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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[1] 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.
[1] 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.

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

The Mystery which the Church honours in this Third Mass is the eternal generation or Birth of the Son of God in the Bosom of his Father. At midnight she celebrated the God-Man, born in the Stable from the Womb of the glorious Virgin Mary; at the Aurora, this same Divine Infant, born in the souls of the Shepherds; there still remains for her adoration and praise a Birth more wonderful than these other two: a Birth, which dazzles the eye of Angels by its splendour, and bears its eternal witness to the inward fruitfulness of God. The Son of Mary is also the Son of God; and a grand duty of to-day is that we hymn aloud the glory of this his ineffable Generation, which makes him consubstantial to his Father, God of God and Light of Light. Let us, then, raise up our thoughts even to that eternal Word, who was in the beginning with God, and was himself God;[1] for he is the brightness of his Father's glory, and the figure of his substance.[2]

The Church's first Chant in this her Third Mass is an acclamation to the new-born King. She celebrates the kingly power and majesty which he will derive, as Man, from the Cross that is one day to be upon his shoulders; as God, he has been the Almighty King from all eternity, and this too she celebrates. He is also the Angel of the great Counsel; that is, he is the One Sent from heaven to fulfil the sublime Counsel or design of the Most Holy Trinity—to save mankind by the Incarnation and the Redemption. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word, made this Counsel, together with the other Two: his devotedness to his Father's glory, and his love for man, made him take upon himself the execution of the divine Plan.


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

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

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

In the Collect, the Church prays that the New Birth, whereby the eternal Son of God deigned to be born in time, may produce its effect in us, and work our deliverance.


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


Lectio Epistolæ beati Pauli Apostoli ad Hebræos.

Cap. I.

Multifariam multisque modis olim Deus loquens patribus in Prophetis; novissime diebus istis locutus est nobis in Filio, quem constituit hæredem universorum, per quem fecit et sæcula. Qui cum sit splendor gloriæ, et figura substantiae ejus, portansque omnia verbo virtutis suæ, purgationem peccatorum faciens, sedet ad dexteram Majestatis in excelsis: tanto melior Angelis effectus, quanto differentius præ illis nomen hæreditavit. Cui enim dixit aliquando Angelorum: Filius meus es tu, ego hodie genui te? Et rursura: Ego ero illi in Patrem, et ipse erit mihi in Filium. Et cum iterum introducit Primogenitum in orbem terræ, dicit: Et adorent eum omnes Angeli Dei. Et ad Angelos quidem dicit: Qui facit Angelos suos Spiritus, et ministros suos flammam ignis. Ad Filium autem: Thronus tuus, Deus, in sæculum sæculi: virga æquitatis, virga regni tui. Dilexisti justitiam, et odisti iniquitatem: propterea unxit te Deus, Deus tuus, oleo exsultationis præ participibus tuis. Et: Tu in principio, Domine, terram fundasti; et opera manuum tuarum sunt cœli. Ipsi peribunt, tu autem permanebis; et omnes ut vestimentum veterascent, et velut amictum mutabis eos, et mutabuntur: tu autem idem ipse es, et anni tui non deficient.
Lesson of the Epistle of St Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews.

Ch. I.

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past to the Fathers by the Prophets; last of all in these days hath spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world. Who being the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his substance, and holding all things by the word of his power, making purgation of sins, sitteth on the right hand of the Majesty on high: being made so much better than the Angels, as he hath inherited a more excellent name than they. For to which of the Angels hath he said at any time: Thou art my Son, to-day have I begotten thee? And again: I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son? And again, when he bringeth in the First-Begotten into the world, he saith: And let all the Angels of God adore him.And to the Angels, indeed, he saith: He that maketh his Angels Spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. But to the Son: Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of justice is the sceptre of thy kingdom. Thou hast loved justice, and hated iniquity: therefore God, thy God hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. And: Thou in the beginning, O Lord, didst found the earth, and the works of thy hands are the heavens. They shall perish, but thou shalt continue; and they shall all grow old as a garment, and as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: but thou art the self-same, and thy years shall not fail.

The great Apostle, in this magnificent opening of his Epistle to his former brethren of the Synagogue, lays great stress on the Eternal Generation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Whilst our eyes are fixed on the sweet Infant in his Crib, St Paul bids us raise our thoughts up to that infinite Light, from the midst of which the Eternal Father thus speaks to this Child of Mary: Thou art my Son; to-day have I begotten thee: this to-day is the Day of eternity, a Day which has neither morning nor evening, neither rising nor setting. If the Human Nature which he has vouchsafed to assume places him below the Angels; he is infinitely above them by his own essence, whereby he is the Son of God. He is God, he is Lord, and no change can come upon him. He may be wrapped in swathing-bands or nailed to a Cross, or put to a most ignominious death; all this is only in his human nature: in his Divinity he remains impassible and immortal, for he was born of the Father from all eternity.


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

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

Alleluia, alleluia.

℣. Dies sanctificatus illuxit nobis: Venite, gentes, et adorate Dominum; quia hodie descendit lux magna super terram. Alleluia.
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God: sing joyfully to the Lord, all thou earth.

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

Alleluia, alleluia.

℣. A sanctified day hath shone upon us: Come, ye Gentiles, and adore the Lord; for this day a great Light is come down upon the earth. Alleluia.


Initium sancti Evangelii secundum Joannem.

Cap. I.

In principio erat Verbum, et Verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat Verbum. Hoc erat in principio apud Deum. Omnia per ipsum facta sunt, et sine ipso factum est nihil, quod factum est. In ipso vita erat; et vita erat lux hominum; et lux in tenebris lucet, et tenebræ eam non comprehenderunt. Fuit homo missus a Deo, cui nomen erat Joannes. Hic venit in testimonium, ut testimonium perhiberet de lumine, ut omnes crederent per ilium. Non erat ille lux, sed ut testimonium perhiberet de lumine. Erat lux vera quæ illuminat omnem hominem venientem in hunc mundum. In mundo erat, et mundus per ipsum factus est; et mundus eum non cognovit. In propria venit, et sui eum non receperunt. Quotquot autem receperunt eum, dedit eis potestatem filios Dei fieri: his qui credunt in nomine ejus; qui non ex sanguinibus, neque ex voluntate carnis, neque ex voluntate viri, sed ex Deo nati sunt. Et Verbum CARO FACTUM EST, et habitavit in nobis: et vidimus gloriam ejus, gloriam quasi Unigeniti a Patre, plenum gratiæ et veritatis.
The beginning of the holy Gospel according to John.

Ch. I.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life; and the life was the Light of men; and the Light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the Light, that all men might believe through him. He was not the Light, but was to give testimony of the Light. That was the true Light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him; and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them he gave power to be made the sons of God: to them that believe in his name, who are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us: and we saw his glory, as it were the glory of the Only-Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

O Eternal Son of God! in presence of the Crib, where for the love of us thou vouchsafest this day to show thyself to thy creatures, we confess thy eternity, thy omnipotence, thy divinity, and most profoundly do we adore thee. Thou wast in the beginning; thou wast in God; and thyself wast God. Everything was made by thee, and we are the work of thy hands. O Light, infinite and eternal! O Sun of Justice! enlighten us, for we are but darkness. Too long have we loved our darkness, and thee we have not comprehended: forgive us our blindness and our errors. Thou hast been long knocking at the door of our hearts, and we have refused to let thee in. To-day, thanks to the wonderful ways of thy love, we have received thee: for who could refuse to receive thee, sweet gentle Infant Jesus! but leave us not; abide with us, and perfect the New Birth which thou hast begun in us. We wish henceforth to be neither of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God, by thee and in thee. Thou hast been made Flesh, O Word Eternal! in order that we may become sons of God. We beseech thee, support our weak human nature, and fit us for this our sublime destiny. Thou art born of God thy Father; thou art born of Mary; thou art born in our hearts; thrice glorified be thou for this thy triple Birth, O Jesus! so merciful in thy Divinity, and so divine in thy self-sought humiliations!

At the Offertory, the Church sings praise to her Emmanuel for the work of his hands, the universe; for it was he who made all things. The sacred gifts are offered up in the midst of a cloud of incense. The Church cannot lose sight of the Infant Jesus and the Crib; but she is unceasingly praising the power and majesty of the Incarnate God.


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


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

During the Communion, the choir sings the happiness of this earth of ours, which has to-day seen its Saviour by the mercy of the Divine Word, made visible in the flesh, yet so as that he loses nothing of his own infinite glory. Then, in the Postcommunion, she prays by the mouth of the Priest, that her children who have eaten of the spotless Lamb may partake of the immortality of this same Jesus: for, by vouchsafing to be born by a human Birth in Bethlehem, he has this Day given them the pledge of their receiving a divine life.


Viderunt omnes fines terræ Salutare Dei nostri.
The whole earth hath seen the salvation of our God.


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

Last Gospel

After the Blessing, the following Last Gospel is read.

Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Matthæum.

Cap. II.

Cum natus esset Jesus in Bethlehem Juda, in diebus Herodis regis, ecce Magi ab Oriente venerunt Jerosolymam, dicentes: Ubi est, qui natus est Rex Judæorum? vidimus enim stellam ejus in Oriente, et venimus adorare eum. Audiens autem Herodes rex, turbatus est, et omnis Jerosolyma cum illo. Et congregans omnes principes sacerdotum, et scribas populi, sciscitabatur ab eis ubi Christus nasceretur. At illi dixerunt ei: In Bethlehem Judæ: sic enim scriptum est per Prophetam: Et tu, Bethlehem, terra Juda, nequaquam minima es in principibus Juda: ex te enim exiet dux qui regat populum meum Israel. Tunc Herodes, clam vocatis Magis, diligenter didicit ab eis tempus stellæ, quæ apparuit eis: et mittens illos in Bethlehem, dixit: Ite, et interrogate diligenter de puero: et cum inveneritis, renuntiate mihi, ut et ego veniens adorem eum. Qui cum audissent regem, abierunt. Et ecce stella quam viderant in Oriente antecedebat eos, usque dum veniens staret supra ubi erat puer. Videntes autem stellam, gavisi sunt gaudio magno valde. Et intrantes domum, invenerunt puerum cum Maria matre ejus, (here all kneel) et procidentes adoraverunt eum. Et apertis thesauris suis, obtulerunt ei munera; aurum, thus et myrrham. Et responso accepto in somnis ne redirent ad Herodem, per aliam viam reversi sunt in regionem suam.

. Deo gratias.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Matthew.

Ch. II.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold there came Wise Men from the East to Jerusalem, saying: Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the East, and are come to adore him. And Herod hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And assembling together all the chief Priests and the Scribes of the people, he enquired of them where Christ should be born. But they said to him: in Bethlehem of Juda: for so it is written by the Prophet: And thou, Bethlehem, the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come forth the captain that shall rule my people Israel. Then, Herod, privately calling the Wise Men, learned diligently of them the time of the star which appeared to them: and sending them into Bethlehem, said: Go, and diligently enquire after the Child, and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I also may come and adore. Who having heard the king, went their way. And behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. And seeing the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And entering into the house, they found the Child with Mary his Mother, (here all kneel) and falling down they adored him. And opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having received an answer in sleep that they should not return to Herod, they went back another way into their own country.

. Thanks be to God.


The Evensong of God's praise is about to close this beautiful Day: let us go and unite in it. The material sun is fast sinking in the west: but our Sun of Justice shall never set for us, who have received him into our hearts. Yes, let us go join our Mother the Church, and chant, in the songs of the Royal Prophet, the happiness of our earth, that has yielded its divine Fruit; the glories of this new-born Saviour; and the mercies which he has brought us. God forbid that our hearts should have lost, since morning, aught of their earnest fervour! has not Christ been born within us? Therefore, let our psalmody proclaim his praises, and ascend to him with all that beauty and loveliness and merit which the divine Liturgy always adds to our own individual fervour.

℣. Deus, in adjutorium meum intende.

. Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina.

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritili Sancto:

Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in sæcula sæculorum. Amen. Alleluia.
℣. Incline unto my aid, O God.

. O Lord, make haste to help me.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Alleluia.

The first Psalm of Second Vespers for Christmas Day is that which always begins the Evening Office on Sundays and Feasts. It celebrates the Eternal Generation of the Word, and prophesies his Sufferings and his Triumph.

Ant. Tecum principium in die virtutis tuæ, in splendoribus Sanctorum: ex utero ante luciferum genui te.
Ant. With thee is the principality in the day of thy strength, in the brightness of the Saints; for the Father has said to thee: From the womb, before the day-star, I begot thee.

Psalm 109

Dixit Dominus Domino meo: * Sede a dextris meis.
Donec ponam inimicos tuos: * scabellum pedum tuorum.
Virgam virtutis tuæ emittet Dominus ex Sion: * dominare in medio inimicorum tuorum.
Tecum principium in die virtutis tuæ, in splendoribus Sanctorum: * ex utero ante luciferum genui te.
Juravit Dominus, et non poenitebit eum: * Tu es sacerdos in æternum, secundum ordinem Melchisedech.
Dominus a dextris tuis: * confregit in die iræ suæ reges.
Judicabit in nationibus, implebit ruinas: * conquassabit capita in terra multorum.
De torrente in via bibet; * propterea exaltabit caput.

Ant. Tecum principium in die virtutis tuæ, in splendoribus Sanctorum: ex utero ante luciferum genui te.
The Lord said to my Lord, his Son: Sit thou at my right hand, and reign with me.
Until, on the day of thy last coming, I make thy enemies thy footstool.
O Christ! the Lord, thy Father, will send forth the sceptre of thy power out of Sion: from thence rule thou in the midst of thy enemies.
With thee is the principality in the day of thy strength, in the brightness of the Saints: for the Father hath said to thee: From the womb, before the day-star, I begot thee.
The Lord hath sworn, and he will not repent: he hath said, speaking of thee, the GodMan: Thou art a Priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech.
Therefore, O Father! the Lord thy Son is at thy right hand: he hath broken kings in the day of his wrath.
He shall also judge among nations; he shall fill the ruins of the world: he shall crush the heads in the land of many.
He cometh now in humility; he shall drink in the way of the torrent of sufferings: therefore shall he lift up the head.

Ant. With thee is the principality in' the day of thy strength, in the brightness of the Saints; for the Father has said to thee: From the womb, before the day-star, I begot thee.

The second Psalm praises our Lord for the Covenant he has made with his people, and for the Redemption he has this day sent us. The human race was sunk into the depth of misery: the God of mercy, faithful to his promises, gives us, in Bethlehem, him who is the Bread of life—the heavenly food that preserves from death.

Ant. Redemptionem misit Dominus populo suo, mandavit in æternum testamentum suum.
Ant. He hath sent Redemption to his people; he hath commanded his covenant for ever.

Psalm 110

Confitebor tibi, Domine, in toto corde meo: * in concilio justorum et congregatione.
Magna opera Domini: * exquisita in omnes voluncates ejus.
Confessio et magnificentia opus ejus: * et justitia ejus manet in sæculum sæculi.
Memoriam fecit mirabilium suorum, misericors et miserator Dominus: * escam dedit timentibus se.
Memor erit in sæculum testamenti sui: * virtutem operum suorum annuntiabit populo suo.
Ut det illis hæreditatem gentium: * opera manuum ejus veritas et judicium.
Fidelia omnia mandata ejus, confirmata in sæculum sæculi: * facta in veritate et æquitate.
Redemptionem misit populo suo: * mandavit in æternum testamentum suum.
Sanctum et terribile nomen ejus: * initium sapientiæ timor Domini.
Intellectus bonus omnibus facientibus eum: * laudario ejus manet in sæculum sæculi.

Ant. Redemptionem misit Dominus populo suo, mandavit in æternum testamentum suum.
I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart: in the council of the just, and in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord: sought out according to all his wills.
His work is praise and magnificence: and his justice continued for ever and ever.
He hath made a remembrance of his wonderful works, being a merciful and gracious Lord: and being the Bread of life, he hath given food to them that fear him.He will be mindful for ever of his covenant with men: he will come and will show forth to his people the power of his works.
That he may give them, his Church, the inheritance of the Gentiles: the works of his hand are truth and judgement.
All his commandments are faithful, confirmed for ever and ever: made in truth and equity.
He hath sent Redemption to his people: he hath thereby commanded his covenant for ever.
Holy and terrible is his name: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
A good understanding to all that do it: his praise continueth for ever and ever.

Ant. He hath sent Redemption to his people; he hath commanded his covenant for ever.

The third Psalm tells the happiness and hopes of the just man, on the day of Jesus’ Birth. In the very midst of darkness, there has suddenly risen up the bright and lovely Light, that is, our Emmanuel, our merciful God. The upright of heart are enlightened by him: but woe to the sinner that will not receive him!

Ant. Exortum est in tenebris lumen recris corde: misericors et miserator, et justus Dominus.
Ant. To the upright of heart a Light has risen up in darkness; the merciful and compassionate and just Lord.

Psalm 111

Beatus vir, qui timet Dominum: * in mandatis ejus volet nimis.
Potens in terra erit semen ejus: * generatio rectorum benedicetur.
Gloria et divitiæ in domo ejus: * et justitia ejus manet in sæculum sæculi.
Exortum est in tenebris lumen rectis: * misericors et miserator et justus.
Jucundus homo qui miseretur et commodat, disponet sermones suos in judicio: * quia in æternum non commovebitur.
In memoria æterna erit justus: * ab auditione mala non timebit.
Paratum cor ejus sperare in Domino, confirmatum est cor ejus: * non commovebitur dionec despiciat inimicos suos.
Dispersit, dedit pauperibus, justitia ejus manet in sæculum sæculi: * cornu ejus exaltabitur in gloria.
Peccator videbit et irascetur, dentibus suis fremet et tabescet: * desiderium peccatorum peribit.

Ant. Exortum est in tenebris lumen rectis corde: misericors et miserator et justus Dominus.
Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord: he shall delight exceedingly in his commandments.
His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the righteous shall be blessed.
Glory and wealth shall be in his house: and his justice remaineth for ever and ever.
To the righteous a Light is risen up in darkness: he is merciful and compassionate and just, and is born among men to-day.
Acceptable, on this day, is the man that showeth mercy and lendeth; he shall order his words with judgement: because he shall not be moved for ever.
The just shall be in everlasting remembrance: he shall not fear the evil hearing.
His heart is ready to hope in the Lord; his heart is strengthened: he shall not be moved, until he look over his enemies.
He hath distributed, he hath given to the poor; his justice remaineth for ever and ever: his horn shall be exalted in glory.
The wicked shall see, and shall be angry; he shall gnash with his teeth, and pine away: the desire of the wicked shall perish.

Ant. To the upright of heart a Light is risen up in darkness; the merciful and compassionate and just Lord.

The fourth Psalm expresses the cry of distress sent forth to its Deliverer by the human race, when in the depth of its misery and degradation. But this cry was also one of hope; for God had promised to come to its deliverance. At length the Lord, whose mercy is infinite, has vouchsafed to descend upon the earth, and our Redemption begins this very day.

Ant. Apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
Ant. With the Lord there is merciful forgiveness; and with him plentiful Redemption.

Psalm 129

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine: * Domine, exaudi vocem meam.
Fiant aures tuæ intendentes: * in vocem deprecationis meæ.
Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine: * Domine, quis sustinebit?
Quia apud te propitiatio est: * et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Domine.
Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus: * speravit anima mea in Domino.
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem: * speret Israel in Domino.
Quia apud Dominum misericordia: * et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
Et ipse redimet Israel: * ex omnibus iniquitatibus ejus.

Ant. Apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
From the depths have I, thy people, cried to thee, O Lord: Lord hear my voice.
Let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplication.
If thou wilt observe iniquities, O Lord, Lord, who shall endure it?
For with thee there is merciful forgiveness; and by reason of thy law I have waited all these long ages for thee, O Lord.
My soul hath relied on his word; my soul hath hoped in the Lord.
From the morning watch even until night, let Israel hope in the Lord.
Because with the Lord there is mercy, and with him plentiful redemption.
This day he hath been born among us, and he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Ant. With the Lord there is merciful forgiveness; and with him plentiful Redemption.

