The Liturgical Year
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
Under this heading of Proper of the Time, we here comprise the movable Office of the Sundays and Ferias of Advent. Though anxious to give to the faithful the flowers of the Advent liturgy, yet were we to bring forward even those which might be considered as the choicest, four volumes would have barely sufficed. The fear of making our work too expensive to the faithful, persuaded us to limit it within much narrower bounds, and out of the abundant treasures before us, to give what we thought could be least dispensed with.
The plan we have adopted is this: We give the whole of the Mass and Vespers for the four Sundays of Advent. On the ferial days, we give one, at least, of the lessons from Isaias, which are read in the Office of Matins; adding to this a hymn or sequence, or some other poetic liturgical composition. All these have been taken from the gravest sources, for example, from the Roman and Mozarabic breviaries, from the Greek anthology and menæa, from the missals of the middle ages, &c. After this hymn or sequence, we have given a prayer from the Ambrosian, Gallican, or Mozarabic missal. So that the faithful will find in our collection an unprecedented abundance of liturgical formulæ, each of which carries authority with it, as being taken from ancient and approved sources.
We have not thought it desirable to give a commentary to each of the liturgical formulæ inserted in our work. It seemed to us that they would be rendered sufficiently intelligible by the general explanation which runs through our work, in which explanation we have endeavoured to excite the devotion of the reader, give unity to the several parts, and afford solid instruction. We shall thus avoid all those repetitions and commonplace remarks, which do little more than fatigue the reader.
We have inserted the Great Antiphons and the Office of Christmas Eve in the proper of the saints, because both of these have fixed days in the calendar, and to put them in the proper of the time, as they stand in the breviary and missal, would have required us to introduce into a book, destined for the laity, rubrics somewhat complicated, which would, perhaps, not have been understood.
For more information on the season of Advent, visit here.
We apply the name of Christmas to the forty days which begin with the Nativity of our Lord, December 25, and end with the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, February 2. It is a period which forms a distinct portion of the Liturgical Year, as distinct, by its own special spirit, from every other, as are Advent, Lent, Easter, or Pentecost. One same Mystery is celebrated and kept in view during the whole forty days. Neither the Feasts of the Saints, which so abound during this Season; nor the time of Septuagesima, with its mournful Purple, which often begins before Christmastide is over, seem able to distract our Holy Mother the Church from the immense joy of which she received the good tidings from the Angels on that glorious Night for which the world had been longing four thousand years. The Faithful will remember that the Liturgy commemorates this long expectation by the four penitential weeks of Advent.
 St Luke ii 10.
(From Chapter 1: The History of Christmas)
For more information on the season of Christmas, visit here.
This third section of the liturgical year is much shorter than the two preceding ones; and yet it is one of real interest. The season of Septuagesima has only three weeks of the Proper of the Time, and the feasts of the saints are far less frequent than at other periods of the year. The volume we now offer to the faithful may be called one of transition, inasmuch as it includes the period between two important seasons—viz., Christmas and Lent. We have endeavoured to teach them how to spend these three weeks; and our instructions, we trust, will show them that, even in this the least interesting portion of the ecclesiastical year, there is much to be learned. They will find the Church persevering in carrying out the one sublime idea which pervades the whole of her liturgy; and, consequently, they must derive solid profit from imbibing the spirit peculiar to this season.
Were we, therefore, to keep aloof from the Church during Septuagesima, we should not have a complete idea of her year, of which these three weeks form an essential part. The three preliminary chapters of this volume will convince them of the truth of our observation; and we feel confident that, when they have once understood the ceremonies, and formulas, and instructions, offered them by the Church during this short season, they will value it as it deserves.
For more information on the season of Septuagesima, visit here.
We begin, with this volume, the holy season of Lent; but such is the richness of its liturgy, that we have found it impossible to take our readers beyond the Saturday of the fourth week. Passion-week and Holy Week, which complete the forty days of yearly penance, require to be treated at such length, that we could not have introduced them into this volume without making it inconveniently large.
The present volume is a very full one, although it only comprises the first four weeks of the season of Lent. We have called it Lent; and yet the two weeks of the next volume are also comprised in Lent; nay, they are its most important and sacred part. But, in giving the name of Lent to this first section, we have followed the liturgy itself, which applies this word to the first four weeks only; giving to the two that remain the names of Passion-week and Holy Week. Our next volume will, therefore, be called Passiontide and Holy Week.
For more information on Lent, visit here.
After having proposed the forty-days’ fast of Jesus in the desert to the meditation of the faithful during the first four weeks of Lent, the holy Church gives the two weeks which still remain before Easter to the commemoration of the Passion. She would not have her children come to that great day of the immolation of the Lamb, without having prepared for it by compassionating with Him in the sufferings He endured in their stead.
(From Chapter 1: The History of Passiontide and Holy Week)
For more information on Passiontide and Holy Week, visit here.
WITH this volume we begin the season of Easter, wherein are accomplished the mysteries prepared for, and looked forward to, since Advent. Such are the liturgical riches of this portion of the Christian year, that we have found it necessary to devote three volumes to it.
The present volume is wholly taken up with Easter Week. A week is indeed a short period; but such a week as this, with the importance of the events it brings before us, and the grandeur of the mysteries it celebrates, is, at least, equivalent to any other section of our Liturgical Year. We have abridged our explanations as much as possible; and yet we have exceeded two-thirds of one of our ordinary volumes. Hence, it was out of the question to add the remaining weeks; the more so, as the saints’ feasts recommence on the Monday following the Easter Octave, and their insertion would have obliged us to have made our volume considerably more bulky than even that of Passiontide. We have, therefore, been satisfied with giving the Mass and Office of the Annunciation, already given in our volume for Lent, but which are needed for the Monday after Low Sunday, when Easter falls between March 22 and April 2, which is frequently the case.
For more information on Paschal Tide, visit here.
Introduction to the Season of advent
- Chapter 1: The History of Advent
- Chapter 2: The Mystery of Advent
- Chapter 3: The Practice During Advent
- Chapter 4: Morning and Night Prayers for Advent
- Chapter 5: On Hearing Mass During Advent
- Chapter 6: On Holy Communion During Advent
- Chapter 7: On the Office of Vespers for Sundays and Feasts During Advent
- Chapter 8: On the Office of Compline for Sundays and Feasts During Advent
Introduction to the Season of CHRISTMAS
- Chapter 1: The History of Christmas
- Chapter 2: The Mystery of Christmas
- Chapter 3: The Practice During Christmas
- Chapter 4: Morning and Night Prayers for Christmas
- Chapter 5: On Hearing Mass During Christmas
- Chapter 6: On Holy Communion During Christmas
- Chapter 7: On the Office of Vespers for Sundays and Feasts During Christmas
- Chapter 8: On the Office of Compline for Sundays and Feasts During Christmas
For more information on the season of Christmas, visit here.
Introduction to the Season of Septuagesima
- Chapter 1: The History of Septuagesima
- Chapter 2: The Mystery of Septuagesima
- Chapter 3: The Practice During Septuagesima
- Chapter 4: Morning and Night Prayers for Septuagesima
- Chapter 5: On Hearing Mass During Septuagesima
- Chapter 6: On Holy Communion During Septuagesima
- Chapter 7: On the Office of Vespers for Sundays and Feasts During Septuagesima
- Chapter 8: On the Office of Compline for Sundays and Feasts During Septuagesima
Introduction to the Season of Lent
- Chapter 1: The History of Lent
- Chapter 2: The Mystery of Lent
- Chapter 3: The Practice During Lent
- Chapter 4: Morning and Night Prayers for Lent
- Chapter 5: On Hearing Mass During Lent
- Chapter 6: On Holy Communion During Lent
- Chapter 7: On the Office of Vespers for Sundays and Feasts During Lent
- Chapter 8: On the Office of Compline During Lent
Introduction to passiontide and holy week
- Chapter 1: The History of Passiontide and Holy Week
- Chapter 2: The Mystery of Passiontide and Holy Week
- Chapter 3: The Practice During Passiontide and Holy Week
- Chapter 4: Morning and Night Prayers for Passiontide and Holy Week
- Chapter 5: On Hearing Mass During Passiontide and Holy Week
- Chapter 6: On Holy Communion During Passiontide and Holy Week
- Chapter 7: On the Office of Vespers for Sundays and Feasts During Passiontide and Holy Week
- Chapter 8: On the Office of Compline During Passiontide and Holy Week
Introduction to the Season of Paschal Time
- Chapter 1: The History of Paschal Time
- Chapter 2: The Mystery of Paschal Time
- Chapter 3: The Practice During Paschal Time
- Chapter 4: Morning and Night Prayers for Paschal Time
- Chapter 5: On Hearing Mass During Paschal Time
- Chapter 6: On Holy Communion During Paschal Time
- Chapter 7: On the Office of Vespers for Sundays and Feasts During Paschal Time
- Chapter 8: On the Office of Compline During Paschal Time
From Dom Gueranger's The Liturgical Year.
The Roman Church confines herself to-day to the Office of the feria: but to that she joins a commemoration of St. Sabas, abbot of the celebrated laura of Palestine which still exists under his name. This saint, who died in 533, is the only one of the monastic Order of whom the Church makes any mention in her liturgy during the whole period of Advent; we might even say that he is the only simple confessor whose name occurs in the calendar of this part of the year: for, as regards St. Francis Xavier, the glorious title of apostle of the Indies puts him in a distinct class of saints. Here, again, we should recognize divine Providence, which has selected for these days of preparation for Christmas, those saints whose characteristic virtues would make them our fittest models in this work of preparation. We have the feasts of apostles, pontiffs, doctors, virgins: Jesus, the Man-God, the King and Spouse of men, is preceded by this magnificent procession of the noblest of His servants: simple confession has but a single representative, the anchoret and cenobite Sabas, who, by his profession of the monastic life, is of that family of holy solitaries, which began with the prophet Elias under the old Testament, and continued up to the time of St. John the Precursor, who was one of its members, and will continue on, during the new Covenant, until the last coming of Jesus. Let us, then, honour this holy abbot, towards whom the Greek Church professes a filial veneration, and under whose invocation Rome has consecrated one of her churches. Let us beg his prayers by this Collect of the holy liturgy.
Intercessio nos, quæsumus, Domine, beati Sabbæ abbatis commendet, ut quod nostris meritis non valemus, ejus patrocinio assequamur. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
May the intercession, we beseech thee, O Lord, of the blessed abbot Sabas recommend us to thee; that what we cannot hope for through our own merits, we may obtain by his prayers. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
O Sabas, thou man of desires! in thy expectation of that Lord, who has bidden His servants watch until He come, thou didst withdraw into the desert, fearing lest the turmoil of this world might distract thy mind from its God. Have pity on us who are living in the world, and are so occupied in the affairs of that world, and yet who have received the commandment, which thou didst so take to heart, of keeping ourselves in readiness for the coming of our Saviour and our Judge. Pray for us, that when He comes we may be worthy to go out to meet Him. Kemember also the monastic state, of which thou art one of the brightest ornaments; raise it up again from its ruins; let its children be men of prayer and faith, as of old; let thy spirit be among them, and the Church thus regain, by thy intercession, all the glory which is reflected on her from the sublime perfection of this holy state.
Let us look again at the prophecy of Jacob. The holy patriarch not only foretells that the Messias will be the Expectation of nations; he adds that, when this promised Deliverer comes, the sceptre will have been taken away from Juda. This oracle is now fulfilled. The flag of Cæsar Augustus floats on the ramparts of Jerusalem. The temple is still untouched; the abomination of desolation stands not yet in the holy place; sacrifices are there still offered up to God; but then, the true temple of God, the Incarnate Word, has not yet been built; the Synagogue has not denied Him, who was her expectation; the Victim, that was to supersede all others, has not been immolated. Yet, Juda has no chief of her own race; Cæsar’s coin is current throughout all Palestine; and the day is not far off when the leaders of the Jewish people will own, in the presence of the Roman governor, that they have not the power to put any man to death. So that there is now no king upon the throne of David and Solomon, that throne which was to abide for ever. O Jesus! Son of David, and King of peace, now is the time when Thou must show Thyself and take possession of the sceptre which has been taken in battle from the hand of Juda, and put, for a time, into that of an emperor. Come! for Thou art King, and the psalmist, Thy ancestor, thus sang of Thee: 'Gird Thy sword upon Thy thigh, O Thou Most Mighty! With Thy comeliness and Thy beauty set out, proceed prosperously, and reign, because of truth and meekness and justice, and Thy right hand shall conduct Thee wonderfully. Thy arrows are sharp: under Thee shall people fall: Thy arrows shall go into the hearts of the King’s enemies. Thy throne is for ever and ever; the sceptre of Thy kingdom is a sceptre of uprightness. . . . God, Thy God, hath anointed Thee, O Christ! who takest thence Thy name, with the oil of gladness above Thy fellows, who have been honoured with the name of king.’ When Thou hast come, O Messias! men will be no more as sheep going astray without a shepherd; there will be but one fold, in which Thou wilt reign by love and justice, for all power will be given unto Thee in heaven and on earth. When, in the hour of Thy Passion, Thy enemies shall ask Thee: ‘Art Thou King?’ Thou wilt answer them in all truth: ‘Verily, I am.’ Come, dearest King, and reign over our hearts; come, and reign over this world, which is Thine because Thou didst create it, and will soon be Thine because Thou wilt have redeemed it. Reign, then, over this world, and delay not the manifestation of Thy royal power until the day of which it is written: 'He will break kings in the day of His wrath’; reign from this very hour, and let all people fall at Thy feet and adore Thee in one grand homage of love and obedience.
Sequence for the Time of Advent
(Composed in the eleventh century, and taken from the ancient Roman-French missals)
Qui regis sceptra forti dextra solus cuncta;
Tu plebi tuam ostende magnam excitando potentiam; Praesta illi dona salutaria.
Quem praedixerunt prophetica vaticinia, A clara poli regia,
In nostra Jesum mitte, Domine, arva.
O thou that, in the might of thy right hand, alone rulest over all sceptres,
Raise up thy great power, and show it to the people, To whom grant the gifts of salvation.
Jesus whom the oracles of the prophets foretold, Send him from the bright palace of heaven,
Send him, O Lord, into our land.
 Gen. xlix. 10.
 St. John xviii. 31.
 Ps. xliv.
 St. John xviii. 37.
 Ps. cix. 5.
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
Divine Wisdom has willed that on the way which leads to the Messias, our great High Priest, there should be many pontiffs to pay Him the honour due to Him. Two Popes, St. Melchiades and St. Damasus; two holy doctors, St. Peter Chrysologus and St. Ambrose; two bishops, St. Nicholas and St. Eusebius; these are the glorious pontiffs who have been entrusted with the charge of preparing, by their prayers, the way of the Christian people towards Him, who is the sovereign Priest according to the order of Melchisedech. As each of their feasts comes we will show their right to have been thus admitted into the court of Jesus. To-day the Church celebrates with joy the feast of the great thaumaturgus Nicholas, who is to the Greek Church what St. Martin is to us. The Church of Rome has honoured the name of Nicholas for nearly a thousand years. Let us admire the wonderful power which God gave him over creation; but let us offer him our most fervent congratulations for that he was permitted to be one of the three hundred and eighteen bishops, who proclaimed, at Nicæa, that the Word is consubstantial with the Father. The humiliations of the Son of God did not scandalize him. Neither the lowliness of the flesh, which the sovereign Lord of all things assumed to Himself in the womb of the Virgin, nor the poverty of the crib, hindered him from confessing the Son of Mary to be Son of God, equal to God; and for this reason, God has glorified this His servant, and given him the power to obtain, each year, for the children of the Church, the grace of receiving this same Jesus, the Word, with simple faith and fervent love. Let us now listen to the eulogy of St. Nicholas, which the Roman Church has inserted in her liturgy.
Nicolaum, illustri loco Pataræ in Lycia natum, parentes a Deo precibus impetrarunt. Cujus viri sanctitas, quanta futura esset, jam ab incunabulis apparuit. Nam infans, quum reliquos dies lac nutricis frequens sugeret, quarta et sexta feria semel dumtaxat, idque vesperi, sugebat: quam jejunii consuetudinem in reliqua vita semper tenuit. Adolescens parentibus orbatus, facultates suas pauperibus distribuit. Cujus illud insigne est Christianæ benignitatis exemplum, quod quum ejus civis egens tres filias jam nubiles in matrimonio collocare non posset, earumque pudicitiam prostituere cogitaret: re cognita, Nicolaus noctu per fenestram tantum pecuniæ in ejus domum injecit, quantum unius virginis doti satis esset: quod quum iterum et tertio fecisset, tres illæ virgines honestis viris in matrimonium datæ sunt.
Quum vero se totum Deo dedisset, in Palæstinam profectus est, ut loca sancta viseret, et præsens veneraretur. Qua in peregrinatione navem conscendens sereno cœlo et tranquillo mari, horribilem nautis tempestatem prædixit: moxque ortam, quum essent omnes in summo periculo, orans mirabiliter sedavit. Unde quum domum reversus singularis sanctitatis omnibus documenta præberet, Dei admonitu Myram, quæ Lyciæ metropolis erat, venit: quo tempore ejus urbis episcopo mortuo, provinciales episcopi de successore deligendo consultabant. Itaque in ea deliberatione divinitus admoniti Bunt, ut eum eligerent, qui postridie mane primus in ecclesiam ingrederetur, Nicolaus nomine. Qua observatione adbibita, in ecclesiæ janua deprehensus est Nicolaus, et summo omnium consensu Myræ episcopus creatur. In episcopatu castitatem, quam semper coluerat, gravitatem, orationis assiduitatem, vigilias, abstinentiam, liberalitatem et hospitalitatem, in adhortando mansuetudinem, in reprehendendo severitatem, perpetuo adhibuit.
Viduis et orphanis pecunia, consilio, opere non defuit: oppressos adeo sublevavit, ut etiam tres tribunos, per calumniam a Constantino Augusto condemnatos, qui se propter famam miraculorum ejus orationibus, longissime absenti, commendarant, adhuc vivens, quum imperatori, minaciter eum terrens, apparuisset, liberaverit. Quum vero contra edictum Diocletiani et Maximiani Christianae fidei veritatem Myræ praedicaret, ab imperatorum satellitibus comprehensus, et longissime abductus in carcerem conjectus est; ubi fuit usque ad Constantinum imperatorem: cujus jussu ex custodia ereptus, Myram rediit. Mox ad Nicænum Concilium se contulit: ubi cum trecentis illis decem et octo patribus Arianam hæresim condemnavit. Inde reversus ad episcopatum, non ita multo post instante morte, suspiciens in cœlum, quum angelos sibi occurrentes intueretur, illo psalmo pronunciato: In te, Domine, speravi, usque ad eum locum: In manus tuas commendo spiritum meum: in cœlestem patriam migravit. Ejus corpus Barium in Apulia translatum, ibidem summa celebritate ac veneratione colitur.
