Monthly Archives: December 2015

The moral of the Incarnation

By Bishop Ehrler, 1891:

“Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people: for this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David? (Luke 2 : 10-11.)

At last, after the season of Advent,–with all its hopes and desires– is past, we have reached the day which must awaken in every Christian heart the same rapturous emotions which filled the souls of the shepherds on the plains of Bethlehem when the angel cried out to them: “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people: for this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David.” Let us hasten, in spirit, with those pious shepherds, to the holy crib of the Divine Infant, and there prostrating ourselves in profound adoration, worship Him who has come into the world under such wonderful circumstances, and in whom are hidden the highest mysteries of faith. Whilst we consider, on the one hand, the glory of the Child as announced by the splendid apparition of the angels, and, on the other, His poverty, as shown in the misery and lowliness of His place of birth, let us endeavor to draw some practical lessons from the future career of the Holy Babe, or, in other words, let us meditate on this occasion upon the holy life of Christ. Perhaps you will say, that you have already read and heard much of this divine life: but is that enough? What will it profit you to know the whole history of Jesus, if you do not, at the same time, draw from it lessons for your own guidance? I will then, today, show

I. What Christians must believe of the life of Christ; and
II. What they must do in order to imitate it.

I. Dearly beloved Christians! if you wish to know what you must hold concerning the life of Jesus, you must, in the first place, consider why He wished to live upon earth under the form of a mortal man.

1. It was solely to honor His heavenly Father (as every individual man should seek to honor Him)–through his life. Hence, he said: “My food is to do the will of Him that sent me, that I may perfect His work ” (John 4 :34); and, in the consciousness that, during His earthly life, He had perfectly fulfilled His high vocation, He said, in His prayer to His heavenly Father at the Last Supper: “I have glorified Thee upon the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do.” (John 17 :4.) But Jesus also wished, by His earthly life, to teach all men how they should live in order to love and serve the true God, and thus become worthy of eternal life. We have, in Jesus, a model and a pattern of what our conduct towards God and our neighbor should be. The life of Jesus should, therefore, be the rule by which we measure all our actions; wherefore, He Himself tells us: “Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.” (Matth. 1 1: 29.) And, again, (as an example of fraternal charity), on the eve of His Passion, when He humbly and lovingly condescended to wash the feet of His disciples, lie said to them and to us: “I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also.” (John 13 : 15.) If the whole aim of Jesus during His earthly career was to leave us an example, we are all, then, strictly obliged to imitate Him in His holy life.

2. Since we are Christians it is not enough that we serve God according to the common dictates of reason, we must serve Him according to the precepts, the spirit, and the example of Jesus. Christ expressly says: “I am the way.” (John 14 : 6.) What else could He mean by this expression than to say: He who would seek to find the right road to heaven, must tread the path which I tread; that is, he must practice the manner of life which I observe; he must model his life after my example–otherwise, he will never reach my heavenly kingdom. This agrees perfectly with what He said upon another occasion: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matth. 16: 24.) In order to gain the prize, we must imitate Jesus even in His labors and sufferings, as St. Peter writes: “Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow His steps.” (Pet. 2:21.) Finally, listen to the words of St. Paul to the Romans, concerning the necessity of imitating the holy life of Jesus: “Whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of His son.” (Rom. 8: 29.) What is meant by being “conformable to the image of His Son”? It means that we should make Jesus our model in all our thoughts, words, and deeds, and thus, conform our lives to His holy life. This, my dear Christians, is what you must learn from the life of Jesus; now, listen to what you must do in order to imitate it.

II. What must we do in order to derive benefit from the life of Christ? We must, above all, follow the example of Jesus, as far as our state of life permits. It is true, that we cannot do all the marvels that He did; yet, this divine life embraces such an abundant variety of virtues that every one, the humblest as well as the most exalted, the poor as well as the rich, may draw from it all that is practicable for his condition. 1. Meditate assiduously and frequently upon the life of Jesus; place it before you as a mirror, in which you may see your defects and your manifold shortcomings. Or, still better–do like the artist who wishes to paint the portrait of a man; he looks steadfastly at the face and figure of his sitter; then, he paints awhile; then he compares his work with the original to see if his drawing is correct: if he finds any defects, he goes to work industriously to repair them; he looks again and again at his subject and his work, in order to detect what is wanting in the latter to a perfect copy; and he takes the greatest pains to faithfully represent the original. Place before you, in the same manner, the virtues of Jesus–his humility, patience, poverty, obedience, meekness, charity, zeal for the honor of God, and for the salvation of mankind. Recall His behavior in persecutions and sufferings; compare your conduct with His; and you will soon discover what you must alter, and what you must add, if you would make your life a perfect reflection of that of Christ.