The fifth Psalm celebrates the Ark of the Lord which rested in Ephrata. Mary was the true Ark, of which that of old was but a type: in her did our Lord take up his dwelling; in her did he place the throne of his Majesty. Let our God, then, arise and take possession of his Church, which begins to-day in Bethlehem; let him arise, and, together with Mary, the Queen of mercy, govern us. Henceforth he is to dwell among us—console us in all our tribulations—satisfy us poor ones with the Bread of eternal life—invest the new Priesthood with singular powers—shine in his Church as the Lamp of immutable truth—triumph over all his enemies—in a word, whilst the crowns of other kings shall fall off, the one which sits on the brow of our divine King, our sweet Babe of Bethlehem, shall flourish for everlasting ages.

Ant. De fructu ventris tui ponam super sedem tuam.
Ant. I will set upon thy throne, O David, one of the fruit of thy womb.

Psalm 131

Memento, Domine, David: * et omnis mansuetudinis ejus.
Sicut juravit Domino: * votum vovit Deo Jacob.
Si introiero in tabernaculum domus meæ: * si ascendero in lectum strati mei.
Si dedero somnum oculis meis: * et palpebris meis dormitationem.
Et requiem temporibus meis, donec inveniam locum Domino: * tabernaculum Deo Jacob.
Ecce audivimus eam in Ephrata: * invenimus eam in campis silvæ.
Introibimus in tabernaculum ejus: * adorabimus in loco ubi steterunt pedes ejus.
Surge, Domine, in requiem tuam: * tu et arca sanctificationis tuæ.
Sacerdotes tui induantur justitiam: * et Sancti tui exsultent.
Propter David servum tuum: * non avertas faciem Christi tui.
Juravit Dominus David veritatem, et non frustrabitur eam: * De fructu ventris tui ponam super sedem tuam.
Si custodierint filii tui testamentum meum: * et testimonia mea hæc, quæ docebo eos.
Et filii eorum usque in sæculum: * sedebunt super sedem tuam.
Quoniam elegit Dominus Sion: * elegit eam in habitationem sibi.
Hæc requies mea in sæculum sæculi: * hic habitabo, quoniam elegi eam.
Viduam ejus benedicens benedicam: * pauperes ejus saturabo panibus.
Sacerdotes ejus induam salutari: * et Sancti ejus exsultatione exsultabunt.
Illuc producam cornu David: * paravi lucernam Christo meo.
Inimicos ejus induam confusione: * super ipsum autem efflorebit sanctificatio mea.

Ant. De fructu ventris tui ponam super sedem tuam.
O Lord, remember David, and all his meekness.
How he swore to the Lord: he vowed a vow to the God of Jacob.
‘If I shall enter into the tabernacle of my house: if I shall go up into the bed wherein I lie;
‘If I shall give sleep to my eyes: or slumber to my eyelids,
‘Or rest to my temples, until I find out a place for the Lord, a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.’
Behold! we have heard of it that it was in Bethlehem of Ephrata; we found it in the fields of the wood.
We will go into his tabernacle; we will adore in the place where his feet have stood.
Arise, O Lord, into thy resting place; thou and Mary, the Ark which thou hast sanctified.
Let thy priests be clothed with justice: and let thy Saints rejoice.
For thy servant David’s sake, O heavenly Father! turn not away the face of thy Christ.
The Lord hath sworn truth to David, and he will not make it void: ‘Of the fruit of thy womb I will set upon thy throne.
‘If thy children will keep my covenant, and these my testimonies, which I shall teach them;
‘Their children also for evermore shall sit upon thy throne.’
For the Lord hath chosen Sion, his Church: he hath chosen it for his dwelling.
He hath said: 'This is my rest for ever and ever: here will I dwell, for I have chosen it.
‘Blessing, I will bless her widow, by the Birth of my Son; in Bethlehem I will satisfy her poor with Bread.
'I will clothe her priests with salvation: and her Saints shall rejoice with exceeding great joy.
'There, in my Church, will I bring forth the horn, the strength of David: I have prepared a lamp for my Christ.
'His enemies I will clothe with confusion: but upon him shall my sanctification flourish.*

Ant. I will set upon thy throne, O David! one of the fruit of thy womb.

(Heb. I)

Multifariam, multisque modis olim Deus loquens patribus in Prophetis: novissime diebus istis locutus est nobis in Filio, quem constituit hæredem universorum, per quem fecit et sæcula.
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past to the Fathers by the Prophets; last of all in these days hath spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world.


Jesu, redemptor omnium,
Quem, lucis ante originem,
Parem paternæ gloriæ
Pater supremus edidit;

Tu lumen et splendor Patris,
Tu spes perennis omnium,
Intende quas fundunt preces
Tui per orbem servuli.

Memento, rerum conditor,
Nostri quod olim corporis,
Sacrata ab alvo Virginis
Nascendo, formam sumpseris.

Testatur hoc praesens dies,
Currens per anni circulum,
Quod solus e sinu Patris
Mundi salus adveneris.

Hunc astra, tellus, æquora,
Hunc omne quod cœlo subest,
Salutis auctorem novæ
Novo salutat cantico.

Et nos, beata quos sacri
Rigavit unda sanguinis,
Natalis ob diem tui,
Hymni tributum solvimus.

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


℣. Notum fecit Dominus, alleluia.
. Salutare suum, alleluia.
O Jesu! Redeemer of mankind!
born before the light was made,
and born of the Eternal Father,
equal to him in infinite glory;

O thou the light and brightness of the Father!
O thou the everlasting hope of all men!
hear the prayers offered thee
by thy servants throughout the world.

Be mindful, O Creator of all things!
that heretofore thou didst
assume a Body like unto ours,
and wast born from the sacred womb of a Virgin.

This present Day, which the year has brought round
to us, tells us of this mystery—
that thou, the one Saviour of the world,
didst come to us from the Father's Bosom.

The stars and earth and sea,
and all that is under heaven,
greet this the Author of their new salvation
with a new Canticle.

And we, who have been redeemed by the stream
of thy precious Blood,
we too pay thee the tribute of this Hymn,
in honour of thy Birthday.

Glory be to thee, O Jesus!
who wast born of the Virgin!
and to the Father,
and to the Spirit of love, for everlasting ages.


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


Hodie Christus natus est: hodie Salvator apparuit; hodie in terra canunt An geli, lætantur Archangeli; hodie exsultant justi, dicentes: Gloria in excelsis Deo, alleluia.
This day Christ is born, this day the Saviour hath appeared; this day the Angels sing on earth; the Archangels rejoice; this day the just exult, saying: Glory be to God in the highest, alleluia.

The Canticle, Magnificat, p. 96.


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

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

Commemoration of St Stephen

Ant. Stephanus autem plenus gratia et fortitudine, faciebat signa magna in populo.

℣. Gloria et honore coronasti eum, Domine.

℟. Et constituisti eum super opera manuum tuarum.


Da nobis, quæsumus, Domine, imitari quod colimus, ut discamus et inimicos diligere: quia ejus natalitia celebramus, qui novit etiam pro persecutoribus exorare Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum. Qui tecum.
Ant. But Stephen, full of grace and fortitude, did great signs among the people.

℣. Thou hast crowned him, O Lord, with glory and honour.

. And hast placed him over the works of thy hands.

Let us pray

Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that we may imitate him whose memory we celebrate, so as to learn to love even our enemies: because we now solemnise his martyrdom, who knew how to pray even for his persecutors to our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son. Who liveth, etc.

For Compline, see p. 98.

The great Day is over, and the night is coming upon us, when sleep will refresh us after the holy fatigues of last night. Before retiring to rest, let us give the holy Martyrs a thought, whose memory is offered to our veneration by the Church in her Martyrology of this December 25. Diocletian and his colleagues in the Empire had recently published the famous edict of persecution, which waged against the Church the fiercest war she has ever sustained. The edict was tom down from the Emperor's palace at Nicomedia by one of the Christians, who paid for this holy daring by a glorious martyrdom. The faithful of the same city were ready for the combat, and feared not to brave the Emperor's power by continuing to frequent their Church, which was condemned to be pulled down. Christmas Day came, and several thousands of them had assembled there, in order to celebrate, for the last time within those walls, the Nativity of our Saviour. Being informed of it, the Emperor became furious, and sent one of the officers of his court to order the Church doors to be fastened, and a fire to be enkindled on each side of the building. This being done, the clang of trumpets was heard, and then a herald's voice proclaiming to the faithful, in the Emperor's name, that they who wished to save their lives would be permitted to leave the Basilica, on the condition of their offering incense on an altar of Jupiter, which had been placed near the door; but that otherwise, all were to be left a prey to the flames. One of the Christians thus answered, in the name of the whole assembly: ‘We are all of us Christians; we honour Christ as the one only God and King; and we are all ready to lay down our lives for him on this Day.’ Whereupon the soldiers were commanded to set fire to the Church. In a very short time, it was one immense mass of flames, whence was offered to the Son of God—who deigned to begin on this same day the human life he had assumed—the generous holocaust of these thousands of lives, laid down as witness to his having come into this world. Thus was glorified, in the year 303, Emmanuel, who had come from heaven to dwell among us. Let us, after the example of the Church herself, join our homage to the Babe of Bethlehem with that offered him by these courageous Christians, whose fame the Liturgy will perpetuate even to the end of time.

Once more let us visit in spirit the dear Cave, where Mary and Joseph are loving and nursing and adoring the Divine Infant. Let us, too, adore him, and ask his blessing. St Bonaventure, with an unction worthy of his seraphic soul, thus expresses the sentiments which a Christian should have on this Day, when admitted to the Crib of Jesus: ‘Do thou also kneel down—thou hast delayed too long. Adore the Lord thy God, and then reverence his Mother, and salute, with much respect, the saintly old man Joseph. After this, kiss the feet of the Infant Jesus, laid as he is on his little bed, and ask our Lady to give him to thee, or permit thee to take him up. Take him into thine arms, press him to thy heart, and look well at his lovely face, and reverently kiss him, and show him confidently the delight thou takest in him. Thou mayest venture on all this, because it is for sinners that he came, that he might save them: it was with sinners that he so humbly conversed, and at last gave himself to sinners, that he might be their food. I say, then, that his gentle love will permit thee to treat him as affectionately as thou pleasest, and will not call it too much freedom, but will set it down to thy love.’[4]

As a conclusion to our Feast, we give two favourite pieces of the Middle Ages, whereby our Fathers expressed their joy on this glorious Solemnity. The first is a Sequence, which is to be found in all the RomanFrench Missals. For a long time it was thought to have been written by St Bernard: but we have seen it in a Manuscript of the eleventh century, and consequently it must have been written earlier than the date usually assigned to it.


Lætabundus Exsultet fidelis chorus. Alleluia.
Regem regum Intactæ profudit torus: Res miranda!
Angelus Consilii Natus est de Virgine, Sol de Stella.
Sol occasum nesciens, Stella semper rutilans, Semper clara.
Sicut sidus radium, Profert Virgo Filium Pari forma.
Neque sidus radio, Neque Virgo Filio Fit corrupta.
Cedrus alta Libani Conformatur hyssopo Valle nostra.
Verbum ens Altissimi Corporari passum est, Carne sumpta.
Esaias cecinit, Synagoga meminit; Numquam tamen desinit Esse cæca.
Si non suis vatibus, Credat vel gentilibus, Sibyllinis versibus Hæc prædicta:
Infelix, propera,
Crede vel vetera:
Cur damnaberis, gens misera?
Quem docet littera Natum considera: Ipsum genuit puerpera.

Let the choir of all the faithful exult in their joy. Alleluia!
The Virgin's womb hath given us the King of Kings! O wonderful mystery!
The Angel of the great Counsel is born of the Virgin, the Sun is born of a Star!
The Sun knows no setting; the Star is ever shining, ever bright.
As a star gives forth its ray, so does the Virgin her Child.
The star loses naught of its purity by the ray it yields, so neither does the Virgin by her Child.
The lofty cedar of Libanus comes down into our valley, making itself little as the hyssop.
He that is the Word of the Most High God deigns to take a body unto himself; he assumes our flesh.
Isaias had foretold all this; and the Jews, though they knew the prophecy by heart, see not its accomplishment in this mystery.
If they will not believe their Prophets, let them believe the Sybils, who thus sang:
'Unhappy people, delay not, believe, at least, the ancient oracles! Why wilt thou be cast off, O wretched nation?
‘This is the Child of whom thy books tell thee: he is the Son of a Virgin-Mother.’


The second piece is a Sequence in honour of the most Holy Mother of God. It belongs to the fifteenth century. It is one of the many imitations of the Easter Sequence, Victimæ Paschali, which are to be found in many of the Missals of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.


Virgini Mariæ laudes
Intonent Christiani.

Eva tristis abstulit;
Sed Maria protulit
Natum, qui redemit

Mors et vita modulo
Convenere mirando:
Mariæ Filius
Regnat Deus.

Dic nobis, Maria,
Virgo clemens et pia:
Quomodo facta es genitrix,
Cum tu sis plasma De te nascentis?

Angelus est testis
Ad me missus cœlestis.

Natus est ex me spes mea;
Sed incredula
Manet Judæa.

Virgini Mariæ laudes
Intonent Christiani.

Eva tristis abstulit;
Sed Maria protulit
Natum, qui redemit

Mors et vita modulo
Convenere mirando:
Mariæ Filius
Regnat Deus.

Dic nobis, Maria,
Virgo clemens et pia:
Quomodo facta es genitrix,
Cum tu sis plasma De te nascentis?

Angelus est testis
Ad me missus cœlestis.

Natus est ex me spes mea;
Sed incredula
Manet Judæa.

Credendum est magis soli Gabrieli forti,
Quam Judæorum
Pravæ cohorti.

Scimus Christum processisse
Ex Maria vere:
Tu nobis nate, Rex! miserere.

Let the Christian people
hymn their praises to the Virgin Mary.

Unhappy Eve was the cause of our ruin;
but Mary brought forth a Son,
who redeemed us sinners.

Death and life wers
thus strangely reconciled:
there reigns now God,
the Son of Mary.

Tell us, O Mary,
Virgin most merciful and kind!
How thou, the creature of him that was born of thee,
didst become his Mother?

The Angel is witness,
that was sent to me from heaven.

He that is my hope
was born of me his Mother:
but the Jews will not believe.

Faith must be had in Gabriel, the Power of God,
rather than in the
perverse Jewish tribe.

We know that Christ was
in very truth born of Mary:
do thou, her Son! our King! have mercy on us.


[1] St John i 1.
[2] Heb. i 3.
[3] For the version as preserved in the Monastic Rite, see p. 116.
[4] Meditations on the Life of Christ, by St Bonaventure.

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

ST PETER DAMIAN thus begins his Sermon for this Feast:

We are holding in our arms the Son of the Virgin, and are honouring with our caresses this our Infant God. The holy Virgin has led us to the dear Crib. The most beautiful of the Daughters of men has brought us to the most beautiful among the Sons of men,[1] and the Blessed among women to him that is Blessed above all. She tells us . . . that now the veils of prophecy are drawn aside, and the counsel of God is accomplished. ... Is there anything capable of distracting us from this sweet Birth? On what else shall we fix our eyes? ... Lo! whilst Jesus is permitting us thus to caress him; whilst he is overwhelming us with the greatness of these mysteries, and our hearts are riveted in admiration; there comes before us Stephen, full of grace and fortitude, doing great wonders and signs among the people.[2] Is it right that we turn from our King to look on Stephen, his soldier? No; unless the King himself bid us do so. This our King, who is Son of the King, rises ... to assist at the glorious combat of his servant.... Let us go with him, and contemplate this standard-bearer of the Martyrs.

The Church gives us, in to-day's Office, this opening of a Sermon of St Fulgentius for the Feast of St Stephen:

Yesterday we celebrated the temporal Birth of our eternal King: to-day we celebrate the triumphant passion of his Soldier. Yesterday our King, having put on the garb of our flesh, came from the sanctuary of his Mother's virginal womb, and mercifully visited the earth: to-day his Soldier, quitting his earthly tabernacle, entered triumphantly into heaven. Jesus, whilst still continuing to be the eternal God, assumed to himself the lowly raiment of flesh, and entered the battle-field of this world: Stephen, laying aside the perishable garment of the body, ascended to the palace of heaven, there to reign for ever. Jesus descended veiled in our flesh: Stephen ascended wreathed with a martyr's laurels. Stephen ascended to heaven amidst the shower of stones, because Jesus had descended on earth midst the singing of Angels. Yesterday the holy Angels exultingly sang, Glory be to God in the highest; to-day they joyously received Stephen into their company. . . . Yesterday Jesus was wrapped, for our sakes, in swaddling-clothes: to-day Stephen was clothed with the robe of immortal glory. Yesterday a narrow crib contained the Infant Jesus: to-day the immensity of the heavenly court received the triumphant Stephen.

Thus does the sacred Liturgy blend the joy of our Lord's Nativity with the gladness she feels at the triumph of the first of her Martyrs. Nor will Stephen be the only one admitted to share the honours of this glorious Octave. After him we shall have John, the Beloved Disciple; the Innocents of Bethlehem; Thomas, the Martyr of the Liberties of the Church; and Sylvester, the Pontiff of Peace. But, the place of honour amidst all who stand round the Crib of the new-born King belongs to Stephen, the Protomartyr, who, as the Church sings of him, was 'the first to pay back to the Saviour the death suffered by the Saviour.’ It was just that this honour should be shown to Martyrdom; for Martyrdom is the creature's testimony and return to his Creator for all the favours bestowed on him: it is Man testifying, even by shedding his blood, to the truths which God has revealed to the world.

In order to understand this, let us consider what is the plan of God in the salvation he has given to man. The Son of God is sent to instruct mankind; he sows the seed of his divine word; and his works give testimony to his divinity. But after his sacrifice on the cross, he again ascends to the right hand of his Father; so that his own testimony of himself has need of a second testimony, in order to be received by them that have neither seen nor heard Jesus himself. Now it is the Martyrs who are to provide this second testimony; and this they will do not only by confessing Jesus with their lips, but by shedding their blood for him. The Church, then, is to be founded by the Word and the Blood of Jesus, the Son of God; but she will be upheld, she will continue throughout all ages, she will triumph over all obstacles by the blood of her Martyrs, the members of Christ: this their blood will mingle with that of their Divine Head, and their sacrifice be united to his.

The Martyrs shall bear the closest resemblance to their Lord and King. They shall be, as he said, like lambs among wolves.[3]The world shall be strong, and they shall be weak and defenceless: so much the grander will be the victory of the Martyrs, and the greater the glory of God who gives them to conquer. The Apostle tells us that Christ crucified is the power and the wisdom of God;[4] the Martyrs, immolated, and yet conquerors of the world, will prove, with a testimony which even the world itself will understand, that the Christ whom they confessed, and who gave them constancy and victory, is in very deed the power and the wisdom of God. We repeat, then: it is just that the Martyrs should share in all the triumphs of the Man-God, and that the liturgical Cycle should glorify them as does the Church herself, who puts their sacred Relics in her altar-stones; for thus the Sacrifice of their glorified Lord and Head is never celebrated without they themselves being offered together with him in the unity of his mystical Body.

Now the glorious Martyr-band of Christ is headed by St Stephen. His name signifies the Crowned; a conqueror such as he could not be better named. He marshals, in the name of Christ, the white-robed army, as the Church calls the Martyrs; for he was the first, even before the Apostles themselves, to receive the summons, and right nobly did he answer it. Stephen courageously bore witness, in the presence of the Jewish Synagogue, to the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth; by thus proclaiming the Truth, he offended the ears of the unbelievers; the enemies of God became the enemies of Stephen, and rushing upon him, they stoned him to death. Amidst the pelting of the blood-drawing missiles, he, like a true soldier, flinches not, but stands (as St Gregory of Nyssa so beautifully describes it) as though snowflakes were falling on him, or roses were covering him with the shower of their kisses. Through the cloud of stones he sees the glory of God: Jesus, for whom he was laying down his life, showed himself to his Martyr, and the Martyr again rendered testimony to the divinity of Emmanuel, but with all the energy of a last act of love. Then, to make his sacrifice complete, he imitates his divine Master, and prays for his executioners: falling on his knees, he begs that this sin be not laid to their charge. Thus, all is consummated: the glorious type of Martyrdom is created and shown to the world, that it may be imitated by every generation to the end of time, until the number of the Martyrs of Christ shall be filled up. Stephen sleeps in the Lord, and is buried in peace—in pace—until his sacred Tomb shall be discovered, and his glory be celebrated a second time in the whole Church, by that anticipated Resurrection of the miraculous Finding of his Relics.

