Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Circumcision of Our Lord, and Octave of Christmas Day

Double of the Second Class

Our newborn King and Savior is eight days old today; the Star that guides the Magi is advancing towards Bethlehem and, five days hence, will be standing over the Stable where our Jesus is being nursed by his Mother. Today, the Son of Man is to be circumcised; this first sacrifice of his innocent Flesh must honor the eighth day of his mortal life. Mysteries abound on this day: let us not pass one of them over, but honor them with all possible devotion and love.

But this Day is not exclusively devoted to the Circumcision of Jesus. The mystery of the Circumcision forms part of that other great mystery, the Incarnation and Infancy of our Savior—a mystery on which the Church fixes her heart, not only during this Octave, but during the whole forty days of Christmastide. Then, as regards our Lord’s receiving the Name of Jesus, a special Feast, which we shall soon be keeping, is set apart in honor of it. There is another object that shares the love and devotion of the Faithful on this great Solemnity. This object is Mary, the Mother of God. The Church celebrates today the august prerogative of this divine Maternity, which was conferred on a mere creature, and which made her the cooperatrix with Jesus in the great work of man’s salvation.

The holy Church of Rome used formerly to say two Masses on the first of January; one was for the Octave of Christmas Day, the other was in honor of Mary. She now unites the two intentions in one Sacrifice, in the same manner as, in the rest of this Day’s Office, she unites together the acts of her adoration of the Son, and the expressions of her admiration for, and confidence in, the Mother.

The Greek Church does not wait for this Eighth Day in order to pay her tribute of homage to Her who has given us our Emmanuel. She consecrates to Mary the first Day after Christmas, that is, the 26th of December, and calls it the Synaxis of the Mother of God, making the two Days one continued Feast. She is thus obliged to defer the Feast of St. Stephen to the 27th of December.

But it is today that we, the children of the Roman Church, must pour forth all the love of our hearts for the Virgin Mother and rejoice with her in the exceeding happiness she feels at having given birth to her and our Lord. During Advent, we contemplated her as pregnant with the world’s salvation; we proclaimed the glory of that Ark of the New Covenant, whose chaste womb was the earthly paradise, chosen by the King of Ages for his dwelling place. Now she has brought him forth, the Infant God; she adores him, Him who is her Son. She has the right to call him her Child; and He, God as he is, calls her in strictest truth his Mother.

Let us not be surprised, therefore, at the enthusiasm and profound respect wherewith the Church extols the Blessed Virgin and her prerogatives. Let us, on the contrary, be convinced that all the praise the Church can give her, and all the devotion she can ever bear towards her, are far below what is due to her as Mother of the Incarnate God. No mortal will ever be able to describe or even comprehend how great a glory accrues to her from this sublime dignity. For as the glory of Mary comes from her being the Mother of God, one would have first to comprehend God himself in order to measure the greatness of her dignity. It is to God that Mary gave our human nature; it is God whom she had as her Child; it is God who gloried in rendering himself, inasmuch as he is Man, subject to her: hence, the true value of such a dignity, possessed by a mere creature, can only be appreciated in proportion to our knowledge of the sovereign perfections of the great God who thus deigns to make himself dependent upon that favored creature. Let us therefore bow down in deepest adoration before the Majesty of our God; let us therefore acknowledge that we cannot respect, as it deserves, the extraordinary dignity of Her whom he chose for his Mother.

The same sublime Mystery overpowers the mind from another point of view—what were the feelings of such a Mother towards such a Son? The Child she holds in her arms and presses to her heart is the Fruit of her virginal womb, and she loves him as her own; she loves him because she is his Mother, and a Mother loves her child as herself, nay, more than herself: but when she thinks upon the infinite majesty of Him who has thus given himself to her to be the object of her love and her fond caresses—she trembles in her humility, and her soul has to turn, in order to bear up against the overwhelming truth, to the other thought of the nine months she held this Babe in her womb, and of the filial smile he gave her when her eyes first met his. These two deep-rooted feelings—of a creature that adores, and of a Mother that loves—are in Mary’s heart. The being Mother of God implies all this—and may we not well say that no pure creature could be exalted more than she? and that in order to comprehend her dignity, we should first have to comprehend God himself? and that only God’s infinite wisdom could plan such a work, and only his infinite power accomplish it?

A Mother of God!—It is the mystery whose fulfilment the world, without knowing it, was awaiting for four thousand years. It is the work which, in God’s eyes, was incomparably greater than that of the creation of a million new worlds, for such a creation would cost him nothing; he has but to speak, and all whatsoever he wills is made. But that a creature should become Mother of God, he has had not only to suspend the laws of nature by making a Virgin Mother, but also to put himself in a state of dependence upon the happy creature he chose for his Mother. He had to give her rights over himself, and contract the obligation of certain duties towards her. He had to make Her his Mother, and Himself her Son.

