CHRISTMAS DAY: EARLY MORNING BEFORE MASS

The merry-pealing bells have wakened us up, echoing to us the sweet burden of our Matin-Song, and inviting us to come once more and adore our Jesus, and assist at the Mass of the Day, which we call the Third Mass: Christ is born unto us; come! let us adore!

The sun is shining in the east - not, indeed, as he will in his summer’s pride; still, brightly enough to tell us that his triumph over winter has begun. Now, we say, the day will grow longer! Under this emblem, let us see and adore our Sun of Justice, Jesus, our sweet Saviour, who has also begun, to-day, to run his triumphant course! [Ps. xviii 6]

ntil the hour of Mass comes, let us keep up in our souls the spirit of this glorious Festival, by reading the following selections from the ancient Liturgies. They are full of joy and tender devotion, and tell us of the triumph of Light, of the loveliness of the new-born Babe, and of the glory of the Virgin-Mother.

We will begin with these stanzas of Prudentius, the prince of Christian Poets: they are taken from his Hymn, which is thus headed: The Eighth of the Kalends of January: (VIII Kal. Januarias).

 

HYMN

Quid est, quod arctum circulum
Sol jam recurrens deserit?
Christusne terris nascitur
Qui lucis auget tramitem?

Heu, quam fugacem gratiam
Festina volvebat dies!
Quam pene subductam facem
Sensim recisa extinxerat!

Coelum nitescat laetius,
Gratetur et gaudens humus;
Scandit gradatim denuo
Jubar priores lineas.

Te cuncta nascentem, puer,
Sensere dura, et barbara,
Victusque saxorum rigor
Obduxit herbam cotibus.

Jam mella de scopulis fluunt,
Jam stillat ilex arido
Sudans amomum stipite;
Jam sunt myricis balsama.

O sancta praesepis tui,
Aeterne Rex, cunabula,
Populisque per seclum sacra,
Mutis et ipsis credita.

Why is it that the Sun, which rises to-day, leaves his narrow path? Is it not that Jesus is born on our earth, Jesus, who comes to widen for us the way of Light?

Ah! how speedily did the rapid Day turn his sweet face from us! how, each time, shorter was his stay, preparing us for total night!

But now let the heavens wear brighter looks, and the glad earth be happy, for, the Sun begins once more to mount the longer path.

Dear Infant Jesus! all things, however hard and senseless, feel that thou art born: the very stones relent, and verdure comes from rocks.

The flinty mountain-side drips now with honey; the oak’s stiff trunk now sweats its sappy tears; and balsam oozes now from humblest shrub.

How holy is thy cradle-crib, O King eternal! How sacred ever to mankind! Nay, the very Ox and Ass stand over it as theirs!

Now let us listen to the several Churches, beginning with those of the East, as being nearest to the country where the great Event took place. First, comes the Church of Syria; her Chanter is St Ephrem; and he begins his song thus:

Nato Filio, lumen affulsit, et ex mundo tenebrae fugatae, illuminatusque est orbis; laudes ergo referat Nato, qui illum illuminavit.
Ortus est ex utero Virginis, eoque viso defecerunt umbra: et tenebrae erroris ab eo expulsae; orbisque totus illustratus; laudes ergo illi referat.
The Son of God is born - Light has shone forth, darkness has fled from the earth, and the world is enlightened; let it praise the New-Born Babe, that gave it light.
He has risen from the Virgin’s womb; the shades of night have seen him and fled: the darkness of error has been scattered; let the whole earth sing praise to him, by whom it has been illumined.

The Church of Armenia thus sings to Emmanuel during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass:

Novua flos hodie oritur ex radice Jesse, et filia David parit Filium Dei.
Multitudo Angelorum et militiae coelestis, descendentes de coelis cum unigenito rege cantabant et dicebant: Hic est Filius Dei. Omnes dicamus: exsultate coeli, et laetamini fundamenta mundi, quia Deus aeternus in terris apparuit, et cum hominibus conversatus est, ut salvet animas nostras.
A fresh flower has this day sprung up from the Root of Jesse: and a daughter of David has given birth to the Son of God.
A multitude of Angels and the Heavenly Host, coming down from heaven with the Only-Begotten King, sang and said: This is the Son of God! Let us all exclaim: Ye heavens exult, and ye foundations of the world be glad! for the Eternal God has appeared upon the earth, and has conversed with men, that he may save our souls.