Stephen, then, deserves to stand near the Crib of his King as leader of those brave champions, the Martyrs, who died for the Divinity of that Babe whom we adore. Let us join the Church in praying to our Saint, that he help us to come to our Sovereign Lord, now lying on his humble throne in Bethlehem. Let us ask him to initiate us into the mystery of that divine Infancy, which we are all bound to know and imitate. It was from the simplicity he had learned from that Mystery that he heeded not the number of the enemies he had to fight against, nor trembled at their angry passion, nor winced under their blows, nor hid from them the Truth and their crimes, nor forgot to pardon them and pray for them. What a faithful imitator of the Babe of Bethlehem! Our Jesus did not send his Angels to chastise those unhappy Bethlehemites who refused a shelter to the Virgin-Mother, who in a few hours was to give birth to him, the Son of David. He stays not the fury of Herod, who plots his Death; but meekly flees into Egypt, like some helpless bondsman, escaping the threats of a tyrant lordling. But it is under such apparent weakness as this that he will show his Divinity to men, and he the Infant-God prove himself the Strong God. Herod will pass away; so will his tyranny; Jesus will live, greater in his Crib, where he makes a King tremble, than, under his borrowed majesty, is this prince-tributary of Rome; nay, than Caesar Augustus himself, whose world-wide empire has no other destiny than this—to serve as handmaid to the Church, which is to be founded by this Babe, whose name stands humbly written in the official registry of Bethlehem.


The Introit is composed of the words of the holy Martyr, who, in the language of the Royal Psalmist, tells us of the plot formed against him by the wicked, and of his own humble confidence in God, whereby he triumphed over their persecutions. From the murder of the innocent Abel to the future Martyrs who are to shed their blood in the days of Anti-christ, the Church is always under persecution; in some country, she is ever shedding her blood; but her strength lies in her fidelity to Jesus her Spouse, and in the simplicity which the Babe of Bethlehem is come to teach her by his own example.


Sederunt principes, et adversum me loquebantur; et iniqui persecuti sunt me; adjuva me, Domine Deus meus, quia servus tuus exercebatur in tuis justificationibus.

Ps. Beati immaculati in via, qui ambulant in lege Domini. ℣. Gloria Patri. Sederunt.
Princes sat, and spoke against me; and sinners persecuted me: help me, O Lord my God, for thy servant hath practised thy commandments.

Ps. Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. ℣. Glory, etc. Princes sat, etc.

In the Collect the Church asks, both for herself and her children, that divine vigour which makes the holy Martyrs forgive their persecutors, and perfects not only their testimony to the truth, but also their imitation of Jesus Christ. It speaks the praise of St Stephen, who was the first to follow our Saviour's example.


Da nobis, quæsumus, Domine, imitari quod colimus: ut discamus et inimicos diligere; quia ejus natalitia celebramus, qui novit etiam pro persecutoribus exorare Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum. Qui tecum.
Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that we may imitate him whose memory we celebrate, so as to learn to love even our enemies; because we now solemnize his martyrdom, who knew how to pray even for his persecutors to our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son. Who liveth, etc.

Commemoration of Christmas Day


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

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


Lectio Actuum Apostolorum.

Cap. VI et VII.

In diebus illis, Stephanus, plenus gratia et fortitudine, faciebat prodigia et signa magna in populo. Surrexerunt autem quidam de synagoga quæ appellatur Libertinorum, et Cyrenensium, et Alexandrinorum, et eorum qui erant a Cilicia et Asia, disputantes cum Stephano, et non poterant resistere sapientiæ et Spiritui qui loquebatur. Audientes autem hæc, dissecabantur cordibus suis, et stridebant dentibus in eum. Cum autem esset Stephanus plenus Spiritu Sancto, intendens in cœlum, vidit gloriam Dei, et Jesum stantem a dextris Dei. Et ait: Ecce video cœlos apertos, et Filium hominis stantem a dextris Dei. Exclamantes autem voce magna continueront aures suas, et impetum fecerunt unanimiter in eum. Et ejicientes eum extra civitatem, lapidabant. Et testes deposuerunt vestimenta sua secus pedes adolescentis, qui vocabatur Saulus. Et lapidabant Stephanum invocantem et dicentem: Domine Jesu, suscipe spiritum meum. Positis autem genibus, clamavit voce magna dicens: Domine, ne statuas illis hoc peccatum. Et cum hoc dixisset, obdormivit in Domino.

Lesson from the Acts of the Apostles.

Ch. VI and VII.

In those days, Stephen, full of grace and fortitude, did great wonders and signs among the people. Now there arose some of that which is called the Synagogue of the Libertines, and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of them that were of Cilicia and Asia, disputing with Stephen; and they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit that spoke. Now hearing these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed with their teeth at him. But Stephen being full of the Holy Ghost, looking up steadfastly to heaven, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And he said: Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. And they crying out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and with one accord ran violently upon him. And casting him forth without the city, they stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, invoking and saying: Lord Jesus! receive my spirit. And falling on his knees, he cried with a loud voice, saying: Lord! lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep in the Lord.

Thus, O glorious Prince of Martyrs! thou wast led outside the gates of the City for thy sacrifice, and thy punishment was that of blasphemers. The Disciple was to be like to his Master in all things. But neither the ignominy of such a death nor its cruelty could daunt thy great soul: thou didst carry Jesus in thy heart, and with him thou wast stronger than all thy enemies. And what was thy joy when thou sawest the heavens open, and this same Jesus in his glorified Humanity standing at the right hand of God, and looking upon thee with love! A God looking complacently on the creature that is going to die for him, and the creature permitted to behold the God for whom he is dying—truly, this was more than enough to encourage thee! Let thine enemies cast their stones against thee, and bruise and tear thy flesh, as they please: nothing can distract thee from this sight of the Eternal King, who raised himself from his throne to applaud thee, and deck thee with the Crown which he had prepared for thee from all eternity! Now that thou art reigning in the kingdom of heaven, pray for us, that we also may be faithful, and faithful even unto death, to this same Jesus, who not only left his throne, but even came down among us as a Little Child.


Sederunt principes, et adversum me loquebantur; et iniqui persecuti sunt me.

. Adjuva me, Domine Deus meus: salvum me fac propter misericordiam tuam.

Alleluia, alleluia.

. Video cœlos apertos, et Jesum stantem a dextris virtutis Dei. Alleluia.

Princes sat and spoke against me; and the wicked persecuted me.

. Help me, O Lord my God: save me for thy mercy's sake.

Alleluia, alleluia.

. I see the heavens opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of the power of God. Alleluia.


Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Matthæum.


In illo tempore: dicebat Jesus scribis et Pharisæis: Ecce ego mitto ad vos Prophetas, et sapientes, et scritas; et ex illis occidetis, et crucifigetis, et ex eis flagelabitis in synagogis vestris, et persequemini de civitate in civitatem: ut veniat super vos omnis sanguis justus, qui effusus est super terram, a sanguine Abel justi usque ad sanguinem Zachariæ, filii Barachiæ, quem occidistis inter templum et altare. Amen dico vobis, venient hæc omnia super generationem istam. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, quæ occidis Prophetas, et lapidas eos qui ad te missi sunt, quoties volui congregare filios tuos, quemadmodum gallina congregat pullos suos sub alas, et noluisti! Ecce relinquetur vobis domus vestra deserta. Dico enim vobis, non me videbitis amodo, donec dicatis: Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.

Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Matthew.


At that time: Jesus said to the Scribes and Pharisees: Behold, I send to you Prophets, and wise men, and scribes; and some of them you will put to death and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: that upon you may come all the just blood that hath been shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the just, even unto the blood of Zacharias, the son of Barachias, whom you killed between the temple and the altar. Amen, I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the Prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldst not? Behold, your house shall be left to you desolate. For I say to you, you shall not see me henceforth, till you say: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

The Martyrs are given to the world that they may continue the ministry of Christ on the earth by bearing testimony to his word, and by confirming this testimony by their blood. The world has despised them; like their divine Master, they have shone in the darkness, and darkness has not understood their light. Nevertheless many have received their testimony, and the seed of the Martyr's blood has brought forth in them the rich fruit of Faith. The Synagogue was cast off by God for having shed the blood of Stephen, after having imbrued its hands in that of Jesus. Unhappy they who cannot appreciate the Martyrs! Let us who are Christians take in the sublime lessons taught us by their generous sacrifice; and let our respect and love for them testify that we are grateful for the noble ministry they have fulfilled, and are still fulfilling in the Church. The Church is never without Martyrs, just as she is never without Miracles: it is the twofold testimony that she will give to the end of time, by which she evidences the divine life she has received from her almighty Founder.

During the Offertory, the Church once more proclaims the merits and the glorious death of Stephen: and by this she teaches us that the sacrifice of the holy Deacon is united with that of Jesus himself.


Elegerunt Apostoli Stephanum Levitam, plenum fide et Spiritu Sancto; quem lapidaverunt Judæi orantem, et dicentem: Domine Jesu, accipe spiritum meum. Alleluia.
The Apostles chose Stephen, a Levite, full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, whom the Jews stoned, praying, and saying: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Alleluia.


Suscipe, Domine, munera pro tuorum commemoratione Sanctorum; ut sicut illos passio gloriosos effecit, ita nos devotio reddat innocuos. Per Dominum.
Receive, O Lord, these offerings in memory of thy Saints; and as their sufferings have made them glorious, so may our devotion render us free from sin. Through, etc.

Commemoration of Christmas Day

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

United by Holy Communion to her divine Spouse, the Church, too, sees the heavens opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. She sends up to this Incarnate Word the yearnings of her intense love, and derives from the heavenly Food she has received that meekness which makes her bear with the injuries and insults put upon her by her enemies, in order that she may win them all to the faith and love of Jesus Christ. It was by partaking of this same heavenly Food that Stephen obtained the superhuman strength whereby he won his victory and Crown.


Video cœlos apertos, et Jesum stantem a dextris virtutis Dei: Domine Jesu, accipe spiritum meum, et ne statuas illis hoc peccatum.
I see the heavens opened and Jesus standing on the right hand of the power of God: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit, and lay not this sin to their charge.


Auxilientur nobis, Domine, sumpta mysteria: et intercedente beato Stephano, Martyre tuo, sempiterna protectione confirment. Per Dominum.
May the mysteries we have received, O Lord, be help to us: and by the intercession of the blessed Martyr Stephen, strengthen us with thy perpetual protection. Through, etc.

Commemoration of Christmas Day

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


The solemnity of the Christmas Octave, from which the Feast of St Stephen has in a manner distracted us, returns at Vespers in all its splendour. The Church sings the Psalms and Antiphons of Christmas Day, and the Martyr’s Feast is, so to speak, suspended until she comes to the Capitulum. In this same way she celebrates the Vespers on all the Feasts which are kept during this Octave.

The Psalms and Antiphons are given above, (p. 89).

(Acts vi)

Stephanus autem plenus gratia et fortitudine faciebat prodigia et signa magna in populo.
But Stephen, full of grace and fortitude, did great wonders and signs among the people.


Deus tuorum militum
Sors, et corona, præmium,
Laudes canentes Martyris
Absolve nexu criminis.

Hic nempe mundi gaudia
Et blanda fraudum pabula,
Imbuta felle deputans,
Pervenit ad cœlestia.

Pœnas cucurrit fortiter,
Et sustulit viriliter,
Fundensque pro te sanguinem,
Æterna dona possidet.

Ob hoc precatu supplici
Te poscimus, Piissime,
In hoc triumpho Martyris,
Dimitte noxam servulis.

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


. Stephanus vidit cœlos apertos.
℟Vidit et introivit; beatus homo cui cœli patebant.

O God! thou the inheritance,
Crown, and reward of thy Soldiers!
absolve from the bonds of our sins
us who sing the praises of thy Martyr.

For counting the joys of the world
and the deceitful bait of its caresses
as things embittered with gall,
thy Martyr obtained the delights of heaven.

Bravely did he go through,
and manfully did he bear his pains;
and shedding his blood for thy sake,
he now possesses thy eternal gifts.

Therefore, most merciful Father!
we beseech thee, in most suppliant prayer,
forgive us thy unworthy servants our sins,
for it is the feast of thy Martyr’s triumph.

Glory be to thee, O Jesus,
that wast born of the Virgin!
and to the Father, and to the Spirit of Love,
for everlasting ages.


℣. Stephen saw the heavens opened.
. He saw and entered; blessed man, to whom the heavens opened.

Antiphon of the Magnificat

Ant. Sepelierunt Stephanum viri timorati, et fecerunt planctum magnum super eum.
Ant. Devout men buried Stephen, and made great mourning over him.

OREMUS Da nobis, quæsumus, Domine, imitari quod colimus, ut discamus et inimicos diligere; quia ejus natalitia celebramus, qui novit etiam pro persecutoribus exorare Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum. Qui tecum.
LET US PRAY Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that we may imitate him whose memory we celebrate, so as to learn to love even our enemies; because we now solemnize his martyrdom, who knew how to pray even for his persecutors to our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son. Who liveth, etc.

Commemoration of St John

Ant. Iste est Joannes, qui supra pectus Domini in cœna recubuit: beatus Apostolus, cui revelata sunt secreta cœlestia.

. Valde honorandus est beatus Joannes.

℟. Qui supra pectus Domini in cœna recubuit.


Ecclesiam tuam, Domine, benignus illustra, ut beati Joannis Apostoli tui et Evangelistæ illuminata doctrinis, ad dona perveniat sempiterna.

Ant. This is John, who leaned upon the Lord’s breast at the Supper. Blessed Apostle, unto whom were revealed heavenly secrets.

℣. Most worthy of honour is blessed John.

. Who leaned upon the Lord's breast at the Supper.


Mercifully, O Lord, enlighten thy Church, that being taught by blessed John, thy Apostle and Evangelist, she may come to thy eternal rewards.

Commemoration of Christmas Day

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

℣. Notum fecit Dominus, alleluia.

℟. Salutare suum, alleluia.


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

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

℣. The Lord hath made known, alleluia.

℟. His salvation, alleluia.


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

In honour of our Protomartyr, we will now give a selection from the ancient Liturgical Hymns wherein his merits were celebrated by the various Churches. We begin with the Hymn composed by St Ambrose, which is in the Breviary of the Church of Milan.


Stephano primo Martyri
Cantemus novum canticum,
Quod dulce sit psallentibus,
Opem ferat credentibus.

Psallamus hoc discipuli,
Laudem dicamus Martyri,
Qui primus post Redemptorem
Christi secutus est crucem.

Hic enim per Apostolos
Probatus in laudem Dei,
Vexilla mortis rapuit,
Ut præferretur omnibus.

O præferenda gloria!
O beata victoria!
Hoc meruisse Stephanum
Ut sequeretur Dominum.

Ipse martyr egregius,
Amore Christi prædicans.
Sancto repletus Spiritu,
Vultum gerens Angelicum.

Ille levatis oculis.
Vidit Patrem cum Filio,
Monstrans in cœlis vivere,
Quem plebs quærebat perdere.

Judæi magis sæviunt,
Saxaque prensant manibus,
Currebant, ut occiderent
Sacratum Christi militem.

Iste paratus vertice,
Gaudens suscepit lapides,
Rogans pro eis Dominum,
Gaudens tradidit spiritum.

Gloria tibi, Domine,
Gloria Unigenito,
Una cum Sancto Spiritu,
In sempiterna sæcula.


To Stephen the first Martyr
let us sing a new canticle:
may it be sweet to them that sing,
and bring grace to them that believe.

Come, ye disciples of the Lord, thus let us sing:
let us give praise to the Martyr,
who was the first after the Redeemer
to follow the cross of Jesus.

For having been found by the Apostles
to be fervent in God's service,
he outran all others
and bore off the Banner of death.

O glorious First place!
O blessed victory!
Stephen to be the first
to follow his Lord!

The noble Martyr preaches
to men for the love of Christ,
with his heart full of the Holy Spirit,
and his face beaming as an Angel’s.

He raises his eyes,
and sees the Father with the Son:
he tells the people how he beholds, living in heaven,
him whom they had sought to destroy.

The Jews grow the more enraged,
and, seizing up stones in their hands,
they ran out to kill
the holy Soldier of Christ.

He was ready, and standing up,
right gladly receives the stones:
he asks God to forgive them,
and joyfully breathes forth his soul.

Glory be to thee, O Lord!
Glory be to thine Only-Begotten Son,
together with the Holy Ghost,
for everlasting ages.


The Gallican Sacramentary, on the Feast of St Stephen, thus glorifies God for the graces bestowed on this the first of the Martyrs.
Missa S. Stefani

Deus omnipotens, qui Ecclesiæ tuæ sanctum Stephanum martyrem primum messis tuæ manipulum dedisti, et primitivam oblationem novellæconfessionis ostendisti præconem, quod fructus maturescentes exhibuit; præsta universo coetui, intercessione martyris meriti, ut Ecclesiam tuam juvet suffragio, quam ornavit ministerio.
O Almighty God! who didst give the holy Martyr Stephen to thy Church as the first sheaf of thy harvest, and didst make this First offering to be the herald of a new confession, because he had yielded such quick ripened fruits; grant to this whole assembly, by the intercession of thy well-deserving Martyr, that he may aid the Church by his prayers, as he honoured her by his ministry.

The Gothic Church of Spain has, in her Mozarabic Missal, these magnificent praises to God in his holy Martyr.
In natali S. Stephani, Contestatio

Dignum et justum est: æquum et justum est: te laudare, teque benedicere, tibi gratias agere, omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui gloriaris in conventu Sanctorum tuorum; quos ante mundi constitutionem præelectos spirituali in cœlestibus benedictione signasti: quosque Unigenito tuo per adsumptionem carnis, et crucis redemptionem sociasti. In quibus Spiritum tuum Sanctum regnare fecisti; per quem ad felicis martyrii gloriam pietatis tuæ favore venerunt. Digue igitur tibi, Domine virtutum, festa solemnitas agitur; tibi hæc dies sacrata celebratur; qua beati Stephani primi martyris tui sanguis in tuæveritatis testimonio profusus, magnificum nominis tui onorem signavit. Hic est enim illius Nominis primus Confessor, quod est supra omne nomen; in quo unicum salutis nostrae praesidium, Pater æterne, posuisti. Hic in Ecclesia tua quam splendidum ad cunctorum animos confirmandos, unicæ laudis præcessit exemplum! Hic post passionem Domini nostri Jesu Christi, victoriæ palmam primus invasit. Hic ut levitico ministerio per Spiritum Sanctum ab Apostolis consecratus est; niveo candore confestim emicuit, martyrii cruore purpureus. O benedictum Abrahæ semen, Apostolicæ doctrinæ, et dominicæ crucis prior omnium factus imitator et testis! Merito cœlos apertos vidit et Jesum stantem ad dexteram Dei. Digne igitur et juste talem sub tui nominis confessione laudamus, omnipotens Deus; quem ad tantam gloriam vocare dignatus es. Suflfragia ejus nobis pro tua pietate concede. Talis pro hac plebe precetur; qualem illum post trophæa venientem exsultans Christus excepit. Illi pro nobis oculi sublimentur; qui adhuc in hoc mortis corpore constituti, stantem ad dexteram Patris Filium Dei in ipsa passionis hora viderunt. Ille pro nobis obtineat, qui pro persecutoribus suis dum lapidaretur, orabat ad te, sancte Deus, Pater omnipotens, per Dominum Jesum Christum Filium tuum, qui pro peccatis nostris nasci carne per Virginem, et pati dignatus est mortem: ut martyres suos suo pati doceret exemplo. Cui merito omnes Angeli atque Archangeli sine cessatione proclamant dicentes: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus.
It is meet and just, it is right and just, that we praise thee, and bless thee and give thee thanks, O Almighty and eternal God! that art glorified in the assembly of thy Saints, whom thou didst choose before the foundation of the world, and didst mark with a spiritual blessing unto heavenly things; whom also thou didst associate to thine Only-Begotten Son, by his Incarnation and his redeeming of the world by the cross. Thou didst make to reign in them thy Holy Spirit, under whose guidance they were led by the sweetness of thy mercy to the glory of happy martyrdom. It is just, therefore, O God of hosts, that this festive solemnity should be kept in thy praise; that this sacred day should be devoted to thee; for on it the blood of blessed Stephen, thy first Martyr, was shed in testimony of thy truth, and thy name thereby received exceeding honour. For this is he who was the first Confessor of that Name which is above all names, and in which, O Eternal Father, thou didst place the only source of our salvation. This is he that left in thy Church an example of courage; but who can say how grand is the example, and how above all praise? This is he that was the first to seize the palm of victory, after the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is he whom the Apostles, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, had scarce consecrated to the levitical ministry, than he straightway shone with a snow-white purity, and was vested in the scarlet of a martyr's blood. O truly noble child of Abraham! worthy to become the first follower and witness of the Apostles’ teaching, and of Jesus' cross! How well did he deserve to see the heavens opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God! It is therefore meet and just, O Almighty Lord, that, whilst giving praise to thy Name, we praise him whom thou didst graciously call to this so great glory. In thy mercy grant that we may have him to intercede for us. May he pray for this thy people, now that he is in possession of the glory with which Christ welcomed him after his victory. May he now, for our sakes, lift up those eyes which, during this his mortal life, and in the hour of his martyrdom, beheld the Son of God standing at the right hand of the Father. May he be heard for us, who, whilst his persecutors were stoning him, prayed for them unto thee, O Holy God, Father Almighty, through our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son, who for our sins vouchsafed to be born of the Virgin, and suffer death: teaching his Martyrs hereby by his own example, how they should suffer. To whom most justly do all the Angels and Archangels cry out unceasingly, saying: Holy, Holy, Holy!

