O Day-spring, Brightness of the Light everlasting and Sun of righteousness:
come and enlighten him that sitteth in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Divine Worship: The Missal
‘Not sacred history but nature inspires today’s “O” antiphon. The sun as a symbol of Christ is one of the finest figures in Sacred Scripture and in the liturgy. And never is the metaphor more beautifully worded or more expressive of an entire season’s liturgy than in our present Magnificat antiphon.
The message is readily grasped and offers much material for meditation. Three metaphors link the Redeemer to Light eternal; He is the Sun of Justice. The expression “Rising Dawn” occurs in Zachary 3.8; 6.12; more familiar, however, is its use daily in the Benedictus, Oriens ex alto. In spirit the aged priest Zachary beheld Christ rising as the sun “to enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” The verse is incorporated in our antiphon. Christ is the Rising Sun that disperses spiritual darkness and death. From the sun in the sky comes light and life; from Christ the divine Sun likewise comes light and life. Remember how Jesus called Himself the light and the life of the world. Let us summarise the points our comparison yields. The sun gives life, light, warm, joy, health. Now imagine a place where the sun’s rays do not penetrate, a dark cellar for example, wet with rottenness, darkness, death. And apply the proper deduction – spiritually.
… What the sun does for the realm of nature, that Christ as the Sun of grace does for the kingdom of God. Which makes the closing petition obvious. We ask Christ to enlighten us by His coming. Whoa re they who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death? Pagans and unbelievers, sinners and atheists. But also in us “the faithful” there is still much darkness, much of death’s shadow. Open your soul and let the divine light shine in’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1959, by Pius Parsch 1884-1954
‘Let me… refer briefly to the three heralds of Advent who once more appear before us in today’s Mass, and let me present them to you as types of the Christian priest. Isaias is the great prophet sent by God to herald the Kingdom. He was a man who yearned for Christ. The priest, surely, is a spiritual son of this great prophet. Does he not kindle in men the desire to seek the kingdom of grace, and to find it? John the Baptist is also a type of the priest – especially so. He prepared the way for Christ, as the priest too must prepare the way for Christ’s coming in grace. A priest’s deference and humility must match those same virtues as found in John the Baptist, who claimed for himself no more exalted titled than “the Bridegroom’s friend”. His sole task was to lead Israel to Christ, then to retire into the background. That too is the priest’s task. Christ is the Bridegroom of the soul. The soul in grace is His bride. The priest wants nothing more than to bring the bride and Bridegroom together, and then to retire. As St Paul said so well: “My jealousy on your behalf is the jealousy of God Himself; I have betrothed you to Christ, so that no other but he should claim you, his bride without spot” (2 Corinthians 11.2). Christ, then, is the Bridegroom, our soul the bride, the priest the Bridegroom’s friend who prepares the soul for grace.
Finally, God’s Mother is also a type of the priest as mediator of grace. Mary gave the Saviour to the world. She gave Him birth, laid Him tenderly in a manger, bound Him in swaddling-clothes, and showed Him to the shepherds, the wise men, the aged Simeon. Beneath the cross she shared in His sacrifice by her own compassion. And what of the priest? He too gives Christ to the world in the Eucharist, in the word of God, in grace. May he do it with the same tender, loving care as Mary showed. And may Christians lay hold of grace, joyfully, eagerly, as did the shepherds and the wise men, Simeon and Anna’.
from Seasons of Grace, 1963, by Pius Parsch, 1884–1954
Raise up, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us: that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sorely hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen. – Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Divine Worship: The Missal
O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the peoples, at whom kings shall shut their mouths,
to whom the Gentiles shall seek: come and deliver us, and tarry not.
Divine Worship: The Missal
‘This antiphon draws its main inspiration from chapter 11 of Isaiah. The prophet there sees the Messiah coming ‘as an ensign to the peoples’. We are reminded of Jesus’ words and St John’s comment: “‘I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself’. He said this to show by what death he was to die” (John 22.32-33). This death will be a victory that will silence the proud of this world. Even the pagan nations will call upon the Saviour: “In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwelling shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11.10)’.
from The Liturgical Year, 1977, by Adrien Nocent OSB, 1913-1996
O Adonai, and Leader of the House of Israel, who appearedst in the bush to Moses in a flame of fire,
and gavest him the Law in Sinai: come and deliver us with an outstretched arm.
