This Sunday, the first of the ecclesiastical year, is called, in the chronicles and charts of the Middle Ages, Ad te levavi Sunday, from the first words of the Introit; or Aspiciens a longe, from the first words of one of the Responsories of Matins.
The Station is at St. Mary Major’s. It is under the auspices of Mary—in the splendid Basilica which possesses the Crib of Bethlehem, and is therefore called, in ancient documents, St. Mary’s ad Præsepe—that the Roman Church recommences, each year, the sacred Cycle. It would have been impossible to select a place more suitable than this for saluting the approach of the Divine Birth, which is to gladden heaven and earth, and manifest the sublime portent of a Virgin Mother. Let us go in spirit to this august temple, and unite in the prayers which are there being offered up: they are the very ones we also use, and which we will now explain.
[The Stations marked in the Roman Missal for certain days in the year were formerly processions, in which the whole clergy and people went to some given church, and there celebrated the Office and Mass. This usage, which dates from the earliest period of the Roman Church, and of which St. Gregory the Great was but the restorer, still exists, at least in a measure; for the Stations are still observed, though with less solemnity and concourse of people, on all the days specified in the Missal.]
In the Night Office, the Church commences the reading of the Book of Isaias, who, of all the Prophets, has the most distinctly and explicitly foretold the Messias; and she continues this same Book until Christmas Day inclusively. Let us strive to enter into the teaching of the holy Prophet, and let the eye of our faith affectionately recognize the promised Savior in the descriptions, sometimes consoling and sometimes terrifying, under which Isaias depicts him.
The first words of the Church, in the still midnight, are these:
Come, let us adore the King our Lord, who is to come.
This first duty of adoration complied with, let us listen to the oracle of the Prophet Isaias, delivered to us by the holy Church.
Beginning of the Book of the Prophet Isaias 1:1-6
The vision of Isaias the son of Amos I which he saw concerning Juda and Jerusalem in the days of Ozias, Joathan, Achaz, and Ezechias, kings of Juda. Hear, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord hath spoken. I have brought up children, and exalted them: but they have despised me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel hath not known me, and my people hath not understood. Woe to the sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a wicked seed, ungracious children: they have forsaken the Lord, they have blasphemed the Holy One of Israel, they are gone away backwards. For what shall I strike you any more, you that increase transgression? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is sad. From the sole of the foot unto the top of the head, there is no soundness therein: wounds and bruises and swelling sores: they are not bound up, nor dressed, nor fomented with oil.
These words of the holy Prophet, or rather of God who speaks to us by the Prophet, should make a deep impression on the children of the Church, at this opening of the holy period of Advent. Who could hear without trembling this voice of our Lord, who is despised and unknown even at the very time when he is to come to visit his people? Lest men should be terrified at the splendor of his Majesty, he divested himself of it; and, far from acknowledging the divine power of Him who thus humbled himself out of love to them, these men have refused even to know him; and the crib, where he lay after his birth, had, at first, but two dumb animals to honor or notice it. Do you feel, Christians, how just are the complaints which your God here makes? and how your indifference for all his love is an insult? He calls heaven and earth to witness; he utters anathema against the sinful nation, his ungrateful children. Let us honestly confess that we, too, have not known the value of our Jesus’ visit to us, and that we have but too faithfully imitated the obduracy of the Jews, who heeded not the bright Light when it burst upon their darkness. In vain did the Angels sing on that December night; in vain did shepherds receive and welcome the invitation to adore the Babe and know him; in vain did the Magi come from the East, asking where they were to find the Crib of the King that was born. At this last example, the city of Jerusalem was somewhat moved; but the astonishment was only for a moment, and the old indifference soon stifled the good tidings.
Thus it is, O Jesus, that thou comest unto darkness, and darkness does not comprehend thee. We beseech thee, let our darkness comprehend the Light, and desire it. The day will come when thou wilt disperse the spiritual and voluntary darkness of men by the awful light of thy justice. Thy glory, O Sovereign Judge, will be magnificent on that day, and we love to think upon thy having it—but during these days of our life on earth, deliver us from thy wrath. We are one great wound from the sole of the foot unto the top of the head; thou knowest not where to strike: be, then, a Savior, O Jesus, in this Coming, for which we are now preparing. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is sad: come, and raise up this head which shame and vile passions bow down to the earth. Come, and comfort this heart oppressed with sin and fear. We confess it, our wounds are deep and sore; come, thou Good Samaritan, pour in thy soothing oil and heal them.
