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On this glorious feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, here again is the traditional blessing from the Roman Ritual with a little explanation of it.

Epiphany Inscription Over the Doorway of the Home
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The letters have two meanings. They are the initials of the traditional names of the Three Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. They also abbreviate the Latin words Christus mansionem benedicat. May Christ bless the house.” The letters recall the day on which the inscription is made, as well as the purpose of blessing.

The crosses represent the protection of the Precious Blood of Christ, Whose Sacred Name we invoke, and also the holiness of the Three Magi sanctified by their adoration of the Infant Christ.

The inscription is made above the front door, so that all who enter and depart this year may enjoy God's blessing. The month of January still bears the name of the Roman god Janus, the doorkeeper of heaven and protector of the beginning and end of things. This blessing "christens" the ancient Roman observance of the first month. The inscription is made of chalk, a product of clay, which recalls the human nature taken by the Adorable and Eternal Word of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

To bless your home this Epiphany, first read the Prologue of Saint John's Gospel, followed by the Our Father, and the Collect of the Epiphany; then write the inscription for this year above your front door with blessed chalk.

Blessing of Chalk

V. Our help is the name of the Lord.
R. Who made heaven and earth.

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.

Let us pray.

Bless, O Lord God, this creature chalk
to render it helpful to Thy people.
Grant that they who use it in faith
and with it inscribe upon the doors of their homes
the names of Thy saints, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar,
may through their merits and intercession
enjoy health of body and protection of soul.
Through Christ our Lord.

And the chalk is sprinkled with Holy Water.

O Thou, Innocent Lamb of God

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Over the centuries, souls have been drawn irresistibly to the mystery of the Infant Christ. Among these was the great Pierre Cardinal de Bérulle, the "Apostle of the Incarnate Word." The image I chose to illustrate this prayer of mine was originally designed to inspire devotion in souls, who, following the teaching of Cardinal de Bérulle, would offer themselves to the Infant Jesus. The prayer that I was moved to make today, as a kind of amende honorable to Jesus in His adorable innocence in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, is one, I think, that Pierre de Bérulle would have understood and made his own.

Lord Jesus Christ,
Thou, innocent Lamb of God;
Thou, pure Victim, Holy Victim, Immaculate Victim,
I adore Thee who art present here
with all the love of my heart,
and I thank Thee that, from this altar, even now,
Thou art offering Thyself to the Father
as the sacrifice of propitiation
that destroys the sin of the world
and restores poor sinners to friendship with God,
not by changing Thy Father's Heart,
but by opening the hearts of poor sinners
to receive His pardon, His mercy, and His grace.

Do Thou open hearts long closed by sin.
Do Thou deliver souls languishing in darkness
and in the shadow of death.
Do Thou set free souls bound in the fetters and chains
forged by Satan and his hateful allies.
Do Thou give sight to the blind,
movement to the paralyzed,
hearing to the deaf,
and tenderness to the stony-hearted.

Unite me to Thyself,
and, by Thy Virgin Mother's prayers,
so make me one sacrifice with Thee,
that I may appear before the Father,
consumed in the flames of Thy holocaust,
and made pure in the fire of love
that ever burns in Thy Eucharistic Heart. Amen.

The Mystery of Suffering Innocence

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The Child in Egypt

The name Egypt occurs three times in today's gospel. "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt" (Mt 2:13). "And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt" (Mt 2:14). And finally, Saint Matthew cites the prophet Hosea: "Out of Egypt have I called my son" (Mt 2:15; Hos 11:1). As with so many proper names of persons and places in Sacred Scripture, Egypt enfolds and discloses a deeper mystery.

Egypt is a name and a place charged with ambivalence. On the one hand, it is the land of abundance, a refuge in time of famine (Gen 12:10; 42:1-3), a safe place for the political refugee (1 K 11:40; Jr 26:21). On the other hand, Egypt symbolizes the servitude and genocide out of which the Lord delivered his people. Hear the words of the Lord, speaking to Moses out of the burning bush: "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 out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey" (Ex 3:7-8).

The descent of the Infant Christ into Egypt and his return is a fundamental point of correspondence between the Old Testament and the New. The Infant Christ is the new Joseph in Egypt. In Christ, the words spoken concerning Joseph are fulfilled: "The Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had, in house and field" (Gen 39:5). Like the innocent Joseph, the innocent Christ is a guest in Egypt, receiving Egyptian hospitality, finding in Egypt a place of safety, a refuge from the murderous threats born of jealousy.

The Blood of Jesus

Christ is the new Moses and Christ is the Paschal Lamb in Egypt slain. His blood marks the souls of the faithful as once the blood of the immolated lamb marked the doorposts and lintels of the houses of the Jews in Egypt (cf. Ex 12:7). This is the very blood of which Saint John speaks, saying, "The Blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin" (1 Jn 1:7).

Behold, I am With You

Christ is the true and definitive Israel, "the head of the body, the Church" (Col 1:18) called out of Egypt into the desert wilderness, there to face the struggles and temptations of the Evil One in fasting and in prayer. Christ, having come out of Egypt, having vanquished the temptations of Satan in the desert, emerges victorious into the land of the living. This is the spiritual geography of the whole Christian life: out of Egypt, through the desert, into the Promised Land. Herein lies the whole of baptismal, Eucharistic, and monastic spirituality.

Egypt always evokes the dramas of exile and of flight. Jacob twice knew exile. The first exile was due to the hatred of his brother Esau; Jacob fled eastward to Haran and there, in a mysterious dream, he heard the word of the Lord, saying to him, "Behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go" (Gen 28:15). Then again, as a very old man, Jacob, again in a dream, heard the familiar voice saying to him, "I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt; for I will there make of you a great nation; I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again" (Gen 46:3). The going down to Egypt and the coming up from Egypt are intrinsic to the plan of God not only in the Bible, but in your life and mine.

Where Salvation Begins

Israel's sojourn in Egypt -- all 430 years of it -- is essential to the unfolding of God's plan. Joseph says to his brothers, "I am your brother Joseph . . . . It was not you who sent me here, but God. . . . God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not tarry" (Gen 45:8-9). We are, at times, tempted to think of the Egypt years of our own lives as somehow expendable and unimportant: an embarrassment to be forgotten and consigned to the memory's darkest and deepest archives. Such thinking is flawed. Salvation begins precisely in Egypt. Israel went down to Egypt; the Infant Christ went down to Egypt; every Christian and, in a dramatic way, every monastic goes down to Egypt to await there, groaning in bondage (Ex 2:23) the hour of deliverance.

Where We Learn to Pray

Egypt is where we learn to pray, not with pious phrasing and elegantly fashioned sentiments, but with groans, and cries, and tears. "And the people of Israel groaned under their bondage, and cried out for help, and their cry under bondage came up to God. And God heard their groaning . . ." (Ex 2:23). How closely this corresponds to the prayer of Christ himself, described in the Letter to the Hebrews. "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear" (Heb 5:7). This is the reality echoed by Saint Paul: "We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom 8:23).

A Paschal Mystery

Given all of this, what is the meaning of the exile of the Infant Christ in Egypt? The new-born Christ is, by divine design, carried in his mother's arms to the point of departure of salvation history. The Infant Christ goes down to Egypt to signify that his saving work will be, for all who believe in him, a flight from Egypt, a passover in the night, an exodus by far more glorious than the first. The flight into Egypt of the Innocent Christ, and his return is a paschal mystery; it is already a foreshadowing of cross, tomb, and resurrection.

The Passion of the Infant Christ

I can never celebrate this feast of the Holy Innocents without returning to a book written many years ago by Caryll Houselander: The Passion of the Infant Christ. Writing in London during the Second World War -- literally "under the bombs" -- she was inspired to speak of the Passion of the Infant Christ. Seeing the sufferings of her own life and of those she loved with the pure vision of one become a child in Christ, she recognized in both cradle and cross wood hewn from the same tree.

The Cradle of Christ

"The way to begin the healing of the wounds of the world," she wrote, "is to treasure the Infant Christ in us; to be not the castle but the cradle of Christ, and in rocking that cradle to the rhythm of love, to swing the whole world back into the beat of the Music of Eternal Life. It is true that the span of an Infant's arms is absurdly short; but if they are the arms of the Divine Child, they are as wide as the reach of the arms on the cross; they embrace and support the whole world; their shadow is the noonday shade for its suffering people; they are the spread wings under which the whole world shall find shelter and rest" (Caryll Houselander, The Passion of the Infant Christ).

The Wood of Cradle and of Cross

Houselander understood that nothing of the paschal mystery of Christ is locked in an irretrievable past. The liturgy is the passion of the Infant Christ made present to us and for us, here and now, in all its fullness. Are you in Egypt, "groaning under bondage" (Ex 2:23), learning to pray in suffering? Are you wandering in a desert waste, tortured by hunger and thirst, a prey to temptations and terrors of the night? Have you crossed over into that good and broad land where milk and honey flow? Through the Most Holy Eucharist, the Infant Christ is with you, his prayer in yours, and yours in His: a prayer that says "Yes" to the wood of the cradle, to the wood of the Cross, and to everything that lies in between.

The Divine Infancy

Caryll Houselander, a woman of our own times, a woman "acquainted with grief" (Is 53:3) can, I think, help us understand something of the mystery of the Innocent Christ, something of the mystery of suffering innocence in each of us. "The Divine Infancy in us," she wrote, "is the logical answer to the peculiar sufferings of our age and the only solution to its problems. If the Infant Christ is fostered in us, no life is trivial. No life is impotent before suffering, no suffering is too trifling to heal the world, too little to redeem, to be the point at which the world's healing begins."

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Saint John by Sir Ninian Comper, Lady Chapel of Downside Abbey Church. Thanks to the ever gracious Father Lawrence, O.P. for the use of his photo.

The Logic of the Liturgy

The liturgy has a marvelous logic all its own. On this third day of the Christmas octave, Mother Church gives us a Resurrection Gospel, taken from the very last chapter of Saint John! While we are yet at the manger, the liturgy compels us to gaze into the face of the risen Christ! John, the disciple whom Jesus loved is there before us. Indeed, it was he who arrived first at the sepulchre, preceding the Prince of the Apostles. Saint John's virginal love gave wings to his feet. "Draw me in thy footsteps," says the bride of the Canticle, "let us run" (Ct 1:4). John is the first of those who set out in search of the Body of Christ; arriving even before Peter, and yet deferring to him.

Peter and John

The Petrine authority in the Church is firmly established by Christ on the solid rock of Peter; it continues through the successors of Peter: teaching, reproving, testing, correcting, forgiving and calling together in unity. The Johannine authority in the Church is not hierarchical, but belongs, rather, to the order of graces freely given for the upbuilding of the Body of Christ; it speaks with the voice of love, with the inimitable accents of direct experience. It is the authority of the saints and mystics, the authority of holiness, the authority of the greatly loved and of the great lovers. "I belong to my love, and my love to me" (Ct 6:3).

What We Have Seen and Heard

The Church has need of both voices. She needs the strong, unwavering voice of Peter; she also needs the many-voiced Johannine chorus of those who sing: "Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have contemplated and touched with our own hands: the Word who is life--this is our theme. That life was made visible; we saw it and are giving our testimony. . . . We declare to you what we have seen and heard, so that you too may share our life" (1 Jn 1:1-3).

Love of Things Invisible

The Johannine chorus speaks with the unmistakable authority of those who have gone into the wine-cellar and rested beneath the banner of love (cf. Ct 2:4-5). Their breath is fragrant with honey and with the honeycomb, of wine and of milk: that is with the imperishable sweetness of the Holy Spirit, with the Blood of the Lamb and with the pure milk of the living Word of God. These are the ones who have eaten and drunk, drunk deeply (cf. Ct 5:1) of the streams of living water that flow ever fresh from the pierced Heart of the Bridegroom (cf. Jn 7:37-38). These are the descendants of Saint John the Beloved, those to whom the Father has given the eagle's vision, those who are little enough and poor enough to be borne aloft and carried away into the love of things invisible, as the Preface of Christmas puts it.

Those Who Dwell in the Cleft of the Rock

All through history the spiritual offspring of the Beloved Disciple have, like so many doves, found refuge in the cleft of the rock, the pierced Heart of Jesus. They are found everywhere in the Church and are needed everywhere in the Church; very often they are desert-dwellers, lovers of solitude, hidden away behind enclosure walls that are but the symbol of a deeper desire: "to be hidden with Christ in God" (Col 3:3). But they are found as well in all sorts of other places: in city apartments and in fashionable suburbs, in conditions of extreme poverty and in places of great suffering. When they speak, their word is uttered out of silence and returns to the silence whence its springs. More often than not they sing, for words alone are poor and inadequate; song, at least, lifts words above themselves, breaks them open and allows their fragrance to fill the whole house (cf. Jn 12:3).

The Authority Born of Adoration

The Johannine authority of the Church comes to birth in adoration: in the contemplation of Jesus' Holy Face, shining with the glory of the Father in the bright cloud of the Holy Spirit on Mount Tabor. It is nourished by the Bread of Life containing in itself all sweetness. Its place of preference is close to the altar, in the radiance of the Most Holy Sacrament. It is instructed in secret: "No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me. . . . It is written in the prophets: They will all be taught by God; everyone who has listened to the Father and learnt from him, comes to me" (Jn 6:44-45).

With Mary

The Johannine authority is one of love; it flows out of the Heart of Jesus into the heart and mind of whosoever rests his head upon Jesus' breast. It is purified in Gethsemani where it enters into a bloody struggle with the powers of darkness and of sin. It is steadfast on Calvary where, opening its mouth it inhales the gift of the Spirit, handed over in the breath of the Bridegroom, and where raising its eyes to the Pierced One it contemplates a stream of blood and of water. The Johannine authority of the Church is inseparable from the Virgin Mother, has taken her into its home, lives day by day and hour by hour in her intimacy, learning from her things long cherished in the silence of her Immaculate Heart.

Friends of the Lamb

Finally, the descendants of John -- friends of the Lamb -- see beyond what is now into a new heaven and a new earth where God will wipe away all tears, where there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness or pain (Ap 21:3-4). On their faces shines already the radiant glory of God and the Lamb himself is their lighted torch. They make their own the cry of the Spirit and of the Bride: "Come! Amen. Come Lord Jesus!"

Disciples of John

By the infinite mercy of the Word made flesh, may we who want to listen to Peter and defer to him in all things, be numbered among the least disciples of John. Amen.

Christmas at Silverstream Priory

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Here is the crèche at Silverstream Priory: beneath the figures of the Holy Family there is a beautiful, soft carpet of Irish moss. The crèche is in the great hall of the main house.

A Monastic Christmas

Friends, relatives, and visitors to the monastery have been asking, "How do you spend Christmas?" and "What did you do for Christmas?" For the men newly-come to monastic life, Christmas can be a difficult time. Even adult men miss their families at Christmas. For a veteran monk like myself, long accustomed to being far from my beloved family at ChrIstmas, the experience is not the same; in spite of the distance that separates us, I feel very close to them and, standing at the altar to offer the Holy Sacrifice, time and distance are mysteriously swallowed up in the divine here and now.

The monastic celebration of Christmas is primarily liturgical. We planned on having First Vespers of Christmas early on Christmas Eve, at 3:00 p.m., in fact. By the time the last visitor had left The Gatehouse, and all was in readiness, it was closer to 3:30 p.m.. In a nascent monastery one mustn't expect things to happen right on time. Announced times are necessarily approximate times, and must have a healthy ability to adapt with good grace to things unexpected and unforeseen.

First Vespers

Following the First Vespers of the Nativity of the Lord (after a day of fasting) we had our first Christmas meal in front of the blazing fire in the great hall. Friends of the monastery delivered this delicious meal -- their gift to us -- shortly before Vespers. We are not using the refectory at the moment; it is difficult to heat. The great hall with its welcoming hearth tends to become the focus of much of what we do together. After our meal, we chanted Compline, and then repaired to our cells for a few hours rest before Matins.

Matins

At 10:45 p.m., we were back in our choir stalls, ready to begin the Night Office of Matins, also called Vigils or Nocturns. Matins opens with a splendid Invitatory Antiphon: Christ is born for us. O come, let us adore! The Invitatory Antiphon is musically embroidered in and around the verses of Psalm 94. A chain of antiphons, psalms, blessings, lessons, and responsories follow, lasting well over one hour. The high point of Matins is the chanting of the Gospel of Our Lord's Genealogy, preceded by the Te Deum Laudamus, and followed by the Te Decet Laus, both ancient hymns of praise.

The First Mass of Christmas: at Midnight

Matins leads directly into Holy Mass, the first Mass of the Nativity of the Lord, called In nocte, that is, in the night. The Introit of the Mass (Dominus dixit ad me) sets the tone; it is contained and contemplative. It is the voice of the Only-Begotten Son telling us what the Father says to Him from all eternity: "Thou art my Son; today, have I begotten Thee" (Psalm 2:7).

The Second Mass of Christmas: at Dawn

We took a little refreshment after Holy Mass -- by this time it was 2:30 in the morning -- and again repaired to our cells for a few hours rest before rising again for the Second Mass of Christmas, the so-called Dawn Mass (Lux fulgebit), at 8:00 a.m. The Hours of Lauds and Prime followed the Second Mass of Christmas, prolonging it in a lavish outpouring of praise and jubilation.

The Third Mass of Christmas: in the Day

At 11:00 a.m. we were in choir again for Tierce, and then had the Third Mass of Christmas (Puer natus est) with the chanting of the sublime Prologue of Saint John. According to an ancient monastic tradition, there is no homily at the Mass of Christmas Day. The Prologue of Saint John -- the mystery of the Word out of silence -- calls for what the Venerable John Paul II described as an "adoring silence." Before the glory of the Word, all other words fall silent. In the presence of the Word, human discourse stammers and fails. Silence alone is worthy of the mystery.

Dinner

After Holy Mass we began preparations for our Christmas dinner, grateful to Divine Providence and to the friends and benefactors who supplied us with everything necessary, and then some. After dinner, a good Christmas day nap was in order, having been awake most of the night before.

Evening of the First Day

None, adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Vespers, and Compline brought our Christmas Day to a peaceful close. And thus ended the First Day of Christmas at Silverstream Priory in County Meath.

Wreathe the Door of Thy Heart

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The painting is by Blessed Fra Angelico (1400-1455). Saint Peter is ordaining Stephen to the diaconate while Saint John the Beloved (whose feast we will keep tomorrow), holding his Gospel, looks on. The composition is remarkable: the three heads of Peter, John and Stephen form a triangle, a symbol of communion in the Three Divine Persons. Peter is handing over the chalice and paten; they are very large. Fra Angelico makes the Most Holy Eucharist central; he paints what Saint Thomas Aquinas taught, i.e. that the unity of the Church is constituted and held together by participation in the adorable Body and Blood of Christ.

December 26
Saint Stephen the Protomartyr

The Holy Spirit at Christmas

The liturgy of Christmas, while drawing our gaze to the Son, the Word made flesh, in no way obscures or minimizes the presence and the work of the Holy Spirit. Quite by chance, I came upon this astonishing text of Saint Ephrem the Syrian: "At this feast of the Nativity let each person wreathe the door of his heart so that the Holy Spirit may delight in that door, enter in and make there his dwelling; then by the Spirit we will be made holy."

Fear Not, For Thou Hast Found Grace With God

Already on the First Sunday of Advent, we sang in the Benedictus Antiphon, "The Holy Spirit will come upon thee, O Mary. Do not be afraid." And on the Second Saturday of Advent, Blessed Isaac of Stella explained that "what is said in the particular case of the Virgin Mother Mary, is rightly understood of the Virgin Mother Church universally (Sermon 51). Today's feast of Saint Stephen is the liturgy's way of repeating now to the Virgin Mother Church the mysterious words of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mother Mary: "Fear not, for thou hast found grace with God.' (Lk 1:30).

