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23 December, O EMMANUEL

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Murillo's painting of the Infant Christ distributing bread to pilgrims is an invitation to consider the mystery of the Eucharist, God-With-Us, the Child of Bethlehem, the House of Bread. An Angel assists the Infant Christ. Behind Him (not visible in this detail) is His Mother, her body forming a kind of Eucharistic throne, a variation on the Sedes Sapientiae motif. Perhaps the sequence of the Mass of Corpus Christi provided a subtext for this painting:

Ecce, panis Angelorum,
Factus cibus viatorum:
Vere panis filiorum.

Behold, the Bread of Angels sent
For pilgrims in their banishment,
The Bread for God's true children meant.

O Emmanuel (Is 7:14; 8:8),
our King and Lawgiver (Is 33:22),
the expectation of the nations and their Saviour (Gen 49:10):
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

The Last of the O Antiphons

At Vespers on December 23rd we sing the last of the Great O Antiphons. We are accustomed to seven, but, in other times and places, and even now, there are nine or even as many as twelve.

O Virgo Virginum

O Virgo Virginum, the last of the Great O Antiphons in the old English liturgy of Sarum , occurs on December 23rd. Its structure is quite different from all the other Great O Antiphons. The first part is a question addressed to the Virgin Mary; in the second part she replies with another question, and then, gives her answer.

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? That which ye behold is a divine mystery.

Here, at Silverstream Priory, since the beginning of Advent, we have been singing O Virgo Virginum each morning as the Marian Antiphon at the end of Lauds.

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O Emmanuel

Like the six Great O Antiphons that preceded it, O Emmanuel is addressed to our Lord Jesus Christ. It seems to me that, with each succeeding day, the O of our invocation, and the Veni of our supplication has grown more confident, more intense and, in a sense, more urgent.

Afraid Never Again

Writing in 1964, Mother Marie des Douleurs Wrotnowska, the foundress of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified, offers us a somewhat anguished meditation on the Great Antiphon O Emmanuel. It appears to come out of an experience of weakness, fear, and uncertainty. Some would dismiss it as deeply pessimistic and too gloomy for Advent. I sense something else in it: the prayer of woman wrestling with her inner demons, as we all do, and confident nonetheless in the mystery of God-with-us. This is what she wrote:

Emmanuel. Could we have found a name more sweet? God-with-us. That is to say that nothing in our difficulties, our misunderstandings, our sorrows, even in our agony, will find us alone. We will always have Someone with us, Someone present in our very heart to give the strength and light necessary in those moments.
Also, at the same time, our Beloved is always before us. He is the All-Powerful and He wants that we should be saints, all of us. Therefore, we never again need to be afraid. We can be certain that, should it be called for, even heroism is within our reach because our Companion on the road, our daily Food, is always there. We know that He is in us and we know what He asks of us. We know to what degree of detachment and to what gift of self He calls us. We know to what point we must be found holy at the moment of our death.

Pax Benedictina

The tone is sobering. One senses Mother Wrotnowska's Benedictine soul. "To keep death daily before one's eyes" is the 47th instrument of good works. For all of this, she fights against the fear that troubles the soul in its depths. She knows that peace is the characteristic of the Benedictine soul. She goes on to say:

In what peace, in what serenity, in what an outpouring of joy should we live, just recalling this name of the Lord? What bad thing can befall us, or even what lesser good, since all is known by Him, all is willed, all is allowed by Him who has prepared our eternal happiness. He knows what He allows.

The Love That Casts Out Fear

Again, one hears the echo of Saint Benedict in Chapter Four of the Rule: "To rest one's hope in God (RB 4:41), and never to despair of God's mercy" (RB 4:74). Mother Marie des Douleurs goes on to castigate fear. Fear is the real enemy. Fear is what imprisons the soul. Fear offends the Lord Jesus because one who gives in to fear has not begun "to believe in Love." The fearful person seeks to control every thing, whereas the person who has come to believe in Love Incarnate knows that behind everything is the hand of Love, a hand moved by a Heart that is all Love. And so she concludes:

What a lack of awareness it is and what a hurt for the Heart of Jesus that we should have the slightest fear! Let us strive to be cured of this terrible ill by repeating often "God-with-us." Even now He can, and wills to triumph over all the hell within us.

God With Us, God For Us

"The hell within us" -- I almost hesitated before translating this. But no one goes very far in the interior life before confronting the hell within, the dark place inhabited by fears, sinful passions, selfish impulses, and torments that defy explanation. But Mother Marie des Douleurs is in touch with her own reality and with ours. "If God is for us, who is against us?" (Rom 8:31). The God who is "for us" is "God-with-us." This is truth that delivers from fear. "O Emmanuel . . . veni, veni."

Ave, Maria, gratia plena

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As Mary was, so is the Church today, virgin and handmaid; at the beginning of the year's liturgy, she waits for everything from the Lord's grace. Those who would receive Christ and bring Him forth must become like her . . . her soul was virginal, so well cut loose from everything of earth, so humble before God, that He could wholly fill her. (D. Aemiliana Löhr, The Mass Through the Year)

Sunday of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Advent

The Fourth Sunday of Advent belongs to Our Blessed Lady. Venerable Pope Paul VI, influenced, no doubt, by the ancient practice of the venerable Church of Milan, desired that the Fourth Sunday of Advent should become a veritable festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As he intimates in Marialis Cultus, Pope Paul VI wanted to envelop the Christmas mystery in the gentle presence of the Virgin Mother.

By dedicating the Fourth Sunday of Advent to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and by restoring to January 1st, the feast of the Circumcision, its ancient title of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Venerable Pope Paul VI sought to give us the Infant Christ, the Redeemer of the world, circled round by the tenderness of the Blessed Virgin.

Our Lady: Indispensable to the Advent of Christ

The sacred liturgy celebrates the Virgin Mother before Christmas Day and again eight days after it. This is Mother Church's way of teaching us that the Blessed Virgin Mary is indispensable to every advent of Christ.

If you would welcome Christ, welcome Mary.
If you would receive Christ, seek Mary.
If you would know Christ, know Mary.
If you would love Christ, love Mary.

Dew From Above

The Blessed Virgin is present, not only in the Gospel today, but in every part of today's Mass. The Introit, Rorate, for example, is Our Lady's song before it is ours. It can only be our prayer because it was first the prayer of her Immaculate Heart. "Send down dew from above, you heavens, and let the skies pour down upon us the rain we long for, Him, the Just One: may He, the Saviour, spring from the closed womb of the earth" (Is 45:8). There is no prayer that does not begin in an intense longing for the dew from above. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness; they shall have their fill" (Mt 5:6).

Similarly, the magnificent Offertory Antiphon, Ave Maria, gratia plena (Lk 1:28) and the Communion Antiphon, Ecce, virgo concipiet (Is 7:14) invite us to conversation with the Virgin Mother of the Lord, to a contemplative admiration of her beauty, and to the imitation of her "Fiat". "Be it done to me according to thy word" (Lk 1:38).

Thy Grace Into Our Hearts

Today's Collect in the reformed Missal is familiar and worn like a thing much loved because it is the prayer that, three times each day, concludes the Little Office of the Incarnation that we call the Angelus.

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord.

This prayer sums up the whole economy of our salvation: the message of an angel to the Virgin; the immensity of her "Yes"; the bitter Passion and the Blood outpoured; the Cross, the Tomb, and the triumph of the Prince of Life.

Portress of the Mysteries of Christ

Of all these mysteries, Mary is the Mystical Portress and the Keeper of the Gate. This is why the saints teach that true devotion to Mary is a sure sign of predestination. Understand this aphorism as the saints did: one who loves Mary is destined to imitate her "Yes"; and to follow her through the Passion and Cross of her Son into the glory of His Resurrection.

December 22, O REX GENTIUM

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The connection between this O Antiphon and the "Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization," published five years ago (3 December 2007) by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, prompted me to illustrate my reflection with pictures of missionary martyrs: Saint Jean-Gabriel Perboyre, Saint Théophane Vénard, and the Franciscan Missionaries of China.

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O Rex Gentium

O King of the Gentiles,
and the Desired of all nations(Hag 2:8),
you are the cornerstone (Is 28:16)
that binds two into one (Eph 2:14).
Come, and bring wholeness to man
whom you fashioned out of clay (Gen 2:7).

The Desired of All Nations Shall Come

Today we lift our voices to Christ, calling him King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all nations. The O Antiphon draws upon the second chapter of the prophet Haggai. With the temple still in ruins after the Babylonian exile and the project of rebuilding it daunting, Haggai speaks a word of comfort to Zerubbabel, the governor; to Joshua, the high priest; and to all the remnant of the people:

Take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozodak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit abides among you; fear not. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations -- and here the Vulgate translation used by the liturgy differs from the Hebrew text -- and the Desired of all nations shall come; and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts. (Hag 2:4-8)

The antiphon uses but one phrase from this passage: the Christological title “Desired of All Nations,” but in order to grasp the significance of the title we must listen to all of Haggai’s message of comfort and hope, repeating it, praying it, and lingering over it until it inhabits us.

Truth, Beauty, Goodness

By calling the Messiah the “Desired of all nations,” Scripture and the Sacred Liturgy recognize the aspirations of every nation and culture towards the good, the true, and the beautiful, as aspirations towards Christ. In every culture there are traces of a mysterious preparation for the Gospel. Every time a human being seeks the splendour of the truth, the radiance of beauty, the purity of goodness, he seeks the Face of Christ, the “Desired of all nations.” When the missionary Church proclaims Our Lord Jesus Christ, she is proclaiming the “Desired of all nations.”

To Proclaim Jesus Christ

Without knowing His adorable Name, without having seen His Face, without having been told of His Heart opened by the soldier’s lance, the nations of the earth desire Christ and wait for Him, insofar as they desire and wait for truth, beauty, and goodness. The missionary task of Christians is to preach the Name of Jesus, to point to His Face, and to bear witness to His pierced Heart, saying, “Here is the truth, here is the goodness, here is the beauty you desire: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, risen from the dead, ascended into glory, and coming again.”

In an important “Doctrinal Note On Some Aspects of Evangelization,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed the Church’s commitment to the missionary mandate received from Our Lord. First, the document identified the problem:

There is today . . . a growing confusion which leads many to leave the missionary command of the Lord unheard and ineffective (cf. Mt 28:19). Often it is maintained that any attempt to convince others on religious matters is a limitation of their freedom. From this perspective, it would only be legitimate to present one’s own ideas and to invite people to act according to their consciences, without aiming at their conversion to Christ and to the Catholic faith. It is enough, so they say, to help people to become more human or more faithful to their own religion; it is enough to build communities which strive for justice, freedom, peace and solidarity. Furthermore, some maintain that Christ should not be proclaimed to those who do not know him, nor should joining the Church be promoted, since it would also be possible to be saved without explicit knowledge of Christ and without formal incorporation in the Church.
That sums up the errors that are prevalent today, and explains the sad decline of missionary zeal within the Church. By calling Christ “the Desired of all nations” in today’s Great O Antiphon, the Church reaffirms her commitment to make Him known. The document goes on to say:


The Church’s commitment to evangelization can never be lacking, since according to his own promise, the presence of the Lord Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit will never be absent from her: “I am with you always, even until the end of the world” (Mt 28:20). The relativism and irenicism prevalent today in the area of religion are not valid reasons for failing to respond to the difficult, but awe-inspiring commitment which belongs to the nature of the Church herself and is indeed the Church’s “primary task”. “Caritas Christi urget nos - the love of Christ impels us” (2 Cor 5:14): the lives of innumerable Catholics bear witness to this truth.

Man Fashioned Out of the Clay of the Earth

For the petition of today’s Great O Antiphon the liturgy reaches all the way back to the second chapter of Genesis. We beg Christ to come and “save man whom he fashioned out the clay of the earth” (Gen 2:7). We ask to be refashioned, reshaped, reformed by Christ, the Word through whom all things were made. It is a bold petition: “Come, Christ, make me over, change me, reshape all that is misshapen in me.”

Unity

In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Our Lord answers our prayer. The Holy Ghost is sent in every Mass to change not only bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, but to change us, to reshape all that is misshapen, to restore to wholeness all that is fragmented, and to beauty all that has fallen into unloveliness. In this is the aim of all missionary activity: the recovery of unity not only within ourselves, but also among us, and among all the nations of the world, in the one Mystical Body of Christ. Veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti. Come -- come in the Holy Mysteries of the Altar -- “and bring wholeness to man whom you fashioned from the dust of the earth.”

December 21, O ORIENS

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O DAYSPRING (Zech 6:12; Lk 1:78),
Splendor of Eternal Light (Heb 1:3),
and Sun of Justice (Mal 4:2):
Come, and enlighten those that sit in darkness,
and in the shadow of death (Is 9:2; Lk 1:78-79).

O Oriens

Oriens: the word is familiar because every morning the Church sings: “Per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri -- literally, through the inmost heart, the secret places of the mercy of our God -- in quibus visitavit nos Oriens ex alto -- in which the Orient from on high has visited us” (Lk 1:79).

Oriens was the name of the ancient Roman sun god, the source of warmth, energy, and light. At the same time, Oriens means the rising sun, the victory of light over the shadows of the night.

From the earliest times, Christians at prayer have turned towards the East. Christ is the Dayspring, the rising sun who dawns upon us from high “to give light to those in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:9). The eastward orientation of churches and altars is a way of expressing the great cry of every Eucharist: “Let our hearts be lifted high. We hold them towards the Lord.”

Ad Orientem

When, in the celebration of the liturgy, the priest faces the “liturgical east,” he is “guiding the people in pilgrimage towards the Kingdom” and with them, keeping watch for the return of the Lord. “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Pope Benedict XVI has reminded us that a powerful witness is given in the prayer of a priest and people who stand together facing eastward and giving voice to the same hope. “The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come.’ And let him who hears say, 'Come’” (Revelation 22:17).

The message of the Holy Father at Heiligenkreuz Abbey in September 2007 was clear and compelling:

In all our efforts on behalf of the liturgy, the determining factor must always be our looking to God. We stand before God - he speaks to us and we speak to him. Whenever in our thinking we are only concerned about making the liturgy attractive, interesting and beautiful, the battle is already lost. Either it is Opus Dei, with God as its specific subject, or it is not. In the light of this, I ask you to celebrate the sacred liturgy with your gaze fixed on God within the communion of saints, the living Church of every time and place, so that it will truly be an expression of the sublime beauty of the God who has called men and women to be his friends.

Christ, King and Priest

The prophet Zechariah is another source of the antiphon. The Vulgate gives a shimmering image of Christ, the Orient who is our King and our Priest. “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, saying: Behold a Man, the Orient is his name. . . . Yea, he shall build a temple to the Lord: and he shall bear the glory, and he shall sit, and rule upon his throne: and he shall be a priest upon his throne” (Zech 6:12-13).

Splendour of Eternal Light and Sun of Justice

“Splendor of eternal light” comes from the Letter to the Hebrews. Christ is called “the brightness of the glory of God, and the figure of his substance” (Heb 1:3). “Sun of Justice” comes from the prophet Malachi. “For you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Mal 4:2).

Veni: A Change in the Melody

Today’s O Antiphon is carefully constructed; after three invocations of Christ the Light, the petition begins. But -- surprise! Today’s Great O departs from the familiar pattern: the Veni coming, as it were, out of the depths: do-fa-mi. Today, our Veni has a certitude, a note of triumph, the beginning of a jubilation. It is as if the first rays of the Dayspring are already illuminating our eyes and warming our faces. Today, our cry Veni is sung on la-sol, right after the musical summit of the whole antiphon. Picture this: you have climbed to a mountain peak before sunrise and there, as you survey the dark horizon, you catch the first rosy glimmers of the dawn. From your mountain height you give voice to the cry of your heart: Veni! But the cry comes from one who already sees the light.

The Word Become Prayer

The petition part of the antiphon is taken almost textually from the Benedictus: “Come, and enlighten those that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death” (Is 9:2; Lk 1:78-79). Behind the text of Saint Luke, of course, lies the prophecy of Isaiah that we will sing at Christmas: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-- on them light has shined” (Is 9:2). The extraordinary thing about today’s O Antiphon is that in 5 short lines --3 of invocation and 2 of petition-- there are six biblical sources! There is, I think, no better example of how the liturgy is woven from the very fibers of the Word.

20 December, O CLAVIS DAVID

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To illustrate the antiphon O Clavis David, I chose Bartolomeo Bermejo's magnificent painting of the Harrowing of Hell. It depicts the Risen Christ descending into the dreary dungeon of Hades where Adam and Eve, Methuselah, Solomon, and the Queen of Shebah await Him. The Risen Christ descends into the darkness, radiant in the light of his glory. Psalm 106 expresses the mystery of the moment: "Then they cried to the Lord in their need and he rescued them from their distress. He led them forth from darkness and gloom and broke their chains to pieces" (Ps 106:13-14).

O Key of David
and Sceptre of the House of Israel ,
who opens and no one can shut,
who shuts and no one can open (Is 22:22; Rev 3:7):
Come and bring the prisoners forth from the prison cell,
those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death (Is 42:7; Ps 106:13-14; Lk 1:9).

The Yes to Love

On December 20th we stand in the doorway of the humble dwelling where the Blessed Virgin Mary receives the Angel's message. We are all ears, all eyes . . . listening, looking, and trying to take in something of the mystery that unfolds before us. The mystery of the Annunciation is, in essence, the Virgin’s utterly simple "Yes" to Love; through her "Yes" l'amore che move 'l sol e anche le stelle, the light that moves the stars and even the sun, encloses itself in her womb. We enter the mystery of the Annunciation, not by any effort of the imagination, but by an utterly simple and penetrating act of faith, by the "Yes" to Love.

Love Conceived, Love Crucified, Love Risen

One does not approach the Virgin of the Annunciation without discovering the Mother of Sorrows. The joyful "Yes" to Love conceived beneath the Virgin's heart flowers into the sorrowful "Yes" to Love crucified, and the glorious "Yes" to Love risen from the tomb. Standing in the doorway of the Holy House of Nazareth, listening and looking, we have only to believe in Love, in the Love to whom "nothing is impossible" (Lk 1:37).

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Annunciation

Today's O Antiphon is closely tied to the Annunciation Gospel. "He will be great," said the Angel Gabriel, "and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end" (Lk 1:32-33). We lift our voices to Christ, calling him "Key of David and Sceptre of the House of Israel."

The Key of the House of David

The antiphon draws its invocation from the twenty-second chapter of Isaiah. The Lord says to Shebna, the master of the household of King Hezekiah, "And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Helkias, and I will clothe him with thy robe, and will strengthen him with thy girdle, and will give thy power into his hand: and he shall be as a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Juda. And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a peg in a sure place, and he shall be for a throne of glory to the house of his father" (Is 22:20-23).

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A Key Borne on the Shoulder

Eliakim, whose name means, "God has raised up," is a figure of Christ. Christ is Lord and Master over the household of the Father. On the shoulder of Christ was placed the key of the Cross, the key that opens what no mortal can open, and that closes what no mortal can close. In the image of the great key placed on the shoulder we recognize a figure of the Cross placed on the shoulder of Christ, the key by which heaven is opened and hell vanquished.

Before Thee A Door

The second biblical source of the antiphon's invocation is in the third chapter of the Apocalypse. "And to the angel of the church of Philadelphia, write: These things saith the Holy One and the true one, he that hath the key of David; he that openeth, and no man shutteth; shutteth, and no man openeth. I know thy works." (Apoc 3:7). Read on! The following verse is crucial: "Behold, I have given before thee a door opened, which no man can shut: because thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word and hast not denied my name" (Ap 3:8). The open door set before us is like the door opened before the Virgin Mary by the message of the Angel. It is comforting to hear the Lord say to each of us, "Thou hast a little strength" (Rev 3:8). Our little strength is no obstacle to the designs of God, "because no word shall be impossible with God" (Lk 1:37).

Out of Darkness

The O Antiphons are composed of two parts: the invocation beginning with the word "O," and the petition beginning with the cry, Veni. The petition of today's antiphon is derived from the Song of the Servant given in the forty-second chapter of Isaiah. There, the Lord God presents his servant whom he upholds, the Chosen in whom his soul delights(Is 42:3). The Servant is given as "a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness" (Is 47:7).

The Orient From on High

The second text related to the petition of the antiphon is a familiar one because we sing it every morning at Lauds in the Benedictus. "Through the bowels of the mercy of our God . . . the Orient from on high hath visited us: to enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death: to direct our feet into the way of peace" (Lk 1:79). The way of peace is the way opened before us by the Cross-bearing Christ. Christ, with the key of the Cross, opens the door before us.

Into the Mystery of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

The way of peace leads to the altar and into the mystery of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the actualization of the Kingdom here and now. From the altar, the light of the Resurrection penetrates into all that, in our lives, remains shadowy and locked. With the Virgin of the Annunciation, we have only to believe in Love and, believing, say faith's simple "Yes." Our "little strength" is of no consequence. We go to the altar of God to be overshadowed by the power of Love. Love will do the rest for "God is love" (1 Jn 4:16 ) and "no word shall be impossible with God" (Lk 1:37).

19 December, O RADIX IESSE

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I could have chosen one of the many medieval images of the Tree of Jesse to illustrate this O Antiphon, but instead I chose this 18th century Gesù Bambino from Southern Italy. Now, this may be because I have a not so secret affinity for all things Neapolitan, but it is also because there is something in this Gesù Bambino that goes to the heart of the O Antiphon I am meditating. The Child Christ is holding a little wooden cross. He is gazing at it intently and there is a mysterious sorrow in his eyes. He is also offering the cross to anyone willing to receive it from His hands. This is the Child before Whom kings shall shut their mouths and Whom the nations shall seek. "Lifted up from the earth, He will draw all things to Himself" (cf. Jn 12:32).

O Root of Jesse (Ac 13:22-23),
standing as a sign to the peoples (Is 11:10),
before whom kings shall shut their mouths (Is 52:15),
and whom the nations shall seek (1 K 10:24; 2 Chr 9:23):
Come and deliver us and do not delay (Hab 2:3; Rev 22:20).

O Root of Jesse

The image of the Root of Jesse comes from the eleventh chapter of Isaiah where he says, "And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of His root" (Is 11:1). It is the passage that enumerates the gifts of the Holy Ghost; from the Vulgate, the Catholic tradition counts seven gifts. "And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And He shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord" (Is 11:2-3). This means that when we cry out, "Come," to the Root of Jesse who is Christ, we are, in the same prayer, invoking the Holy Ghost who, in His sevenfold gift, comes to us with the Son.

The Tree of the Cross

Isaiah goes on to say in the tenth verse of the same chapter: "On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of Him." The Root of Jesse is given, not only to Israel, but as a signal to the nations, a standard around which all peoples will rally. In fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, Jesus says of himself, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12:32). The Root of Jesse is already the profile of the Cross: a figure of the glorious standard of the King, the Vexilla Regis of which we sing in the Vespers hymn of September 14th. Today's O Antiphon opens onto the paschal mystery: the Root of Jesse announces that the advent of the Son is ordered to the mission of redemption that He will accomplish on the Tree of the Cross.

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Like a Root Out of Dry Ground

The next line brings the mystery of the Cross into focus more clearly: "before whom kings shall shut their mouths." The text, taken from Isaiah 52, leads directly into the Song of the Suffering Servant. "So He shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of Him" (Is 52:10). This silence of the kings of the earth expresses numbed astonishment. They are dumbstruck by the humble Root of Jesse gloriously exalted, all the more because, "He grew up before the Lord like a young plant a like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or comeliness that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces" (Is 53:2-3).

The Verbum Crucis

The silence of the kings of the earth is their amazement before the triumph of the Cross. The verbum Crucis, the "word of the Cross" (1 Cor 1:18) shuts the mouth of every earthly king. The psalm given us for the Introit of the Christmas Mass In Nocte will describe the machinations of earthly powers against the Christ of God: "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and His anointed" (Ps 2:2). But already, in today's O Antiphon, we see them judged from the Cross; they have no judgments to give, no verdicts, and no decrees, "for the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Cor 1:25).

All the Earth Desires to See His Face

The next line of the antiphon -- "and whom the nations shall seek" -- is not quite as easy to grasp. Its meaning is in the verb used in the Latin text: quem gentes deprecabuntur. The verb deprecari means to implore, to seek favour, to entreat, or to seek, as in Psalm 44:13, "The richest of the people shall seek your favour." The underlying sense of deprecabuntur is found in two very revealing related passages. "And all the earth desired to see Solomon's face, to hear his wisdom, which God had given in his heart" (1 K 10:24). The same text occurs in 2 Chronicles 9:23. You recognize it, I think, as the very text used for the first antiphon of the First Vespers of Christmas: "The King of Peace is magnified and all the earth desires to see His face."

Christ the King

What is described in today's Great O is this: the kings of the earth, dumbstruck by the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection, are forsaken by the nations who, instead of following them in their worldly wisdom and power, now seek Christ, the Root of Jesse, the King who rules from the Tree of the Cross with the wisdom that the world dismisses as folly and with the power that the world judges weak.

The Waiting of All the Ages

The last part of the antiphon is the plea itself that begins with the great cry, "Veni -- O come" with its dramatic do-fa interval leaving the second syllable suspended for what seems like a long moment on the mi. In that suspended mi, we are meant to hear the waiting of all the ages! "O Come, and deliver us, and do not delay."

Coming Soon

The inspiration for the last phrase comes from the book of Habakuk. The Lord himself assures His prophet that the vision promised him will come to pass. "If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay" (Hab 2:3). The antiphon also sends us to the hope held out by the second to the last line of the whole Bible. There, Jesus himself, "the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star" (Apoc 22:16) says, "Surely I am coming soon" (Apoc 22:20). In that word of His lies all our hope.

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Our Lady in the Last Days of Advent

Yes, today, December 18th, is one of the liturgy's loveliest old Advent festivals of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that of the Expectatio Partus. Established in 656 by the bishops assembled for the Tenth Council of Toledo, it was kept by nearly the entire Latin Church. Mother Mectilde de Bar, writing in 17th century France, left some splendid sermons on the feast. The Marquess of Bute calls it, in his fine old translation of the Breviary, "The Blessed Virgin Mary Looking Shortly To Be Delivered." It was also called in Spain, and elsewhere, Nuestra Señora de la O, and this because, after Vespers, the clergy in choir used to give voice to a loud and protracted "O" to express the yearning of the universe for the advent of the Redeemer.

Ave, Maria, gratia plena

Looking first at the Office for the feast, one discovers that the Invitatory Antiphon is the greeting of the Archangel to the Virgin of Nazareth: "Hail Mary, full of grace, * the Lord is with thee." The antiphons on the psalms of Matins are all taken from the Advent Office. The lessons are Isaiah's prophecy of the Virgin with Child (Is 7:10), a passage from Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo on the Maidenhood of Blessed Mary, and one from the Venerable Bede on the Annunciation Gospel. The final responsory is the glorious Fourth Mode Suscipe verbum, "Receive, O Virgin Mary, receive the word of the Lord, which is sent thee by His Angel."

The Collect throughout the day is that of Lady Day in March:

O God who didst will that Thy Word should,
by the message of an Angel,
take flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
grant unto us, we beseech Thee,
that all we who do believe her to be in very deed
the Mother of God,
may be holpen by her prayers in Thy sight.

At Lauds and the Hours, the antiphons are those of Lady Day, while the hymns remain those of the Advent Office. The Magnificat Antiphon is the lovely O Virgo Virginum, composed in the same Second Mode melody as the Great O Antiphons:

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O maiden of maidens,
how shall this be,
since neither before nor henceforth hath there been,
nor shall be such another?
Daughters of Jerusalem,
why look ye curiously upon me?
What ye see is a mystery of God.

The Perpetual Virginity of Our Lady

I would venture to suggest that the Office and Mass of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary are today, more than ever before, worthy of celebration and meditation, given that the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God is roundly mocked by many. Even in the minds of many of the faithful, enfeebled by a forty year dearth of popular orthodox catechesis, a tragic confusion holds sway concerning the privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary and, in particular, her virginity before, during, and after childbirth. There are many, alas, who, affected by various mutations of creeping Nestorianism and Arianism, have no grasp of what it means to call the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Those who do not confess the privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary, honouring them and celebrating them, fall inevitably into one or another of the classic Christological heresies.

