Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Morning—The Third Mass

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 Savior, who has also begun today to run his triumphant course.

Until 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)


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

Why is it, that the Sun, which rises today, 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?

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

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!

Cœlum nitescat lætius,
Gratetur et gaudens humus;
Scandit gradatim denuo
Jubar priores lineas.

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.

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

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

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

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.

O sancta præsepis tui,
Æterne Rex, cunabula,
Populisque per seclum sacra,
Mutis et ipsis credita.

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. Ephraim; and he begins his song thus:

Nato Filio, lumen affulsit, et ex mundo tenebræ fulgatæ, illuminatusque est orbis; laudes ergo referat Nato, qui illum illuminavit.

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.

Ortus est ex utero Virginis, eoque viso defecerunt umbræ: et tenebræ erroris ab eo expulsæ; orbisque totus illustratus; laudes ergo illi referat.

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 our Emmanuel, during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass:

Novus flos hodie oritur ex radice Jesse, et filia David parit Filium Dei.

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.

Multitudo Angelorum et militiæ cœlestis, descendentes de cœlis cum unigenito rege cantabant et dicebant: Hic est Filius Dei. Omnes dicamus: exsultate cœli, et lætamini fundamenta mundi, quia Deus æternus in terris apparuit, et cum hominibus conversatus est, ut salvet animas nostras.

A multitude of Angels and the Heavenly Host, coming down fro 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, hidiernum celebrantes mysterium. Murus dirutus est medius; evertitur flammeus gladius, Cherubim a ligno vitæ recedit. Et ego paradisum deliciarum participo, a quo per inobedientiam expulsus fueram. Incommutabilis imago Patris, typus ejus æternitatis, formam servi accipit, ex nuptinecia matre progrediens, nullam passus commutationem: quod enim erat permansit, Deus cum esset verus; quod autem non erat præteraccipit, 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, æquum et salutare: nos tibi gratias agere, æterne Deus, quia nostri Salvatoris hodie lux vera processit, quæ clara nobis omnia et intellectu manifestavit et visu. Quibus non solum præsentem vitam suo splendore dirigeret, sed ad ipsam nos majestatis immensæ 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 Savior, 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 inearnationem Verbi tui, et per partum beatæ Virginis consecrasti; da populis tuis in hac celebritate lætitiæ, 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 cœlorum luce mirabile, quod ad salutem mundi hodierna festivitate processit, nostris semper innovandis, cordibus oriatur.

Grant unto us, O Almighty God! that the Savior—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.

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.

Gaude, et lætare, exsultatio Angelorum. Gaude, Domini Virgo, prophetarum gaudium. Gaudeas, benedicta, Dominus tecum est. Gaude, quæ per Angelum gaudium mundi suscepisti. Gaude, quæ genuisti factorem digna es esse Mater Christi.

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, though 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, and 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.

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.

Gaudeamus omnes fideles, Salvator noster natus est in mundo: hodie processit Proles magnifici germinis, et perseverat pudor virginitatis.

Ye faithful people, let us all rejoice, for our Savior is born in our world: this Day, there has been born the Son of the great Mother, and she yet a pure Virgin.

O mundi Domina, regio ex semine orta, ex tuo jam Christus processit alvo, tanquam sponsus de thalamo: hic jacet in præsepio qui et sidera regit.

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 ævi emicuit: hodie Salvator Israel de climate cœli descendit, ut eruat omnes captivos, quos antiquus hostis prædo per primi hominis delictum captivarverat: et ut cæcis mentibus lumen, surdis auditum, gratia præveniente, restitueret: ob istius tanti mysterii beneficia montes et colles tripudiant, ipsaque mundi elementa ineffabili gaudio ista in die melos decantant: ob hoc gemebunda prce 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 gloriæ jucundius, ac multiplicius nostris in præcordiis vigeat, et salutis gaudia sine fine dulcescant.

Today, has risen the Light of the world: today, has shone forth the earth’s salvation: today, the Savior 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 a 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. Therefore, 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 heart’s 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 Banchor Antiphonary, published by Muratori. Here again, we find the idea so often alluded to: the triumph of the Sun’s light, which begins today, considered as the image of Jesus’ Birth.

Ab hodierno die nox minuitur, dies crescit, concutiuntur tenebræ, 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.