Grace and Power

It is remarkable that Saint Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, describes Saint Stephen in today's First Reading as "full of grace and power" (Ac 6:8). The phrase has a distinctively Marian resonance. To Mary, the "highly-favoured" of God (Lk 1:28), the "full of grace," the angel Gabriel says: "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the most High shall overshadow thee" (Lk 1:35). The words addressed to the Virgin Mary in a particular way hold universal import for the Church.

On this second day of Christmas, Stephen, "full of grace and power"(Ac 6:8) is the radiant icon of the Church indwelt and overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. Without leaving Mary and the Infant Christ, we pass to Stephen and the Infant Christ, to Stephen and the Infant Church.

The Spirit of Truth

Saint Luke tells us that those who disputed Stephen "could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke" (Ac 6:10). Stephen of the growing Church, like Jesus at the age of twelve (Lk 2:42) opens his mouth in the midst of the people, the elders, and the scribes, and his utterance is evidence of the Holy Spirit sent to the Church in fulfillment of Jesus' promises. "When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me" (Jn 15:26). Saint Matthew, in today's Gospel expresses the same reality: "Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you" (Mt 10:19-20).

Full of the Spirit, Stephen Gazed into Heaven

We generally interpret this promise of Our Lord as having to do with the witness given by those who are delivered up to the enemies of His name and persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, and this is indeed the first meaning of the text, but the use of the text in this liturgy of Saint Stephen suggests yet another meaning to us, one that is, at a first glance, perhaps less apparent. Saint Luke clarifies his initial description of Stephen as "full of grace and power" (Ac 6:8) by making it explicit in his description of Stephen's martyrdom: "But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God" (Ac 7:54).

"Full of grace and power" is synonymous with "full of the Holy Spirit." The effects of the indwelling and overshadowing of the Holy Spirit are that how we are to speak and what we are to say are given us by the Spirit of the Father in the hour of our need (Mt 10:19-20) and also that those who are "full of the Holy Spirit" gaze into heaven, see the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Ac 7:54).

The Boldness That Comes from the Holy Spirit

The first effect corresponds to Saint Paul's experience of the indwelling Holy Spirit. "The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (Rom 8:26). How we are to speak and what we are to say comes from the Holy Spirit not only when we are facing persecutors but also when we, gathered in Christ, are facing the Father in prayer. In both instances the Church is in need of the parrhesia; -- the boldness -- that comes from the Spirit.

Tu Solus Sanctus

In her prayer, the Church indwelt and overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, the Church "full of grace and power" (Ac 6:8), knows how to speak and what to say, for the Spirit helps her in her weakness, giving her to pray as she ought. This is why in every festive liturgy the Church gazes into the heavens and seeing the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father, sings "Thou alone art the Holy One, thou alone art Lord, thou alone art the Most High: Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit: in the glory of God the Father" (Gloria). This is the second effect of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Church-at-prayer sings what, with the eyes of faith, she beholds.

The Prayer of Christ

The work of the Holy Spirit, first of all through the sacred liturgy, is to align us with the prayer of Christ to the Father, to empty us of all that is our own prayer -- narrow, subjective, constrained -- and to fill us with the utter fullness of the prayer of Christ, a prayer that is immense, universal, all-encompassing, all-powerful and always and everywhere pleasing to the Father. In his martyrdom, Saint Stephen reveals this. "As they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them'" (Ac 7:59-60).

Designedly, Saint Luke, in his account of the death of Stephen, reproduces his own account of the prayer of the dying Jesus from the cross. "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do," and "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:34 and 46). There is, however, a subtle theological difference. Whereas the dying Jesus addresses the Father, the dying Stephen addresses the living Christ, the risen and ascended Jesus whom he beholds "standing at the right hand of God"(Ac 7:55). Stephen's prayer at the hour of death is a confession of the resurrection of Christ.

Under the Overshadowing of the Holy Spirit

Poised between hearing the Word of God and going to the altar for the sacrifice, the Virgin Mother Mary and the protomartyr Saint Stephen are given us as living signs of the indwelling and overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. To us is said, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Holy Spirit will overshadow you" (Lk 1:35). To us is given, "wisdom and the Spirit" (Ac 6:10), which no earthly power or wisdom can withstand.

Body of Christ, Voice of Christ, Prayer of Christ

By our communion in the Holy Sacrifice of Christ's Body and Blood, we, like Saint Stephen, are filled with the Holy Spirit. Herein is the transforming effect of Holy Mass: we are no longer many individuals speaking many words and praying many prayers. We are, by the action of the Holy Spirit, a single Body with a single voice and signal prayer: the Body of Christ, the voice of Christ, the prayer of Christ. Amen.

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Among the mectildian-benedictine practices that our monastery has come to cherish is that of the Amende honorable (Act of Honourable Amendment): a prayer of adoration and reparation pronounced aloud before the Most Holy Sacrament. Here is the prayer that I offered today following Vespers.

Lord Jesus Christ,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
begotten of the Father before the daystar,
and consubstantial with Him,
born in the fulness of time of the Immaculate Virgin Mary,
by the power of the Holy Spirit,
I adore Thee,
who art truly present here,
and, out of my own poverty and weakness,
I desire to make reparation
for those who do not adore Thee in this wondrous Sacrament,
and for those who deny the mystery of Thy real presence.

I would make reparation as well
for those who approach Thee without reverence,
for those who touch, and handle,
and receive Thy adorable Body
with coldness, with indifference,
and with little awareness of the immensity of Thy charity
burning in this Most Holy Sacrament.

Thou art here upon the altar
just as Thou wert in the cave of Bethlehem,
where, wrapped in swaddling bands,
Thou wast laid in the manger as upon an altar,
the innocent Lamb made ready for the sacrifice,
the Living Bread come down from heaven,
and set forth upon the altars of Thy Church
for the nourishment of those
whom Thou hast created to partake of Thy Flesh and Blood
and, in so doing, to become one with Thee.

Here, though Thy glory be veiled, yet is it visible,
for one cannot gaze upon the Sacred Host
without reflecting, as in a mirror,
something of the radiance of Thy glory
hidden beneath Its humble appearance.

I unite my adoration first to that of the Virgin Mother and of Saint Joseph,
desiring, in some way, to adore Thee with them
and to abide in their company.
I adore Thee in communion with the Angelic Choirs
who filled the skies of Bethlehem on that most holy night,
and I adore Thee together with the lowly shepherds
who, crossing over to Bethlehem, found there
that everything was just as the Angel told them.

Receive my adoration here,
and in every church become the true House of Bread,
by reason of Thine adorable presence,
thus prolonging the mystery of Bethlehem
through space and through time,
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Bowing low before Thee,
I adore and I submit to this mystery of Thy omnipotence become so fragile,
of Thy glory so hidden,
and of Thy love so despised.

Let all that is in me surrender in faith to what I see before my eyes,
and to what I do not see,
for Thou art here,
who livest and reignest with the Father,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Transeamus Usque Bethleem

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Monastery of Decani, Fresco of the Nativity of Our Lord

MIDNIGHT MASS
SOLEMNITY OF THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Saint Peter's Basilica Monday, 24 December 2012


Dear Brothers and Sisters!

A Beauty that is the Splendour of Truth

Again and again the beauty of this Gospel touches our hearts: a beauty that is the splendour of truth. Again and again it astonishes us that God makes himself a child so that we may love him, so that we may dare to love him, and as a child trustingly lets himself be taken into our arms. It is as if God were saying: I know that my glory frightens you, and that you are trying to assert yourself in the face of my grandeur. So now I am coming to you as a child, so that you can accept me and love me.

No Room Left for God

I am also repeatedly struck by the Gospel writer's almost casual remark that there was no room for them at the inn. Inevitably the question arises, what would happen if Mary and Joseph were to knock at my door. Would there be room for them? And then it occurs to us that Saint John takes up this seemingly chance comment about the lack of room at the inn, which drove the Holy Family into the stable; he explores it more deeply and arrives at the heart of the matter when he writes: "he came to his own home, and his own people received him not" (Jn 1:11). The great moral question of our attitude towards the homeless, towards refugees and migrants, takes on a deeper dimension: do we really have room for God when he seeks to enter under our roof? Do we have time and space for him? Do we not actually turn away God himself? We begin to do so when we have no time for God. The faster we can move, the more efficient our time-saving appliances become, the less time we have. And God? The question of God never seems urgent. Our time is already completely full. But matters go deeper still. Does God actually have a place in our thinking? Our process of thinking is structured in such a way that he simply ought not to exist. Even if he seems to knock at the door of our thinking, he has to be explained away. If thinking is to be taken seriously, it must be structured in such a way that the "God hypothesis" becomes superfluous. There is no room for him. Not even in our feelings and desires is there any room for him. We want ourselves. We want what we can seize hold of, we want happiness that is within our reach, we want our plans and purposes to succeed. We are so "full" of ourselves that there is no room left for God. And that means there is no room for others either, for children, for the poor, for the stranger. By reflecting on that one simple saying about the lack of room at the inn, we have come to see how much we need to listen to Saint Paul's exhortation: "Be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom 12:2). Paul speaks of renewal, the opening up of our intellect (nous), of the whole way we view the world and ourselves. The conversion that we need must truly reach into the depths of our relationship with reality. Let us ask the Lord that we may become vigilant for his presence, that we may hear how softly yet insistently he knocks at the door of our being and willing. Let us ask that we may make room for him within ourselves, that we may recognize him also in those through whom he speaks to us: children, the suffering, the abandoned, those who are excluded and the poor of this world.

Hearing the Sounds of Heaven

There is another verse from the Christmas story on which I should like to reflect with you - the angels' hymn of praise, which they sing out following the announcement of the new-born Saviour: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased." God is glorious. God is pure light, the radiance of truth and love. He is good. He is true goodness, goodness par excellence. The angels surrounding him begin by simply proclaiming the joy of seeing God's glory. Their song radiates the joy that fills them. In their words, it is as if we were hearing the sounds of heaven. There is no question of attempting to understand the meaning of it all, but simply the overflowing happiness of seeing the pure splendour of God's truth and love. We want to let this joy reach out and touch us: truth exists, pure goodness exists, pure light exists. God is good, and he is the supreme power above all powers. All this should simply make us joyful tonight, together with the angels and the shepherds.

A Bright Ray of Peace and Goodness, Which Continues to Shine

Linked to God's glory on high is peace on earth among men. Where God is not glorified, where he is forgotten or even denied, there is no peace either. Nowadays, though, widespread currents of thought assert the exact opposite: they say that religions, especially monotheism, are the cause of the violence and the wars in the world. If there is to be peace, humanity must first be liberated from them. Monotheism, belief in one God, is said to be arrogance, a cause of intolerance, because by its nature, with its claim to possess the sole truth, it seeks to impose itself on everyone. Now it is true that in the course of history, monotheism has served as a pretext for intolerance and violence. It is true that religion can become corrupted and hence opposed to its deepest essence, when people think they have to take God's cause into their own hands, making God into their private property. We must be on the lookout for these distortions of the sacred. While there is no denying a certain misuse of religion in history, yet it is not true that denial of God would lead to peace. If God's light is extinguished, man's divine dignity is also extinguished. Then the human creature would cease to be God's image, to which we must pay honour in every person, in the weak, in the stranger, in the poor. Then we would no longer all be brothers and sisters, children of the one Father, who belong to one another on account of that one Father. The kind of arrogant violence that then arises, the way man then despises and tramples upon man: we saw this in all its cruelty in the last century. Only if God's light shines over man and within him, only if every single person is desired, known and loved by God is his dignity inviolable, however wretched his situation may be. On this Holy Night, God himself became man; as Isaiah prophesied, the child born here is "Emmanuel", God with us (Is 7:14). And down the centuries, while there has been misuse of religion, it is also true that forces of reconciliation and goodness have constantly sprung up from faith in the God who became man. Into the darkness of sin and violence, this faith has shone a bright ray of peace and goodness, which continues to shine.

To Recognize Your True Face

So Christ is our peace, and he proclaimed peace to those far away and to those near at hand (cf. Eph 2:14, 17). How could we now do other than pray to him: Yes, Lord, proclaim peace today to us too, whether we are far away or near at hand. Grant also to us today that swords may be turned into ploughshares (Is 2:4), that instead of weapons for warfare, practical aid may be given to the suffering. Enlighten those who think they have to practise violence in your name, so that they may see the senselessness of violence and learn to recognize your true face. Help us to become people "with whom you are pleased" - people according to your image and thus people of peace.

A Holy Curiosity

Once the angels departed, the shepherds said to one another: Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened for us (cf. Lk 2:15). The shepherds went with haste to Bethlehem, the Evangelist tells us (cf. 2:16). A holy curiosity impelled them to see this child in a manger, who the angel had said was the Saviour, Christ the Lord. The great joy of which the angel spoke had touched their hearts and given them wings.

Step Outside Our Habits of Thought and Habits of Life

Let us go over to Bethlehem, says the Church's liturgy to us today. Transeamus is what the Latin Bible says: let us go "across", daring to step beyond, to make the "transition" by which we step outside our habits of thought and habits of life, across the purely material world into the real one, across to the God who in his turn has come across to us. Let us ask the Lord to grant that we may overcome our limits, our world, to help us to encounter him, especially at the moment when he places himself into our hands and into our heart in the Holy Eucharist.

The Actual Town of Bethlehem

Let us go over to Bethlehem: as we say these words to one another, along with the shepherds, we should not only think of the great "crossing over" to the living God, but also of the actual town of Bethlehem and all those places where the Lord lived, ministered and suffered. Let us pray at this time for the people who live and suffer there today. Let us pray that there may be peace in that land. Let us pray that Israelis and Palestinians may be able to live their lives in the peace of the one God and in freedom. Let us also pray for the countries of the region, for Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and their neighbours: that there may be peace there, that Christians in those lands where our faith was born may be able to continue living there, that Christians and Muslims may build up their countries side by side in God's peace.

Holy Curiosity and Holy Joy

The shepherds made haste. Holy curiosity and holy joy impelled them. In our case, it is probably not very often that we make haste for the things of God. God does not feature among the things that require haste. The things of God can wait, we think and we say. And yet he is the most important thing, ultimately the one truly important thing. Why should we not also be moved by curiosity to see more closely and to know what God has said to us? At this hour, let us ask him to touch our hearts with the holy curiosity and the holy joy of the shepherds, and thus let us go over joyfully to Bethlehem, to the Lord who today once more comes to meet us. Amen.

Ye Shall See His Glory

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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.

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.


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Mother Mectilde de Bar (1614-1698) gave this Chapter conference on 17 December 1671. I share it for those who may be looking for a text to help them enter the grace of Christmas -- little, poor, and trusting.

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."

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 life, 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.

One must burn with love

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Image of Mother Mectilde: detail of a painting attributed to Philippe de Champaigne, Monastery of Mas-Grenier.

I am continuing my translation of Mother Mectilde's conference for the Vigil of Christmas 1694. She emphasizes that the Incarnation is God's gratuitous expression of love for each and every human being. Christus natus est pro nobis. The pro nobis (for us) that the liturgy sings must be brought to bear upon each one. One who hasn't grasped that the Word became flesh for me cannot rightly understand what the Church means when she sings that Christ is born for us.

God Did for Me Alone What He Did for All

As I have told you, God, having within Himself everything that could make Him happy, had no need of His creatures, and these can add nothing to His felicity. He could not have given us a greater sign of His love, as Saint John says, "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son." (John 3:16) And it can be said that in giving us His Son, He gave us all that what dearest and most precious to Him.

Let us, then, immerse ourselves in profound sentiments of gratitude towards the Eternal Father for the grand gift He offers us today. But, so as to penetrate better into the grace of the mystery and enter into a true gratitude, it is necessary, dear sisters, that each one of you make it your own and strive, with all her capacity, to think of the goodness of a God who, by His birth, comes to give Himself to us. Say then to yourselves: -- God did for me alone what He did for all. Be persuaded of this, because it is really true. In making the mystery your own in this way, it will make much more of an impression on your spirit and will dilate your heart to love God, inflaming it with love of Him. Is it, in effect, ever possible to believe without being set all ablaze with love for a God who is so good, who has done all these things for us? How? God loves me, and shall I not love Him? It is impossible. One must burn with love.

When One Feels Nothing

Somebody may say to me: -- But one does not always have so much ardour, nor a love that is felt --. This is true, but we must not fall into sadness if we are not feeling a sensible love. just as we must not refuse it when God grants it. Believe me, go to God with naturalness, in all simplicity, just as little children go to their papa, without scruple; don't be so fearful. Take what is given to you: if there are sensible feelings of love for Our Lord, so much the better: you shall be set all aflame by the desire to love Him. Receive everything and refuse nothing, not to satisfy your self-love or permit it to claim such sentiments by living them too sentimentally, but only to receive them from Our Lord so that they may produce in us the effect that He wants.

Desiring Nothing but the Reign of His Good Pleasure Within You

At the same time, when He makes you suffer a more painful disposition, darkness, dryness, incapacity, etc., receive it all equally and be indifferent to whatever state [you find yourself in], content with what God gives you, refusing nothing, and desiring nothing but the reign of His good pleasure within you, which reign will not be established except by your own destruction.

Things So Prodigious and Incomprehensible to the Human Mind

De Condren, noting that on the loveliest feasts and in the celebration of great mysteries, one often finds oneself in darkness and in interior dryness, asks why this is so. He responds, observing that our human reason wants to penetrate into the mystery in order to understand it, but because the mystery surpasses the capacities of reason, it does not succeed in going there. This is what produces our darknesses. We never, therefore, enter into the mysteries except by pure faith. Let us leave aside our reasoning and our own mind: they are not worthy, they are too material to conceive what is above the sensible; let us not even heed them. Follow with simplicity the spirit of faith that illumines and makes us believe things so prodigious and incomprehensible to the human mind.

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Richard Rolle

My favourite representative of devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus is the delightfully eccentric and utterly incandescent Richard Rolle, a mystic of fourteenth century England. Richard Rolle associated the Name of Jesus with three things: calor, heat; dulcor, sweetness; and canor, song. Listen to his teaching:

If you will be well with God, and have grace to rule your life, and come to the joy of love: this name Jesus, fasten it so fast in your heart that it come never out of your thought. And when you speak to him, and through custom say, "Jesus," it shall be in your ear, joy; in your mouth; honey; and in your heart, melody: for men shall think joy to hear that name be named, sweetness to speak it, mirth, and song to think it.
If you think the name "Jesus" continually, and hold it firmly, it purges your sin, and kindles your heart; it clarifies your soul, it removes anger and does away slowness. It wounds in love and fulfills charity.
It chases the devil, and puts out dread. It opens heaven, and makes a contemplative man. Have Jesus in mind, for that puts all vices and phantoms out from the lover.

Into Modern Times

The spirituals of the mystical invasion of the Grand Siècle -- Bérulle, Olier, Marie de l'Incarnation, and a multitude of others -- were enamoured of the Sacred Name of Jesus. Practices and devotions proliferated in honour of the Holy Name.

Across the Channel, persecuted Irish Catholics and English recusants sustained their faith by repeating the invocation: Ihesu, Ihesu, Ihesu, esto mihi Jhesus -- "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, be to me a Jesus." At the Carmel of Tours in the nineteenth century, Sister Marie de Saint-Pierre and her lay collaborator, the saintly Monsieur Dupont, associated the Holy Name of Jesus with devotion to the Holy Face, giving rise to a popular movement of reparation and adoration that continues into the present day.

In every generation the Holy Spirit has whispered the adorable Name of Jesus to the Churches, inspiring new expressions of what remains unchanged from age to age, the confession of Saint Peter in the Acts of the Apostles: "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other Name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Ac 4:12).

Drinking to the Love of Saint John

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There are several forms for the traditional blessing of wine on the feast of Saint John the Evangelist. Father Weller's Roman Ritual in three volumes is an indispensable resource for such sacramentals. This morning, following the Last Gospel, we had the blessing of wine. Afterwards guests were invited to the refectory to "drink to the love of Saint John."

