Saturday, 26 March 2016

The Traditional Vigil of Easter – Part 2: From the Blessing of the Font to the Vigil Mass; General Conclusion

The Harrowing of Hell

(Continued from Part 1.)

Following the twelve prophecies, in the traditional rite, the baptismal water is blessed in the font. There is much significance to the baptismal character of Easter, as indicated already in the twelve lessons. Baptism is a spiritual regeneration, a resurrection, a rising from the dead. Christ's resurrection is the source of the baptismal efficacy. With Christ we too rise from a spiritual death. After He died, He descended into hell to draw into eternal life the fathers of the old covenant who waited there. The catechumens who are traditionally baptized today symbolize these fathers, and the conferring baptism parallels the resurrection of their souls from the death of hell. 

The blessing of the font is one liturgical event in which the architecture of the church building bears much symbolic importance. Traditionally, the baptismal font is placed in a room, called the baptistery, near the entrance of the church, to symbolize that baptism is the sacred initiation or entrance into the Church itself, the beginning of membership among the sacred people who constitute the mystical Body of Christ. The baptistery itself was in the shape of an octagon, to signify baptism as the representation of the eighth day of creation, a day which signifies the renewal of creation, and hence the renewal of life itself – resurrection. In the Old Testament, circumcision occurred on the eighth day after the child’s birth. Jewish liturgical celebrations were often extended over eight days. God Himself rested on the seventh, a fact which implicitly contains the truth that the eighth is when the cycle of creation begins anew, but in a higher and more perfect way. Christ Himself rested in the sepulcher on the seventh day of the week, and rose on the next day. This symbolism of the number eight deeply penetrates the entire structure of the traditional liturgy, and has been lost in other areas besides Holy Week; hence it is a subject of its own. But it is especially relevant tonight, on the vigil of Easter, which is the first and foremost celebration of the Eighth Day: new life, new creation, regeneration, and resurrection, all of which take a certain form in baptism.

Since the blessing of the font occurs in the baptistery, the clergy must process from the sanctuary to the back of the church, and the faithful follow them. This procession is accompanied by the chanting of Psalm 41, the Sicut Cervus, famously set to polyphony by Giovanni Palestrina. This chant has a ritual and symbolic function: those who process towards the font of baptism, particularly if they be catechumens, are like the deer who longs for the fountain of living water; and they express this longing in the sacred chant. The blessing of the font then occurs, followed by the administration of the sacrament of baptism. Then all return to the main part of the church, whilst singing the Litany of the Saints, who make up the body of Christ’s Church, to signify the welcoming of the newly christened by the holy people of God.

This sequence of the ritual has likewise been heavily changed in the reform of 1955, in a manner that is often symbolically and ritually unintelligible. First, I would argue that it is itself an element of the current liturgical crisis that the symbolism of architecture is heavily reduced. Traditionally, the church space is just as much a part of the liturgy as any other element. Few churches now retain the octagonal baptistery at the entrance of the church, which is but one example of the current lack of appreciation for liturgical symbolism. Secondly, in the reform of the specific ritual for the Easter vigil, this symbolism has been distorted even more inexcusably by several changes: the blessing of the baptismal water occurs, not in a font, but in a bucket that is placed, not in the back of the church, but in the sanctuary. This has the result that even the unbaptized may enter the Holy of Holies itself, a privilege not traditionally granted even to the baptized laity. Thus, the symbolism of baptism as the entrance into the Church is gone. After any baptisms have been conferred, there is a rite, wholly novel, of the renewal of baptismal promises, preceded by an exhortation that is stylistically incongruent with the traditional Roman rite. The idea of a renewal of baptismal promises is itself theologically dubious, to say the least, and introduces a man-centeredness that distracts from the authentic focus of worship. This is followed by a communal praying of the Lord’s prayer, which is traditionally prayed by the celebrant alone until the final phrase, sed libera nos a malo. This prayer too is preceded by an exhortation that is stylistically inappropriate, and bears the marks of modern sentimentality rather than traditional piety. A focus on the community acting together has been introduced where previously the focus was entirely on the liturgical action itself. Further, the Litany of the Saints has been split into two parts, the first sung before the blessing of the baptismal bucket, and the second afterwards – an interruption that is unjustified in itself, and is moreover unintelligible from a symbolic point of view. Further still, the Sicut Cervus is sung after the blessing and baptisms, whilst the newly blessed baptismal water is carried to the actual font, wherever that is located. The symbolism of this sacred text has thus been altered: the text speaks of one who thirsts for the water of baptism which he has not yet received; and yet, when it is sung, the baptisms have already been conferred, and this text is no longer relevant to the actual ritual. It is now merely decorative, much like the Exsultet earlier.

Following these rituals, in both the old and the new rites, the mass of the vigil is celebrated. As mentioned earlier, the time of the mass in the new rite differs from the traditional time of its celebration and its character as anticipation – i.e. not a "first mass of Easter Sunday." Traditionally, the mass was not even the most important part of the vigil, symbolically. The traditional vigil mass was only a partial celebration of Easter, since it reintroduces some of the liturgical signs of joy, but in a restrained fashion. This was in accord with its time of celebration, which was just before Vespers, on the evening of Holy Saturday, near sunset. Thus, in place of a Communion antiphon there was sung an abbreviated form of Vespers. This means that later in the night, in the traditional office, the sacred hour of Matins of Easter would be sung, followed by Lauds. As Matins is the most important hour of the divine office, and tonight is the most important night of the year, it was crucial that these be sung as the formal beginning of the celebration of Easter itself. But in the reform of 1955, tonight's Matins has been entirely lost, due perhaps to a dubious historical opinion that the twelve prophecies constituted a kind of Matins and that tonight's mass belonged properly to Easter Sunday itself. This opinion is long outdated, and clashes with the very character of the vigil liturgy. Hence, at the end of the mass, instead of Vespers there is sung an abbreviated Lauds, which itself falls far short of the traditional Lauds. This had at least two notable effects: first, the ritual character of the Easter vigil mass, which is still that of an incomplete celebration of the resurrection, is now simply incongruent with its celebration as a first mass of Easter Sunday itself. Secondly, the most important hour of the office, namely Matins, is now in fact nonexistent for the most important night of the entire year. This is perhaps one of the worst aspects of the new Holy Week, especially if one takes the very plausible interpretation that it was precisely at the hours of Matins and Lauds that the Church traditionally understood the Resurrection itself to take place. In short, the upgrade of the vigil mass to a first mass of Easter Sunday has yielded nothing but liturgical incongruity, and has rid us moreover of the most important moment of the entire liturgical cycle.

Some concluding remarks: The foregoing account which I have given, as lengthy as it is, is by no means a complete or adequate treatment. Much more could be said in depth concerning the loss of symbolism and theological significance in the new rite. I will simply state some of the most important things here, in a general way. The mystery of Easter is in many ways the most complete and all-encompassing mystery of the Christian faith and its liturgical expression. The Resurrection of Christ is the defining moment in the history of salvation and man’s relation to God. On Palm Sunday, we saw a figure of Christ throwing open the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem by the power of the cross, hailed by palm and olive branches; and we beheld a figure of ourselves following Him into Jerusalem by participation in the triumph of His death. On Good Friday, the mystery of Christ’s death actually takes place (probably next year I will write about Good Friday). The flipside of that mystery is the Resurrection, which completes Christ’s triumph by the cross. He has conquered death and come to life again, never again to be submitted to the pains of death. In order to follow Him into the New Jerusalem, we must share in His winning eternal life, eternal victory over death. We must therefore share not only in His death by the cross, but also His resurrection from the tomb. This we do first by the sacrament of baptism, by which we are immersed, “buried,” with Christ, and rise again with new life, the life of God – a new creation, the realization of the eighth day. But this first resurrection is continued as we take advantage of its fruits by living out the Christian mystery into which it has initiated us; and this we do especially by the liturgy itself, which seems to offer us this day the very means of participation in the mystery through the sacred symbols, which are an extension of the sacraments. The symbolism of light in the New Fire and the Paschal Candle, the many layers of symbolism contained in the sacred texts of the Prophecies, and the symbolism of water and baptism in the blessing of the font, the placing of the font in the architectural setting, etc. - all of these point, in all their details, to the mystery of Resurrection in the myriad ways through which it manifests itself in God’s revelation. The liturgy itself seems to proclaim to us: “See! Here is the Resurrection of Christ, which is also your resurrection, presented before you so that you may take hold of it for yourself, and participate in it, so that you might become gods through Christ, the God-Man!” The drastic reduction and distortion of this symbolism has the effect of diminishing that very participation to which the traditional rite exhorted us, since we can no longer see in the sacred rituals the meaning of those symbols; and our contemplation of the sacred mysteries is thereby impaired.

The liturgical heritage of the Church is not merely a thing of sentimental nostalgic value, but is the most precious element of our religion, the sacred means of God’s worship and of our deification, which God Himself has bequeathed to us through tradition. Therefore the liturgy is something which we must preserve according to its tradition, and not reinvent according to our own fancies, lest we hinder our own sanctification by a kind of liturgical Pelagianism. Liturgical symbolism is not merely a poetic pleasantry to accompany our acts of piety; rather, it is itself the means whereby we encounter God in His mysteries - an encounter which is indispensable for the transformation of our souls, and for the true worship of God, who reveals Himself to us only in His mysteries.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The Traditional Vigil of Easter – Part 1: From the Lucernarium to the Prophecies

Last year, I wrote an article (reposted this year) touching on certain aspects of the ancient rite of Palm Sunday, prior to the changes made in 1955 under Pope Pius XII. In that post, we saw that the reform abandoned a large amount of symbolic text and ritual, so that much of the liturgical significance of Palm Sunday was lost. The resulting liturgy, which is contained in the 1962 missal, was one largely devoid of the traditional biblical typology, and the symbolism which demonstrated the continuity and harmony between the various moments of the history of salvation. The contemplative participation in the mystery of this day is consequently radically impaired: the symbolism that once offered us the medium of such participation has been destroyed.

