A Visit from St Nicholas
’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ’kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
‘Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!’
As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St Nicholas too --
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedlar just opening his pack.
His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight --
‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!’
Clement Clarke Moore, 1779-1863
O God, who didst adorn thy blessed Bishop Saint Nicholas with power to work many and great miracles: grant, we beseech thee; that by his prayers and merits, we may be delivered from the fires of everlasting torment; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘Another step forward in our Christmas preparation!... By way of introduction to this ancient observance [of Ember Days], let us read an Ember sermon of Pope St Leo I:
“Dearly beloved brethren: With the anxious solicitude proper to us as the shepherd of your souls, we urge upon you the rigid observance of this December fast. The month of December has come round again, and with it this devout custom of the Church. The fruits of the year now drawing to a close have all been gathered in, and therefore meetly do we offer our abstinence to God as a sacrifice of thanksgiving. What can be more useful than fasting? By that exercise we draw near to God, we make strong stand against the devil, and overcome the sweet enticements of sin. Fasting has ever been the bread of strength. From fasting proceed pure thoughts, reasonable desires, and healthy counsels. Through voluntary mortification the flesh dies to lust, and the soul renews the practise of virtue.
But since fasting is not the only means to secure health for our souls, let us adorn our fasting with works of mercy. Our fast must be turned into a banquet for the poor. Let us devote time and effort to the underprivileged, the widow and the orphan; let us show sympathy to the afflicted and reconcile the estranged; provide lodging for the wanderer and relieve the oppressed; give clothing to the naked and cherish the sick. Thus every one who offers to the God of all goodness this Advent sacrifice of fasting and alms will become worthy to receive from Him the eternal reward of His heavenly kingdom!’
The observance of Ember Days, a most venerable feature of the liturgical calendar, dates back to early Roman antiquity (they are older than Advent). Pope Leo I (c.450) has left us a series of beautiful sermons for these days. Originally the Ember Days were an occasion of thanksgiving for the three great harvests of wheat, grapes, and olives – all very meaningful nature symbols employed by the liturgy. In the Offertory procession the faithful brought tithes of the harvest to be used for the offering then and there, for the support of the Church, and for the poor.
These days also stress spiritual renewal. In the bustle of business and work, we too easily forget our future status. Therefore, during these four times of the year we should concentrate on God and scrutinise our spiritual condition. Lent is our annual retreat, while the Ember Days serve as quarterly check-ups. A grave and earnest mood comes over Mother Church, but there are no tears or mourning. Fasting is not so much an expression of penitence and sorrow as a joyous tithe to God, and an incentive to almsgiving’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God: that the coming festival of our redemption may obtain for us the comfort of thy succour in this life, and in the life to come the reward of eternal felicity; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for the Ember Wednesday in Advent, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘You see what great strength and divine zeal are given to those who venerate the images of the saints with faith and a pure conscience. Therefore, brethren, let us take our stand on the rock of the faith, and on the tradition of the Church, neither removing the boundaries laid down by our holy fathers of old, (Prov. 22.28) nor listening to those who would introduce innovation and destroy the economy of the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of God. If any man is to have his foolish way, in a short time the whole Organisation of the Church will be reduced to nothing. Brethren and beloved children of the Church do not put your mother to shame, do not rend her to pieces. Receive her teaching through me. Listen to what God says of her: “Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee”. (Cant. 4.7) Let us worship and adore our God and Creator as alone worthy of worship by nature, and let us worship the holy Mother of God, not as God, but as God’s Mother according to the flesh. Let us worship the saints also, as the chosen friends of God, and as possessing access to Him. If men worship kings subject to corruption, who are often bad and impious, and those ruling or deputed in their name, as the holy apostle says, “Be subject to princes and powers”, (Tit. 3.1) and again, “Give to all their due, to one honour, to another fear”, (Rom. 13.7) and our Lord, “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s”, (Mt. 22.21) how much more should we worship the King of Kings? He alone is God by nature; and we should worship His servants and friends who reign over their passions and are constituted rulers of the whole earth. “Thou shalt make them princes over all the earth”, (Ps. 45.16) says David. They receive power against demons and against disease, (Lk. 9.1) and with Christ they reign over an incorruptible and unchangeable kingdom. Their shadow alone has put forth disease and demons. (Acts 5.16) Should we not deem a shadow a slighter and weaker thing than an image? Yet it is a true outline of the original. Brethren, the Christian is faith. He who walks by faith gains many things. The doubter, on the contrary, is as a wave of the sea torn and tossed; he profits nothing. (Jam. 1.6) All the saints pleased God by faith. Let us then receive the teaching of the Church in simplicity of heart without questioning. God made man sane and sound. It was man who was over curious. (Eccl. 7.30) Let us not seek to learn a new faith, destructive of ancient tradition, St Paul says, “If a man teach any other Gospel than what he has been taught, let him be anathema”. (Gal. 1.9) Thus, we worship images, and it is not a worship of matter, but of those whom matter represents. The honour given to the image is referred to the original, as holy Basil rightly says.