BLESSING OF WINE
ON THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN,
APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST


On the Feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist, at the end of the principal Mass, that is, after the last Gospel, the priest, retaining all his vestments except the maniple, in the following manner blesses wine brought by the people in memory and in honor of Saint John, who drank poison without harm:

V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who hath made heaven and earth.

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.

Let us pray.

Deign, O Lord,
graciously to bless +
and consecrate with Thy right hand
this fruit of the vine,
that by the merits of Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist,
all who drink of this wine,
believing in Thee and in Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent,
may by the power of His Name
be blessed and always protected.
Through the same Christ our Lord.
R. Amen.

O God, by whose power,
Saint John drank poison from the cup,
and was in no way harmed,
mercifully grant that all who this day
drink of this wine blessed in his honour,
may be freed, by his merits and intercession,
from every sickness by poisoning
and from any harm.
Through Christ our Lord.
R. Amen.

Grant, O God who art Charity,
that those whom Thou hast first loved,
and who ardently desire to love Thee in return,
may be freed from their sins,
taste of the sweetness of Thy dilection,
and experience that inner gladness
that is the gift of Thy Holy Spirit.
Through Christ our Lord.
R. Amen.

Bless, O Lord, + this wine, which Thou hast made,
that it may be us a healthful refreshment;
and grant by the invocation of Thy Holy Name
that whosoever drinks of it in memory of Saint John,
the Beloved Disciple of Thy Son,
may, by his intercession and by Thy lovingkindess,
rejoice in lasting health of both soul and body.
Through Christ our Lord.
R. Amen

And may the blessing of almighty God,
the Father, + and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
descend upon this wine, which He has made,
and upon those who will partake of it.
R. Amen.

The wine is sprinkled with Holy Water. If this blessing is given outside of Mass, the priest performs it in the manner described above, but with surplice and stole.

Blessed Christmas to All

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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.

SPERA IN DEO

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The Extraordinary Ordinary

It sometimes happen that, even on the greatest feasts, a word or phrase from the Ordinary of the Mass (the unchanging parts) seems to be illuminated from within, and so captivates the attention of one's heart. This happened to me this morning at the most unexpected moment: during the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar. These are prayers that, by force of repetition day in and day out, can easily be counted as somehow secondary in comparison to the richness offered by the Proper of the Mass, the chants of the day, the collect, and the other orations. And yet, the Ordinary of the Mass fully deserves to be repeated, pondered, and held in the heart.

The Finger of God's Right Hand

Many of you have had, I'm sure, a similar experience. It is as if, at a given moment, an invisible finger of fire underlines a particular word or phrase, causing it to leap off the page into one's soul. One of the liturgical titles of the Holy Ghost is Dextrae Dei Digitus, the Finger of God's Right Hand. It is, in effect, the Holy Ghost who, on various occasions, and, more often than not, in synergy with the Church's celebration of a particular liturgical feast or mystery, underscores a word, points to a gesture, or draws one's attention to a detail of the Sacred Liturgy that had gone heretofore unnoticed.

My Motto for 2011

Reciting the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar, I arrived at the phrase, Spera in Deo, quoniam adhuc confitebor illi: salutare vultus mei et Deus meus, "Hope in God, for I shall praise Him yet: the salvation of my countenance, and my God." (Psalm 42:6). In a flash I knew that this was a word given me by God to illumine my path and guide my steps in 2011.

To hope in God is not to hope for anything. The theological virtue of hope becomes operative where and when one passes from having a multiplicity of hopes to a singlehearted hope in God alone. It is easy to delude oneself into thinking that one is practicing the virtue of hope by hoping from God this or that material or spiritual good. The theological virtue of hope, on the other hand, casts us upon God alone, trusting Him to give us Himself and, with Himself, all that His perfect will holds for us.

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From Hopes to Hope

Many, many years ago, on a cold rainy February day I found myself praying in front of the grotto at Lourdes in the company of a holy priest of whom I have written in other entries on this blog, le Père Croset. Although I was young, I had already experienced some bitter disappointments in life. My vocational path had been tortuous and, increasingly, was marked by twists, turns, and accidents de parcours. One hope after another had been dashed to pieces upon the rocks of the dura et aspera (the hard and rugged things, an expression from the Rule of Saint Benedict) that lead to God. Taking stock of the apparent wreckage of my vocation, I saw that all of things for which I had hoped, and in which I had hoped, had failed me. I expressed this to Père Croset, quite unprepared for the answer he gave me. "Petit frère," he said, "now is the time for you to pass from hopes to HOPE" Maintenant il te faut passer de tes espoirs à L'ESPERANCE. It is a word that I have never forgotten.

Letting Go and Going Forward in Hope

Today I find myself still bewildered by the twists and turns of my monastic journey. It has not at all been what I thought it might have been, or should have been. I am not today where I thought I would be, should be, or could be. But I am where God would have me be. I have stopped hoping for anything to complete my life, or crown my efforts, or give meaning to my journey. I have let go of many hopes, and will have to continue letting go of the new hopes that glitter on my road like so many pieces of counterfeit gold. Today, I hope in God. I want only what He wants, when He wants it, in the way that He wants it. My hope is God: His will, His perfect plan, and in the end, the the possession of Him given me out of mercy by none other than Himself.

Hope in God for God

The world judges harshly those who go forward in life, leaving behind them a trail of wrecked hopes and failures. I am learning, after so many years, to give thanks for every wrecked hope and to bless God for every failure. It is altogether too easy to glory in vain hopes and to boast of one's achievements (be they spiritual, academic, or material), and to forfeit the one hope held out by God, the hope that promises and delivers the only happiness that leaves no aftertaste of bitterness: hope in God for God. The value of achievements and possessions must be measured against "the One Thing Necessary . . . the Best Part." (Luke 10:42). Is not this why Our Lord says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"? (Matthew 5:3)

The Name of Jesus, Our Hope

The Name of Jesus is enshrined, like a jewel set in a precious setting, at the very heart of today's Gospel. Even as I look at the layout of the Gospel -- it is but a single verse -- on the page of the Evangeliary, I see that the Name of Jesus occurs precisely in the middle of text. One who receives the Name of Jesus from the Gospel, and holds it in his heart, will find that it becomes there an unfailing wellspring of hope. The Name of Jesus is an anchor of hope in the soul's secret depths, a reason -- no, the only reason -- for hoping against hope when the forces of despair marshalled by the world, the flesh, and the devil, threaten to pull one into the outer darkness of complete despondency.

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Our Blessed Lady and Saint Joseph

Our Blessed Lady and in Saint Joseph demonstrate and illustrate the virtue of hope, especially in the Infancy narratives of the Gospels of Saint Matthew and Saint Luke. Both of them received in secret, as it were, the adorable Name of Jesus; Our Lady from the Archangel Gabriel (Luke 1:31), even before she uttered her Fiat(Luke 1:38), and Saint Joseph from the Angel who came to him in a dream by night (Matthew 1:21). The Most Holy Name of Jesus held in their hearts and endlessly repeated became for both of them the fountain of hope that neither deceives nor confounds those who stake their very lives upon it.

Not only do Our Blessed Lady and Saint Joseph demonstrate and illustrate the virtue of hope; they also dispense it, in abundance, to the souls who seek their intercession. Our Lady, being the Mediatrix of All Graces is Spes Nostra, Our Hope. Where Mary is, there is hope. It is enough for a soul to seek the presence of Mary, and to pronounce her sweet name for hope to fill the terrible void of despair.

As for Saint Joseph, he graciously imparts the grace of hope to those who ask for his paternal help. Saint Joseph, having held fast to hope amidst darkness and trials, is now charged with helping, from his place in heaven, those who are tempted against this virtue that the powers of darkness so hate. With good reason does the Church invoke Saint Joseph as the "Terror of Demons," for when Saint Joseph enters a crisis to bring souls heavenly aid, he foils every diabolical plot to cast them into despair.

Into the New Year

This, then, is my motto for 2011: Spera in Deo. And the psalm goes on to say, quoniam adhuc confitebor illi: salutare vultus mei et Deus meus. "I will praise him yet: the salvation of my countenance and my God." I will go forward in hope, relying on the intercession of the Virgin Mother of God and of Saint Joseph, repeating the Name of Jesus ceaselessly in my heart.


Christmas Visitor

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On Christmas Eve, we had the joy of welcoming Mr. and Mrs. Erik Ellis and their daughter, Elizabeth (Betty), for Matins and a festive meal. These photos say it all!

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Saint John the Evangelist

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A Liturgical Theology of the Trinity

On Christmas Day, with the reading of Saint John's Prologue, our eyes were fixed on the Light, the Word made flesh, the Son eternally begotten of the Father. Yesterday, had it not been Sunday, we would have kept the feast of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr; the feast of the Deacon Saint Stephen draws our attention to the Holy Spirit indwelling and overshadowing the Body of Christ. Today, Saint John the Beloved Disciple, venerated in the East as Saint John the Theologian (or John the Divine), draws our hearts to the mystery of the Eternal Father. Thus do we have, in these first three days of Christmastide, a liturgical theology of the Trinity.

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.


Dulcis Iesu Memoria

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Painting of the Child Jesus with a crown of flowers by Carlo Dolci (1616-1686)

Over forty years ago, when I was taking my first steps in what would be a life-long monastic pilgrimage, I visited a certain Trappist abbey. A marvelously warm and open laybrother with twinkling eyes and a French Canadian accent greeted me in the porter's lodge and, from that moment, there grew between us a bond of friendship and of prayer. Brother G. had a particular devotion to the Office of the Most Holy Name of Jesus and, in particular, to the hymns of that Office. Opening his somewhat battered copy of the Cistercian Day Hours, he would ask me to pray the Dulcis Iesu Memoria with him. He never tired of repeating it.

Today, being the feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, in the traditional Benedictine calendar, I thought I might share with my readers selected verses of the hymns of Vespers, Matins, and Lauds. Attributed for a long time to Saint Bernard (1090-1153), more recent scholarship suggests that Saint Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-1167) may be the author of this beautiful poem on the mystical love of Jesus. In any case, it is relatively certain that the Iubilus Rithmicus de Amore Iesu is the work of a 12th century English Cistercian.

Vespers

Jesu, the very thought of thee / With sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far thy face to see, / And in thy presence rest!

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame, / Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than thy blest name, / O Saviour of mankind!

O hope of every contrite heart! / O joy of all the meek!
To those who fall how kind thou art, / How good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? Ah, this / Nor tongue nor pen can show:
The love of Jesus, what it is, / None but his lovers know.

O Jesu, light of all below! / Thou Fount of life and fire!
Surpassing all the joys we know, / And all we can desire!

Matins

O Jesu, King most wonderful! / Thou conqueror renowned!
Thou sweetness most ineffable! / In whom all joys are found!

Stay with us Lord; and with thy light / Illume the soul's abyss;
Scatter the darkness of our night, / And fill the world with bliss!

Jesu, thy mercies are untold, / Through each returning day;
Thy love exceeds a thousandfold / Whatever we can say.

Celestial Sweetness unalloyed! / Who eat thee hunger still;
Who drink of thee, yet feel a void, / Which thou alone canst fill.

Thrice happy he, who living thee, / Doth thy true sweetness know:
All else becomes but vanity / Thenceforth to him below.

Lauds

O Jesu, thou the beauty art / Of angel worlds above;
Thy name is music to the heart, / Enchanting it with love.

For thee I yearn, for thee I sigh; / When wilt thou come to me,
And make me glad eternally / With the blest sight of thee.

Thy presence with me I desire / Wherever I may be;
This, Lord is all that I require / For my felicity.

Thy kiss is bliss beyond compare, / A bliss forevermore;
O, that thy visits were less rare, / And not so quickly o'er!

Now have I gained my long desire, / Now what I sought is mine;
Now is my heart, O Christ, on fire / With thy true love divine.

O fairest of the sons of day! / More fragrant than the rose!
O brighter than the dazzling ray / That in the sunbeam glows!

O thou whose love alone is all / That mortal can desire!
Whose image doth my heart enthrall, / And with delight inspire.

O thou in wom my love doth find / Its rest and perfect end;
O Jesu, Saviour of mankind! / And their eternal friend.

Lead where thou wilt, I follow thee, / And will not stay behind;
For thou hast torn my hear from me, / O Glory of our kind!

To him, praise, glory without end, / And adoration be;
O Jesu, grant us to ascend, / And reign in Heaven with thee.

(Caswell's translation)

My Face Will Journey With Thee

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Readers of Vultus Christi can imagine my delight when I discovered that the Holy Father's homily on this Solemnity of the Mother of God focused on the mystery of the Face of Christ, the human face of God. Given that I could find no English translation at any of the usual sources, I quickly translated the Italian text for my own edification and for all of you, dear friends. Subtitles are my own. Here it is:

Solemnity of Mary Most Holy, Mother of God
XLIII World Day of Peace
Homily of Our Holy Father Benedict XVI
Vatican Basilica
Friday, 1 January 2010

Venerati Fratelli,
illustri Signori e Signore,
cari fratelli e sorelle!

Nel primo giorno del nuovo anno abbiamo la gioia e la grazia di celebrare la Santissima Madre di Dio e, al tempo stesso, la Giornata Mondiale della Pace. In entrambe le ricorrenze celebriamo Cristo, Figlio di Dio, nato da Maria Vergine e nostra vera pace! A tutti voi, che siete qui convenuti: Rappresentanti dei popoli del mondo, della Chiesa romana e universale, sacerdoti e fedeli; e a quanti sono collegati mediante la radio e la televisione, ripeto le parole dell'antica benedizione: il Signore rivolga a voi il suo volto e vi conceda la pace (cfr Nm 6,26). Proprio il tema del Volto e dei volti vorrei sviluppare oggi, alla luce della Parola di Dio - Volto di Dio e volti degli uomini - un tema che ci offre anche una chiave di lettura del problema della pace nel mondo.

Venerable Brothers,
illustrious Ladies and Gentleman,
dear brothers and sisters!

Face of God and Faces of Men

On this first day of the new year we have the joy and the grace of celebrating the Most Holy Mother of God and, at the same time, the World Day of Peace. In both yearly observances we celebrate Christ, the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary and our true peace! To all of you who have come together here: representatives of the peoples of the world, of the Church Roman and universal, priests and faithful; and to you who are joined to us by means of radio and television, I repeat the word of the ancient blessing: May the Lord turn His face to you and give you peace (Num 6:26). It is precisely the theme of the face and of faces that I wish to develop today, in the light of the Word of God -- the face of God and the faces of men -- a theme that offers us, as well, a key to reading the problem of peace in the world.

Abbiamo ascoltato, sia nella prima lettura - tratta dal Libro dei Numeri - sia nel Salmo responsoriale, alcune espressioni che contengono la metafora del volto riferita a Dio: "Il Signore faccia risplendere per te il suo volto / e ti faccia grazia" (Nm 6,25); "Dio abbia pietà di noi e ci benedica, / su di noi faccia splendere il suo volto; / perché si conosca sulla terra la tua via, / la tua salvezza fra tutte le genti" (Sal 66/67,2-3). Il volto è l'espressione per eccellenza della persona, ciò che la rende riconoscibile e da cui traspaiono sentimenti, pensieri, intenzioni del cuore. Dio, per sua natura, è invisibile, tuttavia la Bibbia applica anche a Lui questa immagine. Mostrare il volto è espressione della sua benevolenza, mentre il nasconderlo ne indica l'ira e lo sdegno. Il Libro dell'Esodo dice che "il Signore parlava con Mosè faccia a faccia, come uno parla con il proprio amico" (Es 33,11), e sempre a Mosè il Signore promette la sua vicinanza con una formula molto singolare: "Il mio volto camminerà con voi e ti darò riposo" (Es 33,14). I Salmi ci mostrano i credenti come coloro che cercano il volto di Dio (cfr Sal 26/27,8; 104/105,4) e che nel culto aspirano a vederlo (cfr Sal 42,3), e ci dicono che "gli uomini retti" lo "contempleranno" (Sal 10/11,7).

And My Face Will Give Thee Rest

We heard, in the first reading taken from the Book of Numbers as well as in the responsorial psalm, several expressions that contain the metaphor of the face in reference to God: "May the Lord make the splendour of His face shine upon thee, and be gracious to thee" (Num 6:25); "May God have mercy on us and bless us, may He make the light of His face shine upon us; that Thy ways may be known upon earth, Thy salvation among all the nations" (Ps 66:2-3). The face is the expression par excellence of the person, that which renders him recognizable, and that upon which sentiments, thoughts, and intentions of the heart become apparent. God, by His nature, is invisible, the Bible nonetheless applies this image even to Him. To show one's face is the expression of one's benevolence, whereas to hide it signifies anger and scorn. The Book of Exodus says that "the Lord spoke with Moses face to face, as one speaks with his own friend" (Ex 33:11) and, again, to Moses the Lord promises to remain close with this most singular formula: "My face will journey with thee and will give thee rest" (Ex 33:14). The psalms show us believers as those who seek the face of God (cf Ps 26:8; 104:4) and who, in worship, long to see it (cf Ps 42:3), and they tell us that "upright men" will "contemplate" His face (Ps 10:7).

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Tutto il racconto biblico si può leggere come progressivo svelamento del volto di Dio, fino a giungere alla sua piena manifestazione in Gesù Cristo. "Quando venne la pienezza del tempo - ci ha ricordato anche oggi l'apostolo Paolo - Dio mandò il suo Figlio" (Gal 4,4). E subito aggiunge: "nato da donna, nato sotto la legge". Il volto di Dio ha preso un volto umano, lasciandosi vedere e riconoscere nel figlio della Vergine Maria, che per questo veneriamo con il titolo altissimo di "Madre di Dio". Ella, che ha custodito nel suo cuore il segreto della divina maternità, è stata la prima a vedere il volto di Dio fatto uomo nel piccolo frutto del suo grembo. La madre ha un rapporto tutto speciale, unico e in qualche modo esclusivo con il figlio appena nato. Il primo volto che il bambino vede è quello della madre, e questo sguardo è decisivo per il suo rapporto con la vita, con se stesso, con gli altri, con Dio; è decisivo anche perché egli possa diventare un "figlio della pace" (Lc 10,6). Tra le molte tipologie di icone della Vergine Maria nella tradizione bizantina, vi è quella detta "della tenerezza", che raffigura Gesù bambino con il viso appoggiato - guancia a guancia - a quello della Madre. Il Bambino guarda la Madre, e questa guarda noi, quasi a riflettere verso chi osserva, e prega, la tenerezza di Dio, discesa in Lei dal Cielo e incarnata in quel Figlio di uomo che porta in braccio. In questa icona mariana noi possiamo contemplare qualcosa di Dio stesso: un segno dell'amore ineffabile che lo ha spinto a "dare il suo figlio unigenito" (Gv 3,16). Ma quella stessa icona ci mostra anche, in Maria, il volto della Chiesa, che riflette su di noi e sul mondo intero la luce di Cristo, la Chiesa mediante la quale giunge ad ogni uomo la buona notizia: "Non sei più schiavo, ma figlio" (Gal 4,7) - come leggiamo ancora in san Paolo.

A Progressive Unveiling of the Face of God

The whole biblical narrative may be read as a progressive unveiling of the face of God, until it reaches its full manifestation in Jesus Christ. "When came the fullness of time -- as the apostle Paul also reminded us today -- God sent His Son" (Gal 4:4). And straightaway he adds: "born of woman, born under the Law." The face of God has taken a human face, allowing itself to be seen and recognized in the Son of the Virgin Mary, whom we venerate, for this reason, with the sublime title of "Mother of God." She, who kept in her heart the secret of the divine maternity, was the first to see the face of God made man in the little fruit of her womb. The mother has an altogether special exchange, unique and, in some way, exclusive with her newborn child. The first face that the baby sees is that of the mother, and this look is decisive for his exchange with life, with himself, with others, with God; it is decisive also in order that he may become a "child of peace" (Lk 10:6).