Nicholas was born of a noble family at Patara, in the province of Lycia. His birth was the fruit of his parents’ prayers. Evidences of his great future holiness were given from his very cradle. For when he was an infant, he would take his food only once on Wednesdays and Fridays, and then not till evening; whilst on all other days he frequently took the breast: he kept up this custom of fasting during the rest of his life. Having lost his parents when he was a boy, he gave all his goods to the poor. Of his Christian kindheartedness there is the following noble example. One of his fellow-citizens had three daughters; but being too poor to obtain them an honourable marriage, he was minded to abandon them to a life of prostitution. Nicholas having come to know the case, went to the house during the night, and threw in by the window a sum of money sufficient for the dower of one of the daughters; he did the same a second and a third time; and thus the three were married to respectable men.
Having given himself wholly to the service of God, he set out for Palestine, that he might visit and venerate the holy places. During this pilgrimage, which he made by sea, he foretold to the mariners on embarking, though the heavens were then serene and the sea tranquil, that they would be overtaken by a frightful storm. In a very short time the storm arose. All wore in the most imminent danger, when he quelled it by his prayers. His pilgrimage ended, he returned home, giving to all men example of the greatest sanctity. He went, by an inspiration from God, to Myra, the metropolis of Lycia, which had just lost its bishop by death, and the bishops of the province had come together for the purpose of electing a successor. Whilst they were holding council for the election, they were told by a revelation from heaven, that they should choose him who, on the morrow, should be the first to enter the church, his name being Nicholas. Accordingly, the requisite observations were made, when they found Nicholas to be waiting at the church door: they took him, and, to the incredible delight of all, made him the bishop of Myra. During his episcopate, he never flagged in the virtues looked for in a bishop; chastity, which indeed he had always preserved, gravity, assiduity in prayer, watchings, abstinence, generosity, and hospitality, meekness in exhortation, severity in reproving.
He befriended widows and orphans by money, by advice, and by every service in his power. So zealous a defender was he of all who suffered oppression, that, on one occasion, three tribunos having been condemned by the emperor Constantine, who had been deceived by calumny, and having heard of the miracles wrought by Nicholas, they recommended themselves to his prayers, though he was living at a very great distance from that place: the saint appeared to Constantine, and looking angrily upon him, obtained from the terrified emperor their deliverance. Having, contrary to the edict of Diocletian and Maximian, preached in Myra the truth of the Christian faith, he was taken up by the servants of the two emperors. He was taken off to a great distance and thrown into prison, where he remained until Constantine, having become emperor, ordered his release, and the saint returned to Myra. Shortly afterwards, he repaired to the Council which was being held at Nicæa; there he took part with the three hundred and eighteen fathers in condemning the Arian heresy. Scarcely had he returned to his see, than he was taken with the sickness of which he soon died. Looking up to heaven, and seeing angels coming to meet him, he began the psalm, ‘In thee, O Lord, have I hoped;' and having come to those words, ‘Into thy hands I commend my spirit,’ his soul took its flight to the heavenly country. His body, having been translated to Bari in Apulia, is the object of universal veneration.
Almost all the breviaries of the Latin Church, up to the seventeenth century, contain most fervent praises of the virtues and miracles of St. Nicholas, and give the beautiful Office of the holy bishop, which was composed about the twelfth century. We have spoken elsewhere of this Office as regards the music; at present we will only mention its being drawn up exclusively on the Acts of St. Nicholas, and its being more explicit on some circumstances of the saint’s life than is the legend of the Roman breviary. The following portions of this Office dwell with complacency on a fact which is not mentioned in our liturgy: we mean the miraculous oil, which, for almost eight hundred years, has flowed without ceasing from the tomb of the holy bishop, and by means of which God has frequently wrought miracles. The responsory and antiphon which we give are upon the miracle of the oil itself. They were formerly so familiar to the faithful, that in the thirteenth century their music was sung to the responsory Unus Panis, and to the antiphon O quam suavis est, of the Office of Corpus Christi.
R. Ex ejus tumba marmorea sacrum resudat oleum, quo liniti sanantur cæci: * Surdis auditus redditur et debilis quisque sospes regreditur.
V. Catervatim ruunt populi cernere cupientes, quæ per eum fiunt mirabilia. * Surdis auditus redditur; et debilis quisque sospes regreditur.
R. From his marble tomb there flows a holy oil, wherewith the blind are anointed and healed: * The deaf recover their hearing: and the weak return home strong.
V. The people rush in crowds, desiring to witness the wonderful works which are done by him. * The deaf recover their hearing: and the weak return home strong.
O Christi pietas omni prosequenda laude! Quæ sui famuli Nicolai merita longe lateque declarat: nam ex tumba ejus oleum manat, cunctosque languidos sanat.
Oh! the mercy of Christ, worthy of all our praise! which makes known, through the length and breadth of the world, the merits of his servant Nicholas: for from his tomb there flows an oil, and it heals all that are infirm.
Pange lingua Nicolai
Ut nos summus Adonai,
Rex et Pater omnium,
Ad salutis portum trahi
Faciat per Filium.
Dum penderet ad mamillam
Matris, ab infantia,
Quarta semel bibit illam,
Atque sexta feria;
Ne per lactis puer stillam
Sublimatus ad honorem
Pietatis ita rorem
Cunctis pluit populis,
Ut vix parem aut majorem
Habeat in sæculis.
Auro dato, violari
Far in fame, vas in mari,
Servat et distribuit;
Qui timebant naufragari,
Nautis opem tribuit.
A defunctis suscitatur
Furtem qui commiserat;
Et Judæus baptizatur,
Illi vita restauratur;
Hic ad fidem properat.
Decus, honor, gloria,
Plebem omnem, clerum totum,
Mentes, manus, labia,
Ad reddendum Deo votum,
Tua juvet gratia.
Sit laus summæ Trinitati,
Virtus et victoria,
Quae det nobis ut beati
Post vitam in patria.
Tell, O my tongue,
the praise of the pontiff Nicholas;
that so the sovereign Adonai,
the King and Father of all creatures,
may grant us to be brought by his Son,
to the port of salvation.
When yet a babe at his mother’s breast,
he took it but once
on each fourth and sixth feria,
nor would the child
break his fast
by one drop of milk.
Elevated to the dignity of pontiff,
Nicholas so abundantly
gave to all men the dew of piety,
that scarce could any age
find a better
or so good a pastor.
He gives his gold to secure virgins their treasure;
he distributes corn to the people in a famine;
he brings up from the depths of the sea a vase
that had fallen in;
he brings help to mariners
who were well nigh to shipwreck.
He brings to life a dead man
who had committed a theft;
the Jew is baptized and recovers
what had been stolen from him;
the one is restored to life;
the other is brought to the faith.
Nicholas! thou fair gem,
and honour, and glory of the priesthood!
help by thy gracious intercession
the whole people, the whole clergy;
that their minds, and hands, and lips,
may pay their tribute to our God.
Praise, power, and triumph,
to the most high Trinity!
May it give us to come, after this life,
with our laurel wreaths upon us,
to the joys which Nicholas the blessed
possesses in our country of heaven.
Cleri patrem et patronum
Læte promens vocis sonum
Clerus, et magnificet:
Se cor promptum, se cor pronum
Sono vocis ampliet.
Graecus omnis et Latinus,
Lingua, tribus, natio:
Orbis terræ, maris sinus,
Sexus et conditio;
Hospes, cives, peregrinus,
Pari psallat studio.
Semper dedit, dat et dabit
Præsul, cujus nomen abit
Numquam e memoria;
Quisque mœstus germinabit,
Florens sicut lilia.
Hio in carne constitues
Carnis spernens opera,
Nihil agens aut locutus,
Vinclis carnis absolutus,
Tandem scandit æthera.
Quæ sit virtus charitatis
Hoc præsenti sæculo,
Oleum declarat satis,
Quod manat de tumulo;
Et dat munus sanitatis
Sit laus summæ Trinitati,
Virtus et victoria,
Quæ det nobis ut beati
Post vitam in patria.
Let the clergy
joyfully raise their voice in song,
and magnify Nicholas
the father and patron of the clergy;
and let their chants give fresh devotion
to their already fervent and docile heart.
Let the Greeks, and Latins,
and every tongue and tribe and nation;
let the sea, and land;
let all, whatever their sex or condition,
guest or citizen or stranger,
sing the praises of Nicholas with one like enthusiasm.
This pontiff, whose name is immortal
in the memory of men,
ever gave, gives, and will give favours to all;
he will make him,
who was pining away in grief,
bloom in joy as a lily.
Whilst living in the flesh
he spurned the deeds of the flesh;
he did nothing and spoke nothing
but what was unto salvation:
and now, having been loosed from the bonds of the flesh,
he has mounted to the starry realms.
How great is the power of his charity,
even in this very age,
is plainly enough manifested by the oil
which flows from his tomb,
giving to all people, that ask it,
the boon of health.
Praise, power, and triumph
to the most high Trinity.
May it give us to come, after this life,
with our laurel wreaths upon us,
to the joys which Nicholas the blessed
possesses in our country of heaven.
It was impossible for Adam of Saint-Victor to remain silent in the praise of St. Nicholas. The Churches, in the middle ages, received from him the following beautiful sequence.
Ad beati Nicolai
Qui in cunis adhuc jacens,
A papillis cœpit summa
Alienus et immunis
Ab omni lascivia.
Cujus fuit dignitatis
Vox de cœlo nuntia.
Per quam provectus,
Ad summa fastigia.
Erat in ejus animo
Et oppressis impendebat
Auro per eum virginum
Atque patris earumdem
Quidam nautæ navigantes
Et contra fluctuum
Navi pene dissoluta;
Jam de vita desperantes,
In tanto positi
Voce dicunt omnes una:
O beate Nicolae,
Nos ad maris portum trahe
De mortis angustia.
Trahe nos ad portum maris:
Tu qui tot auxiliaris
Dum clamarent, nec incassum,
Ecce quidam, dicens: Adsum
Ad vestra præsidia.
Statim aura datur grata:
Et tempestas fit sedata,
Ex ipsius tumba manat
Quae infirmos omnes sanat
Per ejus suffragia.
Nos qui sumus in hoc mundo
Vitiorum in profundo
Jam passi naufragia,
Ad salutis portum trahe,
Ubi pax et gloria.
Ipsam nobis unctionem
Impetres a Domino,
Quæ sanavit læsionem
Hujus festum celebrantes
Gaudeant per sæcula;
Et coronet eos Christus
Post vitæ curricula.
With our hearts and songs in unison,
let us exult
on this festive solemnity
of blessed Nicholas.
When a babe in his cradle,
he began to fast,
And thus deserved, before weaned from the breast,
the joys of heaven.
He enters, when a boy,
upon a course of studies,
Yet follows not,
yet knows not, impurity.
Blessed confessor indeed,
whose worth was known
by a message from heaven,
At whose bidding
he was promoted and exalted
to the supreme dignity of pontiff.
There was in his soul
the most tender compassion,
which prompted him to bestow continual benefits
on those who suffered oppression.
He averted infamy
from virgins by the gold he gave;
and by the same he relieved
their father’s poverty.
Some mariners had set sail;
when a furious storm
and their bark was well-nigh wrecked:
Despairing of life,
and in this extreme danger,
they cry out
with one voice, saying:
‘O holy Nicholas!
help us out of these straits of death,
and lead us into harbour!
‘Yea, lead us into harbour,
thou whose kind heart is ever ready
to help them that are in affliction.’
They prayed; nor was it in vain:
for lo! a voice was heard saying: ‘I am here
to help you.’
Straightway arose a favourable wind:
the storm was lulled:
the sea was calm.
From his tomb there flows
an abundant oil:
It heals all kinds of sickness,
through the intercession of the saint.
We who are now living in this world,
have already suffered
shipwreck in the sea of sin:
Ah! glorious Nicholas,
lead us into the harbour of salvation,
where there is peace and glory.
There is an unction,
which thy merciful prayers
must get us from the Lord:
It is that unction
which healed the wound
of Magdalene’s many sins.
May they that keep this feast
come to the eternal joys;
And may Jesus crown them
after this life is run.
But none of the sequences of St. Nicholas was so popular as the one we now give. It is to be found in a great many processionals up to the seventeenth century, and on its model were composed innumerable others, which, though drawn up in praise of various patrons, not only kept the measure and the melody, but the very expressions, ingeniously turned here and there, of the sequence of St. Nicholas.
Sospitati dedit ægros
Relevavit a defunctis
Defunctum in bivio.
Baptizatur auri viso
Vas in mari mersum, patri
Redditur cum filio.
O quam probat sanctum Dei
Ergo laudes Nicolao
Concinat hæc concio.
Nam qui corde poscit illum
The sick are restored to health
by the miraculous oil.
They who are in danger of shipwreck
are delivered by Nicholas’ prayers.
He raised from amongst the dead
a corpse which lay on the road.
A Jew asks for baptism,
on witnessing the miraculous recovery of his money.
A vase that had sunk in the deep sea,
and a child that was lost to his father, are both recovered.
Oh how great a saint did he appear
by multiplying corn in a famine!
Let, then, this congregation
sing the hymns of Nicholas’ praise;
For all who pray to him
with earnest hearts,
will go back cured of their spiritual ailments.
But no Church has evinced such enthusiasm for St. Nicholas as the Greek Church in its Menæa. The illustrious thaumaturgus was evidently one of the firmest hopes of the Byzantine empire, and Constantinople transmitted the same confidence to Russia, which even to this day professes great devotion to St. Nicholas. We extract, as usual, a few stanzas from the sacred chants which the Church of St. Sophia anciently sang in the Greek language, and which the gilded domes of Moscow re-echo still, every year, in Slavonic.
Hymn to St. Nicholas
(Taken from the Menæa of the Greeks)
Myræ quidem habitasti, et myrrham seu unguentum vere demonstrasti, unguento tinctus spirituali, sancte Nicolae, summe Christi archierarcha, et ungis facies illorum qui cum fide et amore tui celebrandam memoriam semper perficiunt; solvens eos ab omni necessitate, et periculo, et tribulatione, pater, in tuis ad Dominum precibus.
Victoria populi vere nomine proprio demonstratus es in tentationibus potens, sancte Nicolae, summe Christi sacerdos; nam passim invocatus, velociter prævenis eos qui cum amore ad tuum præsidium confugiunt; tu enim die ac nocte cum fide visus, salvas eos a tentationibus et necessitatibus.
Constantino imperatori et Ablavio in somnis apparuisti, iliisque terrorem injiciens, ad illos ut liberarent festinanter: Quos in carcere, aiebas, habetis vinctos, innocentes sunt ab illegitima jugulatione: quod si me audire neglexeris, precem contra te, princeps, ad Dominum obsecrans intentabo.
Defixis acriter oculis, inspexisti in Gnoseos altitudines, et caliginosum inspexisti Sapientiæ abyssum: tu qui tuis documentis ditasti mundum, pater, pro nobis Christum deprecare, summe sacerdos Nicolae.
Regulam fidei et dulcedinis imaginem monstravit te gregi tuo Christus Deus, summe sacerdos, hierarcha Nicolae: in Myra namque unguentum spargis, illucescunt tua præclara facta orphanorum ac viduarum protector: ideoque deprecari ne cesses salvari animas nostras.
Gaude, sacratissima mens, Trinitatis mansio purissima, Ecclesiæ columna, fidelium stabilimentum, fatigatorum auxilium, stella quæ bene acceptarum precum fulgoribus tentationum tenebras undique depellis, sancte sacerdos Nicolae; portus placidissimus, in quo fugientes tempestatibus circumventi salvantur, Christumdeprecare dari animabus nostris magnam misericordiam.
Gaude, O divino zelo accense, qui tua terribili animadversione et in somnis allocutione liberasti injuste cædendos. Fons fluens in Myra unguenta ditissima, animas irrigans, foetida cupiditatum expurgans, gladio zizania erroris amputans; expurgans ventilabro, dissipa Arii acerosa documenta; et Christum deprecare dari animabus nostris magnam misericordiam.
Altissime Rex regum, magnipotens, precibus sancti pastoris, vitam, O Verbum, pacifica, quæsumus, cunctorum Christianorum; donans contra barbaros pio regi victoriam et fortitudinem, ut omnes semper hymnificemus potentiam tuam, et extollamus usque ad omnia sæcula.
Thou didst dwell in Myra, and being spiritually anointed, thou didst show thyself to be truly a mystic myrrh, O saintly Nicholas, great high priest of Christ! Thou anointest them that ever come with faith and love to celebrate thy memory; for, by thy prayers to God, O father, thou deliverest them from every necessity, and peril, and tribulation.
How well indeed hast thou fulfilled thy name, The people's victory! for, saintly Nicholas, and high priest of Christ, thou art the powerful helper of them that are in temptation. Wheresoever thou art invoked, thou swiftly art with those that lovingly have recourse to thy protection, for day and night thou showest thyself to the eye of faith, and savest them from temptations and necessities.
Thou didst appear to the emperor Constantine and to Ablavius in their sleep, terrifying them, and thus bidding them speedily set their prisoners free: ‘These men, whom ye keep bound in prison, deserve not the death to which ye have unjustly sentenced them: and if thou, O prince, settest my word at nought, I will beseechingly bear a petition against thee to the Lord.’
Thou didst fix thy keen vision on the heights of the mystery, and didst look down into the cloud-covered abyss of Wisdom. O father, who didst enrich the world by thy doctrines, pray for us to Christ, O high priest Nicholas!
Christ our God showed thee to thy flock as the rule of faith and the model of meekness, thou high priest, thou sainted hierarch Nicholas! for thou pourest forth in Myra a delicious fragrance, and thy splendid deeds give out their bright light, thou the protector of the orphan and the widow: therefore, cease not to pray for the salvation of our souls.
Rejoice, most holy soul, most pure abode of the Trinity, pillar of the Church, support of the faithful, help of the wearied, star, which by the vivid rays of thy most efficacious prayers, dost dispel the darkness of every temptation, holy priest Nicholas! most tranquil port, into which the tempest-tossed run and find safety, beseech Jesus to show unto our souls his great mercy.
