CHRISTMAS DAY: FIRST VESPERS

 

After the usual invocation of the divine assistance, the Church intones, in a most solemn chant, the five following Antiphons, which precede as many Psalms:

1. ANT. Rex pacificus magnificatus est, cujus vultum desiderat universa terra. 1. ANT. The King of Peace, whom the whole earth desireth to see, hath shown his greatness.

Psalm 109, Dixit Dominus.

2. ANT. Magnificatus est Rex pacificus super omnes reges universae terrae. 2. ANT. The King of Peace is magnified above all the Kings of the earth.

Psalm 110, Confitebor tibi.

3. ANT. Impleti sunt dies Mariae, ut pareret Filium suum primogenitum. 3. ANT. The days were completed for Mary, that she should bring forth her first-born Son.

Psalm 111, Beatus vir.

4. ANT. Scitote quia prope est regnum Dei: amen dico vobis quia non tardabit. 4. ANT. Know ye, that the Kingdom of God is at hand; amen I say unto you, it shall not tarry.

Psalm112, Laudate pueri.

5. ART. Levate capita vestra; ecce appropinquat redemptio vestra.

PSALM 116
Laudate Dominum omnes gentes: * laudate eum, omnes populi. 
Quoniam confirmata est  super nos misericordia ejus: 
* et veritas Domini manet in aeternum.

5. ANT. Raise up your heads:  lo! your redemption is at  hand.

PSALM 116
O! praise the Lord, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people.
For his mercy is confirmed upon us, and the truth of the Lord remaineth for ever.

After having extolled, in these divine canticles, the eternal generation, the fidelity, the mercy, the greatness, and the truth, of her divine Spouse, who is coming, and in a few short hours will show himself to her, the Church suspends her praise for a moment, and listens, in the Capitulum, to the consoling words of the Apostle of the Gentiles concerning the coming of God our Saviour.

CAPITULUM

(Tit. iii 4)

Apparuit benignitas et humanitas Salvatoris nostri Dei, non ex operibus justitiae quae fecimus nos, sed secundum misericordiam suam salvos nos fecit. The goodness and kindness of God our Saviour hath appeared; not by the works of justice, which we have done, but according to his mercy hath he saved us.

Encouraged afresh by these beautiful words, the Church resumes her praises, not borrowing, this time, the psalmody of the Royal Prophet, but singing a Hymn to Jesus, her Spouse, on the glory and beauty of his Birthday, which makes all Nature glad, and brings the sweetest joy of heart to such as know how to love the Divine Babe. It was St Ambrose - the Bee of Milan, as he has been called - who composed this Hymn, which is sung to-day in almost every part of the world.

HYMN

Jesu, redemptor omnium,
Quem, lucis ante originem,
Parem paternae gloria
Pater supremus edidit;

Tu lumen et splendor Patris,
Tu spes perennis omnium,
Intende quas fundunt preces
Tui per orbem servuli.

Memento, rerum conditor,
Nostri quod olim corporis,
Sacrata ab alvo Virginis
Nascendo, formam sumpseris.

Testatur hoc praesens dies,
Currens per anni circulum,
Quod solus e sine Patris
Mundi salus adveneris.

Hunc astra, tellus, aequora,
Hunc omne quod coelo subest,
Salutis auctorem novae
Novo salutat cantico.

Et nos, beata quos sacri
Rigavit unda sanguinis,
Natalis ob diem tui,
Hymni tributum solvimus.

Jesu, tibi sit gloria,
Qui natus es de Virgine,
Cum Patre et almo Spiritu,
In sempiterna saecula.
Amen.

V. Crastina die delebitur iniquitas terrae.
R. Et regnabit super nos Salvator mundi.

O Jesu! Redeemer of man kind! born before the light was made, and born of the Eternal Father, equal to him in infinite glory;

O thou the Light and brightness of the Father! O thou the everlasting hope of all men! hear the prayers offered thee by thy servants through out the world.

Be mindful, O Creator of all things! that heretofore thou didst assume a Body like unto ours, and wast born from the sacred womb of a Virgin.

This present day, which the year has brought round to us, tells us of this mystery - that thou, the one Saviour of the world, didst come to us from the Father’s Bosom.

The stars, and earth, and sea, and all that is under heaven greet this the Author of their new salvation with a new canticle.

And we, who have been re deemed by the stream of thy precious Blood, we too pay thee the tribute of this Hymn, in honour of thy Birthday.

Glory be to thee, O Jesus! who wast born of the Virgin and to the Father, and to the Spirit of love, for everlasting ages. Amen.

V. To-morrow the iniquity of the earth shall be cancelled.
R. And over us shall reign the Saviour of the world.

In the Monastic Breviary, it is as follows:

R. Breve. Hodie scietis * quia veniet Dominus.
R. Breve. Hodie scietis * quia veniet Dominus.
V. Et mane videbitis gloriam ejus. Quia.
Gloria &c.
R. Breve. Hodie scietis * quia veniet Dominus.

Christe, Redemptor omnium,
Ex Patre Patris Unice,
Soles ante principium
Natus ineffabiliter, 

Tu lumen, tu splendor Patris,
Tu spes perennis omnium,
Intende quas fundunt preces
Tui per orbem famuli.

Memento salutis Auctor
Quod nostri quondam corporis
Ex illibata Virgine
Nascendo formam surnpseris. 

Sic praesens testatur dies,
Currens per anni circulum,
Quod solus a sede Patris
Mundi salus adveneris.

Hunc coelum, terra, hunc mare,
Hunc omne quod in eis est,
Auctorem adventus tui
Laudans exsultat cantico.

