Wednesday 6 December 2023

6 DECEMBER – SAINT NICHOLAS OF MYRA (Bishop and Confessor)

Nicholas was born in the celebrated city of Patara, in the province of Lycia. His birth was the fruit of his parents prayers. Evidence of his great future holiness was given from his very cradle. For when he was an infant, he would only take his food once on Wednesdays and Fridays and then not till evening while on all other days he frequently took the breast: he kept up this custom of fasting during the rest of his life. Having lost his parents when he was a boy, he gave all his goods to the poor. Of his Christian kind-heartedness there is the following noble example. One of his fellow-citizens had three daughters, but being too poor to obtain them an honourable marriage, he was minded to abandon them to a life of prostitution. Nicholas having got to know the case, went to the house during the night and threw in by the window a sum of money sufficient for the dower of one of the daughters. He did the same a second and a third time, and thus the three were married to respectable men.

Having given himself wholly to the service of God, Nicholas set out for Palestine that he might visit and venerate the holy places. During this pilgrimage which he made by sea, he foretold to the mariners, on embarking, though the heavens were then serene and the sea tranquil, that they would be overtaken by a frightful storm. In a very short time the storm arose. All were in the most imminent danger when he quelled it by his prayers. His pilgrimage ended, he returned home, giving to all men example of the greatest sanctity. He went, by an inspiration from God, to Myra, the Metropolis of Lycia,which had just lost its Bishop by death, and the Bishops of the province had come together for the purpose of electing a successor. While they were holding council for the election, they were told by a revelation from Heaven that they should choose him who, on the morrow, should be the first to enter the church, his name being Nicholas. Accordingly, the requisite observations were made, when they found Nicholas to be waiting at the church door: they took him and, to the incredible delight of all, made him the Bishop of Myra.

During his episcopate he never flagged in the virtues looked for in a bishop: chastity, which indeed he had always preserved, gravity, assiduity in prayer, watchings, abstinence, generosity, and hospitality, meekness in exhortation, severity in reproving. He befriended widows and orphans by money, by advice and by every service in his power. So zealous a defender was he of all who suffered oppression that, on one occasion, three Tribunes having been condemned by the Emperor Constantine who had been deceived by calumny, and having heard of the miracles wrought by Nicholas, they recommended themselves to his prayers, though he was living at a very great distance from that place: the saint appeared to Constantine and angrily looking upon him, obtained from the terrified Emperor their deliverance.

Having, contrary to the edict of Diocletian and Maximian, preached in Myra the truth of the Christian faith, he was taken up by the servants of the two Emperors. He was taken off to a great distance and thrown into prison where he remained until Constantine, having become Emperor, ordered his rescue, and the Saint returned to Myra. Shortly afterwards, he repaired to the Council which was being held at Nicaea: there he took part with the 318 Fathers in condemning the Arian heresy. Scarcely had he returned to his See than he was taken with the sickness of which he soon died. Looking up to Heaven and seeing Angels coming to meet him, he began the Psalm, “In thee, Lord, have I hoped” and having come to those words, “Into your hands I commend my spirit,” his soul took its flight to the heavenly country. His body, having been translated to Bari in Apulia, is the object of universal veneration.

Dom Prosper Guéranger:
Divine Wisdom has willed that on the way which leads to the Messiah, our Great High Priest, there should be many Pontiffs to pay Him the honour due to Him. Two Popes, Saint Melchiades and Saint Damasus. two Holy Doctors, Saint Peter Chrysologus and Saint Ambrose, two Bishops, Saint Nicholas and Saint Eusebius: these are the glorious Pontiffs who have been entrusted with the charge of preparing, by their prayers, the way of the Christian people towards Him who is the Sovereign Priest according to the order of Melchisedech. As each of their feasts comes, we will show their right to have been thus admitted into the court of Jesus. Today the Church celebrates with joy the feast of the great Thaumaturgus Nicholas, who is to the Greek Church what Saint Martin is to us. The Church of Rome has honoured the name of Nicholas for nearly a thousand years. Let us admire the wonderful power which God gave him over creation, but let us offer him our most fervent congratulations in that he was permitted to be one of the 318 Bishops who proclaimed at Nicaea, that the Word is Consubstamtial to the Father. The humiliations of the Son of God did not scandalise him. Neither the lowliness of the flesh, which the Sovereign Lord of all things assumed to Himself in the womb of the Virgin, nor the poverty of the crib, hindered him from confessing to be Son of God, equal to God, Him who is the Son of Mary: and for this reason, God has glorified this his servant, and given him the power to obtain each year, for the children of the Church, the grace of receiving this same Jesus, the Word, with simple faith and fervent love.
Holy Pontiff Nicholas, how great is your glory in Gods Church! You confessed the name of Jesus before the proconsuls of the worlds empire and suffered persecution for His Names sake. Afterwards you were witness to the wonderful workings of God when He restored peace to His Church. And a short time after this again, you opened your lips in the assembly of the three hundred and eighteen Fathers to confess with supreme authority the Divinity of our Saviour Jesus Christ, for whose sake so many millions of Martyrs had already shed their blood. Receive the devout felicitations of the Christian people throughout the universe who thrill with joy when they think of your glorious merits. Help us by your prayers during these days when we are preparing for the coming of Him who you proclaimed to be Consubstantial to the Father. Vouchsafe to assist our faith and to obtain fresh fervour to our love. You now behold face to face that Word by whom all things were made and redeemed. Beseech Him to permit our unworthiness to approach Him. Be our intercessor with Him. You have taught us to know Him as the sovereign and eternal God. Teach us also to love Him as the supreme benefactor of the children of Adam. It was from Him, charitable Pontiff, that you learned that tender compassion for the sufferings of your fellow-men which made all your miracles to be so many acts of kindness: cease not, now that you are in the company of the Angels, to have pity on and to succour our miseries.
Stir up and increase the faith of mankind in the Saviour whom the Lord has sent them. May this be one of the fruits of your prayer, that the Divine Word may be no longer unknown and forgotten in this world which He has redeemed with His Blood. Ask for the pastors of the Church that spirit of charity which shone so brilliantly in you, that spirit which makes them like their divine Master and wins them the hearts of their people. Remember, too, holy Pontiff, that Church of the East which still loves thee so fervently. When you were on this Earth, God gave you power to raise the dead to life. Pray now that the true life, which consists in Faith and Unity, may return once more and animate that body which schism has robbed of its soul. By thy supplications, obtain of God that the sacrifice of the Lamb who is so soon to visit us may be again and soon celebrated under the cupolas of Saint Sophia.
Let us resume our considerations on the state of the world at the time immediately preceding the coming of the Messiah. Everything proves that the prophecies which foretold the great event have now been fulfilled. Not only has the sceptre been taken from Judah, the Weeks of Daniel also are almost expired. The other Scriptural predictions relative to the great revolutions, which were to take place in the world have been successively fulfilled. The Empires of the Assyrians, the Medes, the Persians and the Greeks have fallen one after the other. That of the Romans is now at the zenith of its greatness . In its turn, it must yield to the eternal Empire of the Messiah. This succession of Empires, which was to result in a perfect kingdom, was foretold. And all is now ready for its final accomplishment. God has also said by one of his Prophets: “Yet one little while, and I will move Heaven and Earth... and I will move all nations, and the Desired of all nations will come” (Aggeus ii. 7, 8). Descend, therefore, O Eternal Word! All is consummated. The misery of the world is extreme. The crimes of men cry to Heaven for vengeance. The whole human race is threatened with self-destruction and without knowing what it does, it calls for you as its only resource. Then come! All the predictions which were to designate the Redeemer have been spoken and promulgated. There is no longer a Prophet in Israel, and the oracles of the Gentile world have ceased to speak. Come, Lord Jesus, and fulfil all things, for the fullness of time has come.
Also on this day according to the ROMAN MARTYROLOGY:

In Africa, in the persecution of the Vandals and under the Arian king Hunneric, the saintly women Dionysia, Dativa, Leontia, a religious man named Tertius, Æmilian, a physician, and Boniface, with three others, who were subjected to numberless most painful torments for the Catholic faith, and thus merited to rank among the confessors of Christ.

In the same country, St. Majoricus, son of St. Dionysia, who, being quite young and dreading the torments, was strengthened by the looks and words of his mother, and becoming stronger than the rest, expired in torments. His mother took him in her arms, and having buried him in her own house, used to pray assiduously at his sepulchre.

The same day St. Polychronius, priest, who, in the time of the emperor Constantius was attacked by the Arians and put to death while at the altar saying Mass.

At Granada in Spain, the passion of blessed Peter Paschasius, martyr, of the Order of Mercedarians, and bishop of Jaen, whose festival is celebrated on the twenty-third of October by order of Pope Clement X.