This year, I have decided to devote two posts to the rites of Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil, of which much the same could be said as of Palm Sunday, perhaps even to a greater degree. The Easter Vigil is one of the most well-loved liturgies of the whole year among pious Catholics, yet little is known of its actual history, and of the far-surpassing grandeur of the ancient rite. The ancient rite conveys the sense that the liturgy is a means of actually revisiting the mysteries of our faith, and not merely thinking about them piously. In the liturgy, God is present to us in a real way through His mystery, which are made available for our participation, so that we might be united to God through the mediation of the Incarnate Word, in whom God is united perfectly to man. This sense is especially present in the rites of Holy Week. A good deal of this sense was lost in the ritual reforms of Pius XII. Hopefully this will become clear in what follows.


Much controversy exists among historians regarding the time of celebration for the Easter Vigil. Whatever the specific disagreements, this much is clear: the mass of the Easter vigil was never, until the mid twentieth century, a first mass of Easter Sunday itself. There was never a midnight mass like that of Christmas. Indeed, the structure and character of the Easter vigil mass is one which is only partially a celebration of our Lord’s resurrection, and not the full celebration. There are various interpretations of this fact. Some compare this liturgical phenomenon to the biblical narrative, in which Christ, after He rose, nonetheless did not reveal Himself immediately to His disciples, but remained hidden for awhile. Hence, in the liturgy the resurrection is fully celebrated, not at the vigil Mass, but during the day on Sunday itself. Another interpretation is that the vigil liturgy, rather than celebrating the resurrection, anticipates it. Thus, though Christ is not yet risen, the Church joyfully anticipates His resurrection by a mass that is in some parts joyful and in other parts incomplete, to signify that the Church does not yet celebrate, but merely awaits that most sacred event. The moment of the resurrection itself occurs at midnight, at the celebration of Easter Matins and Lauds – the first of which has been eliminated in the 1955 rite, thus doing away with the most important hour of the office on the most important day of the year. Whichever interpretation one takes, the fact is that the vigil mass was always just that – a vigil, i.e. a waiting for the actual celebration, and not the full celebration itself. The modern notion of a vigil mass which is an early celebration of the mass of the day is a complete novelty. This means that, normally, the vigil mass would not have occurred deep in the night, around midnight, but earlier in the night, just after sunset. In actual fact, for pastoral reasons (which some have also interpreted symbolically), it often occurred during the day on Holy Saturday, since vespers was commonly sung earlier during Lent. But the normal time, as indicated by the liturgical texts themselves, is at night – but decidedly not at midnight, as an early mass of Easter Sunday.

So much for the time of the Easter Vigil. Greater changes occurred in 1955 in the actual ritual itself, which had the effect of destroying the profound symbolism that was contained in the traditional rites. Without going into absolutely all of the details, I will now attempt to provide a summary of the most important changes.

The vigil of Holy Saturday begins, in both the old and new rites, outside the Church with the blessing of the New Fire, or the Lucernarium. In the traditional rite, there are three prayers for the blessing of the fire, all of which make reference to a certain aspect of the symbolism of the fire. The first refers to the lighting of the fire by flint, with an allusion to Christ the cornerstone, Who lights our hearts on fire with divine splendor; and it prays that our hearts will be inflamed with heavenly desire during the Paschal season, so that we may enter into eternity with solemnity. The second prayer contains some of the same references, but speaking also of the light of the world and the pillar of fire which guided Moses towards the promised land; and it prays that we too might be led by this light towards the heavenly land promised to us. The third prayer invokes again the name of the Son, as well as the Holy Spirit, begging that the divine light of grace may strengthen us against the fiery darts of the enemy. The second and third prayers are no longer existent in the 1955 rite; thus, the typological reference to Moses and the pillar of flame no longer appears, nor the prayer for opposition of the divine to the demonic fire.

In the old rite, these prayers are followed by a fourth prayer for the blessing of the five grains of incense, which are to be inserted later into the Paschal candle. After praying this prayer, the priest sprinkles both the fire and the grains of incense with holy water and incenses them with the thurible. Then all process into a darkened Church following the deacon, who carries a tall reed with a triple-branched candle. Each branch is lit from the New Fire successively as the procession moves closer toward the sanctuary, each time accompanied by a genuflection and the singing of the Lumen Christi. In the sanctuary, the Paschal candle itself is placed in a pillar next to the ambo. Once reaching the sanctuary, the magnificent rite of lighting the Paschal candle now occurs to the singing of the beautiful text of the Exsultet by the deacon. This whole rite – the procession of the triple candle, from which the Paschal candle is lit – symbolizes the Resurrection as the work of the Holy Trinity. The Exsultet is a part of the ritual of lighting the candle. At the words “Therefore on this sacred night, O Holy Father, receive the evening sacrifice of this incense,” the five grains of incense are inserted into the candle. At the words, “And now we know the excellence of this pillar, which the bright fire lights for the honor of God,” the candle itself is lit. And then, at “O truly blessed night,” the whole Church, which up to this point has been in darkness, is bathed in light. The Exsultet is thus not merely a text or a song, but a ritual.

The Paschal candle is lit from the triple candle, with the FSSP in Rome.

This whole ritual, from the blessing of the fire to the Exsultet, has been radically changed, even mutilated, in the rite of Pius XII. The five grains are no longer blessed along with the fire; instead, they are inserted into the Paschal candle, which is then lit, still outside the Church, according to a ritual that is wholly novel and invented – and which has always struck me as awkward and disjointed in character. The Paschal candle itself is then carried into the Church, with the three genuflections and the Lumen Christi, which thus no longer correspond to the threefold ignition of the triple-candle, since it has been eliminated. Thus the Trinitarian symbolism of the Resurrection has been obscured – a symbolism which is fundamental to the entire Christian mystery and its universal liturgical expression – and the triple Lumen Christi has no actual liturgical function. The Paschal candle, already lit, is then placed in the center of the sanctuary, rather than next to the ambo. This is a strange departure from constant universal tradition, in which all the liturgical symbolism revolves around that of the altar itself, whose centrality is never displaced. Moreover, since the candle is already lit, the symbolic and ritual function of the Exsultet is no longer existent, and the singing of that sacred text likewise no longer has any reason to exist, except as a text. This reflects a general trend in the 20th century reforms, which suppressed much of the ancient symbolism and ritual, and reduced the liturgy to a mere text; or else sought to invent an arbitrary ritual with no basis in traditional symbolic modes of expression. The lack of ritual in the Exsultet is an especially disturbing loss, since the traditional rite of lighting the Paschal candle was perhaps one of the greatest highlights of the liturgical year, and now the connection of the text to the ritual action has been entirely lost: no longer are the grains of incense inserted at the words which indicate so; no longer is the candle itself lit when the texts refers to this action; and no longer is the darkness of the Church enlightened at the words which refer to the blessedness of this sacred night, which is illumined by the Resurrection.

In both rites, the singing of the Exsultet is followed by the chanting of the prophecies. In the traditional rite, there are twelve prophecies read, each of them prefiguring some aspect of the Resurrection. Some of the most beautiful and most profound texts of the entire Old Testament are sung in this rite, in which a complete picture of the history of salvation is typologically and symbolically portrayed, as it culminates in the Resurrection. In the new rite of 1955, only four of these twelve prophecies remain. Among those suppressed are some of the most vivid symbolic depictions and prophecies of some aspect of the Resurrection contained in the Old Testament: the tale of Noah and the Ark (Genesis 5, 31; 8, 21), the sacrifice of Abraham (Genesis 22, 1-19), a prophetic image of baptism and restoration (Isaiah 54, 17-55, 11), a discourse in praise of the light of wisdom (Baruch 3, 9-38), the valley of the dry bones (Ezekiel 12, 1-14), the Paschal lamb (Exodus 12,1-12), a discourse on penance (Jonah 3, 1-10), and the tale of the three young men in the furnace (Daniel 3, 1-24). This heavy elimination of scriptural texts is somewhat ironic, given the purported intention of the 20th century reformers to expand the quantity of scripture contained in the liturgy. In any case, a substantial body of symbolic content was lost with the suppression of these texts, with a result similar to that of the reform of Palm Sunday: no longer does the liturgy offer to us so vivid a picture of the Resurrection, as it is presented to us figuratively in the Old Testament, fulfilled in the New, and participated in by God’s people – us, the worshipers – unto life everlasting. This participation occurs principally through the sacraments, especially baptism, but also through the liturgical living out of the fruits of baptism by the celebration of the Resurrection itself, which is the archetype of baptism (new life, regeneration, etc).

(To be continued.)

Sunday, 20 March 2016

On the Traditional Rite of Palm Sunday (Repost)

Many traditionalists are not aware of the extensive reforms to the liturgy of Holy Week which were carried out under the pontificate of Pope Pius XII. Most traditionalists who are aware of those reforms are of the opinion that they were either insignificant or could not be compared to the later reforms which followed the Second Vatican Council. Traditionalists associated with the SSPX generally have this view. However, I myself have come to the opinion that the reforms of Pius XII formed a definite precedent to those of Paul VI - nay, the process of reform which produced the Novus Ordo actually began by Pius XII and was continued by Paul VI. This is evident first from history, but also in the effects which these reforms had on the rites themselves. I think it would not be a stretch to say that the essential problems with the Novus Ordo also exist in the reformed Holy Week of Pius XII, which is found in the 1962 Missal. But most traditionalists will be very reluctant to accept this, due to a variety of factors - an attachment to the person of Pope Pius XII, an attachment to the person of Marcel Lefebvre, an urge to attribute all of our problems to Vatican II (which I have criticized here), and ultimately a misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of the liturgy in general.