2. Then, follow Jesus openly, before every one, without shame or fear. What! will you blush to imitate the life of Jesus? Is that divine life of a nature to draw down scorn upon you when you endeavor to copy it? Ah! there are many who thus regard it! But, it is of these that Jesus said: “He that shall deny me before men, shall be denied before the angels of God.” (Luke 12 : 9.) No, dearly beloved, the life of Christ is the holiest and most glorious of all exemplars; and every honor is as nothing in comparison with the honor of being a true follower of Jesus. Follow Him courageously and magnanimously, for, behold, if you take Him as a model for your imitation, there will not be wanting those who will mock and deride you, and endeavor to turn you aside from your holy purpose. Mark well what St. Paul writes to Timothy: “All who will live piously in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 3:12.) We, Christians, then must expect to endure something from men; for Christ’s road leads through many tribulations, and, above all, through the scorn and mockery of the world. Pay no attention to the opinion of the majority. Zealous, pious Christians are always in the minority in this wicked world. “Many are called,” says Jesus, “but few chosen,” (Matth. 20:16); and in another place, He calls his own “a little flock.” (Luke 12 :32.) O, how mistaken are those who use the common excuses: “So and so do thus”; or, ” The majority do this”; or, ” I am not alone in this!” O, accursed delusions of the devil, by which multitudes permit themselves to be deceived! The thing that is agreeable to the many, is always suspicious; for it is only with the few that we find justice, virtue, and the kingdom of God. If we take sides with the majority, we may be almost sure that we are not in the right path. This doctrine was taught by Jesus, when He sorrowfully exclaimed: “Enter ye in at the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction; and many there are who enter by it. How narrow is the gate, and straight is the way which leadeth to life; and few there are who find it.” (Matth. 7 : 13-14.) Therefore, do not consider the many wicked, but the few just, and imitate the latter, saying: “These do not this, or that; if these can do this good work, I also will try to do it.” But, above all things, fix your attention upon that model of all justice–the sacred life of Christ, and do not turn aside one iota from Him; for as He is the Way, so also is He the Truth and the Life; the Way which leads in truth to an eternal Life of happiness.

Peroration: Having formed this resolution, return from the adoration of the Divine Infant in the crib to your homes and your occupations; and as this Child grew “in wisdom, and age, and grace, with God and men,” (Luke 2:52), so may you also daily and zealously increase in the knowledge and the imitation of the life of Jesus! May you, one day, have the happiness of following Jesus at His last Advent upon earth, when He shall come, not as a helpless infant lying on rough straw in a cold stable, but clothed with majesty and glory, and surrounded by all His Angels and Saints. In the ranks of those glorified spirits, may we be found, when the just Judge of the living and the dead shall pronounce sentence upon all mankind, in the day of General Judgment! Amen.

 

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The Mystery of Christmas

By Fr. Prosper Gueranger:

Everything is Mystery in this holy Season. The Word of God, whose generation is before the day-star (Ps. cix.3), is born in time–a Child is God–a Virgin becomes a Mother, and remains a Virgin–things divine are commingled with those that are human–and the sublime, the ineffable, antithesis, expressed by the Beloved Disciple in those words of his Gospel: The Word was made flesh, is repeated in a thousand different ways in all the prayers of the Church;–and rightly, for it admirably embodies the whole of the great portent, which unites, in one Person, the nature of Man and the nature of God.
The splendour of this Mystery dazzles the understanding, but it inundates the heart with joy. It is the consummation of the designs of God in time. It is the endless subject of admiration and wonder to the Angels and Saints; nay, is the source and cause of their beatitude. Let us see, how the Church offers this Mystery to her children, veiled under the symbolism of her Liturgy.

The four weeks of our preparation are over–they were the image of the four thousand years, which preceded the great coming–and we have reached the Twenty-fifth day of the Month of December, as a long- desired place of sweetest rest. But, why is it, that the celebration of our Saviour’s Birth should be the perpetual privilege of this one fixed day; whilst the whole liturgical Cycle has, every year, to be changed and remodelled, in order to yield that ever-varying day, which is to be the feast of his Resurrection– Easter Sunday?

The question is a very natural one, and we find it proposed and answered, even so far back as the fourth century; and that, too, by St. Augustine, in his celebrated Epistle to Januarius. The holy Doctor offers this explanation: We solemnise the day of our Saviour’s Birth, in order that we may honour that Birth, which was for our salvation; but the precise day of the week, on which He was born, is void of any mystical signification. Sunday, on the contrary, the day of our Lord’s Resurrection, is the day marked, in the Creator’s designs, to express a mystery, which was to be commemorated for all ages. St. Isidore of Seville, and the ancient Interpreter of Sacred Rites, (who, for a long time, was supposed to be the learned Alcuin,) have also adopted this explanation of the Bishop of Hippo; and our readers may see their words interpreted by Durandus, in his Rational.