It follows from this that the blessings of the Incarnation for which we are indebted to the love wherewith the Divine Word loved us, may and ought to be referred, though in an inferior degree, to Mary herself. If she be the Mother of God, it is because she consented to it, for God vouchsafed not only to ask her consent, but, moreover, to make the coming of his Son into this world depend upon her giving it. As this his Son, the Eternal Word, spoke his Fiat over chaos, and the answer to his word was creation; so did Mary use the same word Fiat:—let it be done unto me, she said. God heard her word and, immediately, the Son of God descended into her virginal womb. After God, then, it is to Mary, his ever Blessed Mother, that we are indebted for our Emmanuel.

The divine plan for the world’s salvation included there being a Mother of God: and as heresy sought to deny the mystery of the Incarnation, it equally sought to deny the glorious prerogative of Mary. Nestorius asserted that Jesus was only man; Mary, consequently, was not Mother of God, but merely Mother of a Man called Jesus. This impious doctrine roused the indignation of the Catholic world. The East and West united in proclaiming that Jesus was God and Man, in unity of Person; and that Mary, being his Mother, was, in strict truth, “Mother of God” (Deipara and Θεοτόκος are the respective Latin and Greek terms). This victory over Nestorianism was won at the Council of Ephesus. It was hailed by the Christians of those times with an enthusiasm of faith, which not only proved the tender love they had for the Mother of Jesus, but was sure to result in the setting up of some solemn trophy that would perpetuate the memory of the victory. It was then that began, in both the Greek and Latin Churches, the pious custom of uniting, during Christmas, the veneration due to the Mother with the supreme worship given to the Son. The day assigned for the united commemoration varied in the several countries, but the sentiment of religion which suggested the Feast was one and the same throughout the entire Church.

The holy Pope Xystus 3rd ordered an immense Mosaic to be worked into the Chancel-Arch of the Church of St. Mary Major, in Rome, as a monument to the holy Mother of God. The Mosaic still exists, bearing testimony as to what was the faith held in the Fifth Century. It represents the various Scriptural types of our Lady, and the inscription of the holy Pontiff is still legible in its bold letters: Xystus Episcopus plebi Dei (Xystus Bishop to the People of God:), for the Saint had dedicated to the Faithful this his offering to Mary, the Mother of God.

Special Chants were also composed at Rome for the celebration of the great mystery of the Word made Man through Mary. Sublime Responsories and Antiphons, accompanied by appropriate music, were written to serve the Church and her children as the expression of their faith, and they are the ones we now use. The Greek Church makes use of some of these very Antiphons for the Christmas Solemnity; so that, with regard to the mystery of the Incarnation, there is not only unity of faith, there is also oneness of devotional sentiment.

Mass.—This Station is at St. Mary’s across the Tiber. It was but just that this Basilica should receive such an honor, for it is the most ancient of all the Churches raised by the devotion of the Faithful of Rome in honor of our Blessed Lady. It was consecrated in the 3rd century by St. Callixtus, on the site of the ancient Taberna Meritoria, celebrated even among the Pagans for the fountain of Oil which sprang up in that spot, in the reign of Augustus, and flowed into the Tiber. The piety of the Christians interpreted this as a symbol of the Christ that was afterwards born; and the Basilica is sometimes called, even to this day, Fons Olei.

The Introit is that of the Third Mass of Christmas Day, as are also most of the portions that are chanted by the Choir. It celebrates the Birth of the Child who is born unto us, and is today eight days old.


Puer natus est nobis, et Filius datus est nobis: cujus imperium super humerum ejus; et vocabitur nomen ejus magni Consilii Angelus.

A Child is born to us, and a Son is given to us: and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called the Angel of the great Counsel.

Ps. Cantate Domino canticum novum: quia mirabilia fecit. ℣. Gloria. Patri. Puer.

Ps. Sing to the Lord a new canticle: for he hath done wonderful things. ℣. Glory, &c. A Child.

In the Collect, the Church celebrates the Fruitful Virginity of the Mother of God, and shows Mary to us as the source whence God poured out upon mankind the blessing of the Incarnation. She expresses to God himself the hopes we have in the intercession of this privileged creature.


Deus, qui salutis æternæ, beatæ Mariæ virginitate fœcunda, humano generi præmia prætitisti: tribue, quæsumus, ut ipsam pro nobis intercedere sentiamus, per quam meruimus auctorem vitæ suscipere auctorem vitæ suscipere Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, Filium tuum. Qui tecum.

O God, who by the fruitful Virginity of Blessed Mary, hast given to mankind the rewards of eternal salvation; grant, we beseech thee, that we may experience Her intercession, by whom we received the Author of Life, our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son. Who liveth, &c.

Lectio Epistolæ beati Pauli Apostoli ad Titum. Lesson of the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to Titus.
Cap. xi. Ch. xi.

Charissime, apparuit enim gratia Dei Salvatoris nostri omnibus hominibus, erudiens nos, ut abnegantes impietatem, et saecularia desideria, sobrie, et juste, et pie vivamus in hoc saeculo, exspectantes beatam spem, et adventum gloriæ magni Dei, et Salvatoris nostri Jesu Christi: qui dedit semetipsum pro nobis, ut nos redimeret ab omni iniquitate, et mundaret sibi populum acceptabilem, sectatorem bonorum operum. Hæc loquere, et exhortare: in Christo Jesu Domino nostro.