Rejoice, O thou that burnest with divine zeal, who, by thy terrible threat spoken to men in their dream, didst rescue them that were unjustly condemned to death. O fount of Myra overflowing with sweetness, that refreshest souls, that cleansest what passion defiles! Sword that cuttest down the tares of error! Oh come and winnow away the chaffy doctrines of Arius; and beseech Jesus to grant unto our souls his great mercy.
O thou the most high King of kings, almighty Lord, O divine Word, we beseech thee hear the prayer of this thy holy pastor, and give to all Christians to pass their days in peace: grant to our good king victory and energy against the barbarians: that thus we may all and in all times hymn thy power, and extol thee for ever and ever.
Holy pontiff Nicholas, how great is thy glory in God’s Church! Thou didst confess the name of Jesus before the proconsuls of the world’s empire and suffer persecution for His name’s sake; afterwards thou wast witness to the wonderful workings of God, when He restored peace to His Church; and a short time after this again, thou didst open thy lips, in the assembly of the three hundred and eighteen fathers, to confess with supreme authority the Divinity of our Saviour Jesus Christ, for whose sake so many millions of martyrs had already shed their blood. Receive the devout felicitations of the Christian people throughout the universe, who thrill with joy when they think of thy glorious merits. Help us by thy prayers during these days when we are preparing for the coming of Him, whom thou didst proclaim to be consubstantial with the Father, Vouchsafe to assist our faith and to obtain fresh fervour to our love. Thou now beholdest face to face that Word by whom all things were made and redeemed; beseech Him to permit our unworthiness to approach Him. Be thou our intercessor with Him. Thou hast taught us to know Him as the sovereign and eternal God; teach us also to love Him as the supreme benefactor of the children of Adam. It was from Him, O charitable pontiff, that thou didst learn that tender compassion for the sufferings of thy fellow-men, which made all thy miracles to be so many acts of kindness: cease not, now that thou art in the company of the angels, to have pity on us and to succour our miseries.
Stir up and increase the faith of mankind in the Saviour whom the Lord hath sent them. May this be one of the fruits of thy prayer, that the divine Word may be no longer unknown and forgotten in this world, which He has redeemed with His Blood. Ask for the pastors of the Church that spirit of charity, which shone so brilliantly in thee; that spirit which makes them like their divine Master, and wins them the hearts of their people.
Remember, too, O holy pontiff, that Church of the east which still loves thee so fervently. When thou wast on this earth, God gave thee power to raise the dead to life; pray now, that the true life, which consists in faith and unity, may return once more and animate that body which schism has robbed of its soul. By thy supplications, obtain of God that the sacrifice of the Lamb, who is so soon to visit us, may be again and soon celebrated under the cupolas of St. Sophia. May the sanctuaries of Kiew and Moscow become resanctified by the return of the people to unity. May the pride of the crescent be humbled into submission to the cross, and the schismatic be brought to acknowledge the power of the keys of St. Peter; that thus there may be henceforth neither Scythian, nor barbarian, but one fold under one Shepherd.
Let us resume our considerations upon the state of the world at the time immediately preceding the coming of the Messias. Everything proves that the prophecies which foretold the great event have now been fulfilled. Not only has the sceptre been taken from Juda; the weeks of Daniel also are almost expired. The other scriptural predictions relative to the great revolutions, which were to take place in the world, have been successively fulfilled. The empires of the Assyrians, the Medes, the Persians, and the Greeks, have fallen one after the other; that of the Romans is now at the zenith of its greatness; in its turn, it must yield to the eternal empire of the Messias. This succession of empires, which was to result in a perfect kingdom, was foretold; and all is now ready for its final accomplishment. God has also said, by one of His prophets: ‘Yet one little while, and I will move heaven and earth . . . and I will move all nations, and the Desired of all nations shall come.’ Descend, therefore, O Thou eternal Word! All is consummated. The misery of the world is extreme; the crimes of men cry to heaven for vengeance; the whole human race is threatened with self-destruction, and without knowing what it does, it calls for Thee as its only resource. Then come! All the predictions which were to designate the Redeemer have been spoken and promulgated. There is no longer a prophet in Israel, and the oracles of the Gentile world have ceased to speak. Come, Lord Jesus, and fulfil all things, for the fulness of time has come.
Prayer for the Time of Advent
(The Mozarabic breviary, first Sunday of Advent, Capitulum)
Preces nostras ne despexeris, Domine: intende jam et exaudi clementer: ut qui voce inimici turbati dejicimur, Unigeniti tui adventu sacratissimo consolemur: et fide pennigerati, velut columba, ad superna tendamus. Elonga nos, Domine, a saeculo maligno, et a laqueo inimici custodi. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
Despise not our prayers, O Lord: look down upon us and mercifully hear us: that we who are in trouble and cast down at the voice of our enemy, may be comforted by the most sacred coming of thine only begotten Son. May faith give us wings, that, like the dove, we may take our flight to the things that are above. Separate us, O Lord, from the wicked world, and keep us from the snare of the enemy. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
 Aggeus ii 7. 8.
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
This illustrious pontiff was deservedly placed in the calendar of the Church side by side with the glorious bishop of Myra. Nicholas confessed, at Nicæa, the divinity of the Redeemer; Ambrose, in his pity of Milan, was the object of the hatred of the Arians, and, by his invincible courage, triumphed over the enemies of Christ. Let Ambrose, then, unite his voice, as doctor of the Church, with that of St. Peter Chrysologus, and preach to the world the glories and the humiliations of the Messias. But, as doctor of the Church, he has a special claim to our veneration: it is, that among the bright luminaries of the Latin Church, four great masters head the list of sacred interpreters of the faith: Gregory, Augustine, Jerome; and then our glorious Ambrose, bishop of Milan, makes up the mystic number.
Ambrose owes his noble position in the calendar to the ancient custom of the Church, whereby, in the early ages, no saint’s feast was allowed to be kept in Lent. The day of his departure from this world and of his entrance into heaven was the fourth of April, which, more frequently than not, comes during Lent; so that it was requisite that the memory of his sacred death should be solemnized on some other day, and the seventh of December naturally presented itself for such a feast, inasmuch as it was the anniversary-day of Ambrose’s consecration as bishop.
But, independently of these considerations, the road which leads us to Bethlehem could be perfumed by nothing so fragrant as this feast of St. Ambrose. Does not the thought of this saintly and amiable bishop impress us with the image of dignity and sweetness combined? of the strength of the lion United with the gentleness of the dove? Time removes the deepest human impressions; but the memory of Ambrose is as vivid and dear in men’s minds as though he were still among us. Who can ever forget the young, yet staid and learned governor of Liguria and Emilia, who comes to Milan as a simple catechumen, and finds himself forced, by the acclamations of the people, to ascend the episcopal throne of this great city? And how indelibly impressed upon us are certain touching incidents of his early life! For instance, that beautiful presage of his irresistible eloquence—the swarm of bees coming round him as he was sleeping one day in his father’s garden, and entering into his mouth, as though they would tell us how sweet that babe’s words would be! And the prophetic gravity with which Ambrose, when quite a boy, would hold out his hand to his mother and sister, bidding them kiss it, for that one day it would be the hand of a bishop!
But what hard work awaited the neophyte of Milan, who was no sooner regenerated in the waters of Baptism, than he was consecrated priest and bishop! He had to apply himself, there and then, to close study of the sacred Scriptures, that so he might prepare himself to become the defender of the Church, which was * attacked, in the fundamental dogma of the Incarnation, by the false science of the Arians. In a short time he attained such proficiency in the sacred sciences, as to become, like the prophet, a wall of brass, which checked the further progress of Arianism: moreover, the works written by Ambrose possess such plenitude and surety of doctrine, as to be numbered by the Church among the most faithful and authoritative interpretations of her teaching.
But Ambrose had other and fiercer contests than those of religious controversy to encounter: his very life was more than once threatened by the heretics whom he had silenced. What a sublime spectacle that of a bishop blockaded in his church by the troops of the empress Justina, and defended within by his people, day and night! Pastor and flock, both are admirable. How had Ambrose merited such fidelity and confidence on the part of his people? By a whole life spent for the welfare of his city and his country. He had never ceased to preach Jesus to all men; and now, the people see their bishop become, by his zeal, his devotedness, and his selfsacrificing conduct, a living image of Jesus.
In the midst of these dangers which threatened his person, his great soul was calm and seemingly unconscious of the fury of his enemies. It was on that very occasion that he instituted, at Milan, the choral singing of the psalms. Up to that time, the holy canticles had been given from the ambo by the single voice of a lector; but Ambrose, shut up in his basilica with his people, takes the opportunity, and forms two choirs, bidding them respond to each other the verses of the psalms. The people forgot their trouble in the delight of this heavenly music; nay, the very howling of the tempest, and the fierceness of the siege they were sustaining, added enthusiasm to this first exercise of their new privilege. Such was the chivalrous origin of alternate psalmody in the western Church. Rome adopted the practice, which Ambrose was the first to introduce, and which will continue to be observed to the end of time. During these hours of struggle with his enemies the glorious bishop has another gift wherewith to enrich the faithful people who are defending him at the risk of their own lives. Ambrose is a poet, and he has frequently sung, in verses full of sweetness and sublimity, the greatness of the God of the Christians, and the mysteries of man’s salvation. He now gives to his devoted people these hymns, which he had composed only for his own private devotion. The basilicas of Milan soon echoed these accents of the sublime soul which first uttered them. Later on, the whole Latin Church adopted them; and in honour of the holy bishop who had thus opened one of the richest sources of the sacred liturgy, a hymn was, for a long time, called after his name, an Ambrosian. The Divine Office thus received a new mode of celebrating the divine praise, and the Church, the bride of Christ, possessed one means more of giving expression to the sentiments which animate her.
Thus our hymns, and the alternate singing of the psalms, are trophies of Ambrose’s victory. He had been raised up by God not for his own age alone, but also for those which were to follow. Hence, the Holy Ghost infused into him the knowledge of Christian jurisprudence, that he might be the defender of the rights of the Church at a period when paganism still lived, though defeated; and imperialism, or cæsarism, had still the instinct, though not the uncontrolled power, to exercise its tyranny. Ambrose’s law was the Gospel, and he would acknowledge no law which was in opposition to that. He could not understand such imperial policy as that of ordering a basilica to be given up to the Arians, for quietness’ sake! He would defend the inheritance of the Church; and in that defence, would shed the last drop of his blood. Certain courtiers dared to accuse him of tyranny:
‘No,’ answered the saint, ‘bishops are not tyrants, but have often to suffer from tyranny.’ The eunuch Calligonus, high chamberlain of the Emperor Valentinian II., had said to Ambrose; ‘What! darest thou, in my presence, to care so little for Valentinian! I will cut off thy head.' 'I would it might be so,' answered Ambrose, 'I should then die as a bishop, and thou wouldst have done what eunuchs are wont to do.'
This noble courage in the defence of the rights of the Church showed itself even more clearly on another occasion. The Roman senate, or rather that portion of the senate which, though a minority, was still pagan, was instigated by Symmachus, the prefect of Rome, to ask the emperor for the re-erection of the altar of victory in the Capitol, under the pretext of averting the misfortunes which threatened the empire. Ambrose, who had said to these politicians, 'I hate the religion of the Neros,' vehemently opposed this last effort of idolatry. He presented most eloquent petitions to Valentinian, in which he protested against an attempt which aimed at bringing a Christian prince to recognize that false doctrines have rights, and which would, if permitted to be tried, rob the one only Master of nations of the victories which He had won. Valentinian yielded to these earnest remonstrances, which taught him 'that a Christian emperor can honour only one altar—the altar of Christ and when the senators had to receive their answer, the prince told them that Rome was his mother, and he loved her: but that God was his Saviour, and he would obey Him.
If the empire of Rome had not been irrevocably condemned by God to destruction, the influence which St. Ambrose had over such well-intentioned princes as Valentinian would probably have saved it. The saint’s maxim was a strong one; but it was not to be realized until new kingdoms, springing up out of the ruins of the Roman empire, should be organized by the Christian Church. ‘An emperor’s grandest title,’ said Ambrose, 'is to be a son of the Church. An emperor is in the Church, he is not over her.’
It is beautiful to see the affectionate solicitude of St. Ambrose for the young emperor Gratian, at whose death he shed floods of tears. How tenderly, too, did he love Theodosius, that model Christian prince, for whose sake God retarded the fall of the empire, by the uninterrupted victory over all its enemies! On one occasion, indeed, this son of the Church showed in himself the pagan Cæsar; but his holy father Ambrose, by a severity which was inflexible because his affection for the culprit was great, brought him back to his duty and his God. ‘I loved,' says the holy bishop, in the funeral oration which he preached over Theodosius, ‘I loved this prince, who preferred correction to flattery. He stripped himself of his royal robes and publicly wept in the Church for the sin he had committed, and into which he had been led by evil counsel. In sighs and tears he sought to be forgiven. He, an emperor, did what common men would be ashamed to do, he did public penance; and for the rest of his life, he passed not a day without bewailing his sin.'
But we should have a very false idea of St. Ambrose if we thought that he turned his attention only to affairs of importance like these, which brought him before the notice of the world. No pastor could be more solicitous than he about the slightest detail which affected the interests of his flock. We have his life written by his deacon, Paulinus, who knew secrets which intimacy alone can know, and these fortunately he has revealed to us. Among other things, he tells us that when Ambrose heard confessions, he shed so many tears that the sinner was forced to weep: ‘You would have thought,’ says Paulinus, ‘that they were his own sins that he was listening to.’ We all know the tender paternal interest he felt for Augustine, when he was a slave to error and to his passions; and if we would have a faithful portrait of Ambrose, we must read in the Confessions of the bishop of Hippo the fine passage where he expresses his admiration and gratitude for his spiritual father. Ambrose had told Monica that her son Augustine, who gave her so much anxiety, would be converted. That happy day at last came; it was Ambrose’s hand which immersed in the cleansing waters of Baptism him who was to be the prince of the Doctors of the Church.
A heart thus loyal in its friendship could not but be affectionate to those who were related by ties of blood. He tenderly loved his brother Satyrus, as we may see from the two funeral orations which he has left us upon this brother, wherein he speaks his praises with all the warmth of enthusiastic admiration. He had a sister, too, named Marcellina, who was equally dear to her saintly brother. From her earliest years, she had spurned the world and its pomps, and the position which she might expect to enjoy in it, being a patrician’s daughter. She had received the veil of virginity from the hands of Pope Liberius, but lived in her father’s house at Rome. Her brother Ambrose was separated from her, but he seemed to love her the more for that; and he communicated with her in her holy retirement by frequent letters, several of which are still extant. She deserved all the esteem which Ambrose had for her; she had a great love for the Church of God, and she was heart and soul in all the great undertakings of her brother the bishop. The very heading of these letters shows the affection of the saint: ‘The brother to the sister or;’ To my sister Marcellina, dearer to me than mine own eyes and life.’ Then follows the letter, in an energetic and animated style, well suited to the soul-stirring communications he had to make to her about his struggles. One of them was written in the midst of the storm, when the courageous pontiff was besieged in his basilica by Justina’s soldiers. His discourses to the people of Milan, his consolations and his trials, the heroic sentiments of his great soul, all is told in these despatches to his sister, where every line shows how strong and holy was the attachment between Ambrose and Marcellina. The great basilica of Milan still contains the tombs of the brother and sister: and over them both is daily offered the divine sacrifice.
Such was Ambrose, of whom Theodosius was one day heard to say: 'There is but one bishop in the world.' Let us glorify the holy Spirit, who has vouchsafed to produce this sublime model in the Church, and let us beg of the holy pontiff to obtain for us, by his prayers, a share in that lively faith and ardent love which he himself had, and which he evinces in the delicious and eloquent writings he has left us on the mystery of the Incarnation. During these days, which are preparing us for the birth of our Incarnate Lord, Ambrose is one of our most powerful patrons.
His love towards the blessed Mother of God teaches us what admiration and love we ought to have for Mary. St. Ephrem and St. Ambrose are the two fathers of the fourth century who are the most explicit upon the glories of the office and the person of the Mother of Jesus. To confine ourselves to St. Ambrose, he has completely mastered this mystery, which he understood, and appreciated, and defined in his writings. Mary’s exemption from every stain of sin; Mary’s uniting herself, at the foot of the cross, with her divine Son for the salvation of the world; Jesus’ appearing, after His resurrection, to Mary first of all—on these and so many other points St. Ambrose has spoken so clearly as to deserve to be considered one of the most prominent witnesses of the primitive traditions respecting the privileges and dignity of the holy Mother of God.
This his devotion to Mary explains St. Ambrose’s enthusiastic admiration for the holy state of Christian virginity, of which he might justly be called the doctor. He surpasses all the fathers in the beautiful and eloquent manner in which he speaks of the dignity and happiness of virginity. Four of his writings are devoted to the praises of this sublime state. The pagans would fain have an imitation of it by instituting seven Vestal virgins, whom they loaded with honours and riches, and to whom they in due time restored liberty. St. Ambrose shows how contemptible these were, compared with the innumerable virgins of the Christian Church, who filled the whole world with the fragrance of their humility, constancy, and disinterestedness. But on this magnificent subject, his words were even more telling than his writings; and we learn from his contemporaries, that when he went to preach in any town, mothers would not allow their daughters to be present at his sermon, lest this irresistible panegyrist of the eternal nuptials with the Lamb should convince them that that was the better part, and persuade them to make it the object of their desires.
But our partiality and devotion to the great saint of Milan have made us exceed our usual limits: it is time to read the account of his virtues given us by the Church:
Ambrosius episcopus Mediolanensis, Ambrosii civis Romani filius, patre Galliae præfecto natus est. In hujus infantis oro examen apum consedisse dicitur: quæ res divinam viri eloquentiam præmonstrabat. Romæ liberalibus disciplinis eruditus est. Post a Probo praefecto Liguriae et Æmiliae præpositus: unde postea ejusdem Probi jussu cum potestate Mediolanum venit: ubi mortuo Auxentio, Ariano episcopo, populus de successore deligendo dissidebat. Quare Ambrosius, pro officii sui munere ecclesiam ingressus ut commotam seditionem sedaret, quum multa de quiete et tranquillitate reipublicæ præclare dixisset, derepente puero Ambrosium episcopum exclamante, universi populi vox erupit, Ambrosium episcopum deposcentis.