The Greek Church thus cries out in her beautiful language:

Venite, exsultemus Domino, hodiernum celebrantes mysterium. Murus dirutus est medius; avertitur flammeus gladius, Cherubim a ligno vita recedit. Et ego paradisum deliciarum participo, a quo per inobedientiam expulsus fueram. Incommutabilis imago Patris, typus ejus aeternitatis, formam servi accipit, ex nuptinescia matre progrediens, nullam passus commutationem: quod enim erat permansit, Deus cum esset verus; quod autem non erat praeteraccipit, homo factus per philanthropiam. Illi clamemus: Qui natus es de Virgine, miserere nobis. Come! let us rejoice in the Lord, celebrating the mystery of this day. The wall of division is destroyed; the fiery sword is sheathed, and the Angel no longer keeps us from the Tree of Life. I, yea I, that was driven, by the sin of disobedience, from the Paradise of delights, may now enter and feast. The unchangeable Image of the Father, the type of his eternity, assumes the form of a servant, and is born of a Virgin-Mother; yet he suffers not any change:
for that which he was he continues to be - the true God; but that which he was not he now becomes, being made Man for love of man. Let us cry out to him: O thou that art born of the Virgin! have mercy on us.

The holy Roman Church, by the mouth of St Leo, in his Sacramentary, thus celebrates the mystery of the divine Light:

Vere dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare: nos tibi gratias agere, aeterne Deus, quia nostri Salvatoris hodie lux vera processit, quae clara nobis omnia et intellectu manifestavit et visu. Quibus non solum praesentem vitam suo splendore dirigeret, sed ad ipsam nos majestatis immense gloriam perduceret intuendam. It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should give thanks to thee, O Eternal God: because this day has risen the true light of our Saviour, whereby all things are made clear to our intellect and sight: that thus by his own brightness he might not only direct us in this our present life, but bring us to the very vision of thy divine Majesty.

The same Church of Rome, in the Sacramentary of St Gelasius, makes the following prayer to the heavenly Father, who sent his Son to redeem us:

Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui hunc diem per incarnationem Verbi tui, et per partum beatae Virginis consecrasti; da populis tuis in hac celebritate laetitiae, ut et qui tua gratia sunt redempti, tua adoptione sint filii. O Almighty and everlasting God, who hast consecrated this day by the Incarnation of thy Word, and the Delivery of the Blessed Virgin; grant to thy people upon this joyous solemnity that they who have been redeemed by thy grace may also be made thy children by adoption.

And again, the same Church thus invokes upon her children the Light of Christ: she uses the words of the Sacramentary of St Gregory the Great:

Concede nobis, omnipotens Deus, ut salutare tuum, nova coelorum luce mirabile, quod ad salutem mundi hodierna festivitate proces sit, nostris semper innovandis cordibus oriatur. Grant unto us, O Almighty God! that the Saviour whom thou sendest for the world’s salvation on this day’s solemnity, whereon the heavens are renewed in light, may ever rise in our hearts and renew them.

The Church of Milan, in its Ambrosian Liturgy, also celebrates the new Light and the joys of the Virgin-Mother:

Adveniens Dominus, abstulit omnem caliginem noctis: et, ubi non erat lumen, facta est claritas, et apparuit dies.
Gaude, et laetare, exsultatio Angelorum. Gaude, Domini Virgo, prophetarum gaudium. Gaudeas, benedicta, Dominus tecum est. Gaude, quae per Angelum gaudium mundi suscepisti. Gaude, quae genuisti factorem et Dominum. Gaudeas, quia digna es esse Mater Christi.
When our Lord came, he dispelled all the darkness of night; and where had been no light, there was made brightness, and the day appeared.
Rejoice and be glad, O Mary, thou joy of Angels! Rejoice, O thou Virgin of the Lord, and joy of the prophets! Rejoice, thou Blessed One, the Lord is with thee. Rejoice, thou that didst receive, at the Angel’s announcing, him who is the joy of the world, Rejoice, thou that didst give birth to thy Creator and Lord. Rejoice, in that thou wast worthy to be made the Mother of Christ.