Divine Worship: The Missal
‘The Lord made himself known to Moses by telling him his name. For a Semite, to tell another your name is to give him power over you. It is clear, of course, that the God of Israel cannot hand himself over to the power of men like a pagan god whose devotees invoke him with the idea that they can coerce him by magical practices and will therefore be heard. But the name “Yahweh” will always remind Israel of the great deeds God has done for her deliverance.
This antiphon puts us in the context of the paschal mystery, since the coming of the Son is directly related to his redemptive mission.
The last part of the antiphon contains a profound thought to which we rarely attend. The words “come… [and deliver us]” express, of course, the purpose of the incarnation and are a short statement of the theology of the incarnation that was current at the end of the sixth century. The rest of the words, however, namely [“an outstretched arm”], say something more, at least if we translate the Latin words literally: “come to redeem us with outstretched arm.” The phrase “with outstretched arm” is scriptural and occurs, for example in Exodus 6.6. The Hebrew root… means “to sow, to pour out or spread, to make fruitful.”
… He who is to come is the “shoot from the stump of Jesse” (Is. 11.1); he is the Messiah; he is also the one who comes in order to restore life to his people; he is power, support, and help. We must, of course, avoid pushing these juxtapositions too far, but it is at least worth noting that several times in his work Against the Heresies St Irenaeus uses the expression: “He stretched out his hand when he suffered [his Passion]”. This phrasing is rarely found elsewhere, but it does occur in the Eucharistic Prayer in St Hippolytus’s Traditio Apostolica (beginning of the third century): “He stretched out his hands when he suffered in order to deliver from suffering those who believed in him.”
Here, then, we call on Christ, and we expect him to continue his work of redemption in our world until the end of time’.
from The Liturgical Year, 1977, by Adrien Nocent OSB, 1913-1996
O Wisdom, which camest out of the mouth of the Most High, and reachest from one end to another,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things: come and teach us the way of prudence.
Divine Worship: The Missal
‘As if to underline our longing for the coming of the Saviour, and the fact that the Feast of the Nativity is now not far away, the Church has for many centuries prescribed a series of antiphons to be recited before and after the Magnificat at the evening office. These ‘Great O’ antiphons are cries from the heart expressing an earnest yearning for Christ. In temperament they contrast with the text of the Magnificat itself but complement it. The hymn, recorded only in the Gospel of Luke, was sung by Mary at her Visitation with Elizabeth, when the birth of Jesus was still nine months away and, perhaps, the yearning ‘O’ not far from her lips.
Mary gave herself in love to God’s service with this response to Gabriel’s Annunciation: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to thy word.” After only a few days Mary is with Elizabeth and in joy cries out: “He who is mighty has done great things for me.” It is a hymn about God’s doing what we least expect; about how he can turn our values and certainties upside down. It is a song sung in humility, and reflects the Song of Hannah, the mother of Samuel.
The ‘O’ of each antiphon sums up the longing of Israel for the Messiah and for redemption, and consequently our longing that we may ourselves reveal something of the life and love of Christ’.
Geoffrey Rowell, 1943-2017
(Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, 2001-2013)
Hills of the North, rejoice,
Echoing songs arise,
Hail with united voice
Him who made earth and skies:
He comes in righteousness and love,
He brings salvation from above.
Isles of the Southern seas,
Sing to the listening earth,
Carry on every breeze
Hope of a world’s new birth:
In Christ shall all be made anew,
His word is sure, his promise true.
Lands of the East, arise,
He is your brightest morn,
Greet him with joyous eyes,
Praise shall his path adorn:
The God whom you have longed to know
In Christ draws near, and calls you now.
Shores of the utmost West,
Lands of the setting sun,
Welcome the heavenly guest
In whom the dawn has come:
He brings a never-ending light
Who triumphed o’er our darkest night.