These writers, then, observe, that as, according to a sacred tradition, the creation of man took place on a Friday, and our Saviour suffered death also on a Friday, for the redemption of man; that as, moreover, the Resurrection of our Lord was on the third day after his death, that is, on a Sunday, which is the day on which the Light was created, as we learn from the Book of Genesis–“the two Solemnities of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection,” says St. Augustine, “do not only remind us of those divine facts; but they moreover represent and signify some other mysterious and holy thing (Epist. Ad Januarium).”

And yet, we are not to suppose, that, because the Feast of Jesus’ Birth is not fixed to any particular day of the week, there is no mystery expressed by its being always on the Twenty-fifth of December. For, firstly, we may observe with the old Liturgists, that the Feast of Christmas is kept by turns, on each of the Days of the week, that thus its holiness may cleanse and rid them of the curse, which Adam’s sin had put upon them. But, secondly, the great mystery of the Twenty-fifth of December, being the Feast of our Saviour’s Birth, has reference, not to the division of time marked out by God Himself, and which is called the Week; but to the course of that great Luminary, which gives life to the world (St. John, viii. 12), because it gives it light and warmth. Jesus, our Saviour, the Light of the World, was born when the night of idolatry and crime was the darkest; and the day of His Birth, the Twenty-fifth of December, is that on which the material Sun begins to gain his ascendency over the reign of gloomy night, and show to the world his triumph of brightness.

In our “Advent” we showed, after the Holy Fathers, that the diminution of the physical light may be considered as emblematic of those dismal times, which preceded the Incarnation. We joined our prayers with those of the people of the Old Testament; and, with our holy Mother the Church, we cried out to the Divine Orient, the Sun of Justice, that He would deign to come, and deliver us from the twofold death of body and soul. God has heard our prayers; and it is on the Day of the Winter Solstice–which the Pagans of old made so much of by their fears and rejoicings–that He gives us both the increase of the natural light, and Him who is the Light of our souls.

St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Ambrose, St. Maximus of Turin, St. Leo, St. Bernard, and the principal Liturgists, dwell with complacency on this profound mystery, which the Creator of the universe has willed should mark both the natural and the supernatural world. We shall find the Church, also, making continual allusion to it, during this season of Chistmas, as she did in that of Advent.

“On this the Day which the Lord hath made,” says St. Gregory of Nyssa, “darkness decreases, light increases, and Night is driven back again. No, Brethren, it is not by chance, nor by any created will, that this natural change begins on the Day, when He shows Himself in the brightness of His coming, which is the spiritual Life of the world. It is Nature revealing, under this symbol, a secret to them whose eye is quick enough to see it; to them, I mean, who are able to appreciate this circumstance of our Saviour’s coming. Nature seems to me to say: Know, O Man! that under the things which I show thee, there lie Mysteries concealed. Hast thou not seen the Night, that had grown so long, suddenly checked? Learn hence, that the black night of Sin, which had got to its height by the accumulation of every guilty device, is this day stopped in its course. Yes, from this day forward, its duration shall be shortened, until at length there shall be naught but Light. Look, I pray thee, on the Sun; and see how his rays are stronger, and his position higher in the heavens: learn from that, how the other Light, the Light of the Gospel, is now shedding itself over the whole earth (Homily on the Nativity).”

“Let us, my Brethren, rejoice,” cries out St. Augustine (Sermon on the Nativity of our Lord, iii.): “this Day is sacred, not because of the visible sun, but because of the Birth of Him, who is the invisible Creator of the sun. * * He chose this Day to be born on, as He chose the Mother He was to be bom from, and He made both the Day and the Mother. The Day He chose, was that on which the light begins to increase, and it typifies the work of Christ, who renews our interior man, day by day. For the eternal Creator having willed to be born in time, His Birth Day would necessarily be in harmony with the rest of His creation.”