Recusante illo, et eorum precibus resistente, ardens populi studium ad Valentinianum imperatorem delatum est, cui gratissimum fuit a se delectos judices ad sacerdotium postulari. Fuit id etiam Probo præfecto jucundum, qui Ambrosio proficiscenti quasi divinans dixerat: Vade, age, non ut judex, sed ut episcopus. Itaque quum ad populi desiderium imperatoris voluntas accederet, Ambrosius baptizatus (erat enim catechumenus) sacrisque initiatus, ac servatis omnibus ex instituto Ecclesiæ Ordinum gradibus, octavo die, qui fuit septimo Idus Decembris, episcopale onus suscepit. Factus episcopus, Catholioam fidem et disciplinam ecclesiasticam acerrime defendit: multosque Arianos, et alios hæreticos, ad fidei veritatem convertit, in quibus clarissimum Ecclesiae lumen sanctum Augustinum Jesu Christo peperit.
Gratiano imperatore occiso, ad Maximum ejus interfectorem legatus iterum profectus est; eoque poenitentiam agere recusante, se ab ejus communione semovit. Theodosium imperatorem propter cædem Thessalonicae factam ingressu ecclesiae prohibuit. Cui, quum ille David quoque regem adulterum et homicidam fuisse dixisset, respondit Ambrosius: Qui secutus es errantem, sequere pœnitentem. Quare Theodosius sibi ab eo impositam publicam pœnitentiam humiliter egit. Ergo sanctus episcopus pro Ecclesia Dei maximis laboribus curisque perfunctus, multis libris etiam egregie conscriptis, antequam in morbum incideret, mortis suæ diem praedixit. Ad quem aegrotum Honoratus Vercellensis episcopus, Dei voce ter admonitus accurrit, eique sanctum Domini Corpus præbuit: quo ille sumpto, conformatis in crucis similitudinem manibus orans, animam Deo reddidit, pridie Nonas Aprilis, anno post Christum natum trecentesimo nonagesimo septimo.
Ambrose, bishop of Milan, was the son of a Roman citizen, whose name was also Ambrose, and who held the office of prefect of Cisalpine Gaul. It is related that when the saint was an infant, a swarm of bees rested on his lips; it was a presage of his future extraordinary eloquence. He received a liberal education at Rome, and not long after was appointed, by the prefect Probus, to be governor of Liguria and Emilia, whence, later on, he was sent, by order of the same Probus, to Milan, with power of judge; for the people of that city were quarrelling among themselves about the successor of the Arian bishop, Auxentius, who had died. Wherefore, Ambrose, having entered the church that he might fulfil the duty that had been imposed on him, and quell the disturbance that had arisen, delivered an eloquent discourse on the advantages of peace and tranquillity in a State. Scarcely had he finished speaking, than a boy exclaimed: ‘Ambrose, bishop!’ The whole multitude shouted: ‘Ambrose, bishop!'
On his refusing to accede to their entreaties, the earnest request of the people was presented to the emperor Valentinian, who was gratified that they whom he selected as judges were thus sought after to be made priests. It was also pleasing to the prefect Probus, who, as though he foresaw the event, said to Ambrose on his setting out: 'Go, act not as judge, but as bishop.' The desire of the people being thus seconded by the will of the emperor, Ambrose was baptized (for he was only a catechumen), and was admitted to sacred Orders, ascending by all the degrees of Orders as proscribed by the Church; and on the eighth day, which was the seventh of the Ides of December (December 7), he received the burden of the episcopacy. Being made bishop, he most strenuously defended the Catholic faith, and ecclesiastical discipline. He converted to the true faith many Arians, and other heretics, among whom was that brightest luminary of the Church, St. Augustine, the spiritual child of Ambrose in Christ Jesus.
When the emperor Gratian was killed by Maximus, Ambrose was twice deputed to go to the murderer, and insist on his doing penance for his crime; which he refusing to do, Ambrose refused to hold communion with him. The emperor Theodosius having made himself guilty of the massacre at Thessalonica, was forbidden by the saint to enter the church. On the emperor’s excusing himself by saying that king David had also committed murder and adultery, Ambrose replied: ‘Thou hast imitated his sin, now imitate his repentance.’ Upon which, Theodosius humbly performed the public penance which the bishop imposed upon him. The holy bishop having thus gone through the greatest labours and solicitudes for God’s Church, and having written several admirable books, foretold the day of his death, before he was taken with his last sickness. Honoratus, the bishop of Vercelli, was thrice admonished by the voice of God to go to the dying saint: he went, and administered to him the sacred Body of our Lord. Ambrose having received it, and placing his hands in the form of the cross, prayed, and yielded his soul up to God, on the eve of the Nones of April (April 4), in the year of our Lord 397.
Let us salute this great doctor in the words which the holy Church addresses to him in the Office of Vespers.
O doctor optime, Ecclesiæ sanctæ lumen, beate Ambrosi, divinæ legis amator, deprecare pro nobis Filium Dei.
O most admirable doctor, light of Holy Church, blessed Ambrose, lover of the divine law, pray for us to the Son of God.
The Ambrosian liturgy is not so rich in its praises of St. Ambrose as we might naturally expect it to be. Even the Preface of the Mass is so short and so wanting in any special allusion to the saint, that we think it useless to insert it. We will content ourselves with giving two of the responsories of the night Office, the hymn, and the collect, which strikes us as being the finest. With regard to the hymn, it is well to mention that almost the whole of it is a modern composition, having been, like a great many other hymns of the Ambrosian breviary, subjected to very considerable corrections. The ancient hymn began with the verse Miraculum laudabile; but is extremely poor both in sentiment and expression.
R. Super quem requiescam, dicit Dominus, nisi super humilem et mansuetum, * Trementem verba mea? V. Inveni David servum meum, oleo sancto meo unxi eum. * Trementem verba mea?
R. Directus est vir inclytus, ut Arium destrueret: splendor Ecclesiæ, claritas vatum; * Infulas dum gerit saeculi, acquisivit paradisi. V. Dictum enim fuerat proficiscenti: Vade, age non ut judex sed ut episcopus. * Infulas dum gerit sæculi, acquisivit paradisi.
R. Upon whom shall I rest, saith the Lord, but upon him that is humble and meek. * Who trembleth at my words? V. I have found David my servant, and with my holy oil have I anointed him. * Who trembleth at my words?
R. This illustrious man was sent that he might destroy Arius: he was the glory of the Church, the ornament of pontiffs; * Whilst wearing an earthly mitre, he gained that of heaven. V. It was said to him as he set out: Go, act not as judge, but as bishop. * Whilst wearing an earthly mitre, he gained that of heaven.
Nostrum parentem maximum
Canamus omnes, turbidas
Qui fluctuantis sæculi
Terris procellas expulit.
Puer quiescit: floreis
Apes labellis insident;
Mellis magistræ, melicum
Signant ducem facundiæ.
Parvam, futuri praescius,
Dextram coli vult osculis;
Vixdum solutus fasciis,
Quaerit tiaræ tænias.
Infans locutus, Insubrum
Ambrosio fert infulam;
Hanc fugit: at semper fugam
Honos fefellit obvius.
Velat sacrata denique
Doctum tiara verticem:
Ceu tectus ora casside,
Bellum minatur Ario.
Nen sceptra concussas timet,
Non imperantem fœminam,
Temploque, clausis postibus,
Arcet cruentum Cæsarem.
Sordes fluentis abluit
Fide coaequans martyres,
Invenit artus martyrum.
Jam nunc furentem tartari
Lupum flagello submove;
Quem Pastor olim rexeris,
Gregem tuere jugiter.
Deo Patri sit gloria,
Ejusque soli Filio,
Cum Spiritu Paraclito,
Nunc et per omne saeculum.
Let us all sing the praise of our august father,
who drove from the land
the turbid storms
of a tempestuous age.
A babe, he sleeps;
when lo! a swarm of bees lights on his flowery lips;
these honeymakers thus telling us that here was one
who would captivate men by the sweetness of his eloquence.
Prescient of the future,
he must have his infant hand honoured with kisses;
and he who has scarce been freed from swathing bands,
plays with the fillets of a mitre.
A boy cries out,
and Milan would have Ambrose receive the mitre;
Ambrose flees from it,
but honours ever pursue those who run from them.
At last the sacred mitre
crowns this head where wisdom sits;
the helmet once on,
our warrior gives Arius battle.
Unflinching, he fears neither sceptres,
nor a haughty empress;
and when a blood-stained Cæsar attempts to enter the church,
he closes the doors against him and repels him from the holy spot.
He washes away the sins of Augustine
in the heavenly laver of baptism;
companion to the martyrs by his faith,
he discovers the relics of martyrs.
Holy pontiff, now with thy scourge
drive away far from us the furious wolf of hell:
that flock which thou once didst govern,
let it for ever enjoy thy protection.
To God the Father,
and to his only Son,
and to the holy Paraclete,
be glory now and for all ages.
Æterne omnipotens Deus, qui beatum Ambrosium, tui nominis Confessorem, non solum huic Ecclesiæ, sed omnibus per mundum diffusis Ecclesiis Doctorem dedisti: præsta ut, quod ille divino afflatus Spiritu docuit, nostris jugiter stabiliatur in cordibus, et quem patronum, te donante, amplectimur, eum apud tuam misericordiam defensorem habeamus. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
O almighty and eternal God, who hast given the blessed Ambrose, the Confessor of thy holy name, to be a Doctor of heavenly truth, not to this Church (of Milan) alone, but to all the Churches throughout the world: grant, that the doctrine he taught by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, may be ever firmly fixed in our hearts, and that he whom we tenderly love as the patron thou hast given to us, may be to us a defender, powerful to obtain us thy mercy. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Mozarabic liturgy has nothing proper on St. Ambrose. The Greeks, on the contrary, honour the memory of the great bishop of Milan by hymns replete with the most magnificent praises. We give a few of the most striking passages.
HYMN TO ST. AMBROSE
(Taken from the Menæa of the Greeks. December 7)
Præfecturæ thronum exornans virtute duplici, divina inspiratione hierarchiæ thronum utiliter implevisti: ideo fidelis œconomus principatus in utroque factus, duplicem coronam hæreditasti.
In continentia, et laboribus, et vigiliis multis, et precibus intensis animam corpusque purificasti, Dei sapiens, vas electionis Dei nostri, apostolis similis demonstratus, accepisti dona.
Pium regem post peccatum, ut olim David Nathan, audacter animadvertens, Ambrosi beatissime, sapienter excommunicationi subjecisti, et poenitentiam docens Deo digne, in gregem tuum revocasti.
Sancte pater, sacratissime Ambrosi, lyra resonans, salutare melos orthodoxorum dogmatum, attrahens fidelium animas, canora divini Paracliti cithara: Dei magnum organum, laudandissima Ecclesiae tuba, fons limpidissimus, fluentum eluens libidinum; Christum ora, Christum deprecare dari Ecclesias unanimem pacem et magnam misericordiam.
Eliam prophetam imitatus, Baptistamque similiter, reges inique agentes animadvertisti viriliter; hierarchiæ thronum divinitus ornasti, et miraculorum multitudine mundum ditasti, ideoque divinæ Scripturae alimonia fideles roborasti, et infideles immutasti. Sacerdos Ambrosi, Christum Deum deprecare dare peccatorum remissionem recolentibus cum amore tuam sanctam memoriam.
Ab omni noxa adversariorum servasti gregem, beate; et Arii errorem omnem delevisti splendore verborum tuorum.
In divina tua memoria sacerdotum coetus oblectatur, et fidelium chori cum angelis incorporati exsultant et delectantur, nutriturque hodie spiritualiter Ecclesia in verbis tuis, Ambrosi pater.
Agricola videris sulcans fidei promptum agrum et doctrinae; inseminans, Deisapiens, dogmata: et spica multiplicata, distribuis Ecclesiae cœlestem Spiritus panem.
Roma tua celebrat præclara gesta; fulgidus enim ut sidus undique miraculorum magnas faces, sacerdos, cum fide immisisti, vere mirande.
Mane accedens ad Christum, splendoribus fulgebas ditanter: ideo divinum nactus lumen, illuminas honorantes te ubique cum fide.
Corpus tuum et animam Deo consecrasti: et capax donorum, pater, cor tuum conglutinasti dulci amori enixe inhærens.
Accepto, sapiens, verbi talento, ut servus fidelis ad mensam illud dedisti et multiplicasti, atque adsportasti integrum cum fructu Domino tuo, Ambrosi.
Claram fecisti stolam sacram laboribus tuis, et visus es pastor rationabilium alumnorum sapiens, quos baculo tuo in doctrinae pascua antepellebas.
Thou that didst adora with twofold virtue the throne of the prefecture, didst meritoriously fill the throne of the hierarchy on which divine inspiration placed thee: faithful steward, therefore, in both dignities, thou hast inherited a double crown.
Thou didst purify thy soul and body by continency, and labours, and much watching, and intense prayer, O divinely wise one, O vessel of election of our God! thou wast like to the apostles, thou didst receive, like them, the gifts of the Holy Ghost.
As heretofore Nathan reproved David, so didst thou boldly chide the good emperor after his sin, O most blessed Ambrose! Thou didst wisely subject him to excommunication, and didst teach him to do condign penance: thus restoring him to thy fold.
Holy father, most saintly Ambrose, sweet sounding lute, refreshing melody of true dogmas, attracting the souls of believers, sweet harp of the holy Spirit, organ of God, incomparable trumpet of the Church, most limpid fountain which cleansest the turbid passions! offer thy prayers to Christ, and beseech him to bestow on his Church unanimity and peace and plentiful mercy.
Following the examples of the prophet Elias and of the Baptist, thou didst fearlessly reprove kings for their evil doings; thou didst admirably adorn the throne of the hierarchy; thou didst enrich the world with the multitude of thy miracles; and therefore thou didst strengthen the faithful and convert the unbelievers, by the nourishment of the divine Scriptures. O Ambrose! O holy priest! pray to Christ our Lord that he grant the forgiveness of their sins to them that celebrate with love thy holy memory.
Thou, O blessed pastor, didst defend thy flock from all their enemies; and by the splendour of thy teachings, didst dissipate every error of Arius.
The assembly of the priests rejoices in celebrating thy holy memory, and the choirs of the faithful, united with the angelic spirits, exult and are glad; the Church to-day is spiritually nourished by thy words, O father Ambrose!
Thou art the husbandman, that tillest the field, which is open to all men, of faith and doctrine; thou there sowest the dogmas of truth, for thou art filled with heavenly wisdom; and the grain being multiplied, thou distributest to the Church the heavenly bread of the holy Spirit.
Rome celebrates thy glorious deeds, for, bright as a star, thou shootest forth everywhere the great blaze of thy miracles, O truly admirable pontiff.
From the earliest dawn thou didst approach to Christ, richly bright with his rays upon thee: therefore, having reached the divine light, thou enlightenest them that, throughout the world, honour thee with faith.
Thou didst consecrate thy body and soul to God; and thy heart, O father, which was made for great gifts, thou didst fasten to his sweet love, and there it clung intensely.
Entrusted with the talent of the word, thou didst, as a wise and prudent servant, put it out to usury and multiply it and bring it with interest to thy Lord, O Ambrose!
The holy robe of the pontiff thou didst adorn with thy labours: thou wast the wise shepherd of the intellectual flock, and with thy pastoral staff thou didst lead them before thee into the pastures of doctrine.
And we, too, O immortal Ambrose, unworthy though we be to take part in such a choir, we, too, will praise thee! We will praise the magnificent gifts which our Lord bestowed upon thee. Thou art the light of the Church and the salt of the earth by thy heavenly teachings; thou art the vigilant pastor, the affectionate father, the unyielding pontiff; oh! how must thy heart have loved that Jesus, for whom we are now preparing! With what undaunted courage thou didst, at the risk of thy life, resist them that blasphemed this divine Word! Well indeed hast thou thereby merited to be made one of the patrons of the faithful, to lead them, each year, to Him who is their Saviour, and their King! Let, then, a ray of the truth, which filled thy sublime soul whilst here on earth, penetrate even into our hearts; give us a relish for thy sweet and eloquent writings; get us a sentiment of devoted love for the Jesus who is so soon to be with us. Obtain for us, after thy example, to take up His cause with energy, against the enemies of our holy faith, against the spirits of darkness, and against ourselves. Let everything yield, let everything be annihilated, let every knee bow, let every heart confess itself conquered, in the presence of Jesus, the eternal Word of the Father, the Son of God, and the Son of Mary, our Redeemer, our Judge, our All.
Glorious saint! humble us, as thou didst Theodosius; raise us up again contrite and converted, as thou didst lovingly raise up this thy strayed sheep and carry him back to thy fold. Pray, too, for the Catholic hierarchy, of which thou wast one of the brightest ornaments. Ask of God, for the priests and bishops of His Church, that humble yet inflexible courage wherewith they should resist the powers of the world, as often as these abuse the authority which God has put into their hands. Let their face, as our Lord Himself speaks, become hard as adamant against the enemies of the Church, and may they set themselves as a wall for the house of Israel; may they consider it as the highest privilege, and the greatest happiness, to be permitted to expose their property, and peace, and life, for the liberty of this holy bride of Christ.
Valiant champion of the truth! arm thyself with thy scourge, which the Church has given thee as thy emblem; and drive far from the flock of Christ the wolves of the Arian tribe, which, under various names, are even now prowling round the fold. Let our ears be no longer shocked with the blasphemies of these proud teachers, who presume to scan, judge, approve, and blame, by the measure of their vain conceits, the great God who has given them everything they are and have, and who, out of infinite love for His creatures, has deigned to humble Himself and become one of ourselves, although knowing that men would make this very condescension an argument for denying that He is God.
Remove our prejudices, O thou great lover of truth! and crush within us those time-serving and unwise theories, which tend to make us Christians forget that Jesus is the King of this world, and look on the law, which equally protects error and truth, as the perfection of modem systems. May we understand that the rights of the Son of God and of His Church do not cease to exist, because the world ceases to acknowledge them; that to give the same protection to the true religion and to those false doctrines which men have set up in opposition to the teachings of the Church, is to deny that all power has been given to Jesus in heaven and on earth; that those scourges which periodically come upon the world are the lessons which Jesus gives to those who trample on the rights of His Church, rights which He so justly acquired by dying on the cross for all mankind; that, finally, though it be out of our power to restore those rights to people that have had the misfortune to resign them, yet it is our duty, under pain of being accomplices with those who would not have Jesus reign over them, to acknowledge that they are the rights of the Church.