I do not have the time or space just yet to devote to any detailed study of the reforms; others have done so before me, in some degree or another. But I would like to say a few things in this post about the reform of Palm Sunday. Prior to 1955, the rite for Palm Sunday was much more elaborate than it is in the 1962 Missal, and it was simply filled with theological and symbolical content pertaining to the mysteries of this entire week. The greatest changes occurred in the ceremonies prior to the Mass, in the rite for the blessing of the palms and the procession of the cross. The rite of blessing was closely structured after the order of Mass itself, with an Introit, Collect, Epistle, Gradual, Gospel, another collect corresponding to the Secret, a Preface and Sanctus, a kind of "Canon" for the rite of blessing, the distribution of the palms (corresponding to communion), and a final collect corresponding to the Postcommunion. This structure was completely lost in the reform of 1955.

The texts of these prayers and readings contained a vast amount of symbolic meaning, to put the mind in the frame of thought for contemplation of the sacred mysteries. The liturgy for this day provides a complete theological interpretation of Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, which is a figure of His triumph over sin and death, to be definitively accomplished by His death and resurrection in just a few days. The Christian people participate in this victory of Christ, entering with Him into the eternal Jerusalem. The first Collect is an expression of hope, enabled by Christ's death, and fulfilled by His resurrection, which is also our own. The liturgy of today thus begins showing its focus to be profoundly eschatological, a symbol of our entrance into heaven with Christ. The story of salvation is prefigured by events in the Old Testament, brought to our attention today. The text of the Epistle is from the book of Exodus, chapters 15 and 16, which recounts the story of the Israelites after they had triumphantly emerged from the bondage of Egypt. "In those days, the children of Israel came unto Elim, where there were twelve fountains of water, and seventy palm-trees; and they encamped by the waters..." The Israelites, led by Moses and Aaron, are the figure of the people who are saved in Christ, through His own triumph over the bondage of sin. They also prefigure the Jews who welcomed Christ into Jerusalem with palm branches. Moreover, "all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. And the children of Israel said to them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat over the flesh-pots, and ate bread to the full. Why have you brought us into this desert, that you might destroy all the multitude with famine?" Just as these Israelites here rebelled against Moses and Aaron, their leaders, so would the Jews rebel against Christ and crucify Him, whom they had first welcomed as their King. In response to the complaints of the Israelites, "the Lord said to Moses, Behold I will rain bread from heaven for you." Likewise, God would give to His people the Bread of Life, come down from heaven, Christ Himself, who would be offered as a sacrifice and consumed by His people for their sanctification. The mystery of Christ's sacrifice will be celebrated in a special way on Holy Thursday, the feast of the Institution of the Eucharist, and in an even greater way on Good Friday, the celebration of the sacrifice itself. This text thus shows itself essential to understanding the mystery of Palm Sunday in the Roman tradition. It also introduces an unmistakable connection to the Eucharist, which is so integral to the mystery of Holy Week as a whole.

Another text in the rite, after the Gospel, introduces another instance of Old Testament typology alongside that recounted in the Epistle, namely the story of Noah and the flood. This prayer, corresponding in position to the Secret of the Mass, explicitly refers to both the stories Noah and Moses as antetypes of present realities: "Let these branches, whether of palm or of olive, be blessed +, and, as in the antetype of the Church, Thou didst multiply Noe, when he went forth from the ark, and Moses, when he went out of Egypt with the children of Israel, so may we, who bear palms and olive branches, go forth with good works to meet Christ, and, through Him, may we enter into everlasting joy."  This prayer shows us that through our participation in the liturgy of today, we mystically enter into the events of Palm Sunday and everything they represent, that we might be saved by our union with Christ. The relevance of the story of Noah is explicated more clearly in the proper rite of blessing - the "Canon" of the blessing of the palms - in the prayer Deus, qui per olivae. The text is as follows: "O God, Who didst appoint a dove to bring its message of peace to the earth by means of an olive branch, grant, we beseech Thee, that Thou mayest sanctify with heavenly benediction these branches of olive and of other trees, so that they may profit all Thy people unto salvation. Through Christ our Lord. Amen." The olive branch is thus a sign of the peace foreshadowed by the subsiding of the great flood, when the world had been cleansed of all sin, and Noah and his family could step out onto the "new earth" to begin a new life, which signifies eternal life itself. This eternal life is won for us by none other than Christ Himself and His triumph over death, which He announced upon His entry into Jerusalem. In the prayer immediately preceding, Deus, qui miro, we learn that "the palm branches, therefore, look to His triumph over the prince of death, but the sprigs of olive proclaim that in a certain manner the spiritual unction is already come."

All of the texts just cited were suppressed from the rite in 1955. The typology of Exodus no longer appears, nor the typology of Noah and the flood, nor the collects; likewise all but one of the prayers that constituted the "canon" of blessing have been abolished. Of these last there were originally six, all of which overflowed in eloquence and beauty, some which were even explicitly didactic in their manner of expression. Only the fifth of these prayers, Benedic, quaesumus, was retained, and it is placed near the very beginning of the rite. These texts could form the basis of a formulation of a treatise on liturgical theology and the nature of liturgical signs and symbolism, which so closely resembles the nature of the sacraments themselves. In fact, it is notable that the first of these prayers, Petimus, Domine, explicitly refers to the olive branches as a sacramentum, obviously the same word which refers to the seven sacraments. 
FSSP in Rome

In the traditional rite, the triumphant entry into Jerusalem is itself celebrated - or re-enacted - later in the rite in a supremely vivid manner, at the end of the procession of the cross which follows the distribution of the palms. After a long procession outside the church, accompanied by the singing of antiphons recalling the entry to Jerusalem, the clergy and faithful stop outside the doors of the church, which are now shut. A few cantors within the church alternate with the choir outside singing the hymn Gloria, Laus, et Honor, in acknowledgment of Christ's triumphal majesty. At the end of this hymn, the subdeacon who has been carrying the cross strikes the doors of the church with the staff, and the doors are opened, clearly signifying Christ's opening the gates of the New Jerusalem by His death upon the cross, which was foreshadowed by His entry into the earthly Jerusalem. This profoundly vivid rite too is no longer contained in the liturgy of Palm Sunday after the reforms of 1955. 

Following the procession, the actual Mass of Palm Sunday begins. Traditionally, the recitation of the Passion, from St. Matthew, included in it the account of the institution of the Eucharist. The same is true for the Passion readings on Spy Wednesday and Good Friday. Again the essential connection of the mysteries of Holy Week to that of the Eucharist is thus made unmistakably clear. The entire Christian faith centers around the mystery of the Eucharist, which is the selfsame mystery as that of Christ's passion and death upon the cross - the culmination of Holy Week, and the ultimate source of meaning for every rite that is celebrated during this week. Hence it is eminently fitting that the account of the institution of the Eucharist be included in the Passion readings for these days. It is simply astonishing that the reform of Pope Pius XII removed these accounts from all of the Passion readings during Holy Week, with the result that not even once in the entire liturgical year do we hear the institution of the Eucharist recited. This is not an easily forgivable loss, to speak mildly. This connection to the Eucharist is also diminished in other aspects of the reform of Holy Week, specifically that of the Good Friday "Mass of the Pre-Sanctified." This rite also strongly paralleled the rite of an actual Mass, in such a way that made abundantly clear that those rites were the re-presentation and re-visitation of the sacrifice of Christ, albeit the consecration of the host does not take place that day. This rite too was quite destroyed in 1955.

The effect of all of these changes is that the rites no longer foster in so perfect a degree the contemplation of and participation in the mysteries of Christ. There is no longer the strong awareness of our progression with the triumphant Christ towards the heavenly Jerusalem, fostered by the typological and symbolical content which permeated the ancient rite. The traditional liturgy revealed itself to be the means by which we unite ourselves with Christ in all His mysteries, so that we might be united ultimately to His divinity in heaven through contemplation. This purpose is no longer clear in the new rites. The same effect would later result from the changes that followed the Second Vatican Council. Most traditionalists evaluate the post-conciliar reforms merely on the basis of their doctrinal clarity (or orthodoxy) or lack thereof. The standard argument is that the Pauline reforms were an ecumenical attempt to make concessions in the liturgy to the false doctrines of Protestantism. There may well be truth to this argument. But I would strongly propose that it is only a small part of the story, and the damage done is greater than doctrinal ambiguity. Doctrinal expression is one means that the liturgy employs for the sake of contemplation; right doctrine is not an end in itself. Hence, doctrinal problems with the newer liturgies are not problems only because they appeal to Protestantism or any heresy, but even more importantly and primarily because they hinder the contemplative end of the liturgy. Doctrine alone is not enough to sanctify and save man; he must go further and be united to God in loving contemplation. Moreover, this end, contemplation, may be hindered or retarded even when one manages to persevere in right doctrine. Thomas Kempis, in the Imitation of Christ, famously wrote that theological knowledge of the Trinity is useless if one does not love and so please the Trinity. Contemplation, then, can fail to be achieved even while right doctrine is preserved; and this is why it is possible to say that the liturgy of Pius XII is quite simply bad liturgy, even if it contains no false or ambiguous doctrinal content, if indeed it does not. For in comparison to the traditional rites, these rites fail to attain the primary end and purpose for which the liturgy even exists, and hence, in this respect, they are just as bad as the Novus Ordo. 