Dearly Beloved: The grace of God our Saviour hath appeared to all men; Instructing us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world, Looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and might cleanse to himself a people acceptable, a pursuer of good works. These things speak, and exhort: in Christ Jesus our Lord.

These counsels of our great Apostle, who warns the Faithful of the obligation they are under of making a good use of the present life, are most appropriate to this first day of January, which is now the beginning of the New Civil Year. Let us therefore renounce all worldly desires; let us live soberly, justly, and piously, and permit nothing to distract us from the expectation of that blessedness which is our hope. The great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who shows himself to us these days of his mercy, in order to instruct us—will come to us, in a second coming, in order to give us our reward. The beginning of a New Year tells us plainly enough that this last day is fast approaching—let us cleanse ourselves from all iniquity, and become a people acceptable to our Redeemer, a people doing good works.

The Gradual proclaims the grand tidings of the Birth of our Jesus, and invites all nations to give praise to him, as also to the Eternal Father, who had promised him by the Prophets,and at length sent him.


Viderunt omnes fines terræ Salutare Dei nostri: jubilate Deo omnis terra.

All the ends of the earth have seen the Salvation of our God: sing joyfully to the Lord, all the earth.

℣. Notum fecit Dominus Salutare suum: ante conspectum gentium revelavit justitiam suam.

℣. The Lord hath made known his Salvation; he hath revealed his justice in the sight of the Gentiles.

Alleluia, alleluia.

Alleluia, alleluia.

℣. Multifarie olim Deus, loquens patribus in Prophetis, novissime, diebus istis, locutus est nobis in Filio. Alleluia.

℣. God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spoke in time past to our fathers, by the Prophets, last of all, in these days, hath spoken to us by his Son. Alleluia.


Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Lucam.

Sequel of the holy Gospel according to St. Luke.

Cap.ii. Ch. ii.

In illo tempore: postquam consummati sunt dies octo, ut circumcideretur Puer, vocatum est nomen ejus Jesus, quod vocatum est ab angelo priusquam in utero conciperetur.

At that time: After eight days were accomplished, that the child should be circumcised, his name was called Jesus, which was called by the Angel, before he was conceived in the womb.

The Child is circumcised: he is now not only a member of the human race, his is made today a member of God’s chosen People. He subjects himself to this painful ceremony, to this symbol of one devoted to the Divine service, in order that he may fulfil all justice. He receives, at the same time, his Name: the Name is Jesus, and it means a Savior. A Savior! Then, he is to save us? Yes; and he is to save us by his Blood. Such is the divine appointment, and he has bowed down his will to it. The Incarnate Word is upon the earth in order to offer a Sacrifice, and the Sacrifice is begun today. This first shedding of the Blood of the Man-God was sufficient to the fulness and perfection of a Sacrifice; but he is come to win the heart of the sinner, and that heart is so hard that all the streams of that Precious Blood, which flow from the Cross on Calvary, will scarcely make it yield. The drops that were shed today would have been enough to satisfy the justice of the Eternal Father, but not to cure man’s miseries, and the Babe’s Heart would not be satisfied to leave us uncured. He came for man’s sake, and his love for man will go to what looks like excess—he will carry out the whole meaning of his dear name—he will be our “Jesus,” our Savior.

The Offertory extols the power of our Emmanuel. Now that he is humbled by the wound of the Circumcision, it must be our delight to proclaim his power, his riches, his independence. Let us also magnify his love for us, for it is in order to cure our wounds that he so humbly condescends to feel their smart himself.


Tui sunt cœli, et tua est terra: orbem terrarum, et plenitudinem ejus tu fundasti: justitia et judicium præparatio sedis tuæ.

Thine are the heavens, and thine is the earth: the world, and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded: justice and judgment are the preparation of thy throne.


Muneribus nostris, quæsumus, Domine, precibusque susceptis: et cœlestibus nos munda mysteriis, et clementer exaudi. Per Dominum.

Receive, O Lord, our offerings and prayers: cleanse us by these mysteries, and mercifully hear us. Through, &c.

At the Communion, the Church rejoices in the Jesus, the Savior, who visits her, and acts up to his sweet Name with such perfection, by redeeming the inhabitants of the whole earth. In the Postcommunion, she prays that, by the intercession of Mary, the Holy Communion may cure our hearts of their sins, that thus we may offer to God the homage of that spiritual circumcision of which the Apostle so often speaks.


Viderunt omnes fines terræ Salutare Dei nostri.

All the ends of the earth have see the salvation of our God.


Hæc nos communio, Domine, purget a crimine: et intercedente beata Virgine Dei Genitrice Maria, cœlestis remedii faciat esse consortes. Per Dominum.

May this communion, O Lord, cleanse us from sin: and by the intercession of Blessed Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, make us partakers of thy heavenly remedy. Through, &c.


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