Mother of God of Tenderness

Among the many typologies of the icon of the Virgin Mary in the Byzantine tradition, there is the one called "of tenderness", that depicts the Child Jesus with His face resting upon that of the Mother, cheek to cheek. The Child gazes at the Mother, and she looks at us, almost as if to reflect towards the one who observes and prays the tenderness of God, come down into her from heaven and incarnate in the Son of God whom she holds in her arms. In this Marian icon we can contemplate something of God Himself: a sign of the ineffable love that moved Him to "give His only-begotten Son" (Jn 3:16). But this same icon also shows us in Mary the face of the Church, that reflects the light of Christ upon us and upon the whole world, the light that, through the Church, reaches every man with the good news: "No longer art thou a slave, but a son" (Gal 4:7) -- as we read again in Saint Paul.

Fratelli nell'Episcopato e nel Sacerdozio, Signori Ambasciatori, cari amici! Meditare sul mistero del volto di Dio e dell'uomo è una via privilegiata che conduce alla pace. Questa, infatti, incomincia da uno sguardo rispettoso, che riconosce nel volto dell'altro una persona, qualunque sia il colore della sua pelle, la sua nazionalità, la sua lingua, la sua religione. Ma chi, se non Dio, può garantire, per così dire, la "profondità" del volto dell'uomo? In realtà, solo se abbiamo Dio nel cuore, siamo in grado di cogliere nel volto dell'altro un fratello in umanità, non un mezzo ma un fine, non un rivale o un nemico, ma un altro me stesso, una sfaccettatura dell'infinito mistero dell'essere umano. La nostra percezione del mondo e, in particolare, dei nostri simili, dipende essenzialmente dalla presenza in noi dello Spirito di Dio. E' una sorta di "risonanza": chi ha il cuore vuoto, non percepisce che immagini piatte, prive di spessore. Più, invece, noi siamo abitati da Dio, e più siamo anche sensibili alla sua presenza in ciò che ci circonda: in tutte le creature, e specialmente negli altri uomini, benché a volte proprio il volto umano, segnato dalla durezza della vita e dal male, possa risultare difficile da apprezzare e da accogliere come epifania di Dio. A maggior ragione, dunque, per riconoscerci e rispettarci quali realmente siamo, cioè fratelli, abbiamo bisogno di riferirci al volto di un Padre comune, che tutti ci ama, malgrado i nostri limiti e i nostri errori.

The Human Face

Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood, Gentlemen Ambassadors, dear friends! To meditate upon this mystery of the face of God and of man is a privileged path that leads to peace. This, in fact, emerges from a gaze of respect, that recognizes in the face of the other a person, whatever may be the colour of his skin, his nationality, his language, his religion. But who, if not God, can guarantee, so to speak, the depth of the face of man? In reality, only if we have God in the heart are we capable of receiving in the face of the other a brother in humanity, not a means, but an end, not a rival or an enemy, but another self, a facet of the infinite mystery of the human being. Our perception of the world and, in particular, of those like us, depends essentially on the presence of the Spirit of God within us. There exists a kind of "resonance": one who has an empty heart, perceives only images that are flat and without thickness. On the other hand, the more we are indwelt by God, the more will we be sensitive to His presence in what surrounds us: in all creatures, and especially in other men, even if, at times, the human face, marked by the harshness of life and of evil, may be difficult to appreciate and to welcome as an epiphany of God. All the more then, if we are to recognize and respect ourselves as we really are, that is, as brethren, must we refer to the face of a common Father, who loves us all, in spite of our limits and our errors.

Fin da piccoli, è importante essere educati al rispetto dell'altro, anche quando è differente da noi. Ormai è sempre più comune l'esperienza di classi scolastiche composte da bambini di varie nazionalità, ma anche quando ciò non avviene, i loro volti sono una profezia dell'umanità che siamo chiamati a formare: una famiglia di famiglie e di popoli. Più sono piccoli questi bambini, e più suscitano in noi la tenerezza e la gioia per un'innocenza e una fratellanza che ci appaiono evidenti: malgrado le loro differenze, piangono e ridono nello stesso modo, hanno gli stessi bisogni, comunicano spontaneamente, giocano insieme... I volti dei bambini sono come un riflesso della visione di Dio sul mondo. Perché allora spegnere i loro sorrisi? Perché avvelenare i loro cuori? Purtroppo, l'icona della Madre di Dio della tenerezza trova il suo tragico contrario nelle dolorose immagini di tanti bambini e delle loro madri in balia di guerre e violenze: profughi, rifugiati, migranti forzati. Volti scavati dalla fame e dalle malattie, volti sfigurati dal dolore e dalla disperazione. I volti dei piccoli innocenti sono un appello silenzioso alla nostra responsabilità: di fronte alla loro condizione inerme, crollano tutte le false giustificazioni della guerra e della violenza. Dobbiamo semplicemente convertirci a progetti di pace, deporre le armi di ogni tipo e impegnarci tutti insieme a costruire un mondo più degno dell'uomo.

The Faces of Children

Beginning with little children, it is important to be educated in respect of the other, even when he is different from us. At present the experience of classes in school that are composed of children of various nationalities is more and more common, but even when this is not the case, their faces are a prophecy of the humanity that we are called to form: a family of families and of peoples. The smaller these children are, the more do they stir up in us tenderness and joy in the face of an innocence and brotherhood that appears evident. In spite of their differences, they cry and laugh in the same way, have the same needs, communicate spontaneously, play together . . . The faces of children are like a reflection of God's view of the world. Why then extinguish their smiles? Why poison their hearts? Alas, the icon of the Mother of God of Tenderness finds its tragic opposite in the painful images of so many children and their mothers prey to war and to violence: exiles, refugees, forced migrants. Faces hollowed by hunger and by sickness, faces disfigured by sorrow and by despair. The faces of these little innocents are a silent appeal to our responsibility. Confronted with their defenseless condition, all the false justifications of war and violence crumble. We have simply to convert ourselves to projects of peace, to lay aside arms of every type and to commit ourselves together to construct a world more worthy of man.

Il mio Messaggio per l'odierna XLIII Giornata Mondiale della Pace: "Se vuoi coltivare la pace, custodisci il creato", si pone all'interno della prospettiva del volto di Dio e dei volti umani. Possiamo, infatti, affermare che l'uomo è capace di rispettare le creature nella misura in cui porta nel proprio spirito un senso pieno della vita, altrimenti sarà portato a disprezzare se stesso e ciò che lo circonda, a non avere rispetto dell'ambiente in cui vive, del creato. Chi sa riconoscere nel cosmo i riflessi del volto invisibile del Creatore, è portato ad avere maggiore amore per le creature, maggiore sensibilità per il loro valore simbolico. Specialmente il Libro dei Salmi è ricco di testimonianze di questo modo propriamente umano di relazionarsi con la natura: con il cielo, il mare, i monti, le colline, i fiumi, gli animali... "Quante sono le tue opere, Signore! - esclama il Salmista - / Le hai fatte tutte con saggezza; / la terra è piena delle tue creature" (Sal 104/103,24).

Man and the Environment

My message for today's XLIII World Day of Peace: "If you would cultivate peace, take care of what is created," is situated within the perspective of the face of God and human faces. We can, in fact, affirm that man is capable of respecting creatures to the measure in which he bears within his own spirit a full sense of life. Otherwise, he will be inclined to devaluate himself and that which surrounds him, to lack respect for the environment in which he lives, for creation. One who knows how to recognize the reflections of the invisible face of the Creator in the cosmos, is inclined to have a greater love for creatures, a greater sensitivity for their symbolic value. The Book of Psalms is especially rich in examples of this peculiarly human way of relating to nature: with the heavens, the sea, the mountains, the hills, the rivers, the animals . . . ""How great are Thy works, O Lord! -- exclaims the Psalmist -- In wisdom Thou hast made them all; the earth is full of Thy creatures" (Ps 104:24).

In particolare, la prospettiva del "volto" invita a soffermarsi su quella che, anche in questo Messaggio, ho chiamato "ecologia umana". Vi è infatti un nesso strettissimo tra il rispetto dell'uomo e la salvaguardia del creato. "I doveri verso l'ambiente derivano da quelli verso la persona considerata in se stessa e in relazione agli altri" (ivi, 12). Se l'uomo si degrada, si degrada l'ambiente in cui vive; se la cultura tende verso un nichilismo, se non teorico, pratico, la natura non potrà non pagarne le conseguenze. Si può, in effetti, constatare un reciproco influsso tra volto dell'uomo e "volto" dell'ambiente: "quando l'ecologia umana è rispettata dentro la società, anche l'ecologia ambientale ne trae beneficio" (ibid.; cfr Enc. Caritas in veritate, 51). Rinnovo, pertanto, il mio appello ad investire sull'educazione, proponendosi come obiettivo, oltre alla necessaria trasmissione di nozioni tecnico-scientifiche, una più ampia e approfondita "responsabilità ecologica", basata sul rispetto dell'uomo e dei suoi diritti e doveri fondamentali. Solo così l'impegno per l'ambiente può diventare veramente educazione alla pace e costruzione della pace.

Human Ecology

In particular, the perspective of the "face" invites us to dwell upon that which, even in this Message, I called "human ecology." There is, in fact, a very close link between respect for man and the safeguard of creation. "Duties toward the environment derive from those towards the person considered in himself and in relation to others." If man is degraded, the environment in which he lives is also degraded; if culture tends toward nihilism, if not in theory, in practice, nature cannot but pay the consequences of it. One can, in effect, remark a reciprocal influence between the face of man and the "face" of the environment. "When human ecology is respected within society, then too will environmental ecology draw benefits from it." (Caritas in Veritate, 51). I renew, therefore, my appeal to invest in education, proposing as an objective, beyond the necessary transmission of technico-scientific notions, a more ample and deepened "ecological responsibility," based on the respect of man and of his fundamental rights and duties. Only in this way, will work for the environment truly become an education for peace and for the construction of peace.

Cari fratelli e sorelle, nel Tempo di Natale ricorre un Salmo che contiene, tra l'altro, anche un esempio stupendo di come la venuta di Dio trasfiguri il creato e provochi una specie di festa cosmica. Questo inno inizia con un invito universale alla lode: "Cantate al Signore un canto nuovo, / cantate al Signore, uomini di tutta la terra. / Cantate al Signore, benedite il suo nome" (Sal 95/96,1). Ma a un certo punto questo appello all'esultanza si estende a tutto il creato: "Gioiscano i cieli, esulti la terra, / risuoni il mare e quanto racchiude; / sia in festa la campagna e quanto contiene, / acclamino tutti gli alberi della foresta" (vv. 11-12). La festa della fede diventa festa dell'uomo e del creato: quella festa che a Natale si esprime anche mediante gli addobbi sugli alberi, per le strade, nelle case. Tutto rifiorisce perché Dio è apparso in mezzo a noi. La Vergine Madre mostra il Bambino Gesù ai pastori di Betlemme, che gioiscono e lodano il Signore (cfr Lc 2,20); la Chiesa rinnova il mistero per gli uomini di ogni generazione, mostra loro il volto di Dio, perché, con la sua benedizione, possano camminare sulla via della pace.

The Feast of Faith

Dear brothers and sisters, there recurs in Christmastide a psalm which contains, among other things, a stupendous example of how the advent of God transfigures creation and provokes a kind of cosmic feast. This hymn begins with a universal invitation to praise: "Sing unto Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, ye men of all the earth. Sing ye unto the Lord, bless ye His Name" (Ps 95:1). But, at a certain point, this summons to exultation is extended to all things created: "Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad, let the sea and all within it resound; let the countryside and all it holds keep festival, let all the trees of the forest clap their hands" (v. 11-12). The feast of faith becomes the feast of man and of creation: the feast that, at Christmas, finds expression by means of decorations on trees, in the streets, and in homes. All things bloom again because God has appeared in our midst. The Virgin Mother shows the Infant Jesus to the shepherds of Bethlehem, who rejoice and praise the Lord (cf. Lk 2:20). The Church renews the mystery for men of every generation, shows them the face of God, so that, with His blessing, they might walk in the way of peace.

Holy Innocents

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Rubens' Virgin and Child surrounded by a wreath of chubby, pink Innocents (c. 1618) is delightful. Notice the almost mischievous smile of Baby Jesus. Does He want to leave His Mother's arms to play with His little friends? Or do His little friends want to climb up into the Virgin Mother's lap?

Snow blanketed Eastern Oklahoma on Christmas Eve, and so, in the warmth of the oratory of the Cenacle, the altar aglow with candles, I celebrated Matins, the Mass in Nocte, and, yes, even Lauds. Christmas Day began with Prime and the Mass of dawn.* After Sext, the Mass of the day, and None, I went to the kitchen to prepare Christmas dinner. By Vespers I realized that I had a serious cold or bronchitis and so, leaving Vespers to the choirs of angels, took to my bed. The following morning I called my good friend Dr. Loper who was kind enough to make a house call and prescribe an antibiotic. It will be several days before I will have enough voice to resume singing the Office . . . but in the meantime life goes on.

Dr. Loper came to the Cenacle for Prime and Chapter this morning. This was his first experience of Chapter. The section of the Holy Rule appointed for 28 December is Chaper 70, "That No One Venture to Punish at Random"! When I comment on the Holy Rule, I always try to identify the phrase or phrases that best capture the essence of the section that has been read. Today's key phrases would be: With all moderation and discretion, and Do not to another what you would not want done to yourself.

Moderation in all things is a characteristically Benedictine virtue The Benedictine -- monk, nun, or oblate -- avoids the excessive and the superfluous, and seeks to maintain in all things the good measure dictated by wisdom and prudence. For Saint Benedict, discretion was an all-encompassing virtue, gracing the way of monastic conversion with order, harmony, and balance. Where there is order, harmony, and balance, there will be beauty.

For most of my life, I have been working at acquiring the virtues of moderation and discretion. Not easy when one has the mercurial temperament of a Southern Italian and Celtic ancestry! Excess is in my blood. While the Irish monks of old were known for their excessive austerities and harsh penances, my ancestors of the Kingdom of Naples and the Two Sicilies were known for . . . well . . . other excesses better left unnamed.

There is a reason why we Benedictines listen to the reading of the Holy Rule day after day, and this over a lifetime. The Rule reveals its wisdom only to those who, being thoroughly familiar with the letter of the text, are disposed to go beyond it, to the grand principles holy living that it embodies.

* Brother Juan Diego, being the only novice at present, asked if he might return to his family in Florida until such time as a novitiate of several men might be constituted. When he began the novitiate, we both thought that he would be able to soldier on, but it became apparent that, within the context of enclosed monastic life, he needed more companionship and exchange than I alone could provide.

The Holy Family

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Family

Family. The word is charged with emotion. Our happiest memories and our saddest ones are usually linked to the experience of family. Some people remember, or choose to remember, only the good things associated with family. Others reinvent a past altogether too painful to remember as it really was. Still others spend a lot of time and money recovering from their experience of family.

Brightnesses and Shadows

Family has never been a simple reality. If it has its brightnesses, it is not without its shadows. There is the public face of family, and there are family secrets. All of this is as old as the genealogy of Jesus himself. Because all of this is assumed in the mystery of the Incarnation, nothing of it lies beyond the mystery of the Redemption. When a word as emotionally and culturally charged as family is brought into the spiritually charged ambit of the liturgy, we find ourselves treading on landmines. Nothing is gained by pretending that today's feast, while rich in graces for all, is not problematic for some.

Come Lately to the Calendar

The feast of the Holy Family is a very recent addition to the Church's calendar. It draws from two different currents: first, a devotion originating in seventeenth century France; and second, a pastoral response to the crisis in family life provoked by the industrial revolution, by the First World War, and by dramatic changes in the social order, economy, and politics.

Incarnate Wisdom

In seventeenth century France, confraternities of pious layfolk fostered devotion to the Holy Family; some of these played a role in the establishment of the Church in North America. At that time, the expression "Holy Family" was understood in reference to the extended family: to Saint Joachim and Saint Anne as well as to Saint Joseph, the Virgin Mother, and the Child Jesus. The French school of spirituality understood devotion to the Holy Family as a way of contemplating the Wisdom of God in the flesh: the hidden God, humble, silent, obedient, and poor.

The Holy Family and Families

The great Jesuit missionaries; the Ursuline, Blessed Marie of the Incarnation; and especially the Sulpicians in their seminaries, fostered attention to the Holy Family and to the constellation of devotions that evolved in its orbit: the Child Jesus, the Child Mary and her Presentation in the Temple, good Saint Anne and, of course, Saint Joseph. After the French Revolution, there was a resurgence of interest in the Holy Family. The need to minister to families in distress was painfully urgent; the 1800's saw the foundation of a multitude of religious institutes under the patronage of the Holy Family, dedicated to the healing and promotion of family life, especially by education.

Introduction of the Feast

In the last century, still so close to us, the suffering of families --especially of widows and orphans-- in the aftermath of World War I, the fall of the European monarchies, and the triumph of political regimes hostile to the Church and to Christian education, induced Pope Benedict XV to establish in 1921 a feast of the Holy Family on the Sunday within the Octave of the Epiphany. In the mind of Pope Benedict XV, the new feast was an exercise of the Church's magisterium, exalting domestic virtues, and serving as a public declaration of the Church's teaching on the political and social questions that strike at the heart of family life.

Liturgical Reform

In the reformed calendar the feast of the Holy Family has been moved to the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas. In the feast's reformed liturgy all but one of the Proper Chants of the Mass have been changed; the prayers of the Mass have been substantially reworked; and the Lectionary provides readings corresponding to the Three Year Cycle.

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A Feast for All

The feast of the Holy Family is, at the deepest level, more than a social lesson or an ethical exhortation. Were it merely that, it would fail to reach the great numbers of those who, for one reason or another, live outside the conventional patterns of family life. I am thinking of the single, the bereaved, the divorced, the widowed, the orphaned, and those of us who, having embraced virginity for the sake of the kingdom, deliberately choose to forsake marriage, physical motherhood, fatherhood, and family in favour of a state of life that remains at once a question and a paradox.

In the Cloister

While a monastery is like a family, it is not a family according to the natural order of things. Monastic relationships are patterned after family life but they do not reproduce family life -- nor should they. Already in the deserts of Palestine and Egypt, monks and nuns were calling each other brother and sister, father --abba-- and mother --amma. Saint Benedict says that the abbot "must always bear in mind what he is called" (RB 2:1). He says that the cellarer is to be "a father to the whole community" (RB 31:2). He would have seniors call their juniors "brother," and juniors call their seniors "nonni," a word that, even today, in Italian is the affectionate and respectful term used for grandparents. In monasteries we call each other brother and sister, mother and father, and yet, in so doing, we must be perfectly aware that we mean both less and more than what we mean when we use the same terms in the context of a biological family unit.

The Most Holy Trinity

The feast of the Holy Family invites to us to ask ourselves if there are, in fact, any compelling reasons why monastics, who are "like a family, but not a family" should hold to the "family" model at all. Only if we dare to ask the question will elements of an answer begin to come into the light. Looking closely at the Holy Family we do not see the conventional model; we see a Virgin Mother, a Foster Father, and a mysterious Only Child. We also see --and this is where the model reaches us-- a mirror of the Most Holy Trinity in which each person lives in movement toward the other; receiving himself from the other, and giving himself for the other. This is family at the deepest level; it is from this level that it speaks to the monastic community.

Holy Mass: Healing the Family

In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we are brought into the communion of the Most Holy Trinity, a Family unlike any other, and yet the pattern for all life together, be it that of the conventional family, or of the monastic community. The Most Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament of Unity: the mystery by which we are drawn out of ourselves toward the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. In the Most Holy Eucharist we experience, at the deepest level, what it is to be persons-in-relationship, members of One Body.