This post has mainly only addressed the changes to Palm Sunday, and even so, only incompletely. Much more could be said about the novel elements introduced into the new rites, such as the points whereat the priest prays versus populum - something to become very popular after Vatican II - the abolition of the preface proclaiming the divine kingship, and other things. Moreover, the reforms of the rites for the Triduum, especially Friday and Saturday, were much greater than even those of Palm Sunday, and will have to be saved for a later treatment (maybe next year). Suffice it to say that they all had the same detrimental effect on liturgical contemplation, and hence formed a definite precedent and stepping stone to the Novus Ordo itself. In the meantime, for a detailed summary and analysis of the reform, I would recommend the excellent series written by Gregory DiPippo here. There is also this article by Fr. Steven Carusi, providing some valuable liturgical and theological commentary on the reform. Others, such as The Rad Trad, Rubricarius at St. Lawrence Press (search the relevant topics), and Fr. Hunwicke have also had some things to say about Holy Week on their own blogs. It is my hope that more mainstream traditionalists will grow more aware of these issues, and action be taken in parishes. There is already some serious restoration happening at one parish in New Jersey, as reported here by John R: at Mater Ecclesiae they will be celebrating the full pre-1955 Holy Week this year for the first time. Kudos to John R and his team of liturgists!

Monday, 7 March 2016

March 7 - Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas

Summa Theologiae, Secunda Secundae, Q. 180, A. 7. 
Whether there is delight in contemplation?

Objection 1. It would seem that there is no delight in contemplation. For delight belongs to the appetitive power; whereas contemplation resides chiefly in the intellect. Therefore it would seem that there is no delight in contemplation.

Objection 2. Further, all strife and struggle is a hindrance to delight. Now there is strife and struggle in contemplation. For Gregory says (Hom. xiv in Ezech.) that "when the soul strives to contemplate God, it is in a state of struggle; at one time it almost overcomes, because by understanding and feeling it tastes something of the incomprehensible light, and at another time it almost succumbs, because even while tasting, it fails." Therefore there is no delight in contemplation.

Objection 3. Further, delight is the result of a perfect operation, as stated in Ethic. x, 4. Now the contemplation of wayfarers is imperfect, according to (1 Corinthians 13:1)2, "We see now through a glass in a dark manner." Therefore seemingly there is no delight in the contemplative life.

Objection 4. Further, a lesion of the body is an obstacle to delight. Now contemplation causes a lesion of the body; wherefore it is stated (Genesis 32) that after Jacob had said (Genesis 32:30), "'I have seen God face to face' . . . he halted on his foot (Genesis 32:31) . . . because he touched the sinew of his thigh and it shrank" (Genesis 32:32). Therefore seemingly there is no delight in contemplation.

On the contrary, It is written of the contemplation of wisdom (Wisdom 8:1)6): "Her conversation hath no bitterness, nor her company any tediousness, but joy and gladness": and Gregory says (Hom. xiv in Ezech.) that "the contemplative life is sweetness exceedingly lovable."

I answer that, There may be delight in any particular contemplation in two ways. First by reason of the operation itself [Cf. I-II, 03, 5, because each individual delights in the operation which befits him according to his own nature or habit. Now contemplation of the truth befits a man according to his nature as a rational animal: the result being that "all men naturally desire to know," so that consequently they delight in the knowledge of truth. And more delightful still does this become to one who has the habit of wisdom and knowledge, the result of which is that he contemplates without difficulty. Secondly, contemplation may be delightful on the part of its object, in so far as one contemplates that which one loves; even as bodily vision gives pleasure, not only because to see is pleasurable in itself, but because one sees a person whom one loves. Since, then, the contemplative life consists chiefly in the contemplation of God, of which charity is the motive, as stated above (1 and 2, ad 1), it follows that there is delight in the contemplative life, not only by reason of the contemplation itself, but also by reason of the Divine love.

In both respects the delight thereof surpasses all human delight, both because spiritual delight is greater than carnal pleasure, as stated above (I-II, 31, 5), when we were treating of the passions, and because the love whereby God is loved out of charity surpasses all love. Hence it is written (Psalm 33:9): "O taste and see that the Lord is sweet."

Reply to Objection 1. Although the contemplative life consists chiefly in an act of the intellect, it has its beginning in the appetite, since it is through charity that one is urged to the contemplation of God. And since the end corresponds to the beginning, it follows that the term also and the end of the contemplative life has its being in the appetite, since one delights in seeing the object loved, and the very delight in the object seen arouses a yet greater love. Wherefore Gregory says (Hom. xiv in Ezech.) that "when we see one whom we love, we are so aflame as to love him more." And this is the ultimate perfection of the contemplative life, namely that the Divine truth be not only seen but also loved.

Reply to Objection 2. Strife or struggle arising from the opposition of an external thing, hinders delight in that thing. For a man delights not in a thing against which he strives: but in that for which he strives; when he has obtained it, other things being equal, he delights yet more: wherefore Augustine says (Confess. viii, 3) that "the more peril there was in the battle, the greater the joy in the triumph." But there is no strife or struggle in contemplation on the part of the truth which we contemplate, though there is on the part of our defective understanding and our corruptible body which drags us down to lower things, according to (Wisdom 9:15), "The corruptible body is a load upon the soul, and the earthly habitation presseth down the mind that museth upon many things." Hence it is that when man attains to the contemplation of truth, he loves it yet more, while he hates the more his own deficiency and the weight of his corruptible body, so as to say with the Apostle (Romans 7:2)4): "Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Wherefore Gregory say (Hom. xiv in Ezech.): "When God is once known by desire and understanding, He withers all carnal pleasure in us."

Reply to Objection 3. The contemplation of God in this life is imperfect in comparison with the contemplation in heaven; and in like manner the delight of the wayfarer's contemplation is imperfect as compared with the delight of contemplation in heaven, of which it is written (Psalm 35:9): "Thou shalt make them drink of the torrent of Thy pleasure." Yet, though the contemplation of Divine things which is to be had by wayfarers is imperfect, it is more delightful than all other contemplation however perfect, on account of the excellence of that which is contemplated. Hence the Philosopher says (De Part. Animal. i, 5): "We may happen to have our own little theories about those sublime beings and godlike substances, and though we grasp them but feebly, nevertheless so elevating is the knowledge that they give us more delight than any of those things that are round about us": and Gregory says in the same sense (Hom. xiv in Ezech.): "The contemplative life is sweetness exceedingly lovable; for it carries the soul away above itself, it opens heaven and discovers the spiritual world to the eyes of the mind."

Reply to Objection 4. After contemplation Jacob halted with one foot, "because we need to grow weak in the love of the world ere we wax strong in the love of God," as Gregory says (Hom. xiv in Ezech.). "Thus when we have known the sweetness of God, we have one foot sound while the other halts; since every one who halts on one foot leans only on that foot which is sound."

Saturday, 5 March 2016

St. Augustine - From Matins of Laetare Sunday

A homily of St. Augustine, taken from the Tridentine Breviary:
The miracles which our Lord Jesus Christ did were the very works of God, and they enlighten the mind of man by mean of things which are seen, that he may know more of God. God is Himself of such a Substance as eye cannot see, and the miracles, by the which He ruleth the whole world continually, and satisfieth the need of everything that He hath made, are by use become so common, that scarce any will vouchsafe to see that there are wonderful and amazing works of God in every grain of seed of grass. According to His mercy He kept some works to be done in their due season, but out of the common course and order of nature, that men might see them and be astonished, not because they are greater, but because they are rarer than those which they lightly esteem, since they see them day by day. Or it is a greater miracle to govern the whole universe, than to satisfy five thousand men with five loaves of bread; and yet no man marvelleth at it. At the feeding of the five thousand, men marvel, not because it is a greater miracle than the other, but because it is rarer. For Who is He Who now feedeth the whole world, but He Who, from a little grain that is sown, maketh the fulness of the harvest? God worketh in both cases in one and the same manner. He Who of the sowing maketh to come the harvest, is He Who of the five barley loaves in His Hands made bread to feed five thousand men; for Christ's are the Hands which are able to do both the one and the other. He Who multiplieth the grains of corn multiplied the loaves, only not by committing them to the earth whereof He is the Maker. This miracle, then, is brought to bear upon our bodies, that our souls may thereby be quickened; shown to our eyes, to give food to our understanding; that, through His works which we see, we may marvel at that God Whom we cannot see, and, being roused up to believe, and purified by believing, we may long to see Him, yea, may know by things which are seen Him Who is Unseen. Nor yet sufficeth it for us to see only this meaning in Christ's miracles. Let us ask of the miracles themselves what they have to tell us concerning Christ for, soothly, they have a tongue of their own, if only we will understand it. For, because Christ is the Word of God, therefore the work of the Word is a Word for us.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

On the Loss of Septuagesima (Repost)

"...Babylon, that city which plots our ruin..."

About a year ago, I wrote here on the problems with the post-conciliar abolition of the pre-Lenten season of Septuagesima. This season was traditionally a time of preparation for the coming season of Lent, during which we do penance for our sins, in mourning for the death of Christ which we ourselves have inflicted upon him. The three weeks prior to Lent, though not a season of obligatory penance, nonetheless serve to prepare Christian minds for the entrance into the strictly penitential season. While penances have not yet begun in this season, the penitential spirit now begins to take its place in the souls of the worshipers.

But there is also a profound symbolism connected with this season which was lost in the post-conciliar reform. The liturgical year repeatedly presents us with opportunities to consider the history of salvation insofar as it is effected through each of the mysteries celebrated.. One of the significant ways in which this is accomplished is by a renewal and repetition of the imagery of the seven days of creation. The fathers of the Church, based firmly in scriptural footing, understood the number seven to be fundamental for understanding all of human history as directed towards eternal salvation. The concept of the eighth day was accordingly understood as a sign of salvation itself. This concept of the eighth day is firmly rooted in scripture. Circumcision in the Old Testament, which prefigured Baptism, was accomplished on the eighth day by the command of God. The Resurrection of Christ occurred on the first day of the week - the day after the sabbath. The number eight thus signifies resurrection, new life, the renewal of creation, and so, ultimately, eternal salvation itself. The patristic tradition, exemplified by St. Augustine in The City of God, divides all of human history into seven ages. The seventh age, corresponding to the seventh day, signifies a final resting in God in this life, but not yet the eternal life of the beatific vision. This eternal life is the eighth day, a never ending day.