And lastly, dear saint, in the midst of the dark clouds which lower over the world, console our holy mother the Church, who is now but a stranger and a pilgrim amidst those nations which were her children, but have now denied her; may she cull the flowers of holy virginity among the faithful, and may that holy state be the attraction of those fortunate souls who understand how grand is the dignity of being a bride of Christ. If, at the very commencement of her ministry, during the ages of persecution, the holy Church could lead countless virgins to Jesus, may it be so even now in our own age of crime and sensuality; may those pure and generous hearts, formed and consecrated to the Lamb by this holy mother, become more and more numerous; and so give to her enemies this irresistible proof that she is not barren, as they pretend, and that it is she that alone preserves the world from universal corruption, by leavening it with angelic purity.
Let us consider that last visible preparation for the coming of the Messias: a universal peace. The din of war is silenced, and the entire world is intent in expectation. ‘There are three silences to be considered,’ says St. Bonaventure, in one of his sermons for Advent; ‘the first in the days of Noah, after the deluge had destroyed all sinners; the second, in the days of Cæsar Augustus, when all nations were subjected to the empire; the third will be at the death of Antichrist, when the Jews shall be converted.’ O Jesus! Prince of peace, Thou wiliest that the world shall be in peace, when Thou art coming down to dwell in it. Thou didst foretell this by the psalmist, Thy ancestor in the flesh, who, speaking of Thee, said: ‘He shall make wars to cease even to the end of the earth, He shall destroy the bow, and break the weapons; and the shield He shall bum in the fire.’ And why is this, O Jesus? It is, that hearts which Thou art to visit must be silent and attentive. It is that before Thou enterest a soul, Thou troublest it in Thy great mercy, as the world was troubled and agitated before the universal peace; then Thou bringest peace into that soul, and Thou takest possession of her. Oh! come quickly, dear Lord, subdue our rebellious senses, bring low the haughtiness of our spirit, crucify our flesh, rouse our hearts from their sleep: and then may Thy entrance into our souls be a feast-day of triumph, as when a conqueror enters a city which he has taken after a long siege. Sweet Jesus, Prince of peace! give us peace; fix Thy kingdom so firmly in our hearts, that Thou mayst reign in us for ever.
RESPONSORY OF ADVENT
(Roman breviary, Matins of the first Sunday)
R. Aspiciebam in visti noctis, et ecce in nubibus cœli Filius hominis veniebat: et datum est ei regnum et honor. * Et omnis populus, tribus et linguæ servient ei.
V. Potestas ejus potestas æterna, quæ non auferetur, et regnum ejus quod non corrumpetur. * Et omnis populus, tribus et linguæ servient ei.
R. I looked in the vision of night, and lo! in the clouds of heaven there came the Son of Man: and empire and honour was given unto him. * And all peoples, and tribes, and tongues, shall serve him.
V. His power is an everlasting power that shall not be taken away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. * And allpeoples, and tribes, and tongues, shall serve him.
 Ezech. iii. 9.
 Ibid. xiii. 5.
 Ps. xlv. 10.
At length, on the distant horizon, rises, with a soft and radiant light, the aurora of the Sun which has been so long desired. The happy Mother of the Messias was to be born before the Messias Himself; and this is the day of the Conception of Mary. The earth already possesses a first pledge of the divine mercy; the Son of Man is near at hand. Two true Israelites, Joachim and Anne, noble branches of the family of David, find their union, after a long barrenness, made fruitful by the divine omnipotence. Glory be to God, who has been mindful of His promises, and who deigns to announce, from the high heavens, the end of the deluge of iniquity, by sending upon the earth the sweet white dove that bears the tidings of peace!
The feast of the blessed Virgin’s Immaculate Conception is the most solemn of all those which the Church celebrates during the holy time of Advent; and if the first part of the cycle had to offer us the commemoration of some one of the mysteries of Mary, there was none whose object could better harmonize with the spirit of the Church in this mystic season of expectation. Let us, then, celebrate this solemnity with joy; for the Conception of Mary tells us that the Birth of Jesus is not far off.
The intention of the Church, in this feast, is not only to celebrate the anniversary of the happy moment in which began, in the womb of the pious Anne, the life of the ever-glorious Virgin Mary; but also to honour the sublime privilege, by which Mary was preserved from the original stain, which, by a sovereign and universal decree, is contracted by all the children of Adam the very moment they are conceived in their mother’s womb. The faith of the Catholic Church on the subject of the Conception of Mary is this: that at the very instant when God united the soul of Mary, which He had created, to the body which it was to animate, this ever-blessed soul did not only not contract the stain, which at that same instant defiles every human soul, but was filled with an immeasurable grace which rendered her, from that moment, the mirror of the sanctity of God Himself, as far as this is possible to a creature. The Church with her infallible authority, declared, by the lips of Pius IX., that this article of her faith had been revealed by God Himself. The Definition was received with enthusiasm by the whole of Christendom, and the eighth of December of the year 1854 was thus made one of the most memorable days of the Church’s history.
It was due to His own infinite sanctity that God should suspend, in this instance, the law which His divine justice had passed upon all the children of Adam. The relations which Mary was to bear to the Divinity, could not be reconciled with her undergoing the humiliation of this punishment. She was not only daughter of the eternal Father; she was destined also to become the very Mother of the Son, and the veritable bride of the Holy Ghost. Nothing defiled could be permitted to enter, even for an instant of time, into the creature that was thus predestined to contract such close relations with the adorable Trinity; not a speck could be permitted to tarnish in Mary that perfect purity which the infinitely holy God requires even in those who are one day to be admitted to enjoy the sight of His divine majesty in heaven; in a word, as the great Doctor St. Anselm says, ‘it was just that this holy Virgin should be adorned with the greatest purity which can be conceived after that of God Himself, since God the Father was to give to her, as her Child, that only-begotten Son, whom He loved as Himself, as being begotten to Him from His own bosom; and this in such a manner, that the selfsame Son of God was, by nature, the Son of both God the Father and this blessed Virgin. This same Son chose her to be substantially His Mother; and the Holy Ghost willed that in her womb He would operate the conception and birth of Him from whom He Himself proceeded.’
Moreover, the close ties which were to unite the Son of God with Mary, and which would elicit from Him the tenderest love and the most filial reverence for her, had been present to the divine thought from all eternity: and the conclusion forces itself upon us that therefore the divine Word had for this His future Mother a love infinitely greater than that which He bore to all His other creatures. Mary’s honour was infinitely dear to Him, because she was to be His Mother, chosen to be so by His eternal and merciful decrees. The Son’s love protected the Mother. She, indeed, in her sublime humility, willingly submitted to whatever the rest of God’s creatures had brought on themselves, and obeyed every tittle of those laws which were never meant for her: but that humiliating barrier, which confronts every child of Adam at the first moment of his existence, and keeps him from light and grace until he shall have been regenerated by a new birth—oh! this could not be permitted to stand in Mary’s way, her Son forbade it.
The eternal Father would not do less for the second Eve than He had done for the first, who was created, as was also the first Adam, in the state of original justice, which she afterwards forfeited by sin. The Son of God would not permit that the woman, from whom He was to take the nature of Man, should be deprived of that gift which He had given even to her who was the mother of sin. The Holy Ghost, who was to overshadow Mary and produce Jesus within her by His divine operation, would not permit that foul stain, in which we are all conceived, to rest, even for an instant, on this His Bride. All men were to contract the sin of Adam; the sentence was universal; but God’s own Mother is not included. God who is the author of that law, God who was free to make it as He willed, had power to exclude from it her whom He had predestined to be His own in so many ways; He could exempt her, and it was just that He should exempt her; therefore, He did it.
Was it not this grand exemption which God Himself foretold, when the guilty pair, whose children we all are, appeared before Him in the garden of Eden? In the anathema which fell upon the serpent, there was included a promise of mercy to us. ‘I will put enmities,’ said the Lord, ‘between thee and the Woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head.’ Thus was salvation promised the human race under the form of a victory over satan; and this victory is to be gained by the Woman, and she will gain it for us also. Even granting, as some read this text, that it is the Son of the Woman that is alone to gain this victory, the enmity between the Woman and the serpent is clearly expressed, and she, the Woman, with her own foot, is to crush the head of the hated serpent. The second Eve is to be worthy of the second Adam, conquering and not to be conquered. The human race is one day to be avenged not only by God made Man, but also by the Woman miraculously exempted from every stain of sin, in whom the primeval creation, which was in justice and holiness, will thus reappear, just as though the original sin had never been committed.
Raise up your heads, then, ye children of Adam, and shake off your chains! This day the humiliation which weighed you down is annihilated. Behold!
Mary, who is of the same flesh and blood as yourselves, has seen the torrent of sin, which swept along all the generations of mankind, flow back at her presence and not touch her: the infernal dragon has turned away his head, not daring to breathe his venom upon her; the dignity of your origin is given to her in all its primitive grandeur. This happy day, then, on which the original purity of your race is renewed, must be a feast to you. The second Eve is created; and from her own blood (which, with the exception of the element of sin, is the same as that which makes you to be the children of Adam), she is shortly to give you the God-Man, who proceeds from her according to the flesh, as He proceeds from the Father according to the eternal generation.
And how can we do less than admire and love the incomparable purity of Mary in her Immaculate Conception, when we hear even God, who thus prepared her to become His Mother, saying to her, in the divine Canticle, these words of complacent love: ‘Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee!’ It is the God of all holiness that here speaks; that eye, which sees all things, finds not a vestige, not a shadow of sin; therefore does He delight in her, and admire in her that gift of His own condescending munificence. We cannot be surprised after this, that Gabriel, when he came down from heaven to announce the Incarnation to her, should be full of admiration at the sight of that purity, whose beginning was so glorious and whose progress was immeasurable; and that this blessed spirit should bow down profoundly before this young Maid of Nazareth, and salute her with, ‘Hail, O full of grace!’ And who is this Gabriel? An Archangel, that lives amidst the grandest magnificences of God’s creation, amidst all the gorgeous riches of heaven; who is brother to the Cherubim and Seraphim, to the Thrones and Dominations; whose eye is accustomed to gaze on those nine angelic choirs with their dazzling brightness of countless degrees of light and grace; he has found on earth, in a creature of a nature below that of angels, the fulness of grace, of that grace which had been given to the angels measuredly. This fulness of grace was in Mary from the very first instant of her existence. She is the future Mother of God, and she was ever holy, ever pure, ever Immaculate.
This truth of Mary’s Immaculate Conception—which was revealed to the apostles by the divine Son of Mary, inherited by the Church, taught by the holy fathers, believed by each generation of the Christian people with an ever increasing explicitness—was implied in the very notion of a Mother of God. To believe that Mary was Mother of God, was implicitly to believe that she, on whom this sublime dignity was conferred, had never been defiled with the slightest stain of sin, and that God had bestowed upon her an absolute exemption from sin. But now the Immaculate Conception of Mary rests on an explicit definition dictated by the Holy Ghost. Peter has spoken by the mouth of Pius; and when Peter has spoken, every Christian should believe; for the Son of God has said: ‘I have prayed for thee, Peter, that thy faith fail not.’ And again: ‘The Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.’
The Symbol of our faith has therefore received not a new truth, but a new light on a truth which was previously the object of the universal belief. On that great day of the definition, the infernal serpent was again crushed beneath the victorious foot of the Virgin-Mother, and the Lord graciously gave us the strongest pledge of His mercy. He still loves this guilty earth, since He has deigned to enlighten it with one of the brightest rays of His Mother’s glory. How this earth of ours exulted! The present generation will never forget the enthusiasm with which the entire universe received the tidings of the definition. It was an event of mysterious importance which thus marked this second half of our century; and we shall look forward to the future with renewed confidence; for if the Holy Ghost bids us tremble for the days when truths are diminished among the children of men, He would, consequently, have us look on those times as blessed by God in which we receive an increase of truth; an increase both in light and authority.
The Church, even before the solemn proclamation of the grand dogma, kept the feast of this eighth day of December; which was, in reality, a profession of her faith. It is true that the feast was not called the Immaculate Conception, but simply the Conception of Mary. But the fact of such a feast being instituted and kept, was an unmistakable expression of the faith of Christendom in that truth. St. Bernard and the angelical doctor, St. Thomas, both teach that the Church cannot celebrate the feast of what is not holy; the Conception of Mary, therefore, was holy and immaculate, since the Church has, for ages past, honoured it with a special feast. The Nativity of the same holy Virgin is kept as a solemnity in the Church, because Mary was born full of grace; therefore, had the first moment of Mary’s existence been one of sin, as is that of all the other children of Adam, it never could have been made the subject of the reverence of the Church. Now, there are few feasts so generally and so firmly established in the Church as this which we are keeping to-day.
The Greek Church, which, more easily than the Latin, could learn what were the pious traditions of the east, kept this feast even in the sixth century, as is evident from the ceremonial or, as it is called, the Type, of St. Sabas. In the west, we find it established in the Gothic Church of Spain as far back as the eighth century. A celebrated calendar which was engraved on marble, in the ninth century, for the use of the Church of Naples, attests that it had already been introduced there. Paul the deacon, secretary to the emperor Charlemagne, and afterwards monk at Monte-Cassino, composed a celebrated hymn on the mystery of the Immaculate Conception; we will insert this piece later on, as it is given in the manuscript copies of Monte-Cassino and Benevento. In 1066, the feast was first established in England, in consequence of the pious Abbot Helsyn’s being miraculously preserved from shipwreck; and shortly after that, was made general through the whole island by the zeal of the great St. Anselm, monk of the Order of St. Benedict, and archbishop of Canterbury. From England it passed into Normandy, and took root in France. We find it sanctioned in Germany, in a council held in 1049, at which St. Leo IX. was present; in Navarre, 1090, at the abbey of Irach; in Belgium, at Liège, in 1142. Thus did the Churches of the west testify their faith in this mystery, by accepting its feast, which is the expression of faith.
Lastly, it was adopted by Rome herself, and her doing so rendered the united testimony of her children, the other Churches, more imposing than ever. It was Pope Sixtus IV. who, in the year 1476, published the decree of the feast of our Lady’s Conception for the city of St. Peter. In the next century, 1568, St. Pius V. published the universal edition of the Roman breviary, and in its calendar was inserted this feast as one of those Christian solemnities which the faithful are every year bound to observe. It was not from Rome that the devotion of the Catholic world to this mystery received its first impulse; she sanctioned it by her liturgical authority, just as she has confirmed it by her doctrinal authority in these our own days.
The three great Catholic nations of Europe, Germany, France, and Spain, vied with each other in their devotion to this mystery of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. France, by her king Louis XIV., obtained from Clement IX. that this feast should be kept with an octave throughout the kingdom; which favour was afterwards extended to the universal Church by Innocent XII. For centuries previous to this, the theological faculty of Paris had always exacted from its professors the oath that they would defend this privilege of Mary; a pious practice which continued as long as the university itself.
As regards Germany, the emperor Ferdinand III., in 1647, ordered a splendid monument to be erected in the great square of Vienna. It is covered with emblems and figures symbolical of Mary’s victory over sin, and on the top is the statue of the Immaculate Queen, with this solemn and truly Catholic inscription:
TO GOD, INFINITE IN GOODNESS AND POWER,
KING OF HEAVEN AND EARTH,
BY WHOM KINGS REIGN;
TO THE VIRGIN MOTHER OF GOD
CONCEIVED WITHOUT SIN,
BY WHOM PRINCES COMMAND,
WHOM AUSTRIA, DEVOUTLY LOVING, HOLDS AS HER
QUEEN AND PATRON;
FERDINAND III., EMPEROR,
CONFIDES, GIVES, CONSECRATES HIMSELF,
CHILDREN, PEOPLE, ARMIES, PROVINCES,
AND ALL THAT IS HIS,
AND ERECTS IN ACCOMPLISHMENT OF A VOW
AS A PERPETUAL MEMORIAL.
But the zeal of Spain for the privilege of the holy Mother of God surpassed that of all other nations. In the year 1398, John I., king of Arragon, issued a chart in which he solemnly places his person and kingdom under the protection of Mary Immaculate. Later on, kings Philip III. and Philip IV. sent ambassadors to Rome, soliciting, in their names, the solemn definition, which heaven reserved, in its mercy, for our days. King Charles III., in the eighteenth century, obtained permission from Clement XIII., that the Immaculate Conception should be the patronal feast of Spain. The people of Spain, which is so justly called the Catholic kingdom, put over the door, or on the front of their houses, a tablet with the words of Mary’s privilege written on it; and when they meet, they greet each other with an expression in honour of the same dear mystery. It was a Spanish nun, Mary of Jesus, abbess of the convent of the Immaculate Conception of Agreda, who wrote God’s Mystic City, which inspired Murillo with his Immaculate Conception, the masterpiece of the Spanish school.
But, whilst thus mentioning the different nations which have been foremost in their zeal for this article of our holy faith, the Immaculate Conception, it were unjust to pass over the immense share which the seraphic Order, the Order of St. Francis of Assisi, has had in the earthly triumph of our blessed Mother, the Queen of heaven and earth. As often as this feast comes round, is it not just that we should think with reverence and gratitude on him, who was the first theologian that showed how closely connected with the divine mystery of the Incarnation is this dogma of the Immaculate Conception? First, then, all honour to the name of the pious and learned John Duns Scotus! And when at length the great day of the definition of the Immaculate Conception came, how justly merited was that grand audience, which the Vicar of Christ granted to the Franciscan Order, and with which closed the pageant of the glorious solemnity! Pius IX. received from the hands of the children of St. Francis a tribute of homage and thankfulness, which the Scotist school, after having fought four hundred years in defence of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, now presented to the Pontiff.
In the presence of the fifty-four Cardinals, forty-two archbishops, and ninety-two bishops; before an immense concourse of people that filled St. Peter’s, and had united in prayer, begging the assistance of the Spirit of truth; the Vicar of Christ had just pronounced the decision which so many ages had hoped to hear. The Pontiff had offered the holy Sacrifice on the Confession of St. Peter. He had crowned the statue of the Immaculate Queen with a splendid diadem. Carried on his lofty throne, and wearing his triple crown, he had reached the portico of the basilica; there he is met by the two representatives of St. Francis: they prostrate before the throne: the triumphal procession halts: and first, the General of the Friars Minor Observantines advances, and presents to the holy Father a branch of silver lilies: he is followed by the General of the Conventual Friars, holding in his hand a branch of silver roses. The Pope graciously accepted both. The lilies and the roses were symbolical of Mary’s purity and love; the whiteness of the silver was the emblem of the lovely brightness of that orb, on which is reflected the light of the Sun; for, as the Canticle says of Mary, ‘she is beautiful as the moon.’ The Pontiff was overcome with emotion at these gifts of the family of the seraphic patriarch, to which we might justly apply what was said of the banner of the Maid of Orleans: ‘It had stood the brunt of the battle; it deserved to share in the glory of the victory.’ And thus ended the glories of that grand morning of the eighth of December, eighteen hundred and fifty-four.