The Third Mass.—The Mystery, which the Church honors in this Third Mass, is the eternal generation or Birth of the Son of God in the Bosom of his Father. At midnight, she celebrated the God-Man, born in the Stable, from the Womb of the glorious Virgin Mary; at the Aurora, this same Divine Infant, born in the souls of the Shepherds; there still remains for her adoration and praise, a Birth more wonderful than these other two—a Birth which dazzles the eye of Angels by its splendor, and bears its eternal witness to the inward fruitfulness of God. The Son of Mary is also the Son of God; and a grand duty of today is that we hymn aloud the glory of this his ineffable Generation, which makes him consubstantial to his Father, God of God, and Light of Light. Let us, then, raise up our thoughts even to that eternal Word, who was in the beginning with God, and was himself God; for he is the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the figure of his substance.

The Church’s first Chant in this her Third Mass is an acclamation to the newborn King. She celebrates the kingly power and majesty which he will derive, as Man, from the Cross that is, one day, to be upon his shoulders; as God, he has been the Almighty King from all eternity, and this too she celebrates. He is also the Angel of the great Counsel; that is, he is the One Sent from heaven to fulfill the sublime Counsel, or design, of the Most Holy Trinity—to save mankind by the Incarnation and the Redemption. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word, made this Counsel, together with the other Two: his devotedness to his Father’s glory, and his love for man, made him take upon himself the execution of the divine Plan.


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 unto 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, &c.

In the Collect, the Church prays that the New Birth, whereby the Eternal Son of God deigned to be born in time, may produce its effect in us, and work our deliverance.


Concede, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus: ut nos Unigeniti tui nova per carnem nativitas liberet; quos sub peccati jugo vetusta servitus tenet. Per eumdem.

Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we who groan under the old captivity of sin, may be freed therefrom by the new Birth of thine Only Begotten Son. Through the same, &c.

The great Apostle, in the magnificent opening of the Epistle to his former brethren of the Synagogue, lays great stress on the Eternal Generation of our Lord Jesus Christ. While our eyes are fixed on the sweet Infant in his Crib, St. Paul bids us raise our thoughts up to that infinite Light, from the midst of which the Eternal Father thus speaks to this Child of Mary: Thou art my Son; today have I begotten thee: this today is the Day of eternity, a Day which neither morning nor evening, neither rising nor setting. If the Human Nature, which he has vouchsafed to assume, places him below the Angels, he is infinitely above them by his own essence, whereby he is the Son of God. He is God, he is Lord, and no change can come upon him. He may be wrapped in swathing bands, or nailed to a Cross, or put to a most ignominious death—all this is only in his human nature; in his Divinity, he remains impassible and immortal, for he was born of the Father from all eternity.


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 thou 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.

℣. Dies sanctificatus illuxit nobis: Venite, gentes, et adorate Dominum; quia hodie descendit lux magna super terram. Alleluia.

℣. A sanctified day hath shone upon us: Come, ye Gentiles, and adore the Lord; for, this day, a great Light is come down upon the earth. Alleluia.

O Eternal Son of God! in presence of the Crib, where, for the love of us, thou vouchsafest this day to show thyself to thy creatures—we confess thy eternity, thy omnipotence, thy divinity, and most profoundly do we adore thee. Thou wast in the beginning; thou wast in God; and thyself wast God, as the Gospel tells us. Everything was made by thee, and we are the work of thy hands. O Light, infinite and eternal! O Sun of Justice! enlighten us, for we are but darkness. Too long have we loved our darkness, and thee we have not comprehended: forgive us our blindness and our errors. Thou hast been long knocking at the door of our hearts, and we have refused to let thee in. Today, thanks to the wonderful ways of thy love! we have received thee: for who could refuse to receive thee, sweet gentle Infant Jesus! but leave us not—abide with us, and perfect the New Birth which thou hast begun in us. We wish, henceforth, to be neither of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God, by thee and in thee. Thou hast been made Flesh, O Word Eternal! in order that we may become sons of God. We beseech thee, support our weak human nature, and fit us for this our sublime destiny. Thou art born of God thy Father; thou art born of Mary; thou art born in our hearts; thrice glorified be thou for this thy triple Birth, O Jesus! so merciful in thy Divinity, and so divine in thy self-sought humiliations!

