The Office of Lauds is finished: the Canticles of joy wherewith the Church thanks the Eternal Father for his having made to rise upon us the divine Sun of Justice are ended. It is time to offer up the second Sacrifice, or, as it is called, the Mass of the Aurora. In the first, the Church celebrated the temporal Birth of the Word according to the flesh. In this, she is going to honour the second Birth of the same Son of God; a Birth full of grace and mercy; that which is accomplished in the heart of the faithful Christian.
See, then, how, at this very hour, Shepherds are told by the Angels to go to Bethlehem, and how they hasten thither. With great eagerness they enter the Stable, which is scarcely large enough to hold them. Obedient to the warning received from heaven, they are come to see the Saviour, who, they have been told, has been born unto them. They find all things just as the Angels had said. Who could tell the joy of their hearts, and the simplicity of their faith? They are not surprised to find, in the midst of poverty greater even than their own, him whose Birth has made the very Angels exult. They find no difficulty in acknowledging the wonderful mystery; they adore, they love, the Babe that lies there before them. They are at once Christians, and the Christian Church begins in them; the mystery of a God humbled for man finds faith in these humble souls. Herod will plot the death of this Babe; the Synagogue will rage; the Scribes and Doctors will league together against the Lord and his Christ; they will put this Saviour of Israel to death; but the faith of the Shepherds will not be shaken, and will find imitators in the wise and powerful ones of this world, who will come at last, and bow down their reason to the Crib and the Cross.
What is it that has come over these poor Shepherds? Christ has been born in their hearts; he dwells in them by faith and love. They are our Fathers in the Church. They are our Models. Let us imitate them, and invite the Divine Infant to come into our souls, which we will so prepare for him, that he may find nothing to prevent his entering. It is for our sakes also that the Angels speak; it is to us also that they tell the glad tidings; for the Mystery that has been accomplished this Night is too grand to have the pastoral slopes of Bethlehem for its limits. In order to honour the silent coming of the Saviour into the souls of men, the Priest is preparing to go to the altar, and a second time to offer the spotless Lamb to the Father who hath sent him.
As the Shepherds fixed their eyes on the Crib, so let ours be on the Altar, where we are soon to behold the same Jesus, hidden under appearances that are humbler even than the swathing-bands. These rustic swains enter into the Cave, not yet knowing him, whom they are going to see; but their hearts are quite ready for the revelation. Suddenly they see the Infant; and as they gaze upon him in speechless wondering, Jesus looks at them from his Crib, and smiles upon them: they are changed men, full of light, and the Sun of Justice has made Day in their souls. It is to be the same with us: the words of the Prince of the Apostles are to be verified in us: the Light that shineth in a dark place, has been our one desire and attention; now the Day will dawn, and the Day-Star arise in our hearts [2 St Pet. i 19].
This long longed-for Aurora has come! The divine Orient has risen upon us, to set now no more; for, we are firmly resolved to keep from the night of sin, which his grace has destroyed. His mercy has made us to be children of light and children of the day [1 Thes. v 5].There must be no more sleep of death for us. We must watch in ceaseless vigilance, remembering how the Shepherds were keeping their watch, when the Angel came to speak to them, and Heaven opened over their heads. All the Chants of this Mass of the Aurora speak to us of the brightness of the Sun of Justice; they must be sweet to us, as to captives, long buried in the cold darkness of their dungeon, is the ray of that morning which is to set them free. See, Christians, how this God of Light shines upon us from his Crib! The face of his mother is lit up with the immense brightness, on which she looks with all the fixedness of her contemplating love; and Joseph, too, has the shining vivid on his features, which makes them more beautiful and venerable than we have ever seen them. Passing by the ungrateful Bethlehem, which deserves to be left in darkness, this same divine Light breaks upon the whole world beyond the Cave, and gradually enkindles within millions of hearts a burning love for this glorious Sun of Justice, who delivers man from the labyrinth of his errors and passions, showing him and giving him the sublime end for which he was created.
In the very midst of her celebration of this mystery of the Birth of Jesus, the Church offers us another object of admiration and joy: it is one of her own children. Whilst solemnizing the divine Mystery of to-day’s Feast, she commemorates in this second Mass one of those glorious heroines who preserved the Light of Christ within their souls, in spite of all the attacks made to rob them of it. Her name is Anastasia. This holy Widow of Rome suffered martyrdom under the persecution of Diocletian, and had the privilege of being thus born to eternal life on the Birthday of that Jesus for whom she suffered death.
She had been married to a Pagan of the name of Publius; himself also a Roman; who, being irritated against her on account of her great charities to the Christians, treated her with every sort of cruelty. She endured all with admirable patience; and when this heavy trial was removed from her by the death of her husband, she devoted herself to visiting and solacing the holy Confessors who had been cast into the prisons of Rome for the Faith. Being at length apprehended as a Christian, she was tied to a stake and burned to death. Her Church in Rome, which is built on the site where formerly stood her house, is the Station for this Second Mass. The Sovereign Pontiffs used formerly to say it here, and the ancient custom was observed in later times by Pope Leo XII.