And may Christ fill you with the joy of His resurrection, most holy flock of Christ, Christian people, chosen race, body of the Church, and make you worthy to walk in the footsteps of the saints, of the shepherds and teachers of the Church, leading you to enjoy His glory in the brightness of the saints. May you gain His glory for eternity, with the Uncreated Father, to whom be praise for ever. Amen’.
from the Apologia Against Those who Decry Holy Images by St John Damascene, 676-749
Almighty and everlasting God, who, for the defence of the veneration of sacred images, didst endue blessed John Damascene with heavenly doctrine and wondrous strength of spirit: grant unto us, by his intercession and example; that we may imitate the virtues and perceive the advocacy of those images we honour; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘I have not stopped since the day I arrived. I conscientiously made the rounds of the villages. I bathed in the sacred waters all the children who had not yet been baptised. This means that I have purified a very large number of children so young that, as the saying goes, they could not tell their right hand from their left. The older children would not let me say my Office or eat or sleep until I taught them one prayer or another. Then I began to understand: “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
I could not refuse so devout a request without failing in devotion myself. I taught them, first the confession of faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, then the Apostles’ Creed, the Our Father and Hail Mary. I noticed among them persons of great intelligence. If only someone could educate them in the Christian way of life, I have no doubt that they would make excellent Christians.
Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: “What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!”
I wish they would work as hard at this as they do at their books, and so settle their account with God for their learning and the talents entrusted to them.
This thought would certainly stir most of them to meditate on spiritual realities, to listen actively to what God is saying to them. They would forget their own desires, their human affairs, and give themselves over entirely to God’s will and his choice. They would cry out with all their heart: Lord, I am here! What do you want me to do? Send me anywhere you like – even to India’.
from a letter to St Ignatius of Loyola by St Francis Xavier, 1506-1552
O God, who by the preaching and wondrous works of Saint Francis Xavier didst unite unto thy Church the peoples of India: mercifully grant that we who venerate his glorious merits, may likewise follow him in all virtuous and godly living; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘Year after year, as it passes, brings us the same warnings again and again, and none perhaps more impressive than those with which it comes to us at this season. The very frost and cold, rain and gloom, which now befall us, forebode the last dreary days of the world, and in religious hearts raise the thought of them. The year is worn out; spring, summer, autumn, each in turn, have brought their gifts and done their utmost; but they are over, and the end is come. All is past and gone, all has failed, all has sated; we are tired of the past; we would not have the seasons longer; and the austere weather which succeeds, though ungrateful to the body, is in tone with our feelings, and acceptable. Such is the frame of mind which befits the end of the year; and such the frame of mind which comes alike on good and bad at the end of life. The days have come in which they have no pleasure; yet they would hardly be young again, could they be so by wishing it. Life is well enough in its way; but it does not satisfy. Thus the soul is cast forward upon the future, and in proportion as its conscience is clear and its perception keen and true, does it rejoice solemnly that “the night is far spent, the day is at hand”, that there are “new heavens and a new earth” to come, though the former are failing; nay, rather that, because they are failing, it will “soon see the King in His beauty”, and “behold the land which is very far off”. These are the feelings for holy men in winter and in age, waiting, in some dejection perhaps, but with comfort on the whole, and calmly though earnestly, for the Advent of Christ’.
from ‘Worship, Preparation for Christ’s Coming’ in Parochial and Plain Sermons, Book 5: Sermon 1
by Blessed John Henry Newman, 1801-1890
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead; we may rise to the life immortal; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fr Lee Kenyon
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