At Rome, St. Asella, virgin, who, according to the words of St. Jerome, being blessed from her mothers womb, lived to old age in fasting and prayer.

And in other places, many other holy martyrs, confessors and virgins.

Thanks be to God.


Lesson at Matins – Isaias xvi. 15
Send forth, O Lord, the Lamb the ruler of the Earth, from Petra of the desert to the mount of the daughter of Sion. And it will come to pass that as a bird fleeing away, and as young ones flying out of the nest, so will the daughters of Moab be in the passage of Arnon. Take council, gather a council, make your shadow as the night in the midday: hide them that flee, and betray not them that wander about. My fugitives will dwell with you: O Moab, be a covert to them from the face of the destroyer. For the dust is at an end, the wretch is consumed, he has failed that trod the earth under foot. And a throne will be prepared in mercy, and one will sit on it in truth in the tabernacle of David, judging and seeking judgement, and quickly rendering that which is just.
Thanks be to God.

Dom Prosper Guéranger:
“Send forth to us, Lord, the Lamb”: “It is the Lamb,” says Peter of Celles, “it is the Lamb we need, and not the Lion. The Lamb that knows no anger and whose meekness is never ruffled, the Lamb that will give us his snow-white wool to warm our coldness and cover our nakedness, the Lamb that will give us his flesh to eat lest we faint with hunger on the way. Send Him full of wisdom, for in His divine prudence He will vanquish the spirit of pride. Send Him full of strength, for it is written that the Lord is strong and mighty in battle. Send Him full of meekness, for He is to come down as dew that falls on the fleece. Send Him as a victim, for He is to be sold and immolated for our ransom. Send Him the pardoner of sinners, for He is come to call them, and not the just. Send Him to receive power and divinity, He that is worthy to loose the seven seals of the sealed book, the unspeakable mystery of the Incarnation.”
You are King, then, O Divine Lamb! You are, even now in your Mothers womb, the sovereign Ruler. This virginal womb is a throne of mercy on which you are seated in humility, ready to avenge our rights and confound our cruel enemy. O most dear King! Our eyes cannot yet behold you, but our hearts tell us you are near us. We know that it is for our sakes that you have put on this strange royalty. Suffer us to approach you and offer your our homage and loyalty, even now that a cloud hides you from our sight. A few days more, and you will be seated on another throne, your Mothers arms, and then all the Earth will see the salvation that is sent to it.

Tuesday 5 December 2023


Lesson at Matins – Isaias xiv. 1‒15
Her time is near at hand, and her days will not be prolonged. For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose out of Israel, and will make them rest upon their own ground: and the stranger will be joined with them, and will adhere to the house of Jacob. And the people will take them, and bring them into their place: the house of Israel will possess them in the land of the Lord for servants and handmaids: and they will make them captives that had taken them, and will subdue their oppressors. And it will come to pass in that day, that when God will give you rest from your labour, and from your vexation, and from the hard bondage, with which you served before, you will take up this parable against the King of Babylon, and will say: “How is the oppressor come to nothing, the tribute has ceased? The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked, the rod of the rulers, that struck the people in wrath with an incurable wound, that brought nations under in fury, that persecuted in a cruel manner. How are you fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer, who rose in the morning? How are you fallen to the Earth, that wounded the nations: and you said in your heart: I will ascend into Heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will sit in the mountain of the covenant, in the sides of the North: I will ascend above the height of the clouds, I will be like the Most High. But yet you will be brought down to Hell into the depth of the pit.”
Thanks be to God.

Dom Prosper Guéranger:
Your ruin, Lucifer, is irreparable! You refused to humble yourself before God, and you were cast into Hell. Your pride then sought a compensation for this your deep humiliation, and you caused the ruin of the human race out of hatred for God and His creatures. You succeeded in inspiring him who was formed out of dust with that same pride which had caused your own destruction. By you sin came into this world, and by sin death: the human race seemed now a victim which never could escape your vengeance. Forced to give up your hopes of a heavenly royalty, you aimed to reign in Hell and destroy the creatures of God as they came from His creating love. But again you are foiled and conquered. Your reign was in pride. Pride alone could form your court and give you subjects. Now see how the Sovereign Lord of all things uproots your kingdom: He Himself comes to teach His creatures humility, and he teaches it not by laws given with awful majesty as once on Sinai, but by Himself meekly practising that heavenly humility which alone can raise up them that had fallen by pride. Tremble, proud Spirit, your sceptre is to be broken!
In your haughty wisdom you disdain this humble and lovely Virgin of Nazareth who holds within herself, in adoring silence, the mystery of your ruin and our salvation. The child she carries in her womb and is so soon to be born has long since been the object of your contempt. Know, then, that God does not disdain this unborn child, for this child is also God, and a single act of adoration and devotedness to His Father, which He is making in the womb of Mary, gives more glory to the Divinity than all your pride could rob it of, even were your pride to increase for eternity. Henceforth, men, taught by the lessons of a God the immense power of humility, will have recourse to it as their great remedy. Instead of exalting themselves, as you did, by a mad and guilty pride, they will humble themselves with love and pleasure: the lower they humble themselves, the higher will God raise them: the poorer they own themselves, the richer will He make them. It is the glorious Virgin that tells us this in her exquisite Canticle. May she be ever blessed, Mother so gentle and sweet to her children, and so terrible to you, Lucifer, that writhes beneath her as she crushes and conquers you.


Dom Prosper Guéranger:
The Roman Church confines herself today to the Office of the Feria, but to that she joins a Commemoration of Saint Sabas, Abbot of the celebrated Laura of Palestine, which still exists under his name. This Saint who died in 533 is the only one of the Monastic Order of whom the Church makes any mention in her Liturgy during the whole period of Advent. We might even say that he is the only simple Confessor whose name occurs in the Calendar of this part of the year, for, as regards Saint Francis Xavier, the glorious title of Apostle of the Indies puts him in a distinct class of Saints. Here again we should recognise Divine Providence which has selected for these days of preparation for Christmas those Saints whose characteristic virtues would make them our fittest models in this work of preparation. We have the feasts of Apostles, Pontiffs, Doctors, Virgins: Jesus, the Man-God, the King and Spouse of men, is preceded by this magnificent procession of the noblest of His servants: simple Confession has but a single representative, the Anchoret and Cenobite Sabas who, by his profession of the monastic life, is of that family of holy solitaries which began with the Prophet Elias under the Old Testament, and continued up to the time of Saint John the Precursor, who was one of its members, and will continue on, during the New Covenant, until the last Coming of Jesus. Let us, then, honour this holy Abbot towards whom the Greek Church professes a filial veneration, and under whose invocation Rome has consecrated one of her Churches.
O Sabas, thou man of desires! In your expectation of that Lord who has bid His servants watch until He comes, you withdrew into the desert, fearing lest the turmoil of the world might distract your mind from its God. Have pity on us who are living in the world, and are so occupied in the affairs of that world, and yet who have received the commandment which you so took to heart: of keeping ourselves in readiness for the Coming of our Saviour and our Judge. Pray for us that when He comes, we may be worthy to go out to meet Him. Remember also the Monastic State, of which you are one of the brightest ornaments. Raise it up again from its ruins. Let its children be men of prayer and faith, as of old. Let your spirit be among them, and the Church thus regain, by your intercession, all the glory which is reflected on her from the sublime perfection of this holy State.
Let us look again at the Prophecy of Jacob. The holy Patriarch not only foretells that the Messiah will be the Expectation of nations. He adds that when this promised Deliverer comes, “the sceptre will have been taken away from Judah” (Genesis xlix. 10). This oracle is now filled. The flag of Caesar Augustus floats on the ramparts of Jerusalem. The Temple is still untouched. The abomination of desolation stands not yet in the holy place. Sacrifices are there still offered up to God: but then, the true Temple of God, the Incarnate Word, has not yet been built. The Synagogue has not denied Him who was her expectation. The Victim that was to supersede all others has not been immolated. Yet Judah has no Chief of her own race. Caesar’s coin is current throughout all Palestine, and the day is not far off when the leaders of the Jewish people will own, in the presence of the Roman Governor, that they have not the power to put any man to death (John xviii. 31). So that there is now no King on the throne of David and Solomon, that throne which was to abide forever. O Jesus! Son of David and King of Peace, now is the time when you must show yourself and take possession of the Sceptre which has been taken in battle from the hand of Judah and put, for a time, into that of an Emperor. Come! for you are King, and the Psalmist, your ancestor, thus sang of you: “Gird your sword on your thigh, O thou most Mighty! With your comeliness and your beauty set out, proceed prosperously, and reign, because of truth and meekness and justice, and your right hand will conduct you wonderfully. Your arrows are sharp: under you will people fall: your arrows will go into the hearts of the King’s enemies. Your throne is for ever and ever; the sceptre of the kingdom is a sceptre of uprightness... God, your God, has anointed you, Christ! who takes thence your name, with the oil of gladness above your fellows, who have been honoured with the name of King” (Psalm xliv.) When you are come, O Messiah! men will be no more as sheep going astray without a shepherd. There will be but one fold in which you will reign by love and justice, for all power will be given to you in Heaven and on Earth. When, in the hour of your Passion, your enemies will ask you: “Are you King?” You will answer them in all truth: “Verily, I am” (John xviii. 37). Come, dearest King, and reign over our hearts. Come, and reign over this world which is yours because you created it, and will soon be yours because you will have redeemed it. Reign, then, over this world, and delay not the manifestation of your royal power until the day of which it is written: “He will break Kings in the day of His wrath” (Psalm cix.) Reign from this very hour, and let all people fall at your feet and adore you in one grand homage of love and obedience.
Also on this day according to the ROMAN MARTYROLOGY:

At Thebesta in Africa, during the time of Diocletian and Maximian, St. Chrispina, a woman of the highest nobility, who refused to sacrifice to idols and was beheaded by order of the proconsul Anolinus. Her praises were often celebrated by St. Augustine.