Let us next listen to the Greek Church singing the praises of our Protomartyr. She thus extols him in her Menæa:
XXVI Decembris, in magno Vespertino, et passim

Mente illustratus Spiritus gratia, forma velut Angelus videris, Stephane, dato tibi in corpore qui intus erat splendore, et mente tua cernentibus manifestantefulgorem quo fruitus es, luminisque contemplationes, cœlis tibi mirabiliter apertis, o martymm caput et gloria.

Quasi gradus scalæ, ad cœlestem ingressum tibi fuerunt lapidum flocci, super quos ascendens contemplatus es stantem Dominum ad Patris dexteram, tibi offerentem homonymam coronarci sua vivifica dextera, cui vicinus adstas victor gloriosus, athletarumque primitiæ.

Signis et miraculis coruscans, cœlestibus documentis impiorum combussisti synedrium, et ab illis necatus lapidibusque obrutus, pro injectantium tu deprecatus es venia, vocem imitatus Salvatoris, in cujus manus commendasti sacratissimum spiritum tuum, Stephane.

Regi et Domino omnium nato in terra Stephanus perlucidus offertur, non pretiosis decoratus gemmis, sed ex proprio sanguine fioridus: at, o martyrum amatores, venite, decerptis carminum floribus cingamus sertis tempora, et hymnis alternantes canamus: qui sapientia et charitate coruscas mente, protomartyr Christi Dei, deprecare pro nobis pacem et magnam misericordiam.

Tu ad auxilium Apostolorum Christi digne vocatus es, et ut fidelis diaconus, o vere nominate Stephane, administrasti; tamquam Christus per sanguinem transivisti.

Clarissimus sicut sol, o Deifer, ad orientem exorsus es, radios emittens confessionis tuæ, et magnæ fortitudinis atque generosissimæ oppugnationis.

Illum qui ex Matre virinescia apud nos hospitatus est, martyrum primus, in immutabili Patris divinitate stantem et gloria, in cœlis contemplatus es.

Heri apud nos per carnem hospitabatur Dominus, hodie e carne dehospitatur servus; hodie lapidatur famulus, et ideo perficitur Protomartyr divinusque Stephanus.

Stella fulgida hodie in Christi nativitate resplenduit Protomartyr Stephanus, omnes mundi fines suis illuminans fulgoribus; at Judæorum omnem extinxit impietatem, sapientiæ verbis illos animadvertens et de Scripturis disserens; illisque suadens natum ex Virgine Jesum ipsum Dei esse Filium; illorum impiamconfundit malitiam Protomartyr et divinus Stephanus.

Laudum, Stephane, omnem superasti modum, et fers ineffabihter et sine dolo tuas victoriæ palmas; non enim potest mens mortalis tuis dignam præconiis coronam intexere.

Primus in diaconis et primus in martyribus demonstratus es, sanctissime Stephane; iter enim fuisti sanctis, et multos ad Dominum perduxisti martyres; ideo cœlum tibi apertum est, et Deus tibi apparuit: ipsum deprecare salvare animas nostras.

Illumined in thy soul with the grace of the Holy Ghost, thy face shone like that of an Angel, O Stephen! The brightness that was within sent forth its rays upon thy body, and thy soul evinced to the beholders the light and contemplation thou didst enjoy, when the heavens were miraculously opened before thee, O thou the leader and the glory of the Martyrs!

The thickly falling stones were to thee as the steps of a ladder reaching the gate of heaven, by which ascending, thou didst behold our Lord standing on the Father’s right hand, offering thee, with his own life-giving right hand, that which was thy very name—a Crown: and now thou standest near him, thou the glorious conqueror, and the first combatant.

Illustrious by thy wonders and miracles and heavenly teaching, thou didst burn the chair of the impious. They stoned thee to death, and thou didst pray God to forgive them, using thy Jesus’ own words, and into his hands commending thy own most saintly spirit, O Stephen!

To the King and Lord of all, who is born on our earth, is offered the beautiful Stephen, not adorned with precious gems, but glittering in the scarlet of his own blood. Come then, ye that love the Martyrs, cull the flowers of song, and wreathe them into hymns passed on from choir to choir. O Protomartyr of Jesus our God! thy spirit beams with wisdom and love; pray for us, that we may receive peace and plentiful mercy.

Thou wast deservedly made an aid to the Apostles of Christ, and thou didst minister to them, O well-named Stephen, as the faithful Deacon. Like Jesus, thou too didst pass through blood.

O man carrying God within thee! thou didst rise in the east like a sun of fairest light, shedding the rays of thy confession, and great fortitude, and most generous resistance.

Thou, the first of Martyrs, didst look up to heaven and see standing in the immutable divinity and glory of the Father, him that was born of a Virgin-Mother, and became a guest among us.

Yesterday the Master became a guest among us by assuming our flesh; to-day his servant is unguested from the flesh; he is stoned and made the Protomartyr, the god-like Stephen.

To-day there shone a bright star for the Birth of Christ—the Protomartyr Stephen; and all the earth was illumined by his dazzling rays. He confuted all the impiety of the Jews, showing them their errors by words of wisdom, and proving his doctrine by the Scriptures, showing them that Jesus, who was born of the Virgin, was very Son of God. The Protomartyr, the god-like Stephen, confounded their blasphemous impiety.

Thou art beyond all praise, O Stephen! No tongue can say how honestly was won the laurel-branch thou bearest. No mortal mind can wreathe a Crownworthy thy great acts.

Thou, most saintly Stephen! wast first of Deacons, and first of Martyrs; for thou didst open the way to the Saints, and hast led the countless Martyrs to their God: therefore did the heavens open over thy head, and God appear unto thee. Pray to him for us, that he save our souls.

The Western Churches of the Middle Ages have left us an almost endless variety of Liturgical compositions, more particularly of Proses and Sequences, in honour of St Stephen. We have no hesitation in giving our preference to the one composed by Adam of St Victor. We shall always think it a duty to bring into notice the works of this great Liturgical Poet, whose compositions were for a long period so dear to the faithful in England, France, Germany, and in almost all the Churches of northern Europe.


Heri mundus exsultavit,
Et exsultans celebravit
Christi natalitia.

Heri chorus Angelorum
Prosecutus est cœlorum
Regem cum lætitia.

Protomartyr et Levita
Clarus fide, clarus vita,
Clarus et miraculis.

Sub hac luce triumphavit
Et triumphans insultavit
Stephanus incredulis.

Fremunt ergo tamquam feræ,
Quia victi defuere
Lucis adversarii.

Falsos testes statuunt,
Et linguas exacuunt
Viperarum filii.

Agonista, nulli cede,
Certa, certus de mercede,
Persevera, Stephane.

Insta falsis testibus,
Confuta sermonibus
Synagogam Satanæ.

Testis tuus est in cœlis,
Testis verax et fidelis,
Testis innocentiæ.

Nomen habes Coronati:
Te tormenta decet pati
Pro corona gloriæ.

Pro corona non marcenti
Perfer brevis vim tormenti:
Te manet victoria.

Tibi fiet mors Natalis,
Tibi poena terminalis
Dat vitæ primordia.

Plenus Sancto Spiritu,
Penetrat intuitu
Stephanus cœlestia.

Videns Dei gloriam,
Crescit ad victoriam,
Suspirat ad præmia.

En a dextris Dei stantem
Jesum pro te dimicantem,
Stephane, considera.

Tibi coelos reserari,
Tibi Christum revelari
Clama, voce libera.

Se commend at Salvatori
Pro quo dulce ducit mori,
Sub ipsis lapidibus.

Saulus servat omnium
Vestes lapidantium,
Lapidans in omnibus.

Ne peccatum statuatur
His a quibus lapidatur,
Genu ponit et precatur
Condolens insaniæ.

In Christo sic obdormivit,
Qui Christo sic obedivit!
Et cum Christo semper vivit
Martyrum primitiæ.

Quod sex suscitaverit
Mortuos in Africa,
Augustinus asserit,
Fama refert publica.

Hujus, Dei gratia,
Revelato corpore,
Mundo datur pluvia
Siccitatis tempore.

Solo fugat hic odore
Morbos et dæmonia,
Laude dignus et honore
Jugique memoria.

Martyr, cujus est jucundum
Nomen in Ecclesia,
Languescentem fove mundum
Cœlesti fragrantia.


Yesterday the world exulted,
and in its exultation
celebrated the Birth of Jesus.

Yesterday the Angelic Choir
in great joy stood
round the King of heaven.

The Protomartyr and Deacon Stephen,
illustrious for his faith, illustrious for his holy life,
illustrious also for his miracles,

On this day triumphed,
and in his triumph,
vanquished the unbelieving Jews.

These enemies of the Light
rage like savage beasts
at seeing their own defeat.

This brood of vipers
bring up false witnesses,
and sharpen their tongues.

Flinch not, Combatant!
Thou art sure of thy reward:
fight and persevere, O Stephen!

Withstand the false witnesses,
and confute by thy answers
the synagogue of Satan.

Thine own Witness is in heaven,
a Witness true and faithful,
and he is Witness of thine innocence.

Thy name is The Crowned:
it behoves thee to suffer,
so to win thy Crown of glory.

For a Crown which is to last for ever,
what are torments which last but an hour,
and are followed by victory?

Thy death will be thy Birth:
thy last pang will introduce
thee into eternal life.

Full of the Holy Ghost,
Stephen fixes his gaze
on the heavens above:

Seeing there the glory of God,
he pushes on to victory,
he pants for the crown.

Behold, Stephen! on God's right hand
is thy Jesus,
and he is fighting for thee.

Boldly tell it to the crowd
that the heavens are opened for thee,
and that Jesus shows himself to thee.

He then commends his spirit to his Saviour,
for whom he deems it sweet
to be thus stoned to death.

Saul makes himself guardian
of the garments of all that cast the stones:
casting thus himself each stone they throw.

But Stephen, compassionating their madness,
falls on his knees, and prays
that this sin be not laid
to the charge of his murderers.

Thus did he sleep in Christ,
who thus imitated Christ:
and now for ever lives with Christ:
Stephen, first of Martyrs.

St. Augustine
and common report assure us
that he raised up
six dead men to life in Africa.

When, through God’s mercy,
his Relics were discovered,
the earth, which was parched by a drought,
received a plentiful rain.

The very fragrance that came from his Relics
put diseases and demons to flight.
Truly, then, is he worthy of praise
and honour and eternal remembrance.

O Martyr,
whose name is so dear to the Church!
refresh our fainting world
by celestial fragrance.


With these praises which the venerable ages of old offered to thee, O Prince and First of Martyrs! we presume to unite ours. Fervently do we congratulate thee that thou hast had assigned thee by the Church the place of honour at the Crib of our Jesus. How glorious the confession thou didst make of his Divinity whilst thy executioners were stoning thee! How rich and bright the scarlet thou art clad in for thy victory! How honourable the wounds thou didst receive for Christ! How immense and yet how choice that army of Martyrs which follows thee as its leader, and to which fresh recruits will for ever be added, to the end of time.

Holy Martyr! help us by thy prayers to enter into the spirit of the mystery of the Word made Flesh, now that we are celebrating the Birth of our Saviour. Thou art the faithful guardsman of his Crib: who could better lead us to the Divine Babe that lies there? Thou didst bear testimony to his Divinity and Humanity; thou didst preach this Man-God before the blaspheming Synagogue. In vain did the Jews stop their ears; they could not stifle thy voice, which charged them with deicide, in that they had put to death him who is at once the Son of Mary and the Son of God. Show this Redeemer to us also, not, indeed, standing in glory at the right hand of his Father, but the sweet and humble Babe, as he now manifests himself to the world into which he has just been born, wrapped in swaddlingclothes, and laid in a manger. We too wish to bear witness to him, and to tell how his Birth is one of love and mercy; we wish to show by our lives that he has been born in our hearts. Obtain for us that devotedness to the Divine Infant which gave thee such courage on the day of trial: we shall have devotedness if, like thee, we are simple-hearted and fearless in our love of Jesus; for love is stronger than death. May we never forget that every Christian ought to be ready for martyrdom simply because he is a Christian. May the life of Christ, which has again begun within us, so grow within us, by our fidelity and our conduct, that we may come, as the Apostle expresses it, to the fulness of Christ.[6]

But be mindful, O glorious Martyr! be mindful of the Holy Church in those countries where it is the will of God that she resist even unto blood. May the number of thy fellow-martyrs be thus filled up, and let not one of the combatants grow faint-hearted. May every age and sex be staunch; that so the testimony may be perfect, and the Church, even in her old age, win immortal laurels and crowns, as in the freshness of her infancy, when she had such a champion as thyself. But pray too that the blood of these Martyrs may be fruitful, as it was in times past; pray that it be not wasted, but become the seed of abundant harvests. May infidelity lose ground, and heresy cease to canker those noble hearts who, once in the Truth, would be the glory and consolation of the Church. Our own dear Land has had her Martyrs, who in the hope that God would avenge their blood by restoring her to the Faith, gladly suffered and died: oh! Prince of Martyrs! pray that this their hope may be speedily fulfilled.

We must not end this second day of the Christmas Octave without visiting the Stable of Bethlehem, and adoring the divine Son of Mary. Two days have scarce elapsed since his Blessed Mother placed him in his humble Crib; but these two days are of more value for the salvation of the world than the four thousand years which preceded the Birth of this Babe. The work of our Redemption has made a great step; the cries and tears of the New-Born Child have begun the atonement of our sins. On this Feast of the First Martyr, let us consider how the cheeks of the Infant Jesus are moistened with tears, and how these tears are the first expression of his sufferings. 'Jesus weeps,' say St Bernard, 'but not like other children, certainly not for the same cause as other children. . . . They weep from passion; he from compassion. They weep because they are galled by the yoke that sits heavy on all the children of Adam; Jesus weeps because he sees the sins of the children of Adam.' (Third Sermon for the Nativity.) Oh! how dear to us ought to be these tears of a God who has made himself our Brother! Had we not sinned, God would not have wept. Ought not we too to weep over sin, which thus saddens, by the sufferings it causes to our sweet Infant Jesus, the heavenly joy of his Birth among us?

Mary also sees these tears, and her maternal heart is pained. She feels that her Child is to be the Man of Sorrows; and, before many days are over, the same awful truth will be told her in prophecy. With the consolation she offers to her Babe let us unite ours, by giving him our love. It is the one thing he seeks by all the humiliations he has taken upon himself. It is to gain our love that he has come down from heaven, and been born among us in the midst of the mysteries we are now celebrating. Let us love him, therefore, with all our love, and ask our Lady to present him our humble offering. The Psalmist has said: The Lord is great, and exceedingly to be praised: let us add, with St Bernard: The Lord is a Little Babe, and exceedingly to be loved.

We will honour the Birth of our Jesus to-day by this venerable Sequence of St Gall's Monastery, written by Blessed Notker. It recounts the combat of our Emmanuel against Satan, and his victory. This victory is the source of those won by Stephen and all the Martyrs.


Eia, recolamus
Laudibus piis digna,

Hujus diei carmina,
In quo nobis lux oritur Gratissima.

Noctis inter nebulosa,
Pereunt nostri criminis Umbracula.

Hodie sæculo
Maris stella Est enixa Novæ salutis gaudia.

Quem tremunt barathra, Mors cruenta pavet ipsa,
A quo peribit mortua.

Gemet capta Pestis antiqua,
Coluber lividus perdit spolia.

Homo lapsus,
Ovis obducta, Revocatur ad aeterna Gaudia.

Gaudent in hoc die
Agmina Angelorum coelestia,

Quia erat drachma decima Perdita,
Et est inventa.

O proles Nimium beata, Qua redempta
Est natura.

Deus, qui creavit omnia,
Nascitur ex femina.

Mirabilis natura, Mirifice induta,
Assumens quod non erat, Manens quod erat.

Induitur natura Divinitas humana:
Quis audivit talia, Dic, rogo, facta?

Quærere venerat
Pastor pius quod perierat.

Induit galeam,
Certat ut miles armatura.

Prostratus In sua propria
Ruit hostis spicula.

Auferuntur tela In quibus fidebat,
Divisa sunt illius spolia, Capta præda sua.

Christi pugna Fortissima
Salus nostra est vera,

Qui nos suam Ad patriam
Duxit post victoriam.

In qua sibi laus est Æterna. Amen.
Come! let us resume
our holy songs

of praise in strains worthy of this day,
Whereon the much-loved Light rises to the world.

It is in the gloomy hour of night
that the dark shadows of our sins are made to disappear.

This day did the Star of the sea bring forth to the world
the joy of its new salvation.

Her Child makes hell tremble;
nay, cruel Death is filled with fear at the sight of him who is to be its death.

Long-triumphant pestilence, now captive, mourns out her sighs;
and the crushed serpent lets go his prey.

Fallen man, the strayed sheep,
is carried back to the eternal joys.

The heavenly host of Angels
are full of joy to-day;

For the tenth groat was lost
and is fotind.

O Child! blessed above all!
by whom mankind was redeemed.

The God who created all things
is born of a Woman.

He whose nature is admirable, clothes himself by an admirable mystery,
assuming what he was not, and remaining what he had ever been.

A divine Person puts on human nature:
I beseech thee, tell me, was aught like this ever heard?

The Good Shepherd came to seek
that which was lost.

He puts on the helmet,
and as a soldier fights in armour.

The enemy is defeated
and falls upon his own arrows.

The weapons he trusted in are taken from him,
his booty is divided, his prey is taken from him.

Our true salvation comes of this
most glorious battle of Christ;

Who, after the victory,
led us to his own kingdom,

Where everlasting praise is given to him. Amen.

And now, turning towards his Blessed Mother, we will offer her the tribute of this beautiful Sequence, taken from the Cluny Missal of 1523.


Angelicæ nos respice,
O dignitatis Domina.

Cum Filio in solio
Cœlo regnas per sæcula.

Dulcis Maria,
Vere dulcis, vere pia, Vere mitissima.

Tota affluens pietate, Clementia,
Tota melliflua.

Tu flebili Theophili
Culpæ ades propitia.