All of this makes me want to open my Processionale Monasticum to page 146 and sing, Gaude Maria, Virgo, cunctas haereses sola interemisti:

Rejoice, O Mary,
by whose mighty hand the Church hath victory
over her foes [every heresy] achieved,
since thou to Gabriel's word of quickening power
in lowliness hast listened, and believed
-- thou, still a virgin, in thy blessed womb
hast God Incarnate of thy flesh conceived,
and still, in heaven, of that virginity remainest
after childbirth unbereaved.
V. Blessed art thou that hast believed,
for there is a performance of those things
which were told thee from the Lord.

18 December, O ADONAI

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I will attempt each day until December 22 to present the O ANTIPHON of the following day. Yesterday I presented O SAPIENTIA. Tomorrow's O ANTIPHON is O ADONAI.

This is the central panel of a triptych painted by Nicolas Froment in 1476. It depicts Moses awestruck before the Burning Bush and the appearance of the Angel of the Lord. The Burning Bush -- here a rose bush all ablaze with radiating flames -- surrounds the Virgin Mother holding her Divine Son. The Child Christ holds a mirror in his hand in which both of them are reflected. The painting illustrates a mystical antiphon of the Office of January 1st to which I refer below.

A Precarious Note

Again today the great cry goes up, a cry wrung from the depths of our being, a cry framed between two expressive words: O and Veni. The musical treatment of both words is the same: do-fa-mi. The interval do-fa is a stretching heavenward. We hardly reach the dominant fa of our confidence when we fall to the precarious mi, an unstable note in the second mode, one that suggests just how fragile we are. The mi is suspended: we have cast our prayer upward into the heavens. The uncertainty of the mi obliges us to hope against hope, to believe without seeing, to abandon our prayer once we have thrown it into the heavens, trusting that the hand of God will receive it and take it to heart.

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ADONAI

Yesterday we called to the Christ, naming Him Wisdom, Sapientia; today we call Him ADONAI, Sacred Lord, Master of All, Majesty. Today we have the most Jewish of the O Antiphons: ADONAI, Moses, and Sinai -- the Lord God, the man of God, and the mountain of God are named in a single brief prayer. ADONAI is used frequently in the Hebrew scriptures. The Jews use it in place of the holy and unutterable name, the name that it is forbidden to pronounce. You see, then, the significance of this name given to Christ. Christ is the "angel of God" who appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush (cf. Ex 3:2). "And, lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, 'I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt" (Ex 3:2-3).

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Apparuisti

The center and summit of today’s antiphon is the appearance of God to Moses in the burning bush. The most important word of the antiphon is apparuisti - "thou who didst appear." It is on this word that the melody soars to the heights of "Horeb, the mountain of God" (Ex 3:1), giving to its last syllable the astonishing treatment of a double torculus: six notes in all!

The Virgin Mother of God

When Saint Joseph was confronted with the inexplicable mystery of Mary, his betrothed, being found with child, he was very much like Moses before the burning bush. "Lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed" (Ex 3:2). An antiphon of January 1st makes exactly this comparison: "In the bush which Moses saw burning and yet not burnt, we recognize your virginity gloriously preserved. O Mother of God, intercede for us." Man before the mystery. "I will turn aside and see" (Ex 3:3)

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The Call of God

Moses' experience before the burning bush is a paradigm of all prayer. God drew Moses out of himself, and captured his attention by means of the burning bush. "And when the Lord saw that he went forward to see, he called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said: 'Moses, Moses!" And he said, 'Here am I!'" (Ex 3:4). Just when we think that prayer is about our calling to God, we discover that it is really about God calling to us. Just when we think we have put our whole heart into saying, "Come!" to God, we discover that ceaselessly God puts His whole heart into saying "Come!" to us.

Adoration

God wants us close, very close to himself, but in the intimacy of adoration, in a wondering awareness of the Mystery. Adoration carries us into the infinity of God, into depths where our senses and our reason cannot go. And this is the reason why Moses is ordered to remove the shoes from his feet. "Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground" (Ex 3:5). Only then does God reveal Himself as the Maker of covenants (Gen 17:1-8), the Giver of Blessings (Gen 26:12), the Mysterious Wrestler in the night (cf. Gen 32:24-30). "And He said, 'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God" (Ex 3:6).

Saint Joseph

Saint Joseph too found himself drawn close, very close, to Mary his bride-with-child, but like Moses, he could not help but hide his face, that is, suspend the judgment of his senses and his reason. Saint Joseph's chaste intimacy with his bride was one of amazement and wondering awe. Only after the message of the Angel in the night was Joseph able to live with the Mystery. "And he took his wife into his home" (Mt 1:24).

Moses hides his face; what he cannot see with his eyes of flesh, he perceives with the eyes of the heart. One understands too why Saint Joseph is the friend of those who suffer dark nights of not seeing so as to better see into the inscrutable depths of the Mystery. So it is, always, in prayer. "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face" (1 Cor 13:12). Paradoxically, in prayer, seeing comes from not seeing. This is why Saint Paul prays that the Ephesians may have "the eyes of their hearts enlightened, that they may know what is the hope to which God has called them" (cf. Eph 1:18).

I Have Seen

Only after having drawn Moses to himself in adoration and in the not-seeing that is seeing, does God reveal His plan: "I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them" (Ex 3:7). The Veni of today's O Antiphon rests upon this promise. Christ-ADONAI sees our affliction. Christ-ADONAI hears our cry. Christ-ADONAI knows our sufferings. Christ-ADONAI has come, comes even now, and will come again to deliver us. Veni! The instability of that mi becomes a tremor of joy.

In Brachio Extento: the Cross

Today's O Antiphon ends with a mysterious allusion to the Cross. Veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento -- "Come to redeem us with an outstretched arm." There is certainty and rest in the last note of the antiphon. The final re is where all our hopes come to rest in an unshakeable confidence. We know that the arms of the Crucified outstretched on the wood of the Cross draw us even now into the embrace of God. This is the reality of every celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the definitive answer to our Veni. "Come," we cry. And ADONAI, our crucified, risen, and returning Christ answers, "Come to me . . . and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28).

17 December, O SAPIENTIA

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The Saints John

How delightful to see in this painting both little Johns, the Baptist and the Theologian, together with the Incarnate Word, Holy Wisdom. Note that the little Evangelist is already writing the opening words of the Prologue of his Gospel.

Meditating the O Antiphons

Beginning today, I will offer reflections on each of the Great O Antiphons. In the Novus Ordo Missae, the Great O's may be sung not only at Vespers each day, in their traditional place before and after the Magnificat, but also as the Verse, taken with an Alleluia in the 2nd Mode, during the procession with the Evangeliary at Mass. This innovation may be understood as a pastoral accommodation to familiarize those of the faithful who have no experience of the Divine Office with the incomparable treasure of the O Antiphons.

The traditional use of the O Antiphon before and after the Magnificat at Vespers also presents it in relationship to the Gospel, for the Magnificat is the unchanging Gospel of Vespers, and the high point of the sacrificium vespertinum.

In monasteries, the first of the Great O Antiphons is intoned by the Abbot or Prior from his place; the choir continues it standing outside the stalls. Candlebearers flank the Abbot or Prior; the church bells are rung continuously throughout the Antiphon and the Magnificat; and the altar is incensed.

The Arrival of Holy Wisdom

In the Novus Ordo Missae, The General Instruction on the Roman Missal emphasizes the importance of the procession with the Book of the Gospels. It is a kind of parousia, the glorious appearing of the Lord "amid cries of gladness and thanksgiving, the throng wild with joy" (Ps 41:5). It is the arrival of the Bridegroom; His advent is greeted with jubilant alleluias and with lighted lamps. It is the descent of the all-powerful Word from the royal throne "into the midst of the land that was doomed" (Wis 18:15).

The melismatic Gregorian Alleluia is the Church's ecstatic cry of welcome; it is an eschatological song, for the arrival of Christ in the sacramental Word anticipates His arrival in glory upon the clouds of heaven (cf., Mt 24:30).

Make Known to Us Your Ways

O Wisdom coming forth from the mouth of the Most High God, Your lordship is over all that is, stretching from the beginning to the end, You who order all things with might and with sweetness, come teach us the path of prudence. Make known to us Your ways.

The age-old text shines with a fresh and immediate meaning every time it is sung: the Holy Gospel--be it the Magnificat or the Gospel of the Mass--deploys the virtus Christi in the midst of the Church. With good reason, then, did Christians of old believe in the healing power of the Holy Gospel read over the sick. "And all the multitude sought to touch him, for virtue went out from him, and healed all" (Luke 6:19).

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The Last Gospel of the Mass, the Prologue of Saint John, is but one example of the Gospel being read super populum, for the healing of the sick, the blessing of non-communicants, and the deliverance of those tormented by evil spirits.

Prudence

We acclaim Christ the Logos in His appearing as Holy Wisdom, the eternal Wisdom of the Father, and we make a very specific petition: "Come, teach us the way of prudence." What is prudence? It is the habit of using our reason, in every circumstance, to discern what is our true good and of choosing the means to achieve it. Saint Thomas calls prudence "right reason in action." Prudence is an austere virtue because it means that we will not allow our decisions, our course of action, or our reactions to be determined by our emotions.

When we allow our choices to be determined by fear--fear of loss, fear of rejection, fear of making a mistake, fear of failure, fear of the future, or any other fear--we are not being prudent. When we allow our choices to be determined by an unwise love, a disordered love, we are not being prudent. When we choose impulsively, we are not being prudent. When we delay choosing and put off acting, we are not being prudent. Prudence has to do with choosing wisely so as to act wisely. And so today, we cry out to Wisdom, begging to be taught the way of prudence.

The Might and Sweetness of God

Our plea is answered immediately in the chanting of the Magnificat (or of the Gospel of the Mass) and, then, most perfectly, in the adorable mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. In response to our cry, the Word is sent forth ex ore Altissimi, "from the mouth of the Most High." Fortiter. The might of God comes to us in our weakness. Suaviter. The gentle sweetness of God comes to us in our bitterness. "Come to teach us the way of prudence." The prudence of God comes to rescue us from our folly.

The Cortège of Wisdom

The "secret and hidden Wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification" (1 Corinthians 2:7) comes to us enfleshed in a human story. The long genealogy of Saint Matthew invites the ancestors of Christ to precede Him in His advent, to surround him in His appearing, and to join with us in hearing and in adoring Him. All of the names pronounced in the Genealogy together form the royal cortège of Wisdom.

Wisdom in Our Midst

Will the advent of Holy Wisdom, her arrival and appearing in our midst, leave us unchanged? Today is the meeting of our weakness with the might of the Logos, the meeting of our harshness with God's disarming gentleness, the meeting of our shortsightedness with the prudence of the ages.

Shall we plead for Wisdom's arrival and then refuse her advances? Shall we retreat before the arrival of the long-desired Word? Or shall we go out to meet Wisdom with lighted lamps?

The Taste of Wisdom

Holy Wisdom's arrival in what Evelyn Underhill calls "the liturgic Word" is completed in the mysteries of Christ's Sacred Body and Precious Blood. Our communion with Wisdom is two-fold: in Word and in Sacrament. We go to the altar, Wisdom's table. To our "Come!" Wisdom replies, in turn, "Come, eat my bread and drink the wine which I have mingled for you. Forsake childishness, and live, and walk by the ways of prudence" (Pr 9:5-6).

Gaudete in Domino semper!

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The image of Saint John's vision in the Apocalypse (1360-1390) is by Jacobello Alberegno. I chose it because the Eternal Father is vested in a lovely rosy pink garment. Gaudete Sunday in heaven?

Third Sunday of Advent
A Homily on the Introit

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer let your petitions be made known to God (Phil 4:4-6).

Rejoice in the Lord Always

We began Advent on the crest of a surging wave, an immense welling up of hope that lifted us out of ourselves and carried us Godward: "All my heart goes out to Thee, my God; I trust in Thee" (Ps 24:1). Last Sunday, the Introit did not address God at all; it was a clarion call, a trumpet blast to wake us up, to shake us up, a summons to open our hearts to the joy of the glorious voice of the Lord (Is 30:30). Next Sunday, the Introit will again become pure prayer, a cry wrenched from the depths of human experience, a plea for the dew from heaven, the dew that refreshes and makes fruitful. "Send down dew from above ye heavens, and let the skies pour down upon us the rain we long for, Him, the Just One" (Is 45:8).

Today's Introit is one of the few drawn from the Epistles of Saint Paul. It is an exhortation to joy, but its mood is quiet and reflective. "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer let your petitions be made known to God" (Phil 4:4-6).

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Grace, and Loveliness, and Joy

What the Latin gives as, "gaudete" and the English as "rejoice," is astonishingly rich in Saint Paul's Greek. Any one translation would be inadequate. Paul says, "chaírete." It is the very same word used by the angel Gabriel to greet the Virgin of Nazareth. "Chaire, kecharitoménè!" "Joy to you, O full of grace!"(Lk 1:28). The word is untranslatable. Just when we think we have seized its meaning once and for all, another door opens inside it. "Chaírete" was the ordinary greeting of the Greeks. It embraces health, salvation, loveliness, grace, and joy, all at once. In the mouth and in the ear of Christians, the taste of the word is indescribable. "Grace to you, and loveliness, and joy in the Lord; again I wish you grace, and loveliness, and joy" (Phil 4:4). Saint Paul's greeting is not so much an imperative -- a command to be joyful -- as it is the imparting of a gift in the Lord. "What I wish for you, what I send you, what I offer you in the Lord is grace, and loveliness, and joy."

The Lord is at Hand

The second sentence becomes more intelligible in the light of the first. Paul says, "Let your gentleness -- or your modesty, your courtesy, your forbearance, your serenity, your meekness -- be known to everyone" (Phil 4:5). In other words, give evidence around you of the gift you have received: grace, and loveliness, and joy in the Lord. Show each other faces that are serene and peaceful, radiant with joy, faces that reflect the loveliness of God. And he adds, "the Lord is at hand" (Phil 4:5). This is the great central affirmation of the liturgy today, and every day. "The Lord is at hand" (Phil 4:5).

No Anxiety

He who is to come is already here, near to us, close at hand. God is present, and from his presence streams all grace, all loveliness, all joy. Saint Paul draws a very practical conclusion from this: "Have no anxiety about anything"(Phil 4:6). Were God absent, had God not yet come in His Christ and in the gift of the Holy Ghost, we might have reason to worry, reason for anxiety, and for fear. Worry and anxiety are an affront to the graciousness of God, a denial of his nearness to us, a turning from Him who has turned His Face towards us. Saint Paul is categorical: "Have no anxiety about anything" (Phil 4:6). You will recall the words of Saint Teresa of Jesus: "Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God alone is changeless. He who has patience wants for nothing. He who has God has all things. God alone suffices."

A thousand reasons not to follow Saint Paul's mandate come to mind. "But I have this, and he has that. This thing is lacking, and of another thing there is too much." This kind of thinking leaves us wide open to an attack of the "what ifs." "What if this happens, and what if that?" It is easy to listen to the voices of our fears, our insecurities, our need to arrange, rearrange, and attempt to control even things beyond our control. The Apostle says, "Have no anxiety about anything," but we hold ourselves excused, saying, "Is not a little anxiety, just a little bit of worry reasonable and right?" Saint Paul is not moved by our rationalizations. "Have no anxiety about anything" (Phil 4:6).

Behold!

The Epistle repeated, word for word, the text of the Introit. And the Communion Antiphon will deliver the same message: "Say to those who are of a fearful heart, be ye comforted and have no fear; behold, our God will come and save us" (Is 35:4). Again, the marvelous pedagogy of the Church! She knows that during the Introit, the Epistle we may have been distracted for a moment or inattentive. She wants us to hear the message nonetheless, and so she repeats it again and again at Communion: "Say to those who are of a fearful heart, be ye comforted and have no fear; behold, our God will come and save us" (Is 35:4).

The "Behold" of the Communion Antiphon echoes the "Behold" of the invitation to Communion: "Behold, the Lamb of God; behold, our God will come and save us!" And so, he comes. The Lamb comes in the adorable mysteries of His Body and Blood; He comes in His Eucharistic advent to comfort us and deliver us from every fear.

Prayer

Saint Paul gives us the key to a worry-free life, the means to stop grumbling, fretting, and trying to manage and control everything. "In everything," he says, "by prayer let your requests be made known to God" (Phil 4:6). Saint Paul sends us to prayer because in prayer God accomplishes the things that of ourselves, and by ourselves, we are unable to do. In prayer we wait, all of us -- the weak, the poor, the misshapen, the broken, and the wounded-- for God's gifts of grace, and loveliness, and joy.

God Silent in His Love

It is in prayer, especially in adoring silence before the Blessed Sacrament, that we experience the truth of what the Prophet Zephaniah declares: "The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty, He will save; He will rejoice over thee with gladness, He will be silent in His love, He will be joyful over thee in praise" (Zeph 3:17). How I treasure that one mysterious phrase in Zephaniah's prophecy: "He will be silent in His love" (Zeph 3:17). Silebit in dilectione sua. The silence of Christ, loving us in the mystery of His Eucharistic advent, is the wellspring of all our joy. Join Him in His silence and He will give you the joy of His dilectio, the love by which He singles you out, cherishes you, and reveals Himself as the Bridegroom of the soul.

The Sacrament of Our Joy

Today's Introit, you see, is a blessed imperative and a gracious gift. It prepared us to hear the Word of God and, in a few moments the remembrance of it will send us to the altar, to the place of Christ's Sacrifice to the Father. To us who "know not how to pray as we ought" (Rom 8:26), the Holy Ghost communicates the perfect and all sufficient prayer of Christ Himself. The Most Holy Eucharist is the sacrament of our joy. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the inbreaking of divine joy. "Joy to you in the Lord at all times; once again I wish you joy" (Phil 4:4). Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Gaudens gaudebo in Domino

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A Meditation on the Mass of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Look at this extraordinary medieval painting that shows the Tree of Life with Mary on one side and Eve on the other. Eve, completely naked, is giving the bitter fruit of her sin to her own communicants in evil. From her side of the tree a skull looks out, grimacing in death. On the other side of the tree is Mary, crowned and clothed in grace and beauty. She takes pure white hosts from among the branches of the tree and, like a priest distributing Holy Communion, places them in the mouths of her own communicants in eternal life. In the branches of Mary's side of the tree there is a crucifix. The Face of the Crucified is turned toward those who partake of the fruit of the Cross.

A Song From the Womb

"Rejoicing, I will rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God. He has clothed me with the garment of salvation, and with the robe of justice He has wrapped me about, as a bride adorned with her jewels" (Is 61:10). A song intoned from the womb! The Church takes the jubilant words of the prophet Isaiah and places them in the mouth of the Immaculate Conception, the Child full of grace just conceived in the womb of Saint Anne.

Prelude to the Magnificat

Gaudens, gaudebo in Domino. "Rejoicing, I will rejoice in the Lord." If you would understand the text, you must sing it as the Church sings it on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The exegesis of the text is in its ravishing third mode melody composed by Dom Pothier (1835-1923), monk of Solesmes and later abbot of Saint-Wandrille. It soars pure as crystal in a kind of ecstatic cry of undiluted joy in God.

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Mary herself intones the first chant of the Mass today: a kind of prelude to her Magnificat. Already -- just conceived -- the Child Mary begins to sing, and with her the whole Church. On no other feast of the year does the liturgy allow the Virgin Mary to open the Mass by singing in the first person singular. "Rejoicing, I will rejoice" (Is 61:10). Mary's message, from the first instant of her Immaculate Conception, is one of joy in God.

The Tree

The joy of the Immaculate Conception springs from the mystery of the Cross. The Collect says that Mary was "preserved from all stain" in foresight of the death of Christ on the Cross. Here enters the figure of the tree glimpsed in today's First Lesson from Genesis. The tree of Eve's mourning and weeping becomes for Mary the tree of "an unutterable and exalted joy" (1 P 1:8). Mary is the first to taste of the sweet fruit of the Tree of Life; Mary is the first to sing of the joy of the cross.

Holy and Immaculate Before the Father

The Collect asks that we, by the Blessed Virgin Mary's intercession, may come into the presence of God "with pure hearts." The Collect points to the Lesson from Ephesians. Saint Paul says that "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph 1:3) chose us in Christ "that we should be holy and immaculate before Him" (Eph 1:4). This standing before God in holiness contrasts with the fear of Adam and Eve who, upon hearing the sound of God in the garden, "hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden" (Gen 3:8). The naked Christ, exposed to the gaze of the Father on the tree of the Cross, casts out the fear that caused our first parents to make of the trees of the garden a screen between themselves and the Face of God. The first effect of the grace of Christ is that it makes us come into the presence of the Father, "free from fear" (Lk 1:73). "For you have not received the spirit of bondage in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: 'Abba, Father'" (Rom 8:15).

Blessed the Clean of Heart

The Collect asks specifically that we, being made clean, may draw near to God. The connection with the beatitude of the clean of heart is not to be missed: "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8). Mary, the Immaculate Conception, is the Mother of the pure in heart. By her intercession, she obtains from Christ, again and again, the application of "the blood of his Cross" (Col 1:20) to every heart darkened and defiled by sin. The Collect invites us to pray, specifically through the intercession of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, the poignant petition of King David: "A pure heart create for me, O God" (Ps 50:12).

Immaculate Mother of the Purest of Lambs

The Prayer Over the Offerings returns to the same petition, asking that "we may be freed from all our faults" by Mary's intercession. A culpis omnibus liberemur! What a stupendous petition! It leads directly into the Preface. There we praise the Father for His work in Mary, calling her "the purest of Virgins, she who was to bear your Son, the innocent Lamb who takes away our sins." We seem to hear already something of the sermon of Meliton of Sardis read in Holy Week: "He is the mute lamb, the slain lamb, the lamb born of Mary, the fair ewe" (Paschal Homily).

O Dayspring

The Communion Antiphon opens on a phrase from Psalm 86, a song in praise of Zion, the city cherished by the Lord. The liturgy takes the verse, "Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God" (Ps 86:3), and in place of "city of God" says "Mary." "Glorious things are said of thee, O Mary." A key image from the prophet Malachi completes the Communion Antiphon: "for from thee has arisen the Sun of Justice, Christ our God" (cf. Mal 4:2). We see here a glimmer of the O Antiphon of December 21st: "O Dayspring, radiance of the light Eternal and sun of justice; come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death." In Malachi's prophecy the "sun of justice" rises "with health in His wings" (Mal 4:2). Mary, the Immaculate Mother of the clean of heart, is also the Mother of all those healed by the rays of Christ, the Sun of Justice.

Our Wounds Repaired

Today's Mass is artfully constructed of interlocking parts. It requires the closest attention of those who would benefit from its teachings and, through it, receive the sweet light of today's mystery. The Communion Antiphon leads directly into the Postcommunion Prayer and interprets it. "Lord our God, may the sacraments that we have received heal (or repair) within us the wounds of that fault from which you preserved the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in so wonderful a way." In every Holy Mass, "Christ, the Sun of Justice arisen from Mary" shines for each of us with "healing in His wings" (Mal 4:2). Unlike Mary, we were conceived bearing the wounds of Adam's ancient sin but, by the Eucharistic Face of Christ shining like the sun, we are healed of the wounds from which the Immaculate Conception was preserved.

The First and Last Word Given to Joy

In the end, for those who allow themselves to be illumined by the grace of the sacred liturgy today, there is a return to the song of the beginning. "Rejoicing, I will rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God. He has clothed me with the garment of salvation, and with the robe of justice he has wrapped me about, as a bride adorned with her jewels" (Is 61:10). This is the song not only of the beginning of today's Mass; it is the song of Mary's beginning in her mother's womb. It is the song of every new beginning in grace. It is the song of every man and woman once paralyzed by fear, but now set free to stand unafraid in the sight of the Father. It is the song of every heart darkened and stained by sin, but now made bright and clean by grace. It is the song of every life wounded by sin, but healed by the Sun of Justice who, even now, will rise glorious above the altar "with healing in his wings" (Mal 4:2). The last word and the first belong to joy.

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The Orbit Determined By Christ

At the very moment when the Magi, guided by the star, adored Christ the new king, astrology came to an end, because the stars were now moving in the orbit determined by Christ. This scene, in fact, overturns the world-view of that time, which in a different way has become fashionable once again today. It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love--a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free.
Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

Until the Stars in Welcome Sing

This is my homespun translation of the seventh century hymn for Vespers in Advent: Conditor Alme Siderum. (John Mason Neale's translation is far superior to mine. Read it and hear the ancient syllabic melody here.) When Advent rolls round and I sing this hymn in Latin or in English translation, I see in my mind's eye Van Gogh's Starry Night. In the little church with the tall steeple at the bottom of the painting there must be a lingering scent of incense. Advent Vespers will have been sung. The Creator of the Starry Night is glorified.

O Light unconquered, Source of Light,
Whose radiance kindles stars and sun,
Shine tenderly on us this night;
Creation groans until you come.

Immense your grief to see our plight:
When sin had shrouded all, you came.
True Dayspring bursting death's dark bands,
Emmanuel, your saving name!

Night weighed upon a weary world
When silently you pitched your tent,
Enclosed within the Virgin's womb
True man, true God from heaven sent.

So to the darkened world in need,
Eternal Word, you came as man.
You came as Bridegroom, swift and strong,
To claim the prize the course you ran.

Until your glory fills the skies,
Until the stars in welcome sing,
Until you judge both small and great,
From sin, protect us, Sovereign King.

To God the Father, God the Son,
To God the Spirit ever be
Glad songs of praise throughout the night
While faith adores the mystery. Amen.

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I read this text of Mother Mectilde de Bar (1614-1698) during my prayer this morning and knew that I had to translate it. She gave it as a Chapter conference on 17 December 1671.

To illustrate the text, I chose the work of a contemporary of Mother Mectilde, the French sculptor MIchel Anguier (1613-1686). The piece was originally executed for the altar of the church at Val de Grâce in Paris. Today it is in the Church of Saint-Roch just above the tabernacle. Mother Mectilde says it well: "Holy Communion is an extension of the Incarnation." The electric vigil light next to the tabernacle is most unfortunate.

As for the text itself, it is representative of the French School with its interest in the perduring grace of the mysteries of Christ, something masterfully developed by Blessed Abbot Marmion in Christ in His Mysteries. At the same time, by reason of her insight into spiritual childhood and littleness, Mother Mectilde is a forerunner of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face.

It is true that the mystery is past, I recognize it, and that it happened only once, but the grace of the mystery is not, in fact, past for the souls who prepare themselves to give birth to Jesus Christ in their heart. He was born one time in Bethlehem, and he is born every day in us with Holy Communion, which, as the Fathers say, is an extension of the Incarnation.
Do you know why Our Lord did not want to be born in the city of Jerusalem? It is because there all was full of creatures; there was not a single empty house. All was full of business or something other. He preferred to be born in a poor stable, empty and abandoned. This demonstrates to us that, if we want Jesus to abide in us, we must empty ourselves of all things, withour exception. This being done, He will impress in us His spirit, His lifem His inclinations, and in such a soul one will see only Jesus.
Those who have received this grace, will be recognized easily by their docility and simplicity, the companion virtues of holy childhood. Who are the first to come to the Infant Jesus to offer Him homage? Poor folk, shepherds. It is what the Gospel says: "Ye who are little, come unto Me." Only the humble are worthy of learning secrets so divine, hidden from the great ones of the earth, who are precisely the proud. The more a soul is little, the more will God communicate Himself to her. He goes to seek her out in the depth of her nothingness, where He fills her with all Himself.

Iterum dico, gaudete!

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This is our new rose-coloured set of vestments, made by Brother Augustine Kelly, O.F.M., Conv. The photo was taken in our sacristy immediately after Holy Mass this morning.

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Seek the Face of Christ

Saint Ambrose invites us to seek the Face of Christ in his mysteries, that is to say, in the Sacred Liturgy. When the Church opens the her liturgical books, it is to discover the Face of Christ shining from their pages. When, in obedience to the command of the Lord, she offers the adorable mysteries of His Body and Blood, all her joy is in the contemplation of His Eucharistic Face.

I Have Found Thee in Thy Mysteries

When, ten years ago, the Poor Clares of Barhamsville, Virginia offered to design a card commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of my ordination to the holy priesthood, I did not hesitate in choosing a text. Immediately, the words of Saint Ambrose came to mind:

Face to face,
Thou hast made thyself known to me, O Christ;
I have found thee in thy mysteries.

Living Face-to-Face With Our Lord

We encounter Christ face-to-face if we persevere in seeking Him -- in all circumstances and in every place -- but especially in his Mysteries: in His Word, in the Adorable Sacrament of His Body and Blood, in the prayer of His Bride, the Church. This is the supreme motive for every investigation of the liturgy. It is not about acquiring knowledge, or satisfying a certain curiosity. It is about living face-to-face with Our Lord.