At Thagura in Africa, the holy martyrs Julius, Potamia, Crispinus, Felix, Gratus and seven others.

At Nicaea near the river Var, St. Bassus, bishop. In the persecution of Decius and Valerian, he was tortured by the governor Perennius for the faith of Christ, burned with hot plates of metal, beaten with rods and whips garnished with pieces of iron, and thrown into the fire. Having come out of it unhurt, he was transfixed with two spikes, and thus terminated an illustrious martyrdom.

At Pavia, St. Dalmatius, bishop and martyr, who suffered in the persecution of Maximian.

At Pelino in Abruzzo, St. Pelinus, bishop of Brindisi. Under Julian the Apostate, because by his prayers he caused a temple of Mars to fall to the ground, he was most severely scourged by the idolatrous priests, and being pierced with eighty-five wounds, merited the crown of martyrdom.

Also St. Anastasius, martyr, who, thirsting for martyrdom, voluntarily offered himself to the persecutors.

At Treves, St. Nicetius, bishop, a man of great sanctity.

At Polybotum in Asia, St. John, bishop, surnamed Wonder-Worker.

And in other places, many other holy martyrs, confessors and virgins.

Thanks be to God.

Monday 4 December 2023

4 DECEMBER – PETER CHRYSOLOGUS (Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church)

Peter, surnamed Chrysologus for his golden eloquence, was born at Forum Cornelii (Imola) in Aemilia, of respectable parents. Turning his mind to religion from his childhood, he put himself under Cornelius, the Bishop of that city, who was a Roman. In a short while, he made such progress in learning and holiness of life that in due time the Bishop ordained him a Deacon. Not long after, it happened that the Archbishop of Ravenna having died, the inhabitants of that city sent, as usual, to Rome the successor, they had elected, that this election might be confirmed by the holy Pope Sixtus III. Cornelius, who was also sent in company with the deputies of Ravenna, took with him the young Deacon. Meanwhile, the Apostle Saint Peter and the holy Martyr Apollinaris, appeared to the Roman Pontiff in his sleep. They stood with the young levite between them, and ordered the Pontiff to create him, and none other, as Archbishop of Ravenna. The Pontiff, therefore, no sooner saw Peter than he recognised him as the one chosen by God, and rejecting the one presented to him he appointed Peter to the Metropolitan Church of that city in 433. At first, the deputies from Ravenna were dissatisfied at this decision of the Pope, but having been told of the vision they readily acquiesced to the divine will and received the new Archbishop with the greatest reverence.

Peter, therefore, being, though reluctant, consecrated Archbishop, was conducted to Ravenna where he was received with the greatest joy by the Emperor Valentinian, and Galla Placidia the Emperor’s mother, and the whole people. On his part, he told them that he asked of them but this, that since he had not refused this great burden for their salvation’s sake, they would make it their study to follow his counsels and obey the commandments of God. He then buried in the city the bodies of two Saints after having embalmed them with the most precious perfumes. Barbatian, a Priest, was one, and the other, Germauus, Bishop of Auxerre, whose cowl and hair-shirt he claimed as his own inheritance. He ordained Projectus and Marcellinus Bishops. In the town of Classis he erected a fountain of an incredible size and built some magnificent churches in honour of several Saints, of Saint Andrew among the rest. The people had a custom of assisting at certain games on the first day of January, which consisted of theatrical performances and dances. The Saint repressed these by the severity with which he preached against them. One of his expressions deserves to be handed down: He that would play with the devil can never enjoy the company of Jesus. At the command of Pope Saint Leo I he wrote to the Council of Chalcedon against the heresy of Eutyches. He answered Eutyches himself by another epistle, which has been added to the Acts of that same Council in the new editions, and has been inserted in the Ecclesiastical Annals.

In his sermons to the people he was so earnest that at times his voice completely failed him, as in his Sermon on the Women healed by our Lord, as mentioned in the ninth chapter of Saint Matthew, on which occasion his people of Ravenna were so affected and so moved to tears, that the whole church rang with their sobbings and prayers, and the Saint afterwards thanked God, for that He had turned the failure of his speech into the gain of so much love. After having governed that Church in a most holy manner for about 18 years, and having received a divine warning that his labours were soon to end, he withdrew into his native town. There he visited the Church of Saint Cassian and presented an offering of a large golden diadem, set with most precious stones, which he placed upon the high Altar. He also gave a golden cup, and silver paten, which imparts to water poured on it the virtue of healing the bites of mad dogs, and of assuaging fevers, as frequent instances have attested. He then took leave of those who had accompanied him from Ravenna, admonishing them to spare no pains in electing for their Pastor him who was the most worthy. Immediately after this he turned in humble prayer to God, that, through the intercession of his patron Saint Cassian, he would mercifully receive his soul and calmly passed out of this life on the third of the Nones of December (Dec. 3), about the year 450. His holy body was buried, amid the tears and prayers of the whole city, near the body of the same Saint Cassian: there it is venerated even at this day, though Ravenna possesses and venerates one of the arms, which was enshrined in gold and gems and placed in the Basilica Ursicana.

Dom Prosper Guéranger:

The same divine Providence which would not that the Church should be deprived of the consolation of keeping, during Advent, the feast of some of the Apostles who announced to the Gentiles the coming of the Messiah, has also willed that the holy Doctors who defended the true Faith against heretics should be represented in this important season of the Catholic Year. Two of them, Saint Ambrose and Saint Peter Chrysologus, shine as two brilliant stars in the firmament of the Church during Advent. It is worthy of note that both of them were the zealous avengers of that Son of God whom we are preparing to receive. The first was the valiant opponent of the Arians, whose impious doctrine taught that Jesus, the object of our hopes, is merely a creature and not God. The second was the adversary of Eutyches whose sacrilegious system robs the Incarnation of the Son of God of all its glory by asserting that, in this mystery, the human nature was absorbed by the divinity.
It is this second Doctor, the holy Bishop of Ravenna, that we are to honour today. His pastoral eloquence gained for him a great reputation, and a great number of his Sermons have been handed down to us. In almost every page we find passages of the most exquisite beauty, though we also occasionally meet with indications of the decay of literature which began in the fifth century. The mystery of the Incarnation is a frequent subject of the Saint’s Sermons, and he always speaks upon it with a precision and enthusiasm which show his learning and piety. His veneration and love towards Mary, the Mother of God who, in that very age, had triumphed over her enemies by the decree of the Council of Ephesus, inspire him with thoughts and language which are extremely fine. Let us take a passage from the Sermon on the Annunciation:
“God sends to the Virgin an Angelic Messenger, who, while he brings grace, gives her the entrusted pledge and receives hers. Then does Gabriel return with Mary’s plighted troth. But before ascending to Heaven, there to tell the consent promised him by the Virgin, he delivers to her the gifts due to her virtues. Swiftly does this Ambassador fly to the Spouse that he might assert God’s claim to her as His own. Gabriel takes her not from Joseph, but he restores her to Christ to whom she was espoused when she was first formed in the womb. Christ, therefore, did but take His own, when He thus made Mary His Spouse. It is not a separation that He thus produces, but a union to Himself of His own creature by becoming Incarnate in her womb. But let us hearken to the Angel’s words. Being come in, he said to her: Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with thee! These words are not a mere salutation. They convey the heavenly gift. Hail! that is, Take, O Mary, the grace I bring you. Fear not. This is not the work of nature. Full of Grace! that is, You are not in grace as others are, you are to be filled with it. The Lord is with thee! What means this, but that He is coming to you not merely to visit you, but to enter within you by the new mystery of becoming your child? Blessed art thou among women. How fittingly does he add these words! They imply that they who heretofore were mothers with the curse of Eve upon them, now have the Blessed Mary as their joy, and honour and type. And whereas Eve was, by nature, the mother of children of death, Mary is, by grace, the mother of children of life.”
In the following passage from another Sermon, the Holy Doctor teaches us with what profound veneration we ought to contemplate Mary during these days when God is still residing in her womb:
“What reverence and awe are shown to that inner chamber of a King, where he sits in all the majesty of his power! Therein, no man may enter that is a stranger, or unclean, or unfaithful. The usages of courts require that when men come to pay their homage, everything must be the best, and fairest, and most loyal. Who would go to the palace-gate in rags? Who would go, that knew he was odious to the Prince? So it is with the sanctuary of the divine Spouse. No one is permitted to come near, but he that is of God’s family, and is intimate, and has a good conscience, and has a fair name, and leads a holy life. Within the holy place itself God receives but the Virgin and spotless virginity. Hence learn, O man, to examine yourself: who are you? And what are you? And what merits do you have? Ask yourself, after this, if you may dare to penetrate into the mystery of the birth of your Lord, or can be worthy to approach that living sanctuary in which reposes the whole majesty of the King, and your God.”
Holy Pontiff, who opened your lips and poured out on the assembly of the faithful, in the streams of your golden eloquence, the knowledge of Jesus, cast an eye of compassion on the Christians throughout the world who are watching in expectation of that same God-Man, whose two Natures you so courageously confessed. Obtain for us grace to receive Him with that sovereign respect which is due to a God who comes down to His creatures, and with that loving confidence which is due to a brother who comes to offer Himself in sacrifice for His most unworthy brethren. Strengthen our faith, most holy Doctor, for the love we stand in need of comes from faith. Destroy the heresies which lay waste the vineyard of our Father, and uproot that frightful pantheism, which is the form under which the heresy you combated is still among us. May the numerous Churches of the East abjure that heresy of Eutyches which reigns so supreme amongst them, and gives them the knowledge of the ineffable mystery of the Incarnation only to blaspheme it. Pray that the children of the Church may show to the judgements of the Apostolic See that perfect obedience to which you so eloquently urged the heresiarch Eutyches in the Epistle you addressed to him and which will ever be precious to the world: “We exhort you above all things, most honoured Brother, that you receive with obedience whatever has been written by the most blessed Pope of the City of Rome, for Blessed Peter, who lives and presides in his own See, shows the truth of faith to all them that seek it” (Letter 25).