This numerological symbolism manifests itself liturgically in many ways, such as in the division of the traditional liturgical year into seven seasons: Advent, Christmas, Septuagesima, Lent, Passiontide, Easter, and Pentecost. Moreover, within this framework itself there are many other indications of the deep symbolism of the numbers seven and eight. A notable example is the celebration of octaves - eight day prolongations of the celebrations of certain feasts. Before the reforms of the 20th century, octaves were a common feature of the liturgical calendar. This symbolism also appears in the period between Easter and Pentecost. The number seven has many other significant meanings in the life of the Church (seven sacraments, seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, etc.), and could take a treatise all by itself.

It dawned on me when reading Dom Gueranger that the time comprising Septuagesima through Easter is another particular manifestation of this symbolism within the liturgical year. Septuagesima Sunday marks the seventieth day (7 x 10) before Easter itself. In this season we enter into a renewed commemoration of the mystery of salvation and its working through history. The word Septuagesima signifies the number seventy, in commemoration of the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity - itself a symbol of the captivity of man in sin. The Church adapts the symbolism of seventy years to the period of forty days plus the three weeks of Septuagesima - not an exact equality (it amounts to 63 days), but the essential idea of the numerological symbolism is preserved. Lent itself is also named Quadragesima. Hence, the period from Septuagesima symbolically constitutes a reverse countdown, so to speak, to Easter day, which marks the end of the seventy days. We are aware in a special way, during this time, of our captivity in sin, and the history of our salvation is presented for our contemplation in a specially vivid way. The collects of this period begin to remind us ever so poignantly of the darker realities of our fallen nature.

The Collect of Septuagesima Sunday:
The prayers of your people, we beseech you, O Lord, graciously hear, that we who are justly afflicted on account of our sins may be, for the sake of your name, mercifully set free.
The Collect of Sexagesima Sunday:
O God, who see that we trust in no deed of our own: mercifully grant that we may be defended against all hostile forces by the protection of the Doctor of the Gentiles. [There is a special devotion to St. Paul expressed in the liturgy of this day.]
The Collect of Quinquagesima Sunday (which is today):
Our prayers, we beseech you, O Lord, mercifully hear: and, when we have been freed from the fetters of our sins, protect us from every misfortune.
This rich theology and spirituality of the liturgy - with all its deep biblical and patristic symbolism of the seven days and their culmination in the eternal eighth - is quite lost in the liturgy of Pope Paul VI. The traditional symbolism of man's bondage in sin, from which he is freed by the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, and reborn into eternal life on the eighth day, is now quite botched and distorted. As a consequence, that continuous contemplation through the liturgical year, previously facilitated by the ancient liturgical tradition, is now crippled and maimed.

This is a classic example of where the rationalistic concerns of the liturgical reformers were given precedence over the theology already inherent in the traditional liturgy. Rationalism subjects everything in the liturgy to human scrutiny, and the suitability of liturgical elements is judged in the cold light of the principles of "reason." The reformers considered Septuagesima to be superfluous, and unnecessary backward extension of Lent (which, of course, it is not). "Reason" would demand that such a thing be done away with; so they did away with it. They thought that by eliminating Septuagesima they could "restore Lent to its full importance" (in the words of Archbishop Bugnini). Lauren Pristas argues persuasively that quite the opposite is true, since one does not really tend to prepare for what is not important - as the Church does in the preparatory season of Septuagesima. Moreover, Septuagesima fits into the symbolic framework of the number seven, something worth preserving in and of itself. But the ancient tradition of the Church was not well enough esteemed. Rationalism prevailed, and the Church lost yet another of the riches of her venerable liturgy.

I close with a brief meditation from Dom Gueranger, from his own treatise on the Mystery of Septuagesima:
We are sojourners upon this earth; we are exiles and captives in Babylon, that city which plots our ruin. If we love our country, - if we long to return to it, - we must be proof against the lying allurements of this strange land, and refuse the cup she proffers us, and with which she maddens so many of our fellow captives. She invites us to join in her feasts and her songs; but we must unstring our harps, and hang them on the willows that grow on her river’s bank, till the signal be given for our return to Jerusalem [Ps. cxxv]. She will ask us to sing to her the melodies of our dear Sion: but, how shall we, who are so far from home, have heart to sing the Song of the Lord in a strange Land? [Ps. cxxxvi]. No, - there must be no sign that we are content to be in bondage, or we shall deserve to be slaves for ever.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Dom Gueranger on the Feast of the Epiphany

The following is taken from Dom Gueranger's The Liturgical Year. Note well the richness of this great feast, which once held for Catholics a dignity surpassing that of Christmas itself, being indeed the completion and fulfillment of the Christmas mystery. Christ, the God-made-man, is today revealed as God to the whole world. The Incarnation in all its glory is the subject of today's celebration (which traditionally enjoys a full Octave), the foundation of the entire mystery of Christ's humanity.


The Feast of the Epiphany is the continuation of the mystery of Christmas; but it appears on the Calendar of the Church with its own special character. Its very name, which signifies Manifestation, implies that it celebrates the apparition of God to his creatures.

For several centuries, the Nativity of our Lord was kept on this day; and when, in the year 376, the decree of the Holy See obliged all Churches to keep the Nativity on the 25th December, as Rome did - the Sixth of January was not robbed of all its ancient glory. It was still to be called the Epiphany, and the Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ was also commemorated on this same Feast, which Tradition had marked as the day on which that Baptism took place.

The Greek Church gives this Feast the venerable and mysterious name of Theophania, which is of such frequent recurrence in the early Fathers, as signifying a divine Apparition. We find this name applied to this Feast by Eusebius, St. Gregory Nazianzum, and St. Isidore of Pelusium. In the liturgical books of the Melchite Church the Feast goes under no other name.

The Orientals call this solemnity also the holy on account of its being the day on which Baptism was administered, (for, as we have just mentioned, our Lord was baptised on this same day.) Baptism is called by the holy Fathers Illumination, and they who received it Illuminated.

Lastly, this Feast is called, in many countries, King’s Feast: it is, of course, an allusion to the Magi, whose journey to Bethlehem is so continually mentioned in to-day’s Office.

The Epiphany shares with the Feasts of Christmas, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, the honour of being called, in the Canon of the Mass, a Day most holy. It is also one of the cardinal Feasts, that is, one of those on which the arrangement of the Christian Year is based; for, as we have Sundays after Easter, and Sundays after Pentecost, so also we count six Sundays after the Epiphany.

The Epiphany is indeed great Feast, and the joy caused us by the Birth of our Jesus must be renewed on it, for, as though it were a second Christmas Day, it shows us our Incarnate God in a new light. It leaves us all the sweetness of the dear Babe of Bethlehem, who hath appeared to us already in love; but to this it adds its own grand manifestation of the divinity of our Jesus. At Christmas, it was a few Shepherds that were invited by the Angels to go and recognise THE WORD MADE FLESH; but now, at the Epiphany, the voice of God himself calls the whole world to adore this Jesus, and hear him.

The mystery of the Epiphany brings upon us three magnificent rays of the Sun of Justice, our Saviour. In the calendar of pagan Rome, this sixth day of January was devoted to the celebration of the triple triumph of Augustus, the founder of the Roman Empire: but when Jesus, our Prince of peace, whose empire knows no limits, had secured victory to his Church by the blood of the Martyrs - then did this his Church decree, that a triple triumph of the Immortal King should be substituted, in the Christian Calendar, for those other three triumphs which had been won by the adopted son of Caesar.

The Sixth of January, therefore, restored the celebration of our Lord’s Birth to the Twenty-Fifth of December; but, in return, there were united in the one same Epiphany, three manifestations of Jesus’ Glory: the mystery of the Magi coming from the East, under the guidance of a star, and adoring the Infant of Bethlehem as the Divine King; the mystery of the Baptism of Christ, who, whilst standing in the waters of the Jordan, was proclaimed by the Eternal Father as Son of God; and thirdly, the mystery of the divine power of this same Jesus, when he changed the water into wine at the marriage-feast of Cana.

But, did these three Mysteries really take place on this day? Is the Sixth of January the real anniversary of these great events? As the chief object of this work is to assist the devotion of the Faithful, we purposely avoid everything which would savour of critical discussion; and with regard to the present question, we think it enough to state, that Baronius, Suarez, Theophilus Raynaldus, Honorius De Sancta-Maria, Cardinal Gotti, Sandini, Benedict 14th, and an almost endless list of other writers, assert that the Adoration of the Magi happened on this very day. That the Baptism of our Lord, also, happened on the sixth of January, is admitted by the severest historical critics, even by Tillemont himself; and has been denied by only two or three. The precise day of the miracle at the marriage-feast of Cana is far from being as certain as the other two mysteries, though it is impossible to prove that the sixth of January was not the day. For us the children of the Church, it is sufficient that our Holy Mother has assigned the commemoration of these three manifestations for this Feast; we need nothing more to make us rejoice in the triple triumph of the Son of Mary.

If we now come to consider these three mysteries of our Feast separately, we shall find, that the Church of Rome, in her Office and Mass of to-day, is more intent on the Adoration of the Magi than on the Other two. The two great Doctors of the Apostolic See, St. Leo and St. Gregory, in their Homilies for this Feast, take it as the almost exclusive object of their preaching; though, together with St: Augustine, St. Paulinus of Nola, St. Maximus of Turin, St. Peter Chrysologus, St. Hillary of Arles, and St. Isidore of Seville, they acknowledge the three mysteries of to-day’s Solemnity. That the mystery of the Vocation of the Gentiles should be made thus prominent by the Church of Rome, is not to be wondered at; for, by that heavenly vocation which, in the three Magi, called all nations to the admirable light of Faith, Rome, which till then had been the head of the Gentile world, was made the head of the Christian Church and of the whole human race.