The same holy Father, in another Sermon for the same Feast, gives us the interpretation of a mysterious expression of St. John Baptist, which admirably confirms the tradition of the Church. The great Precursor said on one occasion, when speaking of Christ: He must increase, but I must decrease (John, iii. 30). These prophetic words signify, in their literal sense, that the Baptist’s mission was at its close, because Jesus was entering upon His. But, they convey, as St. Augustine assures us, a second meaning: “John came into this world at the season of the year, when the length of the day decreases; Jesus was born in the season when the length of the day increases (Sermon In Natali Domini, xi).” Thus, there is mystery both in the rising of that glorious Star, the Baptist, at the summer-solstice; and in the rising of our Divine Sun in the dark season of winter. It is almost unnecessary to add, that this doctrine of the Holy Fathers, which is embodied in the Christmas Liturgy, is not in any degree falsified by the fact that there are some parts of God’s earth, where Christmas falls in a Season the very opposite of Winter. Our Lord selected, for the place of his Birth, one which made it Winter, when he came upon earth; and by that selection, He stamped the Mystery, taught in the text, on the Season of darkness and cold. Our Brethren in Australia, for example, will have the Mystery without the Winter, when they are keeping Christmas; or, more correctly, their faith and the Holy Liturgy will unite them with us, both in the Winter, and the Mystery, of the great Birth in Bethlehem. [Translator’s Note.]

There have been men, who dared to scoff at Christianity as a superstition, because they discovered, that the ancient Pagans used to keep a Feast of the sun, on the winter Solstice! In their shallow erudition, they concluded, that a Religion could not be divinely instituted, which had certain rites or customs originating in an analogy to certain phenomena of this world: in other words, these Writers denied what Revelation asserts, namely, that God only created this world for the sake of His Christ and His Church. The very facts, which these enemies of our holy Religion brought forward as objections to the true Faith, are, to us Catholics, additional proof of its being worthy of our most devoted love.

Thus, then, have we explained the fundamental Mystery of these Forty Days of Christmas, by having shown the grand secret hidden in the choice, made by God’s eternal decree, that the Twenty-fifth Day of December should be the Birth-day of God upon this earth. Let us, now, respectfully study another mystery:–that which is involved in the place, where this Birth happened.

This place is Bethlehem. Out of Bethlehem, says the Prophet, shall He come forth, that is to be the Ruler in Israel (Mich. v. 2). The Jewish Priests are well aware of the prophecy, and, in a few days hence, will tell it to Herod (St. Matt. ii. 5). But, why was this insignificant Town chosen, in preference to every other, to be the Birth-place of Jesus? Be attentive, Christians, to the mystery! The name of this City of David signifies the House of Bread: therefore did He, who is the living Bread come down from heaven (St. John, vi. 41), choose it for His first visible home. Our Fathers did eat manna in the desert and are dead (St. John, vi. 49); but, lo! here is the Saviour of the world, come to give life to His creature Man, by means of His own divine Flesh, which is meat indeed (Ibid. 56). Up to this time, the Creator and the creature had been separated from each other;–henceforth they shall abide together in closest union. The Ark of the Covenant, containing the manna which fed but the body, is now replaced by the Ark of a New Covenant, purer and more incorruptible than the other–the incomparable Virgin Mary, who gives us Jesus, the Bread of Angels, the nourishment which will give us a divine transformation; for, this Jesus Himself has said: He that eateth my flesh ahideth in Me, and I in him (St. John. vi. 57).

It is for this divine transformation that the world was in expectation for four thousand years, and for which the Church prepared herself by the four weeks of Advent. It has come at last, and Jesus is about to enter within us, if we will but receive Him (Ibid. i. 12). He asks to be united to each one of us in particular, just as He is united, by His Incarnation, to the whole human race; and for this end, He wishes to become our Bread, our spiritual nourishment. His coming into the souls of men, at this mystic season, has no other aim than this union. He comes, not to judge the world, but that the world may he saved by him (Ibid, iii. 17), and that all may have life, and may have it more abundantly (St. John. x. 10). This divine Lover of our souls will not be satisfied, therefore, until He have substituted Himself in our place, so that we may live not we ourselves, but He in us; and in order that this mystery may be effected in a sweeter way, it is under the form of an Infant that this Beautiful Fruit of Bethlehem wishes first to enter into us, there to grow, afterwards, in wisdom and age before God and men (St. Luke, ii. 40, 52).

And when, having thus visited us by His grace and nourished us in His love, He shall have changed us into Himself, there shall be accomplished in us a still further mystery. Having become one in spirit and heart with Jesus–the Son of the heavenly Father–we shall also become Sons of this same God our Father. The Beloved Disciple speaking of this our dignity, cries out: Behold! what manner of charity the Father hath bestowed upon us–that we should be called, and should be the Sons of God (I. St. John, iii. 1)! We will not now stay to consider this immense happiness of the Christian soul, as we shall have a more fitting occasion, further on, to speak of it, and show by what means it is to be maintained and increased.