Lesson at Matins – Isaias xiii. 1‒11
The burden of Babylon, which Isaias the son of Amos saw. Upon the dark mountain lift ye up a banner, exalt the voice, lift up the hand, and let the rulers go into the gates. I have commanded my sanctified ones, and have called my strong ones in my wrath, them that rejoice in my glory. The noise of the multitude in the mountains, as it were of many people: the noise of the sound of kings, of nations gathered together. The Lord of hosts has given charge to the troops of war, to them that come from a country afar off, from the end of Heaven: the Lord and the instruments of His wrath, to destroy the whole land. Howl ye, for the day of the Lord is near, it will come as a destruction from the Lord. Therefore will all hands be faint, and every heart of man will melt, and will be broken. Gripings and pains will take hold of them, they will be in pain as a woman in labour: every one will be amazed at his neighbour, their countenances will be as faces burnt. Behold, the day of the Lord will come, a cruel day, and full of indignation, and of wrath, and fury to lay the land desolate, and to destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven, and their brightness will not display their light: the sun will be darkened in his rising, and the moon will not shine with her light. And I will visit the evils of the world, and against the wicked for their iniquity: and I will make the pride of infidels to cease, and bring down the arrogance of the mighty.
Thanks be to God.

Dom Prosper Guéranger:
The Church puts before us again, in the office of today, the terrible spectacle of the last Coming of Jesus Christ. The sinful Babylon, of which Isaias speaks, is the world grown old in its crimes. The cruel day, full of indignation and wrath, is that on which the Messiah will return to judge the world with His Sign glittering in the clouds. The words used by the Prophet to describe the terror of the inhabitants of Babylon are so expressive that it is difficult to meditate on them seriously and not tremble. You, then, who, in this second week of preparation for the Birth of our Saviour are still wavering and undecided as to what you intend to do for the day of His Coming, reflect on the connection that there is between the two Comings. If you receive your Saviour in the first, you need be in no fear for the second. But if you despise the first, the second will be to your destruction, nor will the cries of your despair save you. The Judge will come on a sudden, at midnight, at the very time when you persuade yourself that He is far off from you. Say not, that the end of the world is not yet come, and that the destinies of the human race are not filled up — it is not the world that is here in question, it is you individually. True, the Day of the Lord will be terrible, when this world will be broken up as a vessel of clay and the remnants of creation will be a prey to devouring flames. But long before that day of universal terror your own day of judgement will come. The inexorable Judge will come to you, you will stand before His face, you will have none to defend you, and the sentence He will pass will be eternal. And though the nature of that sentence, whether for or against you, will not be known to the rest of the world until the last and general judgement, still is this His Coming to you, at your own judgement, terrible above measure. Remember, therefore, that what will make the terror of the Last Day so great is, that then will be solemnly and publicly confirmed what was judged irrevocably, though secretly, between your own soul and her Judge, just as the favourable sentence, which the good receive at the happy moment of their death, will be repeated before the immense assembly of men and Angels on the Last Day. Is it wise, then, Christians, to put off your conversion, on the plea of the Day of the Lord not having to come for ages, when it might be “this night that your soul were required of you” (Luke xii. 20). The Lord is coming: lose no time, prepare to meet Him. A humble and contrite and converted heart is sure to find acceptance.

4 DECEMBER – SAINT BARBARA (Virgin and Martyr)

Barbara, a virgin of Nicomedia, the daughter of Dioscorus, a nobleman but a superstitious pagan, came readily, by the assistance of divine grace, from the contemplation of the visible things of creation to the knowledge of the invisible. Wherefore, she devoted herself to God alone and to the things of God. Her father, desirous to preserve her from all danger of insult to which he feared her great beauty might expose her, shut her up in a tower. There the pious virgin passed her days in meditation and prayer, studying to please God alone, whom she had chosen as her Spouse. She courageously rejected several offers of marriage which were made to her through her father by rich nobles.

But her father hoped that by separating himself by a long absence from his child, her intentions would easily change. He first ordered that a bath should be built for her in the tower so that she might want for nothing, and then he set out on a journey into distant countries. During her father’s absence, Barbara ordered that to the two windows already in the tower a third should be added, in honour of the Blessed Trinity, and that on the edge of the bath the sign of the most holy Cross should be drawn. When Dioscorus returned home and saw these changes, and was told their meaning, he became so incensed against Barbara that he went in search of her with a naked sword in his hand and, but for the protection of God, he would cruelly have murdered her.

Barbara had taken to flight: an immense rock opened before her, and she found a path by which she reached the top of a mountain, and there she hid herself in a cave. Not long after, however, she was discovered by her unnatural father, who savagely kicked and struck her, and dragging her by the hair over the sharp rocks, and rugged ways, he handed her over to the governor Marcian, that he might punish her. He, therefore, having used every means to shake her constancy, and finding that all was in vain, gave orders that she should he stripped and scourged with thongs, the wounds to be then scraped with potsherd, and so dragged to prison. There Christ, surrounded by an immense light, appearing to her, strengthened her in a divine manner for the sufferings she was yet to endure.

A matron named Juliana who witnessed this was converted to the faith and became her companion in the palm of martyrdom. At length Barbara had her body torn with iron hooks, her sides burnt with torches, and her head bruised with mallets. During these tortures she consoled her companion and exhorted her to fight manfully to the last. Both of them had their breasts cut off, were dragged naked through the streets and beheaded. The head of Barbara was cut off by her own father, who in his excessive wickedness had hardened his heart thus far. But his ferocious cruelty was not long left unpunished, for instantly and on the very spot, he was struck dead by lightning.

The Emperor Justinus had the body of this most holy virgin translated from Nicomedia to Constantinople. It was afterwards obtained by the Venetians from the Emperors Constantine and Basil, and having been translated from Constantinople to Venice, was deposited with great solemnity in the Basilica of Saint Mark. Lastly, at the earnest request of the Bishop of Torcello and his sister who was abbess, it was translated in 1009 to the Conventual Church of Saint John the Evangelist in the diocese of Torcello, where it was placed in a worthy sepulchre, and from that time has never ceased to be the object of most fervent veneration.