It is thus, O thou the humblest of creatures, that thy Immaculate Conception has been glorified on earth! And how could it be other than a great joy to men, that thou art honoured by them, thou the aurora of the Sun of justice? Dost thou not bring them the tidings of their salvation? Art not thou, O Mary, that bright ray of hope, which suddenly bursts forth in the deep abyss of the world’s misery? What should we have been without Jesus? And thou art His dearest Mother, the holiest of God’s creatures, the purest of virgins, and our own most loving Mother!
How thy gentle light gladdens our wearied eyes, sweet Mother! Generation had followed generation on this earth of ours. Men looked up to heaven through their tears, hoping to see appear on the horizon the star which they had been told should disperse the gloomy horrors of the world’s darkness; but death came, and they sank into the tomb, without seeing even the dawn of the light, for which alone they cared to live. It is for us that God had reserved the blessing of seeing thy lovely rising, O thou fair morning star! which sheddest thy blessed rays on the sea, and bringest calm after the long stormy night! Oh! prepare our eyes that they may behold the divine Sun which will soon follow in thy path, and give to the world His reign of light and day. Prepare our hearts, for it is to our hearts that this Jesus of thine wishes to show Himself. To see Him, our hearts must be pure: purify them, O thou Immaculate Mother! The divine wisdom has willed that of the feasts which the Church dedicates to thee, this of thy Immaculate Conception should be celebrated during Advent; that thus the children of the Church, reflecting on the jealous care wherewith God preserved thee from every stain of sin because thou wast to be the Mother of His divine Son, might prepare to receive this same Jesus by the most perfect renunciation of every sin and of every attachment to sin. This great change must be made; and thy prayers, O Mary! will help us to make it. Pray—we ask it of thee by the grace God gave thee in thy Immaculate Conception—that our covetousness may be destroyed, our concupiscence extinguished, and our pride turned into humility. Despise not our prayers, dear Mother of that Jesus who chose thee, for His dwelling-place, that He might afterwards find one in each of us.
O Mary! Ark of the covenant, built of an incorruptible wood, and covered over with the purest gold! help us to correspond with those wonderful designs of our God, who, after having found His glory in thine incomparable purity, wills now to seek His glory in our unworthiness, by making us, from being slaves of the devil, His temples and His abode, where He may find His delight. Help us to this, O thou that by the mercy of thy Son hast never known sin! and receive this day our devoutest praise. Thou art the ark of salvation; the one creature unwrecked in the universal deluge; the white fleece filled with the dew of heaven, whilst the earth around is parched; the flame which the many waters could not quench; the lily blooming amidst thorns; the garden shut against the infernal serpent; the fountain sealed, whose limpid water was never ruffled; the house of the Lord, whereon His eyes were ever fixed, and into which nothing defiled could ever enter; the mystic city, of which such glorious things are said. We delight in telling all thy glorious titles, O Mary! for thou art our Mother, and we love thee, and the Mother’s glory is the glory of her children. Cease not to bless and protect all those that honour thy immense privilege, O thou who wert conceived on this day! May this feast fit us for that mystery, for which thy Conception, thy Birth, and thy Annunciation, are all preparations—the Birth of thy Jesus in Bethlehem: yea, dear Mother, we desire thy Jesus, give Him to us and satisfy the longings of our love.
The five psalms which are chanted by the Church in this Office, are those which she always employs on the feasts of our Lady.
The first celebrates the royalty, the priesthood, and the supreme judgeship of Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary; it implies, therefore, the great dignity and the incomparable purity of her who was to give Him birth.
Antiphona. Tota pulchra es, Maria, et macula originalis non est in te.
Dixit Dominus Domino meo: * Sede a dextris meis.
Donec ponam inimicos tuos: * scabellum pedum tuorum.
Virgam virtutis tuae emittet Dominus ex Sion: * dominare in medio inimicorum tuorum.
Tecum principium in die virtutis tuæ in splendoribus sanctorum: * ex utero ante luciferum genui te.
Juravit Dominus, et non pœnitebit eum: * Tu es Sacerdos in æternum secundum ordinem Melchisedech.
Dominus a dextris tuis: * confregit in die iræ suse reges.
Judicabit in nationibus, implebit ruinas: * conquassabit capita in terra multorum.
De torrente in via bibet: * propterea exaltabit caput.
Ant. Tota pulchra es, Maria, et macula originalis non est in te.
Ant. Vestimentum tuum candidum quasi nix, et facies tua sicut sol.
Antiphon. Thou art all fair, O Mary, and the stain of original sin is not in thee.
The Lord said to my Lord, his Son: Sit thou at my right hand, and reign with me.
Until I make thy enemies thy footstool.
O Christ! the Lord thy Father will send forth the sceptre of thy power out of Sion: from thence rule thou in the midst of thy enemies.
With thee is the principality in the day of thy strength, in the brightness of the saints: for the Father hath said to thee: From the womb before the day-star I begot thee.
The Lord hath sworn, and he will not repent: he hath said, speaking of thee, the God-Man: Thou art a Priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech.
Therefore, O Father, the Lord thy Son, is at thy right hand: he hath broken kings in the day of his wrath.
He shall also judge among nations: in that terrible coming, he shall fill the ruins of the world; he shall crush the heads in the land of many.
He cometh now in humility; he shall drink, in the way, of the torrent of sufferings: therefore shall he lift up the head.
Ant. Thou art all fair, O Mary, and the stain of original sin is not in thee.
Ant. Thy garment is white as snow, and thy face is as the sun.
The second psalm celebrates the greatness of God, yet shows Him to us as looking down with complacency on the humble of heart. It is the humility of Mary which made Him choose her for His own Mother, and crown her as the Queen of the universe. She ever remained a pure Virgin, and yet our Lord made her to be Mother of all mankind.
Laudate, pueri, Dominum: * laudate nomen Domini.
Sit nomen Domini benedictum: * ex hoc nunc et usque in sæculum.
A solis ortu usque ad occasum: * laudabile nomen Domini,
Excelsus super omnes gentes Dominus: * et super cœlos gloria ejus.
Quis sicut Dominus Deus noster qui in altis habitat: * et humilia respicit in cœlo et in terra?
Suscitans a terra inopem: * et de stercore erigens pauperem.
Ut collocet eum cum principibus: * cum principibus populi sui.
Qui habitare facit sterilem in domo: * matrem filiorum lætantem.
Ant. Vestimentum tuum candidum quasi nix, et facies tua sicut sol.
Ant. Tu gloria Jerusalem, tu lætitia Israel, tu honorificentia populi nostri.
Praise the Lord, ye children: praise ye the name of the Lord.
Blessed be the name of the Lord: from henceforth now and for ever.
Prom the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, the name of the Lord is worthy of praise.
The Lord is high above all nations: and his glory above the heavens.
Who is as the Lord our God, who dwelleth on high: and looketh down on the low things in heaven and on earth?
Raising up the needy from the earth: and lifting up the poor out of the dunghill.
That he may place him with princes: with the princes of his people.
Who maketh a barren woman to dwell in a house, the joyful mother of children.
Ant. Thy garment is white as snow, and thy face is as the sun.
Ant. Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the honour of our people.
The third psalm sings the glory of Jerusalem, the city of God. Mary, who was the dwelling which the Most High had chosen for Himself, was signified by this blessed city. It is in her, in the admiration which her dignity excites, and in the confidence which her exhaustless love inspires, that the children of the Church are now assembled. The Church herself is also the city of God.
Lætatus sum in his quæ dicta sunt mihi: * In domum Domini ibimus.
Stantes erant pedes nostri: * in atriis tuis Jerusalem.
Jerusalem quæ ædificatur ut civitas: * cujus participatio ejus in idipsum.
Illuc enim ascenderunt tribus, tribus Domini: * testimonium Israel ad confitendum nomini Domini.
Quia illio sederunt sedes in judicio: * sedes super domum David.
Rogate quae ad pacem sunt Jerusalem: * et abundantia diligentibus te.
Fiat pax in virtute tua: * et abundantia in turribus tuis.
Propter fratres meos et proximos meos: * loquebar pacem de te.
Propter domum Domini Dei nostri: * quaesivi bona tibi.
Ant. Tu gloria Jerusalem, tu lætitia Israel, tu honorificentia populi nostri.
Ant. Benedicta es tu, Virgo Maria, a Domino Deo excelso, præ omnibus mulieribus super terram.
I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord.
Our feet were standing in thy courts, O Jerusalem! Our heart loves and confides in thee, O Mary.
Mary is like to Jerusalem that is built as a city; which is compact together.
For thither did the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord: the testimony of Israel, to praise the name of the Lord.
Because seats sat there in judgement; seats upon the house of David; and Mary is of a kingly race.
Pray ye, through Mary, for the things that are for the peace of Jerusalem: and may abundance be on them that love thee, O Church of our God!
The voice of Mary: Let peace be in thy strength, O thou new Sion! and abundance in thy towers.
I, a daughter of Israel, for the sake of my brethren and of my neighbours, spoke peace of thee.
Because of the house of the Lord our God, I have sought good things for thee.
Ant. Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the honour of our people.
Ant. Blessed art thou, O Virgin Mary, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth.
The following psalm is inserted in the Office of our Lady on account of the allusion made in it to a house which God Himself has built, and to a city of which He is the guardian. Mary is this house, which God built for Himself; she is this city, which He has protected from every insult and attack.
Nisi Dominus ædificaverit domum: * in vanum laboraverunt qui aedificant eam.
Nisi Dominus custodierit civitatem: * frustra vigilat qui custodit eam.
Vanum est vobis ante lucem surgere: * surgite postquam sederitis, qui manducatis panem doloris.
Cum dederit dilectis suis somnum: * ecce hæreditas Domini, filii: merces, fructus ventris.
Sicut sagittæ in manu potentis: * ita filii excussorum.
Beatus vir, qui implevit desiderium suum ex ipsis: * non confundetur cum loquetur inimicis suis in porta.
Ant. Benedicta es tu, Virgo Maria, a Domino Deo excelso, præ omnibus mulieribus super terram.
Ant. Trahe nos, Virgo immaculata: post te curremus in odorem unguentorum tuorum.
Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.
Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it.
It is vain for you to rise before light; rise ye after you have sitten, you that eat of the bread of sorrow.
When he shall give sleep to his beloved: behold the inheritance of the Lord are children: the reward, the fruit of the womb.
As arrows in the hand of the mighty, so the children of them that have been shaken.
Blessed is the man that hath filled his desire with them; he shall not be confounded when he shall speak to his enemies at the gate.
Ant. Blessed art thou, O Virgin Mary, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth.
Ant. Draw us, O Immaculate Virgin! we will run after thee to the odour of thy ointments.
Again it is Mary, the mystic city of God, that the Church has in view when she sings, on these feasts, the following beautiful psalm. On this day of her Conception, our Lord strengthened the gates of His beloved city; the enemy could not enter. God owed this defence to her, by whom He intended to send His Word upon the earth.
Lauda, Jerusalem, Dominum: * lauda Deum tuum, Sion.
Quoniam confortavit seras portarum tuarum: * benedixit filiis tuis in te.
Qui posuit fines tuos pacem: * et adipe frumenti satiat te.
Qui emittit eloquium suum terrae: * velociter currit sermo ejus.
Qui dat nivem sicut lanam: * nebulam sicut cinerem spargit.
Mittit crystallum suam sicut buccellas: * ante faciem frigoris ejus quis sustinebit?
Emittet verbum suum, et liquefaciet ea; * flabit spiritus ejus, et fluent aquæ.
Qui annuntiat verbum suum Jacob: * justitias, et judicia sua Israel.
Non fecit taliter omni nationi: * et judicia sua non manifestavit eis.
Ant. Trahe nos Virgo immaculata: post te curremus in odorem unguentorum tuorum.
Praise the Lord, O Mary, thou true Jerusalem: O Mary, O Sion ever holy, praise thy God.
Because he hath strengthened against sin the bolts of thy gates: he hath blessed thy children within thee.
Who hath placed peace in thy borders, and filleth thee with the fat of com, with Jesus, who is the Bread of life.
Who sendeth forth by thee his Word to the earth; his Word runneth swiftly.
Who giveth snow like wool: scattereth mists like ashes.
He sendeth his crystal like morsels: who shall stand before the face of his cold?
He shall send forth his Word by Mary, and shall melt them: his spirit shall breathe, and the waters shall run.
Who declareth his Word to Jacob: his justices and his judgements to Israel.
He hath not done in like manner to every nation; and his judgements he hath not made manifest to them.
Ant. Draw us, O Immaculate Virgin! we will run after thee to the odour of thy ointments.
The capitulum is a passage from the Book of Proverbs of Solomon, in which divine Wisdom, the Son of God, publishes the eternity of the divine decree of the Incarnation. The Church, on this day, puts these same words in the mouth of Mary, inasmuch as this privileged creature was also decreed, before all time, to be the Mother of the ManGod.
Dominus possedit me in initio viarum suarum, antequam quidquam faceret a principio: ab æterno ordinata sum, et ex antiquis antequam terra fieret: nondum erant abyssi, et ego jam concepta eram.
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways before he made anything from the beginning: I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made: the depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived.
The hymn is that venerable song of the Catholic Church, which is chanted on all the feasts of our Lady. No heart can resist the confidence and love which this canticle inspires. How often soever repeated, it seems ever fresh. The nun in her peaceful cloister, and the mariner in the hour of storm, both love their Ave Maris Stella.
Ave, maria stella!
Dei Mater alma,
Atque semper Virgo,
Felix cœli porta.
Sumens illud Ave
Funda nos in pace,
Mutans Evæ nomen.
Solve vincla reis,
Profer lumen caecis,
Mala nostra pelle,
Bona cuncta posce.
Monstra te esse Matrem,
Sumat per te preces,
Qui pro nobis natus,
Tulit esse tuus.
Inter omnes mitis,
Nos culpis solutos
Mites fac et castos.
Vitam præsta puram,
Iter para tutum;
Ut videntes Jesum,
Sit laus Deo Patri,
Summo Christo decus,
Tribus honor unus.
V. Immaculata Conceptio est hodie sanctæ Mariæ Virginis.
R. Quæ serpentis caput virgineo pede contrivit.
Hail, star of the sea!
blessed Mother of God,
yet ever a Virgin!
O happy gate of heaven!
Thou that didst receive the Ave
from Gabriel’s lips,
confirm us in peace,
and so let Eva be changed into an Ave of blessing for us.
Loose the sinner’s chains,
bring light to the blind,
drive from us our evils,
and ask all good things for us.
Show thyself a Mother,
and offer our prayers to him,
who would be born of thee,
when born for us.
O incomparable Virgin,
and meekest of the meek,
obtain us the forgiveness of our sins,
and make us meek and chaste.
Obtain us purity of life,
and a safe pilgrimage;
that we may be united
with thee in the blissful vision of Jesus.
Praise be to God the Father,
and to the Lord Jesus,
and to the Holy Ghost:
to the Three one selfsame praise.
V. To-day is the Immaculate Conception of the blessed Virgin Mary.
R. Who with virgin foot crushed the serpent’s head.
Antiphon of the Magnificat
Beatam me dicent omnes generationes, quia fecit mihi magna qui potensest, alleluia.
All generations shall call me blessed, because he that is mighty hath done great things in me, alleluia.
Deus, qui per immaculatam Virginis Conceptionem, dignum Filio tuo habitaculum praeparasti; quaesumus, ut qui ex morte ejusdem Filii tui prævisa, eam ab omni labe præservasti, nos quoque mundos ejus intercessione ad te pervenire concedas. Per eumdem.
O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin didst prepare a worthy dwelling-place for thy divine Son; grant, we beseech thee, that, as by the foreseen merits of the death of this thy Son, thou didst preserve her from every stain of sin, we also may, through her intercession, be cleansed from our sins and united with thee. Through the same, &c.
A commemoration is here made of Advent, by the antiphon, versicle, and prayer of the day.
The Introit is a song of thanksgiving, taken from Isaias and the Psalms. Mary extols the wonderful gifts of God to her, and the victory which He has granted her over satan and sin.
Gaudens gaudebo in Domino, et exsultabit anima mea in Deo meo: quia induit me vestimentis salutis; et indumento justitiæ circumdedit me, quasi sponsam ornatam monilibus suis.
Ps. Exaltabo te, Domine, quoniam suscepisti me: nec delectasti inimicos meos super me. Gloria Patri. Gaudens gaudebo.
I will rejoice with exceeding joy in the Lord, and my soul shall exult in my God: for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation; and with the robe of justice he hath covered me, as a bride adorned with her jewels.
Ps. I will extol thee, O Lord, for thou hast upheld me: and hast not made my enemies to rejoice over me. Glory be to the Father, &c. I will rejoice, &c.
The Collect gives us the moral explanation of the mystery. Mary was preserved from original sin because she was to be the dwelling-place of the Most Holy: let this teach us to beg of this same God, that He would purify our souls.
Deus, qui per immaculatam Virginis Conceptionem dignum Filio tuo habitaculum praeparasti; quaesumus, ut qui, ex morte ejusdem Filii tui praevisa, eam ab omni labe præservasti, nos quoque mundos ejus intercessione ad te pervenire concedas. Per eumdem.
O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin didst prepare a worthy dwelling-place for thy divine Son; grant, we beseech thee, that, as by the foreseen merits of the death of this thy Son, thou didst preserve her from every stain of sin, we also may, through her intercession, be cleansed from our sins and united with thee. Through the same, &c.
Here is made a commemoration of Advent, by the Collect of the preceding Sunday.
Lectio libri Sapientiæ.
Prov. Cap. viii.