One Family By Virtue of the Precious Blood

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, by drawing us after the priest into the bosom of of the Father, through and with the Son, in the Holy Spirit, plunges into Divine Love, the only Love capable of healing souls and of reconciling families scarred and broken apart by sin. The Precious Blood of Christ poured out for the many is, ultimately, what makes sinners into a "Holy Family," like that of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

In principio erat Verbum

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The Wood of Crèche and of Cross

This is an extraordinary painting of the Nativity, principally because of the crucifix on the rustic shelf inside the stable. It is the work of Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556). The nakedness of the Child in the manger presages His nakedness on the cross. His arms are outstretched in the manger as on the cross. In Bethlehem, the Virgin Mother and Saint Joseph contemplate Him; on Calvary the Virgin Mother and Saint John will look upon Him pierced.

Adoring Silence

According to an ancient monastic tradition, there is no homily at the Mass of Christmas Day. The Prologue of Saint John -- the mystery of the Word out of silence -- calls for what the Venerable John Paul II described as an "adoring silence." At the third Holy Mass today I will sing the Gospel of the Prologue of Saint John to an exquisite First Mode melody adapted from the one found here. The Prologue simply has to be sung. And after it, there has to be silence. After the Word, no other words. Tacere et adorare.

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Saint John the Theologian presents us with the ineffable mystery of the Word: the Word facing the Father from all eternity; the Word made flesh, pitching his tent among us, that we might see his glory. Before the glory of the Word, all other words fall silent. In the presence of the Word, human discourse stammers and fails. Silence alone is worthy of the mystery.

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Here is the official English-language translation of Pope Benedict XVI's magnificent homily, delivered in Italian during the Mass in the Night of the Nativity of the Lord in Saint Peter's Basilica. At the heart of his homily the Holy Father quotes the Rule of Saint Benedict, so much is it a part of him. And affirms that, for monks, the Liturgy is the first priority. Everything else, he says, comes later.

No Longer the Distant God

Dear Brothers and Sisters! "A child is born for us, a son is given to us" (Is 9:5). What Isaiah prophesied as he gazed into the future from afar, consoling Israel amid its trials and its darkness, is now proclaimed to the shepherds as a present reality by the Angel, from whom a cloud of light streams forth: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11). The Lord is here. From this moment, God is truly "God with us". No longer is he the distant God who can in some way be perceived from afar, in creation and in our own consciousness. He has entered the world. He is close to us. The words of the risen Christ to his followers are addressed also to us: "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20). For you the Saviour is born: through the Gospel and those who proclaim it, God now reminds us of the message that the Angel announced to the shepherds. It is a message that cannot leave us indifferent. If it is true, it changes everything. If it is true, it also affects me. Like the shepherds, then, I too must say: Come on, I want to go to Bethlehem to see the Word that has occurred there. The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason. They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received. What is it that these first witnesses of God's incarnation have to tell us?

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In Every Soul: the Desire for God

The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people. What does this mean? The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. His "self" is locked into this dreamworld that is his alone and does not connect him with others. To wake up means to leave that private world of one's own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people. Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world. Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another. Awake, the Gospel tells us. Step outside, so as to enter the great communal truth, the communion of the one God. To awake, then, means to develop a receptivity for God: for the silent promptings with which he chooses to guide us; for the many indications of his presence. There are people who describe themselves as "religiously tone deaf". The gift of a capacity to perceive God seems as if it is withheld from some. And indeed our way of thinking and acting, the mentality of today's world, the whole range of our experience is inclined to deaden our receptivity for God, to make us "tone deaf" towards him. And yet in every soul, the desire for God, the capacity to encounter him, is present, whether in a hidden way or overtly. In order to arrive at this vigilance, this awakening to what is essential, we should pray for ourselves and for others, for those who appear "tone deaf" and yet in whom there is a keen desire for God to manifest himself. The great theologian Origen said this: if I had the grace to see as Paul saw, I could even now (during the Liturgy) contemplate a great host of angels (cf. in Lk 23:9). And indeed, in the sacred liturgy, we are surrounded by the angels of God and the saints. The Lord himself is present in our midst. Lord, open the eyes of our hearts, so that we may become vigilant and clear-sighted, in this way bringing you close to others as well!

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For Monks, the Liturgy is the First Priority

Let us return to the Christmas Gospel. It tells us that after listening to the Angel's message, the shepherds said one to another: "'Let us go over to Bethlehem' they went at once" (Lk 2:15f.). "They made haste" is literally what the Greek text says. What had been announced to them was so important that they had to go immediately. In fact, what had been said to them was utterly out of the ordinary. It changed the world. The Saviour is born. The long-awaited Son of David has come into the world in his own city. What could be more important? No doubt they were partly driven by curiosity, but first and foremost it was their excitement at the wonderful news that had been conveyed to them, of all people, to the little ones, to the seemingly unimportant. They made haste they went at once. In our daily life, it is not like that. For most people, the things of God are not given priority, they do not impose themselves on us directly And so the great majority of us tend to postpone them. First we do what seems urgent here and now. In the list of priorities God is often more or less at the end. We can always deal with that later, we tend to think. The Gospel tells us: God is the highest priority. If anything in our life deserves haste without delay, then, it is God's work alone. The Rule of Saint Benedict contains this teaching: "Place nothing at all before the work of God (i.e. the Divine Office)". For monks, the Liturgy is the first priority. Everything else comes later. In its essence, though, this saying applies to everyone. God is important, by far the most important thing in our lives. The shepherds teach us this priority. From them we should learn not to be crushed by all the pressing matters in our daily lives. From them we should learn the inner freedom to put other tasks in second place however important they may be so as to make our way towards God, to allow him into our lives and into our time. Time given to God and, in his name, to our neighbour is never time lost. It is the time when we are most truly alive, when we live our humanity to the full.

Some commentators point out that the shepherds, the simple souls, were the first to come to Jesus in the manger and to encounter the Redeemer of the world. The wise men from the East, representing those with social standing and fame, arrived much later. The commentators go on to say: this is quite natural. The shepherds lived nearby. They only needed to "come over" (cf. Lk 2:15), as we do when we go to visit our neighbours. The wise men, however, lived far away. They had to undertake a long and arduous journey in order to arrive in Bethlehem. And they needed guidance and direction. Today too there are simple and lowly souls who live very close to the Lord. They are, so to speak, his neighbours and they can easily go to see him. But most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who came to dwell amongst us. We live our lives by philosophies, amid worldly affairs and occupations that totally absorb us and are a great distance from the manger. In all kinds of ways, God has to prod us and reach out to us again and again, so that we can manage to escape from the muddle of our thoughts and activities and discover the way that leads to him. But a path exists for all of us. The Lord provides everyone with tailor-made signals. He calls each one of us, so that we too can say: "Come on, 'let us go over' to Bethlehem to the God who has come to meet us. Yes indeed, God has set out towards us. Left to ourselves we could not reach him. The path is too much for our strength. But God has come down. He comes towards us. He has travelled the longer part of the journey. Now he invites us: come and see how much I love you. Come and see that I am here. Transeamus usque Bethlehem, the Latin Bible says. Let us go there! Let us surpass ourselves! Let us journey towards God in all sorts of ways: along our interior path towards him, but also along very concrete paths the Liturgy of the Church, the service of our neighbour, in whom Christ awaits us.

The Child-God Asks for Our Love

Let us once again listen directly to the Gospel. The shepherds tell one another the reason why they are setting off: "Let us see this thing that has happened." Literally the Greek text says: "Let us see this Word that has occurred there." Yes indeed, such is the radical newness of this night: the Word can be seen. For it has become flesh. The God of whom no image may be made because any image would only diminish, or rather distort him this God has himself become visible in the One who is his true image, as Saint Paul puts it (cf. 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). In the figure of Jesus Christ, in the whole of his life and ministry, in his dying and rising, we can see the Word of God and hence the mystery of the living God himself. This is what God is like. The Angel had said to the shepherds: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12; cf. 2:16). God's sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God's sign is his humility. God's sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God's power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love. Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist's sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God's love. Origen says of the pagans: "Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood" (in Lk 22:9). Christ, though, wishes to give us a heart of flesh. When we see him, the God who became a child, our hearts are opened. In the Liturgy of the holy night, God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human. Let us listen once again to Origen: "Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if he did not enter your soul? Let us pray that he may come to us each day, that we may be able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)" (in Lk 22:3).

Transform Me, Renew Me, Change Me

Yes indeed, that is what we should pray for on this Holy Night. Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen.

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Loving greetings for a very Blessed Christmas to all the readers of Vultus Christi. May the Infant Jesus, in the arms of His Most Holy Mother, lift up the light of His Face upon you.

Vigil Mass of the Nativity of the Lord at First Vespers

Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 89: 3-4, 15-16, 26 and 28
Acts 13: 16-17, 22-25
Matthew 1:1-25

All the World Desires to Behold His Face

“The King of peace is greatly glorified, and all the world desires to behold His face” (First Antiphon of Vespers). The dominant note of this vesperal liturgy is desire. The inexpressible and inarticulate groanings of the cosmos, the desire of the everlasting hills, the hope of the patriarchs, and the promises of the prophets come to flower on the lips of the Church. She enters more deeply into the mystery of the Advent of the Lord with a heart dilated by the immensity of her desire. The Church, in whom all the peoples of the earth are gathered, beholds the glory of God shining in the human face of His Christ (2 Cor 4:6). Transfixed, she drinks deeply from the human eyes of God as from great pools of living water.

The Advent of the Word

The King of peace has come to strengthen the bars of her gates, to bless
the children within her, to establish peace in her borders, to feed her with
finest wheat (Ps 147:2-3). The Word is sent forth from the silence of the
Father (Ps 147:4); running swiftly He comes, leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills (Ct 2:8), melting all that is frozen, causing
streams to flow at the breath of His mouth (Ps 147:11-12).

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Fire Upon the Earth

In this First Mass of Christmas, the Church reads one of her Advent prophet’s most lyrical and jubilant pages. Isaiah stands irrepressible upon the heights, guiding us through the portals of First Vespers into the mystery of the holy night. “For Zions’s sake, I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest” (Is 62:1). Now her vindication goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. Zion is vindicated. The Church is vindicated. All who have waited, and believed, and wept, and hoped against hope are vindicated. Healing comes as a burning torch to purify, to cleanse, to ignite a fire upon the earth, and to warm hearts long grown cold. “I have come,” the Child of Bethlehem says, “to cast fire upon the earth, and would that it were already kindled” (Lk 12:49).

My Delight

While we are yet on the threshold of our Vigil, the mouth of the Lord calls us by a litany of new names, names full of promise and of wonder. “You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem in the hand of your God” (Is 62:3). We thought of ourselves as “Forsaken” and “Desolate” (Is 62:4). “My Delight” is the name He gives us, and He calls us “Married” (Is 62:4). We have come to the feast prepared to find our joy in Him and He, astounding us, declares His joy over us even as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride (Is 52:5).

Numquam sine aqua Christus

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El Greco's painting of the Baptism of the Lord has, at least to my eyes, a Chagall-like quality. Whereas one would expect a predominance of blues and greens, suggestive of water and vegetation, El Greco uses a palette in various tones of gold, yellow, and brown. Is it dawn or is it dusk? Is it the beginning of the new dispensation, or the end of the old?

Saint John the Baptist seems to be gazing into the heavens. He sees the heavens opening and the Holy Spirit descending. The light from the Holy Spirit seems to be falling directly into the shell he is using to pour the water of baptism over Jesus' head. Instead of dipping the shell into the river, El Greco shows the Baptist lifting up the shell to receive in its hollow, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Anointing from above.

The Invitatory

This morning's Office of Vigils began with a glorious Invitatory Antiphon in the soaring seventh mode. The summit of the melody stretches with a glorious quilisma over the word, Pater. The presence of the Father is all-pervasive in today's Office.

Christum, Filium dilectum, in quo Pater sibi complacuit,
venite, adoremus.

Christ, the beloved Son, in whom the Father takes delight,
come, let us adore.

The Great Responsory

The First Nocturn's responsory after the First Lesson is grandiose. It is the same Great Responsory in the third mode given for First Vespers in the Antiphonale Monasticum (p. 112) to open the celebration of the whole feast:

Hodie in Jordane baptizato Domino,
aperti sunt caeli
et sicut columba super eum Spiritus mansit,
et vox Patris intonuit:
* Hic est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi complacui.
V. Caeli aperti sunt super eum,
et vox Patris audita est.
* Hic est Filius meus dilectus, in quo mihi complacui.

Today, the Lord is baptized in the Jordan,
the heavens are opened,
the Spirit, in the form of a dove, rests upon Him,
and the Father's voice resounds:
* This is my beloved Son, in whom my love delights.
V. The heavens opened above Him, and the Father's voice was heard:
* This is my beloved Son, in whom my love delights.

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The repetition of the response, "This is my beloved Son, in whom my love delights," makes the whole piece a contemplation of the Trinity. One "hears" the love of the Father for the Son in every note of the melismas that adorn the key words: Hic, dilectus, and complacui.

The Mystery of Water

The Reading of the Second Nocturn was taken from Tertullian's Treatise on Baptism. The fourth lesson is a lyrical tribute to the role of water in the whole economy of salvation. It evokes certain liturgical texts, notably the solemn blessing of water in the night of Pascha. Here is my translation:

What favour water has with God and with His Christ!
Thus is the meaning of baptism confirmed.
Numquam sine aqua Christus!
Never does Christ appear without water!

Christ Himself is immersed in water.
Invited to the wedding feast, it is water that inaugurates the first-fruits of His power.

When He preaches, it is to invite the thirsty to His everlasting water.
When He teaches of sacrificial love (agapé), He recognizes the cup of water offered to one's neighbor as a work of love.

He rests beside a well of water.
He walks upon the waters, freely crossing over its waves.
He serves His disciples with water, by washing their feet.

These signs of baptism extend even to His Passion.
When He is condemned to the death of the cross, water appears:
it is for the hands of Pilate.
When He is pierced by the soldier's lance, water gushes from His side.

All that has gone before

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A wise and dear friend wrote me from her cloister for the feast of the Epiphany. By God's providence, our lives, with their changes and chances, have been intertwined for over twelve years. Reflecting on the mystery of my call to Tulsa, she says:

Do you you know the poem The Wise by Brother Antoninus, O.P.? It is a favorite of mine and I thought of you as I read it today. All that has gone before in your life was not so much a search, but a preparation. What you have been called to fits perfectly.

I thank my friend for her message. Here is the poem:

The Wise

Miles across the turbulent kingdoms

They came for it, but that was nothing,

That was the least. Drunk with vision,

Rain stringing in the ragged beards,

When a beast lamed, they caught up another

And goaded west.

For the time was on them.

Once, as it may, in the life of a man,

Once, as it was, in the life of mankind,

All is corrected. And their years of pursuit,

Raw-eyed reading the wrong texts,

Charting the doubtful calculations,

Those nights knotted with thought,

When dawn held off, and the rooster

Rattled the leaves with his blind assertion---

All that, they regarded, under the Sign,

No longer as search but as preparation.

For when the mark was made, they saw it.

Nor stopped to reckon the fallible years,

But rejoiced and followed,

And are called "wise", who learned that Truth,

When sought and at last seen,

Is never found. It is given.

And they brought their camels

Breakneck into that village,

And flung themselves down in the dung and dirt of that place,

And kissed that ground, and the tears

Ran on their faces, where the rain had.


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The Feast That Came Back

The feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, established by Pope Innocent XIII in 1721, disappeared (along with a lot of other things) from the Roman Missal of 1970, and was happily restored to the third typical edition of the Roman Missal by the Servant of God Pope John Paul II in 2002.

Ant. ad introitum (Ph 2,10-11)


In nómine Iesu omne genu flectátur, caeléstium, terréstrium et infernórum; et omnis língua confiteátur quia Dóminus Iesus Christus in glória est Dei Patris.

Collecta

Deus, qui salútem humáni géneris in Verbi tui incarnatióne fundásti, da pópulis tuis misericórdiam quam depóscunt, ut sciant omnes non esse, quam Unigéniti tui, nomen áliud invócandum. Qui tecum.

Super oblata

Largitátis tuae múnera deferéntes, quaesumus, Dómine, ut sicut Christo usque ad mortem obodiénti salutíferum nomen dedísti, ita nobis eius virtúte muníri concéde. Per Christum.

Ant. ad communionem (Ps 8,2)

Dómine, Dóminus noster, quam admirábile est nomen tuum in univérsa terra!

Post communionem

Hóstia sumpta, Dómine, quam Christi nomen honorántes tuae obtúlimus maiestáti, grátiam tuam, quaesumus, nobis infúndat ubérrime, ut et nostra in caelis esse scripta nómina gaudeámus. Per Christum.

Here are the Propers of the Mass for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, for study purposes only, of course.

Entrance Antiphon

At the Name of Jesus every knee should bend
in heaven, on earth, and under the earth
and every tongue confess that the Lord Jesus Christ
is in the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:10-11).

The Introit calls upon the whole universe to reverence and glorify the adorable name of Jesus -- "in heaven, on earth, and under the earth" (Ph 2:10). At Mass and in the Divine Office, we reverence the Name of Jesus with a bow of the head. Not only does the outward gesture express what is inside; it also structures and shapes what is inside in a way consonant with the faith of the Church.

Collect

O God, who in the incarnation of your Word
established the salvation of the human race,
give to your peoples the mercy they earnestly implore,
that all of them may know the Name of your only-begotten Son,
and call upon no other.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God forever and ever.

In the Collect we confess that the salvation of all nations is in Jesus Christ and no other. We beseech the Father to give to all peoples the knowledge of the Holy Name of Jesus, so that everyone on earth may call upon that saving Name.

General Intercessions

That, from the rising of the sun to its setting,
the Church may proclaim the Most Holy Name of Jesus
with reverence and awe,
to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us. R. Christ, Graciously hear us.

That Christians working in the service of states and nations
may honour the Holy Name of Jesus
and, in the grace of that Name, seek peace and justice for the world
to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us. R. Christ, Graciously hear us.

That, following the teaching of Saint Bernard,
those tossed on the seas of doubt may find security
in the Name of Jesus;
the discouraged, new hope;
and the sick, a powerful remedy for soul and body,
to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us. R. Christ, Graciously hear us.

That we who reverence the Name of Jesus
may offer fitting reparation
for the blasphemies committed against that Most Holy Name
and, in the communion of the whole Church,
confess that there is no other Name under heaven
whereby we are saved,
to the Lord we pray: Christ, hear us. R. Christ, Graciously hear us.

Collect at the General Intercessions

O God, who in the holy Name of Jesus
have given us a light in every darkness,
food for every hunger,
and medicine for every affliction;
mercifully grant that we may find
no Name more agreeable in the singing,
more welcome in the hearing,
and more comforting in thought
than the Name of your only-begotten Son
Jesus Christ who is Lord forever and ever.

A tender and burning love for the Name of Jesus found expression in the lyrical preaching of the twelfth century Cistercian Fathers. In the medieval Cistercian pharmacy of souls, the Holy Name of Jesus was the miracle medicine: the antidote for coldness of heart, bitterness, sadness, fear, lust, greed, vengeance, and every manner of spiritual ill.

Offertory Antiphon

I will praise You, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify Your Name forever;
for You, O Lord, are sweet and mild:
and plenteous in mercy to all that call upon You, alleluia (Ps 85:12, 5).

Prayer Over the Oblations

As we set forth, O Lord, the gifts received from your bounty,
we pray that as you bestowed on Christ obedient unto death
the Name that brings salvation,
you would also, in the power of that Name, keep us safe.
Through Christ our Lord.

The Prayer Over the Oblations calls the Name of Jesus, "the Name that brings salvation." The Name of Jesus brings healing, wholeness, health, peace and well-being. The Ambrosian Missal offers a magnificent Preface of the Holy Name.

Preface

(Ambrosian Missal, Votive Mass of the Holy Name of Jesus)

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always, here and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

You sent your only-begotten Son to us,
bearing the wondrous Name that tells of salvation,
so that he might set us free
from the tyranny of our ancient foe,
and by consecrating us as your adoptive sons,
might call us to share the everlasting glory of your kingdom.

This is the Name of our thanksgiving;
before this Name all knees must bend;
this is the Name we invoke
as a refuge amid the perils of this life
and at the hour of death as our comfort and hope.