Dom Prosper Guéranger:
Although in the Roman Liturgy Saint Barbara is merely commemorated in the Office of Saint Peter Chrysologus, yet the Church has approved an entire Office for the use of those Churches which honour the memory of this illustrious Virgin in a special manner. The Legend although of considerable weight, has not consequently the authority of those which are promulgated for the use of the whole Church in the Roman Breviary. Let us not, on this account, be the less fervent in honouring this glorious Martyr, so celebrated in the East and whose feast has been for so many ages admitted, with more or less solemnity, into the Roman Church. The Acts of her martyrdom, though not of the highest antiquity, contain nothing in them but what redounds to the glory of God and the honour of the Saint. We have already shown the liturgical importance which attaches to Saint Barbara in the season of Advent. Let us admire the constancy with which this Virgin waited for her Lord, who came at the appointed hour, and was for her, as the Scripture speaks, a Spouse of blood, because He put the strength of her love of Him to the severest of all tests.
The courageous Virgin of Nicomedia is invoked in the Church against lightning on account of the punishment inflicted by divine justice on her execrable father. This same incident of the Saint’s history has suggested several Catholic customs: thus, her name is sometimes given to the hold of men-of-war where the ammunition is stowed. She is the Patroness of artillery-men, miners, etc and she is invoked by the faithful against the danger of a sudden death.
To the voice of so many Churches we join ours, O faithful Virgin! And though we are unworthy, yet do we offer you our praise and our prayers. Behold our Lord comes, and the darkness of the night is upon us. Give to our lamp both the light which will guide us, and the oil which will keep in the light. You know that He who came for love of you and with whom you are now united for all eternity, is coming to visit us too. Pray for us that nothing may keep us from receiving Him. May we go towards Him courageously and swiftly as you did, and being once with Him, may we never be separated from Him again, for He is the centre where we creatures find our only rest. Pray also, glorious Martyr, that the faith in the Blessed Trinity may be ever increasing in this world. May our enemy, Satan, be confounded by every tongue’s confessing the Threefold light and the triumphant Cross which sanctifies the waters of Baptism. Remember, O blessed Barbara, Spouse of Jesus, that He has put in your gentle hands the power not of burling but of staying and averting the thunderbolt. Protect our ships against the fires of heaven and of war. Shield by your protection the arsenals where are placed the defence of our country. Hear the prayers of them that invoke you, whether in the fierceness of the storm, or in the dark depths of the earth, and save us all from the awful chastisement of a sudden death.
Also on this day according to the ROMAN MARTYROLOGY:

At Constantinople, the saints Theophanes and his companions.

In Pontus, blessed Meletius, bishop and confessor, who joined to an eminent gift of knowledge the more distinguished glory of fortitude and integrity of life.

At Bologna, St. Felix, bishop, who previously had been deacon of the church of Milan under St. Ambrose.

In England, St. Osmund, bishop and confessor.

At Cologne, St. Annan, bishop.

In Mesopotamia, St. Maruthas, bishop, who restored the churches of God that had been ruined in Persia by the persecution of king Isdegerdes. Being renowned for many miracles, he merited to be honoured even by his enemies.

At Parma, St. Bernard, cardinal and bishop of that city. He belonged to the Congregation of Vallumbrosa, of the Order of St. Benedict.

And in other places, many other holy martyrs, confessors and virgins.

Thanks be to God.

Sunday 3 December 2023


Dom Prosper Guéranger:
This Sunday, the first of the ecclesiastical year, is called in the chronicles and charts of the Middle Ages, Ad te levavi Sunday, from the first words of the Introit: or Aspiciens a longe, from the first words of one of the Responsories of Matins. The Station is at Saint Mary Major’s. It is under the auspices of Mary — in the splendid Basilica which possesses the Crib of Bethlehem, and is therefore called, in ancient documents, Saint Mary’s ad Praesepe — that the Roman Church recommences each year the sacred Cycle. It would have been impossible to select a place more suitable than this for saluting the approach of the Divine Birth, which is to gladden Heaven and Earth and manifest the sublime portent of a Virgin Mother.
Epistle – Romans xiii. 11–14
Brethren, knowing that it is now high time for us to rise from sleep. For now our salvation is nearer than when we began to believe, the night is far spent, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day: not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God.

Dom Prosper Guéranger:
The Saviour, then, who is coming to us is the clothing which we are to put on over our spiritual nakedness. Here let us admire the goodness of our God who, remembering that man hid himself after his sin because he was naked, vouchsafes Himself to become man’s clothing and cover with the robe of His Divinity the misery of human nature. Let us therefore be on the watch for the day and the hour when He will come to us, and take precautions against the drowsiness which comes of custom and self-indulgence. The light will soon appear. May its first rays be witness of our innocence, or at least of our repentance. If our Saviour is coming to put over our sins a covering which is to hide them forever, the least that we, on our part, can do, is to retain no further affection for those sins, else it will be said of us that we refused our salvation. The last words of this Epistle were those which caught the eye of Saint Augustine when, after a long resistance to the grace which pressed him to give himself to God, he resolved to obey the voice which said to him: Tolle lege, take and read. They decided his conversion. He immediately resolved to abandon the worldly life he had hitherto led, and put on Christ Jesus. Let us begin this very day, and imitate this Saint. Let us long for that dear and glorious clothing, with which the mercy of our heavenly Father is so soon to cover us.
Gospel – Luke xxi. 25–33
At that time Jesus said to His disciples: “There will be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea and of the waves, men withering away for fear, and expectation of what will come upon them. For the powers of the heaven will be moved; and then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with great power and majesty. But when these things begin to come to pass, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand.” And He spoke to them a parable: “See the fig tree and all the trees; when they are shooting forth their fruit, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you will see these things come to pass, know that the kingdom of God is at hand. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all things are fulfilled. Heaven, and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Praise be to you, O Christ.

Dom Prosper Guéranger:
You are to come, then, O Jesus, in all the terror of the Last Judgement, and when men least expect you! In a few days you are coming to us to clothe our misery with the garment of your mercy, a garment of glory and immortality to us. But you are to come again on a future day, and in such dread majesty, that men will wither away with fear. My Saviour! Condemn me not on that day of the world’s destruction. Visit me now in your love and mercy. I am resolved to prepare my soul. I desire that you should come and be born within me so that when the convulsions of nature warn me of your coming to judge me, I may lift up my head, as you bid your faithful disciples do, who, when the rest of men will tremble at the thunder of your Judgement, will have confidence in you because they have you in their hearts.


Dom Prosper Gueranger
The History of Advent

The name Advent1 is applied in the Latin Church to that period of the year, during which the Church requires the faithful to prepare for the celebration of the Feast of Christmas, the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ. The mystery of that great day had every right to the honour of being prepared for by prayer and works of penance and, in fact, it is impossible to state with any certainty when this season of preparation (which had long been observed before receiving its present name of Advent) was first instituted. It would seem, however, that its observance first began in the West since it is evident that Advent could not have been looked on as a preparation for the Feast of Christmas until that Feast was definitively fixed to the twenty-fifth of December: which was only done in the East towards the close of the fourth century, whereas, it is certain, that the Church of Rome kept the feast on that day at a much earlier period.

We must look upon Advent in two different lights. First, as a time of preparation, properly so called, for the birth of our Saviour, by works of penance, and secondly, as a series of Ecclesiastical Offices drawn up for the same purpose. We find, as far back as the fifth century, the custom of giving exhortations to the people in order to prepare them for the Feast of Christmas. We have two Sermons of Saint Maximus of Turin on this subject, not to speak of several others which were formerly attributed to Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine, but which were probably written by Saint Cesarius of Aries. If these documents do not tell us what was the duration and the exercises of this holy season, they at least show us how ancient was the practice of distinguishing the time of Advent by special sermons. Saint Ivo of Chartres, Saint Bernard and several other Doctors of the eleventh and twelfth centuries have left us set sermons de Adventu Domini, quite distinct from their Sunday Homilies on the Gospels of that season. In the Capitularia of Charles the Bald, in 846, the Bishops admonish that Prince not to call them away from their churches during Lent or Advent under pretext of affairs of the State or the necessities of war, seeing that they have special duties to fulfil, and particularly that of preaching during those sacred times.

The oldest document in which we find the length and exercises of Advent mentioned with anything like clearness is a passage in the second book of the History of the Franks by Saint Gregory of Tours where he says that Saint Perpetuus, one of his predecessors, who held that See about the year 480, had decreed a fast three times a week from the feast of Saint Martin until Christmas. It would be impossible to decide whether Saint Perpetuus by this regulation established a new custom, or merely enforced an already existing law. Let us, however, note this interval of forty, or rather of forty-three days, so expressly mentioned and consecrated to penance, as though it were a second Lent, though less strict and severe than that which precedes Easter.