Dominus possedit me in initio viarum suarum, antequam quidquam faceret a principio. Ab æterno ordinata sum, et ex antiquis, antequam terra fieret. Nondum erant abyssi, et ego jam concepta eram: necdum fontes aquarum eruperant; necdum montes gravi mole constiterant: ante colles ego parturiebar: adhuc terram non fecerat, et flumina, et cardines orbis terræ. Quando præparabat cœlos, aderam: quando certa lege, et gyro vallabat abyssos: quando aethera firmabat sursum, et librabat fontes aquarum: quando circumdabat mari terminum suum, et legem ponebat aquis, ne transirent fines suos: quando appendebat fundamenta terrae: cum eo eram cuncta componens: et delectabar per singulos dies, ludens coram eo omni tempore, ludens in orbe terrarum: et deliciæ meæ, esse cum filiis hominum. Nunc ergo, filii, audite me. Beati qui custodiunt vias meas. Audite disciplinam, et estote sapientes, et nolite abjicere eam. Beatus homo qui audit me, et qui vigilat ad fores meas quotidie, et observat ad postes ostii mei. Qui me invenerit, inveniet vitam; et hauriet salutem a Domino.
Lesson from the Book of Wisdom.
Prov. Ch. viii.
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before he made anything from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived; neither had the fountains of waters as yet sprung out; the mountains with their huge bulk had not as yet been established: before the hills I was brought forth: he had not yet made the earth, nor the rivers, nor the poles of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was present: when with a certain law and compass he enclosed the depths: when he established the sky above, and poised the fountains of waters: when he compassed the sea with its bounds, and set a law to the waters, that they should not pass their limits: when he balanced the foundations of the earth: I was with him forming all things: and was delighted every day, playing before him at all times, playing in the world: and my delights were to be with the children of men. Now, therefore, ye children, hear me. Blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that heareth me, and that watcheth daily at my gates, and waiteth at the posts of my doors. He that shall find me, shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord.
The apostle teaches us that Jesus, our Emmanuel, is the firstborn of every creature. These mysterious words signify not only that He is, as God, eternally begotten of the Father; but also that the divine Word is, as Man, anterior to all created beings. Yet, how is this? The world had been created, and the human race had dwelt on this earth full four thousand years, before the Son of God took to Himself the nature of man. It is not in the order of time, but in the eternal intention of God, that the Man-God preceded every creature. The eternal Father decreed first to give to His eternal Son a created nature, namely, the nature of man; and, in consequence of this decree, to create all beings, whether spiritual or material, as a kingdom for this Man-God. This explains to us how it is, that the divine Wisdom, the Son of God, in the passage of the sacred Scripture which forms the Epistle of this feast, proclaims His having existed before all the creatures of the universe. As God, He was begotten from all eternity in the bosom of the Father; as Man, He was, in the mind of God, the type of all creatures, before those creatures were made. But the Son of God could not be of our race, as the divine will decreed He should be, unless He were born in time, and born of a Mother as other men; and therefore she that was to be His Mother was eternally present to the thought of God, as the means whereby the Word would assume the human nature. The Son and the Mother are therefore united in the plan of the Incarnation: Mary, therefore, existed, as did Jesus, in the divine decree, before creation began. This is the reason of the Church’s having, from the earliest ages of Christianity, interpreted this sublime passage of the sacred volume of Jesus and of Mary unitedly, and ordering it and analogous passages of the Scriptures to be read in the assembly of the faithful on the solemnities or feasts of the Mother of God. But if Mary be thus prominent in the divine and eternal plan; if, in the sense in which these mysterious texts are understood by the Church, she was, with Jesus, before every creature; could God permit her to be subjected to the original sin, which was to fall on all the children of Adam? She is, it is true, to be a child of Adam like her divine Son Himself, and to be bora at the time fixed; but that torrent, which sweeps all mankind along, shall be turned away from her by God’s grace; it shall not come near to her; and she shall transmit to her Son, who is also the Son of God, the human nature in its original perfection, created, as the apostle says, in holiness and justice.
The Gradual is the application to the Immaculate Mother of God of those praises with which the ancients of Bethulia greeted Judith, after she had slain the enemy of God’s people. Judith is one of the types of Mary, who crushed the head of the serpent.
The Alleluia verse applies to our blessed Lady those words of the divine Canticle, which proclaim the bride of God to be all fair and spotless.
Benedicta es tu, Virgo Maria, a Domino Deo excelso, præ omnibus mulieribus super terram.
V. Tu gloria Jerusalem, tu lætitia Israel, tu honorificentia populi nostri.
V. Tota pulchra es, Maria, et macula originalis non est in te. Alleluia.
Blessed art thou, O Virgin Mary, by the Lord the most high God, above all women upon the earth.
V. Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the honour of our people.
V. Thou art all fair, O Mary, and the stain original is not in thee. Alleluia.
Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Lucam.
In illo tempore: Missus est angelus Gabriel a Deo in civitatem Galilææ, cui nomen Nazareth, ad Virginem desponsatam viro, cui nomen erat Joseph, de domo David; et nomen Virginis, Maria. Et ingressus angelus ad eam, dixit: Ave, gratia plena; Dominus tecum: benedicta tu in mulieribus.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Luke.
At that time the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a Virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David: and the Virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.
This is the salutation with which the Archangel greets Mary. It shows us what was his admiration and his profound veneration for the Virgin of Nazareth. The holy Gospel tells us that Mary was troubled at these words, and thought within herself what such a salutation as this could imply. The sacred Scriptures record many angelical salutations: but, as St. Ambrose, St. Andrew of Crete, and, before them, Origen had remarked, there is not one which contains such praises as this does. The prudent Virgin was, therefore, naturally surprised at the extraordinary words of the angel, and, as the early fathers observe, they would remind her of that other interview between Eve and the serpent. She therefore remained silent, and it was only after the Archangel had spoken to her a second time, that she made him a reply.
And yet, Gabriel had spoken not only with all the eloquence, but with all the profound wisdom of a celestial spirit initiated into the divine mysteries; and, in his own superhuman language, he announced that the moment had come when Eve was to be transformed into Mary. There was present before him a woman destined for the sublimest dignity, the woman that was to be the Mother of God; yet, up to this solemn moment, Mary was but a daughter of the human race. Think, then, taking Gabriel’s words as your guide, what must have been the holiness of Mary in this her first estate: is it not evident that the prophecy, made in the earthly paradise, had already been accomplished in her?
The Archangel proclaims her full of grace. What means this, but that the second woman possesses in herself that element of which sin had deprived the first? And observe, he does not say merely that divine grace works in her, but that she is full of it. ‘She is not merely in grace as others are,’ as Saint Peter Chrysologus told us on his feast, 'but she is filled with it.’ Everything in her is resplendent with heavenly purity, and sin has never cast its shadow on her beauty. To appreciate the full import of Gabriel’s expression, we must consider what is the force of the words in the language which the sacred historian used. Grammarians tell us that the single word which he employs is much more comprehensive than our expression ‘full of grace.’ It implies not only the present time, but the past as well, an incorporation of grace from the very commencement, the full and complete affirmation of grace, the total permanence of grace. Our translation has unavoidably weakened the term.
The better to feel the full force of our translation, let us compare this with an analogous text from the Gospel of St. John. This evangelist, speaking of the Humanity of the Incarnate Word, expresses all by saying that Jesus is full of grace and truth. Now, would this fulness have been real, had sin ever been there, instead of grace, even for a single instant? Could we call him full of grace, who had once stood in need of being cleansed? Undoubtedly, we must ever respectfully bear in mind the distance between the Humanity of the Incarnate Word and the person of Mary, from whose womb the Son of God assumed that Humanity; but the sacred text obliges us to confess, that the fulness of grace was, proportionately, in both Jesus and Mary.
Gabriel goes on still enumerating the supernatural riches of Mary. He says to her: 'The Lord is with thee.’ What means this? It means, that even before Mary had conceived our Lord in her chaste womb, she already possessed Him in her soul. But, would the words be true, if that union with God had once not been, and had begun only when her disunion with Him by sin had been removed? The solemn occasion, on which the angel uses this language, forbids us to think that he conveyed by it any other idea, than that she had always had the Lord with her. We feel the allusion to a contrast between the first and the second Eve; the first lost the God who had once been with her; the second had, like the first, received our Lord into her from the first moment of her existence, and never lost Him, but continued from first to last and for ever to have Him with her.
Let us listen once more to the salutation, and we shall find from its last words that Gabriel is announcing the fulfilment of the divine oracle, and is addressing Mary as the woman foretold to be the instrument of the victory over satan. ‘Blessed art thou among women.’ For four thousand years, every woman has been under the curse of God, and has brought forth her children in suffering and sorrow: but here is the one among women, that has been ever blessed of God, that has ever been the enemy of the serpent, and that shall bring forth the fruit of her womb without travail.
The Immaculate Conception of Mary is therefore declared in the Archangel’s salutation; and we can now understand why the Church selected this portion of the Gospel to be read to-day in the assembly of the faithful.
After the glorious chant of the Symbol of our faith, the choir intones the Offertory: it is composed of the words of the angelical salutation. Let us say to Mary with Gabriel: Verily, O Mary, thou art full of grace.
Ave, Maria, gratia plena: Dominus tecum, benedicta tu in mulieribus, alleluia.
Hail Mary, full of grace: the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women, alleluia.
Salutarem hostiam, quam in solemnitate immaculatæ Conceptionis beatae Virginis Mariae tibi, Domine, offerimus, suscipe, et praesta: ut sicut illam, tua gratia praeveniente, ab omni labe immunem profitemur: ita ejus intercessione a culpis omnibus liberemur. Per Dominum.
Receive, O Lord, this host of salvation, which we offer unto thee on this solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the blessed Virgin Mary; and grant, that, as we confess her to have been preserved, by thy preventing grace, from every stain of sin, we may, by her intercession, be freed from all our sins. Through, &c.
A commemoration is here made of Advent, by the Secret of the preceding Sunday.
The Church is too full of joy on this great feast to be satisfied with her usual form of thanksgiving; she employs one which makes mention of the holy Mother of God, whose Conception revives her hopes, and announces the rising of Him who is the eternal light.
Vere dignum et justum est, æquum et salutare, nos tibi semper, et ubique gratias agere: Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, æterne Deus. Et te in Conceptione Immaculata beatæ Mariæ semper Virginis collaudare, benedicere, et prædicare. Quae et Unigenitum tuum sancti Spiritus obumbratione concepit: et virginitatis gloria permanente, lumen æternum mundo effudit, Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum. Per quem Majestatem tuam laudant Angeli, adorant Dominationes, tremunt Potestates, Cœli, cœlorumque Virtutes, ac beata Seraphim, socia exsultatione concelebrant. Cum quibus et nostras voces, ut admitti jubeas deprecamur, supplici confessione dicentes: Sanctus! Sanctus! Sanctus!
It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should always, and in all places, give thanks to thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, eternal God. And that we should praise, bless, and glorify thee on the Immaculate Conception of the blessed Mary, ever a Virgin, who by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost conceived thine only begotten Son, and, the glory of her virginity still remaining, brought forth the eternal light to the world, Jesus Christ our Lord. By whom the Angels praise thy Majesty, the Dominations adore it, the Powers tremble before it, the Heavens, the heavenly Virtues, and blessed Seraphim, with common jubilee glorify it. Together with whom we beseech thee that we may be admitted to join our humble voices, saying: Holy! Holy! Holy!
During the Communion, the Church shares in the holy enthusiasm, wherewith David proclaims the glories and the privileges of the mystic city of God.
Gloriosa dicta sunt de te, Maria, quia fecit tibi magna qui potens est.
Glorious things are said of thee, O Mary! for he that is mighty hath done great things in thee.
Sacramenta quæ sumpsimus, Domine Deus noster, illius in nobis culpæ vulnera reparent; a qua immaculatam beatæ Mariæ Conceptionem singulariter præservasti. Per Dominum, &c.
May the mysteries we have received, O Lord our God, repair in us the wounds of that sin, from which thou hast, with exceptional providence, preserved the Immaculate Conception of the ever blessed Mary. Through, &c.
Then is made a commemoration of Advent, by the Postcommunion of the preceding Sunday.
The antiphons, psalms, capitulum, hymn, and versicle, are the same as in first Vespers, pages 390 to 397.
Antiphon of the Magnificat
Hodie egressa est virga de radice Jesse: hodie sine ulla peccati labe concepta est Maria: hodie contritum est ab ea caput serpentis antiqui, alleluia.
This day there went forth a branch from the root of Jesse: this day was Mary conceived without any stain of sin: this day was the head of the old serpent crushed by her, alleluia.
The Prayer as in the first Vespers, page 397.
We will now give three liturgical hymns composed in honour of the mystery of Mary’s Immaculate Conception; they will assist the faithful to enter more fully into the spirit of to-day’s feast. We must give the precedence to the beautiful strophes, in which Prudentius, in his hymn Ante cibum, celebrates the triumph of the woman over the serpent. We find, then, early in the fifth century, that the prince of Christian poets mentions, as one of the glories of Mary, her having triumphed over all the poisons of the infernal dragon, because there was to be bestowed upon her the dignity of Mother of God.
Ecce venit nova progenies,
Æthere proditus alter homo,
Non luteus, velut ille prior,
Sed Deus ipse gerens hominem,
Corporeisque carens vitiis.
Fit caro vivida Sermo Patris,
Numine quem rutilante gravis
Non thalamo, neque jure tori,
Nec genialibus illecebris,
Intemerata puella parit.
Hoc odium vetus illud erat,
Hoc erat aspidis, atque hominis
Quod modo cernua femineis
Vipera proteritur pedibus.
Edere namque Deum merita,
Omnia Virgo venena domat.
Tractibus anguis inexplicitis,
Virus inerme piger revomit,
Gramine concolor in viridi
Quae feritas modo non trepidat,
Territa de grege candidulo?
Impavidas lupus inter oves
Tristis obambulat, et rabidum
Sanguinis immemor os cohibet.
Agnus enim vice mirifica
Ecce leonibus imperitat,
Exagitansque truces aquilas
Per vaga nubila, perque notos
Sidere lapsa Columba fugat.
Lo! there comes a new progeny:
a new man come from heaven,
not formed of clay as was that first Adam;
no, it is God himself that has assumed human nature,
though without that nature’s sins.
The Word of the Father is made living flesh;
a spotless Virgin is his Mother,
not made so by the ordinary laws of wedlock,
but by the overshadowing of that bright Spirit,
who is God, yet chooses Mary for his bride.
Here is the cause of that ancient hate,
that ever-warring quarrel
between the serpent and man
—that now the crouching viper
is crushed by the woman’s foot.
The Virgin, that was made worthy to be Mother of God,
triumphs over all the poisons of satan:
the green monster, now sluggish and disabled,
coils his huge folds round himself,
and on the grass vomits out his venom.
Well may the fierce wolf tremble,
and flee from the dear white lambs of the fold!
Sulky and vexed, he prowls around the inclosure
wherein they safely browse:
he dare not think of blood, nor show his rabid teeth.
O wonderful change!
the lamb commands the lion,
and the heavenly Dove in her descent to earth
makes the ravenous eagle
flutter through the clouds and the winds.
The following hymn belongs to the eighth century. It was written by the celebrated Paul the deacon, who, after being secretary to Charlemagne, became a monk at Monte-Cassino. Here, too, we find the clearest profession of faith in the Immaculate Conception. The poison of original sin, as the author expresses it, has run its infection through the entire human race; but the Creator sees that the womb of Mary is pure, and there he enters.
Quis possit amplo famine præpotens
Digne fateri præmia Virginis,
Per quam veternæ sub laqueo necis
Orbi retento reddita vita est?
Hæc virga Jesse, Virgo puerpera,
Hortus superno germine consitus,
Signatus alto munere fons sacer,
Mundum beavit viscere cœlibi.
Hausto maligni primus ut occidit
Virus chelydri terrigenum parens;
Hinc lapsa pestis per genus irrepens
Cunctum profundo vulnere perculit.
Rerum misertus sed Sator, inscia
Cernens piaculi viscera Virginis,
Hic ferre mortis crimine languido
Mandat salutis gaudia sæculo.
Emissus astris Gabriel innubæ
Æterna portat nuntia Virgini:
Verbo tumescit latior æthere
Alvus replentem sæcula continens.
Intacta mater, virgoque fit parens,
Orbis Creator ortus in orbe est;
Hostis pavendi sceptra remota sunt,
Toto refulsit lux nova saeculo.
Sit Trinitati gloria unicae,
Virtus, potestas, summa potentia,
Regnum retentans, quae Deus unus est,
Per cuncta semper saecula saeculi.
Where is the man with words
sublime enough to tell the gifts bestowed on the Virgin,
by whom life was restored to the world,
which was prisoner in the snare of the old death?
She is the branch of Jesse, the Virgin Mother,
the garden wherein grew the divine plant,
the holy fountain sealed with the mysterious gift:
she it is that made the world happy by the fruit of her virginal womb.
Our first parent brought death on himself,
by drinking in the poison of the wicked serpent;
thence came the pestilence on all mankind,
and it was mortal
But the Creator of the world took compassion on man,
and seeing the womb of the Virgin, that was pure from sin,
it is by her he decrees to convey the joys of salvation
to the world that languished in crime.
Gabriel is sent from heaven
bearing to the chaste Virgin the eternal decree:
and she becomes Mother of the Word,
her womb containing within it him that fills the earth.
A chaste maid, yet a mother! a virgin, yet a parent!
The Creator of the world was born in his own world;
the sceptre was wrested from the hands of the dreaded enemy;
a new light shone throughout the whole world.
To the Trinity, the one only God,
be glory, honour, power,
highest strength, and kingdom,
for ever and for ever.
The following Prose was used in many Churches, two hundred years ago, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
Dies iste celebretur,
In quo pie recensetur
Virgo Mater generatur;
Concipitur et creatur
Dulcis vena veniæ.
Adæ vetus exsilium,
Et Joachim opprobrium,
Hinc habent remedium.
Hoc prophetæ præviderunt,
Virga prolem conceptura,
Stella solem paritura,
Flos de virga processurus,
Sol de stella nasciturus,
O quam felix et praeclara,
Nobis grata, Deo chara,
Fuit hæc Conceptio!
Luctus cedit gaudio.
Nova mater novam prolem,
Nova stella novum solem,
Nova profert gratia.
Patrem parit filia.
O mirandam novitatem,
Novam quoque dignitatem!
Ditat matris castitatem
Gaude, Virgo gratiosa,
Virga flore speciosa,
Mater prole generosa,
Vere plena gaudio.