We join with all creation to praise his Name
as with the choirs of heaven
we sing the ageless hymn of your glory:

Communion Antiphon

O Lord, our Lord,
how wonderful is your Name
through all the earth (Ps 8:2).

The Communion Antiphon echoes the Invitatory that opened Vigils. During Holy Communion the Church would have us sing: "O Lord, our Lord, how admirable is your Name through all the earth (Ps 8:2). To begin the daily round of praise, we sang: "The most admirable Name of Jesus, which is above every name: O come, let us adore."

Or:

All the nations You have made shall come and adore before You, O Lord,
and they shall glorify Your Name:
for You are great, and do wonderful things:
You alone are God, alleluia (Ps 85: 9-10).

Postcommunion

Having received the sacrificial gifts, O Lord,
which we offered to your majesty
in honor of the the Name of Christ,
we pray you to pour forth your grace more lavishly upon us
that we may rejoice in having our names written in heaven.
Through Christ our Lord.

The Postcommunion draws upon to Luke 10:20: "Rejoice that your names are written in heaven." We cherish the Holy Name of Jesus during this life because we know that Jesus, the Divine Friend, our Perfect and Faithful Friend, cherishes our names, and calls each of us by name. When Saint Teresa of Avila in prayer said to Our Lord, "I am Teresa of Jesus," He answered saying, "And I am Jesus of Teresa." Today's feast is, above all, an invitation and an opportunity to enter more deeply into the friendship of Jesus. He would have us call Him by His Name. Nothing so establishes intimacy between the soul and Jesus Christ as the ceaseless repetition of His adorable Name. Enter into the grace of today's feast. Imitate the saints. Let the Name of Jesus be your warmth, your sweetness, and your song.


And in the mouth a honey zest

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Of all the English translations of Jesu, Dulcis Memoria that I have read and prayed, the one done by Gerard Manley Hopkins remains my favourite.

Jesu, Dulcis Memoria

Jesus to cast one thought upon
Makes gladness after He is gone,
But more than honey and honeycomb
Is to come near and take Him home.

No music so can touch the ear,
No news is heard of such sweet cheer,
Thought half so dear there is not one
As Jesus God the Father's Son.

Jesu, their hope who go astray,
So kind to those who ask the way,
So good to those who look for Thee,
To those who find what must Thou be?

To speak of that no tongue will do
Nor letters suit to spell it true:
But they can guess who have tasted of
What Jesus is and what is love.

Jesu, a springing well Thou art,
Daylight to head and treat to heart,
And matched with Thee there' nothing glad
That men have wished for or have had.

Wish us Good Morning when we wake
And light us, Lord, with Thy day-break.
Beat from our brains the thicky night
And fill the world up with delight.

Who taste of Thee will hunger more,
Who drink be thirsty as before:
Wat else to ask they never know
But Jesus' self they love Him so.

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
And a sweet singing in the ear
And in the mouth a honey zest
And drinks of heaven in the breast.

Thou art the hope, Jesu, my sweet,
The soul has in its sighing-fit;
The loving tears on Thee are spent,
The inner cry for Thee is meant.

Be our delight, O Jesu, now
As by and by our prize art Thou,
And grant our glorying may be
World without end alone in Thee.

Dulcis Iesu Memoria

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In the Liturgy

For the feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, I invite the readers of Vultus Christi to join me in meditating the Iubilus Rithmicus de Amore Iesu, better known as the hymn, Dulcis Iesu Memoria. The Church sings portions of the hymn on January 3rd, feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, but also at Lauds on the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, at Vigils (or Office of Readings) on the solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe, and at Lauds on August 6th, feast of the Transfiguration.

Authorship

For years this beautiful poem on the mystical love of Jesus was attributed to Saint Bernard of Clairvux (1091-1153). The earliest manuscripts of the text are, however, of English origin and date from the 12th or early 13th century: one is a Missal from Lesnes Abbey near Greenwich, written between 1178 and 1220, the other is a book of Laudes in the Bodleian Library.

Increasingly, specialists are advancing the hypothesis that author of Iesu, Dulcis Memoria may have been none other than Saint Aelred, Cistercian Abbot of Rievaulx, even if the Benedictine scholar Dom André Wilmart, while sympathetic to an Aelredian authorship, stopped short of positively ascribing the text to him. There is, however, general agreement that the author of the Iubilus was an English Cistercian monk of the 12th century.

The hymn was, somewhat arbitrarily, divided into three sections for liturgical use in the Office of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. The translation here is by Father Edward Caswall.

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At Vespers

Jesu, the very thought of thee
With sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far thy face to see,
And in thy presence rest!

Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than tby blest name,
O Saviour of mankind!

O hope of every contrite heart!
O joy of all the meek!
To those who fall, how kind thou art,
How good to those who seek!

But what to those who find? Ah this
Nor tongue nor pen can show:
THe love of Jesus, what it is,
None but his lovers know.

Et balsamo suavior

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Still using Father Caswall's translation, I am giving only a selection of the twenty-four verses that make up this section of the hymn. Father Caswall renders the text with a certain liberty; it is not a literal translation. He does capture, nonetheless, something of the delicacy and sweetness of the Latin.

At Lauds

O Jesu, thou the beauty art
Of angel worlds above;
Thy name is music to the heart,
Enchanting it with love.

For thee I yearn, for thee I sigh;
When wilt thou come to me,
And make me glad eternally
With the blest sight of thee?

O Jesu, love unchangeble,
For whom my soul doth pine!
O fruit of life celestial!
O sweetness all divine!

Iesu, Rex Admirabilis

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I was fifteen or sixteen years old when, thanks to a fervent Trappist laybrother at Saint Joseph's Abbey, I discovered a lovely English translation of Dulcis Iesu Memoria in a small black-covered volume called The Cistercian Day Hours. The laybrother in question encouraged me to pray the hymns of The Cistercian Day Hours as he did, savouring them and learning them by heart. I no longer have a copy of The Cistercian Days Hours at hand, and suspect that it is long out of print.

The second section of the Iubilus Rithmicus de Amore Iesu was assigned to Matins. The translation here is Father Caswall's.

At Matins

O Jesu, King most wonderful!
Thou conqueror renowned!
Thou sweetness most ineffable!
In whom all joys are found!

Stay with us, Lord, and with thy light
Illume the soul's abyss;
Scatter the darkness of ournight,
And fill the world with bliss!

Jesu, thy mercies are untold,
Through each returning day;
Thy love exceeds a thousandfold
Whatever we can say.

2009 Belongs to Our Lady

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For over thirty years now, my dear old friend Father Jacob, O.P. and I have renewed our consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God annually on January 1st. Experience has taught me the wisdom of entrusting the new year to Our Blessed Lady, Mediatrix of All Graces. Readers of Vultus Christi may want to join me in asking the Mother of God again today to open her hands over the entire year.

I offer today my translation of the sublime prayer of Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo (+667). This prayer, taken from his treatise De virginitate perpetua Sanctae Mariae, is one of the earliest expressions of total consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary. In it, heralding an expression that Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort will make famous, the Bishop of Toledo declares himself the slave of Mary, Handmaid of the Lord. He also emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit with theological keenness and tender piety.

To illustrate the prayer, I chose Murillo's painting of the Virgin Mother bestowing on Saint Ildephonsus a splendid (blue and gold!) chasuble woven in heaven, to reward him for having written so beautifully in defense of her perpetual virginity.

Prayer of Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo, Bishop

The Abundance of the Sweetness of Thy Son

I come to thee, only Virgin Mother of God,
and fall prostrate before thee,
who alone didst cooperate in the Incarnation of God.
I humble myself before thee,
who alone wert found to be the Mother of my Lord.
I pray thee, who alone wert found to be the handmaid of thy Son:
obtain that my sins be wiped away;
command that I be cleansed of the wickedness of my deeds,
and, that I may love the glory of thy virtue,
reveal to me the abundance of the sweetness of thy Son.

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Thou Art His Co-Worker in My Redemption

Bestow upon me the gift of proclaiming the true faith of thy Son,
and of defending it.
Grant that I may cleave to God and to thee,
that I may serve thy Son and thee,
that I may be His bondsman and thine;
His, because He is my Creator,
and thine, because thou art the Mother of my Creator;
His, because He is Lord of the angelic powers,
and thine, because thou art the handmaid of the Lord of All;
His, because He is God,
and thine because thou art the Mother of God;
His, because He is my Redeemer,
and thine because thou art His co-worker in my redemption.

The Body by Which He Healed My Wounds

That which He wrought for my redemption,
verily He formed in thine own person.
That He might be my Redeemer,
He became thy Son.
That He might be the price of my ransom,
He became incarnate of thy flesh.
The Body by which He healed my wounds,
He took from thee so that He, in it, might be wounded.
The mortal Body by which He took away my death,
He took from thy mortality.
The Body by which He brought my sins to nought,
He received sinless from thee.
This nature of mine that ahead of time, in Himself,
He placed above the angels in the glory of His Father's right hand,
He assumed -- humbling Himself -- out of thine own true body.

I Am Thy Slave

Therefore, I am thy slave,
because Thy Son is my Master.
Therefore thou art my Lady,
because thou art the handmaid of my Lord.
Therefore I am the slave of the handmaid of my Lord,
because thou, my Lady, didst become the Mother of my Lord.
Therefore I have become thy slave,
because thou didst become the Mother of my Maker.

By the Holy Spirit

I pray thee, I pray thee, holy Virgin,
may I, by the Spirit through Whom thou didst give birth to Jesus,
have Jesus and hold Him.
By that Spirit through Whom
thou didst conceive this same Jesus in thy flesh,
may my soul receive Jesus.

Let the Spirit gift me with the knowledge of Jesus,
this Spirit by Whom it was given Thee to bear Jesus and to give Him birth.
Let the Spirit in Whom thou didst declare thyself the handmaid of the Lord,
choosing that it should be done unto thee according to the Angel's word,
grant me to proclaim the heights of Jesus with lowliness.

To Love Jesus and to Fear Him

In the Spirit thou didst adore Jesus as thy Lord
and gaze upon Him as thy Son;
in that same Spirit may I love Him.
And may I fear this same Jesus,
with that reverence by which He, truly being God,
became subject to His parents.

The Very Little One

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This morning's Second Reading at Vigils was from the wonderful Christmas Sermons of Blessed Guerric of Igny (+1157), one of the Four Evangelists of the Order of Cîteaux. Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face (1873-1897) would have loved this sermon, as would have Dom Vital Léhodey (1857-1948)). I will not give the indescribably succulent Latin text today: just the translation I managed to cobble together.

The First Lesson

I give Thee thanks, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, that Thou hast hidden Thy wisdom from the wise and the prudent, and revealed it to the very little ones.
Yes, Father, this was pleasing in Thy sight; that to the very little was given the very little One Who was born for us! In fact, the greatness of the proud is exceedingly abhorrent to the humility of this very little One, and what is grand in the eyes of men is abominable in the presence of Him, Who being great in truth, made Himself very little for us. Make no mistake about it, this very little One is at home only among the very little, and it is only among the humble and the quiet-hearted that he takes His rest.
And therefore, just as the glory of the very little is to sing concerning HIm: Unto us a little child is born; so too, does He glory in them, saying: Behold, here I am, and the children that God has given me. In effect, so as to give His Son, become a little child, playmates of His own age, the Father willed that the very little Innocents should harbinger the glory of martyrdom. Thus does the Holy Spirit signify that the Kingdom of Heaven is for none save those who resemble them.


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The Second Lesson

If we want to like them, my brothers, let us return to Bethlehem again and again (iterum atque iterum), and let us gaze with loving attention upon this Word that has become flesh, the Immense God become a very little child: so that in this visible and abbreviated Word we might come to know the wisdom of God that has become all humility.
It is in the mightiness seen there that all mightiness willed to dwell for a time. For a time, supreme Wisdom willed to know nothing apart from this humility, which later on she would teach.
This very little One -- and I say this to my own affront -- this little One, I say, rightly and justly made Himself the master and lesson of humility, since having personal knowledge of it -- by His origin, He held it from His mother, and by His nature, from His Father -- He learned it nonethless, from His mother's womb, by all that He had to suffer.


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The Third Lesson

He was born in a shelter for travelers, so that we, instructed by His example, might own ourselves to be strangers and pilgrims on earth. Moreover, He chose the last place of all, being laid in a manger; so that we might grasp David's oracle: I have chosen to be an outcast in the house of God, rather than to dwell in the tents of sinners. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes: so that we, having enough to cover ourselves, might be content therewith.
In all things, He was content with the poverty of His mother; in all things he was submissive to His mother, and this so that the very form of all religious life would be born in His birth.


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My incomparable Saint Bernard (depicted above with Saint Ambrose in a 1475 painting by Francesco di Giorgio Martini) spoke so eloquently this morning of the two mercies of God: the first is His eternal mercy prior to the Incarnation, the second is His mercy after the descent of the Word into this vale of tears. Listen to him:

Seeking What Was Lost

Sed plasmator eorum Deus requirens quod perierat, opus suum miseratus prosecutus est, descendens et ipse misericorditer, quo illi ceciderant miserabiliter.

But God their Creator, seeking what was lost, mercifully followed His work, and came down in mercy to where they lay in misery.

To Liberate the Miserable

Voluit experire in se quod illi faciendo contra se merito paterentur, non simili quidem curiositate, sed mirabili caritate: non ut miser cum miseris remaneret, sed ut misericors factus miseros liberaret.

He willed to experience for Himself what they rightly deserved to suffer for having gone against Him, not out of a curiosity like theirs, but out of a wondrous charity; not so as to remain miserable with the miserable, but in order to liberate the miserable by becoming merciful.

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A Mercy Better Adapted to Us

Factus inquam misericors, non illa misericordia quae felix manens habuit ab aeterno, sed quam mediante miseria reperit in habitu nostro. Porro pietatis opus quod per illam coepit, in ista perfecit: non quod sola illa non posset perficere, sed quia nobis not potuit absque ista sufficere. Utraque siquidem necessaria, sed nobis haec magis congrua fuit.
He became merciful, I say, not of that mercy which He, happy from all eternity, already had, but of the mercy which He found whilst, clothed in our flesh, He made his way in misery. Then, in this mercy did He make perfect the work begun by the Father's lovingkindness. It was not that this first mercy could not have sufficed, but because it would not have satisfied us. Both mercies are necessary, but the second of these is better adapted to us.
The Mercy Whose Mother is Misery
O ineffabilis pietatis excogitatio! Quando nos illam miram misericordiam cogitaremus, quam praecedens miseria non informat? Quando illam adverteremus incognitam nobis compassionem, quae non passione praeventa, cum impassibilitate perdurat? Attamen si illa, quae miseriam nescit, misericordia non praecesisset, ad hanc, cuius miseria mater est, non accessisset. Si non accessisset, non attraxisset; siu non attraxisset, non extrassiset. Unde autem extraxit, nisi de lacu miseriae et de luto faecis? Nec illam tamen misericordiam deseruit, sed hanc inseruit; non mutavit, sed multiplicavit, sicut scriptum est: Homines et iumenta salvabis, Domine, quemadmodum multiplicasti misericordiam tuam, Deus.

O design of ineffable tenderness! How could we have imagined the wondrous mercy of God, unless it had been first shaped by misery? How could we have turned toward a compassion unknown to us -- eternal and impassible in God -- had not His Passion gone before it? However, if this divine mercy that knew no misery had not been there in the beginning, the other mercy, the one whose mother is misery, would not have come. Had this mercy not come, it would not have have attracted us; had it not attracted us, it would not have extracted us. Extracted us out of what? Out of the pit of misery and the mire of mud. God has not forsaken His first mercy, but He has added to it; He has not changed it, but multiplied it, as it is written: Thou dost save man and beast alike, even as thou hast multiplied thy mercy, O God.

(Ex Tractatu sancti Bernardi abbatis De Gradibus humilitatis et superbiae)

At Vespers

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This painting of the adolescent Jesus is in the chapel of the Casa San Francesco in Carsoli (Aquila), Italy. I preached this evening at Pontifical Vespers in Tulsa's Cathedral of the Holy Family:

The Finding of Jesus in the Temple

On this the patronal feast of our Cathedral of the Holy Family, the Church gives us a liturgy that -- for all its richness -- is somewhat confusing: this because the liturgy of the Church is not chronological but theological. Three days after Christmas, while we are still enraptured by the Infant Jesus in the manger, the first antiphon this evening led us to the Temple in Jerusalem where, Mary and Joseph, aggrieved, relieved, and, I should think, a little vexed, find the twelve-year old Jesus "sitting among the teachers, listening to them, and asking them questions."(Lk 2:46).

The Listening Word

The second antiphon antiphon showed us the twelve-year old Jesus returning to Nazareth with His Virgin Mother and with Saint Joseph, there to live subject to them, that is, in obedience. Pope John Paul II once defined obedience as "the listening that changes life." At Nazareth the Word humbles Himself to the point of listening -- of listening with such openness and receptivity, that He, the Unchanging Word of the Father, learns and changes and grows. Remaining truly God, He became truly Man, coming among us not as one having every human accomplishment, but as one bound and ready to learn those things that a boy learns from his mother, from his father, from his grandparents, his playmates, and his schoolmasters.

Saint Bernard puts it this way:

You see, then, that Christ in His one Person has two natures, one eternal, the other beginning in time. According to one He knows all things eternally; according to the other there are many things He first experienced in course of time.

Loved in Human Form

The third antiphon allowed us to catch a glimpse of the adolescent Jesus growing into manhood, increasing in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man. Divine Wisdom, the Second Person of the Adorable Trinity, the Word made flesh, learns the wisdom of men, principally from his foster father Saint Joseph. The Immensity of God, having become a tiny child grows through boyhood and adolescence into manhood, growing in stature. The Son, loved by the Father from all eternity in the fiery embrace of the Holy Spirit, becomes lovable and loved in human form.

Contemplating Jesus

The Magnificat Antiphon returns to Luke 2:40, a passage that occurs after the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. It is almost identical to the third antiphon. It is as if the Church, fascinated by the mystery of God become a little baby, of the baby become a small boy, the boy an adolescent, and the adolescent a young man, cannot take her eyes, all the while from His Face, shining with the Wisdom and Beauty of His Divinity.

Christ Emptied Himself

Finally, a word about the Short Reading we heard: Philippians 2:6-7. This particular passage is one that the Church sings over and over again during the last days of Holy Week, in the shadow of the Cross. It is, in a way, curious that we should be given that same text this evening. "Christ Jesus, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, and was found in human form" (Ph 2:6-7).

The Son, without leaving His eternal intimacy with the Father, descends nonetheless to cloister Himself for nine months in the Virgin's womb. His entrance into her womb is already oriented to the Cross, for He comes into the world as Priest, ready to offer Himself in Sacrifice. When He comes forth from her womb at Bethlehem, it is to pursue His ascent to the Cross, and His return to the Father, as the Bridegroom of His Church and the Head of His Mystical Body.

He Emptied Himself

In order that this immense circle of salvation might be realized in space and in time, He laid aside the immensity, the splendour, the weight of His glory, and, as Saint Paul says, "nothinged" Himself. Without ceasing to be God from God, Light from Light, and true God from true God, He poured Himself out into the form of a servant, the form of a child, the form of one from whom, on the day of His Passion, men would screen their faces.

From the Eucharist to the Trinity

This mysterious outpouring of the Divine Immensity into a form that is frail and vulnerable and small is, in some way, prolonged for our sakes, in the Most Holy Eucharist. There we see the God who would draw us after Him to the Father, in the Holy Spirit, become a no-thing in the eyes of the world, a mere round piece of bread. And yet this is our faith: that all that He is has replaced all that bread was, and that He, being there for us and with us, desires with a great desire to draw us to Himself and through Himself into the Divine Family of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


The Authority of Lovers

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This is a homily I preached thirteen years ago to the Poor Ladies of Bethlehem Monastery in Barhamsville, Virginia. At the time, they were still living in their former monastery in Newport News.