Later on we find the ninth canon of the first Council of Mâcon held in 582 ordaining that during the same interval, between Saint Martins Day and Christmas, the Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, should be fasting days, and that the Sacrifice should be celebrated according to the Lenten Rite. Not many years before that, namely in 567, the second Council of Tours had enjoined the monks to fast from the beginning of December till Christmas. This practice of penance soon extended to the whole forty days, even for the laity, and it was commonly called Saint Martins Lent. The Capitularia of Charlemagne, in the sixth book, leave us no doubt on the matter, and Rabanus Maurus, in the second book of his Institution of Clerics, bears testimony to this observance. There were even special rejoicings made on Saint Martins Feast, just as we see them practised now at the approach of Lent and Easter.

The obligation of observing this Lent which, though introduced so imperceptibly, had by degrees acquired the force of a sacred law, began to be relaxed and the forty days from Saint Martins Day to Christmas were reduced to four weeks. We have seen that this fast began to be observed first in France, but from there it spread into England, as we find from Venerable Bedes History, into Italy, as appears from a diploma of Astolphus, King of the Lombards, dated 758, into Germany, Spain etc of which the proofs may be seen in the learned work of Dom Martene, On the Ancient Rites of the Church. The first allusion to Advents being reduced to four weeks is to be found in the ninth century in a letter of Pope Saint Nicholas the First to the Bulgarians. The testimony of Ratherius of Verona and of Abbo of Fleury, both writers of the tenth century, goes also to prove that even then the question of reducing the duration of the Advent fast by one-third was seriously entertained. It is true that Saint Peter Damian, in the eleventh century, speaks of the Advent fast as still being for forty days, and that Saint Louis, two centuries later, kept it for that length of time, but as far as this holy King is concerned, it is probable that it was only his own devotion which prompted him to this practice.

The discipline of the Churches of the West, after having reduced the time of the Advent fast, so far relented in a few years as to change the fast into a simple abstinence, and we even find Councils of the twelfth century, for instance, Selingstadt in 1122 and Avranches in 1172, which seem to require only the clergy to observe this abstinence. The Council of Salisbury held in 1281 would seem to expect none but monks to keep it. On the other hand, (for the whole subject is very confused, owing, no doubt, to there never having been any uniformity of discipline regarding it in the Western Church) we find Pope Innocent III in his letter to the Bishop of Braga mentioning the custom of fasting during the whole of Advent, as being at that time observed in Rome. And Durandus, in the same thirteenth century, in his Rational on the Divine Offices, tells us that in France fasting was uninterruptedly observed during the whole of that holy time.

This much is certain, that, by degrees, the custom of fasting so far fell into disuse that when, in 1362, Pope Urban V endeavoured to prevent the total decay of the Advent penance, all he insisted upon was that all the clerics of his court should keep abstinence during Advent, without in any way including others, either clergy or laity, in this law. Saint Charles Borromeo also strove to bring back his people of Milan to the spirit, if not to the letter, of ancient times. In his fourth Council he enjoins the parish priests to exhort the faithful to go to communion on the Sundays, at least, of Lent and Advent, and afterwards addressed to the faithful themselves a Pastoral Letter in which after having reminded them of the dispositions with which they ought to spend this holy time, he strongly urges them to fast on the Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, at least, of each week in Advent. Finally, Pope Benedict XIV when Archbishop of Bologna, following these illustrious examples, wrote his eleventh Ecclesiastical Institution for the purpose of exciting in the mind of his diocesans the exalted idea which the Christians of former times bad of the holy season of Advent, and to the removing an erroneous opinion which prevailed in those parts, namely, that Advent only concerned Religious and not the laity. He shows them that such an opinion, unless it be limited to the two practices of fasting and abstinence, is strictly speaking rash and scandalous, since it cannot be denied that in the laws and usages of the universal Church there exist special practices having for their end the preparing the faithful for the great feast of the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Greek Church still continues to observe the fast of Advent, though with much less rigour than that of Lent. It consists of forty days, beginning with the 14th of November, the day on which this Church keeps the feast of the Apostle Saint Philip. During this entire period, the people abstain from flesh-meat, butter, milk and eggs but they are allowed, which they are not during Lent, fish, oil and wine. Fasting, in its strict sense, is only binding on seven out of the forty days, and the whole period goes under the name of Saint Philips Lent. The Greeks justify these relaxations by this distinction: that the Lent before Christmas is, so they say, only an institution of the monks, whereas the Lent before Easter is of Apostolic institution.

But, if the exterior practices of penance which formerly sanctified the season of Advent have been in the Western Church so gradually relaxed as to have become now quite obsolete except in monasteries, the general character of the Liturgy of this holy time has not changed. And it is by their zeal in foil owing its spirit that the Faithful will prove their earnestness in preparing for Christmas.

The liturgical form of Advent as it now exists in the Roman Church has gone through certain modifications. Saint Gregory seems to have been the first to draw up the Office for this season, which originally included five Sundays, as is evident from the most ancient Sacramentaries of this great Pope. It even appears probable, and the opinion has been adopted by Amalarius of Metz, Berno of Bichenaw, Dom Martene and Benedict XIV, that Saint Gregory originated the ecclesiastical precept of Advent, although the custom of devoting a longer or shorter period to a preparation for Christmas has been observed from time immemorial, and the abstinence and fast of this holy season first began in France. Saint Gregory therefore fixed, for the Churches of the Latin rite, the form of the Office for this Lent-like season and sanctioned the fast which had been established, granting a certain latitude to the several Churches as to the manner of its observance.

The Sacramentary of Saint Gelasius has neither Mass nor Office of preparation for Christmas. The first we meet with are in the Gregorian Sacramentary and, as we just observed, these Masses are five in number. It is remarkable that these Sundays were then counted inversely, that is, the nearest to Christmas was called the first Sunday, and so on with the rest. So far back as the ninth and tenth centuries, these Sundays were reduced to four, as we learn from Amalarius, Saint Nicholas I, Berno of Richenaw, Ratherius of Verona etc, and such also is their number in the Gregorian Sacramentary of Pamelius which appears to have been transcribed about this same period. From that time the Roman Church has always observed this arrangement of Advent, which gives it four weeks, the fourth beings that in which Christmas Day falls, unless the 25th of December be a Sunday. We may therefore consider the present discipline of the observance of Advent as having lasted a thousand years, at least as far as the Church of Rome is concerned, for some of the Churches in France kept up the number of five Sundays as late as the thirteenth century.

The Ambrosian Liturgy, even to this day, has six weeks of Advent. So has the Gothic or Mozarabic Missal. As regards the Gallican Liturgy, the fragments collected by Dom Mabillon give us no information, but it is natural to suppose with this learned man, whose opinion has been confirmed by Dom Martene, that the Church of Gaul adopted, in this as in so many other points, the usages of the Gothic Church, that is to say, that its Advent consisted of six Sundays and six weeks. With regard to the Greeks, their Rubrics for Advent are given in the Mensea, immediately after the Office for the 14th of November. They have no proper Office for Advent, neither do they celebrate during this time the Mass of the Presanctified as they do in Lent. There are only in the Offices for the Saints whose feasts occur between the 14th of November and the Sunday nearest Christmas, frequent allusions to the Birth of the Saviour, to the Maternity of Mary, to the cave of Bethlehem, etc. On the Sunday preceding Christmas, in order to celebrate the expected coming of the Messias, they keep what they call the Feast of the Holy Fathers, that is the commemoration of the Saints of the Old Law. They give the name of Ante-Feast of the Nativity to the 20th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd December, and although they say the office of several Saints on these four days, yet the mystery of the birth of Jesus pervades the whole Liturgy.

The Mystery of Advent

If, now that we have described the characteristic features of Advent which distinguish it from the rest of the year we would penetrate into the profound mystery which occupies the mind of the Church during this season, we find that this mystery of the Coming or Advent of Jesus is at once simple and threefold. It is simple, for it is the one same Son of God that is coming. It is threefold, because He comes at three different times and in three different ways.

 “In the first Coming,” says Saint Bernard, “He comes in the flesh and in weakness. In the second, He comes in spirit and in power. In the third, He comes in glory and in majesty, and the second Coming is the means whereby we pass from the first to the third.”

 This, then, is the mystery of Advent. Let us now listen to the explanation of this threefold visit of Christ given to us by Peter of Blois, in his third Sermon de Adventu:

 “There are three Comings of our Lord. The first in the flesh, the second in the soul, the third at the judgement. The first was at midnight, according to those words of the Gospel: At midnight there was a cry made, Lo the Bridegroom comes! But this first Coming is long since past, for Christ has been seen on the Earth and has conversed among men. We are now in the second Coming, provided only we are such as that He may thus come to us, for He has said that if we love Him, He will come to us and will take up his abode with us. So that this second Coming is full of uncertainty to us. For who, save the Spirit of God, knows them that are of God? They that are raised out of themselves by the desire of heavenly things know indeed when He comes, but from where He comes, or to where He goes, they know not. As for the third Coming, it is most certain that it will be most uncertain when it will be, for nothing is more sure than death and nothing less sure than the hour of death. When they will say, peace and security, says the Apostle, then will sudden destruction come on them as the pains upon her that is with child, and they will not escape. So that the first Coming was humble and hidden, the second is mysterious and full of love, the third will be majestic and terrible. In His first Coming, Christ was judged by men unjustly. In His second, He renders us just by His grace. In His third, He will judge all things with justice. In His first, a Lamb. In His last, a Lion. In the one between the two, the tenderest of Friends.”