Nos quoque qui sancto tuo
Redempti Sanguine sumus,
Ob diem Natalis tui
Hymnum novum concinimus.

Gloria tibi Domine,
Qui natus es de Virgine,
Cum Patre et Sancto Spiritu,
In sempiterna saecula. Amen.

And now Mary’s own words are to resound in the holy place! The sweet Canticle which she sang at her Visitation to Elizabeth, when, holding within her self the divine and secret Treasure, she celebrated the great things of God’s power in her - this Canticle, without which the Church never lets the sun go down, is now going to be sung. O Mary! the hour is fast approaching which will manifest to both heaven and earth that divine Maternity of thine which will make all generations call thee Blessed. Suffer us to unite our souls with thine in magnifying the Lord, and to rejoice in our spirit, as thou didst in thine, in God our Saviour, who is thy Son!

ANTIPHON OF THE MAGNIFICAT

Cum ortus fuerit sol de Caelo, videbitis Regem regum procedentem a Patre, tanquam sponsum de thalamo suo.  When the sun shall have risen in the heavens, ye shall see the King of Kings coming from the Father, as a Bridegroom from his bride-chamber.

The Canticle Magnificat.

Finally, the Church expresses all her desires in the following Prayer, which is to ascend to the Throne of God not only at every Hour of Christmas Day, but several times each day during the Octave:

COLLECT

Concede, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus: ut nos Unigeniti tui nova per carnem nativitas liberet, quos sub peccati jugo vetusta servitus tenet. Per eumdem Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen. Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we who groan under the old captivity of sin, may be freed therefrom by the new Birth of thine Only-Begotten Son. Through the same Jesus Christ thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

During our Vespers, the last rays of day have disappeared, and darkness has covered the earth. The Sacred Ministers, vested in their richest copes, have left the Sanctuary. In a few moments they will re-enter the Church, and repair to the Tribunal of Penance, there to administer to penitent sinners the reconciliation they ask of God through the merciful Birth of his Only- Begotten Son. All is solemn silence in the Church, which, but a few moments before, echoed with the glad chants of our praise. Let us adore the Majesty of our God, and once more present our prayer to the King of Ages, that he send down the Dew for which our earth is thirsting; and with this prayer of our hope, let us, for a last time, mingle a thought of that salutary fear of the Last Judgement which the Church has nurtured within our souls during the holy Season of Advent.

Let us embody these sentiments in a Prayer taken from the Gothic or Mozarabic Liturgy: it is a beautiful one, and most appropriate.

PRAYER FROM THE MOZARABIC BREVIARY

(For the Nativity of our Lord, in the Evening Office, Capitula)

Rorate coeli desuper, utique prophetando Christum, et nubes pluant justum; dum Sancti omnes ejus praeconantur adventum. Aperiatur terra, ut, Angelo scilicet alloquente, Virgo concipiat, et pariat Salvatorem. Hic igitur ros, qui abs te est, omnipotens Pater, rogamus, et petimus, ut fiat sanitas infirmorum; et haec pluvia matutini temporis, praebe, nostri temporis in fundat arentem, quae infusa, tanta gratia praeteritum facinus abluat, et aeternum credentibus justitiae lumen infundat; nec non ejusdem Filii tui Domini nostri indemnes praesentiam contuentes, atque cum coelicolis coetui ejus in jubilo occurrentes, hoc canticum laetitiae praecinamus orantes: Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini, Deus Dominus, et illuxit nobis; cujus nos adventus redemit, et Nativitas illustravit: Qui veniens requisivit perditos, illuminavit in tenebris constitutos. Tribue ergo omnipotens Pater, ut diem Nativitatis ejus ita devotione piissima celebremus, ut judicii diem mitissimum sentiamus: ut cujus benignitatem in redemptione cognovimus, ejus pietatem in judicio mansuetam sentiamus. Drop down Dew, ye heavens, from above - by prophesying Jesus to our earth; and let the clouds rain the Just One - let all the saintly prophets herald his corning. Let the earth be opened, that, as the Angel is speaking unto her, the Virgin may conceive and bring forth the Saviour. We pray and we beseech thee, O Almighty Father, let this Dew, which comes down from thee, give health to the sick; and this Rain of morn, let it sink into the parched soil of our times, and by the infusion of its abundant grace, cleanse away past sins, and shed over them that believe the eternal light of justice. Moreover, may we, looking with confidence at the presence of our Lord Jesus thy Son, and joyfully going to meet him in company with the heavenly citizens, sing to him this canticle of joy and prayer: Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord: The Lord is God, and he hath shone upon us: his Coming hath redeemed us, and his Nativity hath enlightened us: he that came looking for the lost ones hath given light to them that sat in darkness. Grant unto us, therefore, O Almighty Father, so most devoutly to celebrate the day of his Birth, as that the day of his Judgement may be to us a day of exceeding mercy: that thus, having felt how great is his goodness in redeeming, we may experience how gentle is his mercy in judging us.

And now we will leave the House of God, and attend to the duties of our state of life at home, until the hour of Matins summons us to return and celebrate the Midnight Birth of our Saviour. In order to prepare ourselves for that most imposing Service, we shall do well to resume the reflections upon the Liturgy of our Feast, which we interrupted in order to assist at Vespers. How few would keep from the Service of Christmas Night, and how still fewer would complain that they never seem to derive that benefit from it, which they are told is so great, if they would but take the pains to ask themselves why it is that the Church attaches such importance to her children’s joining her in the celebration of this gay Winter Midnight! To assist the devotion of the Faithful we offer them these simple instructions for The Hour before the Midnight Service.