Shout, as you journey on,
Songs be in every mouth,
Lo, from the North they come,
From East and West and South:
In Jesus all shall find their rest,
In him the sons of earth be blest.
Editors of the New English Hymnal
based on C.E. Oakley, 1832-1865
Yet if his Majesty our Sovereign Lord
Should of his own accord
Friendly himself invite,
And say, ‘I’ll be your guest tomorrow night,’
How should we stir ourselves, call and command
All hands to work! ‘Let no man idle stand!
Set me fine Spanish tables in the hall,
See they be fitted all;
Let there be room to eat,
And order taken that there want no meat!
See every sconce and candlestick made bright,
That without tapers they may give a light!
Look to the presence: are the carpets spread,
The dais o’er the head,
The cushions in the chairs,
And all the candles lighted on the stairs?
Perfume the chambers, and in any case
Let each man give attendance in his place’.
Thus if the king were coming would we do,
And ’twere good reason too;
For ’tis a duteous thing
To show all honour to an earthly king,
And after all our travail and our cost,
So he be pleased, to think no labour lost.
But at the coming of the King of Heaven
All’s set at six and seven;
We wallow in our sin,
Christ cannot find a chamber in the inn.
We entertain Him always like a stranger,
And, as at first, still lodge Him in the manger.
from a manuscript, Christ Church College, Oxford
‘John did not ask direct questions concerning God’s existence. For him, a proof of God’s existence was not nonsensical, but it did not matter, because he lived so closely with God. When we love people we do not ask whether they exist, or whether their existence can be proved, for it is their very existence, the fact that they simply are, that draws us to them. And because John did not ask whether God existed, he assumed the question in its broadest sense. In studying him, we find his basic thoughts and attitudes encompassing everything, not only so-called religious themes.
But John’s God was not a vague God, he was the God of Jesus Christ, hence a God who speaks, or rather a God who has spoken in a revelation. But God’s Word produces a discourse, between itself and the person who receives it. God’s Word, as revealed in the Bible and the liturgy, penetrated John and took possession of him, and he in his turn spoke’.
from St John of the Cross, 1979, by Alain Cugno
O God, who didst inspire thy holy Confessor Saint John with an ardent love of self-denial and of the Cross: grant that by constantly following his example, we may attain to everlasting glory; 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.
‘It would seem that Advent has two different and contradictory moods: penance and joyful expectation. As he goes to the altar during Advent the priest is clothed in purple vestments, and he does not say the Gloria. And yet in other respects Advent is a season of joy. The antiphons are invariably joyful and end with Alleluia. The Sunday Masses become more and more joyful in character. Last Sunday’s Mass was full of joyful texts and chants, and today, the third Sunday, is as joyful a Sunday as you will find anywhere in the Church’s. year. It is true, I think, to say that the joyful stratum is the earlier one and derives from the spirit of joy of the early Christians, whereas the penitential stratum is later and is explained by man’s consciousness of sin. Early Christianity stressed the holiness of grace and the accent is on joy. The Middle Ages was, however, obsessed by the holiness of the law, inculcating the fear of sin and the need for penance. And here we are at our theme for this year: Grace is attuned to the key of joy. But we can find yet another connection between this Sunday and grace, for if we ask what is the cause of this joy in today’s Mass, the answer is in the [Introit]: “Joy to you in the Lord at all times; once again I wish you joy… the Lord is near.” Yes, that is the reason: the Lord is near; and it is expressed even more emphatically in the Gospel [in the Extraordinary Form]: “There is one standing in your midst.” Christ is near; He is standing in our midst, and that is the reason for this Sunday’s joy. That is the reason why today the Church adorns herself with rose-coloured vestments. Christ is near; He is standing in our midst, and we cannot be rejoice.’
from Seasons of Grace, 1963, by Pius Parsch, 1884–1954
O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee: grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight; who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday), Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘Am I not here who am thy Mother -
What dost thou fear?’
Deep in the tangled brushwood of my hours,
You are a sudden clearing, Madre mia,
Amid the choke of thorn,
And where my fears sit huddled in their trembling,
You are a soft word spoken, O Maria,
In heart’s cacophany, a splendid chord!
