Herod turn pale: the enemies of Jesus will protest, they will insist on the Title being altered; but Pilate will not change an iota, and will say: What I have written, I have written.[2] As on the day of his Crucifixion he will admit one of the two Thieves to share in his triumph; so now that he is laid in the Crib, he will share his glory with the Innocents of Bethlehem.

The Mass is given above, p. 281. The Gloria in excelsis is said, the other prayers are given on pp. 415-417.

Let us once more honour these dear Innocents, by culling their praises from the various Liturgies. We will begin with three Responsories from the Roman Breviary.


℟. Isti qui amicti sunt stolis albis, qui sunt, et unde venerunt? Et dixit mihi: * Hi sunt qui venerunt de tribuiatione magna, et laverunt stolas suas, et dealbaverunt eas in sanguine Agni.
℣. Vidi sub altare Dei animas interfectorum propter Verbum Dei, et propter testimonium quod habebant. * Hi sunt.

℟. Isti sunt qui non inquinaverunt vestimenta sua; * Ambulabunt mecum in albis, quia digni sunt.
℣. Hi sunt qui cum mulieribus non sunt coinquinati; virgines enim sunt. * Ambulabunt.

℟. Cantabant Sancti canticum novum ante sedem Dei et Agni: * Et resonabat terra in voces eorum.
℣. Hi empti sunt ex hominibus, primitiæ Deo et Agno, et in ore ipsorum non est inventum mendacium. * Et resonabat.
℟. These that are clad in white robes, who are they, and whence came they? And he said unto me; * These are they who are come out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and have made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.
℣. I saw under the altar of God the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held. * These.

. These are they which have not defiled their garments; * They shall walk with me in white, because they are worthy.
℣. These are they who were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. * They.

℟. These Saints sang a new canticle before the throne of God and the Lamb; * And the earth resounded with their voices.
℣. These were purchased from among men, the first-fruits to God and to the Lamb, and in their mouth there was found no lie. * And the earth.

The two Collects which follow are from the Leonine Sacramentary.


Deus qui licet sis magnus in magnis, mirabilia tamen gloriosius operaris in minimis: da nobis, quæsumus, in eorum celebritate gaudere, qui Filio tuo Domino nostro testimonium præbuerunt etiam non loquentes.
O God, who though great in great things, dost nevertheless work with exceeding glory in those that are the least: grant, we beseech thee, that we may rejoice on this the Feast of them who bore testimony, though they spoke not, to thy Son our Lord.


Tribue, Domine, quæsumus, fidelibus tuis, ut, sicut ait Apostolus, non efficiantur pueri sensibus, sed malitia innoxii reperiantur ut parvuli; ut Martyres festivitatis hodiernæ, quos mentis æquare non possunt, mentis simplicitate sectentur. Per Christum Dominum nostrum.
Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord, to thy faithful people, that, as thy Apostle saith, they may become children not in sense, but in malice; that thus they may imitate the Martyrs of this day's Feast by the simplicity of their hearts, since they cannot attain to the merits they acquired. Through Christ our Lord.

We take the following beautiful prayer from the Mozarabic Breviary of the Gothic Liturgy of Spain.


Christe, inenarrabile lumen mundi, qui adhuc in ipsis cunabulis constitutus, nondum effectus martyr, martyrii palma catervas Infantium dedicasti: qui necdum loqui valentes, sub mucrone sævientium varios fecisti mugitus emittere: quorum animas de abditis infernorum, te spontanee pro nobis omnibus moriente, maluisti eripere; inspira eis, sine intermissione orare pro parvulis: ut, qui propriis non valeamus supplicationibus emundari a crimine, eorum, qui te, quocumque ieris, cum hymnis et canticis adsequuntur, et hic et in æternum postulationibus abluamur.
O Jesus, Light ineffable of the world! who, whilst yet in thy Crib, and not thyself a Martyr, didst give the palm of martyrdom to the army of Innocents, who, not being able to speak, did by thy will utter their many cries when being massacred by the cruel soldiers: whose souls, when thou didst freely die for all our sakes, were taken by thee from the depths of limbo: to these same, O Jesus, inspire the desire of incessantly praying for us, the little and weak: that thus, not deserving to be cleansed from our sins by our own prayers, we may obtain both present and eternal purity by the intercession of them that follow thee whithersoever thou goest, singing to thee their hymns and canticles.

The Missal of the same Church gives us also this prayer.