The History of Christmas

By Fr. Prosper Gueranger, 1868:

We apply the name of Christmas to the forty days, which begin with the Nativity of our Lord, December 25th, and end with the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, February 2nd. It is a period, which forms a distinct portion of the Liturgical Year, as distinct, by its own special spirit, from every other, as are Advent, Lent, Easter, or Pentecost. One same Mystery is celebrated and kept in view during the whole forty days. Neither the Feasts of the Saints, which so abound during this Season; nor the Time of Septuagesima, with its mournful Purple, which often begins before Christmastide is over; seem able to distract our Holy Mother the Church, from the immense joy, of which she received the good tidings from the Angels, on that glorious Night, for which the world had been longing four thousand years. The Faithful will remember, that the Liturgy commemorates this long expectation, by the four penitential weeks of Advent. The custom of celebrating the Solemnity of our Saviour’s Nativity by a feast or commemoration of forty-days’ duration, is founded on the holy Gospel itself; for it tells us, that the Blessed Virgin Mary, after spending forty days in the contemplation of the Divine Fruit of her glorious Maternity, went to the Temple, there to fulfill, in most perfect humility, the ceremonies which the Law demanded of the daughters of Israel, when they became Mothers.

The Feast of Mary’s Purification is, therefore, part of that of Jesus’ Birth; and the custom of keeping this holy and glorious period of forty-days as one continued Festival, has every appearance of being a very ancient one, at least in the Roman Church. And firstly, with regard to our Savior’s Birth on the 25th of December, we have St. John Chrysostom telling us, in his Homily for this Feast, that the Western Churches had, from the very commencement of Christianity, kept it on this day. He is not satisfied with merely mentioning the tradition; he undertakes to show, that it is well-founded, inasmuch as the Church of Rome had every means of knowing the true day of our Savior’s Birth, since the acts of the Enrollment, taken in Judea by command of Augustus, were kept in the public archives of Rome. The holy Doctor adduces a second argument, which he founds upon the Gospel of St. Luke, and he reasons thus: we know from the sacred scriptures, that it must have been in the fast of the seventh month that the Priest Zachary had the vision in the Temple; after which Elizabeth, his wife, conceived St. John the Baptist: hence it follows, that the Blessed Virgin Mary, having, as the Evangelist St. Luke relates, received the Angel Gabriel’s visit, and conceived the Savior of the world in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, that is to say, in March,–the Birth of Jesus must have taken place in the month of December.

But, it was not till the fourth century that the Churches of the East began to keep the Feast of our Savior’s Birth in the month of December. Up to that period, they had kept it, at one time, on the sixth of January, thus uniting it, under the generic term of Epiphany, with the Manifestation, of our Savior made to the Magi, and, in them, to the Gentiles; at another time, as Clement of Alexandria tells us, they kept it on the 25th of the month Pachon, (May 15,) or on the 25th of the month Pharmuth, (April 20). St. John Chrysostom, in the Homily we have just cited, which he gave in 386, tells us that the Roman custom of celebrating the Birth of our Saviour on the 25th December, had then only been observed ten years in the Church of Antioch. It is probable that this change had been introduced in obedience to the wishes of the Apostolic See, wishes which received additional weight by the edict of the Emperors Theodosius and Valentinian, which appeared towards the close of the fourth century, and decreed that the Nativity and Epiphany of our Lord should be made two distinct Festivals. The only Church, that has maintained the custom of celebrating the two mysteries on January 6th, is that of Armenia; owing, no doubt, to the circumstance of that country’s not being under the authority of the Emperors; as, also, because it was withdrawn, at an early period, from the influence of Rome, by schism and heresy.

The Feast of our Lady’s Purification, with which the forty days of Christmas close, is, in the Latin Church, of very great antiquity; so ancient, indeed, as to preclude the possibility of our fixing the date of its institution. According to the unanimous opinion of Liturgists, it is the most ancient of all the Feasts of the Holy Mother of God; and as her Purification is related m the Gospel itself, they rightly infer, that its anniversary was solemnized at the very commencement of Christianity. Of course, this is only to be understood of the Roman Church; for, as regards the Oriental Church, we find that this Feast was not definitively fixed to the 2nd of February, until the reign of the Emperor Justinian, in the sixth century. It is true that the Eastern Christians had previously to that time, a sort of commemoration of this Mystery; but it was far from being a universal custom, and it was kept a few days after the Feast of our Lord’s Nativity, and not on the day itself of Mary’s going up to the Temple.