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Saints in Advent

We celebrate the Holy Mysteries on December 4th in the company of two saints, both of them lights from the East: Saint Barbara, Virgin and Martyr, and Saint John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Church. Today I will remember at the altar the friends named Barbara whom God has placed in my life. Saint Barbara, according to the legend, was enclosed in a tower (some accounts say it was a bathhouse) by her pagan father. There were two windows in this improvised prison cell.

Three Windows

Taking advantage of her father's temporary absence, Barbara instructed the servants to make a third window in honour of the Most Holy Trinity. The light poured into Barbara's cell from three windows; her soul, meanwhile, was flooded by what Saint Benedict calls "the deifying light" of the Three Divine Persons. Thus was Saint Barbara found "vigilant in prayer and joyful in singing the divine praises" at the hour of her martyrdom. I can only imagine Saint Barbara praying, in her solitude, the sublime prayer of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, O My God, Trinity Whom I Adore.

God is Light

In this, Saint Barbara speaks to all who feel hemmed in and imprisoned by the circumstances of life. To all who feel shut in and imprisoned, to all who live behind walls, Saint Barbara says, "Lift your eyes to the light of the Most Holy Trinity. Let the glorious radiance of the Three Divine Persons shine in your solitude." Her message is that of Saint Paul who says, "Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, who is your life, then you shall appear with Him in glory" (Col 3:2-4). Her message is that of the Apostle John: "God is light, and in Him there is no darkness" (1 Jn 1:5).

At the Door

Captivity became for Saint Barbara a time of "eager anticipation" for the advent of Christ her Bridegroom. Today's Collect would have us await the advent of Christ, "untainted by the contagion of our former ways," and already "consoled by the presence of Him who is to come," in such wise that waiting becomes the adoration of His Face. Then when Christ knocks at the door, He will find us turned toward Him, vigilant in prayer, and joyful in singing His praises. "Behold," He says, "I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Ap 3:20).

Crastina erit vobis salus

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Lauds on the Vigil of Christmas

One of the most beautiful Offices of the entire liturgical year is, I think, that of Lauds on the Vigil of Christmas. A veritable Pre-Feast! Set amongst antiphons that are poignantly expressive of hope and gladsome anticipation, the festive psalms are sung: 66, 92, 99, 62, the Benedicite, and then, of course, the Laudate Psalms, 148-149-150.

Praying With the Church

In his Christmas address to the Roman Curia this past Monday, 20 December, Pope Benedict XVI gave the Church a glimpse of how he prays, thus revealing his benedictine heart. The Holy Father's personal prayer is nourished by the antiphons, collects, and other texts of the Divine Office. He seems to ponder them, turning them over in his heart. Then, spontaneously, these same texts surface in his preaching and in his writing, inviting all who hear him or read him to enter, with him, into The Prayer of the Church.

Today's Antiphons

Consider the antiphons we sang at Lauds this morning:

1. O Judah and Jerusalem, * fear not; tomorrow ye shall go out, and the Lord will be with you, alleluia. (Chronicles 20:17)

2. This day ye shall know * that the Lord cometh: and in the morning, then ye shall see His glory. (Exodus 16: 6-7)

3. On the morrow * the sins of the earth shall be washed away, and the Saviour of the world will be our King.

4. The Lord cometh! * --Go ye out to meet Him, and say, How great is His dominion, and of His kingdom there shall be no end: He is the Mighty God, the Ruler, the Prince of Peace, alleluia, alleluia.

5. On the morrow * ye shall be saved, saith the Lord God of hosts.

Recollection

All, or any one of these antiphons, or even a phrase taken from them, is enough to hold the heart recollected in the presence of God through the remaining hours of what, for most of us, will be a very busy day of preparation. The Church herself teaches us to return to the antiphons of the morning Office by repeating them at Prime, at Tierce, at Sext, and at None. This is the very pedagogy of the Church, exercised in the Sacred Liturgy.

Praying the Rosary with Antiphons

For folks (even Benedictine Oblates) who do not have the time to pray the entire Divine Office, or even one or another of the Hours in full, it is always possible to integrate the antiphons of a given feast or mystery into the humble prayer of Our Lady's Rosary. Given that there are five antiphons in this morning's Office, one might read one antiphon before each decade of the Rosary. In this way, the mystery of the Incarnation (recalled in the Joyful Mysteries) becomes the meditation of each decade, while the Rosary itself is more closely bound to The Prayer of the Church. Thus does "Our Lady's Psalter," the Rosary, become a way of entering more fully into the contemplation offered us by the Church in her liturgy.

LIsten to Saint Paul

The Capitulum (short reading) is the incipit of Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, born a descendant of royal David, is the fulfillment of all that was spoken by the Prophets.

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle, separated unto the Gospel of God, which He had promised afore by His Prophets, in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, Which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh. (Romans 1:1)

The Responsory

The Short Responsory departs from the yearning Fourth Mode melody that we have sung all during Advent and, in anticipation of the joy of the Nativity, returns to the confident and glad-hearted Sixth Mode:

R. Today ye shall know * that the Lord cometh.
V. And in the morning, ye shall see His glory.
R. That the Lord cometh.
V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
R. Today ye shall know * that the Lord cometh.

The Benedictus Antiphon

The Saviour of the world shall rise like the sun
and come down into the womb of the Virgin
as the showers upon the grass, alleluia.

The Benedictus Antiphon, with its expressive Eighth Mode melody, is exquisite. It joins two images of the mystery of the Incarnation. The first image is the dawning sun, the dayspring; Mary is the dawn, Christ the perfect day. The second is that of a gentle rain falling soft upon the grass. Mary is the virgin earth made fruitful by the Holy Ghost; Christ is the seed sown in her, a seed that, in the Most Holy Eucharist, becomes, for all, the finest wheat, the Bread of Life.

The Collect

Finally, today's Collect asks that we, who welcome the Infant Christ in His lowliness and poverty, may be found worthy of greeting Him without dread on the day of His return in glory. In this prayer there is no vapid sentimentality. It is rigorously theological, embracing, in a few carefully crafted phrases, the immense circle of the Economy of Salvation.

O God Whose mercy doth year by year cause us to rejoice,
looking forward to our deliverance,
grant that as we now make ready with gladness
to receive Thine only-begotten Son as our Saviour,
so we may see Him without dread
at HIs second and terrible coming as our Judge,
even our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
Who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
one God, world without end.


O Radix Iesse

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O Radix Iesse is one of my favourite O Antiphons because it brings together the invocation of the Holy Spirit, the mystery of the Cross, the Holy Face, and the promise of Christ Himself that, indeed, He is coming soon. It wasn’t easy to choose an image for this reflection. In the end, I decided on Murillo’s Infant Jesus Sleeping on the Cross.

O Root of Jesse (Ac 13:22-23), standing as a sign to the peoples (Is 11:10), before whom kings shall shut their mouths (Is 52:15), and whom the nations shall seek (1 K 10:24; 2 Chr 9:23): Come and deliver us and do not delay (Hab 2:3; Rev 22:20)!

O Root of Jesse

The image of the Root of Jesse comes from the eleventh chapter of Isaiah where he says, “And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of His root” (Is 11:1). It is the passage that enumerates the gifts of the Holy Spirit; from the Vulgate, the Catholic tradition counts seven gifts. “And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And He shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord” (Is 11:2-3). This means that when we cry out, “Come,” to the Root of Jesse who is Christ, we are, in the same prayer, invoking the Holy Spirit who, in His sevenfold gift, comes to us with the Son.

The Tree of the Cross

Isaiah goes on to say in the tenth verse of the same chapter: “On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of Him.” The Root of Jesse is given, not only to Israel, but as a signal to the nations, a standard around which all peoples will rally. In fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus says of himself, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32). The Root of Jesse is already the profile of the Cross: a figure of the glorious standard of the King, the Vexilla Regis of which we sing in the Vespers hymn of September 14th. Today’s O Antiphon opens onto the Paschal Mystery: the Root of Jesse announces that the advent of the Son is ordered to the mission of redemption that He will accomplish on the Tree of the Cross.

Like a Root Out of Dry Ground

The mystery of the Cross is brought into focus more clearly in the next line: “before whom kings shall shut their mouths.” The text is taken from Isaiah 52 and leads directly into the Song of the Suffering Servant. “So He shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of Him” (Is 52:10). This silence of the kings of the earth expresses numbed astonishment. They are dumbstruck by the humble Root of Jesse gloriously exalted, all the more because, “He grew up before the Lord like a young plant a like a root out of dry ground; He had no form or comeliness that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces” (Is 53:2-3).

The Verbum Crucis

The silence of the kings of the earth is their amazement before the triumph of the Cross. The verbum Crucis, the “word of the Cross” (1 Cor 1:18) shuts the mouth of every earthly king. The psalm given us for the Introit of the Christmas Mass During the Night will describe the machinations of earthly powers against the Christ of God: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and His anointed” (Ps 2:2). But already, in today’s O Antiphon, we see them judged from the Cross; they have no judgments to give, no verdicts, and no decrees, “for the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:25).

All the Earth Desires to See His Face

The next line of the antiphon -- “and whom the nations shall seek” -- is not quite as easy to grasp. Its meaning is in the verb used in the Latin text: “quem gentes deprecabuntur.” The verb deprecari means to implore, to seek favour, to entreat, or to seek, as in Psalm 44:13, “The richest of the people shall seek your favour.” The underlying sense of deprecabuntur is found in two very revealing related passages. “And all the earth desired to see Solomon’s face, to hear his wisdom, which God had given in his heart” (1 K 10:24). The same text occurs in 2 Chronicles 9:23. You recognize it, I think, as the very text used for the first antiphon of the First Vespers of Christmas: “The King of Peace is magnified and all the earth desires to see His face.”

Christ the King

What is described in today’s Great O is this: the kings of the earth, dumbstruck by the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection, are forsaken by the nations who, instead of following them in their worldly wisdom and power, now seek Christ, the Root of Jesse, the King who rules from the Tree of the Cross with the wisdom that the world dismisses as folly and with the power that the world judges weak.

The Waiting of All the Ages

The last part of the antiphon is the plea itself that begins with the great cry, “Veni -- O come” with its dramatic do-fa interval leaving the second syllable suspended for what seems like a long moment on the mi. In that suspended mi, we are meant to hear the waiting of all the ages! “O Come, and deliver us, and do not delay.”

Coming Soon

The inspiration for the last phrase comes from the book of Habakuk. The Lord himself assures His prophet that the vision promised him will come to pass. “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay” (Hab 2:3). The antiphon also sends us to the hope held out by the second to the last line of the whole Bible. There, Jesus himself, “the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star” (Rev 22:16) says, “Surely I am coming soon” (Rev 22:20). In that word of His lies all our hope.

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The Antiphons of the Final Days of Advent

Today at Lauds the Church begins a series of proper antiphons for each day until Christmas. These antiphons are relatively short and easy to memorize. Most of them are composed in the hauntingly beautiful transposed Fourth Mode (in the new books II*) with the optional ending on si, that is so expressive of our yearning for completion in Christ. The antiphons are repeated throughout the day at the Little Hours, and again at Vespers. This morning, for example, we sang:

Constantes estote, * videbitis auxilium Domini super vos.
Be ye steadfast, and ye shall see the the help of the Lord upon you.

Ad te, Domine, * levavi animam meam: veni, et eripe me, Domine, ad te confugi.
To thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul: come, and rescue me, O Lord, for to thee have I fled for refuge.

Veni, Domine, * et non tardare: relaxa facinora plebi tuae Israel.
Come, O Lord, and tarry not: relieve thy people Israel of the burden of their sins.

Deus a Libano veniet, * et splendor ejus sicut lumen erit.
God shall come from Lebanon, and his splendour shall be as the light.

Ego autem * ad Dominum adspiciam, et expectabo Deum Salvatorem meum.
As for me, I shall look to the Lord, and wait for God my Salvation.

Antiphons Pondered in the Heart

It is not enough merely to sing or recite these antiphons at the Hours. The Church gives them to us so that, in imitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who "kept all these words, pondering them in her heart" (Lk 2:19) we might so make these words our own as to find in them the perfect expression of our soul's every longing.

Primary and Indispensable

The Sacred Liturgy is -- and this is often overlooked or forgotten -- the primary and indispensable school of the prayer of the heart. The febrile pursuit of trendy methods of meditation and esoteric approaches to prayer comes from having lived apart from The Prayer of the Church. I have noticed, for example, that in religious communities where the Divine Office is neglected, minimized, or even performed regularly, but in a perfunctory manner, souls tend to gravitate to things like "Centering Prayer" or lose themselves in private devotions that are, at best, marginal to The Prayer of the Church.

Prayer Ceaseless and Incandescent

The prayer of the heart -- ceaseless and incandescent -- flourishes wherever and whenever the Sacred Liturgy -- and, in particular, the Divine Office -- is cherished and celebrated with dignity, reverence, and devotion.


The Missa Aurea

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During the Middle Ages, the Mass of the Missus Est -- the first words of the Gospel of the Annunciation -- on the Ember Wednesday of Advent was celebrated very solemnly as a kind of festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The stational church in Rome is the Basilica of Saint Mary Major; this choice signifies that today’s Mass is equal to that of the greatest feasts of the Mother of God. It was called the Missa Aurea, the “Golden Mass.” In manuscripts of the Middle Ages, the capital letters of the text of the Annunciation Gospel were written in gold. The letters of gold were but a sign of the secret grace hidden within the words of the Angel Gabriel and within the response of the Virgin Mary.

Then, too, there is the tradition of celebrating today’s Mass in the glow of candlelight. The “Golden Mass” was especially popular throughout Europe where the faithful hastened to their churches before dawn, bearing lanterns, confident of obtaining on this day whatever special grace they asked through the intercession of the Virgin of the Annunciation.

In some monasteries, the Gospel is sung today to a particular melody: the same ancient melody used to sing the Gospel of Pentecost. The Annunciation is the Proto-Pentecost. The Virgin Mother, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, is the living image of the Church overshadowed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Grace, and Loveliness, and Joy

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Gaudete Sunday

The Four Introits of Advent

We began Advent on the crest of a surging wave, an immense welling up of hope that lifted us out of ourselves and carried us Godward: “All my heart goes out to Thee, my God; I trust in Thee” (Ps 24:1). Last Sunday, the Introit did not address God at all; it was a clarion call, a trumpet blast to wake us up, to shake us up, a summons to open our hearts to the joy of the glorious voice of the Lord (Is 30:30). On Ember Wednesday, and again next Sunday, the Introit will again become pure prayer, a cry wrenched from the depths of human experience, a plea for the dew from heaven, the dew that refreshes and makes fruitful. “Send down dew from above you heavens, and let the skies pour down upon us the rain we long for, him, the Just One” (Is 45:8).

The Gift of Joy

Today’s Introit is one of the few drawn from Saint Paul. It is an exhortation to joy, but its mood is quiet and reflective. “Joy to you in the Lord at all times; once again I wish you joy. Give proof to all of your courtesy. The Lord is near. Nothing must make you anxious; in every need, make your requests known to God, praying and beseeching Him, and giving Him thanks as well” (Phil 4:4-6).

What the Latin gives as, “gaudete,” and the English as “rejoice,” is astonishingly rich in Saint Paul’s Greek. Any one translation would be inadequate. Paul says, “chaírete.” It is the very same word used by the angel Gabriel to greet the Virgin of Nazareth. “Chaire, kecharitoménè!” “Joy to you, O full of grace!” (Lk 1:28). The word is untranslatable. Just when we think we have seized its meaning once and for all, another door opens inside it. “Chaírete” was the ordinary greeting of the Greeks. It embraces health, salvation, loveliness, grace, and joy, all at once. In the mouth of Christians, the taste of the word is indescribable. “Grace to you, and loveliness, and joy in the Lord; again I wish you grace, and loveliness, and joy” (Phil 4:4). Paul’s greeting is not so much an imperative -- a command to be joyful -- as it is the imparting of a gift in the Lord. “What I wish for you, what I send you, what I give you in the Lord is grace, and loveliness, and joy.”

S. Ioannis Didaci Cuahtlatoatzin

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Yes, that would be the much loved Saint Juan Diego of Guadalupe as he is designated in the new Solesmes Antiphonale Monasticum for December 9th. Here is the official Collect for his feast with my English translation:

Deus, qui per beatum Ioannem Didacum,
sanctissimae Virginis Mariae dilectionem
erga populum tuum ostendisti:
eius nobis intercessione concede,
ut, Matris nostrae monitis Guadalupae datis obsequentes,
voluntatem tuam iugiter adimplere valeamus.

O God, Who, through Saint Juan Diego,
didst show forth the special love of the Most Holy Virgin Mary
toward Thy people,
at his intercession, grant us
so to obey the admonitions given by our Mother of Guadalupe,
that we may ever be able to fulfil Thy will.

The painting of Saint Juan Diego is by Mexican artist Martha Orozco.

Saint Nicholas

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Saint Nicholas Between East and West

The Church in East and West commemorates today Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. The very first journey of Pope Benedict XVI as Supreme Pontiff in May 2005 was to the southern Italian port city of Bari, home to the relics of Saint Nicholas. At the time, few American Catholics realized the profound significance of that gesture. Orthodox Christians, however, were sensitive and attentive to the presence of the Pope in a city that John Paul II had called “a bridge to the East.”

Saint Nicholas at the Altar

To my mind, the most important thing to remember about Saint Nicholas is the spirit of godly fear and adoration with which he stood before the Holy Altar at the moment of the Divine Liturgy. Everything else in his life -- including the countless miracles attributed to him -- flowed from the Holy Mysteries. The Divine Liturgy served by Saint Nicholas must have been like the Mass of Padre Pio. While the holy gifts were being carried in procession to the altar, the people sang of Our Lord’s Eucharistic advent among them: “We who mystically represent the Cherubim, who sing to the life-giving Trinity the thrice holy hymn, let us now lay aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all who comes escorted invisibly by Angelic hosts. alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

The Saints in Advent

Saint Nicholas and the other saints of Advent surround the Eucharistic Advent of the Lord just as they will surround Him with the angels in the glory of His Advent at the end of time. How important it is to acknowledge the saints of Advent, to seek their intercession, to rejoice in their lives. Those who would banish the saints from the celebration of the Advent liturgy are misled and mistaken. The mission of the saints of Advent is to prepare us for the coming of Christ: for His final advent as King and Judge, yes, but also for His humble daily advent hidden under the species of bread and wine. In no way do the saints detract from the intensity of the Advent season. Each of them is given us as a companion and intercessor, charged with making ready our hearts for the advent of the Bridegroom-King.

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Saint Nicholas in New Amsterdam

Saint Nicholas arrived in America with the Protestant Dutch settlers in 1624 in what was then called New Amsterdam. As much as the gloomy Protestant Reformation in Holland tried to suppress the cult of the Saints, the Dutch would not give up their beloved Saint Nicholas. Dutch customs, expressions, and even language persisted in New York right into the opening years of the last century, but by that time others had come through Ellis Island, New York’s port of entry -- Italians, Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, and Greeks. They came bringing icons of Saint Nicholas lovingly wrapped in the trunks that contained all their worldly possessions. They came bringing prayers to Saint Nicholas learned as little children, and armed with a confidence in the intercession of Saint Nicholas that withstood poverty, prejudice, hunger, sickness, and all the vicissitudes of a new life in a strange land.

Saint Nicholas the Glorious Patron and Wonderworker

Saint Nicholas has always had enormous appeal. He is recognized as the patron saint of more causes than of any other saint, of classes of people, cities, churches, and whole nations. He is the patron saint of thieves -- not because he helps them to steal -- but because he helps them to repent and change; of pawnbrokers and bankers because he knew how to use gold in the service of compassion and charity; of pharmacists, fisherman, lawsuits lost unjustly and the lawyers who lost them, prisoners, orphans, prostitutes, unmarried men, scholars, haberdashers, and bishops. He is best known as the patron saint of children, especially children who are threatened by the circumstances of a troubled family life, or by abuse.

Saint Nicholas and Priests

I like to think of Saint Nicholas also as a patron and friend of priests. More than ever before it is crucial that priests place themselves under the protection of the saints and live in their friendship. Saint Nicholas has much to teach priests: passionate devotion to Christ true God and true Man; compassion for the poor; and the courage to defend children from all dangers of body and soul. Pray to Saint Nicholas today for all priests, but especially for those who have grown fainthearted and weary, and for those attacked by the noonday devil.

Saint Nicholas and the Eucharistic Advent of Christ

Saint Nicholas is present to us today. He will accompany me to the altar, taking his place there among the other saints and angels invisibly present in every Holy Mass. More than anything else, I would ask Saint Nicholas to open the eyes of our souls to the Eucharistic advent of Christ. If we are prepared for Christ’s coming in the Holy Mysteries, we will be prepared for His final coming in glory. One who lives from one Holy Mass to the next need not fear the Day of the Lord. Glorious Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, pray for us that we may be made worthy of the advent of Christ.

The First Sunday of Advent

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Ad Te Levavi

In this illuminated miniature Saint Bernard is intoning the Introit of the First Sunday of Advent, Ad te levavi animam meam. He is lifting up his soul (and the new liturgical year) in the form of a newborn baby! God the Father, surrounded by angelic hosts, thrones in glory above him. To his left a choir of monks sings the Introit that Bernard has intoned.

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All My Heart Goes Out To Thee

There is movement in today’s liturgy: a great sweep upward and away from all that holds us bound and confined “in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:79). This is the ecstatic movement of prayer, of all right worship: out of self, upward, and into “the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19). The Introit sets the tone, not only for this the first Mass of Advent, but also for the rest of the Advent season and, indeed, for the whole new liturgical year. “To You, my God, I lift up my soul” (Ps 24:1) or, as Ronald Knox translated it, “All my heart goes out to Thee, my God.”

Ready for the Leap of Hope

The heart, in going out to God, leaves much behind and cannot look back. This is the law of prayer, this is what it makes it costly, sacrificial and, at the same time, unspeakably sweet. The things we leave behind are mere trifles but, oh, the hold they can have on us! The old self, fearful and anxious about many things, grasps at every illusory promise of security, clings to things, arranges them in great useless piles, looks on them caressingly and takes inventory of them. The loss of any thing, even the most insignificant, represents for the old self, the loss of control, the loss of power, and of comforting familiar pleasures. All of this in incompatible with the prayer that the liturgy places on our lips today: “All my heart goes out to Thee, my God” (Ps 24:1). The upward flight of today’s Introit has nothing to do with cheap pious sentiment. It is an uncompromising call to detachment, to poverty of spirit, and to an obedience that is off and running with all speed, ready for the leap of hope.

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The Will to Go Forth

The movement of the Introit emerges more clearly in the collect. “Almighty God, grant to your faithful, we beseech You, the will to go forth with works of justice to greet Your Christ at His coming.” We ask God to give us “the will to go forth.” The nuance is significant. We do not have in ourselves the will to go forth. All our inclination is rather to hold back. The “will to go forth” is itself God’s gift to us. We ask furthermore for “the will to go forth with works of justice.” The works of justice are those that free the old self from the bondage to sin and demonstrate the liberty that comes from the Spirit. (Saint Benedict catalogues them for us in Chapter Four of the Holy Rule.) We go forth because Christ is coming. We go forth like the five wise virgins, bearing lighted lamps, to greet the Bridegroom at his midnight advent (cf. Mt 25:6).

Let Us Go Up to the House of the Lord

The prophet Isaiah delivers the same message: “Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. . . . O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Is 2:3, 5). In Psalm 121, the movement upward and into God is revealed a joyful thing: “I rejoiced when they said to me, 'Let us go up to the house of the Lord’” (Ps 121:1).

Blessed Ildefonso Schuster

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We are reading in refectory this week from Blessed Ildefonso Cardinal Schuster's magnificent work, The Sacramentary. Here is an excerpt from his presentation of the Advent Ember Days.

Prayer and Fasting for Priests and Deacons

An ancient tradition reserved the ordinations of priests and deacons to the month of December, and the faithful -- following a custom introduced by the Apostles themselves -- felt constrained to unite with the bishop in prayer and fasting, in order to call down from God an abundance of priestly gifts upon the heads of those newly chosen to serve at the altar.

The Holiness of the Clergy

In truth the highest interests of Christian people are bound up, to a great extent, with the holiness of the clergy; and since Holy Scripture teaches us that the most terrible chastisement which almighty God inflicts upon perverse nations is to give them pastors and leaders of their own kind, it is evident that the ordination of the sacred ministers is not a matter which concerns merely the bishop and his seminary, but one which is of supreme importance to the whole Catholic body.

For this reason the Acts of the Apostles record the solemn fasts and public prayers which preceded the ordination of the first seven deacons and the mission of Paul and Barnabas as Apostles to the Gentiles.

Mary, Aflame With Jesus

During this season of immediate preparation for Christmas the Church invites us to attach ourselves with special love for Mary, for it is from her that our Advent has its beginning during those nine months in which she bore Our Lord within her. What must have been the feelings of faith, of love, and of zeal which then animated the Virgin so closely united with that God who in the Scriptures is called a consuming fire? Prefigured by the burning bush of Moses, Mary, aflame with Jesus, is the model of all who love him truly.

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The Holy Face of Jesus

[On the Friday in Ember Week] the verse ad offerendum is [also] from Psalm lxxxiv: "Thou, O Lord, who hadst turned away Thy Face from us on account of our sins, mayst Thou be appeased and turn again and look upon us, and the light of Thine eyes shall restore us once more to life." Show us Thy mercy, O Lord, and reveal to us now the Saviour whom Thou hast promised and in whom the patriarchs of old fell asleep full of trust and hope.

The Face of Jesus in heaven is the cause of joy to the angels, but on earth it is the token of God's pity for sinners. We say to the Father, Respice in faciem Christi tui, but let us, too, fix our own gaze on that Face, lest we lose sight of it. As the Eternal Father, when He beholds the Face of Jesus, is touched with compassion for the wretched children of Adam, so let us also show a holy reverence for that Sacred Face and for those pure eyes that look on us so tenderly; let us take care that all our actions are worthy of the ineffable sanctity of that Divine Regard.

Ember Friday in Advent

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Restore the Ember Days

For the second time this week, we celebrated a special pre-dawn Advent Mass in candlelight. Having anticipated Matins last evening, we were able to begin Holy Mass at 5:15 a.m. We are mindful that the Ember Days are devoted to prayer and fasting for the sanctification of the clergy, in preparation for the ordinations that used to take place on Ember Saturday in Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.

The observance of the Ember Days occurs four times yearly, once in each season. I would be happy to see the full restoration of the Ember Days, with the fasting and prayer for the clergy that characterizes them in response to the crisis that continues to afflict the bishops and priests of the Church. Would that this might be a fruit of the Year of the Priesthood!

The Collect

Today, once again with a note of urgency, the Collect is addressed, not to the God the Father, but directly to Our Lord Jesus Christ. The very core of the prayer is the word, veni; the great Advent cry of the Church that we will be repeated this evening in Great O Antiphon.

Excita, quaesumus, Domine, potentiam tuam,
et veni:

Stir up, Thy power, we beseech Thee, O Lord,
and come:

ut, hi qui in tua pietate confidunt,
ab omni citius adversitate liberentur.

that they who trust in Thy lovingkindness
may be the more speedily freed from all adversity.

The Collect alludes to two divine attributes of Our Lord. The first is His potentia, His power; the second is His pietas, His tender devotedness to those entrusted to Him by His Father. So rich a word is pietas in the liturgical vocabulary of the Church, that one can never really do justice to all the nuances of its meaning. Pietas is the dutiful and tender devotedness of a son to his father, and of a father to his son. When we speak of the pietas of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we refer to His entire devotedness to us or, if you will, to all that is symbolized by His Sacred Heart.

"I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them." (John 17:26)

After asking Our Lord to stir up His potentia and come, we ask that those who confide in His pietas (or in His Heart) might be delivered more speedily from all adversity, that is, from the things that fly against us as we make our way forward to greet Him at His blessed Advent. Trust in the tender devotedness of Our Lord for us is, in fact, the speediest way of being delivered from the things that come against us in daily life.

What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:31-37)

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One of the most effective ways of growing in trust in the pietas of Our Lord is the frequent repetition of the "little invocation" that He gave Mother Yvonne-Aimée of Malestroit in 1922. Since then, the "little invocation" has transformed the lives of people all over the world: O Jesus, King of Love, I put my trust in Thy loving mercy. It is another way of saying, "O Jesus, I trust in Thy divine pietas, in the tender devotedness of Thy Heart for me." My experience is that such a prayer repeated with perseverance, and from the heart, leads to spiritual liberation and healing.