Deus cujus misericordia utrumque sexum et per omnem cucurrit ætatem, ita plurimum Infantibus affectum paternæ pietatis indulgens, ut parvulos nec ab Ægypto teneri sineres, nec ab Evangelio prohiberi, dum in Lege cum patribus evaderent mundum; et in gratia cum perfectis vocarentur ad regnum, atque institutione doctrinæ, innocentia expers mali forma induceretur exempli: Dona nobis famulis tuis, ut malitiæ viribus defecati, in usum concupiscentiæ carnalis invalidi, docibilem servemus disciplinis voluntatem. Quo mens nec rigida nec superba, sic sit blanda, sic innocens, ne imprudens: sic humilis, ne imbecillis; quatenus maturo discretionis judicio sic sufficiat probare quod placeat, ut effectare nesciat quod delinquat. Atque ita salubrem sumat temperantiam moderante consilio, ut et simplicitatem imitetur infantium, et fortitudinem vindicet pugnatorum. Amen.
O God, whose mercy is granted to every age and sex; and who didst lavish on the Innocents such richness of fatherly love, that thou wouldst neither suffer them to be kept in Egyptian bondage, nor, when they left this world under the Law, as their fathers had done, to be deprived of the Gospel’s fulness of grace; but didst call them to thy kingdom, in common with them that were made perfect under the law of Grace, thus making them a lesson and an example to us of innocence that knows no evil: grant unto us thy servants, that laying aside our power for evil, and dying to the concupiscence of the flesh, we may have no will save that of being taught by thy instructions. May our soul be thus neither rigid nor proud; may she be gentle and innocent without being imprudent; may she be humble without being weak; that hereby, by the timely judgement of discernment, she may both know thy goodpleasure and do it, and ignore how to do that which offends thee. May she, moreover, possess that wholesome temperance which flows from the guidance of counsel; that so she both imitate the simplicity of these Innocents, in that they were children, and emulate their fortitude, in that they were combatants. Amen.

Prudentius, the Poet of the Mysteries and the Martyrs, from whom the Church has taken her beautiful stanzas for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Salvete, Flores Martyrum, celebrates the immolation of these lovely Babes of Bethlehem in his exquisite Hymn for the Epiphany. It is to this Hymn that the Roman Liturgy has had recourse for several great Feasts; and we now extract from it the strophes which refer to our dear Innocents.


Audit tyrannus anxius
Adesse regum Principem,
Qui nomen Israel regat,
Teneatque David regiam.

Exclamat amens nuntio:
Successor instat, pellimur:
Satelles, i, ferrum rape,
Perfunde cunas sanguine.

Mas infans omnis occidat;
Scrutare nutricum sinus;
Interque materna ubera
Ensem cruentet pusio.

Suspecta per Bethlem mihi
Puerperarum est omnium
Fraus, ne qua furtim subtrahat
Prolem virilis indolis.

Transfigit ergo carniiex,
Mucrone districto furens,
Effusa nuper corpora,
Animasque rimatur novas.

Locum minutis artubus
Vix interemptor invenit,
Quod plaga descendat patens,
Juguloque major pugio est.

O barbarum spectaculum!
Illisa cervix cautibus
Spargit cerebrum lacteum,
Oculosque per vulnus vomit.

Aut in profundum palpitans
Mersatur infans gurgitem,
Cui subter arctis faucibus
Singultat unda, et halitus.

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.

Quid proficit tantum nefas?
Quid crimen Herodem juvat?
Unus tot inter funera
Impune Christus tollitur.

Inter cœevi sanguinis
Fluenta, solus integer,
Ferrum, quod orbabat nurus,
Partus fefellitVirginis.

Sic stulta Pharaonis mali
Edicta quondam fugerat,
Christi figuram præferens,
Moses, receptor civium.

The anxious Tyrant hears
that the King of kings is come,
who is to rule over the Jews,
and sit on the throne of David.

Maddened by jealous fear he calls a messenger,
and says to him: ‘Our rival is at hand—we are in danger:
go, slave, arm thee with thy sword,
and bathe every cradle with blood.

‘Let every male-child be slain,
and every nurse be watched,
and every Babe feel thy sharp-edged blade,
even whilst he sucks his mother's breast.

‘Not a Mother about Bethlehem
but I suspect her;
then watch them all,
lest they hide their boys from thee.'

On this the executioner goes,
and in his wild cruelty plunges
his naked dagger into the tender flesh
and the but freshly formed hearts of these little ones.

But where shall he strike?
where find space enough to hold
a gaping wound in these infant-bodies
not so big as the dagger in his hand?

Yet still these butchers murder every child.
Here it is an infant dashed against a rock,
covering its flinty sides, oh! cruel sight!
with blood and brains and eyes.

There it is a lovely babe torn from his mother’s arms
and thrown into a deep stream,
whose gurgling waters weep
whilst drowning sobs and life so sweet as these.