The Greek Church makes no special mention, in her Office of to-day, of the Adoration of the Magi, for she unites it with the mystery of our Saviour’s Birth in her celebration of Christmas Day. The Baptism of Christ absorbs all her thoughts and praises on the solemnity of the Epiphany.

In the Latin Church, this second mystery of our Feast is celebrated, unitedly with the other two, on the sixth of January, and mention is made of it several times in the Office. But, as the coming of the Magi to the crib of our new-born King absorbs the attention of Christian Rome on this day, the mystery of the sanctification of the waters was to be commemorated on a day apart. The day chosen by the Western Church for paying special honour to the Baptism of our Saviour is the Octave of the Epiphany.

The third mystery of the Epiphany being also somewhat kept in the shade by the prominence given to the first, (though allusion is several times made to it in the Office of the Feast,) a special day has been appointed for its due celebration; and that day is the second Sunday after the Epiphany.

Several Churches have appended to the Mystery of changing the water into wine that of the multiplication of the loaves, which certainly bears some analogy with it, and was a manifestation of our Saviour’s divine power. But, whilst tolerating the custom in the Ambrosian and Mozarabic rites, the Roman Church has never adopted it, in order not to interfere with the sacredness of the triple triumph of our Lord, which the sixth of January was intended to commemorate; as also, because St. John tells us, in his Gospel, that the miracle of the multiplication of the Loaves happened when the Feast of the Pasch was at hand [St. John, vi. 4], to which, therefore, could not have any connection with the season of the year when the Epiphany is kept.

We propose to treat of the three mysteries, united in this great Solemnity, in the following order. To-day, we will unite with the Church in honouring all three; during the Octave, we will contemplate the Mystery of the Magi coming to Bethlehem; we will celebrate the Baptism of our Saviour on the Octave Day; and we will venerate the Mystery of the Marriage of Cana on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, which is the day appropriately chosen by the Church for the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.

Let us, then, open our hearts to the Joy of this grand Day; and on this Feast of the Theophany, of the Holy Lights, of the Three Kings, let us look with love at the dazzling beauty of our Divine Sun, who, as the Psalmist expresses it [Ps. xviii. 6], runs his course as a Giant, and pours out upon us floods of a welcome and yet most vivid light. The Shepherds, who were called by the Angels to be the first worshippers, have been joined by the Prince of Martyrs, the Beloved Disciple, the dear troop of Innocents, our glorious Thomas of Canterbury, and Sylvester the Patriarch of Peace; and now, to-day, these Saints open their ranks to let the Kings of the East come to the Babe in his crib, bearing with them the prayers and adorations of the whole human race. The humble Stable is too little for such a gathering as this, and Bethlehem seems to be worth all the world besides. Mary, the Throne of the divine Wisdom, welcomes all the members of this court with her gracious smile of Mother and Queen; she offers her Son to man, for his adoration, and to God, that he may be well pleased. God manifests himself to men, because he is great: but he manifests himself by Mary, because he is full of mercy.

The great Day, which now brings us to the crib of our Prince of Peace, has been marked by two great events of the first ages of the Church. It was on the sixth of January, in the year 361, and Julian, (who, in heart, was already an apostate,) happened to be at Vienne in Gaul. He was soon to ascend the imperial throne, which would be left vacant by the death of Constantius, and he felt the need he had of the support of that Christian Church, in which it is said he had received the order of Lector, and which, nevertheless, he was preparing to attack with all the cunning and cruelty of a tiger. Like Herod, he, too, would fain go, on this Feast of the Epiphany, and adore the new-born King. The panegyrist Ammianus Marcellinus tells us, that this crowned Philosopher, who had been seen, just before, coming out of the pagan temple, where he had been consulting the soothsayers, made his way through the porticoes of the Church, and, standing in the midst of the faithful people, offered to the God of the Christians his sacrilegious homage.

Eleven years later, in the year 372, another Emperor found his way into the Church, on the same Feast of the Epiphany. It was Valens; a Christian, like Julian, by baptism; but a persecutor, in the name of Arianism, of that same Church which Julian persecuted in the name of his vain philosophy and still vainer gods. As Julian felt himself necessitated by motives of worldly policy to bow down, on this day, before the divinity of the Galilean; so, on this same day, the holy courage of a saintly Bishop made Valens prostrate himself at the feet of Jesus the King of kings.

Saint Basil had just then had his famous interview with the Prefect Modestus, in which his episcopal intrepidity had defeated all the might of earthly power. Valens had come to Caesarea, and, with his soul defiled with the Arian heresy, he entered the Basilica, when the Bishop was celebrating, with his people, the glorious Theophany. Let us listen to St. Gregory Nazianzum, thus describing the scene with his usual eloquence. “The Emperor entered the Church. The chanting of the psalms echoed through the holy place like the rumbling of thunder. The people, like a waving sea, filled the house of God. Such was the order and pomp in and about the sanctuary, that it looked more like heaven than earth. Basil himself stood erect before the people, as the Scripture describes Samuel - his body, and eyes, and soul, motionless as though nothing strange had taken place, and, if I may say so, his whole being was fastened to his God and the holy Altar. The sacred ministers, who surrounded the Pontiff, were in deep recollectedness and reverence. The Emperor heard and saw all this. He had never before witnessed a spectacle so imposing. He was overpowered. His head grew dizzy, and darkness veiled his eyes.”

Jesus, the King of ages, the Son of God and the Son of Mary had conquered. Valens was disarmed; his resolution of using violence against the holy bishop was gone; and if heresy kept him from at once adoring the Word consubstantial to the Father, he, at least, united his exterior worship with that which Basil’s flock was paying to the Incarnate God. When the Offertory came, he advanced towards the Sanctuary, and presented his gifts to Christ in the person of his holy priest. The fear lest Basil might refuse to accept them took such possession of the Emperor, that had not the sacred ministers supported him, he would have fallen at the foot of the Altar.

Thus has the Kingship of our new-born Saviour been acknowledged by the great ones of this world. The Royal Psalmist had sung this prophecy - the Kings of the earth shall see him, and his enemies shall lick the ground under his feet [Ps. lxxi. 9, 11].

The race of Emperors like Julian and Valens was to be followed by Monarchs, who would bend their knee before this Babe of Bethlehem, and offer him the homage of orthodox faith and devoted hearts. Theodosius, Charlemagne, our own Alfred the Great and Edward the Confessor, Stephen of Hungary, the Emperor Henry 2nd, Ferdinand of Castile, Louis 9th of France, are examples of Kings who had a special devotion to the Feast of the Epiphany. Their ambition was to go, in company with the Magi, to the feet of the Divine Infant, and offer him their gifts. At the English Court, the custom is still retained, and the reigning Sovereign offers an ingot of Gold as a tribute of homage to Jesus the King of kings: the ingot is afterwards redeemed by a certain sum of money.

But this custom of imitating the Three Kings in their mystic gifts was not confined to Courts. In the Middle-Ages, the Faithful used to present, on the Epiphany, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, to be blessed by the Priest. These tokens of their devotedness to Jesus were kept as pledges of God’s blessing upon their houses and families. The practice is still observed in some parts of Germany: and the prayer for the Blessing was in the Roman Ritual, until Pope Paul 5th suppressed it, together with several others, as being seldom required by the Faithful.

There was another custom, which originated in the Ages of Faith, and which is still observed in many countries. In honour of the Three Kings, who came from the East to adore the Babe of Bethlehem, each family chose one of its members to be King. The choice was thus made. The family kept a feast, which was an allusion to the third of the Epiphany-Mysteries - the Feast of Cana in Galilee - a Cake was served up, and he who took the piece which had a certain secret mark, was proclaimed the King of the day. Two portions of the cake were reserved for the poor, in whom honour was thus paid to the Infant Jesus and his Blessed Mother; for, on this Day of the triumph of Him, who, though King, was humble and poor, it was fitting that the poor should have a share in the general joy. The happiness of home was here, as in so many other instances, blended with the sacredness of Religion. This custom of King’s Feast brought relations and friends together, and encouraged feelings of kindness and charity. Human weakness would sometimes, perhaps, show itself during these hours of holiday-making; but the idea and sentiment and spirit of the whole feast was profoundly Catholic, and that was sufficient guarantee to innocence.

King’s Feast is still a Christmas joy in thousands of families; and happy those where it is kept in the Christian spirit which first originated it! For the last three hundred years, a puritanical zeal has decried these simple customs, wherein the seriousness of religion and the home enjoyments of certain Festivals were blended together. The traditions of Christian family rejoicings have been blamed under pretexts of abuse; as though a recreation, in which religion had no share and no influence, were less open to intemperance and sin. Others have pretended, (though with little or no foundation,) that the Twelfth Cake and the custom of choosing a King, are mere imitations of the ancient pagan Saturnalia. Granting this to be correct, (which it is not,) we would answer, that many of the old pagan customs have undergone a Christian transformation, and no one thinks of refusing to accept them thus purified. All this mistaken zeal has produced the sad effect of divorcing the Church from family life and customs, of excluding every religious manifestation from our traditions, and of bringing about what is so pompously called, (though the word is expressive enough,) the secularisation of society.