The Lesson

The prophet Isaiah presents the Messiah, Our Lord Jesus Christ, as the flower of the Root of Jesse upon whom rests the sevenfold gift of the Holy Ghost: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. Our Lord is anointed with these gifts in superabundance. He is the Head of His Mystical Body, the Church, and from Him the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost are communicated to each of His members, to perfect in them the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity infused at Holy Baptism.

The Holy Ghost is wonderfully present in the liturgy of these final days of Advent. In fact, what Isaiah announces, is illustrated and fulfilled through Mary in today's Gospel.

The Holy Gospel

This is the second great Marian Gospel of Ember Week in Advent. Energized by the Spirit of God, and bearing the Son of God hidden in her womb, Our Lady is, to use the expression of Pope John Paul II, "the first tabernacle of history." The arrival of Mary in any situation signifies and obtains for us a fresh inbreaking of the Holy Ghost. Mary's visible entrance into the house of Zachary is the "sacrament" of the Holy Spirit's invisible entrance. No sooner does the Mother of God greet her cousin Elizabeth, than she is filled with the Holy Ghost. The little Forerunner, Saint John, concealed in the womb that many thought barren, attests to the sanctifying operation of the Holy Ghost with a little leap of joy.

Spend these last days before the Nativity of the Lord in the presence of His Virgin Mother. Where Mary is, there too is the Holy Ghost with His seven gifts: gifts in no way restricted to Pentecost, gifts wonderfully suited to a happy Christmas.

Te, Christe, solum quaerimus

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For my friend, Monsignor A.B.C.

Sometime in the early 1970s the Benedictine nuns of the Abbey Pax Cordis Iesu at Ryde, in the Isle of Wight, made an outstanding contribution to the prayer of English-speaking Catholics by translating the entire corpus of hymns found in the Liturgia Horarum. There is a pressing need to make the hymns of the Liturgia Horarum available to those who pray the Hours in English. Here are the hymns for Vespers and Lauds from December 17-24 in the Ryde Abbey translation.

At Vespers

The Word, Salvation for us all,
Proceeding from the Father's mouth,
Receive, O Mary Virgin blest
Within your chaste and spotless womb.

The Holy Spirit's fruitful cloud
Has overshadowed you with love,
that you may bring forth Christ our Lord
The Father's Ever-Equal Son.

She is the holy Temple's gate
Forever closed and chastely sealed
Whose sacred portal is reserved
To open for the King alone.

To prophets promised long ago,
And borne before the birth of light,
Whom Gabriel announced with joy,
The Lord Himself comes down to earth.

Let all the angels gladly sing,
All peoples of the earth exult;
In lowly guise the Most High comes
To save the world which sin had lost.

O Christ our King and tender Lord
All glory ever be to You,
Who with the Holy Spirit reign
With God the Father might supreme. Amen.

At Lauds

Of old the prophets cried aloud,
Foretelling Christ would surely come,
Theirs was the special grace to know
That man's redemption was at hand.

Hence radiates our joy at dawn,
Our happy hearts rejoice and sing,
Proclaiming now our earnest faith
In glory long since promised us.

This humble coming known to few,
Was not to judge a sinful world
But all our wounds to tend and heal,
By saving what had gone astray.

His second coming will declare
That Christ is at our very doors,
To crown all those who love Him well
And welcome them to lasting bliss.

Eternal light is promised us,
The star of our salvation shines,
Already its bright gleaming rays
Call us to keep the law of love.

Lord Jesus Christ, we seek but You,
To see You, God yet truly Man,
So that this vision blest may be
Our never-ending hymn of praise. Amen.

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Stretching Godward

My own experience is that the Invitatory, with the repetition of its pressing call to adoration, establishes the soul in the realm of "spirit and truth" that is the ground of all prayer. Before entering the quiet vastness of the psalmody, there is the hymn. The rhythm of its poetry, and sometimes its melody, is a kind of "stretching exercise" before settling down for the First Nocturn.

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Beginning on December 17th, the hymn at Matins is Veni, Redemptor Gentium, attributed to Saint Ambrose.

Redeemer of the nations, come!
Appear, Thou Son of Virgin womb!
Astonished be the realms of earth,
for Godlike is His wondrous birth.

The first strophe is a plea for the redemption of all nations and for the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaias: "Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (Is 7:14).

He, of no mortal man conceived,
By mystic influence received,
The Word of God, our flesh is made,
O'er woman's fruit is honour shed.

Saint Ambrose says that the Incarnation of the Word took place "mystico spiramine," that is, by means of a secret inbreathing.

The Virgin's breast an offspring hides,
Unharmed yet modesty abides;
There Virtue's banners shine abroad,
Within His Temple walks our God!

In the Latin text Saint Ambrose realistically evokes the swelling of the Virgin's belly: "Alvus tumescit Virginis." Then he uses the charming expression, "Claustrum pudoris permanet" -- but remains the cloister of purity. He goes on to describe what is happening within the Virgin's womb: the banners of virtue shine forth and God is rocked (versatur) in His Temple. The womb of the Virgin is the Temple of God, and His Temple has become a cradle!

Proceeding from His chamber He,
That royal court of chastity,
Of two-fold substance, Giant Son,
Prepares His mighty course to run.

Forth from the Father He proceeds,
Again unto the Father speeds:
His goings e'en to Hell extend,
And at God's Throne returning end.

The imagery in these two strophes is drawn from Psalm 18:6-7. This psalm will be sung at Vigils of Christmas; it also occurs at Vigils in the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

He hath set his tabernacle in the sun: and he, as a bridegroom coming out of his bride chamber, Hath rejoiced as a giant to run the way: His going out is from the end of heaven, And his circuit even to the end thereof: and there is no one that can hide himself from his heat.

Here one sings the whole economy of salvation: the exitus a Deo and the reditus ad Deum, the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery of death, descent into hell, resurrection, and ascension.

To Thy Great Father, Equal Son,
O gird Thy carnal vesture on!
The frailties of mortal flesh
With thy unfailing strength refresh.

Carnis tropaeo accingere: The verb accingere links this strophe to another psalm that will be sung at Vigils of Christmas and at Vigils in the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Psalm 44. Whereas the psalm has the Bridegroom-Warrior-King girding his sword upon his thigh, the hymn has Christ, the true Bridegroom-Warrior-King girding on the flesh of our humanity to reinvigorate it by the virtus -- might -- of His Divinity.

Thy manger, lo! effulgent beams,
Night with unwonted lustre teems,
Which never more shall darkness know,
But shine with Faith's immortal glow.

One hears behind this strophe the language of Psalm 138:12, also woven into the Exultet of the Paschal Vigil: "But darkness shall not be dark to thee, and night shall be light as day: the darkness thereof, and the light thereof are alike to thee." The night of Christ's birth, like that of His resurrection, glows with a divine and heavenly light. This imagery is, of course, related to the parallelism evoked by the "virgin tomb" and "virgin womb."

Glory to God, the Father, be!
And Only Son, alike to Thee,
And to the Spirit Paraclete,
Now and for ever as is meet. Amen.

The doxology of the hymn already indicates that it is time to settle down for the psalmody of the First Nocturn. In comparison to the lyrical quality and melody of the hymn, the psalmody is almost murmured. This is the contemplative heart of the Divine Office. Dom Odo Casel, O.S.B. says:

When the hymn is over, the mind is sufficiently awake and prepared. Now we come to the real purpose of night worship, contemplation. Vast, mysterious, difficult psalms pass before the soul's eye; the mysteries of God make themselves known in hard phrases. The soul wrestles with God for salvation, for knowledge of Him. (The Mystery of Christian Worship).

Am I not here who am your Mother?

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At Clear Creek

Brother Juan Diego and I have been at Clear Creek Monastery for the past few days. I have been preaching a retreat to the Benedictine Oblate Sisters of Clear Creek; Brother Juan Diego was welcomed into the choir novitiate. The Sisters' convent, named for Mary, Queen of Angels, is directly across the road from the gateway to the monastery.

Clear Creek celebrates Our Lady of Guadalupe as a minor solemnity with First Vespers, a procession after Tierce, and Solemn High Mass. At the Hours there are proper antiphons, magnificently suited to today's feast.

Our Mother of Guadalupe

I have always found immense comfort in Our Lady's words to Juan Diego:

"Do not let anything afflict you, and do not be afraid of any illness, or accident, or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Do you need anything else?" (Words of Our Lady of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego)

She Will Never Disappoint You

These words of Our Blessed Mother to Saint Juan Diego are echoed in the words attributed to Our Lord in the journal of a priest: "My Mother watches over you. She is your advocate and your perpetual help. Go to her confidently with whatever troubles you. Go to her with your doubts, your worries, and your fears. Trust in her maternal heart is never misplaced, and she will never disappoint you." To the same priest Our Lady once said, "Be prudent, but without fear, because I am your Mother. . . . Trust in my protection. Yes, I am your Mother of Perpetual Help, ever ready to come to your rescue, ever ready to provide for your needs, to deliver you from danger, and to console you in sorrow. Approach me with childlike confidence and you will never be disappointed."

The Holy Spirit and Our Lady

And again, Our Lord said, "Your union with Me will take place through My Immaculate Mother and by the gentle but continuous operations of the Holy Spirit in your soul. Together, the Holy Spirit and My Immaculate Mother put themselves at the service of souls who seek union with Me. Is not this a wonderful thing? God the Holy Spirit, the Source of Holiness in creatures and the Substantial Love by which My Father and I are eternally one, puts Himself at the service of a finite and sinful creature to bring about a union with Me that is the perfect expression in a human soul of the union of My human Soul and of My Divinity with My Father."

When I first read this, it rather astonished me. Then I recalled Our Lord's words in John 14:20-23: "In that day you shall know, that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. . . . And he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father: and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him. . . . If anyone love Me, he will keep my word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make our abode with him." And again in John 17:21: "That they may all be one, as Thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee; that they may also be one in Us." Our union with Christ is patterned after His union with the Father and is, at the same time, the means of union with the Father in the Holy Spirit.

A Springtime of Holiness in the Church

Continuing in the same journal, I read: "And in this work of uniting a soul to Me, no one can take the place of My most pure and loving Mother. She is the Mediatrix of all graces, and just as no one can come to the Father except through Me, so too can no one come to Me except through her in whose virginal womb I took flesh. If only my Mother's role and the greatness of her work, even now, from her place in heaven, were better known! Then there would be a great springtime of holiness in My Church and, first of all, among my priests, for I have entrusted each one of them to her as to the most attentive and compassionate of mothers. All the resources of her Immaculate Heart, full of grace, are a the service of her motherhood of the souls of My priests. Priests have the right and privilege of calling upon My Mother in every need, trial, failure, and sin, confident of receiving from her help and solace, mercy and healing, comfort and peace."

The Secret of Priestly Holiness

"Too few of my priests have entered into the relationship of filial love and of spousal intimacy with My Most Holy Mother, that I desire for them, and from which their holiness will flow as from a spring. In a word, this relationship with My Most Pure Mother is the secret of priestly holiness. My priests have only to seek Mary, My Mother, and all the rest will be given them in abundance. The greatest saints knew this, but today many priestly hearts have grown dark and cold, and their relationship with My Mother, which is to be a reproduction of my own relationship with her, is almost non-existent."

For the Joy of the Church and the Glory of the Father

"The renewal of holiness in my priests will come about as I have promised, only when they become little and childlike, and consecrate themselves entirely to My Mother's Immaculate Heart. Their hearts need her Heart. That is my message today. That is what I so desire my priests to learn and to put into practice. Those who do this will quickly advance in holiness and their virtues will shine for the joy of the Church and for the glory of My Father in heaven."

Letter to a Soon-to-be Novice

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Second Sunday of Advent

My dear son,

Listening to the Liturgy

You have often heard me say that the sacred liturgy is, first of all, God's word addressed to us. Through the liturgy, Our Lord Jesus Christ addresses His Bride and Body, the Church, and, through the liturgy He speaks to each of us individually. If we incline the ear of our hearts to Him, we will hear His voice and His words will become for us seeds of holiness sown in our souls, promising a harvest of good fruits.

Putting on Christ

Tomorrow evening, after First Vespers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, you will be clothed in the monastic habit that symbolizes your firm resolve to put on Christ and to walk in newness of life. You will be enrolled officially in the school of the Lord's service to learn the Rule of our blessed father Saint Benedict, and to put it into practice day by day.

Introit

It almost seems as if today's Mass was prepared just for you, in view of this next step in your monastic journey. You belong to the "people of Sion" addressed in the Introit. The Introit contains a wonderful promise, a promise that you must claim for yourself today: "The Lord shall make the glory of His voice to be heard, in the joy of your heart." Is this not why our father Saint Benedict begins his Holy Rule by saying, "Hearken, my son, to the precepts of the master and incline the ear of thy heart" (RB Pro)?

Collect

In the Collect, we ask the Father to "stir up our hearts to prepare the ways of His only-begotten Son, that through His advent, we may attain to serve the Father with purified minds." In this context, "to serve" -- servire -- means to worship, or to offer the sacrifice of praise. Today, this prayer is for you! Ask the Father to stir up your heart to prepare the ways of His Son, the Bridegroom of your soul -- your Redeemer, your Healer, and your King -- that by the grace of His advent, that is, His coming to you in Word and in Sacrament, you may be numbered among the "adorers in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:23) whom the Father desires.

Epistle

The Epistle invites you to be steadfast and patient in the practice of lectio divina. "What things soever were written, were written for our learning: that through patience and the consolation of the Scriptures, we might have hope" (Rom 15:4). The novitiate will be a time of trial calling you to a humble patience, a patience that rests upo your trust in God's merciful love. At the same time, you will have the consolation of the Scriptures hour after hour, day after day, and week after week. Learn to seek and to find your consolation in the Word of God. If you do that, you will always have hope.

Saint Paul also says, "Now the God of patience and comfort grant you to be of one mind one towards another, according to Jesus Christ; that with one mind and with one mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 15:5-6). We will be of one mind because we are learners in the same school, the "school of the Lord's service," and because the Rule of Saint Benedict will be the principal object of your study and reflection all throughout the year that lies ahead of you. A man who allows himself to be changed and shaped by the Rule of Saint Benedict becomes a human doxology, a man fully alive whose entire being expresses the praise of God's glory, through Christ Jesus, in the Holy Spirit.

The Epistle ends with a wish that is, in effect, a prayer: "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing: that you may abound in hope, and in the power of the Holy Ghost" (Rom 15:13). If anything is to characterize your noviceship, let it be this: "hope, and the power of the Holy Ghost."

Gradual and Alleluia

The Gradual contains this promise: "Out of Sion, the loveliness of His beauty, God shall come manifestly." The loveliness of the beauty of God that comes forth from Sion is, first of all the Immaculate Virgin Mary. She is the radiant image of the loveliness of the beauty of God. Contemplating Mary, we see already what God desires for the Church, the Bride of Christ, and for each soul. The humiliating struggles of the novice, his application to study, to prayer, to obedience, and to silence are the very things that allow the loveliness of the beauty of God to emerge in his soul. There is no more effective way to cooperate with this than by fixing your gaze upon Mary, the tota pulchra, the all-lovely, and by consecrating yourself to her. With Mary, you will learn to sing at every stage of your monastic pilgrimage: "I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord" (Ps 121:1).

Gospel

In the Gospel, Our Lord calls Saint John the Baptist the "angel sent before His Face to prepare His way before Him." In a way analogous to the mission of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mission of Saint John the Baptist will continue until the end of time. Wherever Christ is about to be manifested, John is present. He is charged with readying souls for the advent of the King. He does this by interceding for us from His place in heaven, and by obtaining for us the grace to gaze upon the Lamb of God, and to follow him. Saint John the Baptist is the patron of every novitiate.

Offertory

In the Offertory Antiphon, you will ask Our Lord to show you His mercy. He does this by turning toward you His Eucharistic Face. One who gazes upon the Face of Our Lord with the eyes of faith receives His mercy and experiences His salvation. There is healing in the radiance of His Face.

Secret

The Secret Prayer will remind you (and me too) that we have no merits to plead for us. We have nothing that might allow us to bargain with God. We have only our poverty, and when we go before Him it is with empty hands. God, however, finds empty hands irresistible. You can be confident of receiving His grace so long as your remain poor and humble and empty-handed before Him.

Communion Antiphon and Postcommunion

The Communion Antiphon invites you to arise and to stand in readiness for the joy that comes to you from God. "Arise, O Jerusalem, and stand on high, and behold the joy that cometh to thee from thy God" (Bar 5:4; 4:36). This is Our Lord's promise: "I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice; and your joy no man shall take from you" (Jn 16:22). So long as you keep your gaze fixed on the Face of Our Lord, you will be able "to appraise rightly the things of earth and love those of heaven" (Postcommunion). Thus joy will have the last word. I want you to be a joyful novice, and for this reason, I exhort you to look, not at yourself, but at the Face of Our Lord and at the beauty of His Immaculate Mother, the Cause of Our Joy.

He Who Comes

Today and tomorrow you will have ample opportunity to behold the joy that comes to you from God. Be anxious about nothing. Be steadfast in hope. You will not be disappointed because He who comes is faithful.

In lumine vultus Iesu,
Father Prior

The Consolations of His Coming

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December 24

Collect at the Hours and at the Mass in the Morning

Come quickly, we beseech You, Lord Jesus, and do not delay, so that those who trust in Your loving mercy may be lifted up by the consolations of Your coming.

Come, Lord Jesus

Today, in the last Collect of Advent -- at Vigils, Lauds, Tierce, Holy Mass, Sext, and None -- the Church addresses the Lord Jesus. It is as if she can no longer contain her longing; she compelled to utter His Holy Name. The last Collect of Advent is inspired by the last page of the Bible. There, Our Lord speaks, saying, "Surely I am coming soon." And the Church, His Spouse, replies, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus" (Ap 22:20).

Domine Jesu

Whereas all throughout Advent the Church, according to her custom, has, for the most part, addressed the Father in her prayers, today she appeals to the Son directly. She calls the Son by his human Name -- Jesus -- and to that Name revealed by the Angel she adds the divine vocative: Lord, Domine Iesu. Hers is a prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit, for the Apostle says, "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord'; except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor 12:3).

Do Not Linger on the Way

Today's Collect is remarkably concise. Three lines only. The first line is inspired, not only by the final cry in the Apocalypse of Saint John, but also by Psalm 39:18: "Do not tarry, O my God"; or, as the Douai translation puts it, "O my God, be not slack!"; Ronald Knox translates the same with a certain courtesy: "My God, do not linger on the way."

Expectans Expectavi

The two words borrowed from Psalm 39 -- ne tardáveris -- should make us want to review the whole psalm. What do we discover? That the psalm begins with a verse that sums up the whole Advent experience. Expectans, expectavi! -- "With expectation I have waited for the Lord, and He was attentive to me" (Ps 39:1).

The Consolations of His Coming

The second part of the Collect is: "so that those who trust in your loving mercy may be lifted up by the consolations of your coming." Where our English translation gives "may be lifted up," the Latin text uses sublevéntur, a verb that is wonderfully rich in meaning. It means not only to be lifted up, but also to be relieved of a heavy burden, to be assuaged.

Trust in His Merciful Goodness

What must we do in order to be lifted up? The Collect says that we have only to trust in the pietas of the Lord Jesus, in His tenderness, His lovingkindness, His unwavering divine affection for us. Qui in tua pietate confidunt.

Weakness No Obstacle

Weakness is no obstacle to a holy Christmas. A mediocre Advent is no obstacle to a holy Christmas. The grace of Christmas is not earned; it is freely given. The grace of Christmas will prevail even over our sins, provided that we trust in the pietas of the Infant Christ, in the tender pity of him who comes to us, comes for us already in the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. O Jesus, King of Love, I put my trust in Thy merciful goodness!

Secundum Verbum Tuum

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For while all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, Thy almighty word leapt down from heaven from thy royal throne. (Wisdom 18:14-15)

The Word in the Night

The nocturnal or pre-dawn Office of Vigils (or Matins) is, without any doubt, the Hour most expressive of the mystery of Advent. The Word arrives enveloped in a deep silence and, in that silence, visits the hearts that await His coming.

The Church's Blanket of Prayer

It is comforting to recall that the Church in her wisdom has woven a blanket of prayer that covers all the hours of the night. The great Orders of the Church relay each other in keeping watch for the coming of the Bridegroom. Should the Night Office ever cease being celebrated in monasteries, which God forbid, the world that night will die of the cold. The repartition of the nightwatch is, more or less approximately, as follows. In some instances, individuals may prolong the Night Office in solitary prayer.

From 9:00 p.m. until 11:30 p.m. -- Carmelites and some Benedictines
From 11:30 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. -- Carthusians
From 12:00 midnight until 1:30 a.m. -- Poor Clares, Dominican Nuns, Franciscan Friars of certain reforms, and some Passionists in Greater Solitude
From 2:00 a.m. until 3:15 a.m. -- Benedictines of the Primitive Observance
From 3:00 a.m. until 4:30 a.m. -- Trappists
From 4:00 a.m. until 5:30 a.m. -- Cistercians
From 5:00 a.m. until 6:30 a.m. -- Benedictines

Today's Night Office

This morning's Office of Vigils contained two jewels the first was the responsory Annuntiatum est per Gabrielem after the Third Lesson of the First Nocturn:

He Entered Through the Virgin's Ear

The Archangel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary the entrance of the King. * And He entered into a splendid region, through the Virgin's ear, so to visit the palace of her womb, whence He came forth through a golden door. V. Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. R. And He entered into a splendid region, through the Virgin's ear, so to visit the palace of her womb, whence He came forth through a golden door. V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. R. And He entered into a splendid region, through the Virgin's ear, so to visit the palace of her womb, whence He came forth through a golden door.

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The Reading at the Second Nocturn was taken from Saint Bernard's stupendous homily Super Missus Est:

By the Virtue of the Holy Ghost

You have heard, O Virgin, that you are to conceive and bring forth a Son, and that it will not be through the power of man, but by the virtue of the Holy Ghost.

Waiting for a Word of Mercy

The angel awaits your reply, for it is time that he should return to God, Who sent him. We, too, are waiting, O Lady, for a word of mercy we, who are groaning under the sentence of condemnation. See, the price of our salvation is offered to you ; if you consent, we shall at once be delivered. By the Eternal Word of God we were all created, and behold we die. By your short answer we shall be refreshed and recalled to life. Adam, with all his race Adam, a weeping exile from Paradise, implores it of you. Abraham entreats you, David beseeches you. This is the object of the burning desires of the holy fathers, of your fathers, who are still dwelling in the region of the shades of death. Behold the entire human race prostrate at your feet in expectation.

Hasten, O Lady

And rightly, for on your word depend the consolation of the wretched, the redemption of the captive, the freedom of the condemned, the salvation of your entire race, of all the children of Adam. Hasten, then, O Lady, to give your answer; hasten to speak the word so longed for by all on earth, in limbo, and in heaven. Yea, the King and Lord of all things, Who has greatly desired your beauty, desires as eagerly your word of consent, by which He has purposed to save the world. He whom you have pleased by your silence will now be more gratified by your reply.

Mary, the Much-Longed-For-Virgin

Hark ! He calls to you from heaven: "most beautiful among women, give me to hear your voice." If you let Him hear your voice, He will enable you to see our salvation. And is not this what you have sought for, what you have prayed for night and day with sighs and tears? Why, then, delay? Are you the happy one to whom it has been promised, or "look we for another "? Yes, you indeed are that most fortunate one. You are the promised virgin, the expected virgin, the much-longed-for virgin, through whom your holy father Jacob, when about to die, rested his hope of eternal life, saying : " I will look for thy salvation, O Lord."

Answer the Word, Receive the Word

You, O Mary, are that virgin in whom and by whom God Himself, our King before all ages, determined to operate our salvation in the midst of the earth. Why do you humbly expect from another what is offered to you, and will soon be manifested through yourself if you will but yield your consent and speak the word ? Answer, then, quickly to the angel yes, through the angel give your consent to your God. Answer the word, receive the Word. Utter yours, conceive the Divine. Speak the word that is transitory, and embrace the Word that is everlasting. Why do you delay? Why are you fearful?

Courage and Confidence

Believe confess receive. Let humility put on courage, and timidity confidence. It is certainly by no means fitting that virginal simplicity should forget prudence. Yet in this one case only the prudent virgin need not fear presumption, because, though modesty shone forth in her silence, it is now more necessary that her devotion and obedience should be revealed by her speech.

He Stands at the Gate and Knocks

Open, Blessed Virgin, your heart to faith, your lips to compliance, your bosom to your Creator. Behold, the desired of all nations stands at the gate and knocks. Oh, suppose He were to pass by while you delay ! How would you begin again with sorrow to seek Him whom your soul loveth ! Arise run open ! Arise by faith, run by devotion, open by acceptance. Mary speaks. " Behold the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done unto me according to thy word."

The Invitatory: Venite adoremus

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Prepare Thy Soul

One might say that, in the structure of monastic Vigils, Psalm 3 (see my previous entry) corresponds to the porch of the vast temple of the Night Office; it is an act of preparation. Does not the wise Sirach say, "Before prayer prepare thy soul: and be not as a man that tempteth God? (Sir 18:23)?

Call to Adoration

Immediately after Psalm 3 comes the Invitatory Antiphon; it is, as its designation suggests, a pressing invitation to adoration. Venite, adoremus. It constitutes the narthex or vestibule of the Night Office; from the narthex the soul peers into the temple and sees, in the distance, the altar and the tabernacle of the Divine Presence, the object of all her desires.

The Invitatory Antiphon is sung twice before Psalm 94, and then repeated in whole or in part between the strophes of the psalm and after the doxology (Glory be to the Father).

The King Who Is to Come

During the first part of Advent, that is, until December 17th, the Invitatory Antiphon is: Regem venturum Dominum, venite, adoremus. "The Lord, the King who is to come: O come, let us adore." The first part of the Invitatory points 1) to Christ whose advent in the flesh will be re-presented (made present again!) in mystery by the sacred liturgy at Christmas; 2) to Christ whose secret advent in the souls of the faithful occurs so often as they are visited by his grace; 3) and to Christ, the Bridegroom-King, whose advent in glory we await. We acclaim Him as our Lord and King; one must listen for the resonances with the entire Advent liturgy and, in particular, with Matthew 25:1-46.

A Masterpiece of Three Notes

The Liber Hymnarius gives two melodies for the Invitatory Antiphon (see p. 4): one for weekdays and one for Sundays. The one for weekdays, in the Sixth Mode, is a masterpiece of musical composition. It makes use of only three notes! Yes, three notes: fa, sol, and la! And yet, musically, it is anything but poor. One never tires of repeating it. Its chaste simplicity is a suitable overture to the Night Office during the week.

Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying

The melody given for Sundays is a trumpet blast in the Fifth Mode. In fact, if you sing the first part attentively, you can hear the beginning of the hymn tune of J. S. Bach's "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme."

Wake, awake, for night is flying;
The watchmen on the heights are crying:
Awake, Jerusalem, at last!
Midnight hears the welcome voices
And at the thrilling cry rejoices;
Come forth, ye virgins, night is past;
The Bridegroom comes, awake;
Your lamps with gladness take;
Alleluia! / And for His marriage feast prepare
For ye must go and meet Him there.

Sung Contemplation

The melody of the Invitatory Antiphon given for Sundays emphasizes three key words with a rich melismatic development: Dominum (Lord), venite (O come), and adoremus (let us adore). This is sung contemplation in its purest form.

Repetition: Sing It Again

Note that the text of the Invitatory Antiphon does not change; it is the same on Sundays as on weekdays, and this until December 17th. This is one of the key principles operative in the liturgy of the Church: repetition. The repetition of the same liturgical texts is indispensable; one takes to heart what one learns by heart. The modern craze for variety and options is fundamentally inimical to "the spirit of the liturgy."

The Ve-níghty

Now, for the Venite, Psalm 94 (95) itself: for over 1500 years this psalm has opened the Church's daily round of praise. I will never forget hearing an English lady -- very C. of E.-- share her pious enthusiasm for what she called "The Ve-nighty" at a meeting some years ago of the Barbara Pym Society of North America. Ve-nighty or Vay-née-tay, it is, day after day, the Church's glorious entrance into the the great work of adoration in spirit and in truth.

When the psalm is sung to any one of the melodies given in the Liber Hymnarius, the text is that of Saint Jerome's old Roman Psalter, translated from the Septuagint. Even after Saint Jerome revised his translation, giving us the Vulgate, the Church retained the older version of Psalm 94.

The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!
The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!