But, what is the characteristic of Christmas in the Latin Liturgy? It is twofold: it is joy, which the whole Church feels at the coming of the divine Word in the Flesh; and it is admiration of that glorious Virgin, who was made the Mother of God. There is scarcely a prayer, or a rite, in the Liturgy of this glad Season, which does not imply these two grand Mysteries:–an Infant-God, and a Virgin Mother. For example, on all Sundays and Feasts, which are not Doubles, the Church, throughout these forty days, makes a commemoration of the fruitful virginity of the Mother of God, by three special Prayers in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. On those same days, at Lauds and Vespers, she begs the suffrage, of Mary, by proclaiming her quality of Mother of God and her inviolate purity, which remained in her even after she had given birth to her Son. And again the magnificent Anthem, Alma Redemptoris, composed by the Monk Herman Contractus, continues up to the very day of the Purification, to be the termination of each Canonical Hour. It is by such manifestations of her love and veneration, that the Church honoring the Son in the Mother, testifies her holy joy during this season of the Liturgical Year, which we call Christmas.

Our readers are aware that, when Easter Sunday falls at its latest–that is, in April–the Ecclesiastical Calendar counts as many as six Sundays after the Epiphany. Christmastide, (that is, the forty days between Christmas Day and the Purification) includes sometimes four out of these six Sundays; frequently only two; and sometimes, only one, as is the case when Easter comes so early, as to necessitate the keeping Septuagesima, and even Sexagesima, Sunday, in January. Still, nothing is changed, as we have already said, in the ritual observances of this joyous season, excepting only, that on those two Sundays,–the fore-runners of Lent–the Vestments are purple, and the Gloria in excelsis is omitted.

Although our holy Mother the Church honors, with especial devotion, the Mystery of the Divine Infancy during the whole season of Christmas; yet, she is obliged to introduce, into the Liturgy of this same season, passages from the holy Gospels, which seem premature, inasmuch as they relate to the active life of Jesus. This is owing to there being less than six months allotted by the Calendar for the celebration of the entire work of our Redemption: in other words, Christmas and Easter are so near each other, (even when Easter is as late as it can be,) that Mysteries must of necessity be crowded into the interval; and this entails anticipation. And yet, the Liturgy never loses sight of the Divine Babe and his incomparable Mother, and never tires in their praises, during the whole period, from the Nativity, to the day when Mary comes to the Temple to present her Jesus. The Greeks, too, make frequent commemorations of the Maternity of Mary, in their Offices of this Season: but, they have a special veneration for the twelve days between Christmas Day and the Epiphany, which, in their Liturgy, are called the Dodecameron. During this time, they observe no days of Abstinence from flesh-meat; and the Emperors of the East had, out of respect for the great Mystery, decreed that no servile work should be done, and that the Courts of Law should be closed, until after the 6th of January.

From this outline of the History of the holy Season, we can understand what is the characteristic of this second portion of the Liturgical Year, which we call Christmas, and which has ever been a Season most dear to the christian world.

A Saviour has been born to us!

Our Saviour has been born to redeem us lost sinners.  Let us especially give thanks to Him today, for becoming a man and taking own our flesh to save our souls by dying for us and giving us His Church to continue His work.  Come, let us adore Him!

Jesus lying on the Straw
by St. Alphonsus Liguori

Jesus is born in the stable at Bethlehem. His poor Mother has neither wool nor down to make a bed for the tender Infant. What does she do, then? She gathers together a small handful of straw into the manger, and puts it there for Him to lie on : And she laid Him in the manger? But, O my God, how hard and painful is this bed for an infant just born; the limbs of a babe are so delicate, and especially the limbs of Jesus, which were formed by the Holy Spirit with a special delicacy, in order that they might be the more sensible to suffering: A body Thou hast fitted to Me?

Wherefore the hardness of such a bed must have caused Him excessive pain,–pain and shame; for what child, even of the lowest of the people, is ever laid on straw as soon as he is born? Straw is only a fit bed for beasts; and yet the Son of God had none other on earth than a bed of miserable straw! St. Francis of Assisi heard one day as he sat at table these words of the Gospel: And laid Him in the manger; and exclaimed, “What? my Lord was laid on the straw, and shall I continue to sit?” And thus he arose from his seat, threw himself on the ground, and there finished his scanty meal, mingling it with tears of tenderness as he contemplated the sufferings that the Infant Jesus endured whilst he lay on the straw.

But why did Mary, who had so earnestly desired the birth of this Son–why did she, who loved Him so much, allow Him to lie and suffer on this hard bed, instead of keeping Him in her arms? This is a mystery, says St. Thomas of Villanova: “Nor would she have laid him in such a place, unless there had been some great mystery in it.” This great mystery has been explained by many in different ways, but the most pleasing explanation to me is that of St. Peter Damian: Jesus wished as soon as He was born to be placed on the straw, in order to teach us the mortification of our senses: “He laid down the law of martyrdom.” The world had been lost by sensual pleasures; through them had Adam and multitudes of his descendants till then been lost. The Eternal Word came from heaven to teach us the love of suffering; and He began as a child to teach it to us by choosing for Himself the most acute sufferings that an infant can endure. It was, therefore, He Himself who inspired His Mother to cease from holding Him in her tender arms, and to replace Him on the hard bed, that He might feel the more cold of the cave and the pricking of this rough straw.