Te auspice,
A fornice
Surgit rea Ægyptia.

O mater misericordiæ,
O lapsorum spes unica.

Votiva servorum
Hodie infer cœlo Suspiria.

Tu decus Israel,
Tu mundi gloria.

Nostro Emmanuel
Tu reconcilia,

Quem lactasti tua sacra mamilla.

Illa ejus membra
Fovens dulcia.

Mediatrix nostra,
Nobis hunc placa.

In illa oramus die

Oblaturi hic adsumus Deo
Patri tuæ prolis Pignora,

Quorum virtute, quæsumus,
Reos munda,

Trementes corrobora.
Tu bona, tu clemens,
Tu spes nostra,

O Maria.
Amen dicat mens devota.

Look down upon us,
O Queen of the Angel kingdom.

With thy Son, thou reignest
for ever on the heavenly throne.

Sweet Mother Mary!
truly sweet and loving and most gentle!

Thou art, as a fountain, full of love and clemency;
and as a land flowing with honey.

Thou mercifully aidest the sorrowing Theophilus
to obtain the forgiveness of his sin.

By thy prayers,
the guilty one of Egypt rises
from her abominations.

O Mother of Mercy!
O singular hope of the fallen!

Bear up this day to heaven
the prayers and sighs of thy clients.

Thou art the honour of Israel,
thou art the glory of the world.

Restore us
to the favour of our Emmanuel,

Whom thou didst feed at thy sacred breast,

And whose sweet Infant limbs
thou didst warm.

Do thou, our Mediatrix,
appease him in our regard,

On the dread Day,
we beseech thee.

We are here to offer up to God
our Father the merits of our Jesus;

By their virtue do thou, we beseech thee,
obtain forgiveness for the guilty,

and bring courage to them that fear.
Thou art our good, our merciful Mother;
thou art our hope,

O Mary!
Let every devout soul respond: Amen!

[1] Ps. xliv 3.
[2] Acts vi 8.
[3] St Luke x 3.
[4] 1 Cor. i 24.
[5] In the Monastic Breviary, it is as follows: ℟. breve. Posuisti, Domine, * Super caput ejus. Posuisti. ℣. Coronam de lapide pretioso. * Super. Gloria Patri. Posuisti. Deus, tuorum militum Sors, et corona, præmium, Laudes canentes Martyris Absolve nexu criminis. Hic nempe mundi gaudia Et blandimenta noxia Caduca rite deputans, Pervenit ad cœlestia. Pœnas cucurrit fortiter, Et sustulit viriliter: Pro te effundens sanguinem Æterna dona possidet. Ob hoc precatu supplici Te poscimus, Piissime, In hoc triumpho Martyris Dimitte noxam servulis. Gloria tibi Domine, Qui natus es de Virgine, Cum Patre, et Sancto Spiritu, In sempiterna sæcula. Amen.
[6] Eph. iv 13.

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

NEAREST to Jesus' Crib, after Stephen, stands John, the Apostle and Evangelist. It was only right that the first place should be assigned to him, who so loved his God that he shed his blood in his service; for, as this God himself declares, greater love than this hath no man, that he lay down his life for his friends,[1] and Martyrdom has ever been counted by the Church as the greatest act of love, and as having, consequently, the power of remitting sins, like a second Baptism. But next to the sacrifice of Blood, the noblest, the bravest sacrifice, and that which most wins the heart of him who is the Spouse of souls, is the sacrifice of Virginity. Now just as St Stephen is looked upon as the type of Martyrs, St John is honoured as the Prince of Virgins. Martyrdom won for Stephen the Crown and palm; Virginity merited for John most singular prerogatives, which, while they show how dear to God is holy Chastity, put this Disciple among those who by their dignity and influence are above the rest of men.

St John was of the family of David, as was our Blessed Lady. He was consequently a relation of Jesus. This same honour belonged to St James the Greater, his brother; as also to St James the Less and St Jude, both sons of Alpheus. When our Saint was in the prime of his youth, he left not only his boat and nets, not only his Father Zebedee, but even his betrothed, when everything was prepared for the marriage. He followed Jesus, and never once looked back. Hence the special love which our Lord bore him. Others were Disciples or Apostles, John was the Friend of Jesus. The cause of this our Lord's partiality was, as the Church tells us in the Liturgy, that John had offered his Virginity to the Man-God. Let us, on this his Feast, enumerate the graces and privileges that came to St John from his being the Disciple whom Jesus loved.

This very expression of the Gospel, which the Evangelist repeats several times—The Disciple whom Jesus loved[2]—says more than any commentary could do. St Peter, it is true, was chosen by our Divine Lord to be the Head of the Apostolic College, and the Rock whereon the Church was to be built: he, then, was honoured most; but St John was loved most. Peter was bid to love more than the rest loved, and he was able to say, in answer to Jesus' thrice repeated question, that he did love him in this highest way: and yet, notwithstanding, John was more loved by Jesus than was Peter himself, because his Virginity deserved this special mark of honour.

Chastity of soul and body brings him who possesses it into a sacred nearness and intimacy with God. Hence it was that at the Last Supper—that Supper which was to be renewed on our Altars to the end of the world, in order to cure our spiritual infirmities and give life to our souls—John was placed near to Jesus, nay, was permitted, as the tenderly loved Disciple, to lean his head upon the Breast of the Man-God. Then it was that he was filled, from their very Fountain, with Light and Love: it was both a recompense and a favour, and became the source of two signal graces, which make St John an object of special reverence to the whole Church.

Divine wisdom wishing to make known to the world the Mystery of the Word, and commit to Scripture those profound secrets which, so far, no pen of mortal had been permitted to write, the task was put upon John. Peter had been crucified, Paul had been beheaded, and the rest of the Apostles had laid down their lives in testimony of the Truths they had been sent to preach to the world; John was the only one left in the Church. Heresy had already begun its blasphemies against the Apostolic Teachings; it refused to admit the Incarnate Word as the Son of God, Consubstantial to the Father. John was asked by the Churches to speak, and he did so in language heavenly above measure. His Divine Master had reserved to this his Virgin-Disciple the honour of writing those sublime Mysteries which the other Apostles had been commissioned only to teach—the Word was God, and this Word was made Flesh for the salvation of mankind. Thus did our Evangelist soar, like the Eagle, up to the Divine Sun, and gaze upon him with undazzled eye, because his heart and senses were pure, and therefore fitted for such vision of the uncreated Light. If Moses, after having conversed with God in the cloud, came from the divine interview with rays of miraculous light encircling his head: how radiant must have been the face of St John, which had rested on the very Heart of Jesus, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge![3] how sublime his writings! how divine his teaching! Hence the symbol of the Eagle, shown to the Prophet Ezechiel,[4] and to St John himself in his Revelations,[5] has been assigned to him by the Church: and to this title of The Eagle has been added, by universal tradition, the other beautiful name of Theologian.

This was the first recompense given by Jesus to his Beloved John—a profound penetration into divine Mysteries. The second was the imparting to him of a most ardent charity, which was equally a grace consequent upon his angelic purity, for purity unburdens the soul from grovelling egotistic affections, and raises it to a chaste and generous love. John had treasured up in his heart the Discourses of his Master: he made them known to the Church, and especially that divine one of the Last Supper, wherein Jesus had poured forth his whole Soul to his own, whom he had always tenderly loved, but most so at the end.[6] He wrote his Epistles, and Charity is his subject: God is Charity—he that loveth not, knoweth not God—perfect Charity casteth out fear—and so on throughout, always on Love. During the rest of his life, even when so enfeebled by old age as not to be able to walk, he was for ever insisting upon all men loving each other, after the example of God, who had loved them and so loved them! Thus, he that had announced more clearly than the rest of the Apostles the divinity of the Incarnate Word, was par excellence the Apostle of that divine Charity which Jesus came to enkindle upon the earth.

But our Lord had a further gift to bestow, and it was sweetly appropriate to the Virgin-Disciple. When dying on his cross, Jesus left Mary upon this earth. Joseph had been dead now some years. Who then shall watch over his Mother? who is there worthy of the charge? Will Jesus send his Angels to protect and console her? for, surely, what man could ever merit to be to her as a second Joseph? Looking down, he sees the Virgin-Disciple standing at the foot of the Cross: we know the rest, John is to be Mary’s Son: Mary is to be John’s Mother. Oh! wonderful Chastity, that wins from Jesus such an inheritance as this! Peter, says St Peter Damian, shall have left to him the Church, the Mother of men; but John shall receive Mary, the Mother of God, whom he will love as his own dearest Treasure, and to whom he will stand in Jesus’ stead; whilst Mary will tenderly love John, her Jesus’ Friend, as her Son.

Can we be surprised after this, that St John is looked upon by the Church as one of her greatest glories? He is a Relative of Jesus in the flesh; he is an Apostle, a Virgin, the Friend of the Divine Spouse, the Eagle, the Theologian, the Son of Mary; he is an Evangelist, by the history he has given of the Life of his Divine Master and Friend; he is a Sacred Writer, by the three Epistles he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost; he is a Prophet, by his mysterious Apocalypse, wherein are treasured the secrets of time and eternity. But is he a Martyr? Yes, for if he did not complete his sacrifice, he drank the Chalice of Jesus,[7] when, after being cruelly scourged, he was thrown into a caldron of boiling oil before the Latin Gate at Rome. He was therefore a Martyr in desire and intention, though not in fact. If our Lord, wishing to prolong a life so dear to the Church, as well as to show how he loves and honours Virginity, miraculously stayed the effects of the frightful punishment, St John had, on his part, unreservedly accepted Martyrdom.

Such is the companion of Stephen at the Crib, wherein lies our Infant Jesus. If the Protomartyr dazzles us with the robes he wears of the bright scarlet of his own blood; is not the virginal whiteness of John’s vestment fairer than the untrod snow? The spotless beauty of the Lilies of Mary’s adopted Son, and the bright vermilion of Stephen’s Roses—what is there more lovely than their union? Glory, then, be to our New-Born King, whose court is tapestried with such heaven-made colours as these! Yes, Bethlehem’s Stable is a very heaven on earth, and we have seen its transformation. First we saw Mary and Joseph alone there: they were adoring Jesus in his Crib; then, immediately, there descended a heavenly host of Angels singing the wonderful Hymn; the Shepherds soon followed, the humble, simple-hearted Shepherds; after these entered Stephen the Crowned, and John the Beloved Disciple; and even before there enters the pageant of the devout Magi, we shall have others coming in, and there will be each day grander glory in the Cave, and gladder joy in our hearts. Oh! this birth of our Jesus! Humble as it seems, yet how divine! What King or Emperor ever received in his gilded cradle, honours like these shown to the Babe of Bethlehem? Let us unite our homage with that given him by these the favoured inmates of his court. Yesterday the sight of the Palm in Stephen’s hand animated us, and we offered to our Jesus the promise of a stronger Faith: to-day the Wreath that decks the brow of the Beloved Disciple breathes upon the Church the heavenly fragrance of Virginity: an intenser love of Purity must be our resolution, and our tribute to the Lamb.


The Church commences her chants of the holy Sacrifice with words taken from the Book of Ecclesiasticus, which she applies to St John. Our Lord has proclaimed his mysteries to the Church by the teaching of his Beloved Disciple. He favoured him with his divine intimacy, which filled him with the spirit of wisdom. He clad him with a robe of glory, in reward for his virginal purity.


In medio Ecclesiæ aperuit os ejus; et implevit eum Dominus Spiritu sapientiæ et intellectus; stolam gloriæ induit eum.

Ps. Bonum est confiteri Domino, et psallere nomini tuo, Altissime.

℣. Gloria. In medio.

He opened his mouth in the midst of the Church, and the Lord filled him with the spirit of wisdom; he clad him with a robe of glory.

Ps. It is good to give praise to the Lord, and to sing to thy name, O Most High.

℣. Glory, etc. He opened.

In the Collect the Church asks for the Light, that is for the Word of God, of whom St John was the propagator by his sublime writings. She aspires to the eternal possession of this Emmanuel who is come to enlighten the world, and who has revealed to his Beloved Disciple the secrets of heaven.


Ecclesiam tuam, Domine, benignus illustra: ut beati Joannis Apostoli tui et Evangelistæ illuminata doctrinis, ad dona perveniat sempiterna. Per Dominum.
Mercifully, O Lord, enlighten thy Church: that being taught by blessed John, thine Apostle and Evangelist, she may come to thy eternal rewards. Through, etc.

Commemoration of Christmas Day

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


Lectio libri Sapientiæ.

Eccli. cap.

Qui timet Deum, faciet bona; et qui continens est justitiæ, apprehendet illam, et obviabit illi quasi mater honorificata. Cibabit illum pane vitæ et intellectus, et aqua sapientiæ salutaris potabit illum; et firmabitur in illo, et non flectetur; et continebit illum, et non confundetur; et exaltabit illum apud proximos suos; et in medio Ecclesiæ aperiet os ejus, et adimplebit illum Spiritu sapientiæ et intellectus, et stolam gloriæ vestiet illum; jucunditatem et exsultationem thesaurizabit super illum, et nomine aeterno haereditabit illum Dominus Deus noster.

Lesson from the Book of Wisdom.

Ecclus. ch. XV.

He that feareth God, will do good; and he that possesseth justice, shall lay hold on her, and she will meet him as an honourable mother. With the bread of life and understanding she shall feed him, and give him the water of wholesome wisdom to drink, and she shall be made strong in him, and he shall not be moved; and she shall exalt him among his neighbours; and in the midst of the Church she shall open his mouth, and shall fill him with the spirit of wisdom and understanding, and shall clothe him with the robe of glory; she shall heap upon him a treasure of joy and gladness, and our Lord God shall cause him to inherit an everlasting name.

The Wisdom here spoken of is Jesus the Eternal Word, who came to St John and called him to the Apostolate. The Bread of life wherewith she fed him is the divine Bread of the Last Supper, the Body and Blood of Jesus; the wholesome Water is that promised by our Saviour to the Samaritan Woman, of which St John drank so abundantly from its very source when he rested his head on the Heart of Jesus. The immovable Strength is the Saint’s close and resolute custody of the treasure of his Virginity, and the courageous profession of the religion of Christ before the Proconsuls of Domitian. The Treasure which Wisdom heaped upon him is the magnificence of the prerogatives granted to him. Lastly, the everlasting Name is that glorious title given him of John the Beloved Disciple.


Exiit sermo inter fratres, quod discipulus ille non moritur; et non dixit Jesus: Non moritur;

. Sed: Sic eum volo manere, donee veniam; tu me sequere.

Alleluia, alleluia.

. Hic est discipulus ille, qui testimonium perhibet de his; et scimus quia verum est testimonium ejus. Alleluia.

A report was spread among the brethren, that that Disciple should not die; but Jesus said not: He should not die;

. But: So I will have him remain till I come; follow thou me.

Alleluia, alleluia.

. This is the Disciple that beareth testimony of these things; and we know his testimony is true. Alleluia.


Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Joannem.

Cap. XXI.

In illo tempore, dixit Jesus Petro: Sequere me. Conversus Petrus vidit illum discipulum quem diligebat Jesus sequentem, qui et recubuit in cœna super pectus ejus, et dixit: Domine, quis est qui tradet te? Hunc ergo cum vidisset Petrus, dixit Jesu: Domine, hic autem quid? Dicit ei Jesus: Sic eum volo manere donec veniam, quid ad te? Tu me sequere. Exiit ergo senno iste inter fratres, quia discipulus ille non moritur. Et non dixit ei Jesus: Non moritur; sed: Sic eum volo manere donec veniam, quid ad te? Hic est discipulus ille, qui testimonium perhibet de his, et scripsit hæc; et scimus quia verum est testimonium ejus.
Sequel of the Holy Gospel according to John.

Ch. XXI.

At that time: Jesus said to Peter: Follow me. Peter turning about, saw that Disciple whom Jesus loved following, who also leaned on his breast at supper, and said: Lord, who is he that shall betray thee? Him therefore, when Peter had seen, he saith to Jesus: Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith to him: So I will have him to remain till I come, what is it to thee?Follow thou me. This saying, therefore, went abroad among the brethren, that that Disciple should not die. And Jesus did not say to him: He should not die; but: So I will have him to remain till I come, what is it to thee? This is that Disciple who giveth testimony of these things, and hath written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.

This passage of the holy Gospel has been much commented upon. Some of the Fathers and Commentators interpret it as signifying that St John was to be exempt from death, and that he is still living in the flesh, awaiting the coming of the Judge of the living and the dead. It is certain that this opinion regarding our Apostle has been entertained; and one of the arguments in its favour was this very passage. But the general opinion of the Holy Fathers is that nothing further is implied by it than the difference between the two vocations of St Peter and St John. The former shall follow his divine Master, by dying, like him, on a cross; the latter shall remain—he shall live to a venerable old age—and at length Jesus shall come and take him out of this world by sending him a sweet and peaceful death.

During the Offertory, the Church makes a remembrance of the flourishing Palms which grew up around the Beloved Disciple; she tells us of the spiritual children he had trained, and of the Churches he had founded; all which, like young cedars round the venerable parent-tree on Libanus, multiplied under the fostering care of their Father.


Justus ut palma florebit; sicut cedrus quæ in Libano est multiplicabitur.
The just shall flourish like the palm-tree; he shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus.


Suscipe, Domine, munera quæ in ejus tibi solemnitate deferimus, cujus nos confxdimus patrocinio liberari. Per Dominum.
Receive, O Lord, the offerings we make to thee, on his feast, by whose intercession we hope to be delivered. Through, etc.

Commemoration of Christmas Day

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

The Preface as on page 64: but on the Octave-Day it is as below.[8]

The mysterious words of the Gospel are repeated in the Communion, that is, at the moment when Priest and people have partaken of the Victim of salvation; they convey this teaching—that he who eats of this Bread, though he must die the death of the body, will yet live for the coming of the supreme Judge and Rewarder.


Exiit senno inter fratres quod discipulus ille non moritur. Et non dixit Jesus: Non moritur; sed: Sic eum volo manere donec veniam.
A report was spread among the brethren, that that disciple should not die. But Jesus said not: He should not die; but: So I will that he remain till I come.


Refecti cibo potuque cœ lesti, Deus noster, te supplices deprecamur; ut in cujus hæc commemoratione percepimus, ejus muniamur et precibus. Per Dominum.
Being refreshed, O Lord, with this heavenly meat and drink, we humbly beseech thee that we may be assisted by his prayers, on whose feast we have received these sacred mysteries. Through, etc.

Commemoration of Christmas Day

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


The Antiphons and Psalms are sung as yesterday, the Feast of St Stephen: they are given on page 210. After the last Psalm, the Office of St John is resumed, commencing as follows:

(Ecclus. xv)

Qui timet Deum, faciet bona: et qui continens est justitiæ apprehendet illam, et obviabit illi quasi mater honorificata.
He that feareth God, will do good; and he that possesseth justice shall lay hold on her, and she shall meet him as an honourable mother.


Exsultet orbis gaudiis:
Cœlum resultet laudibus;
Apostolorum gloriam
Tellus et astra concinunt.

Vos sæculorum judices,
Et vera mundi lumina:
Votis precamur cordium,
Audite voces supplicum.

Qui tempia cœli clauditis,
Serasque verbo solvitis,
Nos a reatu noxios
Solvi jubete, quæsumus.

Præcepta quorum protinus
Languor salusque sentiunt;
Sanate mentes languidas,
Augete nos virtutibus.

Ut cum redibit Arbiter
In fine Christus sæculi,
Nos sempiterni gaudii
Concedat esse compotes.

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


℣. Valde honorandus est beatus Joannes.
. Qui supra pectus Domini in cœna recubuit.

Let the earth exult with joy:
let the heavens re-echo with praise:
the glory of the Apostles
is sung by both earth and heaven.

O ye, the Judges of the world,
and the true Lights of the earth!
we pray to you with all earnestness of heart:
hear the prayers of your clients.

’Tis ye that have power,
by your word, to shut and open
the gates of heaven: we beseech you,
loosen us from the bonds of sin.