Psalmody

In choir, it is customary to have two cantors sing the Invitatory Antiphon once; then the whole choir takes it up. The cantors sing the psalm by strophes; the choir repeats the Invitatory Antiphon in whole or in part after each strophe. The Church's tradition of psalmody admits strophic psalmody (i.e. four, five, six, or more lines) only for the Invitatory Psalm and now, more recently, for the Responsorial Psalm when it is sung at Mass. The usual psalmody at the Divine Office is sung by verses of two lines (mediant and ending) with an occasional verse of three lines requiring a flexus for the first line.

Lectio and Meditatio

This interplay of voices is significant; the sacred liturgy obliges us to listen (lectio) and to give voice to what we have heard. The repetition of the Antiphon is a meditatio, in the ancient sense of the word, that is, a repetition in view of the appropriation of the text by the heart.

A Choir of One

In solitary recitation one has to make the necessary adaptations. I sing the Invitatory Antiphon, and recite the strophes of Psalm 94 quietly, except for the doxology, which I sing to the chant indicated in the Liber Hymnarius. It is one of the loveliest moments of my day.

Come, let us exult unto the Lord,
let us raise a jubilant song to God our Saviour:
let us come before His Face with thanksgiving,
and with joyful psalms sing out to Him.

The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!

A great God is the Lord, and a great King above all the gods;
[for the Lord will not cast off His people]:
For in His hand are all the ends of the earth,
and the peaks of the mountains He beholds.

O come, let us adore!

For the sea is His and He made it,
and His hands founded the dry land?

[Here it is customary to kneel. This engagement of the body is integral to Catholic worship. One should feel adoration in one's muscles and joints!]

Come in, then, fall we down before God in adoration,
let us weep before the God who made us.

The Old Roman version and the Vulgate have us weeping, whereas the Hebrew text has us kneeling. With few exceptions, the entire corpus of Catholic and Orthodox commentaries on this psalm address "let us weep before the God who made us." For this reason, the Church holds to it in the sung Office. Saint Peter Chrysologus says that these are "tears of joy, for gladness brings weeping, as well as sorrow, and then grief for our past sins is blended with the hope of blessing and glory to come."

For He is the Lord our God,
and we are His people
and the sheep of His pasture.

The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!

Would you but listen to his voice today!
Do not harden your hearts,
as they were hardened once at Meriba, at Massa in the wilderness.
Your fathers put me to the test, challenged me,
and had proof of my power.

O come, let us adore.

For forty years was I nigh to that generation
and said, These are are ever wayward hearts,
and they know not my ways,
[so] to them I took an oath in my wrath:
They shall never enter into my rest.

The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!

A profound bow -- hands crossed on one's knees -- accompanies the first half of the doxology, and thIs throughout the entire Divine Office Again, there is a physicality to Catholic and Orthodox worship. Even when the Divine Office is prayed in solitude or outside of a choral context, one ought to make the effort to include the traditional gestures that are integral to its make-up.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the begining, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.

O come, let us adore.
The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!

To be continued.

In the School of the Lord's Service

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Food for the Soul

Over the past several weeks I have been reading two fascinating and inspiring biographies by Dom Guy-Marie Oury, O.S.B. The first is Dom Guéranger, moine au coeur de l'Eglise, and the second, Lumière et force, Mère Cécile Bruyère, première abbesse de Sainte-Cécile. Both books are published aux Éditions de Solesmes. (Yes, rather like a Carthusian, I do attempt to read during my main meal with the book balanced on a stand in front of me. Most of the time, it works.)

Approaches to Prayer

One of the controversies that marked the restoration of Benedictine life at Solesmes had to do with the new -- but, in fact, very ancient -- approach to prayer that both Dom Guéranger and Madame Bruyère practiced and taught. In the nineteenth centuary and even, to a certain extent today, the greater number of Catholics seeking Divine Intimacy are oriented towards the doctrines and methods of prayer that flowered during the glorious Catholic Revival of the Counter-Reformation, following the Council of Trent (1560-1648).

Simple Adhesion to the Sacred Liturgy

To these relatively "modern" methods and systems of meditation and personal prayer -- prayer in secret, oraison, or oración -- Dom Guéranger and Madame Bruyère fostered a simple adhesion to the sacred liturgy of the Church as it unfolds hour by hour and day by day in the Mass and Divine Office. They saw no need to look elsewhere for direction, method, inspiration, or light. Their approach is at once childlike and confident because its rests on the certainty that Our Lord, having sent the Holy Spirit upon the Church, His Bride, has provided her, in the sacred liturgy, with everything necessary for the growth of her children in Divine Intimacy and in holiness. "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And He that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because He asketh for the saints according to God" (Rom 8:26-27).

Source and Summit

When I finished the long Office of Vigils this morning I was struck anew by the wisdom of a simple surrender to the prayer of the Church, the Spouse of Christ. It is -- at least for souls willing to commit themselves to immersion in it, and adhesion to it -- the simplest and, I daresay, most fruitful way of growing in Divine Intimacy. While I respect and honour the various schools of holiness that, over time, have grown up in the Church, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, I find in the sacred liturgy the source and summit of them all.

Office of Vigils Revisited

Review with me, if you will, the structure of this morning's Office of Vigils. It began with the sign of the Cross traced over the lips and the threefold invocation taken from David's psalm of spiritual resurrection: "O Lord, open Thou my lips. And my mouth shall declare Thy praise" (Ps 50:15). God Himself opens our lips for prayer, and places within our hearts the very praise of the Son, the Eternal High Priest facing the Father, in the Holy Spirit. Prayer begins from above. It is, first of all, God's gracious gift to us before becoming our gift to Him.

With Confidence to the Throne of Grace

One enters prayer profoundly aware of one's poverty and creatureliness. The cross traced on one's lips, united to the opening verse from Psalm 50, signifies that it is by "the Blood of the Cross" (Col 1:20) and by the grace of the Holy Spirit that we are rendered capable of addressing the Father with a holy boldness. "Let us go therefore with confidence to the throne of grace: that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid" (Heb 4:16).

Psalm 3, A Daily Prayer

Saint Benedict prescribes straightaway the recitation of Psalm 3, and this every day. It is a prophecy of Our Lord's passion, death, and resurrection. Addressed to the Father, it is the prayer of Christ, "Who in the days of His flesh, with a strong cry and tears, offering up prayers and supplications to Him that was able to save him from death, was heard for His reverence" (Heb 5:7).

Spiritual Combat

Each day begins on a battlefield; each day is a new engagement in spiritual combat. "For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places" (Eph 6:12).

Spiritual Adversaries

See how they surround me, Lord, my adversaries,
how many rise up in arms against me;
everywhere voices taunting me,
his God cannot save him. (Ps 3:1-2)

My Glory and the Lifter Up of my Head

And, yet, in the thick of spiritual combat one grows in confidence, in abandonment to the Father's faithful love. "I am not alone, because the Father is with me" (Jn 16:2). "And Jesus lifting up his eyes said: Father, I give thee thanks that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always" (Jn 11:41-42).

And yet, Lord, thou art the shield that covers me,
thou art my glory and the lifter up of my head.
I have but to cry out to the Lord,
and my voice reaches his mountain sanctuary,
and there finds hearing. (Ps 3:3-4)

The following verse is, without any doubt, the reason for Saint Benedict's choice of Psalm 3 at the beginning of each day. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who before dying, said, "Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit" (Lk 23:46), can also say, "Safe in my Father's hand, I lay down upon the wood of the Cross, and slept the sleep of death, and rose up again." One baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, and nourished with the mysteries of His immolated and glorious Body and Blood from the altar, is, at every moment, immersed in the Paschal Mystery, the ongoing work of redemption. I too can say, with Christ and in Him, "Safe in my Father's hand I lay down, and slept, and rose up again." Sleep and rising, sanctified by the prayer of the Church, are images of our participation in the death and resurrection of Our Lord.

Safe in God's hand I lay down, and slept,
and rose up again. (Ps 3:5)

I Will Not Be Afraid

This participation in the mystery of the Cross is the exorcism of fear and the ground of one's confidence in the triumph of Love. "For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:38-39).

Thy Benediction Upon Thy People

And now, though thousands of the people set upon me from every side,
I will not be afraid of them.
Bestir thyself, Lord; my God, save me;
thine to smite my enemies on the cheek, thine to break the fangs of malice.
From the Lord all deliverance comes;
let thy benediction, Lord, rest upon thy people. (Ps 3:6-8)

The psalm ends on a note of assurance and so inspires one to begin the new day in hope. There is a final petition: "Let thy benediction, Lord, rest upon thy people." Even when one prays in the first person singular, even when one prays alone, as I do in the little oratory of my anchorhold, one prays in communion with the whole Church, asking the blessing of the Lord upon all His people and, in my particular vocation, especially upon His priests, my brothers.

To be continued.

Splendor gloriae tuae

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I took this sunrise photo last November at Saint-Loup-sur-Aujon. It goes very well, I think, with today's beautiful Advent Collect:

Oriatur quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,
in cordibus nostris splendor gloriae tuae,
ut, omni noctis obscuritate sublata,
filios nos esse lucis Unigeniti tui manifestet adventus.

Let the splendour of Thy glory, we beseech Thee,
Almighty God, rise like the dayspring in our hearts
to dispel every darkness of the night;
so that the advent of Thine only-begotten Son,
may show us to be sons of the light.

And then there is the Collect for today's feast of Saint Lucy:

Intercessio nos, quaesumus, Domine,
sanctae Luciae virginis et martyris gloriosa confoveat,
ut eius natalicia et temporaliter frequentemus,
et conspiciamus aeterna.

We entreat Thee, O Lord,
that the glorious intercession
of the virgin and martyr Saint Lucy
may warm and comfort us,
so that we may celebrate her heavenly birthday
in the passing of time,
and fix our sight on things eternal.

Cleansing of the Mind

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Here is today's Collect in the Missale Romanum and in the Liturgia Horarum. In the 1962 Missale Romanum it is the Collect of the Second Sunday of Advent.

Excita, Domine, corda nostra
ad praeparandas Unigeniti tui vias,
ut per eius adventum,
purificatis tibi mentibus servire mereamur.

Bishop England in 1843

The Right Reverend Dr. John England, Bishop of Charleston, South Carolina translated this Collect in his 1843 edition of The Roman Missal Translated into English for the Use of the Laity:

Stir up, O Lord, our hearts
to prepare the ways of thy only-begotten Son:
that by his coming
we may be enabled to serve thee with pure minds.

And here is how I translated the same Collect this morning:

Stir up our hearts, O Lord,
to make ready the paths of Thine only-begotten Son
that His coming may enable us to serve Thee
with minds that have been cleansed.

The Sacramentary

But in the current Sacramentary we find a prayer that cannot possibly claim to be a translation of the original text.

Almighty Father,
give us the joy of your love
to prepare the way for Christ our Lord.
Help us to serve you and one another.

On Whose Watch?

Why is this "translation," given in the 1970 Sacramentary, still in use after 38 years? Incredible, is it not? Who did this "translation?" And who approved it? And why was it so widely accepted without question? It bears absolutely no resemblance to the original Collect it purports to render in English. It is a flagrant betrayal of the lex orandi.

Deleterious Spiritual Consequences

Did it not occur to the translators of the Sacramentary to consult the first American translation of the Roman Missal, that of Bishop England? Or any other for that matter? I know that the new ICEL translation, in accord with the principles of Liturgiam Authenticam, is on the way, but all the same! Has anyone reflected on the deleterious spiritual consequences of using flawed liturgical texts?

Some Provocative Questions

I have the joy of offering Holy Mass in Latin and in the Extraordinary Form every day so that, personally, this debacle doesn't affect me. I am aware nonethless of the sufferings and problems of conscience that the current Sacramentary inflicts on a number of priests. And what of the faithful deprived for the past forty years of faithful and accurate translations of the liturgy of the Church?

Salus Animarum Est Suprema Lex

In the light of the old axiom so often quoted by canonists and moral theologians, that "the good of souls is the supreme law," would a priest be justified in using an accurate translation of the text the Church wants us to have, the text given in the editio typica, while waiting for the new ICEL translation? Or does a narrow and blind legalism impose the obligatory use of texts that are, even to those with a minimal knowledge of the Missale Romanum, flawed to the extent of depriving souls of actual participation in the prayer of the Church? Is not the good of souls at stake? I'm just asking the questions!

Our Lady in Advent

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This morning at Vigils the Second Reading was from a homily by Abbot Geoffrey of Admont. It was wonderfully suitable, coming after the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Loreto, and before that of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

All the patriarchs and prophets . . . being illumined by the Spirit of God, were able to see future events in advance, and by their discourses made known and loved the grace of salvation that, through Christ and His blessed Mother was to come into the world.

Note well that it is through Christ and His blessed Mother that the grace of salvation comes into the world. One detects the patristic leit-motif of Christ the New Adam, and of Mary the New Eve. Then, the Abbot of Admont goes on to present the Canticle of Canticles. I love this section. It echoes what Isaac of Stella says elsewhere.

From among these ancients, one very great sage (sapientissimus) Salomon, wrote a book to the praise and honour of Our Lady Mary: it is the Canticle of Canticles. While it can be applied to the holy Church and to every faithful soul, it is especially fitting to her by whom the Salvation of the world appeared to believers.

Finally, he says:

Nam sicut ista sollemnitas specialiter est Domini nostri Iesu Christi, ita et specialitedr est eiusdem Genetricis suae, cum qua ipse Dominus et Redemptor salutem humani generis operari voluit.
Even if the coming solemnity belongs especially to Our Lord Jesus Christ, it also belongs especially to His Mother, with whom Our Lord and Redeemer Himself willed to work the salvation of the human race.

This twelfth century text witnesses compellingly, I think, to the Marian doctrine of co-redemption. Geoffrey of Admont, a monk of the Benedictine Congregation of Hirsau, was abbot of the monastery of Admont in central Austria from 1138 until his death in 1165. About two hundred of his homilies have been preserved.

The Heavenly Physician

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I cannot resist offering a little commentary on the Collect of the day, one of Advent's most beautiful prayers:

Omnipotens Deus,
qui nos praecipis iter Christo Domino praeparare,
concede propitius,
ut nullis infirmitatibus fatigemur,
qui caelestis medici consolantem praesentiam sustinemus.

Almighty God,
Who commandest us to prepare the way for Christ the Lord,
mercifully grant that we may not grow weary in our infirmities
whilst we wait for the consoling presence of the heavenly Physician.

Prepare the Way for Christ the Lord

The prayer is articulated around the text of Isaiah that we heard yesterday in the First Reading: "In the desert, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness the paths of our God" (Is 40:3). The author of the Collect retained only the spiritual imperative of the biblical text: prepare the way for Christ the Lord. This is the message of John the Forerunner, the prophet sent "before the Lord to prepare his ways" (Lk 1:76).

The Joy of Spiritual Desire

Advent is about waiting, but in this waiting there is nothing passive, nothing of the quietism that would have one sit inert, like a lump without passion, energy, or desire. Advent has been called the Lent of Winter, and with good reason. The very qualities that characterize the Lent of Spring, should characterize Advent. Does not Saint Benedict say that "a monk's life ought at all times to bear a Lenten character" (RB 49:1)? What is the essence of this Lenten character? Saint Benedict, after inviting us to a spontaneous generosity in prayer, in self-denial, and in silence, sums it all up by saying, "and so with the joy of spiritual desire, look forward to holy Pascha" (RB 49:7). The "joy of spiritual desire" is the key to "preparing the way of the Lord" (Is 40:3).

Beset With Infirmities

The second part of today's Collect is another example of the realism and confidence found everywhere in the Roman liturgy: "mercifully grant that we may not grow weary in our infirmities whilst we wait for the consoling presence of the heavenly Physician." The prayer does not deny that we are beset with infirmities. It makes us admit our weakness. It does not minimize the temptation we all have to weariness, to the classic monastic complaint of accedia: a loss of energy, a kind of "throwing in the towel," a giving in to the dullness and inertia of routine.

Come, and I Will Refresh You

We are waiting for the "consoling presence of the heavenly Physician." Christ, the Physician of our souls and bodies is sent to minister to us in our infirmity. This is the thrilling message of the First Reading: "It is he that giveth strength to the weary, and increaseth force and might to them that are not. Youths shall faint, and labour, and young men shall fall by infirmity. But they that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint" (Is 40:29-31). We are waiting for the consoling presence of Him who says, "Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you" (Mt 11:28).

The Remedy for Every Infirmity

The "heavenly Physician" of the Collect waits for us in the adorable mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, the sacrament of our healing, the remedy for every infirmity. Approach the altar then -- both for Holy Communion and for adoration -- with Saint Benedict's, "joy of spiritual desire" (RB 49:7). The heavenly Physician "stands at the door and knocks" (Rev 3:20). Open to him.

Ave, liber incomprehensus

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At Matins this morning I listened, enchanted, to Saint Epiphanius' rapturous praises of the All-Holy Mother of God. The witness of Saint Epiphanius is precious: born in Palestine of Jewish parentage in about the year 310, he went to Egypt as a youth to pursue there his monastic vocation. In 367 he was called out of the desert to serve the Church as bishop of Constantia (Salamis) in Cyprus. Sensitive to the least whiff of heresy, he was ever ready to defend the Catholic Orthodox faith. He died whilst returning from Constantinople to Cyprus in 402. Listen to him praise Our Lady. What would happen, I wonder, if a priest were to preach today with such lyricism and holy passion?

More Beautiful than the Cherubim

What shall I say,
what praise shall I make of the glorious and holy Virgin?
She surpasses all beings, God alone excepted;
she is by nature more beautiful than the cherubim, the seraphim,
and the whole army of heaven;
neither heavenly nor earthly tongue are sufficient to praise her,
not even that of the angels.

Immaculate Lily, Unfading Rose

Rejoice! Thou full of grace, gate of the heavens;
carried upward in his discourse,
the author of the Canticle wrote of thee
when he exclaimed:
Thou art a garden enclosed, my sister, my bride,
a garden enclosed, a sealed fountain
.
The Virgin is this immaculate lily,
the unfading rose who engendered Christ.
O Holy Godbearer, immaculate ewe,
thou hast brought forth Christ the Lamb, the Word of thee incarnate!

Ever-flowing Wellspring of Sweetness

Immense is the grace of this holy Virgin.
Wherefore does Gabriel address her first with this greeting:
Hail, full of grace, shining heaven!
Hail, full of grace, adorned with numberless virtues!
Hail, full of grace, thou golden urn containing the heavenly manna!
Hail, full of grace, thou who quenchest those who thirst
from the ever-flowing wellspring of sweetness!

Purple Fit for Kings

Hail, O most holy and immaculate Mother,
who didst bring forth Christ, He who before thee is.
Hail, O purple fit for kings, thou has clothed the King of heaven and earth!
Hail, O book incomprehensible: thou hast displayed the Word, the Son of the Father,
for all the world to read!

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At Matins this morning there were two stupendous readings from Benedictine sources: one from Saint Peter Damian, Bishop (1007-1072), and the other from Saint Bede the Venerable (672-735).

Years ago I taught several courses in homiletics to seminarians and to candidates for the permanent diaconate. More often than not their question was: "How can we learn to preach well?" Invariably I would give them the same answer in three points: 1) Read the Fathers; 2) Read the Fathers; and 3) Read the Fathers. With the passing years I have become, if anything, even more convinced that one must learn the art of preaching in the school of the Holy Fathers.

Saint Peter Damian

First off, Saint Peter Damian captivated me with his magnificent rhythmed prose. Here is the opening of his sermon:

O singular humility! The Word was made flesh and, having come forth as the Perfect Man, forsook the mass of men and sought out John, desired John, went towards John.
O singularis humilitas! Verbum caro factum, et in perfectum egrediens virum, relicta hominum universitate, Ioannem quaerit, Ioannem desiderat, ad Ioannem vadit.

He closes with a veritable litany of praise in honour of Saint John the Forerunner. I will give only my English translation, trying to do justice to the text:

Patriarch, Prophet, and Angel

Listen! John is a patriarch, even more is he the realization and summit of the patriarchs; he is a prophet, and more than a prophet, because he pointed out with his finger the One whose advent he announced; he is an angel, et even the one chosen among the angels, and the Lord Himself bears witness to this, saying, "Behold, I send out my angel to prepare my way before my Face."

Apostle, Evangelist, Harvester, Virgin

John is an apostle, and even the first of apostles and their prince, because, "there was a man sent by God"; he is an evangelist, and again the first harvester of the Gospel, the first to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom; he is a virgin, and the very ensign of of virginity, the hallmark of modesty, the example of chastity.

Martyr, Elias, Friend of the Bridegroom, Preparer of the Bride

John is a martyr, and the light of martyrs, the pattern of the most constant witness between the birth of Christ and His death; John himself is Elias, a lamp burning and giving light, the friend of the Bridegroom, the one who prepares the Bride.

The monastic Office contains not one, but two patristic readings on Sundays and the greater feasts. There is the reading of the Second Nocturn, corresponding to the Second Reading in the Roman Liturgy of the Hours, and there is a patristic homily on the Gospel of the day, read after the three Old Testament canticles of the Third Nocturn, and before the Te Deum. Then follows the Holy Gospel itself, at the end of which there is an Amen, and the ancient hymn in praise of the Most Holy Trinity, the Te Decet Laus.

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Saint Bede the Venerable

In the homily on the Gospel (Mark 1:1-18), Saint Bede the Venerable speaks of the solitary life. It is noteworthy that he admits of two forms of solitary life. The first, he says, is that of those who withdraw into the desert, a word that we must here take to mean monasteries, cloisters, anchorholds, and the like. The second, is that of those who, without leaving the world, but rather remaining in the midst of it, spurn its desires and cleave to God alone in the cloister (or hidden place) of the heart.

God Alone

Typically furthermore, the desert where John dwelt represents the life of holy men cut off from the pleasures of the world: whether they live as solitaries or in the midst of crowds, ceaselessly, by the soul's intent, they spurn the desires of this present world; they find their joy in cleaving to God in the secret place of the heart, and in Him alone do they place their hope.

Et Mansi in Solitudine

It is towards this solitude of the soul, so cherished by God, that the prophet, succoured by the Holy Spirit, says: "Who shall give me wings like those of the dove, that I may take my flight and be at rest?" (Ps 54:7) And, cheering himself that he has, with God's help, arrived there so quickly, he adds, by way of deriding the webs of earthly desires: "Behold, I have fled far way, and made my abode in solitude" (Ps 54:8).

Non transalpinare necesse est

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Non te opportet, o homo, maria transfretare, non penetrare nubes, non transalpinare necesse est. Non grandis, inquam, tibi ostenditur via: usque ad temetipsum occurre Deo tuo. (Saint Bernard, Sermo I In Adventu)

At Matins this morning the Second Reading was from our incomparable Saint Bernard. The titles in boldface and the comments in italics are mine.

History's Vesper Hour

It is now fitting that we should consider the time of our Lord's coming.
He came, as you know, not in the beginning, nor in the midst of time, but in the end of it. This was no unsuitable choice, but a truly wise dispensation of His infinite wisdom, that He might afford help when He saw it was most needed. Truly, " it was evening, and the day was far spent " (Lk 24:29); the sun of justice had well nigh set, and but a faint ray of his light and heat remained on earth.

Isn't it extraordinary how Saint Bernard relates the Emmaus story (Lk 24:29) to the end of time? This, in turn, must be related to the theme of our current Vespers hymn, Conditor Alme Siderum: the Word becomes flesh in the vespertide of history:

Vergente mundi vespere,
Uti sponsus de thalamo,
Egressus honestissima,
Virginis matris clausula.

Earth waning to her vesper hour,
He like a bridegroom from his bower,
His Virgin Mother's spotless shrine,
Came forth in dignity divine.

Note too that Saint Bernard draws upon Psalm 18:5-6 (Caeli ennarrent) for his imagery of the sun, and of its light and heat.

As Iniquity Abounded, the Fervour of Charity Had Grown Cold

The light of Divine knowledge was very small,
and as iniquity abounded, the fervour of charity had grown cold.
No angel appeared, no prophet spoke.
The angelic vision and the prophetic spirit alike had passed away,
both hopelessly baffled by the exceeding obduracy and obstinacy of mankind.

The Collect for the feast of the Stigmata of Saint Francis (September 17th) makes use of Saint Bernard's expression: "the fervour of charity had grown cold." Iniquity so abounded on earth, he says that the angels and the prophets themselves are hopeless baffled by mankind's exceeding obduracy and obstinacy. His description of the global situation on the eve of the Incarnation fits the global situation today.

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Plenitude and Affluence of Things Temporal

Then it was that the Son of God said : " Behold, I come" (Heb 10:7).
And "while all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, the Almighty Word leaped down from heaven from thy royal throne" (Wis 18:14-15).
Of this coming the Apostle speaks :
"When the fullness of time was come, God sent his Son" (Gal 4:4).
The plenitude and affluence of things temporal had brought on the oblivion and penury of things eternal.
Fitly, therefore, did the Eternal God come when things of time were reigning supreme.

"The plenitude and affluence of things temporal had brought on the oblivion and penury of things eternal." Not long ago I was talking with a friend in Ireland. She said that Ireland's economic boom (now in recession) and unprecedented prosperity had, in fact, led to -- and here I again use Saint Bernard's words -- "the oblivion and penury of things eternal." This is true, of course, not only of Ireland, but of any society sated by "the plenitude and affluence of things temporal." Man is, alas, all too often driven to God only when, out of a salutary want, or even misery, he experiences his radical dependence upon Him.

He Comes Daily and Invisibly to Work Our Salvation

As He once came visibly in the body to work our salvation in the midst of the earth,
so does He come daily invisibly and in spirit to work the salvation of each individual soul ; as it is written : " The Spirit before our face, Christ the Lord."
And that we might know this spiritual advent to be hidden, it is said :
" Under his shadow we shall live among the Gentiles" (Lam 4:20).

This is one of Saint Bernard's cherished motifs, probably because it so corresponds to his own experience of "being visited by the Word." The Word continues His advent and renews it in one soul after another, visiting us by His grace in the shadow and obscurity of faith's dark night.

At Least Raise Your Head

Wherefore, if the infirm cannot go far to meet this great Physician,
it is at least becoming they should endeavour to raise their heads
and lift themselves a little to greet their Saviour.

What a touching image Saint Bernard gives us here! The sinsick soul is compared to someone who is weakened by illness and confined to bed. So feeble is he that, when the physician comes, he cannot get out of bed to greet him. He cannot even raise himself enough to sit on the edge of the bed. He can do no more than lift his head a little from his pillow. This is all Our Lord asks of us. If you cannot go to the door to greet Him, it is enough that you should raise your head a little. That mere token of openness to divine grace is enough to set in motion the process of interior healing.

Turn Within Thyself to Meet Thy God

For this, O man, you are not required to cross the sea,
to penetrate the clouds, to scale the mountain-tops.
No lofty way is set before you.
Turn within thyself to meet thy God,
for the Word is nigh in thy mouth and in thy heart (Dt 30:14).

Conversion -- turning Godward -- is a very simple interior movement made possible by prevenient grace. The Word, says Saint Bernard, quoting Deuteuronomy 3:14, "is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart." Nothing hard or rigourous is required; the pietas (fatherly devotedness) of God is such that He does everything to facilitate our conversion toward Him.

Compunction and Confession

Meet Him by compunction of heart and by confession of mouth,
or, at least, go forth from the corruption of a sinful conscience,
for it is not becoming
that the Author of purity should enter there.
And this is said concerning that advent by which He will deign to illumine
every soul with an invisible power.

For Saint Bernard there are two ways of going forth from the stinking rot of a sinful conscience. The first is by way of compunction: the blessed sorrow for sin experienced when one is pierced through by the Word. The second is by way of confession: auricular, sacramental confession. Then, the soul is fit to welcome the Author of purity who enters her by means of the adorable Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

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First Tuesday of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 71:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17 (R. 7)
Luke 10:21-24

Bishop Slattery invited me to preach at Holy Mass in Tulsa's Cathedral of the Holy Family on the occasion of the Diocesan Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests, observed annually on the First Tuesday of Advent. It was wonderful to see all the priests of the diocese and a good number of deacons assembled around our Bishop. Here is the homily I gave:

Seek the Lord While He May Be Found

Some of you, brothers, after completing your Morning Prayer today, may have glanced ahead at the Magnificat Antiphon. I, for one, did -- and I found there why we are here this evening: "Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while he is near" (Is 55:6).