Quod præcessit in figura,
Nube latens sub obscura,
Hoc declarat genitura
Piæ matris: Virgo pura,
Pariendi vertit jura,
Fusa, mirante natura,
Triste fuit in Eva vœ!
Sed ex Eva format ave,
Versa vice, sed non prave;
Intus ferens in conclave
Verbum bonum et suave;
Nobis, Mater Virgo, fave
Tua frui gratia.
Omnis homo, sine mora,
Laude plena solvens ora
Istam colas, ipsam ora:
Omni die, omni hora,
Sit mens supplex, vox sonora;
Sio supplica, sic implora
Tu spes certa miserorum,
Vere mater orphanorum,
Tu levamen oppressorum,
Omnibus es omnia.
Te rogamus voto pari,
Laude digna singulari,
Ut errantes in hoc mari,
Nos in portu salutari
Tua sistat gratia.
Let this day be kept as a feast,
on which is celebrated
the Conception of Mary.
The Virgin-Mother is begotten;
she, the sweet source of pardon,
is conceived on this day.
It is the remedy of those two evils,
the long exile of Adam,
and the disgrace of Joachim.
It is this that the inspiring grace of God
made the prophets foretell,
and the patriarchs foresee.
This day is conceived Jesse’s branch,
that was to produce a Flower,
the star that was to bring forth the Sun.
Who is the Flower that was to rise from the branch,
who the Sun that was to be born from the star,
but Christ our Lord?
O happy and glorious Conception!
so welcome to us,
and so dear to God!
Misery is at an end;
mercy is given to us;
sadness is succeeded by joy.
By a new, unheard-of grace,
a new Mother gives birth to a new offspring,
and a new star produces a new Sun.
She that is made brings forth him that made her,
the creature her Creator,
the daughter her Father.
O wonderful novelty!
O novel prerogative!
the Mother’s purity is made purer
by the conception of her Child!
Be glad, thou gracious Maid,
thou branch so lovely with thy Flower,
thou Mother so venerable with thy divine Babe,
thou truly full of joy!
That which was heretofore hid under the thick cloud of figures,
is now made manifest by the daughter of the holy Anne;
the dew of the Deity enriches this her Child,
and she, a pure Virgin,
brings forth Jesus,
whilst nature beholds with astonishment
an exception made to all her laws.
There was a sound of malediction
in the very name of Eva;
but Gabriel’s salutation,
by an admirable change, formed Ave out of Eva.
Virgin-Mother! that didst receive this good and sweet word
in thy little cell at Nazareth;
grant us the consolation of thy favour.
Come, all ye faithful, delay not;
open your lips, and with hearty praise
honour the Mother of Jesus:
pray to her;
every day and every hour,
let the mind concord with the voice in prayer and praise:
yea, even so must ye beg and implore her patronage.
Mary! thou the unfailing hope of the wretched,
the true Mother of orphans,
the consolation of the afflicted,
the health of the sick,
thou art all to all
O thou that art worthy of special praise,
hear our united prayer,
and may thy intercession lead us,
poor wanderers on this sea of life,
to the haven of salvation.
 De conceptu virginali, cap. xviii.
 Gen. iii. 15.
 Eph. iv. 24.
 Cant. iv. 7.
 St. Luke i. 28.
 St. Luke xxii. 32.
 St. John xiv, 26.
 Ps. xi. 2.
 Some writers call him Elsym, and others Elpyn. See Baronius in his notes on the Roman Martyrology, Dec. 8. [Tr.]
 D. O. M. supremo cœli terraeque imperatori, per quem regos regnant; Virgini Deiparæ Immaculatae Conceptæ, per quam principes imperant, in peculiarem Dominam, Austriæ Patronam, singulari pietate susceptae, se, liberos, populos, exercitus, provincias, omnia denique confidit, donat, consecrat, et in perpetuam rei memoriam statuam hanc ex voto ponit Ferdinandus III. Augustus.
 Cant. vi. 9.
 Pa. lxxxvi. 3.
 In monastic churches it is preceded by this responsory:—R. In hoc cognovi * Quoniam voluisti me. In hoc. V. Quoniam non gaudebit inimicus meus super me. * Quoniam. Gloria. In hoc.
 1Col i. 15.
 Eph. iv. 24.
 St. John i. 14.
From Dom Gueranger's The Liturgical Year.
Let us consider how the immaculate Mary came into this world nine months after her conception, and how each day of her life gave man fresh reason to hope for the great promises made him by God. Let us admire the fulness of grace which God has given to her, and contemplate the respect and the love wherewith the holy angels look upon her as the future Mother of Him who is to be their Head and King, as well as ours. Let us follow this august Queen to the temple of Jerusalem, where she is presented by her parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne. When but three years of age, she was initiated into all the secrets of divine love. 'I always rose at midnight (thus she spoke of herself, in a revelation to St. Elizabeth of Hungary), and went before the altar of the temple, where I besought of God that I might observe all the commandments of His Law, and be enriched with those graces which would render me pleasing to His Majesty. I most earnestly prayed Him, that I might live to see that most holy virgin who was to bring forth into this world His own divine Son. I asked Him to grant me to enjoy the use of my eyes that I might see her, of my tongue that I might praise her, of my hands that I might serve her, of my feet that I might go her errands, and of my knees that I might adore the Son of God resting in her arms.’
Thou, O Mary, thou thyself wast this Virgin, who was worthy of the praises of men and angels! But God had not yet revealed it to thee, and thy heavenly humility forbade thy thinking that the immense dignity, which thou didst so deeply venerate, could ever be thine. Nay, thou wast the first and the only one of the daughters of Israel that had renounced all hope of ever being the Mother of the Messias. To be Mother of the Messias was, indeed, an ineffable honour; but it seemed as though it could only be received on the condition of having another spouse besides God, and this thou wouldst not suffer; thou wouldst be united to God alone, and thy vow of virginity which made thee so, was dearer to thee than the possibility of any privilege, which would rob thee of even a tittle of that. Thy marriage with St. Joseph, therefore, was a fresh lustre added to thy incomparable purity, whilst, in the designs of God, it provided thee with the protection which thy coming honours would soon require. We follow thee, O bride of Joseph, into thy house at Nazareth, where is to be spent thy humble life. There we behold thee diligent in all thy duties, the valiant woman of the Scriptures, the object of the admiration of God and of His angels. Suffer us, O Mary! to unite our Advent devotions with the prayers which thou didst offer up for the coming of the Messias; with the veneration wherewith thou didst think upon her that was to be His Mother; and with the inflamed desires wherewith thou didst long for the divine Saviour. We salute thee as the Virgin foretold by Isaias; it is thyself, O blessed Mother, that deservest the praise and love of the holy people and city, the redeemed of the Lord.
(Taken from the Cluny Missal of 1523)
Hæc est aula regia,
Virgo plena gratia,
Hæc est meile dulcior,
O fons admirabilis,
Vas virtutis pretium.
Tu es regis speciosi
Odor nardi pretiosi,
Arbor vitae digna laude,
Generosa Mater, gaude,
Tu medela peccatorum,
Peperisti florem florum,
Christum fontem gaudii.
Virga Jesse, lux sanctorum,
Memor esto miserorum,
In die judicii.
Tu es mundi gaudium,
Sit tibi, flos omnium,
Virgo sine macula,
Honor et imperium,
Per aeterna saecula.
Let us venerate the Virgin,
the Mother of grace,
the sweetness of salvation,
the fount of Wisdom.
She is the palace of the King,
the Queen of prudence,
the Virgin full of grace,
the aurora of joy.
She is sweeter than honey,
the lily of chastity;
she is brighter than the jasper,
our solace in sorrow.
O fountain most admirable,
source whence came the author of our faith,
Mother most admirable,
precious vessel of virtue.
Thou art the purest
Mother of the beautiful King;
thou art the perfume of precious ointment;
thou art the sweetest rose.
Rejoice, O glorious tree of life,
O brightest of stars,
O noblest of mothers,
O Virgin most holy!
Thou, the sinner’s help,
and Queen of counsel,
didst bring forth the flower of flowers,
Jesus the source of our joy.
Branch of Jesse, light of the saints,
help of the needy,
be mindful of us sinners
on the day of judgement.
Thou art the joy of the world,
the model of charity,
the encouragement to victory,
the treasury of every fragrance.
To thee, O sweetest flower,
be queenly honour
Prayer from the Gregorian Sacramentary
(In the daily Prayers for Advent)
Exsultemus, quæsumus, Domine Deus noster, omnes recti corde inunitate fidei congregati: ut veniente Salvatore nostro Filio tuo, immaculati occurramus illi in ejus sanctorum comitatu. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord our God, that all we, who are united with upright hearts in the unity of faith, may rejoice: that so, when thy Son our Saviour shall come, we, being purified, may meet him in the society of his saints. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 Prov. xxxi. 10.
 Is. vii. 14.
 Ibid. lxii. 12.
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
Let us contemplate our blessed Lady as visited by the angel Gabriel, and conceiving in her chaste womb the Creator of the universe and the Redeemer of mankind. But that we may the better relish the sweetness of this great mystery, let us listen to the seraphic St. Bonaventure, who, in his Meditations on the Life of Christ, has brought these sublime scenes of the Gospel so vividly before us, that one would almost suppose an eye-witness was speaking to us. No human language has ever surpassed the unction and pathos of these Meditations.
‘Now, when the fulness of that time had come, wherein the most high Trinity, in exceeding love, had decreed to save mankind by the Incarnation of the Word; the divine mercy, and the instant prayers of the blessed spirits, pressed for the accomplishment of this redemption. The blessed Virgin Mary having returned to Nazareth, the Almighty called unto Him the Archangel Gabriel, and thus spake unto him: “ Go thou unto our well-beloved daughter Mary, that is espoused unto Joseph, and that is dear unto us above all our creatures; and say unto her, that the Son of God hath been taken with her beauty, and chosen her that she be His Mother, Pray her that she accept Him joyously, for that through her have I decreed to save all mankind, and no longer remember the injuries done unto Me.”
‘Whereupon, Gabriel arose joyous and glad, and flew from on high, and suddenly stood in a human form before the Virgin Mary, who was in the inner chamber of her cot. But not so quick had been his flight, but that he found already there the holy Trinity, that had gone before Their ambassador. As soon, therefore, as the faithful spirit Gabriel perceived the Virgin Mary, he said; “Hail full of grace; the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” But she was troubled, and answered him not a word. Her trouble came not from a guilty fear, nor from the sight of Gabriel, for oft-times did she receive the visits of the angels; but, according to what the Gospel saith, she was troubled at his saying, thinking within herself upon it, for that it was strange unto her to hear Gabriel speak such manner of salutation.
‘The humble Virgin was perforce troubled at it, finding therein three praises of herself. She was praised for that she was full of grace; and that the Lord was with her; and that she was blessed above all women. He that is humble cannot hear his own praise without blushes and trouble. Therefore Mary was troubled with fitting and virtuous shame. She began wondering how this that she heard could be true; not forasmuch as she suspected the angel’s having said aught that was false, but by reason that the humble ever ponder their defects and not their virtues, whereby they may always advance; counting their great virtue to be little, and their little defects great. As one that was prudent and wary, timid and bashful, she answered not. In truth, what could she say? Do thou learn, from her example, to be silent, and to love to speak little, for exceeding great and useful is this virtue. Twice is she spoken unto, before she speaks once, for it is a thing intolerable that a virgin should be a great talker.
‘As soon, therefore, as the angel saw that she was thus in doubt, he said: "Fear not, Mary, neither blush thou at the praises I have spoken unto thee, for they are most true. Thou thyself art full of grace; nay, verily I tell thee, that thou hast found for man the grace he had lost. For behold! thou shalt conceive and bring forth a Son, that hath chosen thee for His Mother, and He shall save all that put their trust in Him.” Whereupon she made answer, heeding nothing the praises of the angel, but seeking how it could be that that should not be taken from her, which was precious unto her above measure; and she asked of the angel, saying: "How shall this be? for I have vowed my virginity for ever unto God, that I never should know man.” The angel answered, and said: "It shall be done by the operation of the Holy Ghost, who shall fill thee as no tongue can speak. Thou shalt conceive by His power, yet shalt remain a pure Virgin, and therefore shall thy Son be called the Son of God, For unto God nothing is impossible. For thy cousin Elizabeth, that is old and called barren, has conceived a son by the power of God, now these six months past.”
'Consider here, I beseech thee, for God’s sake, how the Trinity is there, waiting the answer and consent of this Their most beloved daughter, and taking delight in her modesty, and ways, and words; and also, how diligent and wise is the angel in his endeavour to obtain her consent, and how admirable are his words, and how he stands with his head bowed down before his and our Lady, with a placid and recollected look, doing his embassy with exactitude, and attentively noting Mary’s words, so as to be able to satisfy her in his answers, and execute the divine will in this wondrous work. See, too, how our Lady stands in holy fear and humility, showing in her face the blush of modesty, and surprise at this so sudden visit of the angel. Neither have his words extolled her in her own esteem: and albeit they were such as never had been spoken to mortal, yet does she attribute nought to herself but all to grace. Learn, therefore, of her to have modesty and humility, for without them even virginity availeth little. The most prudent Virgin is full of joy, and gives consent unto the words of the angel. Then, as is related in the revelations made to a devout servant of God, throwing herself on her knees with intense devotion, and joining her hands together, she said unto the angel: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word.” Then straightway did the Son of God enter the Virgin’s womb, and took unto Himself flesh of her substance, and though His whole Person was there, yet did He not cease to abide still wholly in the bosom of His Father.
‘Then did Gabriel also kneel down, and shortly after rise up together with our Lady. He once more bowed down even unto the ground, and wishing her farewell, he disappeared: and going back to heaven, he related all these things, and a new joy was there, and a new feast, and exceeding great jubilee. But our Lady, all devout, and burning with a love of God such as she had not felt before, for she perceived what was done within her, knelt to give thanks for this so great gift, humbly and devoutly supplicating the divine Majesty that He would vouchsafe to teach her how she should comport herself with all perfection in her treatment of this His only-begotten Son.’
Such is the description of the mystery of the Annunciation given us by the seraphic Doctor. Let us profoundly adore our Creator, who has thus humbled Himself out of love for us from the desire He has to succour us in our misery. Let us also salute Mary, the Mother of God and of men.
(Taken from the Cluny Missal of 1523)
In honorem Mariæ Virginis,
Quæ nos lavit a labe criminis,
Dies est lætitiæ.
De radice Jesse propaginis
Hanc eduxit Sol veri luminis,
Templum suæ gratiæ.
Stella nova noviter oritur,
Cujus ortu mors nostra moritur:
Evæ lapsus jam restituitur
Et aurora surgens progreditur;
Sicut luna pulchra describitur;
Super cuncta ut sol erigitur
Virgo Mater et Virgo unica,
Virga fumi, sol aromatica,
In te cœli, mundique fabrica
Verbum Patris processu temporis
Intra tui secretum corporis;
In te totum, et totum deforis
In te fuit.
Fructus virens arentis arboris
Christus, gigas immensi roboris,
Nos a nexu funesti pignoris
Condoluit humano generi
Virginalis filius uteri:
Accingantur senes et pueri
Ad laudem Virginis.
Qui potuit de nobis conqueri
Pro peccato parentis veteris,
Mediator voluit fieri
Dei et hominis.
O Maria, dulce commercium
Intrat tuum cœleste gremium,
Quo salutis reis remedium
O spes vera et verum gaudium,
Fac post vitae praesentis stadium
Ut optatum in cœlis bravium
This is a day of joy!
let us celebrate it
in honour of the blessed Virgin Mary,
who gave us him that cleansed us from sin.
He that is the source of true light,
brought up this branch from the root of Jesse;
and his wisdom has made her
the temple of his grace.
It is a new rising of a new star,
at which our death dies:
it is now that what was lost by the fall of Eve,
is found again by Mary.
This is the holy Virgin that is described as the aurora rising,
as the lovely moon,
as the sun,
the brightest of orbs.
O Virgin Mother, Virgin of virgins,
fragrant cloud of smoke,
sun shedding the perfume of its light!
in thee both heaven and earth delight.
In the fulness of time, the Word of the Father
entered into thy chaste womb;
wholly in thee
and wholly in the bosom of his Father.
Jesus, the beautiful fruit of a virgin tree,
snatched us, in his giant strength,
from the claims
which sin and hell had upon us.
This God, that saved the human race,
is the Son of the Virgin:
in that Virgin’s praise
all may justly speak and sing.
He that might have punished us
for the sin of our first parents,
became himself the Mediator
between God and man.
In thy chaste womb, O Mary!
was made that merciful barter,
was given to the sinner.
Truly, then, thou art the cause of our joy and hope!
Oh! pray, that after running the race of this present life,
we may receive
the lookedfor prize in heaven.
 Prov. xxxi. 10.
 Is. vii. 14.
 Ibid. lxii. 12.
From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
The Church makes a commemoration, on this same day within the octave, of the holy Pope Melchiades. This illustrious Pontiff, whom St. Augustine calls ‘the true child of the peace of Jesus Christ, the worthy father of the Christian people,’ ascended the papal throne in the year 311, that is, during the very fiercest storm of persecution. It is on this account that he is honoured with the title of martyr. Though he did not shed his blood for the name of Jesus, yet he shared in the glory of the martyrs, by reason of the great trials he had to suffer during the persecution, which afflicted the entire Church. It was the same with many of his predecessors. But the pontificate of Melchiades marks a very important period of the Church—the transition from persecution to peace. As early as the year 312, liberty was granted to the Christian religion by Constantine. So that Melchiades had the glory of governing the Church at the commencement of her period of temporal prosperity. His name now graces the calendar of the liturgical year, and reminds us of that peace which will soon descend upon us from heaven.
Deign then, O father of the Christian people, to pray for us to the Prince of peace, that, in His approaching visit, He may quell our troubles, remove the obstacles to His grace, and reign as absolute Master over our heart, our mind, and our senses. Pray also that peace may reign in the holy city and Church of Rome, of which thou wast the Bishop, and which will honour thy venerable memory to the end of time: help her by thy intercession now that thou art face to face with God, and hear the prayers which she addresses to thee.
Infirmitatem nostram respice, omnipotens Deus, et quia pondus propriæ actionis gravat, beati Melchiadis Martyris tui atque Pontificis intercessio gloriosa nos protegat. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
Have regard, O almighty God, to our weakness; and as we sink under the weight of our own doings, let the glorious intercession of blessed Melchiades, thy Martyr and Bishop, be a protection to us. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.