Brave alabaster out of hope-shards builded,
What need I dream of beauty, I who know
Curve of your cheek, the raven hair low-winging,
Soft swell of lip, the delicate flight of brow!
Exuberance, be hedged in Christ oh! Sweetly
By this rumorous smile’s so wistful bands;
And sorrow, find your meaning, find your haven
In this gentle fold of olive hands.
Authentic glimpse of heaven, Madre mia,
Your image my supernal dividend
On sorrow, and my pledge past all devising
Of paradisal day. What shall I fear
Of pain, of death, of diverse ignominy
When you are here, Maria, when you are here.
Mother Mary Francis PCC, 1921-2006
‘This great Pontiff comes before us in the Liturgical Year not to bring us tidings of Peace, as St Melchiades did, but as one of the most illustrious defenders of the great Mystery of the Incarnation. He defends the faith of the Universal Church in the divinity of the Word, by condemning, as his predecessor Liberius had done, the acts and the authors of the celebrated Council of Rimini. With his sovereign authority, he bears witness to the teaching of the Church regarding the Humanity of Jesus Christ, and condemned the heretic Apollinaris, who taught that Jesus Christ had only assumed the flesh and not the soul of man. He commissioned St Jerome to make a new translation of the New Testament from the Greek, for the use of the Church of Rome; here, again, giving a further proof of the faith and love which he bore to the Incarnate Word. Let us honour this great Pontiff, whom the Council of Chalcedon calls ‘the ornament and support of Rome’ by his piety. St Jerome, too, who looked upon St Damasus as his friend and patron, calls him “a man of the greatest worth; a man whose equal could not be found, well versed in the holy Scriptures, and a virgin Doctor of the virgin Church”’.
from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, 1805-1875
Grant, we pray thee, O Lord: that we may constantly exalt the merits of thy Martyrs, whom Pope Saint Damasus so venerated and loved; 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.
Mary, Mother of the ‘Yes’, you listened to Jesus,
and know the tone of his voice and the beating of his heart.
Morning Star, speak to us of him,
and tell us about your journey of following him on the path of faith.
Mary, who dwelt with Jesus in Nazareth,
impress on our lives your sentiments,
your docility, your attentive silence,
and make the Word flourish in genuinely free choices.
Mary, speak to us of Jesus, so that the freshness of our faith
shines in our eyes and warms the heart of those we meet,
as you did when visiting Elizabeth,
who in her old age rejoiced with you for the gift of life.
Mary, Virgin of the Magnificat
help us to bring joy to the world and, as at Cana,
lead every young person involved in service of others
to do only what Jesus will tell them.
Mary, look upon the youth,
so that the soil of the Church will be fertile.
Pray that Jesus, dead and Risen, is reborn in us,
and transforms us into a night full of light, full of him.
Mary, Our Lady of Loreto, Gate of Heaven,
help us to lift our eyes on high.
We want to see Jesus, to speak with him,
to proclaim his love to all.
Pope Benedict XVI
‘At this decisive moment in Mexico’s history, having already crossed the threshold of the new millennium, I entrust to the powerful intercession of Saint Juan Diego the joys and hopes, the fears and anxieties of the beloved Mexican people, whom I carry in my heart.
Blessed Juan Diego, a good, Christian Indian, whom simple people have always considered a saint! We ask you to accompany the Church on her pilgrimage in Mexico, so that she may be more evangelising and more missionary each day. Encourage the Bishops, support the priests, inspire new and holy vocations, help all those who give their lives to the cause of Christ and the spread of his Kingdom.
Happy Juan Diego, true and faithful man! We entrust to you our lay brothers and sisters so that, feeling the call to holiness, they may imbue every area of social life with the spirit of the Gospel. Bless families, strengthen spouses in their marriage, sustain the efforts of parents to give their children a Christian upbringing. Look with favour upon the pain of those who are suffering in body or in spirit, on those afflicted by poverty, loneliness, marginalisation or ignorance. May all people, civic leaders and ordinary citizens, always act in accordance with the demands of justice and with respect for the dignity of each person, so that in this way peace may be reinforced.