 

Affections and Prayers

O Lover of souls, O my loving Redeemer! is not, then, the sorrowful Passion that awaits Thee, and the bitter death that is prepared for Thee on the cross, sufficient, but Thou must, even from the commencement of Thy life, even from Thy infancy, begin to suffer? Yes, because even as an infant Thou wouldst begin to be my Redeemer, and to satisfy the divine justice for my sins. Thou didst choose a bed of straw to deliver me from the fire of hell, into which I have so many times deserved to be cast. Thou didst cry and mourn on this bed of straw to obtain for me pardon from Thy Father. Oh, how these Thy tears afflict and yet console me! They afflict me from compassion at seeing Thee, an innocent babe, suffering so much for sins not Thy own; but they console me, because Thy sufferings assure me of my salvation, and of Thy immense love for me.

But, my Jesus, I will not leave Thee alone to cry and to suffer. I myself will also weep; for I alone deserve to shed tears on account of the offences I have committed against Thee. I, who have deserved hell, will not refuse any suffering whatever, so that I may regain Thy favor, O my Saviour. Forgive me, I beseech Thee; receive me once more into Thy friendship, make me love Thee, and then chastise me as Thou wilt. Deliver me from eternal punishment, and then treat me as it shall please Thee. I do not seek for pleasures in this life; he does not deserve pleasure who has had the temerity to offend Thee, O infinite Goodness. I am content to suffer all the crosses Thou shalt send me; but, my Jesus, I will love Thee still. O Mary, who didst sympathize by thy sufferings with the sufferings of Jesus, obtain for me the grace to suffer all my trials with patience. Woe to me if, after so many sins, I do not suffer something in this life! And blessed shall I be if I have the happiness to accompany thee in thy sufferings, O my sorrowful Mother, and Thee, O my Jesus, always afflicted and crucified for love of me.

“And it came to pass, that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled.  This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria.  And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city.   And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child.  And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.  And there were in the same country shepherds watching, and keeping the night watches over their flock.  And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them; and they feared with a great fear.  And the angel said to them: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people:  For, this day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David.  And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.  And it came to pass, after the angels departed from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another: Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord hath shewed to us.   And they came with haste; and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.  And seeing, they understood of the word that had been spoken to them concerning this child.  And all that heard, wondered; and at those things that were told them by the shepherds.  But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God, for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”  ~Luke 2:1-20

I wish all my readers a blessed, happy, holy and merry Christmas.  Come, let us adore Emmanuel!

~Damsel of the Faith

 

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve
Saint Joseph goes to Bethlehem with His Holy Spouse

by St. Alphonsus de Liguori


Ascendit autem et Joseph . . . ut profittretur
cutit Maria desponsata sibi uxore preegnantt.

“And Joseph also went up . . . to be enrolled with Mary
his espoused wife, who was with child.”–St. Luke, ii. 4.

 

God had decreed that His Son should be born not in the house of Joseph, but in a cavern and stable of beasts, in the poorest and most painful way that a child can be born; and therefore He caused Caesar to publish an edict, by which people were commanded to go and enroll themselves, every one in his own city whence he drew his origin.

When Joseph heard this order, he was much agitated as to whether he should take with him or leave behind the Virgin Mother, as she was now so near childbirth. My spouse and my lady, said he to her, on the one hand, I do not wish to leave you alone; on the other, if I take you with me, I am much afflicted at the thought of all that you will have to suffer during this long journey, and in such severe weather. My poverty will not permit me to conduct you with that comfort which you require. But Mary answers him, and tries to give him courage with these words: My Joseph, do not fear. I will go with you; the Lord will assist us. She knew, both by divine inspiration, and also because she was well versed in the prophecy of Micheas, that the divine Infant was to be born in Bethlehem. She therefore takes the swaddling-clothes, and the other miserable garments already prepared, and departs with Joseph. And Joseph also went up . . . to be enrolled with Mary.

Let us now consider all the devout and holy discourses which these two holy spouses must have held during this journey concerning the mercy, goodness and love of the divine Word, who was shortly to be born, and to appear on the earth for the salvation of men. Let us also consider the praises, the benedictions, the thankgs-givings, the acts of humility and love, which these two illustrious pilgrims uttered on the way. This holy Virgin, so soon to become a mother, certainly suffered much in so long a journey, made in the middle of winter, and over rough roads; but she suffered with peace and with love. She offered to God all these her trials uniting them to those of Jesus, whom she carried in her womb.