The Logic of the Liturgy

The liturgy has a marvelous logic all its own. On this second day of the Christmas octave, Mother Church gives us an Easter Gospel! While we are yet at the manger, the liturgy compels us to run to the empty tomb! John, the disciple whom Jesus loved is there before us. His virginal love gave wings to his feet. “Draw me in your footsteps," says the bride of the Canticle, "let us run” (Ct 1:4). John is the first of those who “hasten with swift pace and light step and unstumbling feet,” arriving even before Peter, and yet deferring to him.

Peter and John

Hans Urs von Balthasar speaks of a double authority in the Church, a double ministry: the Petrine and Johannine. The Petrine authority is firmly established by Christ on the solid rock of Peter; it continues in the Church through the ministry of Peter’s successors, teaching, reproving, testing, correcting, forgiving and calling together in unity. The Johannine authority speaks with the voice of love, with the inimitable accents of direct experience. It is the authority of the saints and mystics, the authority of holiness, the authority of the greatly loved and of the great lovers. “ I belong to my love, and my love to me” (Ct 6:3).

What We Have Seen and Heard

The Church has need of both voices. She needs the strong, unwavering voice of Peter; she also needs the many-voiced Johannine chorus of those who sing: “Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have contemplated and touched with our own hands: the Word who is life--this is our theme. That life was made visible; we saw it and are giving our testimony. . . . We declare to you what we have seen and heard, so that you too may share our life” (1 Jn 1:1-3).

Love of Things Invisible

The Johannine chorus speaks with the unmistakable authority of those who have gone into the wine-cellar and rested beneath the banner of love (cf. Ct 2:4-5). Their breath is fragrant with honey and with the honeycomb, of wine and of milk: that is with the imperishable sweetness of the Holy Spirit, with the Blood of the Lamb and with the pure milk of the living Word of God. These are the ones who have eaten and drunk, drunk deeply (cf. Ct 5:1) of the streams of living water that flow ever fresh from the pierced Heart of the Bridegroom (cf. Jn 7:37-38). These are the descendants of Saint John the Beloved, those to whom the Father has given the eagle’s vision, those who are little enough and poor enough to be borne aloft and carried away into the “love of things invisible,” as the Christmas Preface puts it.

Oremus

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The Prayer of the Faithful

The Prayer of the Faithful for the Ordinary Form of the Mass poses a number of complex problems. The lack of one or more stable texts, or of texts suitable for each Mass, composed according to the norms promulgated from Rome on 13 January 1965 and again on 17 April 1966, is not the least of these. Readers, tell me if you have a Prayer of the Faithful (Bidding Prayers or General Intercessions) at daily Mass? What is the state of current practice in parishes and other communities?

By Whom and in What Manner?

It should be noted that, at the beginning of the restoration of the so-called Universal Prayer, it was envisaged that the intentions would be sung following the models of chant given in the Graduale Simplex and that the act of proposing the intentions to the people would belong 1) to the priest himself in the style of the ancient Roman usage, or 2) to the deacon. Only in the absence of a deacon should the function be assigned to another "suitable person."

Where?

Msgr Klaus Gamber argues that, following the oldest traditions, the intentions should be proposed by the deacon standing in front of the altar and facing it. The practice of proposing the intentions from the ambo derives from the late-medieval French Prières du Prône. An instruction from the Congregation of Rites, dated 26 September 1964, says this:

In places where the Universal Prayer or Prayer of the Faithful is already the custom, it shall take place before the Offertory, after the Oremus, and, for the time being with the formularies in use in individual regions. The celebrant is to lead the prayer at either his chair, the altar, the lectern, or the edge of the sanctuary. A deacon, cantor, or other suitable minister may sing the intentions or intercessions.

Clearly Confusing

The "instruction" is riddled with options, making it vague and confusing. It was instructions such as these that set the stage for the disorientation and chaos that have so marked the "Church at prayer" in the past forty-five years.

Should the General Intercessions be allowed to fall into abeyance? Can they be salvaged? What are the chances of recovering a form of the Prayer of the Faithful that is dignified, hieratic, and in harmony with what Mr. Edmund Bishop called "the genius of the Roman Rite"?

General Intercessions for the Feast of Stephen


That like Saint Stephen, the praying Church, filled with the Holy Spirit,
may gaze into heaven
and see there the glory of God
and Jesus standing at the right hand of he Father,
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That world leaders of good will
may turn from every project of war
to collaborate sincerely and effectively in the pursuit of peace,
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That those who suffer for the sake of Christ and the Gospel
may be consoled by the Holy Spirit;
and that the sick and the dying
may be moved by the Holy Spirit
to pray, like Stephen, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,"
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That the deacons of the Church,
and men preparing for the Holy Diaconate,
may find in Saint Stephen a model of the holiness to which they are called,
and a powerful intercessor,
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That, like Saint Stephen the Protomartyr,
we may find in the psalms the very prayer of Christ to the Father,
and the words given by the Holy Spirit for our own prayer to Christ
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

Oration

Almighty and ever-living God,
by whose gracious will
the Holy Spirit indwells and overshadows
the Body of your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
mercifully grant that we may experience
in our prayer and in our lives
that glorious unity that is the fruit
not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man
but of the will of your Christ
and of the power of your Holy Spirit.
Through the same Christ our Lord.


The Lord, He is God

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How I love this painting by Botticelli (1445–1510)! Saint Jerome is kneeling in his nightshirt in front of his bed. His cardinalatial red hat hangs on the wall behind him. Over his bed is a crucifix with three palms. Saint Jerome receives the Sacred Host from the hands of the priest, Saint Eusebius. Note the beautiful chasuble that Saint Eusebius is wearing, and the apparels on his alb. The most beautiful elements are the painting are the six human faces, all focused on the Body of Christ that a kneeling Saint Jerome is about to receive on his tongue.

January 9

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Wednesday After the Epiphany

1 John 4:11-18
Psalm 71: 1-2, 10, 12-13
Mark 6:45-52

Adoration

How does one discern an authentic spiritual epiphany from something cooked up by our own imagination or desires? First, every authentic epiphany compels one to adore. One cannot experience the Thrice-Holy God without falling to one’s knees (at least inwardly), without humbling oneself, without confessing the sovereign majesty of God. Do you remember what the people did on Mount Carmel, after Elijah prayed and fire descended from heaven to consume the holocaust? “When all the people saw this, they fell on their faces, and they said: The Lord, He is God, the Lord, He is God” (3 K 18:19).

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Yesterday, L’Osservatore Romano contained an article by Auxiliary Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Karaganda, Kazakhstan. It was an invitation to reconsider the traditional practice of receiving Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue. L’Osservatore Romano does not publish mere opinions; one of its functions is to educate Catholics. The kernel of Bishop Schneider’s argument is this: “If some nonbeliever arrived [at Mass at the moment of Holy Communion] and observed such an act of adoration, perhaps he, too, would fall down and worship God, declaring, ‘God is really in your midst.’” Adoration — an adoration that is expressed bodily, that is enfleshed — is the human response to every epiphany of the Divine.

Obedience

Second, every authentic spiritual epiphany calls one to obedience, that is, to conversion of life, to change. After the experience of God, one cannot return to “business as usual.” The Christian life is dynamic. It is movement and it is change, or it is nothing at all. The soul that is not going forward is regressing. This is what Saint Paul means when he says in Second Corinthians that, “we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor 3:18).

Peace

Third, every authentic spiritual epiphany produces peace in the soul. When Our Lord visits a soul by His grace, He leaves behind the impression of a parting kiss, a kiss of ineffable peace. So-called spiritual experiences that leave one in a feverish state of confusion and unrest are not of God. The devil can counterfeit any number of spiritual experiences and charisms, but he cannot counterfeit what Saint Paul calls, “the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding” (Phil 4:7).

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Epiphany Inscription Over the Doorway of the Home
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The letters have two meanings. They are the initials of the traditional names of the Three Magi: Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. They also abbreviate the Latin words “Christus mansionem benedicat.” “May Christ bless the house.” The letters recall the day on which the inscription is made, as well as the purpose of blessing.

The crosses represent the protection of the Precious Blood of Christ, whom we invoke, and the holiness of the Three Magi sanctified by their adoration of the Infant Christ. The inscription is made above the front door, so that all who enter and depart this year may enjoy God’s blessing. The month of January still bears the name of the Roman god Janus, the doorkeeper of heaven and protector of the beginning and end of things. This blessing “christens” the ancient Roman observance of the first month. The inscription is made of chalk, a product of clay, which recalls the human nature taken by the Adorable and Eternal Word of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

To bless your home this Epiphany, read the Prologue of Saint John’s Gospel, followed by the Our Father, and the Collect of the Epiphany; then write the inscription for this year above your front door with blessed chalk.

I will bless chalk at the end of Holy Mass on the Epiphany, after the Postcommunion and before the Dismissal, using the traditional text as translated by Father Weller:

Sed quid invenientibus?

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Among the Cistercians

A tender and burning love for the Holy Name of Jesus found expression in the lyrical preaching of Saint Bernard and the other twelfth century Cistercian Fathers. In the medieval Cistercian pharmacy of souls, the Name of Jesus was the miracle medicine: the antidote for coldness of heart, bitterness, sadness, fear, lust, greed, vengeance, and every manner of spiritual ill. Today’s Office includes a hymn long attributed to Saint Bernard: Iesu, Dulcis Memoria.

Thirteenth Century

In the thirteenth century, the sweetness of the Name of Jesus inebriated Saint Gertrude and the other Helfta mystics. The itinerant preaching of the Friars, both Franciscan and Dominican, introduced devotion to the Sacred Name to the hearts and homes of lay Christians great and small. The Archconfraternity of the Holy Name, known in the United States as the Holy Name Society, grew out of the labours of Saint Bernardino of Siena and Saint John of Vercelli, both ardent apostles of the Name of Jesus.

Adoro Te Devote, Latens Deitas

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Caesar van Everdingen painted this magnificent Holy Family in 1660. Saint Joseph, with the open book of the Scriptures on his lap, appears absorbed by the immensity of the mystery entrusted to him. If you look closely you will see that he holds his reading glasses in his right hand. This Joseph is in the prime of life; he is manly and strong. The Virgin Mother and the Infant Christ gaze straight ahead at us.

The Living Bread Entrusted to Saint Joseph

The feast of the Holy Family invites us to confess a God who comes close, a God who comes down, a God who disappears into what is human to reveal therein what is divine, a God who assumes all that is human to confer what is divine. All the shadows and figures of the Old Testament converge in Christ the Sacrament of God, the Child of the Virgin Mary, born in Bethlehem. the “House of Bread,” and entrusted to Joseph.

Joseph Most Obedient

Look closely at the obedience of Saint Joseph, his obedience in the dark night of faith. Joseph’s obedience allows the whole mystery of Israel — the going down into Egypt and the back up — to be revealed and completed in Christ. In some way the “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19) of the Last Supper is made possible by Joseph’s obedience to the commandments delivered to him in the night.

Twice Saint Joseph obeys the word of the angel who visits him by night. Twice Saint Matthew uses the very same formula to evoke the obedience of Saint Joseph: “And Joseph rose and too the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt” (Mt 2:14); and again, “And he rose and took the child and his mother and went into the land of Israel” (Mt 2:21).

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Where is the source of Saint Joseph’s obedience? Is it in the word of the Angel? The Angel appears in a dream. Is anything more fleeting than a dream? If we remember our dreams at all in the morning, we do so in a vague and hazy way. Rarely do we find in our dreams the strength to make great changes in our lives. Dreams may sow suggestions in the imagination; rarely do we translate them into action, especially when they ask of us what Saint Benedict calls “things that are hard and repugnant to nature in the way to God” (RB 58:8).

The Viaticum of Saint Joseph

Saint Joseph finds the strength to obey in the Infant Christ, his Viaticum. He finds it in the presence of “the living bread which came down from heaven” (Jn 6:51). He gazes upon the Child held against the breast of the Virgin, and from that contemplation — from that spiritual communion — draws the strength and the courage to pass from dreams to action — to obey. The Infant Christ was the Viaticum of Saint Joseph: his food for the journey.

Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine

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The Fifth Day in the Octave of the Nativity of the Lord

1 John 2:3-11
Luke 2:22-35

The Child Jesus, Priest and Victim

The very first sentence of today’s Holy Gospel evokes the mystery of sacrifice. “When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord” (Lk 2:22). The verb to present is part of the ritual vocabulary of the Temple. It denotes a liturgical action, a priestly function. Concerning the Jewish priest, we read in the book of Deuteronomy that “the Lord your God has chosen him out of all your tribes, to present himself and minister before the Lord” (Dt 18:5). The same verb is used to designate the offering, the presentation of the victim made over to God. Saint Paul, for example, writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1). The Child Jesus comes to the Temple as both Priest and Victim and, by His coming, He fulfills that word of the prophet Malachi so gloriously interpreted by Handel in The Messiah: “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His Temple” (Mal 3:1).

Saint Simeon

Simeon, coming upon the scene, reveals the hidden meaning of this presentation just as, in every sacrament and liturgical rite, the Word discloses the meaning of the sacred action. Simeon is one of four elders who, in the bright iconography of Saint Luke’s infancy narrative, surround the Infant Christ. Elizabeth, Zachary, Simeon, and Anna — all four, righteous and devout — are the venerable and last representatives of the old covenant. In their person, as Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote in his well-known Eucharistic hymn, “the former ancient rites give way to the new.”

The Child Consoler

Saint Luke describes Simeon as “looking for the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25). Consolation is the meaning of the name of Noah, the first saviour of the human race at the time of the flood. At the birth of Noah, Lamech, his father, prophesied, saying, “This one shall console us in our sorrows and in the toil of our hands” (Gen 5:29). Noah, the consoler and saviour, is a type, a figure of Christ. The true Consoler is God Himself, even as He spoke through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah: “I, I am He that comforts you” (Is 51:12). The little Child, carried to the temple in His mother’s arms, fulfills all the types and prophecies of the Old Testament. The little Child Jesus is God come in the flesh to console us “in our sorrows and in the toil of our hands” (Gen 5:29). The Infant Christ is the long-awaited Paraclete, the very word used in the Greek text of today’s Gospel. At the hour of His Pasch, He will promise the gift of another Paraclete. “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Paraclete, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:16).

The Passion of the Infant Christ

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December 28
Feast of the Holy Innocents

1 John 1:5-2:2
Matthew 2:13-18

The Child in Egypt

The name Egypt occurs three times in today’s gospel. “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt” (Mt 2:13). “And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt” (Mt 2:14). And finally, Saint Matthew cites the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt have I called my son” (Mt 2:15; Hos 11:1). As with so many proper names of persons and places in Sacred Scripture, Egypt enfolds and discloses a deeper mystery.

Egypt is a name and a place charged with ambivalence. On the one hand, it is the land of abundance, a refuge in time of famine (Gen 12:10; 42:1-3), a safe place for the political refugee (1 K 11:40; Jr 26:21). On the other hand, Egypt symbolizes the servitude and genocide out of which the Lord delivered his people. Hear the words of the Lord, speaking to Moses out of the burning bush: “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 out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:7-8).

The descent of the Infant Christ into Egypt and his return is a fundamental point of correspondence between the Old Testament and the New. The Infant Christ is the new Joseph in Egypt. In Christ, the words spoken concerning Joseph are fulfilled: “The Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had, in house and field” (Gen 39:5). Like the innocent Joseph, the innocent Christ is a guest in Egypt, receiving Egyptian hospitality, finding in Egypt a place of safety, a refuge from the murderous threats born of jealousy.

The Blood of Jesus

Christ is the new Moses and Christ is the Paschal Lamb in Egypt slain. His blood marks the souls of the faithful as once the blood of the immolated lamb marked the doorposts and lintels of the houses of the Jews in Egypt (cf. Ex 12:7). This is the very blood of which Saint John speaks in today’s first reading, saying, “the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7).

In principio erat Verbum

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Last night, in his Christmas homily, Pope Benedict XVI said, "In the stable of Bethlehem, the very town where it had all begun, the Davidic kingship started again in a new way - in that child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. The new throne from which this David will draw the world to himself is the Cross. The new throne - the Cross - corresponds to the new beginning in the stable."

This is an extraordinary painting of the Nativity, principally because of the crucifix on the rustic shelf inside the stable. It is the work of Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556). The nakedness of the Child in the manger presages His nakedness on the cross. His arms are outstretched in the manger as on the cross. In Bethlehem, the Virgin Mother and Saint Joseph contemplate Him; on Calvary the Virgin Mother and Saint John will look upon Him pierced.

According to an ancient monastic tradition, there is no homily at the Mass of Christmas Day. The Prologue of Saint John -- the mystery of the Word out of silence -- calls for an adoring silence. At Mass today I will sing the Gospel of the Prologue of Saint John to an exquisite First Mode melody. The Prologue is a Gospel that simply has to be sung. And after it, there has to be silence. After the Word -- no other words. Tacere et adorare.

Saint John the Theologian presents us with the ineffable mystery of the Word: the Word facing the Father from all eternity; the Word made flesh, pitching his tent among us, that we might see his glory. Before the glory of the Word, all other words fall silent. In the presence of the Word, human discourse stammers and fails. Silence alone is worthy of the mystery.

The Reign of the Bambino

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It is customary in Rome, and elsewhere in Italy, to keep the presepe (Nativity scene) up until the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord on February 2nd. This extended Christmastide allows for a prolonged contemplation of the Incarnate Word. It is an invitation to enter deeply into the mysteries of Our Lord's infancy and childhood in the company of the Virgin Mother, of Saint Joseph, of the shepherds, the Magi, Anna, Simeon, and a whole host of saints through the ages.

Yesterday I went with a friend to pray in the room of the Servant of God, Abbot Ildebrando Gregori, O.S.B. (1894–1985) on the Via della Conciliazione. I photographed the Bambino still lying sweetly on the altar of the little chapel of the Benedettine Riparatrici del Santo Volto.

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I also photographed my own Bambino for you. Since my arrival here in Rome, He lies on a clothed trimmed in lace that my Nana Barbato made by hand some sixty or seventy years ago. Next to Him is my relic of Saint Peter Julian Eymard.

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life: for the life was manifested; and we have seen and do bear witness, and declare unto you the life eternal, which was with the Father, and hath appeared to us (1 Jn 1:1–2).

The mystery of the Child Christ is the antidote for so much of what troubles us. Love of the Child Christ restores innocence where it has been lost. It disinfects and heals childhood's ancient wounds. It simplifies what is complicated in us. It humbles pride and turns arrogance into meekness. It dispels despair and causes hope to spring up in the most hopeless places of our lives. Those who love the Child Christ will themselves become like little children. The Child Christ makes grown–ups fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.

I am inspired by the example of so many saints, that is, repentant sinners, who found healing, humility, purity of heart, gentleness, hope, and above all, merciful love in the contemplation of the Infant Christ: Saint Bernard, Saint Aelred, Blessed Guerric of Igny, and countless other Cistercians; Saint Francis, Saint Clare, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Anthony, and a multitude of Franciscans; Saint Teresa of Jesus, Saint John of the Cross, Venerable Marguerite du Saint–Sacrement (Carmelite of Beaune); Dominicans Saint Rose of Lima and Blessed Agnès de Langeac; Monsieur Olier and the French School; Saint Alphonsus and the Redemptorists.

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The "Little King" reigning from His glass case is in the Carmelite Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria. There are ex-voto offerings at His feet in grateful remembrance of favours received.

There are many friends of the Child Christ closer to our own times, too many, in fact to name here. Among them were Saint Vincent Pallotti; Venerable Mother Cornelia Connelly; Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face; Blessed Lorenzo Salvi, a Passionist; Dom Vital Lehodey, a Trappist Abbot; the indomitable Mère Yvonne–Aimée of Malestroit; and Little Sister Magdeleine de Jésus.

"And Jesus calling unto Him a little child, set him in the midst of them,
and said, 'Unless you be converted, and become as little children,
you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven'" ( Mt 18:2–3).