Sickness and health promptly
do your bidding;
oh! heal our languid souls,
bring us growth in virtue;

That so, when Jesus our judge
shall come again at the end of the world,
he may grant us to be
partakers of neverending bliss.

Glory be to thee, O Jesus,
that wast born of the Virgin!
and to the Father, and to the Spirit of love,
for everlasting ages.


℣. Most worthy of honour is the blessed John.
. Who leaned upon the Lord’s breast at the supper.

Antiphon of the Magnificat

Ant. Exiit sermo inter fratres, quod discipulus ille non moritur: et non dixit Jesus: Non moritur; sed: Sic eum volo manere donec veniam.
Ant. There went abroad among the brethren this saying, that that disciple should not die: and Jesus did not say to him: He should not die; but: So I will have him to remain till I come.

Ecclesiam tuam, Domine, benignus illustra, ut beati Joannis Apostoli tui et Evangelistæ illuminata doctrinis, ad dona perveniat sempiterna. Per Dominum.
Let Us Pray
Mercifully, O Lord, enlighten thy Church; that being taught by blessed John, thine Apostle and Evangelist, she may come to thy eternal rewards. Through, etc.

Commemoration of the Holy Innocents

Ant. Hi sunt, qui cum mulieribus non sunt coinquinati: virgines enim sunt, et sequuntur Agnum quocumque ierit.

℣. Herodes iratus occidit multos pueros.

. In Bethlehem Judæ, civitate David.


Deus cujus hodierna die præconium Innocentes martyres non loquendo, sed moriendo confessi sunt, omnia in nobis vitiorum mala mortifica: ut fidem tuam, quam lingua nostra loquitur, etiam moribus vita fateatur.

Ant. These are they who were not defiled with women: for they are virgins, and follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.

. Herod, being angry, killed many children.

. In Bethlehem of Juda, the city of David.

Let Us Pray

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

Commemoration of Christmas Day

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

. Notum fecit Dominus, alleluia.

. Salutare suum, alleluia.


Concede, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus, ut nos Unigeniti tui nova per carnem Nativitas liberet, quos sub peccati jugo vetusta servitus tenet. Per eundem.
Ant. This day Christ is born; this day the Saviour hath appeared; this day the Angels sing on earth; the Archangels rejoice; this day the just exult, saying: Glory be to God in the highest, alleluia.

. The Lord hath made known, alleluia.

℟. His salvation, alleluia.

Let Us Pray

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

Now let us listen to the several Churches, proclaiming in their liturgical praises the glory of St John. We begin with the Church of Rome, from which we take this beautiful Preface of the Leonine Sacramentary.


Vere dignum et justum est, æquum et salutare, nos tibi gratias agere, Pater omnipotens, beati Apostoli tui Joannis Evangelistæ natalitia venerantes. Qui Domini nostri Jesu Christi Filii tui vocatione suscepta, terrenum respuit patrem, ut posset invenire coelestem: retia sæculi, quibus implicabatur, abjecit, ut æternitatis dona mente libera sectaretur: nutantem fluctibus navem reliquit, ut in ecclesiasticæ gubernationis tranquilitate consisteret: a piscium captione cessavit, ut animas mundanis gurgitibus immersas, calamo doctrinæsalutaris abstraheret: destitit pelagi profundari mari, secretorum scrutatorredditus divinorum. Eo usque procedens, ut et in cœna mystica sacrosanto convivio in ipsius recumberet pectore Salvatoris; et eum in cruce Dominus constitutus, vicarium sui, Matri Virgini Filium subrogaret, et in principio Verbum, quod Deus erat apud Deum, pra cateris ostenderet prædicandum.
It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should give thanks to thee, O Almighty Father! now that we are celebrating the Feast of thy blessed Apostle, John the Evangelist. Having received the vocation of our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son, he left his earthly father, that he might find one in heaven. He threw down the nets of this world, wherein he was entangled, that he might, with a free soul, pursue the goods that are eternal. He abandoned his boat which was ever tossing on the waves, that he might calmly steer a spiritual bark in the Church. He gave up his trade of fishing, that by the hook of saving doctrine he might draw out souls ingulfed in the surges of the world. He ceased his searchings in the deep waters of the sea, that he might be made worthy to penetrate into secrets divine. Even thus was he favoured—he leaned his head on the Saviour’s breast, in the most holy banquet of the mystic supper; our Lord, when hanging on the cross, gave him to the Virgin-Mother to be her Son in his own stead; and it was he, above all others, that showed how this was to be preached: In the beginning was the Word, who was God with God.

The Church of Milan, in her Ambrosian Missal, thus sings forth the praises of the Beloved Disciple:

Vere dignum et justum est, æquum et salutare, nos tibi gratias agere, æterne Deus: beati Joannis Evangelistæ merita recolentes, quem Dominus Jesus Christus non solum peculiari semper decore ornavit; sed et in cruce positus, tamquam hæreditario munere prosecutus, vicarium pro se Matri Filium dementer attribuit. Quem ad eum usque dignitatis gradum divina benignitas evexit, ut et factus ex piscatore Discipulus, et humanædispensationis modum excedens, ipsam Verbi tui sine initio Deitatem præcæteris et mente conspiceret, et voce perferret.
It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should give thanks to thee, O Eternal God! whilst celebrating the merits of blessed John the Evangelist, whom our Lord Jesus Christ not only adorned with every peculiar grace, but to whom also he, when fastened to the cross, lovingly granted, as though it were the gift of inheritance, to take his own place and be the Son of Mary. Even unto this grade of honour did thy divine goodness raise him, that being changed from a fisherman into a Disciple, and, in dispensing thy Truth, going beyond the measure of other men, he, above all others, both saw and preached the very Divinity of thy Eternal Word.

The Mozarabic Missal has the following prayer to our holy Apostle and Evangelist:


Genite ingeniti Filius Dei summi; qui sacrum illud arcanum pectoris tui dilecto tuo Joanni Apostolo reserasti; cum in sinu tuo recubans Evangelii sui fluenta ex ipso pectoris tui fonte haurire promeruit. Tu nos intuere propitius, ut per te abdita cognoscamus, per te bona quæ manifesta sunt impleamus. Reserans nobis pectoris tui occulta, quibus possimus cognoscere et conditionis nostræ infirmitatem, et ad tuæ divinitatis pervenire cognitionem. Manifestans de te quid amemus, indicans de nobis quid corrigamus. Quo hujus dilecti tui suffragiis, moribus nostris in melius commutatis, aufugiat pestis, dispereat languor, pellatur mucro. Quidquid adversum est fidei christianæ intereat; quidquid prosperum, convalescat. Arceantur fames, sedentur lites, hæresum obtrudantur fautores. Fœcundetur frugibus terra, vestiatur virtutibus anima; atque cuncta nobis in commune proveniant bona. Quo tibi Deo nostro fideliter servientes, et his sine peccato utamur concessis, et post deliciis fruamur æternæ possessionis. Amen.
O Son of God, Begotten of the Unbegotten infinite God! who didst open the sacred treasury of thy Breast to thine Apostle, when he, reclining on thy Bosom, merited to drink in from the very fountain of thy Heart the streams of his own Gospel: look upon us with an eye of pity, that so by thee we may know thy mysteries, and do the good thou hast manifested unto us. Reveal unto us the hidden things of thy Heart, whereby we may be taught both the weakness of our own nature, and the Divinity which is thine. Show us thyself, that we may love thee; show us in ourselves what we must correct. That thus, by the prayers of thy beloved Disciple, our evil ways being converted, pestilence may flee from us, sickness disappear, and the sword be sheathed. May all that is adverse to Christian faith perish; may all that prospers it be strengthened. May famines cease, may dissensions be appeased, may the upholders of heresy be confounded. May the earth be pregnant with fruits, our souls be clad with virtues, and all good things come unto us all. That thus, faithfully serving thee our God, we may both use these gifts without sin, and, hereafter enjoy the bliss of possessing thee for eternity. Amen.

The following Hymn, which we have taken from the Milan Liturgy, is attributed to St Ambrose; it certainly bears a resemblance to his style—sublime thoughts, majestically told.


Amore Christi nobilis
Et filius Tonitrui,
Arcana Joannes Dei
Fatu revelavit sacro.

Captis solebat piscibus
Patris senectam pascere;
Turbante dum natat salo
Immobilis fide stetit.

Hamum profundo merserat,
Piscatus est Verbum Dei;
Jactavit undis retia,
Vitam levavit hominum.

Piscis bonus pia est Fides,
Mundi supernatans salum,
Subnixa Christi pectore,
Sancto locuta Spiritu:

'In principio erat Verbum,
Et Verbum erat apud Deum,
Et Deus erat Verbum. Hoc erat
In principio apud Deum.

‘Omnia per ipsum facta sunt.’
Sed ipse laude resonet;
Et laureatus Spiritu,
Scriptis coronetur suis.

Commune multis passio,
Cruorque delictum lavans;
Hoc morte præstat Martyrum
Quod fecit esse Martyres.

Vinctus tamen ab impiis,
Calente olivo dicitur
Tersisse mundi pulverem,
Stetisse victor æmuli.

Gloria tibi, Domine,
Qui natus es de Virgine;
Cum Patre et Sancto Spiritu
In sempiterna sæcula.


John, the honoured loved one of Jesus,
named by him the Son of Thunder,
revealed in sacred words
the hidden things of God.

He was a fisherman,
and supported his aged parent by his toil:
whilst sailing on the troubled waves, he received the faith,
and firmly did he hold to it.

He throws his hook into the deep,
and takes the Word of God;
he lets down his nets into the waters,
he draws in him who is the Light of the world.

His fervent Faith is the good Fish
which swam through the briny flood of this world;
it rested on the Breast of Christ,
and thus spoke in the Holy Spirit:

‘In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.

‘All things were made by Him.'
Then let us sing the praises of this Disciple,
and since he bears the laurels of the Spirit,
let his writings be his crown.

Martyrdom has been granted to many,
and this shedding of their own blood purifies them from every sin;
but John did what was better than Martyrdom:
he taught to the world that which made the Martyrs.

Yet we are told that he was bound by wicked men,
and plunged into boiling oil;
it did but cleanse him from this world's dust,
and give him victory over the enemy.

Glory be to thee, O Lord,
that wast born of the Virgin!
and to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost,
for everlasting ages.


We will now give a few stanzas from the Hymns which the Greek Church, in her accustomed pomp of language, sings in honour of St John. She keeps his Feast on September 26.
XXVI Septembris, in magno Vespertino, et passim

Venite, sapientiæ abyssum et orthodoxorum scriptorem dogmatum, Fideles, hymnis coronemus divinis hodie, Joannem, gloriosum et dilectum: is enim intonuit: Verbum crat in principio. Ideo voce tonitru similidemonstratus est, quasi Evangelio mundum illuminans, multisapiens et celeberrimus.

Vere aperteque tu manifestatus es amicus ex corde magnus Christi magistri; pectori enim illius incubuisti, unde hausisti sapientiæ dogmata, Quitos tamquam Bei præco divinum, ditas omnem terræ circuitum, quam Poseidons Jukunda Christi Ecclesia nunc gaudens exornat.

Garde, Vene theologe, Garde, Matrix Domini fili amabilissime: tu enim stans juxta crucem Christi, divinam audisti vocem Magistri: Ecce nunc mater tua, ad te clamantis. Ideo digne te omnes ut Christi Apostolum magnum et dilectum beatificamus.

Contemplator ineffabilium revelationum, et interpres supernorum Dei mysteriorum, Zebedæi hlius, scribens nobis Christi Evangelium divine loqui Patrem et Filium et Spiritum nos docuit.
Lyra a Deo mota cœlestium odarum, mysticus ille scriptor, os divina loquens, Canticum canticorum dulciter decantat, et precatur salvari nos.

Tonitru filium, divinorum sermonum fundamentum, theologiæ ducein et primum præconem veræ sapientiæ dogmatum, Joannem dilectum et virginem, o mortalium genus, multis laudemus acclamationibus.

Flumina theologæ ex venerando ore tuo salierunt, Apostole, quibus Ecclesia Dei potata adorat orthodoxe Trinitatem consubstantialem; et nunc deprecare, Johannes theologe, stabiliri et saivari animas nostras.

Virgultum puritatis, boni odoris unguentum apparuit nobis in hodierna festivitate; ad ipsum igitur clamemus: Tu qui supra pectus recubuisti Dominicum, tu qui mundo stillare fecisti Verbum, Joannes Apostole; qui Virginem custodivisti ut pupillam oculi, postula pro nobis apud Christum magnani misericordiam.

Apostolorum celsitudinem, theologiæ tubam, spiritalem ducem, qui orbem terrarum Deo subegit, venite, fideles, beatificemus Joannem illustrissimum, e terra sublatum et non ablatum, sed viventem et exspectantem terribilem Domini secundum adventum; cui ut inculpabiliter assistamus deprecare, amice mystice Christi pectori ejus innixe cum amore, tuam memoriam celebrantes.

Come, ye Faithful, let us this day crown with sacred hymns the glorious and Beloved John, an abyss of wisdom, and the writer of orthodox dogmas: for it was he that uttered, In the beginning was the Word. Therefore did he appear as with the voice of thunder, enlightening the world with his Gospel—he the exceeding wise and world-wide famed Disciple.

Thou wast truly and manifestly the great bosom-friend of Jesus thy Master; for thou didst recline upon his Breast, imbibing thence the dogmas of wisdom, wherewith, as God's sublime herald, thou enriches the earth’s circuit, and which the glad Church of Christ, now possessing it, exultingly honours.

Rejoice, thou true Theologian! rejoice, thou most lovable Son of our Lord’s Mother! for when standing nigh the Cross of Jesus, thou didst hear his divine voice saying unto thee: Behold now thy Mother. Therefore do we all bless thee, as the great and Beloved Apostle of Christ.

The contemplator of ineffable revelations, the interpreter of God’s most high mysteries, the son of Zebedee, wrote us the Gospel of Christ, and thereby taught us how to speak theologically of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
This heaven-hymned Harp attuned by God, this mystic writer, this mouth that speaks divine things, is now sweetly singing the Canticle of Canticles, and prays for our salvation.

Let us, O ye mortals! proclaim his many praises: John, the Son of Thunder, the source of divine language, the Prince of Theology, the first preacher of true wisdom's dogmas, the Beloved and Virgin Disciple.

The streams of Theology gushed from thy venerable lips, O Apostle! the Church of God has drunk them in, O teacher of truth! and adores the consubstantial Trinity. O holy Theologian John! now pray that our souls may be unwavering and saved.

The flower of purity, the fragrant perfume, breathes upon this day’s least; let us therefore pray to him: Blessed Apostle John! who didst recline upon Jesus’ Breast! who didst pour out The Word upon the earth! who didst guard the Virgin as the apple of thine eye! Oh! ask Jesus to show his great mercy unto us.

Come, ye faithful! let us bless the most renowned John, the exalted one among the Apostles, the trumpet of theology, the spiritual guide—he that brought the world into subjection to God—he that was raised above the earth, not taken away from it, and is living and awaiting the dread second coming of our Lord. O thou the mystic Friend of Christ, that didst lovingly lean upon his Breast, help us who celebrate thy memory, help us by thy prayers to present ourselves guiltless before our judge.

As usual, we will close these liturgical praises of our dear Saint by a Prose of the Western Churches in the Middle Ages, which we have taken from the collection of the Monastery of St Gall. It was composed by Blessed Notker, and was for centuries in the Roman-French Missals.


Joannes, Jesu Christo
Multum dilecte virgo.

Tu ejus amore Carnalem in navi
Parentem liquisti.

Tu leve conjugis
Pectus respuisti,

Messiam secutu
Ut ejus pectoris Sacra meruisses Fluenta potare.

Tuque in terris positus,
Gloriam conspexisti Filii Dei,

Quæ solum sanctis In vita creditur
Contuenda esse perenni.

Te Christus In cruce triumphans,
Matri suæ dedit custodem;

Ut Virgo
Virginem servares, Atque curam suppeditares.

Tute carcere Flagrisque fractus,
Testimonio pro Christo Es gavisus.

Idem mortuos suscitas, Inque Jesu nomine
Venenum forte vincis.

Tibi summus tacitum
Præ cæteris Verbum suum Pater revelat.

Tu nos omnes Sedulis precibus
Apud Deum Semper commenda, Joannes, Christi care.


O John! the dearly
Beloved Virgin Disciple of Jesus!

For love of him thou didst
leave thy father Zebedee and his boat.

Thou didst disdain
the caresses of thy young betrothed,

and didst follow the Messias,
That thou mightest merit to drink at the sacred fount of his heart.

Thou too, when on this earth,
didst behold the transfiguration of the Son of God,

Which vision, as we are taught,
is not granted save to the Saints in life eternal.

Jesus, when conquering on his cross,
entrusted his Mother to thy keeping;

That thou, a Virgin,
mightest protect and care for the Virgin in his stead.

Imprisoned and torn by scourges,
thou didst rejoice, for it was thy bearing testimony to Christ.

Thou raisest, too, the dead to life, and in the name of Jesus
breakest the poison's power.

To thee, above the rest,
the Almighty Father reveals his own embosomed Word.

Do thou ever commend us all to God by unwearied intercession.
O John, Disciple dear to Christ!


Beloved Disciple of the Babe of Bethlehem! how great is thy happiness! how wonderful is the reward given to thy love and thy purity! In thee was fulfilled that word of thy Master: Blessed are the clean of heart; for they shall see God. Not only didst thou see this GodMan: thou wast his Friend, and on his Bosom didst rest thy head. John the Baptist trembles at having to bend the head of Jesus under the water of Jordan; Magdalen, though assured by his own lips that her pardon was perfect as her love, yet dares not raise her head, but keeps clinging to his feet; Thomas scarce presumes to obey him when he bids him put his finger into his wounded Side; and thou, in the presence of all the Apostles, sittest close to him, leaning thy head upon his Breast! Nor is it only Jesus in his Humanity that thou seest and possessest; but, because thy heart is pure, thou soarest like an eagle up to the Sun of Justice, and fixest thine eye upon him in the light inaccessible wherein he dwelleth eternally with the Father and the Holy Ghost.

Thus was rewarded the fidelity wherewith thou didst keep intact for Jesus the precious treasure of thy Purity. And now, O worthy favourite of the great King! forget not us poor sinners. We believe and confess the Divinity of the Incarnate Word whom thou hast evangelized unto us; but we desire to draw nigh to him during this holy season, now that he shows himself so desirous of our company, so humble, so full of love, so dear a Child, and so poor! Alas! our sins keep us back; our heart is not pure like thine; we have need of a Patron to introduce us to our Master's crib.[10] Thou, O Beloved Disciple of Emmanuel! thou must procure us this happiness. Thou hast shown us the Divinity of the Word in the bosom of the Eternal Father; lead us now to this same Word made flesh. Under thy patronage Jesus will permit us to enter into the Stable, to stand near his Crib, to see with our eyes and touch with our hands[11] this sweet Fruit of eternal Life. May it be granted us to contemplate the sweet Face of him that is our Saviour and thy Friend; to feel the throbs of that Heart which loves both thee and us, which thou didst see wounded by the Spear, on Calvary. It is good for us to fix ourselves here near the Crib of our Jesus, and share in the graces he there lavishes, and learn, as thou didst, the grand lesson of this Child’s simplicity: thy prayers must procure all this for us.

Then too, as Son and Guardian of Mary, thou hast to present us to thine own and our Mother. Ask her to give us somewhat of the tender love wherewith she watches over the Crib of her Divine Son; to see in us the Brothers of that Child she bore; and to admit us to a share of the maternal affection she had for thee, the favoured confidant of the secrets of her Jesus.

We also pray to thee, O holy Apostle! for the Church of God. She was planted and watered by thy labours, embalmed with the celestial fragrance of thy virtues, and illumined by thy sublime teachings; pray now that these graces may bring forth their fruit, and that to the end of her pilgrimage faith may be firm, the love of Jesus fervent, and Christian morals pure and holy. Thou tellest us in thy Gospel of a saying of thy Divine Master: I will not now call you my Servants, hut my Friends:[12] pray, dear Saint, that there may come to this, from our hearts and lips, a response of love and courage, telling our Emmanuel that, like thyself, we will follow him whithersoever he leads us.