The holy Church therefore, during Advent awaits in tears and with ardour the arrival of her Jesus in His first Coming. For this she borrows the fervid expressions of the Prophets to which she joins her own supplications. These longings for the Messiah expressed by the Church are not a mere commemoration of the desires of the ancient Jewish people. They have a reality and efficacy of their own — an influence in the great act of Gods munificence by which He gave us His own Son. From all eternity the prayers of the ancient Jewish people and the prayers of the Christian Church ascended together to the prescient hearing of God, and it was after receiving and granting them that He sent, in the appointed time, that blessed dew upon the Earth which made it bud forth the Saviour.

The Church aspires also to the second Coming, the consequence of the first, which consists, as we have just seen, in the visit of the Bridegroom to the Spouse. This Coming takes place each year at the Feast of Christmas when the new birth of the Son of God delivers the faithful from that yoke of bondage under which the enemy would oppress them. The Church, therefore, during Advent prays that she may be visited by Him who is her Head and her Spouse, visited in her hierarchy, visited in her members of whom some are living and some are dead but may come to life again, visited, lastly, in those who are not in communion with her, and even in the very infidels, that so they may be converted to the true Light, which shines even for them. The expressions of the Liturgy which the Church makes use of to ask for this loving and invisible Coming, are those which she employs when begging for the coming of Jesus in the flesh, for the two visits are for the same object.

In vain would the Son of God have come, [two thousand] years ago to visit and save mankind unless He came again for each one of us and at every moment of our lives, bringing to us and cherishing within us that supernatural life of which He and His Holy Spirit are the sole principle. But this annual visit of the Spouse does not content the Church: she aspires after a third Coming which will complete all things by opening the gates of eternity. She has caught up the last words of her Spouse, “Surely, I am coming quickly” (Apocalypse xxii. 20), and she cries out to Him, “Ah! Lord Jesus! Come!” She is impatient to be loosed from her present temporal state. She longs for the number of the elect to be filled up and to see appear, in the clouds of Heaven, the sign of her Deliverer and her Spouse. Her desires, expressed by her Advent Liturgy, go even as far as this: and here we have the explanation of those words of the beloved Disciple in his prophecy: “The nuptials of the Lamb are come, and His Spouse has prepared herself” (Apocalypse xix. 7).

But the day of this His last Coming to her will be a day of terror. The Church frequently trembles at the very thought of that awful judgement in which all mankind is to be tried. She calls it “a day of wrath on which, as David and the Sibyl have foretold, the world will be reduced to ashes: a day of weeping and fear.” Not that she fears for herself, since she knows that this day will for ever secure to her the crown as being the Spouse of Jesus, but her maternal heart is troubled at the thought that on the same day so many of her children will be on the left hand of the Judge and, having no share with the elect, will be bound hand and foot and cast into the darkness,where there will be everlasting weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is the reason why the Church, in the Liturgy of Advent, so frequently speaks of the Coming of Christ as a terrible Coming, and selects from the Scriptures those passages which are most calculated to awaken a salutary fear in the mind of such of her children as may be sleeping the sleep of sin.

This, then, is the threefold mystery of Advent. The liturgical forms in which it is embodied, are of two kinds: the one consists of prayers, passages from the Bible and similar formulas in all of which words themselves are employed to convey the sentiments which we have been explaining. The other consists of external rites peculiar to this holy time which, by speaking to the outward senses, complete the expressiveness of the chants and words. First of all, there is the number of the days of Advent. Forty was the number originally adopted by the Church, and it is still maintained in the Ambrosian liturgy and in the Eastern Church. If at a later period the Church of Rome, and those who follow her Liturgy, have changed the number of days, the same idea is still expressed in the four weeks which have been substituted for the forty days. The new birth of our Redeemer takes place after four weeks, as the first Nativity happened after four thousand years, according to the Hebrew and Vulgate Chronology.

As in Lent, so likewise during Advent, Marriage is not solemnised, lest worldly joy should distract Christians from those serious thoughts with which the expected Coming of the Sovereign Judge ought to inspire them, or from that dearly cherished hope which the friends of the Bridegroom (John iii. 29) have of being soon called to the eternal Nuptial-feast. The people are forcibly reminded of the sadness which fills the heart of the Church by the sombre colour of the Vestments. Excepting on the Feasts of the Saints, purple is the only colour she uses. The Deacon does not wear the Dalmatic, nor the Subdeacon the Tunic. Formerly it was the custom in some places to wear Black Vestments. This mourning of the Church shows how fully she unites herself with those true Israelites of old who, clothed in sackcloth and ashes, waited for the Messiah and bewailed Sion that she had not her beauty, and “Judah, that the sceptre had been taken from him, till He should come who was to be sent, the expectation of nations” (Genesis xlix. 10). It also signifies the works of penance by which she prepares for the second Coming, full as it is of sweetness and mystery, which is realised in the souls of men in proportion as they appreciate the tender love of that Divine Guest who has said: “My delights are to be with the children of men” (proverbs viii. 31). It expresses, thirdly, the desolation of this Spouse who yearns after her Beloved, who is long a-coming. Like the turtle dove, she moans her loneliness, longing for the voice which will say to her: “Come from Libanus, my Spouse! Come, you will be crowned: you have wounded my heart” (Canticles iv. 8, 9).

The Church also, during Advent, excepting on the Feasts of Saints, suppresses the Angelic Canticle, Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonoe voluntatis, for this glorious Song was only sung at Bethlehem over the crib of the Divine Babe — the tongue of the Angels is not loosened yet — the Virgin has not yet brought forth her divine treasure — it is not yet time to sing, it is not even true to say, Glory be to God in the highest, and peace on Earth to men of good will! Again, at the end of Mass, the Deacon does not dismiss the assembly of the faithful by the words: Ite, Missa est. He substitutes the ordinary greeting: Benedicamus Domino! as though the Church feared to interrupt the prayers of the people which could scarce be too long during these days of expectation. In the Night Office the Holy Church also suspends, on those same days, the hymn of jubilation, Te Deum laudamus. It is in deep humility that she awaits the supreme blessing which is to come to her, and in the interval she presumes only to ask, and entreat, and hope. But let the glorious hour come when, in the midst of darkest night, the Sun of Justice will suddenly rise upon the world — then indeed she will resume her hymn of thanksgiving, and all over the face of the Earth the silence of midnight will be broken by this shout of enthusiasm: “We praise you, O God! We acknowledge you to be our Lord! You, O Christ, are the King of glory, the everlasting Son of the Father! You, being to deliver man, did not disdain the Virgin's womb!

On the Ferial Days, the Rubrics of Advent prescribe that certain prayers should be said kneeling at the end of each Canonical Hour, and that the Choir should also kneel during a considerable portion of the Mass. In this respect, the usages of Advent are precisely the same as those of Lent.

But there is one feature winch distinguishes Advent most markedly from Lent: the word of gladness, the joyful Alleluia, is not interrupted during Advent, except once or twice during the ferial office. It is sung in the Masses of the four Sundays, and vividly contrasts with the sombre colour of the Vestments. On one of these Sundays — the third — the prohibition of using the organ is removed, and we are gladdened by its grand notes, and rose-coloured Vestments may be used instead of the purple. These vestiges of joy, thus blended with the holy mournfulness of the Church, tell us, in a most expressive way, that though she unites with the ancient people of God in praying for the coming of the Messiah (thus paying the debt which the entire human race owes to the justice and mercy of God), she does not forget that the Emmanuel is already come to her, that He is in her, and that even before she has opened her lips to ask him to save her, she has been already redeemed and predestined to an eternal union with Him. This is the reason why the Alleluia accompanies even her sighs, and why she seems to be at once joyous and sad, waiting for the coming of that holy night which will be brighter to her than the most sunny of days, and on which her joy will expel all her sorrow.

The Practice of Advent

If our holy mother the Church spends the time of Advent in this solemn preparation for the threefold Coming of Jesus Christ: if, after the example of the prudent virgins, she keeps her lamp lit ready for the coming of the Bridegroom, we, being her members and her children, ought to enter into her spirit and apply to ourselves this warning of our Saviour: “Let your loins be girt, and lamps burning in your hands, and ye yourselves be like men who wait for their Lord” (Luke xii. 45).