Beloved Juan Diego, “the talking eagle”! Show us the way that leads to the “Dark Virgin” of Tepeyac, that she may receive us in the depths of her heart, for she is the loving, compassionate Mother who guides us to the true God. Amen’.
from the homily preached at the Canonisation Mass of St Juan Diego
31 July 2002, by Pope St John Paul II, 1920-2005
O God, who by means of Saint Juan Diego didst show the love of the most holy Virgin Mary for thy people: grant, through his intercession; that, by following the counsels our Mother gave at Guadalupe, we may be ever constant in fulfilling thy will; 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.
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do--
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.
Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ, 1844-1889
O God, who in the foreknowledge of thy Son's most precious death didst consecrate for him a dwelling-place by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary: mercifully grant that she who was preserved from all defilement, may evermore pray for us, until we attain unto thee in purity of heart; 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.
‘It is obvious that the preacher’s personal testimony and the level of exemplarity of the Christian community condition the effectiveness of the preaching. In this perspective, a passage from St Augustine's Confessions is relevant. He had come to Milan as a teacher of rhetoric; he was a sceptic and not Christian. He was seeking the Christian truth but was not capable of truly finding it.
What moved the heart of the young African rhetorician, sceptic and downhearted, and what impelled him to definitive conversion was not above all Ambrose’s splendid homilies (although he deeply appreciated them). It was rather the testimony of the Bishop and his Milanese Church that prayed and sang as one intact body. It was a Church that could resist the tyrannical ploys of the Emperor and his mother, who in early 386 again demanded a church building for the Arians’ celebrations. In the building that was to be requisitioned, Augustine relates, “the devout people watched, ready to die with their Bishop.” This testimony of the Confessions is precious because it points out that something was moving in Augustine, who continues: “We too, although spiritually tepid, shared in the excitement of the whole people” (Confessions 9, 7).
… Like the Apostle John, Bishop Ambrose - who never tired of saying: “Omnia Christus est nobis! To us Christ is all!” - continues to be a genuine witness of the Lord. Let us thus conclude our Catechesis with his same words, full of love for Jesus: “Omnia Christus est nobis! If you have a wound to heal, he is the doctor; if you are parched by fever, he is the spring; if you are oppressed by injustice, he is justice; if you are in need of help, he is strength; if you fear death, he is life; if you desire Heaven, he is the way; if you are in the darkness, he is light.... Taste and see how good is the Lord: blessed is the man who hopes in him!” (De Virginitate, 16, 99). Let us also hope in Christ. We shall thus be blessed and shall live in peace’.
Pope Benedict XVI
O God, who didst set thy blessed Bishop Saint Ambrose in thy Church as a Doctor and defender of the Catholic faith and an example of apostolic fortitude: grant, we beseech thee; that aided by his intercession, we may escape the dangers of error, and never be ashamed to confess thy truth; 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.
O book! Life’s guide! how shall we part;
And thou so long seiz’d of my heart?
Take this last kiss; and let me weep
True thanks to thee, before I sleep.
Thou wert the first put in my hand,
When yet I could not understand,
And daily didst my young eyes lead
To letters, till I learnt to read.
But as rash youths, when once grown strong,
Fly from their nurses to the throng,
Where they new consorts choose, and stick
To those till either hurt or sick;
So with that first light gain’d from thee
Ran I in chase of vanity,
Cried dross for gold, and never thought
My first cheap book had all I sought.
Long reign’d this vogue; and thou cast by,
With meek, dumb looks didst woo mine eye,
And oft left open wouldst convey
A sudden and most searching ray
Into my soul, with whose quick touch
Refining still, I struggled much.
By this mild art of love at length
Thou overcam’st my sinful strength,
And having brought me home, didst there
Show me that pearl I sought elsewhere,
Gladness, and peace, and hope, and love,
The secret favours of the Dove;
Her quick’ning kindness, smiles and kisses,
Exalted pleasures, crowning blisses,
Fruition, union, glory, life,
Thou didst lead to, and still all strife.