But let us return to the triumph of our sweet Saviour and King. His magnificence is manifested to us so brightly on this Feast! Our mother, the Church, is going to initiate us into the mysteries we are to celebrate. Let us imitate the faith and obedience of the Magi: let us adore, with the holy Baptist, the divine Lamb, over whom the heavens open: let us take our place at the mystic feast of Cana, where our dear King is present, thrice manifested, thrice glorified. In the last two mysteries, let us not lose sight of the Babe of Bethlehem; and in the Babe of Bethlehem let us cease not to recognise the Great God, (in whom the Father was well-pleased,) and the supreme Ruler and Creator of all things.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Venerable Bede on the Mystery of Christmas - From the Monastic Breviary

Matins for the fifth day in the Octave of Christmas in the Monastic Breviary has the following lesson, from Saint Bede the Venerable. It is a commentary on the Gospel reading for Christmas itself, which is repeated today. St. Bede reflects on the response of the shepherds to the exhortation of the angel to seek out the newborn Infant Christ. The liturgy for today here reminds us that, by it, we participate in the sacred mystery of Christmas by going, like the shepherds, to seek Christ Himself, to strain for the vision of what we have believed through hearing. The liturgy is a contemplative endeavor; it approaches beatitude itself, through the medium of the mysteries of Christ's humanity. 
With happy joy, indeed, did these shepherds hasten to see that which they had heard, and because they instantly sought the Savior with an ardent and faithful love, they merited to find Him whom they sought. But they also have shown by their words as well as by their deeds with what effort of mind the shepherds of intelligent flocks, yea, all the faithful must seek Christ. "Let us go over to Bethlehem," they say, "and let us see the word that is come to pass." Therefore, dearest brethren, let us also go over in thought to Bethlehem, the city of David, and in love recall to our minds that there the Word was made flesh, and let us celebrate His Incarnation with honors worthy of Him. Having thrown off carnal desires, let us with all the desire of our mind go over to the heavenly Bethlehem, that is, the house of living bread, not made by hands, but eternal in heaven, and in love let us recall that the Word was made flesh. Thither He has ascended in the flesh; there He sits on the right hand of God the Father. Let us follow Him with the whole force of our strength and by careful mortification of heart and body let us merit to see Him reigning on the throne of His Father, Him whom they saw crying in the manger. 
"And they came with haste; and they found Mary and Joseph, and the Infant lying in the manger." The shepherds came in haste and found God born as man, together with the ministers of His nativity. Let us hasten too, my brethren, not with footsteps, but by the advances of good words, to see the same glorified humanity together with the same ministers remunerated with a reward worthy of their services; let us hasten to see Him refulgent with the divine Majesty of His Father and of Himself. Let us hasten, I say, for such happiness is not to be sought with sloth and torpor, but the footsteps of Christ must be eagerly followed. For, offering His hand, He desires to help our course and delights to hear from us: "Draw us, we will run after thee in the odor of thy ointments." Therefore, let us follow swiftly with strides of virtue that we may merit to possess. Let no one be tardy in converting to the Lord; let no one put it off from day to day; let us beseech Him through all things and before all things that He direct our steps according to His word and let not injustice dominate over us.  
"And seeing, they understood the word that had been spoken to them concerning this Child." Let us also, most dearly beloved brethren, hasten in the meantime to perceive by a loving faith and to embrace with complete love those things that are said to us concerning our Savior, true God and Man, so that by this we may be able to comprehend Him perfectly in the future vision of knowledge. For this is the only and the true life of the blessed, not only of men, but even of the angels, to look continually upon the face of their Creator, which was so ardently desired by the Psalmist who said: "My soul hath thirsted after the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God?" The Psalmist has shown that the vision of Him alone, and no abundance of the things of earth, could satisfy his desire when he said: "I shall be satisfied when thy glory shall appear." But since neither the idle nor the slothful, but those who perspire in works of virtue, are worthy of divine contemplation, he carefully premised these words: "But as for me, I will appear before thy sight in justice."

Friday, 25 December 2015

Dom Gueranger on Christmas Day

The following is taken from The Liturgical Year. Observe the lively faith which once animated the Christian world, centered around the celebration of the sacred mysteries in the liturgy of the Church.


We will begin by telling them that in the early ages of the Church every great Feast was prepared for by long Vigils; during which the people deprived themselves of their usual rest, and spent the hours in the Church, fervently joining in the Psalms and Lessons which made up the Office which we now call Matins. The Night was divided into three parts called Nocturns.At dawn of day they resumed their chants in an Office which was even more solemn than Matins: it was one of praise, and from this its characteristic, was called by the name of Lauds.This Service, which occupied a very considerable portion of the night, is still kept up, though at a time less trying to nature; Matins and Lauds are publicly recited every day in Cathedral and Monastic Churches, and privately by everyone in Holy Orders. They are by far the longest portion of the Divine Office. The want of the old spirit of devoted appreciation of the Liturgy has made the Laity indifferent to being present at the celebration of Matins, and this even in countries where Protestantism has not rendered their presence almost an impossibility. Thus, there are very few places where the people assist at Matins, excepting four times in the year; namely, on the three last days of Holy Week, and on Christmas Night. It is only on the last named that the Office is said at the same hour as anciently; for with regard to Tenebrae, they are recited on the afternoons respectively preceding each of the three days.

The Office of Christmas Night has always been said or sung with extraordinary solemnity. Firstly, it was so just, that the moments immediately preceding the Hour when the Holy Mother gave birth to her Jesus, should be spent in the most fervent prayers and watchings! But, secondly, the Church is not satisfied to-night with saying her Matins - she does so every night, and the faithful may come and assist at them as often as they wish:- she follows them by the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, that so she may the better solemnize the Divine Birth; and she begins her Mass at Midnight, for it was at that silent hour that the Virgin-Mother gave us the Blessed Fruit of her Womb. We cannot be surprised that the faithful, in many parts of Christendom, used to spend the whole Night in the Church.

In Rome, for many centuries - at least from the seventh to the eleventh - two Matins were sung, the first in the Basilica of St Mary Major. They commenced immediately after sunset. There was no Invitatory. As soon as they were ended, the Pope celebrated the first or midnight Mass. No sooner was it finished, than the people accompanied him to the Church of St Anastasia, and there he sang the second Mass, or, as it was called, of the Aurora. Again the Pontiff and people formed a procession - this time it was to St Peter’s - and having entered the Basilica, the second Matins were begun. They had an Invitatory, and were followed by Lauds. The other Hours having been sung, the Pope said the third and last Mass, at the hour of Terce, which is our 9 o’clock. We are indebted for these details to Amalarius, and to the ancient Liturgist of the thirteenth century published under the name of Alcuin. We also find them clearly indicated by the text of the old Antiphonaries of the Roman Church, which were published by the Blessed Joseph Maria Tommasi, and by Gallicioli.

How lively was the faith of those olden times! To people who lived unceasingly amidst the Mysteries of Religion, Prayer was a tie which knit them closely together, and made them pass hours in the Church without weariness. They understood the value of the Prayers of the Church; and the Ceremonies of the Liturgy, which complete the tribute of man’s inward worship of his Creator, were not looked upon as, unfortunately, they now so often are, as a dumb show, or at best an unmeaning poetry introduced for effect. What, in our days, are found only in individuals, were then in the mass of the people - faith, and a keen sense of the supernatural.

Thanks be to God! this strong practical faith is not dead among us, and is each year spreading in the land. How often have not we ourselves been charmed at seeing the traditions of the old Catholic customs still kept up in some families, especially in those favoured parts of the country where heresy has not been able to corrupt the simplicity of the people. We have seen, and it is one of the most pleasing recollections of our childhood, one of these families seated together, after the frugal evening collation, round a blazing fireside, waiting for the hour to come when the whole house was to go to the midnight Mass. A plain but savoury supper, which was to be eaten on their return home, and so add to the joy of holy Christmas Night, was prepared beforehand. A huge piece of wood, called the Yule-Log, was burning cheerfully on the hearth; it would last till the Mass was over, and warm the old men and the little children, as they came in chilled by the sharp frost.

Meanwhile, till it was time for Mass, their conversation was upon the Mystery of this much-loved Night. They compassionated the Blessed Mother and the sweet Babe, exposed to the inclemency of wintry weather, and with no other shelter than that of a wretched stable. Then, too, there were the Christmas Carols, in the practise of which they had spent many a pleasant evening of Advent. The whole soul was evidently in these dear old melodies, and many a tear would fall as the song went on to tell how the Angel Gabriel visited Mary, and declared to her that she was to be Mother of the Most High God; how Mary and Joseph were worn with fatigue, going from street to street in Bethlehem, trying to find a lodging, and no one would take them in; how they were obliged to shelter in a stable, and how the Divine Child was born in it; how the loveliness of the Babe in his little crib was above all the beauty of the Angels; how the Shepherds went to see him, and took their humble gifts, and played their rude music, and adored him in the faith of their simple hearts. And thus they spent the happy Eve, passing from conversation to song, and from one song to another, and all was on Mary or Jesus, Joseph or Bethlehem. Cares of life were forgotten, troubles were gone, melancholy was a sin; but it was time to leave; the village clock had just gone eleven; and of the happy group, there was a little one who had been too young the other years, and this was his first Midnight Mass. There was no brighter face in the procession than his. Would he ever forget that beautiful Night!

In many of our readers, these reminiscences will excite a feeling of regret that the miseries of the world around us make such Catholic customs as these unrealities: at all events, they will show how the holiest feelings of religion may blend with the best joys of family and home. The lesson is worth learning, though the examples that teach it are too Catholic for these rough times. Let us, therefore, leave them and turn again to objects, which are realities, made holy by to-night’s Mystery, they will assist us to enter still further into the spirit of the Church.

There are three places on this earth of ours which we should visit to-night. For two of them, it can only be in spirit. The first is Bethlehem, and the Cave of the Nativity, which is Bethlehem’s glory. Let us approach it with respectful awe, and contemplate the humble dwelling which the Son of the Eternal God chose for his first home. It is a Stable in the hollow of a rock, just outside the city walls. It is about forty feet long by twelve in width. The ox and the ass, as spoken by the Prophet, are there, standing near the Manger, mute witnesses of the Divine Mystery to which man refused to lend his own dwelling.