The whole world is in expectation of its Redeemer; come, dear Jesus, show thyself to it by granting it salvation. The Church, thy spouse, is now commencing another year, and her first word is to thee, a word which she speaks in the anxious solicitude of a mother for the safety of her children; she cries out to thee, saying: Come! No, we will go no further in our journey through the desert of this life without thee, O Jesus! Time is passing quickly away from us; our day is perhaps far spent, and the shades of our life’s night are fast coming on; arise, O divine Sun of Justice; Come! guide our steps, and save us from eternal death.
While the Priest is approaching the altar, there to offer up the Holy Sacrifice, the Church opens her chants by this beautiful one, (Psalm 24:1-4) which so well expresses her confidence as the beloved Spouse of Jesus. Let us repeat it together with her, followed by the Gloria Patri, and let the heart be in harmony with our voice, for the Savior comes to each of us in proportion to the earnestness of our longing for him.
To thee have I lifted up my soul: in thee, O my God, I put my trust, let me not be ashamed: neither let my enemies laugh at me: for none of them that wait on thee shall be confounded.
Ps. Show, O Lord, thy ways to me, and teach me thy paths.
℣. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Repeat: To thee.
After the Kyrie eleison, the Priest embodies in the following prayers, called on that account the Collects, all the desires and petitions of the Church for this first Sunday:
Exert, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy power, and come: that by thy protection we may be freed from the imminent dangers of our sins, and be saved by thy mercy. Who liveth and reigneth with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.
It is right that we should also beg, during this holy season, the all-powerful mediation of Her who, at first, was the sole depository of the great secret which was to give life to the world. Let us then say with the Priest:
IN HONOR OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN
O God, who wast pleased that thy Word, when the Angel delivered his message, should take flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, give ear to our humble petitions, and grant that we who believe her to be truly the Mother of God, may be helped by her prayers.
To this is immediately added one of the following Prayers:
AGAINST THE PERSECUTORS OF THE CHURCH
Mercifully hear, we beseech thee, O Lord, the prayers of thy Church: that, all oppositions and errors being removed, she may serve thee with a secure liberty. Through, &c.
FOR THE POPE
O God, the Pastor and Ruler of all the faithful, look down, in thy mercy, on thy servant N., whom thou hast appointed Pastor over thy Church; and grant, we beseech thee, that both by word and example, he may edify all those that are under his charge; and with the flock entrusted to him, arrive at length at eternal happiness. Through, &c.
Lesson of the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle, to the Romans 13:11-14
Brethren, know that it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep. For now our salvation is nearer than when we believed. The night is passed, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day: not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy: But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Savior, then, who is coming to us is the clothing which we are to put on over our spiritual nakedness. Here let us admire the goodness of our God, who, remembering that man hid himself after his sin, because he was naked, vouchsafes himself to become man’s clothing, and cover with the robe of his Divinity the misery of human nature. Let us, therefore, be on the watch for the day and the hour when he will come to us, and take precautions against the drowsiness which comes of custom and self-indulgence. The light will soon appear; may its first rays be witness of our innocence, or at least of our repentance. If our Savior is coming to put over our sins a covering which is to hide them forever, the least that we, on our part, can do is to retain no further affection for those sins, else it will be said of us that we refused our salvation. The last words of this Epistle were those which caught the eye of St. Augustine, when, after a long resistance to the grace which pressed him to give himself to God, he resolved to obey the voice which said to him: Tolle lege; take and read. They decided his conversion; he immediately resolved to abandon the worldly life he had hitherto led, and put on Christ Jesus. Let us begin this very day, and imitate this Saint. Let us long for that dear and glorious Clothing, with which the mercy of our heavenly Father is so soon to cover us, and say with the Church these touching words, which we cannot repeat too often during this time of the year:
None of them that wait on thee shall be confounded, O Lord.
℣. Show, O Lord, thy ways to me: and teach me thy paths. Alleluia, alleluia.