Living, thou wert my soul’s sure ease,
And dying mak’st me go in peace:
Thy next effects no tongue can tell;
Farewell, O book of God! farewell!
Henry Vaughan, 1621-1695
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent, Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘For centuries this Ember Saturday was the only day in the Church’s year for the conferring of holy orders. Nowadays the sixth sacrament is administered also on other days, feast days and Sundays. But Mother Church has always favoured her Ember days as most appropriate for elevating her levites to the Priesthood of Christ, her Bridegroom.
May this Ember day awaken in us a deeper appreciation of the holiness and power of the Catholic priesthood. The sacrament of holy orders places the priest on a high mountain to bring good tidings to Sion, commissions him to lift up his voice with strength, to bring good tidings to Jerusalem. The priest assures his flock: “Behold your God! Behold the Lord God shall come with strength, and His arm shall rule! Behold His reward is with Him, and His work is before Him. He shall feed the flock like a shepherd, He shall gather go together the lambs with His arm, and take them up in His bosom, the Lord our God” (cf. 3rd lesson).
Between priests and people must exist an “admirable commercium”, a “wondrous exchange” of giving and taking. The priest as “minister of Christ and dispenser of the mysteries of God” must spend himself for his people, and so attain to eternal life together with the flock committed to his care. The flock must support him by prayer, co-operation and good will so that – as the ordination prayer says – “he may always discharge the duties of his ministry towards God in complete readiness.” Shepherd and flock must support one another and thus fulfil the law of Christ.
It is meet and just at all times, but especially in these days of preparation for Christmas, to pray fervently of our priests that the Holy Spirit may fill them with His seven-fold gifts, gifts so necessary for “bringing the tidings of great joy to all the people.” The Church is in need – today more than ever – of holy priests, of men full of zeal for God’s Kingdom, of shepherds with love for the flock, of fathers who will break the bread of life to their children, of “anointed Cyruses” (4th lesson) who will lead men from the Babylonian captivity of sin and misery to the promised land of liberty and peace.
May blessed Peter the Apostle to whom the eternal High Priest entrusted His lambs and sheep, and with whom we keep this venerable Ember day, bless priests and people. May he obtain from our Lord Jesus Christ what we ask: Holiness of life, mutual respect and charity, loyalty to the Church and the Apostolic See to both shepherds and flock.
“Come, Lord, and show us – priests and people – Thy face!”’.
from a meditation on the Ember Saturday in Advent in Vine and Branches, 1948, by Mgr Martin Hellriegel
‘Magnificat anima mea Dominum! Mary’s great “Fiat”. Gabriel has carried her answer to God’s throne. The Holy Spirit has overshadowed her. Mary is now Virgin and Mother, the blessed tree in the midst of the new Paradise bearing the fruit of life. “He that shall find me, shall find life and shall have salvation from the Lord.”
“With haste” the Virgin Mother leaves Nazareth and goes up to Judea to render service to an expectant mother. “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord” (Introit). “With haste” she pursues her journey, “because the grace of the Holy Spirit knows no slow working” (St Ambrose), all the while “rejoicing in God her Saviour” whom she is carrying with inexpressible love in her chaste womb.
The Mother of God with the Son of God on her way to a hill country, to the home of Zachary and Elizabeth, radiating peace and joy! Mary salutes Elizabeth, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and her predestined child is sanctified, leaping for joy in his mother’s womb.
And now the divine Spirit descends on Mary, replenishment with such an abundance of heavenly sweetness, that from a heart overflowing with gratitude she chants that sublime canticle which henceforth shall resound throughout the age: “Magnificat, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoiced in God my Saviour... He that is mighty has done great things unto me, and holy is His name.”
Today Mother Church renders present this particular event of the work of redemption. Today our Holy Lord will continue in us the saving work wrought from within the sanctuary of His Mother’s bosom for Elizabeth and her herald-son, John, a truth so strikingly expressed in the postcommunion: “May the holy reception of this sacrament renew our inner life, cleanse us from our former ways and make us partakers of the mystery of salvation.”