The Church and we have, in reality, the same hopes. Each one of us is, on the part of God, an object of mercy and care as is the Church herself. If she is the temple of God, it is because she is built of living stones. If she is the Spouse, it is because she consists of all the souls which are invited to eternal union with God. If it is written that the Saviour has purchased the Church with His own Blood (Acts xx. 28), may not each one of us say of himself those words of Saint Paul, “Christ has loved me, and has delivered Himself up for me?” (Galatians ii. 20).

Our destiny being the same, then, as that of the Church, we should endeavour during Advent to enter into the spirit of preparation which is, as we have seen, that of the Church herself. And firstly, it is our duty to join with the Saints of the Old Law in asking for the Messiah, and thus pay the debt which the whole human race owes to the divine mercy. In order to fulfil this duty with fervour, let us go back in thought to those four thousand years represented by the four weeks of Advent and reflect on the darkness and crime which filled the world before our Saviours coming. Let our hearts be filled with lively gratitude towards Him who saved his creature Man from death, and who came down from Heaven that He might know our miseries by Himself experiencing them, yes, all of them, excepting sin. Let us cry to Him with confidence from the depths of our misery for, notwithstanding His having saved the work of His hands, He still wishes us to beseech Him to save us. Let therefore our desires and our confidence have their free utterance in the ardent supplications of the ancient Prophets, which the Church puts on our lips during these days of expectation. Let us give our closest attention to the sentiments which they express.

This first duty complied with, we must next turn our minds to the Coming which our Saviour wishes to accomplish in our own hearts. It is, as we have seen, a Coming full of sweetness and mystery and a consequence of the first, for the Good Shepherd comes not only to visit the flock in general, but He extends his solicitude to each one of the sheep, even to the hundredth which is lost. Now, in order to appreciate the whole of this ineffable mystery, we must remember that since we can only be pleasing to our Heavenly Father inasmuch as He sees within us His Son Jesus Christ, this amiable Saviour deigns to come into each one of us, and transform us, if we will but consent, into Himself, so that henceforth we may live, not we, but He in us. This is, in reality, the one grand aim of the Christian Religion, to make man divine through Jesus Christ: it is the task which God has given to His Church to do, and she says to the faithful what Saint Paul said to his Galatians: “My little children, of whom I am in labour again, until Christ be formed within you!” (Galatians iv. 19).

But, as on His entering into this world, our divine Saviour first showed Himself under the form of a weak babe before attaining the fullness of the age of manhood, and this to the end that nothing might be wanting to His sacrifice — so does He intend to do in us. There is to be a progress in His growth within us. Now, it is at the feast of Christmas that He delights to be born in our souls, and that He pours out over the whole Church a grace of being born to which, however, all are not faithful. For this glorious solemnity, as often as it comes round, finds three classes of men. The first, and the smallest number are they who live, in all its plenitude, the life of Jesus who is within them, and aspire incessantly after the increase of this life. The second class of souls is more numerous. They are living, it is true, because Jesus is in them, but they are sick and weakly because they care not to grow in this divine life: their charity has become cold (Apocalypse ii. 4). The rest of men make up the third division, and are they who have no part of this life in them, and are dead, for Christ has said: “I am the Life” (John xiv. 6).

Now, during the season of Advent, our Lord knocks at the door of all mens hearts, at one time so forcibly that they must needs notice him, at another so softly that it requires attention to know that Jesus is asking admission. He comes to ask them if they have room for Him, for He wishes to be born in their house. The house indeed is His, for He built it and preserves it. Yet He complains that His own refused to receive Him (John iii.), at least the greater number did. But as many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God, born not of blood, nor of the flesh, but of God (John i. 12, 13).

He will be born, then, with more beauty and lustre and might than you have hitherto seen in Him, O ye faithful ones, who hold Him within you as your only treasure, and who have long lived no other life than His, shaping your thoughts and works on the model of His. You will feel the necessity of words to suit and express your love, such words as He delights to hear you speak to Him. You will find them in the holy Liturgy. You, who have had Him within you without knowing Him, and have possessed Him without relishing the sweetness of His presence, open your hearts to welcome Him this time with more care and love. He repeats His visit of this year with an untiring tenderness. He has forgotten your past slights. He would “that all things be new” (Apocalypse xxi. 5). Make room for the Divine Infant, for He desires to grow within your soul. The time of His coming is close at hand: let your heart, then, be on the watch and lest you should slumber when He arrives, watch and pray, yea, sing. The words of the Liturgy are intended also for your use: they speak of darkness which only God can enlighten, of wounds which only His mercy can heal, of a faintness which can only be braced by His divine energy.

And you, Christians, for whom the good tidings are as things that are not because you are dead in sin, lo! He who is very life is coining among you. Yes, whether this death of sin has held you as its slave for long years or has but freshly inflicted on you the wound which made you its victim — Jesus, your Life, is coming: why, then, will you die? He desires “not the death of the sinner, but rather that he be converted and live” (Ezechiel xviii. 3135). The grand Feast of His birth will be a day of mercy for the whole world: at least, for all who will give Him admission into their hearts. They will rise to life again in Him, their past life will be destroyed, and where sin abounded there grace will more abound (Romans v. 20).

But, if the tenderness and the attractiveness of this mysterious Coming make no impression on you because your heart is too weighed down to be able to rise to confidence, and because, having so long drunk sin like water, you know not what it is to long with love for the caresses of a Father whom you have slighted — then turn your thoughts to that other Coming which is full of terror and is to follow the silent one of grace that is now offered. Think within yourselves how this Earth of ours will tremble at the approach of the dread Judge, how the heavens will flee from before His face and fold up as a book (Apocalypse vi. 14), how man will wince under His angry look, how the creature will wither away with fear as the two-edged sword which comes from the mouth of his Creator (Apocalypse i. 16) pierces him, and how sinners will cry out “Ye mountains, fall on us! ye rocks, cover us!” (Luke xxiii. 30). Those unhappy souls who would not know the time of their visitation (Luke xix. 44) will then vainly wish to hide themselves from the face of Jesus. They shut their hearts against this Man-God who, in His excessive love for them, wept over them — therefore, on the day of judgement they will descend alive into those everlasting fires whose flame devours the Earth with her increase and burns the foundations of the mountains (Deuteronomy xxx. 22). The worm that never dies (Mark ix. 43), the useless eternal repentance, will gnaw them forever.

Let those, then, who are not touched by the tidings of the Coming of the Heavenly Physician and the Good Shepherd who gives His life for His sheep, meditate during Advent on the awful yet certain truth that so many render the redemption unavailable to themselves by their refusing to co-operate in their own salvation. They may treat the child who is to be born (Isaias ix. 6) with disdain, but He is also the Mighty God, and do they think they can withstand Him on that Day when He is to come not to save, as now, but to judge? Would that they knew more of this divine Judge before whom the very Saints tremble! Let them also use the Liturgy of this season, and they will there learn how much He is to be feared by sinners.

We would not imply by this that only sinners need to fear: no, every Christian ought to fear. Fear, when there is no nobler sentiment with it, makes man a slave. When it accompanies love, it is a feeling which fills the heart of a child who has offended his father, yet seeks for pardon. When, at length, love casts out fear (1 John iv. 18), even then this holy fear will sometimes come and, like a flash of lightning, pervade the deepest recesses of the soul. It does the soul good. She wakes up afresh to a keener sense of her own misery and of the unmerited mercy of her Redeemer. Let no one, therefore, think that he may safely pass his Advent without taking any share in the holy fear which animates the Church. She, though so beloved by God, prays to Him to give her this fear. And every day in her Office of Sext she thus cries out to Him: “Pierce my flesh with your Fear.” It is, however, to those who are beginning a good life, that this part of the Advent Liturgy will be peculiarly serviceable.

It is evident from what we have said that Advent is a season specially devoted to the exercises of what is called the Purgative Life, and which is implied in that expression of Saint John, so continually repeated by the Church during this holy time: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” Let all, therefore, strive earnestly to make straight the path by which Jesus will enter into their souls. Let the just, agreeably to the teaching of the Apostle, forget the things that are behind (Philippians iii. 13) and labour to acquire fresh merit. Let sinners begin at once and break the chains which now enslave them. Let them give up those bad habits which they have contracted. Let them weaken the flesh, and enter upon the hard work of subjecting it to the spirit. Let them, above all things, pray with the Church. And when our Lord comes, they may hope that He will not pass them by, but that He will enter and dwell within them: for he spoke of all when He said these words: “Behold, I stand at the gate and knock: if any man will hear my voice and open to me the door, I will come in to him” (Apocalypse iii. 20).

1From the Latin word Adventus, which signifies a Coming.