Saint Bernard, especially in his darker moments, used to ask himself, Bernarde, ad quid venisti? "Bernard, what are you doing here? Why have you come?" Given that it was Bernard's custom to find answers to his questions in the Scriptures, he may well have replied to himself: "You've come to seek the Lord while He may be found, to call upon Him while He is near" (Is 55:66). This is why we have assembled in our cathedral this evening; to seek the Lord while He may be found and together, with one another and for one another, to call upon Him while He is near.

Times and Places Fragrant With Grace

Our Lord can, without any doubt, be sought anytime and anywhere. One can call upon Him in any place, at any moment, and out of any situation. And yet, there are times and places that are especially fragrant with His grace. There are moments when the veil hiding His Face seems less opaque, when His voice seems to strike the ear of our hearts more clearly

To call upon the Lord is to engage Him in conversation. The Church, instructed by the Holy Spirit, tells us just how we are to go about calling on the Lord. (This is an example of how the liturgy, taken just as it is given, makes all prayer extraordinarily simple. It is the indispensable primary school of prayer.) Look for a moment, if you will, at today's Collect: the prayer that pulls us together, the prayer that, from the very beginning of Mass, imparts the radical God-ward orientation without which there is no prayer.

The Collect

Using a prayer that comes from the 5th century scroll of Ravenna, we say today:

Lord God, be gracious to our supplications
and in tribulation grant us, we pray,
the help of your paternal care;
that being consoled by the presence of your Son who is to come,
we may be untainted, even now,
by the contagion of our former ways.

This prayer, with the realism that characterizes our Roman Rite, just assumes that we are in tribulation. Of course it would. These 5th century Roman prayers emerged out of real life pastoral situations, often marked by crisis, by animosities, persecutions, and weariness.

Pietas Auxilium

And then we ask for the help of God's pietas -- auxilium pietatis. Pietas is a translator's conundrum. It is God's provident, strong, reliable, paternal love. His pietas is the bedrock of what Saint Paul calls the "household of faith" (Gal 6:10). Pietas is what makes a man dutiful and tender in caring for his wife and children, a reflection of how the Father, in Christ, loves the household of the Church.

Consoled Ahead of Time

The prayer goes on to say that because the Son is coming again, we are consoled ahead of time. "That being consoled by the presence of your Son who is to come. . . ." There is consolation, brothers, even in the apparent absence of God, because waiting engenders hope, and hope is, in the uncertainties and losses of this life, the one thing that consoles us.

Old in Sin

Finally we come to point of the whole prayer: the famous ut clause: so that. "So that being consoled by the presence of your Son who is to come, we may be untainted, -- the Latin even more pointedly says unpolluted -- even now, by the contagion of our former ways." The contagious pollution of our former ways! I told you the Roman liturgy is realistic.

Sin is the great unseen pollutant. It ages us prematurely. It robs us of that joy of our youth that we go to the altar in search of, day after day. It is easy, brothers, to be reinfected by ancient patterns of sin, by the contagion of what is old. Such is the plight of the "old man" in me and in you, the decrepit man who, so often as he sins, becomes more decrepit.

The Child

The Son who is to come in the Collect is the Child of the First Reading. . "And a little Child shall lead them" (Is 11:6). We are led by One who has the Face of a little Child, a Face at once open and full of mystery. This is the image of a healthy presbyterate: men of all ages content to be led by a little Child.

The Anointed One

This same Child is the Father's anointed Priest. The Anointing poured over His head runs down even to the hem of His garment (cf. Ps 132), covering each of us, His priestly members, and steeping us in the fragrance of His sacrifice. This too is the image of a healthy presbyterate: one in which the seven gifts of the Divine Anointing are in operation: "the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. . . and the spirit of the fear of the Lord" (Is 11:2-3).

His Prayer to the Father

The Gospel brings us back to the mystery of the Child-Priest. We surprise Him in the very act of praying to His Father. So intimate is the tone of this prayer that it has been compared to the most sublime pages of the Fourth Gospel.

The Magnificat of Jesus

Saint Luke shows us the Son filled with gladness in the Holy Spirit -- this is the Magnificat of Jesus, an echo of His Mother's exultation in the first chapter of Saint Luke's Gospel. It is, at the same time, Saint Luke's transmission of the uninterrupted priestly prayer of the Heart of Jesus. It is Eucharistic --"Father, I give you thanks"-- corresponding in its own way to Chapter Seventeen of Saint John.

The Great Thanksgiving

This prayer of Jesus is, in essence, the model of the Preface of every Mass. Listen to it in a liturgical key:

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
O Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
that you have hidden all this from the wise and the prudent,
and revealed it to little children.
Be it so, Lord, since this finds favour in your sight.
Therefore, with Angels and Archangels, Thrones and Dominations,
and all the warriors of the Heavenly array,
we raise a ceaseless hymn of praise, as we sing . . . .

The Delight of the Child

The Child-Priest praises the Father who has entrusted everything into His hands. None knows who the Child is, except the Father, and none knows who the Father is, except the Child, and those to whom it is the Child's delight to reveal Him. Be certain of one thing, brothers, this Child-Priest is most at ease in conversing with other children because among them He runs the least risk of being misunderstood.

Blessed Are the Eyes That See What You See

And just as in John 17 Jesus addresses His friends, His chosen disciples, so too in today's Gospel, His final words are for us priests. Although Our Lord mentions prophets and kings, He does not mention priests, and this because He is addressing His priests, those of the New Covenant. "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see; I tell you, there have been many prophets and kings who have longed to see what you see, and never saw it, to hear what you hear, and never heard it" (Lk 10:24).

The Joy of Our Youth

This is the affirmation of our priesthood. We need look nowhere else. This is the consolation of our priesthood in the face of our every experience of humiliation and weakness. This is the joy of our priesthood, joy offered by a Child. Welcome it today at the altar, brothers, and there recover, not for ourselves only, but for the sake of the whole Church, the joy of our youth.

Invenisti gratiam apud Deum

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Advent and the Annunciation

Our Lady, the glorious Virgin of Isaiah's prophecy (Is 7:14), is everywhere present in the liturgy of Advent, and this from the very first day. This morning at Matins, I delighted in the beautiful responsories woven around Isaiah's prophecy of the Virgin with Child, and the mystery of the Annunciation.

Praying With a Short Attention Span

The reading from the Prophet Isaiah -- and all the long readings at Matins, for that matter -- are, in the ancient tradition subdivided into small lessons; each lesson is followed by a responsory. This practice is eminently pastoral. It takes into account the weariness that one sometimes brings to the long Night Office and the perennial problem of all who try to remain recollected in prayer: the short attention span! Each lesson is no more than five or six verses long, and is followed immediately by a responsory that engages the listeners in an inter-active meditatio.

This morning, for example:

Lesson I: Isaiah 7:1-6, Take heed, be quiet, do not fear.
Then, the Responsory:

R. The Angel Gabriel was sent to Mary, a Virgin espoused to Joseph, to bring unto her the Word ; and when the Virgin saw the light she was troubled till the Angel said : Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God. * Behold thou shalt conceive and bring forth a Son, and he shall be called the Son of the Highest.
V. Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.
R. Behold thou shalt conceive and bring forth a Son, and he shall be called the Son of the Highest.

Lesson II: Isaiah 7: 7-9, If you do not believe, surely you shall not established.
Then, the Responsory:

R. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee : * The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee : therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
V. How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? and the Angel made answer.
R. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee : therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

Lesson III: Isaiah 7: 10-17, Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.
Then, the Responsory, this time with a Gloria Patri:

R. We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ : * Who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of his glory.
V. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; and make a joyful noise to him with psalms.
R. Who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of his glory.
V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
R. Who shall change the body of our humiliation, that it may be fashioned like unto the body of his glory.

Wisdom

The wisdom and benefits of this carefully crafted approach to the readings at Matins/Nocturns is, I should think, evident to anyone who has attempted to pray his way through the more turgid reformed Office of Readings which gives them en bloc, as it were.

Advantages of the Traditional Structure

If I were to sum up the advantages of the traditional structure of lessons and responsories at Matins/Nocturns, I would say:

1. The lessons are brief, allowing the listener to extract one significant phrase to be stored up in his heart. See the phrases from each of the lessons that I give above as an example of this. Doing this, one is already practicing lectio and meditatio.

2. The responsories, built around the repetition of a single sentence, deepen one's meditatio and effectively dispose the soul to oratio (prayer) and contemplatio (simple abiding in adoring love).

3. The Gloria Patri added to the last responsory (for which, according to the injunction of Saint Benedict, all rise out of reverence for the Most Holy Trinity) gives to the whole structure a doxological impetus. In Christian prayer, praise has the last word.

A Critique of the Structure in the Liturgia Horarum

Now, if I may be so bold as to critique the structure found in the current reformed Office of Readings of the Liturgia Horarum:

1. The readings are relatively long, giving one the impression of a didactic exercise. One has the impression that the framers of this innovation (and I knew one of them very well) wanted to supply for the average priest's need to have some element of study or spiritual reading in his day. The very designation, Office of Readings, is suspect, reflecting more the goals of its framers in the 1960s than the tradition of the Church. This pragmatic use of the Divine Office -- killing two birds with one stone, as it were -- is foreign to the tradition. Saint Benedict, in fact, reserves the time after the Night Office precisely for study.

2. The suppression of two out of three responsories for each reading is a regrettable impoverishment of the Divine Office. The responsories of Matins constitute, in fact, one of the richest elements in the liturgical corpus of the West.

3. Again, the suppression of two out of three responsories for each reading minimizes the fruitful interplay of listening to the Word and tunefully (chantfully?) repeating it until, at length, it descends into the heart as a seed of contemplation.

4. The doxology in the responsories was completely suppressed by the artisans of the reformed liturgy. A most curious innovation, given the great antiquity of the Gloria Patri in this particular context. A mere detail, one may say -- Not at all, say I. It reveals the shift in the liturgical paradigm from God to man. The liturgy becomes something one can use for one's personal growth as opposed to something one offers gratuitously to God.

Liturgical Haste Makes Liturgical Waste

The current reformed Liturgia Horarum was put together in haste. It reflects the prejudices and limitations of the redactors who were, in fact, more concerned with producing a practical breviary for the modern clergy -- something to be read-- than they were with working in organic continuity with the Church's age-old and perennially fruitful practice of the Divine Office.

The time has come, I would argue, for a complete mise en question of the 1970 reform of the Divine Office. Any future reform of the Divine Office will, I pray, incorporate the recovery of elements such as those discussed above.


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Today's Collect

Da, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus,
hanc tuis fidelibus voluntatem,
ut, Christo tuo venienti
iustis operibus occurentes,
eius dexterae sociati,
regnum mereantur possidere caeleste.

Almighty God,
grant to your faithful, we beseech you,
the will to go forth with works of justice
to greet your Christ at His coming,
that they, having a place at His right hand,
may be found worthy of the kingdom of heaven.

Collected Into Unity

Today's Collect for the First Sunday of Advent in the Ordinary Form -- our collective prayer, and the prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit by which all our secret prayers are gathered together and presented to the Father, through the Son -- deserves to be repeated until it descends into the heart. Its ultimate function, and that of all liturgical prayer, is to bring us into the unity for which Our Lord prayed on the night before He suffered: unity among ourselves so as to form one single bridal body united to Christ the Bridegroom-Head and, through Him, unity with the Father, in the embrace of the Holy Spirit.

Omnipotens Deus

Almighty God: first of all we address the Father. Our prayer goes straightaway to "the Father of lights from Whom descends every good endowment and every perfect gift" (James 1:17). We call Him Omnipotens Deus, all-powerful or almighty God, thus echoing what the Archangel Gabriel said to the Virgin of Nazareth: "For with God nothing will be impossible" (Luke 1:37). Again, by addressing God as omnipotent, we appropriate the very expression used by the Virgin Mary, already with child, in her Magnificat: "He who is mighty has done great things for me" (Luke 1:49).

Primary School of Catholic Prayer

The liturgy of the Church -- and, in particular the Divine Office -- is the primary school of Catholic prayer: a school that is in session 365 days a year, a school that, according to the ancient tradition of the Hours, meets seven times a day and once during the night. It is a school of total immersion in a new language: the language of prayer given by the Holy Spirit to the Church. Every year on the First Sunday of Advent we are invited to enroll again in this primary school of Catholic prayer, the liturgy of Mother Church.

Ex Corde Ecclesiae

It is through the liturgy -- and again, especially through the Divine Office -- that "the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought" (Romans 8:27). Saint Paul says that the Holy Spirit "asketh for us with unspeakable groanings"; the liturgy articulates these groanings of the Spirit. Rising from the heart of the Church, the groanings of the Holy Spirit take form on her lips in antiphons and in psalms, in responsories and in Collects. One who prays in harmony with the Church, making all of her expressions his own, prays in the Holy Spirit (cf. Ephesians 6:18).

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Da, quaesumus

Back to the text of our Collect: the second line makes us say, "grant to your faithful, we beseech you, the will to go forth with works of justice to greet your Christ at his coming."
The Church does not tell God what she wants like someone ordering from his menu in a restaurant, first of all, because she is not paying the bill! The Church uses the humble language of supplication: she entreats, she beseeches, she implores, she begs. The liturgy never allows us to lose sight of our own creatureliness, of our absolute and utter dependence on God, and of the grandeur of His Divine Majesty. And so she says, and she teaches us to say, "grant to your faithful, we beseech you."

Grace Before All

And what does she pray for on the First Sunday of Advent? "The will to go forth with works of justice to greet your Christ at His coming." The human will cannot, of itself, move toward God without the grace of God. The prayer does not say, "help us to go forth with works of justice"; it says quite pointedly, "grant to your faithful, we beseech you, the will to go forth with works of justice." "Apart from me," says the Lord Jesus, "you can do nothing" (John 15:5), and again, "No one comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6). We do not ask God for a mere helping hand; we ask him to grant us even the will to get moving.

This is one of the first lessons in the Church's school of prayer: our utter dependence on God's merciful favour, on His free gift of grace. God is present before we call upon Him, making it possible for us to call upon Him: "I was ready," He says in Isaiah 65:1, "to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me."

Works of Justice

Specifically, we pray for the will to go forth with works of justice. What are these works of justice? They are the thoughts, words, and deeds by which God adjusts us to His will: our sanctification. "For this is the will of God," says Saint Paul, "Your sanctification." Concretely the works of justice are the seven spiritual and seven corporal works of mercy enumerated in the Catechism. The works of justice correspond also to what Saint Paul, in writing to the Galatians, calls, "the fruit of the Holy Spirit" (Galatians 5:22-23). Again, you would know them from the Catechism: charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, and chastity.

His Threefold Advent

It is with these works -- evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives -- that we are to go forth to greet Christ at His coming. His coming -- His advent -- is threefold.

Historical and Liturgicall

First, there is His historical advent, His descent into the womb of the Virgin, His birth at Bethlehem: this historical event is re-presented, actualized for us in the course of the liturgical year. The liturgy is not a pageant depicting an event locked in an irretrievable past: it is the mysterious inbreaking of that historical event into our here and now by means of sacred signs charged with grace by the Holy Spirit.

Visited by Grace

Then, there are His secret intermediate advents: so often as Our Lord visits a soul by His grace, principally through the Most Holy Eucharist and the other sacraments, but also through the Divine Office, and in lectio divina, we can say, "Behold, the Bridegroom is here!" (Mt 25:6).

At the End of Time

And finally, there will be His advent at the end of time. It is of this advent that today's Gospel speaks: "But of that day and hour no one knoweth, not the angels of heaven, but the Father alone" (Matthew 24:36).

The final line of today's Collect is a preview of all that we hope and pray for: "that, having a place at His right hand, they may be found worthy of the kingdom of heaven." The Father finds this petition irresistible because it corresponds to the prayer of His Son, our Eternal High Priest surrounded by His Apostles in the Upper Room: "Father, I desire that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, may be with Me where I am" (John 17:24). And if this were not enough we have this other word of His, a promise to which we have only to lay claim: "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that shall overcome, I will give to sit with me in my throne: as I also have overcome, and am set down with my Father in his throne" (Apocalypse 3:20-1).

What the Spirit Saith to the Churches

There is all of this and more in the Collect by which the Church opens Holy Mass and concludes all the Hours today. "He that hath an ear," then, "let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches" (Apocalypse 2:29).

First Sunday of Advent

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Keeping Watch in the Night

Nothing in the course of the liturgical year can be compared to Advent Matins (also called Nocturns, or Vigils, and in the Liturgia Horarum, Readings), prayed in the pre-dawn darkness. This morning's monastic Matins were blessedly long: after each Nocturn of psalmody came four readings, each followed by a responsory, with the whole vigil culminating in the Holy Gospel (Matthew 24:37-44) and the ancient hymn to the Holy Trinity, the Te Decet Laus. One needs to pray at length -- to persevere in keeping watch -- for the grace of the Word to touch the heart, and begin to change it.

Grazing Among the Responsories

If you are not familiar with the traditional Advent responsories at Matins, find yourself a monastic or Roman breviary, and pasture your soul among them. They are the distillation of the prayer of Israel brought to perfection in the prayer of the Church. In them every soul can discover how true it is that, through the sacred liturgy, the Holy Spirit "helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings" (Romans 8:26).

Saint Cyprian Speaks

What most struck me this morning was the homily read before the Gospel. It was taken from Saint Cyprian's Treatise on the Unity of the Catholic Church. Rarely have I read a text that speaks so clearly to the present age. Judge for yourself. Here it is:

We Rather Buy and Increase Our Store

But in us unanimity is compromised in proportion to the abundance of good works become scarce. Then [he is referring to the Acts of the Apostles] they used to give for sale houses and estates; and that they might lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, presented to the apostles the price of them, to be distributed for the use of the poor. But now we do not even give the tenths from our patrimony; and while our Lord bids us sell, we rather buy and increase our store. Thus has the vigour of faith dwindled away among us; thus has the strength of believers grown weak.

Shall Our Lord Find Faith on the Earth?

And therefore the Lord, looking to our days, says in His Gospel, "When the Son of man cometh, think you that He shall find faith on the earth?" (St. Luke 18:8) We see that what He foretold has come to pass. There is no faith in the fear of God, in the law of righteousness, in love, in labour; none thinks of fearing the future, and none takes to heart the day of the Lord, and the wrath of God, and the punishments to come upon unbelievers, and the eternal torments decreed for the faithless. That which our conscience would fear if it believed, it fears not because it does not at all believe. But if it believed, it would also take heed; and if it took heed, it would escape.

Break the Slumber of Our Ancient Listlessness

Let us, beloved brethren, arouse ourselves as much as we can; and breaking the slumber of our ancient listlessness, let us be watchful to observe and to do the Lord's precepts. Let us be such as He Himself has bidden us to be, saying, "Let your loins be girt, and your lamps burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord, when He shall come from the wedding, that when He cometh and knocketh, they may open to Him. Blessed are those servants whom their Lord, when He cometh, shall find watching."

Unburdened and Disentangled

We ought to be girt about, lest, when the day of setting forth comes, it should find us burdened and entangled. Let our light shine in good works, and glow in such wise as to lead us from the night of this world to the daylight of eternal brightness. Let us always with solicitude and caution wait for the sudden coming of the Lord, that when He shall knock, our faith may be on the watch, and receive from the Lord the reward of our vigilance. If these commands be observed, if these warnings and precepts be kept, we cannot be overtaken in slumber by the deceit of the devil; watchful servants, we shall reign with the triumphant Christ.

The Last Collect of Advent

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December 24
Collect at the Hours and at the Mass in the Morning

Come quickly, we beseech you, Lord Jesus,
and do not delay,
so that those who trust in your loving mercy
may be lifted up by the consolations of your coming.

Come, Lord Jesus

Today, in the last Collect of Advent, the Church addresses the Lord Jesus. It is as if she can no longer contain her longing. The last Collect of Advent is inspired by the last page of the Bible. There, Christ speaks, saying, “Surely I am coming soon.” And the Church replies, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Ap 22:20).

Domine Jesu

Whereas all throughout Advent the Church, according to her custom, has, for the most part, addressed the Father in her prayers, today she appeals to the Son directly. She calls the Son by his human name — Jesus — and to that name revealed by the Angel she adds the divine vocative, Lord. Domine Iesu. Hers is a prayer inspired by the Holy Spirit, for the Apostle says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3).

Do Not Linger on the Way

Today’s Collect is remarkably concise. Three lines only. The first line is inspired, not only by the final cry in the Apocalypse of Saint John, but also by Psalm 39:18: “Do not tarry, O my God” or, as the Douai translation puts it, “O my God, be not slack!” Ronald Knox translates the same with a certain courtesy: “My God, do not linger on the way.” The two words borrowed from Psalm 39 — ne tardáveris — should make us want to review the whole psalm. What do we discover? That the psalm begins with a verse that sums up the whole Advent experience. Expectans, expectavi! With expectation I have waited for the Lord, and he was attentive to me” (Ps 39:1).

Et vocabit nomen eius Iesum

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Fourth Sunday of Advent A

Isaiah 7:10-14
Psalm 23:1-6. R. cf. vv. 7. 10
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-24

Mary and Joseph

Today’s Gospel presents the Virgin Mother through the eyes of Saint Matthew, who has a very particular interest in Saint Joseph. Mary is betrothed to Joseph; she is his promised bride and spouse. If ever a marriage was made in heaven, it was this one. God had, from all eternity, prepared this one man, Joseph, for this one woman, Mary.

The Virgin of the Sign

Then the unthinkable happened: Mary was found to be with child, not of Joseph, for they had not yet begun to live together, but of the Holy Spirit. What conflicts rose in Joseph’s heart? He could not doubt his Mary, nor could he deny that there was life in her virginal womb. The nearness of the Thrice-Holy God in Mary, the Virgin of the Sign, left him astonished and fearful. Recall the experience of the prophet Isaiah in the temple:

I said: Woe is me, because I have held my peace; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people that hath unclean lips, and I have seen with my eyes the King the Lord of hosts. And one of the seraphims flew to me, and in his hand was a live coal, which he had taken with the tongs off the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: Behold this hath touched thy lips, and thy iniquities shall be taken away, and thy sin shall be cleansed. And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send? and who shall go for us? And I said: Lo, here am I, send me” (Is 6:1-8).

Depart From Me

Saint Joseph’s first impulse was to put a distance between himself and Mary, rather like Saint Peter who, after the miraculous draught of fish, said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was wholly astonished” (Lk 5:8). The ark of the covenant, the tabernacle of the Most High, reasoned Joseph, belongs not in my house but, rather, in a hidden sanctuary where the miracle wrought by God will not be exposed to the disbelief and irreverent cynicism of men. Saint Joseph knew well the words of the Angel Raphael to Tobias and his father: “For it is good to hide the secret of a king: but honourable to reveal and confess the works of God” (Tb 12:7).

Holy Fear

Saint Matthew tells us that the very idea of cohabiting with Mary filled Joseph with fear. Whenever Saint Matthew uses the word “fear” in his Gospel, it means the sacred terror that every mortal feels in the presence of the power and paradox of a divine mystery. Saint Thomas Aquinas sums up this particular exegesis of the text when he says, “Joseph wished to give the Virgin her liberty, not because he suspected her of adultery, but because, respecting her holiness, he feared to live with her.”

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Yes, today, December 18th, is one of the liturgy's loveliest old Advent festivals of the Blessed Virgin Mary, that of the Expectatio Partus. It was kept by nearly the entire Latin Church. The Marquess of Bute calls it, in his fine old translation of the Breviary, "The Blessed Virgin Mary Looking Shortly To Be Delivered." It was also called in Spain, and elsewhere, Nuestra Señora de la O, and this because, after Vespers, the clergy in choir used to give voice to a loud and protracted "O" to express the yearning of the universe for the advent of the Redeemer.

Looking first at the Office for the feast, one discovers that the Invitatory Antiphon is the greeting of the Archangel to the Virgin of Nazareth: "Hail Mary, full of grace, * the Lord is with thee." The antiphons on the psalms of Matins are all taken from the Advent Office. The lessons are Isaiah's prophecy of the Virgin with Child (Is 7:10), a passage from Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo on the Maidenhood of Blessed Mary, and one from the Venerable Bede on the Annunciation Gospel. The final responsory is the glorious Fourth Mode Suscipe verbum, "Receive, O Virgin Mary, receive the word of the Lord, which is sent thee by His Angel."

The Collect throughout the day is that of Lady Day in March:

O God who didst will that Thy Word should,
by the message of an Angel,
take flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
grant unto us, we beseech Thee,
that all we who do believe her to be in very deed
the Mother of God,
may be holpen by her prayers in Thy sight.

At Lauds and the Hours, the antiphons are those of Lady Day, while the hymns remain those of the Advent Office. The Magnificat Antiphon is the lovely O Virgo Virginum, composed in the same Second Mode melody as the Great O Antiphons:

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O maiden of maidens,
how shall this be,
since neither before nor henceforth hath there been,
nor shall be such another?
Daughters of Jerusalem,
why look ye curiously upon me?
What ye see is a mystery of God.

I would venture to suggest that the Office and Mass of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary are today, more than ever before, worthy of celebration and meditation, given that the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God is roundly mocked by many. Even in the minds of many of the faithful, enfeebled by a forty year dearth of popular orthodox catechesis, a tragic confusion holds sway concerning the privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary and, in particular, her virginity before, during, and after childbirth. There are many, alas, who, affected by various mutations of creeping Nestorianism and Arianism, have no grasp of what it means to call the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Those who do not confess the privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary, honouring them and celebrating them, fall inevitably into one or another of the classic Christological heresies.

All of this makes me want to open my Processionale Monasticum to page 146 and sing, Gaude Maria, Virgo, cunctas haereses sola interemisti:

Rejoice, O Mary,
by whose mighty hand the Church hath victory
over her foes [every heresy] achieved,
since thou to Gabriel's word of quickening power
in lowliness hast listened, and believed
— thou, still a virgin, in thy blessed womb
hast God Incarnate of thy flesh conceived,
and still, in heaven, of that virginity remainest
after childbirth unbereaved.
V. Blessed art thou that hast believed,
for there is a performance of those things
which were told thee from the Lord.

The Great O Antiphons

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How delightful to see in this painting both little Johns, the Baptist and the Theologian, together with the Incarnate Word, Holy Wisdom. Note that the little Evangelist is already writing the opening words of the Prologue of his Gospel.

Reflections on each of the Great O Antiphons are available in my Advent archives from 2006. At the Monastery of the Glorious Cross where I serve as chaplain, the Great O's are sung not only at Vespers each day, their traditional place, but also during the Gospel procession of the Mass as the Alleluia Verse.

We know that in the reform of the Lectionary, the O Antiphons, formerly sung only at Vespers, were also given a place within the Mass itself, becoming the verse of the Alleluia before the Gospel. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal emphasizes the importance of the procession with the Book of the Gospels. It is a kind of parousia, the glorious appearing of the Lord “amid cries of gladness and thanksgiving, the throng wild with joy” (Ps 41:5). It is the arrival of the Bridegroom; His advent is greeted with jubilant alleluias and with lighted lamps. It is the descent of the all-powerful Word from the royal throne “into the midst of the land that was doomed” (Wis 18:15). The Gregorian Alleluia, with its streaming jubilus, is the Church’s ecstatic cry of welcome; it is an eschatological song. The arrival of Christ in the sacramental Word anticipates His arrival in glory upon the clouds of heaven (cf., Mt 24:3

This year I am not preaching specifically on the Great O Antiphons as I have done in past years, but readers of Vultus Christi might find last year's homilies helpful.

A Mother Ever-Virgin

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O SAPIENTIA

Genesis 49:2, 8-10
Psalm 71: 1-2, 3-4ab, 7-8, 17
Matthew 1:1-17

The Wondrous Exchange

O God, Creator and Redeemer of human nature,
who willed that your Word should take flesh
in the womb of a mother ever-virgin,
look graciously upon our prayers,
that your only-begotten Son,
having taken our humanity to Himself,
may deign to make us partakers of His divinity.

The first Collect of the seven-day preparation for Christmas englobes the whole magnificent plan of the Incarnation and Redemption. It goes straight to the heart of the mystery: God, having taken our humanity to Himself in the womb of a virgin, makes us partakers of His divinity.

Partakers of His Divinity

We already hear today what we will pray in the Collect of the Mass of Christmas Day:

O God, who in a wonderful manner
created the dignity of human nature,
and still more wonderfully renewed it;
grant that we may be made partakers of His divinity
who deigned to become partaker of our humanity.

This same prayer is echoed in every Mass at the preparation of the chalice. The priest, adding water to the wine, says silently:

By the mystery of this water and wine
may we be made partakers in His divinity
who deigned to share in our humanity.

Rosy Reminder

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Did you get pink (or rose) flowers for Gaudete Sunday? Rose–coloured roses may be your first choice, but I like carnations — one single huge bouquet — for Gaudete Sunday.