In conclusion let us take to heart the words of St Ambrose addressed to a group of virgins, and read in today's divine office: ‘"You have learnt, O virgins, the modesty of Mary. Learn also her humility. She went as a relative to her relative, the younger to the elder; and not only did she go there, but she first greeted Elizabeth. For the most chaste a virgin is, the more humble should she be. She will know how to submit to her elders. She who professes chastity should be mistress of humility. For humility is the root of piety, and the very rule of its teaching. It is to be noted that the superior comes to the inferior so that the inferior may be assisted, Mary comes to Elizabeth, Christ to John.”
“He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the humble!”
Let us pray: “Stir up Thy might, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come: that they who trust in Thy goodness may be more speedily delivered from all adversity” (collect)
from a meditation on the Ember Friday in Advent in Vine and Branches, 1948, by Mgr Martin Hellriegel
‘We must be glad and thank the Lord that so many embrace the Christian religion, who tell us of the fallacies of the Bonzes and of their books, and the mysteries of their sects, for those who have joined themselves to Christ were following the discipline of another. The most learned among their number each and all explain to us the institutes and precepts of their previous discipline. If it were not for my study of these I would not know enough of the false religions of the Japanese to be able to oppose them. How much the Christians love us is past believing. They come constantly to our house to be naturally courteous. The Christians indeed, certainly – bless them – show themselves most kind and obliging to us. God in his mercy reward and grant us the same happiness in heaven’.
from a letter, 1550, detailing his experience of Japan, 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.
‘The historical event by which God’s own Son became Man, called the annunciation, is commemorated twice each year in the Roman liturgy – today on Ember Wednesday and on March 25. The latter is a Marian feast, while today’s liturgy centres on our Blessed Saviour, even though the stational church is St Mary Major and much of the Mass text is devoted to the Blessed Virgin. In both cases the liturgy stresses history. March 25 commemorates the day of our Lord’s conception, nine months before Christmas; on Ember Wednesday, just before Christmas, the liturgy emphasises the Old Testament background leading to His birth. There is solemn grandeur in the mystery of today’s liturgy, a grandeur which merits it a position along with the chiefest events of Jesus’ life, His birth, and His death.
Today the second Divine Person of the Blessed Trinity was united to a human nature, truly the beginning of mankind’s salvation. It would seem that the occasion of Christ’s assuming flesh should be as great a feast as Christmas. Such actually was the thinking during the Middle Ages. At that time March 25 marked the beginning of the civil year. Today’s Mass, the Missa Aurea or “Golden Mass,” was very highly esteemed. Prompted by the text of the formulary, the holy Abbot St Bernard delivered his famous homilies entitled Super Missus est, which occur in part in the Breviary. The fact that the Rorate Mass, still celebrated often in certain places during Advent, is derived from this Mass, indicates wide popular interest. Among the faithful there existed intense devotion toward the mystery of the annunciation. As a result the Hail Mary was developed and added to the Our Father; and three times daily the Angelus bells pealed, reminding everyone of this sublime event in his salvation. At the phrase, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” in the Angelus and in the Last Gospel, as also at the Et incarnatus est in the Credo, a genuflection was introduced to show reverence for the mystery of the incarnation.
All this helps us to realise the wealth of meaning inherent in today’s liturgy. Nor may we overlook the similarity between holy Mass and the incarnation itself. At Mass Christ becomes truly incarnate under the appearances of bread and wine. Therefore we do not merely commemorate the event; it actually is repeated in a sacramental manner. At the consecration we can say in all truth: “The Word is made flesh!”’
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1959, by Pius Parsch 1884-1954
‘We have a wonderful picture here: St Paul’s favourite picture of light and darkness. St Paul frequently calls the time before the advent of grace the night of the spirit. The time of grace is the light of day. “Once you were all darkness; now, in the Lord, you are all daylight. Walk, then, as children of the light.” Here St Paul distinguishes clearly between what we are and what we do. You Gentile Christians, he says, lived formerly in the night of the deprivation of grace, cut off from God. But now you are standing in the sunlight of grace. Grace, then, is first and foremost a state of our being. Then follows action – walking as children of the light. St Paul says much the same thing in today’s Epistle [Romans 13.11-14] – only he expresses it far more beautifully. The life that is past was the night of no-grace. We were then asleep. We could do nothing that would earn us any merit. We were wearing the night-attire of sin. But now the night is past. The day has dawned and grace has come to us. We must put on our day-attire – not civilian clothes, however, but a military uniform, a battledress, our armour; and yet no dull, iron-grey armour, but an armour of light. The Christian is a knight clad in shining armour. I am reminded of a scene in the Apocalypse: Christ riding on a white horse, clad in a blood-stained cloak, and behind Him a retinue of horsemen on white chargers clad in pure white linen’.