How admirable is this delicate considerateness of our holy Mother the Church! Wishing to associate one of her Saints with the glory of this present Solemnity, on which the Virginity of Mary receives its triumphant recompense, it is a holy Widow that is chosen for this signal honour; that it might hereby be shown how the Married State, though inferior in merit and holiness to the state of Virginity, is not excluded from the blessings which the Birth of the Son of Mary merited for the world. There was a Virgin, St Eugenia, that might so well have been selected; for she suffered a glorious martyrdom under Galerian on this same feast, and in the same City as did the wife of Publius: but no - the preference is given to Anastasia, the Widow. This choice of the Church, which is dictated by her heavenly wisdom, and by the love she has for all her children, forcibly reminds us of a beautiful passage in one of St Augustine’s Sermons for Christmas Day.
‘Exult, O ye Virgins of Christ! for the Mother of Christ is your companion. You could not be his Mother; but for his sake you would be Virgins: he that is not born of you, is born to you. And yet you remember his words: Whosoever shall do the will of my Father, is my brother and sister and mother [St Matt. xii 50]. Now have you not done the will of his Father?
‘Exult, O ye Widows of Christ! for ye have vowed a holy continency to him, that made Virginity fruitful. And thou too, O nuptial chastity! you, I mean, that are faithful in the married state, you also may exult; for what you lose in the body, you do not lose in your hearts. ... Let your soul be virginal by its faith, for it is by her Faith that the Church is a Virgin. ... Jesus is Truth and Peace and Justice; conceive him by your faith, give him birth by your good works; in order that what the womb of Mary did in the Flesh of Jesus, your heart may do in the law of Jesus. Believe me, you yourselves are children of virginity, for are you not the members of Christ? Mary is Mother of Jesus, who is our Head; and the Church is the mother of you who are his members. Yes, the Church is, like Mary, both Mother and Virgin: she is Mother by her tender charity; and Virgin by the purity of her faith and holiness.' [Ninth Sermon On our Lord’s Nativity.]
But the Holy Sacrifice is about to commence. The Introit tells us of the Birth of Jesus our Sun of Justice. The brightness of his first rising is the presage of his mid-day splendour. Strength and Beauty are his. He is armed for victory, and his name is Prince of Peace.
Lux fulgebit hodie super nos; quia natus est nobis Dominus: et vocabitur Admirabilis, Deus, Princeps
pacis, Pater futuri saeculi; cujus regni non erit finis.
Ps. Dominus regnavit, decorem indutus est: indutus est Dominus fortitudinem, et praecinxit se. V. Gloria Patri. Lux fulgebit.
A light shall shine upon us this day; because the Lord is born for us: and his name shall be the Wonderful One, God, the Prince of Peace, the Father of the world to come; of whose reign there shall be no end.
Ps. The Lord hath reigned, he is clothed with beauty: the Lord is clothed with strength, and hath girded himself. V. Glory, etc. A light.
The prayer of the Church, in this the Mass of the Aurora, begs God to pour upon our souls the rays of the Sun of Justice, that so we may become fruitful in works of Light, and be no more the slaves of darkness.
|Da nobis, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus, ut qui nova incarnati Verbi tui luce perfundimur, hoc in nostro resplendeat opere, quod per fidem fulget in mente. Per eumdem.||Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that as we are enlightened by the new light of thy Word become flesh, we may show, in our actions the effects of that faith which shineth in our minds. Through the same, etc.|
Commemoration of St Anastasia
|Da, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus, ut qui beatae Anastasiae, Martyris tuae, solemnia colimus, ejus apud te patrocinia sentiamus. Per Dominum.||Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that as we celebrate the solemnity of blessed Anastasia thy Martyr, we may be sensible of the effects of her prayers to thee in our behalf. Through, etc.|
Lectio Epistolae beati Pauli
Apostoli ad Titum.
Lesson of the Epistle of St Paul
the Apostle to Titus.
This Sun which has appeared on our earth is God our Saviour, full of tenderest mercy. We were far off from God, and were sitting in the shades of death; the rays of the divine Light had to reach down to us in the deep abyss of our sins; and now, praise be to this Infinite Mercy! we are set free, and with our freedom have received regeneration, justification, and heirship to eternal life. Who shall henceforth separate us from the love of this Infant Jesus? Is it possible that we ourselves can ever frustrate the designs of that love, by rendering all that it has done for us useless, and becoming once more the slaves of darkness and death? May God forbid it! and grant us grace to maintain our hope of everlasting life, which the Mystery of our Redemption has purchased for us.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini: Deus Dominus, et illuxit nobis.
V. A Domino factum est istud, et est mirabile in oculis nostris.
V. Dominus regnavit, decorem induit: induit Dominus fortitudinem, et praecinxit se virtute. Alleluia.
Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord: the Lord is our God, and he hath shone upon us.
V. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful in our eyes.
V. The Lord hath reigned, he is clothed with beauty: the Lord is clothed with strength, and hath girded himself with might. Alleluia.
Sequentia sancti Evangelii
| Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Luke.
Let us imitate the earnestness of the Shepherds in hastening to Jesus. No sooner do they hear the Angel’s words, than they start for the holy Stable in Bethlehem. Once in the presence of the Divine Infant, they know him by the sign that had been given them by the Angel; and Jesus is born in their souls by his grace. These happy men delight now in their poverty, for they find that he too is poor. They feel that they are united to him for ever, and their whole lives shall testify to the change that this December Night has worked in them. They do not keep the great event to themselves; they tell every one about the Babe of Bethlehem, they become his Apostles, and their burning words fill their listeners with astonishment. Like them, let us glorify the great God, who, not satisfied with calling us to the admirable Light, has set it in the very centre of our hearts by uniting us to himself. Let us often think of the Mysteries of this glorious Night, after the example of Mary, who keeps unceasingly in her most pure Heart the wonderful things that God has been accomplishing by her and in her.
During the Offertory of the sacred gifts, the Church extols the power of Emmanuel, who, that he might reform this fallen world, humbled himself so far as to have a few poor Shepherds for his courtiers, he whose Throne and Divinity are from eternity.
|Deus firmavit orbem terrae, qui non commovebitur: parata sedes tua, Deus, ex tunc; a saeculo tu es.||God hath established the world, which shall not be moved: thy throne, O God, is prepared from of old; thou art from everlasting.|
|Munera nostra, quaesumus, Domine, Nativitatis hodiernae mysteriis apta proveniant, et pacem nobis semper infundant: ut, sicut homo genitus idem refulsit et Deus; sic nobis haec terrena substantia conferat quod divinum est. Per eumdem.||May the offerings, O Lord, which we make, be agreeable to the mystery of this day’s Birth, and always pour forth peace upon us: that as he who, though born Man, showed himself also God, so may this earthly substance give us that which is divine. Through the same, etc.|
Commemoration of St Anastasia
|Accipe, quaesumus, Domine, munera dignanter oblata: et beatae Anastasiae, martyris tuae, suffragantibus meritis, ad nostrae salutis auxilium provenire concede. Per Dominum.||Graciously receive, O Lord, we beseech thee, our offerings, and grant, by the merits of blessed Anastasia, thy Martyr, that they may avail to our salvation. Through, etc.|
After both Priest and people have communicated, the holy Church, all illumined with the sweet Light of her Spouse, to whom she has just been united, applies to herself the words which the Prophet Zachary formerly addressed to her, when he announced the coming of the King her Saviour.
|Exsulta, filia Sion; lauda, filia Jerusalem: ecce Rex tuus venit Sanctus, et Salvator mundi.||Rejoice, O daughter of Sion; shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold! thy King will come to thee, the Holy One, and the Saviour of the world.|
|Hujus nos, Domine, sacramenti semper novitas natalis instauret: cujus nativitas singularis humanam repulit vetustatem. Per eumdem Dominum.||May we, O Lord, always receive new Light from this Sacrament, which reneweth to us the memory of that wonderful Birth which destroyed the old man. Through the same, etc.|
Commemoration of St Anastasia
|Satiasti, Domine, familiam tuam muneribus sacris: ejus, quaesumus, interventione nos refove, cujus solemnia celebramus. Per Dominum.||Thou hast fed, O Lord, thy family with these sacred oblations; ever, therefore, comfort us with her intercession, whose feast we celebrate. Through, etc.|
The Mass of the Aurora ended, and the Birth of Grace having been honoured by this second immolation of the divine Immortal Victim, the Faithful retire from the Church, that they may refresh themselves by sleep, and so be in readiness for the Third Mass.
Mary and Joseph are in the Stable of Bethlehem, watching near the Crib. The light which reflects from the new-born Babe, and surpasses the brightness of the sun that is just rising, fills the Cave and shines on the rocks outside; but now that the Shepherds are gone, and the Angels are singing elsewhere, there is silence in the sacred grotto. As we lie down to take our rest, let us think upon the Divine Infant, and how he passes this his first night in his humble Crib. That he may conform to the necessities of our human nature, which he has assumed, he closes his tender eyelids, and sleep comes, because he so wills it, and lulls his senses to rest: but even while asleep, his heart watcheth [Cant. v 2], offering itself unceasingly for us. At times, he smiles on his Mother, who keeps her eyes fixed on him, loving him as she alone can love; he prays to his Eternal Father, and implores pardon for guilty man; he expiates our pride by his own humiliations; he shows himself to us as the model of the infancy we must now begin to practise. Let us ask him to give us of the merit which attaches to this his sleep; that so, after having slept in peace, we may wake in his grace, and walk on strenuously in the path we have now entered.