It is always distressing to see flowers dispersed about the sanctuary in multiple little bouquets. It is even worse when such bouquets are placed in glass vases from the jumble sale and balanced on odd little tables and metal stands. Why do people do such things? A dozen or more flowers arranged in a single bouquet offer an intensity of colour that is lost when one attempts to use them in multiple arrangements.

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After the Second Vespers of Sunday when the sanctuary returns to its Advent austerity, consider offering the Gaudete bouquet to the Blessed Virgin at your Lady Altar or, at least, keep the flowers until 20 December for the lovely Golden Mass of the Missus Est. It is fitting to flower the principal image of Our Lady during Advent, especially when it is located in a Lady Chapel or outside the sanctuary proper.

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Second Saturday of Advent

Sirach 48:1-4, 9-11
Psalm 79: 80:2ac and 3b, 15-16, 18-19
Matthew 17:9a, 10-13

The Splendour of Your Glory in the Face of Christ

Almighty God,
let the splendour of your glory, we pray,
rise like the dayspring in our hearts
to dispel every darkness of the night;
that the advent of your only-begotten Son,
may reveal us to be children of the light.

Today’s Collect is the fruit of a long contemplation of the light that shines from the Scriptures: another example of the oratio — prayer — that is the fruit of lectio —hearing the Word — and of meditatio — repeating it. The splendour of the Father’s glory that rises like the dawn in our hearts is Christ, “the reflection of the glory of God” (Heb 1:3). “It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the Face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).

O Dayspring

The Jews of old expected the advent of the Messiah in the radiance of a rising sun. Isaiah cries, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (Is 60:1). Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist blesses God, saying, “The Orient shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:78-79). The Church, on December 21st, will sing, “O Dayspring, brightness of eternal Light and Sun of Justice: come and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”

The Light of Bethlehem

Christ’s first advent in the cave of Bethlehem, marked by the rising of a star in the night, was a mystery of light. “In Him was life,” says Saint John, “and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:4-5).

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December 14
Memorial of Saint John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church

Isaiah 48:17-19
Psalm 1 (R. Jn 8:12)
Matthew 11: 16-19

Liturgical Coincidences

It often happens that the sacred texts given us in the Lectionary for the occurring ferial day correspond wonderfully to the saint whom we are commemorating. And so it happened today, on this feast of Saint John of the Cross.

The Light of Life

Did you hear — I mean really heed with the ear of the heart — the refrain of the Responsorial Psalm? It was taken not from Psalm 1 as one might expect, but rather from the eighth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel. There Our Lord says: “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).

It is the allusion to darkness that invites us to relate this word to the life and teaching of Saint John of the Cross. Did not Saint John embrace the mystery of the Cross in the obscurity of a dark night? Does not he come to us just one week before the longest and darkest night of the year? Is not Saint John of the Cross our best guide through the darkness of the night, which no one of us can avoid, or delay, the dark night of faith?

One Little Word Changed

Now, be attentive! What does the Church do with this word of Our Lord when she chants it in her liturgy? She changes one single word. Our Lord says, “He that followeth me, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). The Church, having heard this word of Our Lord (lectio), and having repeated it over and over again in the recollection of her heart (meditatio), turns it into a prayer (oratio) addressed directly to Him who pronounced it, by saying: Qui sequitur te, Domine, habebit lumen vitae, “He that followeth Thee, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).

Lectio Divina

We have everything to learn from this procedure. It is the Church’s own way of praying. All prayer begins not with our word or words to God, but with the word that He addresses us. Prayer begins in the hearing of the word, and this is what the tradition calls lectio. Once heard, the word has to be remembered and, in order to remember it, we must repeat it over and over again. This is what the tradition calls meditatio. The same word, heard, and then repeated, becomes the word by means of which we lift our mind and heart to God, and this the tradition calls oratio. “He that followeth Thee, walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). One who prays in this way will find himself drawn into a mysterious inner stillness. There all becomes silent. There we experience a sweet and irresistible force that compels us to adore. Tacere et adorare. To be silent and to adore in the presence of the Thrice Holy God.

Inter-Abiding in Love

If we yield to this sweet and irresistible force — the action of the Holy Spirit — we will find that the silence that is the fruit of the word heard, repeated, and prayed, becomes the sacrament of a mysterious union with God, of what I can only describe as an “inter-abiding” in love. And this is what the tradition calls contemplatio.

Holy Violence

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Thursday of the Second Week of Advent
December 13
Saint Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

Isaiah 41:13-20
Psalm 144: 1 and 9, 10-11, 12-13ab
Matthew 11:11-15

And the Violent Bear It Away

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away” (Mt 11:12). What exactly is Our Lord saying in today’s Gospel? What does Our Lord mean when He tells us that “the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away”? Are we, then, to be violent? Is there such a thing as a holy violence?

Swift and Intense Force

The dictionary defines violence as swift and intense force. Although the word has acquired a negative connotation in common usage, violence is not, of itself, sinful. The moral quality of violence — a swift, and powerful application of energy — derives from the object for which, or against which, it is expended. Violence can be virtuous. The Kingdom of Heaven is worthy of our violence. All the saints understood this. One who would bear away the Kingdom of Heaven must be prepared to act swiftly, intensely, and forcefully.

Holy Violence

Holy Violence is the virtue opposed to the vice of the spiritual dilly-dallier, the feeble, indecisive, spineless, ineffectual milquetoast. Holy violence is an expression of the virtue of fortitude. It is related to the boldness that comes from the Holy Spirit.

The Tolerance of the Relativists

There are those, even within the Church, who think that peace — or what they would like to call peace — is worth any price. They will go to any length to avoid confrontations, to appear to agree when they disagree, to approve when they disapprove, to keep everyone happy. The moral relativism pandemic in society today fosters this attitude. The relativists would have us believe that there are no absolute truths, that nothing is absolutely wrong or absolutely right. They preach a wishy-washy adaptability to whatever the prevailing trends happen to be, and they call it tolerance. The relativists are forever saying, “To each his own.” The idea of going against the social or political grain fills them with horror. There are no martyrs among them.

Strengthen Ye the Feeble Hands

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Monday of the Second Week of Advent

Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 84:8ab and 9, 10-11, 12-13 (R. Isaiah 35:4f)
Luke 5:17-26

The Promises of God

Again today, the Word of God is rich in promises for those who receive it with attention and with open hearts. First, an announcement full of hope:

Strengthen ye the feeble hands, and confirm the weak knees.
Say to the fainthearted: Take courage, and fear not:
behold your God will bring the revenge of recompense:
God himself will come and will save you (Is 35: 3-4).

Then came the promises:

Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened,
and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then shall the lame man leap as a hart,
and the tongue of the dumb shall be free:
for waters are broken out in the desert,
and streams in the wilderness (Is 35: 5-6).

How can one hear such things and not be inwardly quickened? We are all feeble, weak-kneed, fainthearted, fearful, and in need of salvation. We are all of us, in some way, blind, deaf, lame, and without the living water for which we thirst.

For Priests

These are promises, certainly, for the whole Church and for each one of us. At the same time, I seem to hear in the words of the prophet promises that are destined, first of all, for the priests of the Lord. If Jesus’ chosen instruments are to be effective in His service, if His anointed ones are to do “the works that He did and greater works than these” (cf. Jn 14:12), then it is their feeble hands that must be strengthened, their weak knees that must be confirmed, and their faint hearts that must be emboldened.

Risking Grace

I hear today’s promises in this way because the Word of God never comes to us in a void. It is uttered in a particular context made up of circumstances and events. I am profoundly moved by the ecclesial events of these past few days. It would seem that the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Solemn Opening of the Jubilee of Lourdes have released a torrent of graces in the Church. Our Lord respects, of course, our freedom. Torrents of graces can indeed pass over us, leaving us untouched and unchanged. There is a risk involved in saying, “yes” to a particular promise or grace and, sadly, there are many souls who, out of lukewarmness, or fear, or self-interest, or inertia, simply refuse the risk.

Whatsoever Things Were Written

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Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 71: 1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
Romans 15:4-9
Matthew 3: 1-12

The Comfort of the Scriptures

Today’s Second Reading from the Letter to the Romans is, every year in the classic Roman Rite, the Epistle of the Second Sunday of Advent. As such, it also recurs in the classic Divine Office as the Chapter at Vespers, Lauds, Tierce, Sext, and None. Last evening when I stood in my little domestic oratory to chant First Vespers of the Second Sunday of Advent, I was very nearly swept off my feet by the beauty and power of the Chapter:

Brethren, whatsoever things were written were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope (Rom 14:4).

Read the Encyclical

“That we might have hope.” Immediately my mind went to the Encyclical Letter of our Holy Father, Spe Salvi. I hope that by now you have all read the Encyclical at least once. If not, what in the world are you waiting for? You have received a letter from your Father, from the Father of all Christ’s faithful? When one receives a letter from one’s father, one doesn’t leave it in a drawer or on a shelf. One opens the envelope with a trembling hand and rapid heartbeat. One cannot wait to read what Papa has written. It is inconceivable that the children of the Church should receive the Holy Father’s Encyclical Letter with indifference, that one should content oneself with a glance at the headlines or with a superficial summary written, more often than not, from a highly subjective perspective.

The Flower of the Root of Jesse

Back to the Second Reading. I see it as the centerpiece of an Advent triptych. In the first panel we contemplate the magnificent artistry of the Prophet Isaiah. I say, “contemplate,” and not, “hear,” because Isaiah presents us with images, with a vibrant tableau of the Kingdom of God restored and renewed in Christ Jesus. Jesus is the flower rising up from the root of Jesse. Look at Him as John the Baptist saw Him at His Baptism in the Jordan: the love of the Father shines on His Holy Face, the Holy Spirit hovers over His noble head in the form of a snow white dove. A sevenfold anointing rests upon Him, drenching His Head and His entire Body in wisdom and in understanding, in counsel, and in fortitude, in knowledge, and godliness, and fear of the Lord.

Stirring Up the Power of God

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Friday of the First Week of Advent

Isaiah 29: 17-24
Psalm 26: 1, 4, 13-14
Matthew 9:27-31

Stir Up

Today’s Collect, addressed to Our Lord Jesus Christ, is one of a whole series of advent prayers that begin with the word, Excita — which means “Stir up.” There is an English folk tradition that associates preparing the Christmas pudding with these prayers because the pudding has to be stirred up. But the Collect is not about stirring up pudding; it is about asking God to stir up his strength. Today’s Collect is used in the classic Roman Rite on the First Sunday of Advent. In the Missal of 1970 it is found on the First Friday of Advent.

John Crichton-Stuart, the third Marquess of Bute, translates today’s Collect this way:

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Stir up, O Lord, we pray Thee, Thy strength,
and come among us,
that whereas through our sins and wickedness
we do justly apprehend Thy wrathful judgments hanging over us,
Thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us.

Say It Again

In the classical Roman Rite this same Collect is repeated every day of the First Week of Advent, not once a day, but eight times a day, that is to say, at the Canonical Hours and at Holy Mass. According to my calculations, that means 38 times. What does this tell us about the liturgical pedagogy of the Church? The Church, a wise mother and accomplished teacher, understands the value of rhythm and repetition.

Sin

For the third time this week the Collect speaks of sin. On Tuesday we prayed to be “untainted by the contagion of our old ways.” Yesterday we prayed that God’s bountiful grace and mercy would hasten “that which our sins impede.” Today we describe ourselves as “ever-threatened by the peril of our sins.”

The liturgy is clear-sighted and realistic. The prayer of the Church does not sidestep the evil of sin; it exposes it, names it, and brings it to God. “Thou hast set our misdeeds before Thee,” says the psalmist, “and our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance” (Ps 89:8). In a culture that looks at many sins softly, that teaches us to make excuses for our sins and to explain them away, the directness of today’s Collect delivers a salutary shock.

Lest We Faint in the Way

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First Wednesday of Advent

Isaiah 25:6-10a
Psalm 22: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Matthew 15:29-37

The Eucharist

The liturgy of the Wednesday of the First Week of Advent is entirely illumined by the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. Even before the readings, the Church alludes to the mystery of the Eucharist in the Collect. We pray that, “at the coming of Christ . . . we may be found worthy of the banquet of eternal life, and ready to receive the food of heaven from His hand.” This refers not only to the “hidden manna” (Ap 2:17) of heaven, but also to the Bread of Life given us from the altar by the hand of the priest who, in feeding us, is an icon of Christ “nourishing and cherishing” (Eph 5:29) His Body the Church.

Isaiah’s Prophecy

In the First Lesson Isaiah prophesies that the day will come when God Himself will be “a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress; a refuge from the whirlwind, a shadow from the heat” (Is 25:4). And on that day “the Lord of hosts shall make unto all people . . . a feast of fat things, a feast of wine” (Is 25:6). In the Responsorial Psalm, the Lord “prepares a table” (Ps 22:5), opening to us the hospitality of His house “unto length of days” (Ps 22:6).

Lest They Faint in the Way

Thus prepared by the Collect, the First Lesson, and the Responsorial Psalm, in the Gospel we encounter Our Lord moved by compassion on the multitudes. The words He spoke then for those people, He speaks today for us: “I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way” (Mt 15:32). For us there is a greater mystery than the multiplication of loaves and fishes, for to us He gives His adorable Body as food and His precious Blood as drink.

The Eucharistic Advent of Christ

Mother Church wants us to grasp that every celebration of Holy Mass is an advent of the Lord. He who came in the lowliness of our flesh, born of the Virgin, the Same who will come in great glory at the end of time upon the clouds of heaven, comes to us sacramentally in the Most Holy Eucharist. The Eucharistic advent of Christ is in every way as real as was His advent in the flesh, and as real as His advent in majesty will be.

Consolation

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Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 71: 1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
Luke 10:21-24

Today’s Saints

We celebrate the Holy Mysteries today in the company of Saint Barbara, virgin and martyr enlightened by the brightness of the Three Divine Persons — which is why she is represented holding a tower pierced by three windows, and of Saint John Damascene, Priest and Doctor of the Rightness of Making and Venerating Sacred Images. Today’s two saints and, indeed, all the saints, are witnesses to the hope that does not disappoint.

Familiar With the Saints and With Their Stories

Attentive readers of Spe Salvi, the Holy Father’s Encyclical on hope, are struck by the importance he gives to the witness of the saints. This is characteristic of Catholic theology. It is a theology that springs out of the experience of God and stimulates one to seek His Face. It is a theology springing out of holiness and bearing the fruits of holiness. Consider just this: the Holy Father presents the life experience of Sudanese Saint Josephine Bakhita, a former slave, as an authoritative illustration of what hope means. Pope Benedict XVI is one of the great theological minds of our age, precisely because he is familiar with the saints, with their stories, and with their experience.

The Collect

Today’s Collect comes from the rotulus or scroll of Ravenna and, according to some scholars, could date from as early as the fifth century. It too bears witness to the experience of the saints of every age:

Lord God,
be gracious to our supplications
and in tribulation grant us, we pray,
the help of your strong and tender love;
that being consoled by the presence of your Son who is to come,
we may be untainted, even now, by the contagion of our old ways.

Supplication

The prayer makes two requests of God. The first is, “be gracious to our supplications and in tribulation, grant us we pray the help of your pietas, your strong and tender love.” The tone of the prayer is humble and full of confidence. We ask God to be gracious to our supplications. Supplication comes from the Latin verb supplico, meaning to kneel down or to bend low. We approach God humbly, making ourselves close to the dust of the earth from which we were created (cf. Gen 2:7).

And A Little Child Shall Lead Them

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I posted this homily last year, but decided to offer it anew this Advent. Both Dom Vital Léhodey and Mère Yvonne-Aimée de Jésus continue to play a significant role in my own spiritual journey, and both were disciples of the Infant Christ.

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Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 71:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17 (R. 7)
Luke 10:21-24

Grace Upon Grace

Saint John, in his Prologue, declares us that we have all received of the fullness of the Word made flesh, “and grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16). The prophet Isaiah tells us today just what this fullness of grace is: “And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And He shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord” (Is 11:2-3). There are seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, seven graces, or seven “spirits” as the prophet calls them. The number seven, as you know, signifies a superabundant fullness. It is of this fullness that “we have all received, and grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16).

The Same Spirit

All who belong to Christ are given a share in the Spirit of Christ. As the psalmist says, the anointing of the Head runs down upon the beard, the beard of Aaron, and reaches even to the hem of his garment (cf. Ps 132:2). Saint Paul says, “Now there are diversities of graces, but the same Spirit; and there are diversities of ministries, but the same Lord; and there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all. And the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man unto profit. To one indeed, by the Spirit, is given the word of wisdom: and to another, the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit; to another, faith in the same Spirit; to another the grace of healing . . . but all of these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as He will” (1 Cor 12:4-11).

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The Order of Holiness

Isaiah goes on to describe the effects of this anointing with the Spirit of the Lord. A new order appears: one characterized by justice, by equity for the meek of the earth, and by fidelity. In a word, the new order is the order of holiness: participation in the very life of God. What are the signs of this new order? “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb: and the leopard shall lie down with the kid: the calf and the lion, and the sheep shall abide together” (Is 11:6). (This is an apt description of most monasteries.)

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

A monastery is the cohabitation of wolves with lambs, of leopards with kids, of calves with lions and sheep. The most important piece of the prophecy, however, is the last phrase: “and a little child shall lead them” (Is 11:6). Who is this Child? The psalm describes Him for us. This little Child “shall deliver the poor from the mighty: and the needy that had no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy: and he shall save the souls of the poor” (Ps 71:12-13).

Yea, Father

Are we willing to be led by the Child? The Child is misunderstood by all, save by other children. Listen to the prayer of the Child in the Gospel: “In that hour, He rejoiced in the Holy Ghost, and said: I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and Thou hast revealed them to little ones. Yea, Father, for so it hath seemed good in Thy sight” (Lk 10:21).

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Dom Vital Léhodey (1847-1948)

I cannot help but recall two figures radiant with holiness who allowed themselves to be led by the Child. The first who comes to mind is a great Trappist monk of the last century. Dom Vital Léhodey was the abbot of Bricquebec during the tumultuous period of the expulsions of religious from France. He was, at the same time, charged with the economic affairs of several other monasteries and with a foundation in Japan. He was obliged to be an astute business man; he traveled extensively and, all the while, found the time and energy to write books that have become spiritual classics: The Ways of Mental Prayer and Holy Abandonment. What was Dom Léhodey’s secret? This very capable man, even in the eyes of the world, was utterly smitten by the Child Jesus, becoming tender and docile and wholly abandoned to Him. Read his biography if you can find it. The Child Jesus was his life. A Little Child led Dom Vital; the same little Child who led Saint Thérèse along the path of littleness and confidence.

Spes Nostra

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Monday of the First Week of Advent

Isaiah 4:2-6
Psalm 121: 1-2, 3-4a, 4b-5, 6-7), 8-9 (R. 1)
Matthew 8:5-11

Isaiah’s Gift

Spe Salvi, the Holy Father’s Encyclical on hope can be read as a commentary on the readings given us in the Advent liturgy. In fact, given the timing of the publication of the Encyclical and his own sensitivity to the liturgy, I rather suspect that the Holy Father had just that in mind. The particular gift of the prophet Isaiah is to instill hope into hearts burdened by fear and discouraged by the desolation that seems to surround them on every side. Isaiah’s gift was not for the Jews of the eighth and seventh centuries before Christ alone. Were that the case, the reading of Isaiah in our liturgical assemblies today would be an exercise in literature with no real bearing on our lives here and now. Isaiah’s prophetic gift is for all generations.

God Speaking Here and Now

When the Church reads Isaiah, she receives his message in all its immediacy and freshness for today. This is why we say Deo gratias — Thanks be to God — at the end of a liturgical reading: not because God spoke through His prophet once upon a time, but because God is speaking to us here and now.

The Promises of Christ

What causes hope to spring up in a heart? What makes me hope? What makes you hope? A word of promise. A promise made by one faithful enough and powerful enough to keep it. In a sense, we live in hope because of the promises that have been made to us. Is this not why the Church has us so often pray, “that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ”? What makes us worthy of the promises of Christ? The hope that we place in them.

The Act of Hope

When I was a schoolboy we used to say the Acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity every day upon our return to class after the noonday break. The Act of Hope made an explicit reference to the promises of God: “I hope . . . because Thou didst promise it.” What are the promises of God to us in today’s First Lesson from the fourth chapter of Isaiah?

Conditor Alme Siderum

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"At the very moment when the Magi, guided by the star, adored Christ the new king, astrology came to an end, because the stars were now moving in the orbit determined by Christ. This scene, in fact, overturns the world-view of that time, which in a different way has become fashionable once again today. It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love—a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free."

Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

This is my homespun translation of Conditor Alme Siderum. When Advent rolls round and I sing this hymn in Latin or in English translation, I see in my mind's eye Van Gogh's Starry Night. In the little church with the tall steeple at the bottom of the painting there must be a lingering scent of incense. Advent Vespers will have been sung. The Creator of the Starry Night is glorified.

O Light unconquered, Source of Light,
Whose radiance kindles stars and sun,
Shine tenderly on us this night;
Creation groans until you come.

Immense your grief to see our plight:
When sin had shrouded all, you came.
True Dayspring bursting death’s dark bands,
Emmanuel, your saving name!

Night weighed upon a weary world
When silently you pitched your tent,
Enclosed within the Virgin’s womb
True man, true God from heaven sent.

So to the darkened world in need,
Eternal Word, you came as man.
You came as Bridegroom, swift and strong,
To claim the prize the course you ran.

Until your glory fills the skies,
Until the stars in welcome sing,
Until you judge both small and great,
From sin, protect us, Sovereign King.

To God the Father, God the Son,
To God the Spirit ever be
Glad songs of praise throughout the night
While faith adores the mystery. Amen.

Ad Te Levavi and Spe Salvi

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An Introit and an Encyclical

There is an immense hope in the liturgy of the First Sunday of Advent, making it perfectly consonant with Spe Salvi, the Encyclical given us by Pope Benedict XVI on the feast of Saint Andrew. Today’s Introit, Ad te levavi, is a great sweep upward and away from all that would hold bound our hope. The Introit, resonating with Spe Salvi, sets the tone, not only for this the first Mass of Advent, but also for the rest of the Advent season and, indeed, for the whole new liturgical year. “To you, my God, I lift up my soul” (Ps 24:1) or, as Ronald Knox translated it, “All my heart goes out to my God.”

Breaking Down the Encyclical

As I prayed over it early this morning, the Holy Father’s Encyclical became for me a theological commentary on the implications of today’s Introit and, indeed, on all the liturgy of Advent. Fortified by several cups of strong coffee, I attempted to condense Spe Salvi into 52 propositions or, if you will, subtitles. I share them as a way of inviting you to take the Encyclical in hand, and to study it, meditate it, pray it, and be changed by it during this Advent Season.

Own It and Read It

The Encyclical has 50 articles. There are 24 days in Advent this year. Here is your Advent program: 2 articles of the Encyclical each day, and on one day of your choice, 3. Every Catholic should have his own copy of the Encyclical. Don’t be cheap. Don’t be stingy. Buy the text of the Encyclical or download a copy off the Internet and then make photocopies. One copy of the Encyclical cost less than the daily newspaper. Looking for an Advent penance? Give up reading the newspaper — or cut down your online time — during Advent and study Spe Salvi instead. It will be salutary for your soul.

First Sunday of Advent

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Entrance Antiphon

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Unto you have I lifted up my soul. O my God, I trust in you, let me not be put to shame; do not allow my enemies to laugh at me; for none of those who are awaiting you will be disappointed. V. Make your ways known unto me, O Lord, and teach me your paths (Ps 24:1-4).

Act of Penitence

In the words of the psalmist, the longing of every human heart finds expression. “All my heart goes out to you, O my God, in you I trust” (Ps 24:1).

You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth (Ps 79:1).
Kyrie, eleison.

Stir up your might, and come to save us (Ps 79:2).
Christe, eleison.

Give us life, and we will call upon your name (Ps 79:18).
Kyrie, eleison.

Collect

Almighty God,
grant to your faithful, we beseech you,
the will to go forth with works of justice
to greet your Christ at his coming,
that they, being found worthy of the kingdom of heaven,
may be given a place at his right hand.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Spes Nostra, Salve!

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The Holy Father's Encyclical Spe Salvi ends in a splendid prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Spes Nostra, Our Hope. One of the high points of my recent travels in France was a pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Notre-Dame de la Sainte Espérance at Le Mesnil Saint-Loup, founded by the Benedictine Père Emmanuel André in 1864. In response to a sermon preached by Père Emmanuel, his parishioners spontaneously cried out, "Notre Dame de la Sainte Esperance, convertissez-nous! Our Lady of Holy Hope, convert us!" The entire parish was converted to hope, becoming a beacon of Christianity and of full, conscious, and actual participation in the Sacred Liturgy of the Church.

Mary, Star of Hope

49. With a hymn composed in the eighth or ninth century, thus for over a thousand years, the Church has greeted Mary, the Mother of God, as “Star of the Sea”: Ave maris stella. Human life is a journey. Towards what destination? How do we find the way? Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives. They are lights of hope. Certainly, Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by—people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way. Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her “yes” she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us (cf. Jn 1:14).

Humble and Great Souls of Israel

50. So we cry to her: Holy Mary, you belonged to the humble and great souls of Israel who, like Simeon, were “looking for the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25) and hoping, like Anna, “for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38). Your life was thoroughly imbued with the sacred scriptures of Israel which spoke of hope, of the promise made to Abraham and his descendants (cf. Lk 1:55). In this way we can appreciate the holy fear that overcame you when the angel of the Lord appeared to you and told you that you would give birth to the One who was the hope of Israel, the One awaited by the world. Through you, through your “yes”, the hope of the ages became reality, entering this world and its history. You bowed low before the greatness of this task and gave your consent: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

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With the Hope of the World in Your Womb

When you hastened with holy joy across the mountains of Judea to see your cousin Elizabeth, you became the image of the Church to come, which carries the hope of the world in her womb across the mountains of history. But alongside the joy which, with your Magnificat, you proclaimed in word and song for all the centuries to hear, you also knew the dark sayings of the prophets about the suffering of the servant of God in this world. Shining over his birth in the stable at Bethlehem, there were angels in splendour who brought the good news to the shepherds, but at the same time the lowliness of God in this world was all too palpable. The old man Simeon spoke to you of the sword which would pierce your soul (cf. Lk 2:35), of the sign of contradiction that your Son would be in this world.

The Hour of the Cross

Then, when Jesus began his public ministry, you had to step aside, so that a new family could grow, the family which it was his mission to establish and which would be made up of those who heard his word and kept it (cf. Lk 11:27f). Notwithstanding the great joy that marked the beginning of Jesus's ministry, in the synagogue of Nazareth you must already have experienced the truth of the saying about the “sign of contradiction” (cf. Lk 4:28ff). In this way you saw the growing power of hostility and rejection which built up around Jesus until the hour of the Cross, when you had to look upon the Saviour of the world, the heir of David, the Son of God dying like a failure, exposed to mockery, between criminals. Then you received the word of Jesus: “Woman, behold, your Son!” (Jn 19:26).

Did Hope Die?

From the Cross you received a new mission. From the Cross you became a mother in a new way: the mother of all those who believe in your Son Jesus and wish to follow him. The sword of sorrow pierced your heart. Did hope die? Did the world remain definitively without light, and life without purpose? At that moment, deep down, you probably listened again to the word spoken by the angel in answer to your fear at the time of the Annunciation: “Do not be afraid, Mary!” (Lk 1:30). How many times had the Lord, your Son, said the same thing to his disciples: do not be afraid! In your heart, you heard this word again during the night of Golgotha. Before the hour of his betrayal he had said to his disciples: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27). “Do not be afraid, Mary!” In that hour at Nazareth the angel had also said to you: “Of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:33). Could it have ended before it began? No, at the foot of the Cross, on the strength of Jesus's own word, you became the mother of believers. In this faith, which even in the darkness of Holy Saturday bore the certitude of hope, you made your way towards Easter morning.

Mother of Hope, Star of the Sea

The joy of the Resurrection touched your heart and united you in a new way to the disciples, destined to become the family of Jesus through faith. In this way you were in the midst of the community of believers, who in the days following the Ascension prayed with one voice for the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 1:14) and then received that gift on the day of Pentecost. The “Kingdom” of Jesus was not as might have been imagined. It began in that hour, and of this “Kingdom” there will be no end. Thus you remain in the midst of the disciples as their Mother, as the Mother of hope. Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Mother, teach us to believe, to hope, to love with you. Show us the way to his Kingdom! Star of the Sea, shine upon us and guide us on our way!