from Seasons of Grace, 1963, by Pius Parsch, 1884–1954
As blessed Andrew, on a day,
By fishing did his living earn,
Christ came, and called him away,
That he to fish for men might learn:
And no delay thereat he made,
Nor questions fram’d of his intent,
But quite forsaking all he had,
Along with Him that call’d he went.
Oh, that we could so ready be,
To follow Christ when He doth call!
And that we could forsake, as he,
Those nets that we are snar’d withal:
Or would this fisherman of men,
(Who set by all he had so light)
By his obedience shewed then
(And his example) win us might.
But precepts and examples fail,
Till Thou Thy grace, Lord, add thereto;
O grant it, and we shall prevail
In whatsoe’er Thou bidst us do:
Yea we shall then that bliss conceive,
Which in Thy service we may find,
And for Thy sake be glad to leave
Our nets, and all we have, behind.
George Wither, 1588-1667
We offered a very moving Solemn Requiem yesterday for Remembrance Sunday, concluding with the Absolution of the Dead, wherein we remembered and prayed for all those who gave their lives for others in the conflicts and wars of the past. On Saturday evening the annual Festival of Remembrance was broadcast on the BBC. One of the poems read aloud was the very moving High Flight, written by a 19 year-old RCAF pilot just a few months before his death over the skies of England. I’m surprised, after learning more about the fame of this poem, that I’d never come across it until this past weekend. I reproduce here.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
– Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
John Gillespie Magee Jr, 1922-1941
‘[Y]ou must attach yourself to the eternal so that you belong to it, partake of its eternity. Hold fast to truth, and thereby belong to the One who is indestructible – that disposition now becomes quite real and quite close: Hold fast to Christ; he carries you through the night of death that he himself has overcome. In this way immortality comes to make sense. It is no longer an endless duplication of the present but rather something entirely new and yet still our eternity: to be in the hands of God and thereby one with all the brothers and sister he has created for us, to be one with creation – that is finally the true life, which we now can see only through the mist. Where there is no answer to the question of God, death remains a cruel puzzle, and every other answer leads into contradiction. If God exists, however, the God who has shown himself in Jesus Christ, then there is eternal life, and death is then also a way of hope’.
Pope Benedict XVI
O God, the Creator and Redeemer of all them that believe: grant unto the souls of thy servants and handmaids the remission of all their sins; that as they have ever desired thy merciful pardon, so by the supplications of their brethren they may receive the same; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
A wonderful celebration of Confirmation and First Holy Communion at St John Henry’s on Sunday. Mgr Peter Wilkinson conferred the Sacrament of Confirmation, as delegated by Bishop Lopes, and I was privileged to be able to give the children their First Communion. Given the difficulties of this year it was a great blessing to be able to spend time teaching and preparing the children for the Sacraments. Share in the hope, optimism, and joy of their growing faith has been a great and humbling privilege, as well as a deep source of encouragement.
‘Dearly beloved, by Holy Baptism, God our Father gave these his adopted sons and daughters new birth to eternal life. Let us therefore pray him to pour out upon them the Holy Ghost, to strengthen them in their faith, and to anoint them that they may be more like Christ the Son of God: that they may continue his forever, and daily increase in the Holy Ghost, more and more, until they come unto God’s everlasting kingdom.
Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hast brought these thy servants to new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, freeing them from sin: send upon them, O Lord, the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete; give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge and piety; fill them with the spirit of the fear of the Lord. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen’.
Divine Worship: Occasional Services
Fr Lee Kenyon