Joseph and Mary enter into the Stable-Cave. It is night, and all nature is buried in silence; but these two Hearts are sending up their praise and adoration to God, who thus deigns to atone for man’s pride. The Virgin-Mother prepares the Clothes which are to swathe the limbs of the Divine Infant, and longs, though with a most tranquil patience, for the blissful moment when she shall have the first sight of the Blessed Fruit of her womb, kiss him, caress him and feed him - the Eternal God - at her Breast.

Our Jesus, on his part, now that he is about to leave the sanctuary of his Mother’s womb, and make his visible entrance into this world of sin, adores his Heavenly Father, and, according to the revelation of the Psalmist, which is commented by St Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews, thus speaks: Sacrifice and oblation thou willedst not; but a Body thou hast fitted unto me. Holocausts for sin did not please thee. Then said I, behold I come. In the head of the Book it is written of me that I should do thy will, O God! [Heb. x 5, 6, 7].

All this was happening in the Stable at Bethlehem, about this very hour of the Night. The Angels of God were singing their anthems of praise to this his incomprehensible mercy towards his rebel creatures. They looked down with admiration upon the Mother of their God, the Mystical Rose, whose hidden beauty was soon to bloom and fill the world with its fragrance.

O happy cave of Bethlehem! scene of these stupendous Mysteries! who is there that can forget it to-night? Who is there that does not love it above the richest palaces of Kings? From the very commencement of Christianity it was the object of men’s deepest veneration. When, later on, God sent the great St Helen to resuscitate in his Church the knowledge and love of the Holy Places of Palestine, one of the works of the holy Empress was to build a magnificent Basilica over the spot, where stands this trophy of God’s love for his creatures.

Let us go in spirit to this venerable Basilica; we shall find there groups of infidels and schismatics, but we shall also find the Religious who have the care of it, preparing to sing the same Matins, and in the same Latin tongue, which we are to have. These Religious are the Children of St Francis, heroic followers of the poverty of their Divine Master, the Infant of Bethlehem. Because they are poor and humble therefore they have had, for upwards of four hundred years, the honour of being the sole guardians of these Holy Places, which the Crusaders grew tired of defending. Let us pray in Union with them to-night; and go with them, and kiss that sacred spot of the Cave, where is written in letters of gold: HERE WAS JESUS CHRIST BORN OF THE VIRGIN MARY. (HIC DE VIRGINE MARIA JESUS CHRISTUS NATUS EST.)

In vain, however, should we seek at Bethlehem for the holy Crib in which the Infant Jesus lay. The curse of God has struck that unhappy country, and deprived it of this precious relic, which now, for upwards of twelve hundred years, has been venerated in the centre of Catholicity, Rome, the favoured Spouse of Christ.

Rome, then, is the second place we must visit on this blessed Night. And in the Holy City itself there is one special Sanctuary which claims all our veneration and love. It is the Basilicaof the Crib, the splendid Church of Saint Mary Major. Of all the Churches which the people of Rome have erected in honour of the Mother of God, this is the grandest. It stands on the Esquiline, rich in its marble and gold, but richer still in its possessing, together with the Portrait of our Lady painted by St Luke, the humble yet glorious Crib of Jesus, of which the inscrutable designs of God have deprived Bethlehem. An immense concourse of people is to-night assembled in the Basilica, awaiting the happy moment when this monument of the love and the humiliation of a God will be brought in, carried on the shoulders of the Priests, as an Ark of the New Covenant, whose welcome sight gives the sinner confidence, and makes the just man thrill with joy. Thus has God willed that Rome, which was to be the new Jerusalem, should be also the new Bethlehem; and that the children of the Church should find, in this the unchangeable centre of their Faith, the varied and exhaustless nourishment of their Love.

But the Basilica of the Crib is not the only sanctuary in Rome which has an attraction for us to-night. An imposing ceremony, which embodies a profound mystery, is taking place, at this very hour, in the palace of the Vatican, near the Tomb of the Prince of the Apostles.

The Divine Infant, who is to be born amongst us, is the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace, whose government is upon his shoulders [Isa. ix 6], as we shall sing to-morrow, with the Church. We have already seen how the God of Hosts has honoured this power of Emmanuel, by leading powerful Nations to acknowledge him who lay in the Crib of Bethlehem as the Lord to whom they owed their adoring fealty. The same recognition of that Babe as the Mighty God is made by the ceremony to which we allude. The Sovereign Pontiff, the Vicar of our Emmanuel, blesses, in his name, a Sword and Helmet, which are to be sent to some Catholic warrior who has deserved well of the Christian world. In a letter addressed to Queen Mary of England and to Philip, her husband, Cardinal Pole gives an explanation of this solemn rite. The sword is sent to some Prince, whom the Vicar of Christ wishes to honour in the name of Jesus, who is King: for the Angel said to Mary: The Lord will give unto him the Throne of David his father [St Luke i 32]. It is from him alone that the power of the sword comes [Rom. xiii 3, 4]; for God said to Cyrus: I have girded thee (with the sword) [Isa. xlv 1,5]; and the Psalmist thus speaks to the Christ of God: Gird thy Sword upon thy thigh, O thou most Mighty! [Ps. xliv 4]. And because the Sword should not be drawn save in the cause of justice, it is for that reason that a Sword is blessed on this Night, in the midst of which rises, born unto us, the divine Sun of Justice. On the Helmet, which is both the ornament and protection of the head, there is worked, in pearls, the Dove, which is the emblem of the Holy Ghost; and this to teach him who wears it that it is not from passion or ambition that he must use his sword, but solely under the guidance of the divine Spirit, and from a motive of spreading the Kingdom of Christ.

How beautiful is this union of energy and meekness under the one symbol and ceremony! This power of blending and harmonizing the varied beauty of distinct classes of truth is not to be found save in that Christian Rome, which is our Mother and where God has established the centre of Light and Love. The ceremony we have been describing is still observed. What a grand list it would be, had we the names of all those glorious Christian Warriors, who were thus created Knights of the Church, at this solemn hour, when we celebrate the Birth of him who came to vanquish our enemy! We are going to adore this Babe in his Crib; let us think of our Mother’s teaching, and pay homage to him as our Prince and King, and beseech him to humble the enemies of his Church, and vanquish those who are leagued against both our perfection and our salvation.

And now to the third of the sanctuaries, wherein is to be effected, this Night, the mystery of the Birth of Jesus. This third Sanctuary is near us; it is in us; it is our own heart. Our heart is the Bethlehem that Jesus desires to visit, and in which he would be born, there to live and grow unto a perfect man, as St Paul expresses it [Eph. iv 53]. Why, after all, was he born in the stable of the city of David, but that he might make sure of our heart, which he loved with an everlasting love, and so ardently that he came down from heaven to dwell in it? Mary’s virginal womb held him but for nine months; he wishes us to keep him for ever in our dwelling!

O heart of man, thou living Bethlehem, hold thyself in readiness, and keep a glad feast! Already, thou hast prepared thyself for this union with thy Jesus by the confession of thy misdeeds, by the contrition of thy sins, and by the satisfaction thou hast made for them. Now, therefore, be all attention: he is coming in the Midnight. Let him find everything ready, ready as were the Stable, the Crib and the Swaddling-clothes. True, thou hast nothing to offer him like what Mary and Joseph had - she, a Mother’s caresses; and he, the most solicitous and tender care; but thou hast an adoration and a love like those of the poor Shepherds, and these thou must offer. Like the Bethlehem yonder in the far east, thou art living in the midst of heresy, of infidelity, and of men who ignore the divine mystery of divine love: secret then, but hearty, must be thy prayers, like those which are ascending this night to heaven from the few faithful ones who are assembled in the Holy Cave with the Sons of St Francis; for in that unfortunate Palestine, which has been a slave to the most degrading errors for this last thousand years, there are still a few who know and love God. On this glad Midnight, let thy soul become like that splendid Basilica of Rome, which possesses the two treasures, the Holy Crib and the venerable Portrait of the Virgin Mother. Let thy affections and thoughts be pure as the white marble of its pillars; thy charity bright as the gold which glitters on its ceiling; thy deeds shining as the countless tapers which light up its beauty, and turn this night into the glare of a summer noon. Thou must learn, too, O soldier of Christ! to use a Christian’s weapons; thou must fight thy way to the Crib of thy Jesus; thou must fight for thy position there, and maintain it by the unbroken loyalty of thy love; thou must fight for the happy consummation of thy victory: union eternal with him. Treasure up these holy sentiments, and let them console and sanctify thee during these moments which precede the coming of Emmanuel into thee. O living Bethlehem! there is a word which heaven gave thee for these moments; take it up, and let it be thy ceaseless prayer; Come, Lord Jesus! come [Apoc. xxii 20].

It is time for us to depart, and go into the House of God. The Bells are not being rung for us, it is true - still, their melody wakens up Bethlehem in our hearts. How strange this joyous pealing at this midnight hour! But is not everything strange in this mysterious night of the Birth of God? He is going to show himself to us - but it is to be in a Crib, and as a little Child. When he came on Sinai, it was surrounded with thick clouds of smoke, and amidst thunder and lightning: now, there is nothing but humility, stillness and loveliness beyond measure. The Moon, emblem of the brightness reflected from Jesus upon Mary, is shedding its soft light on our path. The stars are twinkling in the firmament, and make us think of the Star which is so soon to rise and guide the Magi to our Saviour’s Crib.
And whilst thus thinking over all these strange mysteries, we have reached the porch of the Church. The Sanctuary sends its light down even to the threshold of the holy place. Beautiful sight, indeed! What wonder that King Clovis, as he entered the Church of Rheims on his first Christmas Night, stood dazzled with the blaze of light, and trembling with emotion said to St Remigius, who had just baptized him: ‘Father! is this the Kingdom thou didst promise me?’ ‘No, my Son,’ replied the Bishop, ‘it is but the way that will lead thee to it.’