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It will soon be possible to obtain magnificent reproductions of the icon of the Virgin Mother, Adorer of the Eucharistic Face of Christ. This icon, inspired by the teachings of Pope John Paul II during the Year of the Eucharist, was blessed last June on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. I will be carrying the original with me to Rome on Wednesday.

The Presence of Mary

For the Church, all the days between Christmas and Epiphany are one continuous celebration: the festival of the Advent of God among us. Through it all, there is a mysterious presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a nearness of the Mother, a pervasive tenderness. In today’s Gospel, the Virgin Mother is all silence, but her silence is — to borrow an image from the Gospel of Saint John — like a fragrance filling the house (cf. Jn 12:3). “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19).

On today’s Solemnity of the Mother of God, the Holy Spirit gifts the Church with a renewed consciousness of the presence of Mary. It is as if the Church, surprised by the nearness of the Mother of God on the threshold of the New Year and graced with a new awareness of just how close Mary always is, wants and needs today to acknowledge her unfailing presence. The Virgin Mother’s nearness to the Church is like her breath, warm on the face of the sleeping Infant Christ.

The Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins compared this presence of the Blessed Virgin to the air we breathe:

This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—

Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

Adoro Te Devote, Latens Deitas

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Caesar van Everdingen painted this magnificent Holy Family in 1660. Saint Joseph, with the open book of the Scriptures on his lap, appears absorbed by the immensity of the mystery entrusted to him. If you look closely you will see that he holds his reading glasses in his right hand. This Joseph is in the prime of life; he is manly and strong. The Virgin Mother and the Infant Christ gaze straight ahead at us.

The Living Bread Entrusted to Saint Joseph

The feast of the Holy Family invites us to confess a God who comes close, a God who comes down, a God who disappears into what is human to reveal therein what is divine, a God who assumes all that is human to confer what is divine. All the shadows and figures of the Old Testament converge in Christ the Sacrament of God, the Child of the Virgin Mary, born in Bethlehem. the “House of Bread,” and entrusted to Joseph.

Joseph Most Obedient

Look closely at the obedience of Saint Joseph, his obedience in the dark night of faith. Joseph’s obedience allows the whole mystery of Israel — the going down into Egypt and the back up — to be revealed and completed in Christ. In some way the “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19) of the Last Supper is made possible by Joseph’s obedience to the commandments delivered to him in the night.

Twice Saint Joseph obeys the word of the angel who visits him by night. Twice Saint Matthew uses the very same formula to evoke the obedience of Saint Joseph: “And Joseph rose and too the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt” (Mt 2:14); and again, “And he rose and took the child and his mother and went into the land of Israel” (Mt 2:21).

Where is the source of Saint Joseph’s obedience? Is it in the word of the Angel? The Angel appears in a dream. Is anything more fleeting than a dream? If we remember our dreams at all in the morning, we do so in a vague and hazy way. Rarely do we find in our dreams the strength to make great changes in our lives. Dreams may sow suggestions in the imagination; rarely do we translate them into action, especially when they ask of us what Saint Benedict calls “things that are hard and repugnant to nature in the way to God” (RB 58:8).

The Viaticum of Saint Joseph

Saint Joseph finds the strength to obey in the Infant Christ, his Viaticum. He finds it in the presence of “the living bread which came down from heaven” (Jn 6:51). He gazes upon the Child held against the breast of the Virgin, and from that contemplation draws the strength and the courage to pass from dreams to action — to obey. The Infant Christ was the Viaticum of Saint Joseph: his food for the journey.

Et cum hominibus conversatus est

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Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Year C
Sunday Within the Octave of Christmas

1 Samuel 1:20-22. 24-28
Psalm 83
1 John 3:1-2. 21-24
Luke 2:41-52

The Hearts of Grandmothers

The life of families, like that of the Church, is, more often than not, carried in the arms of women and held against their hearts. In Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, during the years of Soviet Communist repression, faith and family were held together by a silent but formidable army of church-going little grandmothers, poor women content to pour out their hearts for their husbands, their children, and their grandchildren, weeping and groaning before the holy icons in their temples.

Hannah’s Oblation

Holy Hannah in today’s first reading is the prototype of all the women who weep and pray in the temples of the world, saving it from annihilation. Hannah is familiar to us; we sing her canticle at Lauds in the Divine Office. Humiliated by her childlessness, the dreaded curse of all women in the Old Testament, Hannah went on pilgrimage to Shiloh. There, “deeply distressed,” she prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly and loudly, disturbing even the priest Eli (1 Sam 1:10-18). God heard her plea and, counting her tears, gave her a son, Samuel. Hannah vowed to give back to God the child received from God “that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and abide there forever” (1 Sam 1:22). And so it is, that Samuel, God’s gift to Hannah, becomes Hannah’s offering to God. “I have made him over to the Lord," she declares, "for as long as he lives” (1 Sam 1:28).

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Samuel

Little Samuel, “appearing in the presence of the Lord and abiding there forever” (1 Sam 1:22) is a figure of Christ who ministers “in the sanctuary and the true tent which is set up not by man but by the Lord” (Heb 8:2). Hannah is a figure of the Virgin Mother Mary, a figure of the Church, a figure of every one who, with faith and hope, sheds bitter tears in the presence of the Lord.

Praise

The Responsorial Psalm emphasizes that praise is the outstanding characteristic of those who dwell in the house of the Lord. “Blessed are they who dwell in your house! Continually they praise you” (Ps 83:4). This is true of the house of Nazareth in which the Praise of the Father dwelt in the flesh. It is true of the Church. It is also true of the monastery in which Christ dwells. Uninterrupted praise is a sign of the abiding presence of Christ in our midst. If praise is to flourish among us we cannot go around locked in introspection, moaning over ourselves and grumbling about others; we have to seek Christ in the eyes of those whom God has given us to love. Every human relationship, every friendship, every situation of life together, is potentially sacramental, that is, charged with grace, and where grace abounds, praise flourishes irrepressible.

The Household of God

In the Second Lesson, Saint John tells us that the Father has given us His love; we are His children (1 Jn 3:1), the cherished members of His household, the family of God. Saint Benedict sets up the monastery as the household of God; the perfection of life together in the monastery is liberation from fear. We don’t always get that piece of the Benedictine paradigm quite right. Fear causes one to lie or at least to dissimulate what one is really thinking. Fear is at the root of the scheming and whispering, the possesiveness and unwillingness to change that so often poison life together. In monastic communities, as in marriages and friendships, fear is the silent killer. Saint Benedict is clear: if we persevere in climbing the ladder of humility in the context of life together, we will arrive, through the Holy Spirit, at “the love of God which, being perfect, drives out all fear” (RB 7:67-68).

Anna of the Face of God

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December 30
Sixth Day of the Octave of Christmas

1 John 2:12-17
Luke 2:36-40

Holy Anna

The sacred liturgy treats the holy prophetess Anna, daughter of Phanuel, with a particular sympathy. It is worthy of note that the Lectionary separates the account of her meeting with the Holy Family from that of Simeon, by whom she is often overshadowed. Holy Anna, in her own right, is deserving of more than just a passing consideration. December 30th is her day.

Miriam

Saint Luke introduces the prophetess Anna as the worthy representative of all the prophetesses of the Old Testament. First among these is Myriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. After the crossing of the Red Sea and the spectacular defeat of the Egyptians by the mighty hand of God, Myriam, “the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and dancing. And Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea’” (Ex 15:20-21). Miriam’s ecstatic singing and dancing roused the Israelites to the heights of an impassioned devotion; thus did she bear witness to the immanence of the Spirit of God.

Deborah

In the Book of Judges we encounter Deborah, prophetess, judge, and “mother in Israel” (Judg 5:7). “She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel, in the hill country of Ephraim, and the people of Israel came to her for judgment” (Judg 4:4-5). In many ways, Deborah, the heroine of Israel, bears a resemblance to Joan of Arc. When Deborah directs Barak to go to war against Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, Barak replies, “If you go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go” (Judg 4:8). Sisera is put to death at the hands of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. Deborah, learning of the demise of the enemy, intones, together with Barak, a rather blood-curdling hymn of victory.

Deus noster in terris visus est

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December 29
The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

1 John 2:3-11
Luke 2:22-35

Victim, Priest, and Temple

The very first sentence of today’s holy gospel evokes a profound sense of the sacred. “When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord” (Lk 2:22). The verb to present is part of the ritual vocabulary of the Temple. It denotes a liturgical action, a priestly function. Concerning the Jewish priest, we read in the book of Deuteronomy that “the Lord your God has chosen him out of all your tribes, to present himself and minister before the Lord” (Dt 18:5). The same verb is used to designate the offering, the presentation of the victim made over to God. Saint Paul, for example, writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1). Christ comes to the Temple as both victim and priest and, by His coming, He fulfills that word of the prophet Malachi so gloriously interpreted by Handel in The Messiah: “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His Temple” (Mal 3:1).

The Four Righteous Elders

Simeon, coming upon the scene, reveals the hidden meaning of this presentation just as, in every sacrament and liturgical rite, the Word discloses the meaning of the sacred action. Simeon is one of four elders who, in the bright iconography of Saint Luke’s infancy narrative, surround the Infant Christ. Elizabeth, Zachary, Simeon, and Anna — all four, righteous and devout — are the venerable and last representatives of the old covenant. In their person, as Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote in his well-known Eucharistic hymn, “the former, ancient rites give way to the new.”

The Consoler

Saint Luke describes Simeon as “looking for the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25). Consolation is the meaning of the name of Noah, the first saviour of the human race at the time of the flood. At the birth of Noah, Lamech, his father, prophesied, saying, “This one shall console us in our sorrows and in the toil of our hands” (Gen 5:29). Noah, the consoler and saviour, is a type, a figure of Christ. The true Consoler, the true Saviour is God himself, even as He spoke through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah: “I, I am He that comforts you” (Is 51:12).

To Treasure the Infant Christ

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December 28
Feast of the Holy Innocents

1 John 1:5-2:2
Matthew 2:13-18

The Child in Egypt

The name Egypt occurs three times in today’s gospel. “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt” (Mt 2:13). “And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt” (Mt 2:14). And finally, Saint Matthew cites the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt have I called my son” (Mt 2:15; Hos 11:1). As with so many proper names of persons and places in Sacred Scripture, Egypt enfolds and discloses a deeper mystery.

Egypt is a name and a place charged with ambivalence. On the one hand, it is the land of abundance, a refuge in time of famine (Gen 12:10; 42:1-3), a safe place for the political refugee (1 K 11:40; Jr 26:21). On the other hand, Egypt symbolizes the servitude and genocide out of which the Lord delivered his people. Hear the words of the Lord, speaking to Moses out of the burning bush: “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 out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:7-8).

The descent of the Infant Christ into Egypt and his return is a fundamental points of correspondence between the Old Testament and the New. The Infant Christ is the new Joseph in Egypt. In Christ, the words spoken concerning Joseph are fulfilled: “The Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was upon all that he had, in house and field” (Gen 39:5). Like the innocent Joseph, the innocent Christ is a guest in Egypt, receiving Egyptian hospitality, finding in Egypt a place of safety, a refuge from the murderous threats born of jealousy.

The Blood of Jesus

Christ is the new Moses and Christ is the Paschal Lamb in Egypt slain. His blood marks the souls of the faithful as once the blood of the immolated lamb marked the doorposts and lintels of the houses of the Jews in Egypt (cf. Ex 12:7). This is the very blood of which Saint John speaks in today’s first reading, saying, “the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7).

O Bambino mio Divino

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Tu scendi dalle stelle
O Re del Cielo
E vieni in una grotta
Al freddo al gelo

O Bambino mio Divino
Io ti vedo qui a tremar,
O Dio Beato
Ah, quanti ti costo
L'avermi amato

The splendid Poor Ladies of Ty Mam Duw Monastery in Wales sent me this photo of their Bambino Gesù. Seeing it made me want to sing Tu scendi dalle stelle!

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The Gospel of the Father

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I like this painting by the Dominican Fra Bartolomeo (1473–1517), a disciple of Savonarola, because it shows our Holy Father Saint Bernard together with Saint John the Evangelist and our Holy Father Saint Benedict. The Virgin Mother is looking at the Bambino Gesù while the Bambino looks at Saint Bernard. An angel holds the open book of the Scriptures before Bernard, but Bernard is not reading the text. His eyes are raised to contemplate the Infant Christ. Bernard has passed from the written word to the Word made flesh. Saint John the Evangelist, pointing to his heart, looks on; he recognizes that Bernard is of his spiritual family. Saint Benedict, full of gravity and peace, remains in the background with his hands crossed over his breast, an expression of humility.

December 27
Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist

1 John 1:1-4
Psalm 97:1-2, 5-6, 11-12
John 20:2-8

A Liturgical Theology of the Trinity

On Christmas Day, our eyes were fixed on the Light, the Word made flesh, the Son eternally begotten of the Father. Yesterday, the feast of Saint Stephen the Protomartyr drew our attention to the Holy Spirit indwelling and overshadowing the Body of Christ. Today, Saint John the Beloved Disciple, venerated in the East as Saint John the Theologian (or John the Divine), draws our hearts to the mystery of the Eternal Father. We have, in these first three days of Christmastide, a liturgical theology of the Trinity.

The Gospel of the Father

The Gospel of Saint John has been called the Gospel of the Father and rightly so, for it is the particular charism of Saint John to lead us through the Word made flesh, and by the Word made flesh, and with the Word made flesh, into the bosom of the Father. The magnificent First Preface of Christmas wonderfully expresses the essential movement of Saint John’s Gospel. “By the mystery of your Word made flesh, a new and radiant light floods our spiritual eyes so that, even as we know God in what is visible, we are ravished (rapiamur) unto the love of things invisible.” This sentence of the Christmas Preface is a distillation of the mystical theology of Saint John. Proceeding from what is revealed, we are drawn into what is concealed. Holding fast to what is shown, we are held in the embrace of what is hidden.

Communion

This is the joy of Saint John. “The eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn 1:3). The English word fellowship translates here the Greek koinonia and the Latin communio. Saint John is saying, “Our communion is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” Now, communion simply means “union with.” “Our communion is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” But communion is also used in the New Testament to designate the presence and the effect of the Holy Spirit. We have communion — union with — the Father and with the Son by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. This is why Saint John writes in the same epistle, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because he has given us of His own Spirit” (1 Jn 4:13).

Drink to the Love of Saint John!

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BLESSING OF WINE ON THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN, APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST

On the Feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist, at the end of the principal Mass, that is, after the last Gospel, the priest, retaining all his vestments except the maniple, in the following manner blesses wine brought by the people in memory and in honor of Saint John, who drank poison without harm:

V. Our help is in the name of the Lord.
R. Who has made heaven and earth.

V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with your spirit.

Let us pray.

Be so kind as to bless and consecrate with Your right hand, Lord, this cup of wine, and every drink. Grant that by the merits of Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist, all who believe in You and drink of this cup may be blessed and protected. Blessed John drank poison from the cup, and was in no way harmed. So, too, may all who this day drink from this cup in honor of blessed John, by his merits, be freed from every sickness by poisoning and from any harms whatever. And, when they have offered themselves in both soul and body, may they be freed, too, from every fault, through Christ our Lord.
R. Amen.

Bless, Lord, this beverage which You have made. May it be a healthful refreshment to all who drink of it. And grant by the invocation of Your holy name that whoever tastes of it may, by Your generosity receive health of both soul and body, through Christ our Lord.
R. Amen

And may the blessing of almighty God, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, descend upon this wine which He has made, and upon every drink, and remain always.
R. Amen.

And it is sprinkled with Holy Water. If this blessing is given outside of Mass, the priest performs it in the manner described above, but with surplice and stole.

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This Saint John the Evangelist was painted by Francesco Furini sometime in the 1630s. Today it hangs in the Musée des Beaux–Arts of Lyon.

December 27
Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist

1 John 1:1-4
Psalm 96: 1-2. 5-6. 11-12. R. v.12
John 20: 2-8

The Logic of the Liturgy

The liturgy has a marvelous logic all its own. On this second day of the Christmas octave, Mother Church gives us an Easter Gospel! While we are yet at the manger, the liturgy compels us to run to the empty tomb! John, the disciple whom Jesus loved is there before us. His virginal love gave wings to his feet. “Draw me in your footsteps, says the bride of the Canticle, let us run” (Ct 1:4). John is the first of those who “hasten with swift pace and light step and unstumbling feet,” arriving even before Peter, and yet deferring to him.

Peter and John

Hans Urs von Balthasar speaks of a double authority in the Church, a double ministry: the Petrine and Johannine. The Petrine authority is firmly established by Christ on the solid rock of Peter; it continues in the Church through the ministry of Peter’s successors, teaching, reproving, testing, correcting, forgiving and calling together in unity. The Johannine authority speaks with the voice of love, with the inimitable accents of direct experience. It is the authority of the saints and mystics, the authority of holiness, the authority of the greatly loved and of the great lovers. “ I belong to my love, and my love to me” (Ct 6:3).

What We Have Seen and Heard

The Church has need of both voices. She needs the strong, unwavering voice of Peter; she also needs the many-voiced Johannine chorus of those who sing: “Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have contemplated and touched with our own hands: the Word who is life—this is our theme. That life was made visible; we saw it and are giving our testimony. . . . We declare to you what we have seen and heard, so that you too may share our life” (1 Jn 1:1-3).

Love of Things Invisible

The Johannine chorus speaks with the unmistakable authority of those who have gone into the wine-cellar and rested beneath the banner of love (cf. Ct 2:4-5). Their breath is fragrant with honey and with the honeycomb, of wine and of milk: that is with the imperishable sweetness of the Holy Spirit, with the Blood of the Lamb and with the pure milk of the living Word of God. These are the ones who have eaten and drunk, drunk deeply (cf. Ct 5:1) of the streams of living water that flow ever fresh from the pierced Heart of the Bridegroom (cf. Jn 7:37-38). These are the descendants of Saint John the Beloved, those to whom the Father has given the eagle’s vision, those who are little enough and poor enough to be borne aloft and carried away into the “love of things invisible,” as the Christmas Preface puts it.

Radiant Beams from Thy Holy Face

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This painting by Bernardino Luini (1480–1532) shows Saint Katherine of Alexandria and Saint Barbara, Virgin Martyrs, in the company of the Infant Christ and His Virgin Mother. The little Jesus is opening the pages of the Scripures. This He does for all who seek His Face. "No man hath seen God at any time: the only–begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him (Jn 1:18)

Be sure to visit my friend Terry at Abbey–Roads. His post on devotion to the Child Jesus is wonderful. Those graced with a special love for Our Lord in the mysteries of His infancy and childhood can attest to the healing power of this devotion. There is nothing sentimental about it: it takes one to the very heart of the Gospel and opens one's eyes to the glory of God shining on the Face of His Incarnate Word.

In principio erat Verbum

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This is an extraordinary painting of the Nativity, principally because of the crucifix on the rustic shelf inside the stable. It is the work of Lorenzo Lotto (1480–1556). The nakedness of the Child in the manger presages His nakedness on the cross. His arms are outstretched in the manger as on the cross. In Bethlehem, the Virgin Mother and Saint Joseph contemplate Him; on Calvary the Virgin Mother and Saint John will look upon Him pierced.


According to an ancient monastic tradition, there is no homily at the Mass of Christmas Day. The Prologue of Saint John — the mystery of the Word out of silence — calls for an adoring silence. In some monasteries the Prologue of Saint John is sung to an exquisite First Mode melody. The Prologue is a Gospel that simply has to be sung. And after it, there has to be silence. After the Word — no other words. Tacere et adorare.

Saint John the Theologian presents us with the ineffable mystery of the Word: the Word facing the Father from all eternity; the Word made flesh, pitching his tent among us, that we might see his glory. Before the glory of the Word, all other words fall silent. In the presence of the Word, human discourse stammers and fails. Silence alone is worthy of the mystery.

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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