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 30 November, the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle, in the year 2007, the third of my Pontificate.

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

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Today is Our Lady’s Sunday in Advent.
Pope Paul VI, influenced, no doubt, by the ancient practice
of the venerable Church of Milan,
desired that the Fourth Sunday of Advent
should become a veritable festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
He wanted to envelop the Christmas mystery
in the gentle presence of the Virgin Mother.

By designating the Fourth Sunday of Advent our Lady’s Sunday
and by restoring to January 1st
its ancient title of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God,
Pope Paul VI sought to give us the Infant Christ, the Redeemer of the world,
circled round by the tenderness of the Blessed Virgin.

The liturgy celebrates the Virgin Mother
before Christmas Day and again eight days after it.
This is the Church’s way of teaching us
that the Blessed Virgin Mary is indispensable to every advent of Christ.
If you would welcome Christ, welcome Mary.
If you would receive Christ, seek Mary.
If you would know Christ, know Mary.
If you would love Christ, love Mary.

The Blessed Virgin is present in every part of today’s Mass.
The Introit, for example, is her song before it is ours.
It can only be ours because it was first hers.
“Send down dew from above, you heavens,
and let the skies pour down upon us the rain we long for, Him, the Just One:
may He, the Saviour, spring from the closed womb of the earth” (Is 45:8).
There is no prayer that does not begin
in an intense longing for the dew from above.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness;
they shall have their fill” (Mt 5:6).

The Collect is familiar and worn like a thing much loved
because it is the prayer that, three times each day,
concludes the Little Office of the Incarnation
that we call the Angelus.
It sums up the whole economy of our salvation:
the message of an angel to the Virgin;
the immensity of her “Yes”;
the bitter Passion and the Blood outpoured;
the Cross, the Tomb, and the triumph of the Prince of Life.
Of all these mysteries, Mary is the mystical portress
and the keeper of the gate.
This is why the saints teach that love for Mary
is a sure sign of predestination.
Understand this aphorism as the saints did:
one who loves Mary
is destined to imitate her “Yes”
and to follow her through the passion and cross of her Son
into the glory of His resurrection.

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Almighty and ever-living God,
seeing that the birth of Thy Son according to the flesh
is drawing near,
we beseech Thee that Thy Word
may grant mercy to us, Thy unworthy servants,
for He deigned to become flesh of the Virgin Mary
and to dwell among us.

The Realism of the Liturgy

You may have noticed that the Collects of Advent, as well as the Prayers Over the Offerings and the Postcommunions, make frequent mention of sin. Like heavy chains bound to our feet, sin impedes our going forward to meet the Lord. This is the realism of the liturgy. The Church never pretends that we are not engaged at every moment in spiritual combat. The joy of Advent is not about denying the things that keep us from God; it is the acknowledgement of those things and, then, their surrender to the all-powerful mercy of the Word made flesh.

Saved for Joy

Today’s Collect looks to tomorrow and the next day.

Almighty and ever-living God,
seeing that the birth of Thy Son according to the flesh is drawing near. . . .

The words of this first phrase of the Collect are those that we will hear solemnly proclaimed tomorrow in the Martyrology: Nativitas Domini nostri Iesu Christi secundum carnem, “the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.” It is the custom in some Benedictine monasteries for the Cantor to don a rose-coloured cope to sing the Announcement of Christmas, the dawn of our salvation.

Our liberation from sin is a liberation for joy. Christ comes not only to save us from sin, but also to save us for joy. “I will not leave you desolate,” says the Lord, “I will come to you” (Jn 14:18); and again, “Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (Jn 16:24).

The Word Became Flesh

Here is the petition of today’s Collect:

We beseech Thee that Thy Word may grant mercy to us, Thy unworthy servants,
for He deigned to become flesh of the Virgin Mary and to dwell among us.

The Church speaks of the Word; she uses the language of the sublime Prologue of Saint John, the very Gospel that we will hear at the Mass of Christmas Day. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was toward God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).

23 December, O EMMANUEL

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Murillo's painting of the Infant Christ distributing bread to pilgrims is an invitation to consider the mystery of the Eucharist, God–With–Us, the Child of Bethlehem, the House of Bread. An Angel assists the Infant Christ. Behind Him (not visible in this detail) is His Mother, her body forming a kind of Eucharistic throne, a variation on the Sedes Sapientiae motif. Perhaps the sequence of the Mass of Corpus Christi provided a subtext for this painting:

Ecce, panis Angelorum,
Factus cibus viatorum:
Vere panis filiorum.

Behold, the Bread of Angels sent
For pilgrims in their banishment,
The Bread for God's true children meant.

O Emmanuel (Is 7:14; 8:8),
our King and Lawgiver (Is 33:22),
the expectation of the nations and their Saviour (Gen 49:10):
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

The Last of the O Antiphons

On December 23rd we come today to the last of the Great O Antiphons. We are accustomed to seven, but, in other times and places, and even now, there are nine or even as many as twelve.

O Virgo Virginum

O Virgo Virginum, the last of the Great O Antiphons in the old English liturgy of Sarum , occurs on December 23rd. Its structure is quite different from all the other Great O Antiphons. The first part is a question addressed to the Virgin Mary; in the second part she replies with another question, and then, gives her answer.

“O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
That which ye behold is a divine mystery.”

It is touching that the Anglican Church, despite all the vicissitudes of her history, remains attached to this lovely Great O addressed to Our Lady.

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O Emmanuel

In today’s Roman liturgy the O Antiphon is, like the six that preceded it, addressed to our Lord Jesus Christ. It seems to me that, with each succeeding day, the O of our invocation, and the Veni of our supplication has grown more confident, more intense and, in a sense, more urgent.

Afraid Never Again

Mother Marie des Douleurs, writing in 1964, offers us a somewhat anguished meditation on today’s Great O. It appears to come out of an experience of weakness, fear, and uncertainty. Some would dismiss it as deeply pessimistic and too gloomy for Advent. I sense something else in it: the prayer of woman wrestling with her inner demons, as we all do, and confident nonetheless in the mystery of God-with-us. This is what she wrote:

Preaching on the Propers — Again

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The Bambino clasping His Mamma's hand is by Michelangelo. Already, I see in this something of the Pietà.

December 22

1 Samuel 1:24-28
1 Samuel 2:1, 4-5, 6-7, 8abcd
Luke 1:46-56

Preaching on the Propers

Some of you have asked why I so often preach on the Collect of the Mass. There are several reasons for this. First, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal recommends that priests preach not only on the Gospel of the day or on the other readings, but also on the Proper and Ordinary of the Mass, that is, on the other parts of the Mass, both those that change according to the season and day, and those common to every celebration.

Devotion to the Collect

The Collect of the Mass is a privileged element of the sacred liturgy. It instructs us in the mysteries of our faith and articulates the prayer of the whole Church, a prayer that that is the fruit of the Word of God heard (lectio) and repeated in antiphons and responsories (meditatio). In the great seasons of the Church Year and on feasts, the same Collect is repeated at Mass and at all the Hours of the Divine Office, except Compline. This repetition of the Collect is intended to anchor it our hearts. Dom Guéranger, the restorer of Benedictine life in nineteenth France, once told a novice bewildered by the vast variety of pious devotions, that a single one was indispensable and sufficient: devotion to the Collect of the day.

An Inspired Prayer

The Collect of the day is a distillation of the Church’s own reflection on the Word of God. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Collect rises in the soul of the Church. At Mass and the Divine Office, it comes to flower on the lips of her children to bear fruit in their lives.

Unspeakable Groanings

None of us know how to pray rightly. Often in our prayer we ask for things according to our own dim lights. We ask God for the things we think we need or for the things we think we want. But our needing and our wanting are, more often than not, obscure and flawed. This is the “infirmity” of our prayer. Saint Paul says: “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God” (Rom 8:26-27). The Collect articulates for us the unspeakable groanings of the Spirit. When we pray the Collect, making it our own, we are asking according to God, and not according to our own dim and limited perceptions.

22 December, O REX GENTIUM

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O King of the Gentiles,
and the Desired of all nations(Hag 2:8),
you are the cornerstone (Is 28:16)
that binds two into one (Eph 2:14).
Come, and bring wholeness to man
whom you fashioned out of clay (Gen 2:7).

The Desired of All Nations

Today we lift our voices to Christ, calling Him King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all nations. The O Antiphon draws upon the second chapter of the prophet Haggai. With the temple still in ruins after the Babylonian exile and the project of rebuilding it daunting, Haggai speaks a word of comfort to Zerubbabel, the governor; to Joshua, the high priest; and to all the remnant of the people.

“Take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord;
take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozodak, the high priest;
take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord;
work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts,
according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt.
My Spirit abides among you; fear not.
For thus says the Lord of hosts:
Once again in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth
and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations
and the Desired of all nations shall come;
and I will fill this house with splendour, says the Lord of hosts” (Hag 2:4-8).

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The O Antiphon uses but one phrase from this passage: the Christological title “Desired of All Nations.” In order to grasp the significance of the title we must listen to Haggai’s message of comfort and hope in its entirety, repeating it and praying it over it until it inhabits us.

The Beauty of the Infant Christ

The “Desired of all nations” will indeed come to the temple to fill it with His splendour. Simeon, recognizing the beauty of the Infant Christ, will call Him “a light of revelation to the gentiles and the glory of God’s people Israel” (Lk 2:32). The prophetess Anna will “give thanks to God and speak of the Child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38). The arrival of the Infant Christ in the temple is the long-awaited arrival of “the desire of the everlasting hills” (Gen 49:26).

Aspirations Toward Christ

By calling the Messiah the “Desired of all nations,” Scripture and the liturgy recognize the aspirations of every nation and culture toward the good, the true, and the beautiful, as aspirations toward Christ. Every time a human being seeks the splendour of the truth, the radiance of beauty, the purity of goodness, he seeks Christ, the “Desired of all nations.”

21 December, O ORIENS

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O DAYSPRING (Zech 6:12; Lk 1:78),
Splendor of Eternal Light (Heb 1:3),
and Sun of Justice (Mal 4:2):
Come, and enlighten those that sit in darkness,
and in the shadow of death (Is 9:2; Lk 1:78-79).

The Orient From On High

O Oriens! Oriens: the word is familiar to those who chant the Benedictus in Latin every morning. “Per viscera misericordiae Dei nostri — literally, through the inmost heart, the secret places of the mercy of our God — in quibus visitavit nos Oriens ex alto — in which the Orient from on high has visited us” (Lk 1:79).

Oriens was the name of the ancient Roman sun god, the source of warmth, energy, and light. At the same time, Oriens means the rising sun, the victory of light over the shadows of the night.

Ad Orientem

From the earliest times, Christians at prayer have turned towards the East. Christ is the Dayspring, the rising sun who dawns upon us from high “to give light to those in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:9). The eastward orientation of churches and altars is a way of expressing the great cry of every Eucharist: “Let our hearts be lifted high. We hold them towards the Lord.” When, in the celebration of the liturgy, the priest faces east, he is “guiding the people in pilgrimage towards the Kingdom” and with them, keeping watch for the return of the Lord. “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

The Eastern Churches follow to this day (and the Western Church is in the process of recovering) the apostolic tradition of celebrating the Eucharist towards the East in anticipation of the return of the Lord in glory. A powerful witness is given in the prayer of a priest and people who stand together facing eastward and giving voice to the same hope. “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come’” (Ap 22:17).

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Our King and Our Priest

The prophet Zechariah is another source of the antiphon. The Vulgate gives a shimmering image of Christ, the Orient who is our King and our Priest. “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, saying: Behold a Man, the Orient is his name. . . . Yea, he shall build a temple to the Lord: and he shall bear the glory, and he shall sit, and rule upon his throne: and he shall be a priest upon his throne” (Zech 6:12-13).

Sun of Justice

“Splendor of eternal light” comes from the Letter to the Hebrews. Christ is called “the brightness of the glory of God, and the figure of his substance” (Heb 1:3). “Sun of Justice” comes from the prophet Malachi. “For you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Mal 4:2).

Veni!

Today’s O Antiphon is carefully constructed; after three invocations of Christ the Light, the petition begins. But — surprise! Today’s Great O departs from the familiar pattern: the Veni coming, as it were, out of the depths: do-fa-mi. Today, our Veni has a certitude, a note of triumph, the beginning of a jubilation. It is as if the first rays of the Dayspring are already illuminating our eyes and warming our faces. Today, our cry Veni is sung on la-sol, right after the musical summit of the whole antiphon. Picture this: you have climbed to a mountain peak before sunrise and there, as you survey the dark horizon, you catch the first rosy glimmers of the dawn. From your mountain height you give voice to the cry of your heart: Veni! But the cry comes from one who already sees the light.

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Just look at this tabernacle! It is found in the monastic church of the Recluses Missionnaires, a Canadian community, inspired by Montréal's saintly recluse Jeanne Le Ber (1662–1714), and dedicated to adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Although my own taste goes more to the baroque, I love the underlying inspiration of this tabernacle: it illustrates the teaching of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II in Ecclesia de Eucharistia:

In a certain sense Mary lived her Eucharistic faith even before the institution of the Eucharist, by the very fact that she offered her virginal womb for the Incarnation of God's Word. The Eucharist, while commemorating the passion and resurrection, is also in continuity with the incarnation. At the Annunciation Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of his body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord's body and blood.

As a result, there is a profound analogy between the Fiat which Mary said in reply to the angel, and the Amen which every believer says when receiving the body of the Lord. Mary was asked to believe that the One whom she conceived “through the Holy Spirit” was “the Son of God” ( Lk 1:30-35). In continuity with the Virgin's faith, in the Eucharistic mystery we are asked to believe that the same Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, becomes present in his full humanity and divinity under the signs of bread and wine.

“Blessed is she who believed” ( Lk 1:45). Mary also anticipated, in the mystery of the incarnation, the Church's Eucharistic faith. When, at the Visitation, she bore in her womb the Word made flesh, she became in some way a “tabernacle” – the first “tabernacle” in history – in which the Son of God, still invisible to our human gaze, allowed himself to be adored by Elizabeth, radiating his light as it were through the eyes and the voice of Mary. And is not the enraptured gaze of Mary as she contemplated the face of the newborn Christ and cradled him in her arms that unparalleled model of love which should inspire us every time we receive Eucharistic communion?

Ave, gratia plena

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Deus, aeterna maestas. cuius ineffabile Verbum,
Angelo nuntiante, Virgo immaculata suscepit,
et, domus divinitatis effecta, Sanctus Spiritus luce repletur,
quaesumus, ut nos, eius exemplo,
voluntati tuae humiliter adhaerere valeamus.

O God, Eternal Majesty,
at the announcement of the angel,
the immaculate Virgin received your ineffable Word within herself
and, having become the dwelling of the divinity,
was filled with the light of the Holy Spirit;
we beseech you, that following her example,
we may be able to adhere humbly to your will.

If we are to profit fully from today’s Collect, we have to listen to it with the ears of the heart and look closely at the images it sets before us. In addition to the Father and the Son evoked in every Collect, in today’s there are the same three persons present in Saint Luke’s account of the Annunciation: the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit, and the Archangel Gabriel.

Aeterna maiestas

Today’s prayer addresses God, as Eternal Majesty. This form of divine address is very rare in the liturgy. Why does the Church use it in her prayer today? It sets the opening of the prayer in the heights of heaven. One can only think of Isaiah’s vision in the temple: “In the year that King Ozias died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and elevated: and his train filled the temple” (Is 6:1).

The painting of the Annunciation by the Florentine Dominican Fra Bartolomeo (1472–1517), a convert of Savonarola, shows us the Father of Eternal Majesty blessing with His right hand while, with the other, He sends the Holy Spirit, under the form of a dove, into the house of the Virgin at Nazareth.

There can be nothing brashly familiar in our approach to the mystery. We begin the Collect today in holy amazement, in the fear of God that is a mixture of face-in-the-dust adoration and speechless awe. We describe God as we experience him: aeterna maiestas, eternal majesty. The eternal majesty of God in heaven penetrates the little house of Nazareth to reach the Virgin, ravishing in her humility.

The Missa Aurea

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A glowing radiance surrounds the Mass of December 20th. During the Middle Ages, the Mass of the Missus Est — the first words of the Gospel of the Annunciation — on the Ember Wednesday of Advent was celebrated very solemnly as a kind of festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The stational church in Rome is the Basilica of Saint Mary Major; this choice signifies that today’s Mass is equal to that of the greatest feasts of the Mother God. It was called the Missa Aurea, the “Golden Mass.” In manuscripts of the Middle Ages, the capital letters of the text of the Annunciation Gospel were written in gold. The letters of gold were but a sign of the secret grace hidden within the words of the Angel Gabriel and within the response of the Virgin Mary.

Then too there is the tradition of celebrating today’s Mass in the glow of candlelight. The “Golden Mass” was especially popular throughout Europe where the faithful hastened to their churches before dawn, bearing lanterns, confident of obtaining on this day whatever special grace they asked through the intercession of the Virgin of the Annunciation.

The Gospel is sung today to a particular melody: the same ancient melody used to sing the Gospel of Pentecost. The Annunciation is the Proto-Pentecost. The Virgin Mother, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, is the living image of the Church overshadowed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

20 December, O CLAVIS DAVID

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To illustrate the antiphon O Clavis David, I chose Bartolomeo Bermejo’s magnificent painting of the Harrowing of Hell. It depicts the Risen Christ descending into the dreary dungeon of Hades where Adam and Eve, Methuselah, Solomon, and the Queen of Shebah await Him. The Risen Christ descends into the darkness, radiant in the light of his glory. Psalm 106 expresses the mystery of the moment: “Then they cried to the Lord in their need and he rescued them from their distress. He led them forth from darkness and gloom and broke their chains to pieces” (Ps 106:13-14).

O Key of David
and Sceptre of the House of Israel ,
who opens and no one can shut,
who shuts and no one can open (Is 22:22; Rev 3:7):
Come and bring the prisoners forth from the prison cell,
those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death (Is 42:7; Ps 106:13-14; Lk 1:9).

The Yes to Love

On December 20th we stand in the doorway of the humble dwelling where the Blessed Virgin Mary receives the Angel’s message. We are all ears, all eyes . . . listening, looking, and trying to take in something of the mystery that unfolds before us. The mystery of the Annunciation is, in essence, the Virgin’s utterly simple “Yes” to Love; through her “Yes” l’amore che move ‘l sol e anche le stelle, the light that moves the stars and even the sun, encloses itself in her womb. We enter the mystery of the Annunciation, not by any effort of the imagination, but by an utterly simple and penetrating act of faith, by the “Yes” to Love.

Love Conceived, Love Crucified, Love Risen

One does not approach the Virgin of the Annunciation without discovering the Mother of Sorrows. The joyful “Yes” to Love conceived beneath the Virgin’s heart flowers into the sorrowful “Yes” to Love crucified, and the glorious “Yes” to Love risen from the tomb. Standing in the doorway of the Holy House of Nazareth, listening and looking, we have only to believe in Love, in the Love to whom “nothing is impossible” (Lk 1:37).

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Annunciation

Today’s O Antiphon is closely tied to the Annunciation Gospel. “He will be great,” said the Angel Gabriel, “and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:32-33). We lift our voices to Christ, calling him “Key of David and Sceptre of the House of Israel.”

The Key of the House of David

The antiphon draws its invocation from the twenty–second chapter of Isaiah. The Lord says to Shebna, the master of the household of King Hezekiah, “And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Helkias, and I will clothe him with thy robe, and will strengthen him with thy girdle, and will give thy power into his hand: and he shall be as a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Juda. And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut and none shall open. And I will fasten him as a peg in a sure place, and he shall be for a throne of glory to the house of his father” (Is 22:20–23).

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A Key Borne on the Shoulder

Eliakim, whose name means, “God has raised up,” is a figure of Christ. Christ is Lord and Master over the household of the Father. On the shoulder of Christ was placed the key of the Cross, the key that opens what no mortal can open, and that closes what no mortal can close. In the image of the great key placed on the shoulder we recognize a figure of the Cross placed on the shoulder of Christ, the key by which heaven is opened and hell vanquished.

He Will Be Silent in His Love

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Did anyone else notice the discrepancy in today's First Lesson between the Latin lectionary and the English lectionaries currently in use? The Latin text contained this wonderful phrase: "Gaudebit super te in laetitia, silebit in dilectione sua, exsultabit super te in laude" (Soph 3:17) — "He will rejoice over thee with gladness, he will be silent in his love, he will be joyful over thee in praise."

In none of the current lectionaries is the phrase, silebit in dilectione sua, translated with a reference to silence. This, however, is the text given in the editio typica of the lectionary, and it rather left me breathless. "He will be silent in his love." Ponder it. I did allude to the phrase today in my homily on the Introit Gaudete (see below).

Rosy Reminder for Gaudete Sunday

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If you haven't given it any thought yet, today you might look into getting pink (or rose) flowers for Gaudete Sunday. Rose–coloured roses may be your first choice, but I like carnations — one single huge bouquet — for Gaudete Sunday.

It is always distressing to see flowers dispersed about the sanctuary in multiple little bouquets. It is even worse when such bouquets are placed in glass vases from the jumble sale and balanced on odd little tables and metal stands. Why do people do such things? A dozen or more flowers arranged in a single bouquet offer an intensity of colour that is lost when one attempts to use them in multiple arrangements.

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After the Second Vespers of Sunday when the sanctuary returns to its Advent austerity, consider offering the Gaudete bouquet to the Blessed Virgin at your Lady Altar or, at least, keep the flowers until 20 December for the lovely Golden Mass of the Missus Est. It is fitting to flower the principal image of Our Lady during Advent, especially when it is located in a Lady Chapel or outside the sanctuary proper.

Also, remember to prepare your rose–coloured vestments for Sunday Mass and Vespers.
I always found it exhilarating when the Hebdomadarius would intone the Deus in adjutorium at First Vespers of Gaudete Sunday, resplendent in a rose–coloured cope. My heart would respond with little leap of joy. La vie en rose n'est pas toujours réaliste, mais un dimanche en rose — que ça fait du bien!

Saint John of the Cross

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Advent is marked by two saints of the Cross. At the beginning of Advent there is Saint Andrew (30 November) who greets the mystery of the Cross in the light of faith, and right in the middle of Advent, there is Saint John of the Cross (14 December) who embraces the mystery of the Cross in the obscurity of a dark night. The advent of Christ is marked by the sign of the Cross. Let us receive its imprint humbly, knowing that by it we are healed and set free.

Let us pray today that those called to seek God in Carmel
may remain, like Saint John of the Cross,
faithful to the meditation of the Word and to prayer
by day and by night,
until their consummation in the Living Flame of Love.

O God,
who endowed your priest, Saint John,
with a spirit of utter self-denial
and a surpassing love of the Cross;
grant that, by ever holding fast to his example,
we may attain to the contemplation of your everlasting glory.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

O God,
who by Thy living flame of love,
didst sustain Saint John of the Cross even in the darkness:
shed Thou Thy light, we beseech Thee,
on all who love Thee though it be night
and give them to drink their fill of that deathless spring
that in the living Bread lies hidden.
Through Christ our Lord.

Our Lady in Advent

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The presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the liturgy of Advent is like the fragrance of roses in December. Mary is everywhere, drawing us after her into the mystery of Christ. The monastic tradition signifies her presence by singing the Missus Est Angelus, a Solemn Responsory at First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent: “The Angel Gabriel was sent to Mary.” The Alma Redemptoris Mater invites us every evening to look to Mary even as, falling in our weakness, we seek to rise again through grace. December 8th shone for us with the brightness of the Immaculate Conception of Mary full of grace. On the 9th Saint Juan Diego called us to the contemplation of Mary in poverty of spirit. On December 12th, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Mother of our Lord visits us again and we, like Elizabeth, are filled with wonder.

On December 20th, we will celebrate Advent’s Golden Mass and hear again the solemn singing of the Missus Est, the Gospel of the Annunciation. Finally, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Virgin Mary will emerge from the sacred texts as the Cause of Our Joy. In 1974 Pope Paul VI, of blessed memory, called Advent “a season singularly suited to offering veneration to the Mother of God” (Marialis Cultus, art. 4).

The outward expressions of a childlike and tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin are many. It is always possible, even in Advent, to flower the images of the Mother of God in our churches and to burn candles in her honour. Apart from the many allusions to the Blessed Virgin in the sacred liturgy, there are other forms of prayer particularly suited to the stillness and longing of the Advent heart: first among these is the Rosary which can always been enriched by meditating the ten mysteries of the Blessed Virgin's own life and of the Divine Infancy:

— the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne;
— the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary;
— the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple;
— the Betrothal of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Joseph;
— the Annunciation of the Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
— the Visitation and Expectancy of the Blessed Virgin Mary
— the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ
— the Circumcision and Naming of Our Lord
— the Adoration of the Magi
— the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple

There is also the Little Crown of the Immaculate Conception, a simple prayer dear to many saints. The Mother of Christ is sensitive to smallest expressions of our love for her. Her response to them is magnificently disproportionate. For a very little thing, she gives great graces in return or, as Saint Louis Grignion de Montfort put it, "pour un oeuf elle donne un boeuf — for an egg, she gives a whole cow."

In domum Domini ibimus

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On this Second Sunday of Advent, the liturgy focuses on Jerusalem, the mystery represented by the ancient Roman stational church. Stational churches are those churches in Rome designated on given days during Advent and Lent, and on the great festivals of the year, as the destination of a solemn procession and the place of the Pope’s solemn Mass. On the day of a stational Mass the faithful would assemble in one church — that of the collecta or gathering — and then go in procession, singing the Litanies of the Saints, antiphons, and psalms, to the church where the Bishop of Rome, surrounded by his clergy and throngs of the faithful, would celebrate the Holy Mysteries.

These stational Masses were, in fact, the great manifestations of the Eucharistic unity of the City and of the world, Urbis et Orbis. In recent years there has been a revival of interest in the stational churches, and this for two reasons. First: one cannot really understand the choice of the antiphons and other texts of a given Mass without referring to the particular context, the stational church, that inspired them. The texts of these Masses form an organic whole with their native context, the stational church in Rome. Second: we are Roman Catholics. Rome is our mother Church. From the Holy Roman Church we receive our liturgy, the expression of all that we believe and hold dear.

In laetitia cordis vestri

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The painting of Saint John the Baptist (1513–1516) is by Leonardo da Vinci. The Holy Foreunner is youthful; his smile reveals a secret joy. The raised finger illustrates the incipit of the Introit: "People of Sion, behold!"

Second Sunday of Advent

People of Sion, Behold

People of Sion, behold the Lord shall come for the saving of the nations; and the Lord shall make heard the glory of his voice in the joy of your heart (Is 30: 19, 30). The first thing that struck me about today’s Mass is that the Introit is addressed not to God, as was last Sunday’s, but to us. Last Sunday we prayed, “To you, my God, I lift up my soul” (Ps 24). Today’s Introit is taken not from the Psalter but from the prophet Isaiah, and straightaway it engages us: “People of Sion, behold the Lord shall come for the saving of the nations” (Is 30:19).

Inhabitants of the City of God

Who is speaking in today’s Introit? The text is borrowed from the prophet Isaiah but the voice is that of “one crying in the wilderness” (Mt 3:3): John the Baptist. “People of Sion!” he thunders. We are the people of Sion, sons and daughters of the Church, inhabitants of the City of God. The Letter to the Hebrews says: “You have come to Mount Sion, and to the city of the living God, and the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb 12:22).

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Behold

Again, there is that little compelling little word, ecce, behold. It is one of Saint John the Baptist’s favorite words. He who saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29), today says, “Behold, the Lord shall come!” Try to hear all that he puts into his behold: “Stand up straight, open wide your eyes! Look, and looking see! You cannot afford to be sleepy, unaware, or preoccupied with other things.” The Lord shall come and indeed is coming already for the saving of the nations. He comes to rescue. He comes to give peace. He comes to make whole all that is broken. He comes to assemble what has been scattered.

Missus est Gabriel Angelus

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In the Cistercian liturgy the center piece of First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent is Missus est Gabriel Angelus, a magnificent Great Responsory in the seventh mode. It places all of Advent under the sign of the Virgin who conceives and brings forth a Son.

The angel Gabriel was sent to Mary, a virgin espoused to Joseph,
to bring unto her the word of the Lord:
and when the Virgin saw the light she was afraid.
Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with the Lord.
Behold, thou shalt conceive and bring forth a son,
and He shall be called the Son of the Highest.
V. The Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David,
and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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