Let us, on this second day after our Divine Infant’s Birth, meditate upon the Sleep he deigns to take. Let us consider how this God of all goodness, who has come down from heaven to invite his creature man to come to him and seek rest for his soul, seeks rest himself in our earthly home, and sanctifies by his own divine sleep that rest which to us is a necessity. We have just been dwelling with delighted devotion on the thought of his offering his Breast as a resting-place for the Beloved Disciple, and for all souls that imitate John in his love and devotedness: now let us look at this our God, sweetly sleeping in his humble Crib, or on his Mother's lap.

St Alphonsus Liguori, in one of his delicious Canticles, thus describes the sleep of Jesus, and the enraptured love of the Mother:

Mary sings—the ravished heavens
Hush the music of their spheres;
Soft her voice, her beauty fairer
Than the glancing stars appears:
While to Jesus slumbering nigh,
Thus she sings her lullaby.
Sleep, my Babe! my God! my Treasure!
Gently sleep: but ah! the sight
With its beauty so transports me,
I am dying of delight:
Thou canst not thy Mother see,
Yet thou breathest flames to me.
If within your lids unfolded,
Slumbering eyes! you seem so fair;
When upon my gaze you open,
How shall I your beauty bear?
Ah! I tremble when you wake,
Lest my heart with love should break.
Cheeks than sweetest roses sweeter,
Mouth where lurks a smile divine—
Though the kiss my Babe should waken,
I must press those lips to mine.
Pardon, Dearest, if I say,
Mother's love will take no nay.
As she ceased, the gentle Virgin
Clasped the Infant to her breast,
And upon his radiant forehead
Many a loving kiss impressed:
Jesus woke, and on her face
Fixed a look of heavenly grace.
Ah! that look, those eyes, that beauty,
How they pierce the Mother's heart;
Shafts of love from every feature
Through her gentle bosom dart.
Heart of stone! can I behold
Mary's love, and still be cold?
Where, my soul! thy sense, thy reason?
When will these delays be o'er?
All things else, how fair soever,
Are but smoke—resist no more!
Yes! 'tis done! I yield my arms
Captive to those double charms.
If, alas, O heavenly beauty!
Now so late those charms I learn,
Now at least, and ever, ever,
With thy love my heart will burn
For the Mother and the Child,
Rose and Lily undefiled.
Plant and fruit, and fruit and blossom,
I am theirs, and they are mine:
For no other prize I labour,
For no other bliss I pine;
Love can every pain requite,
Love alone is full delight.[13]

Let us, then, adore the Divine Babe in this state of Sleep to which he voluntarily subjects himself, and contrast it with the cruel fatigues which are one day to be his. When he is grown up, and come to the age of manhood, he will go through every toil and suffering in search of us his Lost Sheep. But these first slumbers shall not be troubled by anything of ours which could pain this loving wakeful Heart; and the Blessed Mother shall not be disturbed in the blissful contemplation of her Sleeping Child, over whom she is at a future time to shed such bitter tears. The day is not far distant when he will say: The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.[14]

‘Christ has had three resting-places,’ says Peter of Celles. ‘The first was in the Bosom of his Eternal Father. He says, I am in the Father, and the Father is in me.[15] What repose could be compared to this, of the Father's complacency in the Son, and the Son's complacency in the Father? It is a mutual and ineffable love, and they are happy in the union. But whilst maintaining this place of his eternal rest, the Son of God has sought a second in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He overshadowed her with the Holy Ghost, and slept a long sleep in her chaste womb, whilst his Body was there being formed. The holy Virgin troubled not the sleep of her Child: she kept all the powers of her soul in a silence like that of heaven; and rapt in self-contemplation, she heard mysteries which it is not permitted to man to utter. The third restingplace of Christ is in man. Jesus dwells in a heart that is purified by faith, enlarged by charity, raised above earth by contemplation, and is renewed by the Holy Ghost. Such a heart as this offers to Jesus not an earthly but a heavenly dwelling; and the Child who is born unto us will not refuse to enter it, and take his rest within it.’[16]

To this Eternal Word made flesh for our salvation let us offer up this Hymn of our great ecclesiastical Poet, Prudentius:


Corde natus ex parentis
Ante mundi exordium;
A et O cognominatus:
Ipse fons et clausula
Omnium quæ sunt, fuerunt,
Quæque post futura sunt.

Ipse jussit, et creata,
Dixit ipse, et facta sunt;
Terra, cœlum, fossa ponti,
Trina rerum machina,
Quæque in his vigent sub alto
Solis et lunæ globo.

Corporis formam caduci,
Membra morti obnoxia
Induit, ne gens periret
Primoplasti ex germine,
Merserat quem lex profundo
Noxialis Tartaro.

O beatus ortus ille,
Virgo cum puerpera
Edidit nostram salutem,
Fœta Sancto Spiritu,
Et puer Redemptor orbis
Os sacratum protulit.

Psallat altitudo cœli,
Psallite, omnes Angeli,
Quidquid est virtutis usquam,
Psallat in laudem Dei:
Nulla linguarum silescat,
Vox et omnis consonet.

Ecce quem vates vetustis
Concinebant sæculis,
Quem Prophetarum fideles
Paginæ spoponderant,
Emicat promissus olim;
Cuncta collaudent eum.

Te senes et te juventus.
Parvulorum te chorus,
Turba matrum, virginumque,
Simplices puellulæ,
Voce concordes pudicis
Perstrepant concentibus.

Fluminum lapsus, et undæ
Littorum crepidines,
Imber, æstus, nix, pruinæ,
Silva et aura, nox, dies,
Omnibus te concelebrent
Sæculorum sæculis.

Born from the bosom of the Father
before the world began,
his name is Alpha and Omega.
He is the beginning and end
of all things
present, past, and future.

He commanded and they were created,
he spoke and they were made;
earth, heaven, and sea,
the triple kingdom,
and all things that are in them,
under the sun and moon.

He clothes himself with a frail Body,
and with members subject to death;
lest the human race, the offspring of Adam,
should perish together with their first Parent,
whom a terrible sentence had condemned
to the depth of hell.

O that happy Birth,
when a Virgin-Mother,
having conceived of the Holy Ghost,
brought forth the Child that was our salvation;
and the Babe, the Redeemer of the world,
showed unto us his divine Face!

Let high heaven sing,
and sing all ye Angels!
Let every living creature
sing to the praise of God!
Let every tongue proclaim it,
and every voice join in the hymn of praise.

Behold the Promised Messias,
of whom sang the Seers in the ancient times,
and whom the Prophets foretold
in their truthful oracles!
Praise be to him
from every creature.

May the aged and the young,
and children,
mothers and virgins
and innocent maidens, sing to thee,
O Jesus! and with concordant voice
chastely hymn thy praise!

May the flowing river
and the sea-shore wave,
rain and heat, snow and frost,
forest and zephyr, day and night,
for ever and for ever
give thee praise.


Let us now honour and invoke the ever Blessed and most Merciful Mother of our God, and use the words of this beautiful Hymn of the ancient Roman-French Missals:


Lætare, puerpera,
Læto puerperio,
Cujus casta viscera
Fœcundantur Filio.

Lacte fluunt ubera
Cum pudoris lilio;
Membra foves tenera,
Virgo, lacte proprio.

Patris Unigenitus,
Per quem fecit sæcula,
Hic degit humanitus,
Sub Matre paupercula.

Ibi sanctos reficit
Angelos lætitia:
Hic sitit et esurit
Degens ab infantia.

Ibi regit omnia,
Hic a Matre regitur:
Ibi dat imperia,
Hie ancillæ subditur.

Ibi summi culminis
Residet in solio;
Hie ligatus fasciis
Vagit in præsepio.

O homo! considera,
Revocans memoriae,
Quanta sint hæc opera
Divinae clementiæ.

Non desperes veniam,
Si multum deliqueris,
Ubi tot insignia
Charitatis videris.

Sub Matris refugio
Fuge, causa veniæ:
Nam tenet in gremio
Fontem indulgentiæ.

Hanc salutes sæpius
Cum spei fiducia,
Dicens, flexis genibus:
Ave plena gratia.

Quondam flentis lacrymas
Sedabas uberibus:
Nunc iratum mitigas
Pro nostris excessibus.

Jesu, lapsos respice,
Piæ Matris precibus;
Emendatos effice
Dignos cœli civibus.

Rejoice, O Virgin-Mother!
in thy joy-giving delivery,
for thy chaste womb was made
fruitful of the very Son of God.

O wondrous sight
—Jesus feeding from the Lily of Purity!
Yea, most pure Virgin,
thou feedest at thy breasts his infant life.

The Only-Begotten of the Father,
by whom he made this world,
is dwelling here
the Babe of a poor Mother.

There he is feeding
the holy Angels with joy:
here he is in hunger
and thirst from his cradle.

There he holds all things in subjection:
here he is in subjection to a Mother.
There he commands:
here he obeys his Handmaid.

There he is seated
on the throne of highest majesty:
here he is lying
swathed and weeping in a manger.

Think on this, O man!
and to thy memory recall
these stupendous works
of God's mercy.

And though thy sins be great,
yet canst thou not despair,
for the proofs thou seest here
of Jesus' love speak but of pardon.

Thou wouldst have pardon?
fly to the Mother for protection,
for she holds on her lap
the Infinite Fountain of Mercy.

Often bend thy knee before her,
and with hopeful love
salute her thus:
Hail!full of grace!

As thou of old didst feed
thy Jesus and stay his infant tears;
so now, dear Mother,
appease him angered by our sins.

Hear, O Jesus! thy sweet Mother's prayers,
and with an eye of pity look upon us sinners!
Correct and change us,
and make us worthy to be citizens of heaven.


[1] St John xv 13.
[2] St John xiii 23; xix 26; xxi 7; xxi 20.
[3] Col. ii 3.
[4] Ezech. i 10; x 14.
[5] Apoc. iv 7.
[6] St John xiii 1.
[7] St Matt, xx 22.
[8] Preface. For the Octave-Day.

Vere dignum et justum est, æquum et salutare, te Domine suppliciter exorare, ut gregem tuum, Pastor æterne, non deseras, sed per beatos Apostolos tuos continua proteotione custodias. Ut iisdem rectoribus guberuetur, quos operis tui vicarios eidem contulisti præesse Pastores. Et ideo cum Angelis et Archangelis, cum Thronis et Dominationibus, cumque omni militia coelestis exercitus, hymnum gloriæ tua canimus, sine fine dicentes: Sanctus, etc.
It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, humbly to beseech thee that thou, O Lord, our eternal Shepherd, wouldst not forsake thy flock, but keep it under thy continual protection, by thy blessed Apostles. That it may be governed by those whom thou hast appointed its vicars and pastors. And therefore with the Angels and Archangels, with the Thrones and Dominations, and with all the heavenly host, we sing an everlasting hymn to thy glory, saying: Holy, etc.

[9] According to the Monastic Rite, it is as follows: ℟.. Breve. Constitues eos principes, * Super oranem terram. Constitues. ℣. Meraores erunt Pnominis tui, Domine. * Super. Gloria atri. Constitues. Exsultet coelum laudibus, Resultet terra gaudiis; Apostolorum gloriam Sacra canunt solemnia. Vos sæcli justi judices Et vera mundi lumina, Votis precamur cordium, Audite preces supplicum. Qui cœlum verbo clauditis, Serasque ejus solvitis, Nos a peccatis omnibus Solvite jussu, quæsumus. Quorum præcepto subditur Salus et languor omnium, Sanate ægros moribus, Nos redden tes virtutibus. Ut cum judex advenerit Christus in fine sæculi, Nos sempiterni gaudii Faciat esse compotes. Gloria tibi, Domine, Qui natus es de Virgine, Cum Patre, et Sancto Spiritu, In. sempiterna sæcula. Amen.
[10] Isa. i 3.
[11] St John i 1.
[12] St John xv 15.
[13] Translation by the Very Rev. R. A. Coffin. We subjoin the original:
Fermarono i cieli
La loro armonia,
Cantando Maria
La nanna a Gesù.

Con voce divina
La Virgine bella,
Più vaga che stella,
Diceva cosi:

Mio figlio, mio Dio,
Mio caro tesoro,
Tu dormi, ed io moro
Per tanta beltà.

Dormendo, mio bene,
Tua Madre non miri,
Ma l' aura che spiri,
E foco per me.

Cogli occhi serrati
Voi pur mi ferite;
Or quando li aprite,
Per me che sara?

Le guance di rose
Mi rubano il core:
O Dio! che si more
Quest’ alma per te.

Mi sforza a baciarti
Un labbro si raro:
Perdonami, caro,
Non posso più, no.

Si tacque, ed al petto
Stringendo il Bambino,
Al volto divino
Un baci donò.

E tu non languisci,
O dur’ alma mia,
Vedendo Maria
Languir per Gesù.

Si desta il diletto;
E tutto amoroso,
Con occhio vezzoso
La Madre guardò.

Se tardi v' amai,
Bellezze divine,
Ormai senza fine
Per voi arderò.

Ah Dio! ch’ alla Madre
Quegli occhi, quel guardo
Fu strale, fu dardo,
Che l’alma feri.

Il Figlio e la Madre,
La Madre col Figlio,
La rosa col giglio
Quest’ alma vorrà.
[14] St Matt, viii 20.
[15] St John xiv 11.
[16] Fourth Sermon On our Lord’s Nativity.

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

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

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

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

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

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

(Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Innocents.)

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

Commemoration of Christmas Day

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


Lectio libri Apocalypsis beati Joannis Apostoli.

Cap. XIV.

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

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

Ch. XIV.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Matthæum.

Cap. II.

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

Ch. II.

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

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

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


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


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

Commemoration of Christmas Day

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

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


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


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

Commemoration of Christmas Day

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


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

(Apoc. xiv)

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Antiphon of the Magnificat

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


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

Let Us Pray

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

Commemoration of St Thomas

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

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


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

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

Let us Pray

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

Commemoration of Christmas Day

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

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


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

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

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

Let Us Pray

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

Let us, etc.

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


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

Commemoration of the Octave of Christmas, p. 203.


Lectio Epistolæ beati Pauli Apostoli ad Hebræos.

Cap. V.

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

Ch. V.

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

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

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

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

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


Ecce Sacerdos magnus, qui in diebus suis placuit Deo.

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

Alleluia, alleluia.

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

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

Alleluia, alleluia.

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


Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Joannem.

Cap. X.

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

Ch. X.

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

(Jas. i)

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


Deus tuorum militum, p. 234.

. Justus ut palma florebit.

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

. He shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus.

At the Magnificat

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


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

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

Let us Pray

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

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

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

℣. Verbum caro factum est, alleluia.

℟. Et habitavit in nobis, alleluia.


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

Ant. While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, thy Almighty Word, O Lord, came down from thy royal throne, alleluia.

℣. The Word was made flesh, alleluia.

℟. And dwelt among us, alleluia.

Let us Pray

O Almighty and Eternal God, regulate our actions according to thy divine will: that in the name of thy beloved Son, we may abound in good works.

Commemoration of Christmas Day

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

℣. Notum fecit Dominus, alleluia.

℟. Salutare suum, alleluia.


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

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

℣. The Lord hath made known, alleluia.

℟. His Salvation, alleluia.

Let us Pray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Sequence

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

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

Archipræsul et legatus
Nullo tamen est elatus
Honoris fastigio.

Dispensator summi Regis,
Pro tutela sui gregis
Damnatur exilio.

Telo certans pastorali.
Ense cinctus spiritali,
Triumphare meruit.

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

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

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

Quo absente infirmatur,
Infirmata conculcatur
Libertas Ecclesiæ.

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

Quondam cœtu curiali
Primus eras, et regali
Militans palatio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Second Sequence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pro corona quæ secatur
Duplex stola præparatur,
Ubi sedes restauratur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Omnes armatrin Pastorem,
Cohortatur ad cruorem
Cohortem satellitum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Ave, cujus viscera
Contra mundi fœdera,
Ediderunt filium.

Ave, carens simili,
Mundo diu flebili
Reparasti gaudium.

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

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

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

In qua per Spiritum
Facta Paraclitum
Fulsit fœcunditas!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

(If December 30 falls on a Saturday, it is called the Sixth Day within the Octave, and the third Mass of Christmas Day, page 202, is repeated, except for the Epistle and Gospel, which are taken from the second Mass, pages 191, 192, the extra prayers are given on page 415, and in this case the Office of the Sunday in the Octave is said on December 31, with a commemoration of St Silvester. But if December 30 falls on any other day of the week, the Office is of the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas.)

THIS is the only day within the Christmas Octave which is not a Saint’s Feast. During the Octaves of the Epiphany, Easter and Pentecost, the Church is so absorbed in the respective mysteries that she puts off everything that could share her attention; whereas during this of Christmas, there is only one day which does not celebrate the memory of some glorious Saint, and our Infant Jesus is surrounded by a choir of heroes who loved and served him. Thus the Church, or, more correctly, God—for God is the first author of the cycle of the year—shows us how the Incarnate Word, who came to save mankind, desires to give mankind confidence by this his adorable familiarity.

We have already shown that the Birth of our Lord took place on a Sunday, the Day on which, in the beginning of the world, God created Light. We shall find, later on, that his Resurrection also was on a Sunday. This the first day of creation, and the first of the week, was consecrated by the old Pagans to the Sun: with us Christians, it is most sacred and holy, on account of the two risings of our divine Sun of Justice—his Birth and his Resurrection. Whilst the solemnity of Easter is always kept on a Sunday, that of Christmas falls by turns on each of the days of the week—we have already had this difference explained to us by the Holy Fathers: but the mystery of Jesus’ Birth is more aptly and strongly expressed, when its anniversary falls on a Sunday. Other years, when the coincidence does not happen, the Faithful will at least be led by their Christian instincts, to give especial honour to the day within the Octave which falls on the Sunday. The Church has honoured it with a proper Mass and Office, and we of course insert them.


It was at midnight that the Lord delivered his people from bondage, by the Passage of his destroying Angel over the land of the Egyptians: so also was it in the still hour of midnight that Jesus, the Angel of Great Counsel, came down from his royal throne, bringing mercy to our earth. It is just, that whilst commemorating this second Passage, the Church should sing the praises of her Emmanuel, who comes, clad in his strength and beauty, to take possession of his Kingdom.


Dum medium silentium tenerent omnia, et nox in suo cursu medium iter haberet, omnipotens sermo tuus, Domine, de cælis, a regalibus sedibus venit.

Ps. Dominus regnavit, decorem indutus est: indutus est Dominus fortitudinem, et præcinxit se. ℣. Gloria Patri. Dum medium.
While all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, thy Almighty Word, O Lord, came down from thy royal throne.

Ps. The Lord hath reigned, he is clothed with beauty: the Lord is clothed with strength, and hath girded himself, ℣. Glory, etc. While all.

In the Collect the Church prays to be directed by that divine rule which was taught us by our Saviour, the Sun of Justice, who shone upon us in order to enlighten and guide our steps in the path of good works.


Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, dirige actus nostros in beneplacito tuo: ut in nomine dilecti Filii tui mereamur bonis operibus abundare. Qui tecum.
O Almighty and Eternal God, regulate our actions according to thy divine will: that in the name of thy beloved Son, we may abound in good works. Who liveth, etc.

The Commemoration of the Octave of Christmas is given on page 228.


Lectio Epistolæ beati Pauli Apostoli ad Galatas.

Cap. IV.

Fratres, quanto tempore hæres parvulus est, nihil differt a servo, cum sit dominus omnium: sed sub tutoribus et actoribus est usque ad præfinitum tempus a patre: ita et nos, cum essemus parvuli, sub elementis mundi eramus servientes. At ubi venit plenitudo temporis, misit Deus Filium suum factum ex muliere, factum sub lege, ut eos, qui sub lege erant, redimeret, ut adoptionem filiorum reciperemus. Quoniam autem estis filii, misit Deus Spiritum Filii sui in corda vestra, clamantem: Abba, Pater. Itaque jam non est servus, sed filius. Quod si filius: et hæres per Deum,
Lesson of the Epistle of St Paul the Apostle to the Galatians.