The ancient Church of Gaul expresses its gladness by these joyous Antiphons, which were adopted for several ages by the Church of Rome:

Hodie intacta Virgo Deum nobis genuit, teneris indutum membris, quem lactare meruit; omnes Christum adoremus qui venit salvare nos.
Gaudeamus omnes fideles, Salvator noster natus est in mundo: hodie processit Proles magnifici germinis, et perseverat pudor virginitatis.
O mundi Domina, regio ex semine orta, ex tuo jam Christus processit alvo, tanquam sponsus de thalamo:
hic jacet in praesepio qui et sidera regit.
The purest of Virgins gave us our God, who was this day born of her, clothed in the flesh of a Babe, and she was found worthy to feed him at her Breast: let us all adore Christ, who came to save us.
Ye faithful people, let us all rejoice, for our Saviour is born in our world: this Day there has been born the Son of the great Mother, and she yet a pure Virgin.
O Queen of the world, and Daughter of a kingly race! Christ has risen from thy womb, as a Bridegroom coming from the bride-chamber: He that rules the stars lies in a Crib.

The Gothic Church of Spain unites her voice with that of all these others, and in her Mozarabic Breviary thus hails the rising of the divine Sun:

Hodie lumen mundi prodiit: hodie salus aevi emicuit: hodie Salvator Israel de climate coeli descendit, ut eruat omnes captivos, quos antiquus hostis praedo per primi hominis delictum captivaverat: et ut caecis mentibus lumen, surdis auditum, gratia praeveniente, restitueret: ob istius tanti mysterii beneficia montes et colles tripudiant, ipsaque mundi elementa ineffabili gaudio ista in die melos decantant: ob hoc gemebunda prece pii Redemptoris clementiam suppliciter exoramus; ut nos, qui in tenebris peccatorum nostrorum involvimur, per cordis acclamationem protinus expiemur, ut illo in nobis apparente, et splendor gloriae jucundius, ac multiplicius nostris in praecordiis vigeat, et salutis gaudia sine fine dulcescant. To-day has risen the Light of the world: to-day has shone forth the earths salvation: to-day the Saviour of Israel has come down from the heavenly country, that he may set free all the slaves whom the old enemy and robber had enslaved by the sin of our first Parent; that he might also restore, by his preventing grace, light to the blind of heart, and hearing to the deaf. For the benefits of this so great mystery, let the mountains and hills leap with joy, and the very elements of the world be exceeding glad on this day, and sing sweet melody. There fore, let us, in humblest prayer. suppliantly beseech our most merciful Redeemer; that we who are beset by the darkness of our sins, may, by this our hearts’ acclamation, be speedily delivered; that he appearing among us, the brightness of his glory may more joyously and abundantly gleam in our souls, and the happiness of salvation gladden them with never-ending sweetness.

Let us end this our stroll among the ancient Liturgies, by culling a flower from Erin, The Church of Ireland, in the seventh century, used to sing this Antiphon on Christmas Day, which we have taken from the Bangor Antiphonary, published by Muratori. Here again we find the idea so often alluded to: the triumph of the Sun’s light, which begins to-day, considered as the image of Jesus’ Birth.

Ab hodierno die nox minuitur, dies crescit, concutiuntur tenebrae, lumen augetur, et in lucro lucis nocturna dispendia transferentur. From this Day, night decreases, day increases, darkness is shaken, light grows longer, and the loss of night shall make the gain of day.

And now, Christians, let us go to the House of our God, and prepare for our third Sacrifice.