Oh, let us unite ourselves also, and let us accompany Mary and Joseph in the journey of our life; and, with them, let us accompany the King of Heaven, Who is born in a cave, and makes His first appearance in the world as an infant, but as the poorest and most forsaken infant that ever was born amongst men. And let us beseech Jesus, Mary, and Joseph that, through the merits of the pains which they suffered in this journey, they would accompany us in the journey that we are making to eternity. Oh, blessed shall we be if, in life and in death, we keep company with these three great personages, and are always accompanied by them!

Affections and Prayers

My beloved Redeemer, I know that in this journey Thou wast accompanied by hosts of angels from heaven; but on this earth who was there that bore Thee company? Thou hadst but Joseph and Mary who carried Thee with her. Refuse not, O my Jesus! that I also accompany Thee. Miserable ungrateful sinner that I have been, I now see the injuries I have done Thee; Thou didst come down from heaven to make Thyself my companion on earth, and I by my frequent offences have ungratefully abandoned Thee!

When I remember, O my Savior! that for the sake of my own cursed inclinations I have often separated myself from Thee and renounced Thy friendship, I could wish to die of sorrow. But Thou didst come into the world to forgive me: therefore forgive me now, I beseech Thee, for I repent with all my soul of having so often turned my back upon Thee and forsaken Thee. I purpose and hope, through Thy grace, nevermore to leave or separate myself from Thee, O my only love! My soul has become enamoured of Thee, O my amiable Infant God! I love Thee, my sweet Saviour; and snce Thou hast come upon earth to save me and to dispense to me Thy graces, I ask this one only grace of Thee, permit me not to be ever again separated from Thee. Unite me, bind me to Thyself, enchain me with the sweet cords of Thy holy love.

O my Redeemer and my God, who will then have the heart to leave Thee, and to live without Thee, deprived of Thy grace?” Most holy Mary, I come to accompany thee in this journey; and thou, O my Mother, cease not to accompany me in the journey that I am making to eternity. Do thou assist me always, but especially when I shall find myself at the end of my life, and near that moment on which will depend either my remaining always with thee to love Jesus in paradise, or my being forever separated from thee and hating Jesus in hell. My Queen, save me by thy intercession; and may my salvation be to love thee and Jesus forever, in time and in eternity. Thou art my hope; I hope everything from thee.

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Christmas Eve Prayer
from the Liturgical Year, 1910

O Divine Infant! we, too, must needs join our voices with those of the Angels, and sing with them: Glory be to God! and Peace to men! We cannot restrain our tears at hearing this history of Thy Birth. We have followed Thee in Thy journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem; we have kept close to Mary and Joseph on the whole journey; we have kept sleepless watch during this holy Night, waiting Thy coming. Praise be to Thee, sweetest Jesus, for Thy mercy! and love from all hearts, for Thy tender love of us! Our eyes are riveted on that dear Crib, for our Salvation is there; and there we recognise Thee as the Messias foretold in those sublime Prophecies, which Thy Spouse the Church has been repeating to us, in her solemn prayers of this Night. Thou art the Mighty God — the Prince of Peace — the Spouse of our souls — our Peace — our Saviour — our Bread of Life. And now, what shall we offer thee? A good Will?

Ah! dear Lord! Thou must form it within us; Thou must increase it, if Thou hast already given it; that thus, we may become Thy Brethren by grace, as we already are by the human nature Thou hast assumed. But, O Incarnate Word! this Mystery of Thy becoming Man, works within us a still higher grace: — it makes us, as Thy Apostle tells us, partakers of that divine nature, which is inseparable with Thee in the midst of all Thy humiliations. Thou hast made us less than the Angels, in the scale of creation; but, in Thy Incarnation, Thou hast made us Heirs of God, and Joint-Heirs with Thine own divine Self! Never permit us, through our own weaknesses and sins, to degenerate from this wonderful gift, whereby Thy Incarnation exalted us, and oh! dear Jesus, to what a height! Amen

O Emmanuel!

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.

“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.”  ~Isaiah 7:14

“Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”  ~Matthew 1:23

O Rex Gentium!

 

O Rex gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.

O King of the gentiles and their desired One, the cornerstone that makes both one: come, and deliver man, whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.

“And singing the canticle of Moses, the servant of God, and the canticle of the Lamb, saying: Great and wonderful are thy works, O Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, O King of ages.”   ~Revelation 15:3

“The stone which the builders rejected; the same is become the head of the corner.”   ~Psalm 118:22

“Therefore thus saith the Lord God: Behold I will lay a stone in the foundations of Sion, a tried stone, a corner stone, a precious stone, founded in the foundation. He that believeth, let him not hasten.”  ~Isaiah 28:16