Ch. IV.

Brethren: As long as the heir is a child, he differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all: but is under tutors and governors, until the time appointed by the father: so we also, when we were children, were serving under the elements of the world. But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, that he might redeem them who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God hath sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying: Abba, Father. Therefore now he is not a servant, but a son. And if a son, an heir also, through God.

The Child that is born of Mary and is couched in the Crib at Bethlehem, raises his feeble voice to the Eternal Father, and calls him, My Father! He turns towards us and calls us My Brethren! We, consequently, when we speak to his Father, may call him Our Father! This is the mystery of adoption, revealed to us by the great event we are solemnizing. All things are changed, both in heaven and on earth: God has not only one Son, he has many sons; henceforth we stand before this our God, not merely creatures drawn out of nothing by his power, but children that he fondly loves. Heaven is now not only the throne of his sovereign Majesty; it is become our inheritance, in which we are joint-heirs with our Brother Jesus, the Son of Mary, Son of Eve, Son of Adam, according to his Human Nature, and (in the unity of Person) Son of God according to his Divine Nature. Let us turn our wondering and loving thoughts first to this sweet Babe, that has brought us all these blessings, and then to the blessings themselves, to the dear inheritance made ours by him. Let our mind be seized with astonishment at creatures having such a destiny! and then let our heart pour out its thanks for the incomprehensible gift!


Speciosus forma præ filiis hominum: diffusa est gratia in labiis tuis.

. Eructavit cor meum verbum bonum; dico ego opera mea Regi: lingua mea calamus scribæ velociter scribentis. Alleluia, alleluia.

℣. Dominus regnavit, decorem induit: induit Dominus fortitudinem, et præcinxit se virtute. Alleluia.
Thou art beautiful above the sons of men: grace is poured abroad in thy lips.

℣. My heart hath uttered a good word; I speak my works to the King: my tongue is the pen of a scrivener, that writeth swiftly. Alleluia, alleluia.

℣. The Lord hath reigned: he hath clothed himself with beauty: he hath clothed himself with strength, and armed himself with might. Alleluia.


Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Lucam.

Cap. II.

In illo tempore: Erat Joseph, et Maria mater Jesu, mirantes super his quæ dicebantur de illo. Et benedixit illis Simeon, et dixit ad Mariam matrem ejus: Ecce positus est hic in ruinam et in resurrectionem multorum in Israel: et in signum cui contradicetur: et tuam ipsius animam pertransibit gladius, ut revelentur ex multis cordibus cogitationes. Et erat Anna Prophetissa, filia Phanuel, de tribu Aser. Hæc processerat in diebus multis, et vixerat eum viro suo annis septem a virginitate sua. Et hæc vidua usque ad annos octoginta quatuor: quæ non discedebat de templo, jejuniis et obsecrationibus serviens nocte ac die. Et hæc, ipsa hora superveniens, confitebatur Domino, et loquebatur de illo omnibus, qui exspectabant redemptionem Israel. Et ut perfecerunt omnia secundum legem Domini, reversi sunt in Galilæam, in civitatem suam Nazareth. Puer autem crescebat, et confortabatur, pienus sapientia: et gratia Dei erat in illo.
Sequel to the holy Gospel according to Luke.

Ch. II.

At that time: Joseph, and Mary the Mother of Jesus, were wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his Mother: Behold, this Child is set for the fall and for the resurrection of many in Israel: and for a sign which shall be contradicted: and thine own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed. And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was far advanced in years, and had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity. And she was a widow until fourscore and four years: who departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving day and night. Now she at the same hour, coming in, confessed to the Lord, and spoke of him to all that looked for the redemption of Israel. And after they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their city Nazareth. And the Child grew and waxed strong, full of wisdom: and the grace of God was in him.

The passage of the Gospel selected for this Mass, though bearing on the Divine Infancy, yet gives us, we may almost say prematurely, the terrible prophecy of Simeon regarding the dear Babe of Bethlehem. The heart of Mary, that was overflowing with joy at the miraculous Birth of her Child, is here made to feel the sword spoken of by the venerable Priest of the temple. Her Son, then, is to be but a sign that shall he contradicted! The mystery of man's adoption by God is to cost this Child of hers his life! We that are the Re deemed in his Blood, we may not yet dwell on the fatigues and the Passion and the Death of our Emmanuel; the time will come for that; at present we are forbidden to think of him other than as the sweet Child that is born to us, the source of all our happiness by his having come among us. Let us catch up the words of Anna, who calls him the Redemption of Israel. Let our eye delight in the sight of the earth regenerated by the birth of its Saviour. Let us admire and study well this Jesus newly born among us, and adore in humble love the wisdom and grace that are in him.

During the Offertory, the Church celebrates the wonderful renovation wrought in the world, a renovation which saved it from destruction. She sings the praises of the great God who came down into the poor Stable of Bethlehem, yet left not his eternal throne.


Deus firmavit orbem terræ, qui non commovebitur; parata sedes tua, Deus, ex tunc: a sæculo tu es.
God hath established the world, which shall not be moved; thy throne, O God, is prepared from of old; thou art from everlasting.


Concede, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus; ut oculis tuæ majestatis munus oblatum et gratiam nobis piæ devotionis obtineat, et effectum beatæ perennitatis acquirat. Per Dominum.
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that this sacrifice, offered to thy divine majesty, may obtain for us the grace of true devotion, and a happy eternity. Through, etc.

The Commemoration of the Octave is given above, p. 232.

The words chanted by the Church at the Communion are those spoken by the Angel to St Joseph. She has given this Divine Infant to her faithful children in Holy Communion, in order that they may carry him in their hearts, and bids them guard him against the snares laid for him by his and their enemies. Let the

Christian, therefore, take heed lest Jesus should be taken from him. Let him, by strict watchfulness and by good works, crush the tyrant sin that seeks the life of the Divine Guest of his soul. It is for this reason that, in the Postcommunion, the Church prays that our vices may be destroyed, and our desires for a virtuous life be blessed.


Tolle puerum et matrem ejus, et vade in terram Israel; defuncti sunt enim qui quærebant animam pueri.
Take the Child and his Mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead who sought the life of the Child.


Per hujus, Domine, operationem mysterii et vitia nostra purgentur, et justa desideria compleantur. Per Dominum.
May the efficacy of this sacrament, O Lord, cleanse us from our sins, and obtain for us the accomplishment of our just desires. Through, etc.

The Commemoration of the Octave is given above, p. 233.


If December 30 be kept as the Sunday in the Octave of Christmas, Vespers are as follows:

The Antiphons and Psalms are those of Christmas Day, p. 210.

(Gal. iv)

Fratres: Quanto tempore heres parvulus est, nihil differt a servo, cum sit Dominus omnium; sed sub tutoribus et actoribus est usque ad præfinitum tempus a patre.
Brethren: As long as the heir is a child, he differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors, until the time appointed by the father.

Hymn, Jesu Redemptor omnium, p. 217.

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

Antiphon to the Magnificat

Ant. Puer Jesus proficiebat ætate et sapientia coram Deo et hominibus.


Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, dirige actus nostros in beneplacito tuo: ut in nomine dilecti Filii tui Mereamur bonis operibus abundare: Qui tecum vivit.
Ant. The child Jesus increased in age and wisdom before God and men.

Let us Pray

O Almighty and eternal God, regulate our actions according to thy divine will: that in the name of thy beloved Son we may abound in good works. Who liveth, etc.

Commemoration of St Sylvester, Pope

Ant. Sacerdos et Pontifex, et virtutum opifex, pastor bone in populo, ora pro nobis Dominum.

. Amavit eum Dominus, et ornavit eum.

℟. Stolam gloriæ induit eum.


Da, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus, ut beati Silvestri, Confessoris tui atque Pontificis, veneranda solemnitas et devotionem nobis augeat et salutem. Per Dominum.

Ant. O Priest and Pontiff, and worker of virtuous deeds, good shepherd of thy people, pray for us to the Lord.

. The Lord loved him and adorned him.

. And hath clothed him with a robe of glory.

Let us Pray

Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that the venerable solemnity of blessed Sylvester thy Confessor and Bishop may improve our devotion, and strengthen in us the hopes of salvation. Through, etc.

Then Commemoration of Christmas Day, p.321.

But if the Sunday in the Octave be kept on December 31, Vespers are as above, except that the Antiphon to the Magnificat is Dum medium silentium, as on p.321; and commemorations are made of St Sylvester, as above, and of the Octave of Christmas, as on p. 321.

On this the sixth day since the Birth of our Emmanuel, let us consider how the Divine Infant lies in the Crib of a Stable, and is warmed by the breath of the Ox and the Ass, as Isaias had foretold: The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel hath not known me.[1] Thus does the great God enter that world which his own hands have created! The dwellings of men are refused him, for man has a hard heart for his God, and an indifference which is a real contempt. The only shelter he can find to be born in is a Stable; and that necessitates his coming into the world in the company of poor dumb brutes.

At all events, these animals are his own work. When he created the irrational world of living things, he subjected it, as the inferior part of creation, to man; and man was to ennoble it, by referring it to the Creator. When Adam sinned, this subjection, this harmony, was broken. The apostle teaches us that the brute creation is not insensible to the degradation thus forced upon it by sinful man.[2] It obeys him with reluctance; it not infrequently rebels against and deservedly punishes him; and on the day of judgement it will take the side of its Creator, and avenge itself of that wickedness of which man has made it the unwilling instrument.[3]

In the mystery of his Birth, the Son of God visits this part of his creation; men refused to receive him, and he accepts the hospitality of the dwelling of brutes. It is from their dwelling that he begins the divine career of the three and thirty years. The first human beings he invites into the company of his blessed Mother and his dear St Joseph, the first he admits into the Stable to see and adore himself, are shepherds, who were busy watching their flocks, and whose simple hearts have not been corrupted by the atmosphere of cities.

The Ox—which, as we learn from Ezechiel[4] and St John,[5] is one of the symbolic creatures standing round God’s throne—is the figure of the sacrifices of the Old Law. The blood of oxen has flowed in torrents upon the altar of the Temple: it was the imperfect and material offering prescribed to be made to God, until he should send the true Victim. The Infant Jesus, who lies in the Crib, is that Victim, and St Paul tells us what he says to his Eternal Father: Sacrifices and Oblations and Holocausts for sin thou wouldst not have, neither are they pleasing to thee; behold, I come![6]

The Prophet Zachary,[7] foretelling the peaceful triumph of the Meek King, says that he will make his entry into Sion riding upon an Ass. We shall assist, further on in the year, at the accomplishment of this prophecy. Now that we are at Bethlehem, in our Christmas mystery, let us observe how the heavenly Father places his Divine Son between the instrument of his peaceful triumph and the symbol of his Sacrifice on Calvary.

Ah! dear Jesus! Creator of heaven and earth! how strange is this thy entrance into thine own world! The whole universe should have given thee a welcome of love and adoration: and yet what motionless indifference! Not one house to take thee in! Men buried in sleep! And when Mary had placed thee in the Crib, thy first sight was that of two poor animals, the slaves of him who proudly rejected thee! Yet this sight did not displease thee, for thou dost not despise the work of thy hands. What afflicts thy loving Heart is the presence of sin in our souls, the sight of that enemy of thine which has so often caused thee to suffer. Oh! hateful sin! we renounce it, and wish, dear Jesus, to acknowledge thee for our Lord and Master, at did the Ox and the Ass. We will unite in that hymn of praise which creation is ever sending up to thee, by henceforth adding to it the homage of our adoration and gratitude; nay, we will lend speech to nature, and give it soul, and sanctify it, by referring all creatures to thy service.

The following Prose is the composition of Adam of St Victor, and is one of the most mystical of the Sequences in the Missals of the Middle Ages. It will serve us as a further tribute of praise to the Divine Infant.


Splendor Patris et figura,
Se conformans homini,

Potestate, non natura, Partum dedit virgini.

Adam vetus,
Tandem lætus,
Novum promat canticum;

Et captivus,
Prodeat in publicum.

Eva luctum,
Vitae fructum
Virgo gaudens edidit.

Nec sigillum
Propter illum
Castitatis perdidit.

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

Nec crystallus rumpitur,
Nec in partu solvitur
Pudoris signaculum.

Super tali genitura
Stupet usus et natura,
Deficitque ratio.

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

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

Fert cœlestem
Vellus rorem,
Creatura creatorem,
Creaturæ pretium.

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

Frons est Christus,
Flos, dulcore;
Nux, pascendo:
Ros, cœlesti gratia.

Cur quod Virgo peperit
Est Judæis scandalum,
Cum virga produxerit
Sicca sic amygdalum?

Contemplemur adhuc nucem:
Nam prolata nux in lucem
Lucis est mysterium.

Trinam gerens unionem,
Tria confert, unctionem,
Lumen et edulium.

Nux est Christus; cortex nucis,
Circa carnem pæna crucis,
Testa, corpus osseum.

Carne tecta deitas,
Et Christi suavitas
Signatur per nucleum.

Lux est cæcis, et unguentum
Christus ægris, et fomentum
Piis animalibus.

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

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

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

He that is the brightness of the Father, and his figure,
taking to himself the likeness and nature of man,

Gave fruitfulness to the Virgin, who became Mother not by nature, but by his divine power.

The old Adam
is at length made glad,
and may sing a new canticle;

And he that was a fugitive
and captive
may now come before the world.

Eve brought forth sadness to mankind;
Mary, the glad Virgin,
brought forth the Fruit of Life.

Neither did she
thereby lose
the treasure of virginity.

Hold a dew-wet crystal
up to the sun;
the spark glitters through,

Yet breaks not the crystal;
so in the Birth of Jesus,
it injured naught of the Mother's purity.

Law and Nature stood wondering
at that divine Birth,
and reason was confounded.

Yea, the Birth of Christ
is an ineffable mystery
—so full of love, and so humble!

Aaron's sapless branch
yields leaf and flower and almond:
so does the chaste Virgin her Child, the Son of God.

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

The leaf and flower,
the almond and the dew,
are mystic emblems
of our Saviour’s love.

Jesus is the leaf
that shades us;
the sweet flower that regales us;
the almond-nut that feeds us;
the dew that waters us with heavenly grace.

Why is it that the Virgin’s delivery
should be a stumbling-block to the Jews?
Have they forgotten the dry branch of Aaron,
how it bore the almonds?

Let us once more contemplate the almond-nut;
for, viewed in its true light,
it is the mystic emblem of him that is the Light.

It unites in itself three things,
and all three it gives to man:
unction, light and food.

Jesus is the almond-nut. The rind is the cross and passion
he endured in the Flesh:
the shell is his Body—his Flesh and Bones.

The Divinity and the sweetness of Jesus,
which are sheathed within the Flesh,
are figured by the kernel.

Jesus is Light to the blind,
and unction to the sick,
and soothing to holy souls.

O how sweet a Sacrament!
He changes his Flesh, that lies as hay in the manger,
into the Wheat of the elect.

Give us, O Jesus! whom thou now feedest with thyself under the Sacramental veils,
to be satiated
with the sight of thy holy Face in heaven.

O Brightness of the Father, co-eternal with him!
take us hence to the joys
of thy Father's glory.


We borrow from the Syrian Church the following stanzas of one of its hymns, written by her sublime poet, St Ephrem the Deacon of Edessa.


Quis sciret quonam tuam, Domine, Genitricem nomine appellare deberet, nemo fuit: Virginemne diceret? at ejus in oculis omnium prostabat natus: Nuptamne affirmaret? at ad ejus nuptias neminem pervenisse certum erat.

Jam si Matrem tuam mente intelligentiaque assequi nemo potest, quis te attingere se posse credat? Mater tua Maria sola est, si solam cogito, alioquin soror, si cum reliquis confundo feminis.

Facta tibi Mater est, et in communi sanctarum feminarum choro soror quoque et sponsa: video ut omnibus illam decorasti modis, o matris tuæ decus.

Sponsa tibi data est, antequam venires; venisti, teque concepit, et hoc supra naturam, sicut et illud quod te peperit, et Virgo permansit.

Omnium nuptarum praerogativas habuit Maria: citra viri operam viscera prole, lacte implevit ubera; te jubente, statim fons lacteus erupit e terra sitiente.

Aspectu illo tuo magno recreata Mater te gestat, nec tamen ipso gravatur onere; cibum ministrat esurire volenti, porrigit poculum tibi ipsi ultro scienti sitim. Si illi amplexari te licuit, tua istud præstitit benignitas, prunam ardentem, ne pectus ejus exureret, attemperans.

By what name, O Lord Jesus! shall we call Mary thy Mother? A Virgin? Yet all eyes are on thee, her Son. Must we call her a Spouse? Yet we know she was not such as men would call a Spouse.

And now if thy Mother exceed the mind and understanding of all men; who shall think himself able to reach thee, O Jesus? Mary is thy Mother, if I think of her as she stands alone: if I think of her in what she has in common with other women, she is thy Sister.

Yea, she was made thy Mother; and she is, too, thy Sister and thy Spouse, in the company of other holy women. How truly art thou thy Mother's glory, who hast given her every kind of glory!

She was thy Spouse before thou camest into the world; and when thou didst come, she conceived thee in a supernatural way, and in the same did she give birth to thee, herself remaining a pure Virgin.

Mary had the prerogatives of other mothers, without their humiliations. She conceived thee, but was a Virgin; she fed thee at her breasts, but was a Virgin. It was thy bidding, O Jesus! and at once the purest Virgin was the perfect Mother

She carries thee in her arms, and refreshed with the lovely sight of her Jesus, she feels no weight. She gives thee food, for thou didst will to hunger; she gives thee drink, for thou didst will to thirst. And when she willed to press thee to her heart, thy love did temper down the burning fire of thine infinite perfection, that she might fondle thee and live.

[1] Isa. i 3.

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

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Hac nocte præcelsa Intonuit et Gloria In voce angelica.

Fulserunt immania, Nocte media, Pastoribus lumina.

Dum fovent sua pecora, Subito divina Percipiunt monita:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dazzling light shone at midnight on the Shepherds.

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

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

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

The enemy’s intolerable cruelty is crushed.

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

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

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

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


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


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

Ad antiquam originem
Redit homo per Virginem.

Virgo Deum est enixa,
Unde vetus perit rixa:

Perit vetus discordia,
Succedit pax et gloria.

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

Tunc vile celat stabulum
Cœlestis escæ pabulum.

Nutrit virgo creatorem,
Ex se factum Redemptorem.

Latet in pueritia
Divina Sapientia.

Lac stillant matris ubera,
Lac fundunt nati viscera,

Dum gratiæ dulcedinem
Per assumptum dat hominem.

Ergo dulci melodia
Personemus, o Maria,

Religiosis vocibus,
Et clamosis affectibus.

Salve, Virgo benedicta,
Quæ fugasti maledicta.

Salve, Mater Altissimi,
Agni Sponsa mitissimi.

Tu serpentem evicisti,
Cujus caput contrivisti,

Cum Deus ex te genitus
Ejus fuit interitus.

Tu cœlorum Imperatrix,
Tu terrarum reparatrix,

Ad quam suspirant homines,
Quam nequam tremunt dœmones.

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

Virginitatis lilium,
Et rosa per martyrium:

Hortus clausus, fons hortorum,
Sordes lavans peccatorum.

Inquinatos purificans;
Et mortuos vivificans.

Dominatrix Angelorum,
Spes, post Deum, sæculorum.

Regis reclinatorium
Et deitatis solium.

Stella fulgens Orientis,
Umbras fugans Occidentis,

Aurora solis prævia,
Et dies noctis nescia.

Parens nostri tu Parentis,
Et genitrix nos gignentis.

Piæ matris fiducia,
Natos Patri concilia.

Ora Mater Deum natum,
Nostrum solvat ut reatum,

Et post concessam veniam,
Det gratiam et gloriam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divine Wisdom
lay hid in childhood.

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

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

Therefore let our sweetest music
give our Ave Maria

In sacred words,
and with speaking hearts.

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

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

Thou didst conquer the serpent,
and crush his head,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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