At the Offertory, the Church sings praise to her Emmanuel for the work of his hands, the universe; for it was He who made all things. The sacred gifts are offered up, in the midst of a cloud of incense. The Church cannot lose sight of the Infant Jesus and the Crib; but she is unceasingly praising the power and majesty of the Incarnate God.


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 fullness thereof, thou hast founded: justice and judgment are the preparation of thy throne.


Oblata, Domine, munera nova Unigeniti tui nativitate sanctifica: nosque a peccatorum nostrorum maculis emunda. Per eumdem.

Sanctify, O Lord, our offerings, by the new Birth of thine Only Begotten Son: and cleanse us from the stains of our sins. Through the same, &c.

During the Communion, the choir sings the happiness of this earth of ours, which has today seen its Savior by the mercy of the Divine Word, made visible in the flesh, yet so as that he loses nothing of his own infinite glory. Then, in the Postcommunion, she prays by the mouth of the Priest, that her children, who have eaten of the spotless Lamb, may partake of the immortality of this same Jesus: for, by vouchsafing to be born by a human Birth in Bethlehem, he has, this Day, given them the pledge of their receiving a divine life.


Viderunt omnes fines terræ Salutare Dei nostri.

The whole earth hath seen the salvation of our God.


Præsta, quæsumus, omnipotens Deus: ut natus hodie Salvator mundi, sicut divinæ nobis generationis est auctor; ita et immortalitatis sit ipse largitor. Qui tecum.

Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that as the Savior of the world, who was born this day, procured for us a divine birth, he may also bestow on us immortality. Who liveth, &c.

After the Blessing, the following Last Gospel is read.

Sequentia sancti
Evangelii secundum Matthæum.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Matthew
Cap. II Ch. II

Cum natus esset Jesus in Bethlehem Juda, in diebus Herodis regis, ecce Magi ab Oriente venerunt Jerosolymam, dicentes: Ubi est, qui natus est Rex Judæorum? vidimus enim stellam ejus in Oriente, et venimus adorare eum. Audiens autem Herodes rex, turbatus est, et omnis Jerosolyma cum illo. Et congregans omnes principes sacerdotum, et scribas populi, sciscitabatur ab eis ubi Christus nasceretur. At illi dixerunt ei: In Bethlehem Judæ: sic enim scriptum est per Prophetam: Et tu, Bethlehem, terra Juda, nequaquam minima es in principibus Juda: ex te enim exiet dux qui regat populum meum Israel. Tunc Herodes, clam vocatis Magis, diligenter didicit ab eis tempus stellæ, quæ apparuit eis: et mittens illos in Bethlehem, dixit: Ite, et interrogate diligenter de puero: et, cum inveneritis, renuntiate mihi, ut et ego veniens adorem eum. Qui, cum audissent regem, abierunt. Et ecce stella, quam viderant in Oriente, antecedebat eos, usque dum veniens staret supra ubi erat puer. Videntes autem stellam, gavisi sunt gaudio magno valde. Et intrantes domum, invenerunt puerum cum Maria matre ejus (here, all kneel), et procidentes adoraverunt eum. Et, apertis thesauris suis, obtulerunt ei munera; aurum, thus, et myrrham. Et responso accepto in somnis ne redirent ad Herodem, per aliam viam reversi sunt in regionem suam. ℟. Deo gratias.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold there came Wise Men from the East to Jerusalem, saying: Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the East, and are come to adore him. And Herod hearing this, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And assembling together all the chief Priests and the Scribes of the people, he enquired of them, where Christ should be born. But they said to him: in Bethlehem of Juda: for so it is written by the Prophet: And thou, Bethlehem, the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come forth the captain, that shall rule my people Israel. Then, Herod, privately calling the Wise Men, learned diligently of them the time of the star, which appeared to them: and sending them into Bethlehem, said: Go, and diligently enquire after the Child, and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I also may come and adore. Who, having heard the king, went their way. And behold, the star, which they had seen in the East, went before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. And seeing the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And entering into the house, they found the Child, with Mary, his Mother (here, all kneel), and falling down they adored him. And opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having received an answer in sleep, that they should not return to Herod, they went back, another way, into their own country. ℟. Thanks be to God.


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