Hail, ye Flowers of the Martyrs!
The enemy of Christ cut you down
in the very threshold of life,
as rose-buds are snapped by a storm.

First Victims for Jesus!
Tender flock of his Martyrs!
ye, with sweet simplicity, play with palms and your crowns
even at the very altar of your sacrifice!

And what does Herod gain by this dark crime?
Does it give him what he sought?
The single One he cared to kill is Jesus,
and he still lives!

The stream of infant-blood has ceased to flow,
and he alone is safe:
the Virgin’s Child has escaped that sword
which robbed all other Mothers of their babes.

So was it in that time of old, when Moses,
the liberator of his people,
and the type of Christ,
escaped the senseless edicts of the wicked Pharaoh.

We will close our selection by this Sequence of Notker, which is given in the collection of St Gall.


Laus tibi, Christe, Patris optimi Nate, Deus omnipotentiæ,

Quem cœlitus jubilat supra astra manentis plebis decus harmoniæ:

Quem agmina infantium sonoris hymnis collaudant ætheris in arce:

Quos impius, ob nominis odium tui, misero straverat vulnere:

Quos pie nunc remuneras in cœlis, Christe, pro pœnis nitide;

Solita usus gratia, qua tuos ornas coronis splendide;

Quorum precibus sacris dele, precamur, nostra pie crimina vitæ,

Et quos laudibus tuis junxeras, nobis istic dones Clemens favere:

Illis aeternæ dans lumen gloriæ, nobis terrea concede vincere;

Ut liceat serenis actibus pleniter adipisci dona tuæ gratiæ:

Herodis ut non fiat socius, quisquis in horum laude se exercet propere;

Sed æternaliter cum eisdem catervis tecum sit, Domine. Amen.

Praise be to thee, O Jesus, Son of the all-perfect Father, Almighty God!

Unto whom the sweet hymns of the citizens of heaven are ever giving praise,

And the Innocent Babes are ever singing their melodious songs of praise in the courts above.

These Babes were slain by the ruthless sword, at the bidding of a wicked king who hated thy name,

And now are richly rewarded in heaven by thee, O Jesus, in return for the sufferings they endured;

Herein showing thy wonted mercy, which gives to all who serve thee crowns of richest beauty.

By the holy prayers of these Innocents, mercifully cleanse us, we beseech thee, from the sins of our past lives,

And lovingly grant that they whom thou hast associated to thyself to give thee praise, may become our protectors here below.

On them bestow the light of endless glory; on us the victory over earthly things,

That thus, by a life of holiness, we may merit an abundance of the riches of thy grace.

Of all that devoutly praise these thy holy Innocents, may none be made companions with Herod.

But may they all live for ever with thee, O Lord, in the society of this sweet choir of heaven. Amen.

Sweet Flowers of the Martyrs! your Feast is over in our Church on earth, but your patronage will never leave us. During this new year of the holy Liturgy, which God has given us, you will watch over us, and pray for us to the Lamb, who loves you so tenderly. We entrust to you the fruits of grace which our souls have gathered from the Christmas Feasts. We have become little children together with our Lord; we have begun a new life with him; pray for us, that we may grow with him in wisdom and age before God and man.[1] Secure us perseverance by your prayers; and to this end, keep up in our hearts that Christian simplicity which is the special virtue of Children of Christ. You are innocent; we are sinners; still, we are brethren; love us, then, with brotherly love. You were garnered into heaven at the very dawn of the Law of Grace; our lives have fallen on the close of time, and the world has grown cold in charity; be near and help us; cheer and encourage us in our combat, by showing us your lovely palms of victory; pray to our Lord, that we may speedily obtain by repentance the heavenly crown which his infinite mercy allowed you to win, without the fatigues and risks of a battle.

Infant Martyrs! forget not the young generation, which has just entered on the scene of life. You were taken to eternal glory at the age of infancy; these little ones are like you in their innocence; love them, watch over them, pray for them. The grace of their Baptism is upon them in all its freshness, and their pure souls reflect as a mirror the holiness of the God that dwells in them by grace. Alas! these Babes are to go through great trials; many of them will forfeit the grace of God, and their Baptismal garment will lose its unspotted purity. The world will seek to corrupt their heart and mind, and the frightful influence of bad example is almost always successful. Christian mothers will have to weep over the ruin of their children’s souls, and what consolation is there for such a grief as theirs? There is a Christian Rama and a Christian Rachel ever wailing in the Church: do you, sweet Innocents of Bethlehem, comfort these mothers, by praying for their little ones. Pray that our times may grow less evil, and that parents may have less need to fear than they now have that the first step taken by their children in the world will be death to their souls.








[1] St Matt. ii 2.
[2] St John xix 22.
[3] St Luke ii 52.