℣. Show us, O Lord, thy mercy: and grant us thy salvation. Alleluia.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to St. Luke 21:25-33
At that time: Jesus said to His disciples: There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea and of the waves; men withering away for fear, and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world. For the powers of heaven shall be moved; and then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud, with great power and majesty. But when these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand. And he spoke to them in a similitude. See the fig tree, and all the trees: When they now shoot forth their fruit, you know that summer is nigh; so you also, when you shall see these things come to pass, know that the kingdom of God is at hand. Amen, I say to you, this generation shall not pass away, till all things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
Thou art to come, then, O Jesus, in all the terror of the Last Judgment, and when men least expect thee. In a few days, thou art coming to us to clothe our misery with the garment of thy mercy; a garment of glory and immortality to us; but thou art to come again on a future day, an din such dread majesty that men will wither away with fear. O my Savior! condemn me not on that day of the world’s destruction. Visit me now in thy love and mercy; I am resolved to prepare my soul. I desire that thou shouldst come and be born within me, so that when the convulsions of nature warn me of thy coming to judge me, I may lift up my head, as thou biddest thy faithful disciples do, who, when the rest of men shall tremble at the thunder of thy Judgment, will have confidence in thee, because they have thee in their hearts.
During the offering of the Bread and Wine, the Church, with her look steadfastly fixed on Him who is to come, keeps to her sweet canticle:
To thee, O Lord, have I lifted up my soul: in thee, O my God, I put my trust, let me not be ashamed; neither let my enemies laugh at me: for none of them that wait on thee shall be confounded.
After the oblation, she silently presents to God the petitions of all her children by the following Prayers:
Grant, O Lord, that these sacred mysteries may cleanse us by their powerful virtue, and bring us with greater purity to him, who was the author and institutor of them. Through, &c.
OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN
Strengthen, we beseech thee, O Lord, in our souls the mysteries of the true faith: that we who confess him that was conceived of a Virgin, to be true God and true man, may, by the power of his saving Resurrection, deserve to come to eternal joys.
AGAINST THE PERSECUTORS OF THE CHURCH
Protect us, O Lord, while we assist at thy sacred mysteries: that being employed in acts of religion, we may serve thee both in body and mind. Through, &c.
FOR THE POPE
Be appeased, O Lord, with the offering we have made: and cease not to protect thy servant N., whom thou hast been pleased to appoint Pastor over thy Church. Through, &c.
After the Communion of the Priest and people, the Choir sings these beautiful words of David in praise of the sweetness of the divine Fruit, whom our Earth is going to bring forth, and who has just given himself, by anticipation, to his faithful servants. This Earth, which is ours, and which, as the prophet Isaias says, opens and buds forth the Savior, is the Blessed Virgin Mary made fruitful by the dew of heaven.
Then follow the concluding prayers of thanksgiving.
The Lord will give his goodness: and our earth shall yield her fruit.
May we receive, O Lord, thy mercy in the midst of thy temple: that with due honor we may prepare for the approaching solemnity of our reparation. Through, &c.
OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN
Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ thy Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may, by his Passion and Cross, be brought to the glory of his Resurrection.
AGAINST THE PERSECUTORS OF THE CHURCH
We beseech thee, O Lord our God, not to leave exposed to the dangers of human life, those whom thou hast permitted to partake of these divine mysteries.
FOR THE POPE
May the participation of this divine Sacrament protect us, we beseech thee, O Lord; and always procure safety and defense to thy servant N., whom thou hast appointed Pastor over thy Church, together with the flock committed to his charge. Through, &c.
The psalms of the Sunday are given above, at the beginning of this volume. The choir chants, with each psalm, one of the five following antiphons:
- ANT. On that day the mountains shall drop sweetness, and the hills shall flow with milk and honey, alleluia.
- ANT. Be glad, O daughter of Sion: and rejoice exceedingly, O daughter of Jerusalem, alleluia.
- ANT. Behold the Lord will come, and all his saints with him; and there shall be a great light on that day, alleluia.
- ANT. O all you that thirst, come to the waters: seek the Lord, while he may be found, alleluia.
- ANT. Behold the great Prophet will come, and be himself will renew Jerusalem, alleluia.
Brethren, it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep. For now our salvation is nearer than when we believed.
The hymn, Creator alme siderum, the verse Rorate and the canticle Magnificat, are given on the pages 107 and 109.
ANTIPHON OF THE MAGNIFICAT
Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found favor with the Lord: behold thou shalt conceive, and bring forth a Son, alleluia.
LET US PRAY
Exert, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy power and come; may be freed from the imminent dangers of our sins, and be saved by thy mercy. Who livest and reignest with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, god, world without end.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)