The Evensong of God’s praise is about to close this beautiful Day: let us go and unite in it. The material sun is fast sinking in the west: but our Sun of Justice shall never set for us, who have received him into our hearts. Yes, let us go join our Mother the Church, and chant, in the songs of the Royal Prophet, the happiness of our earth, that has yielded its divine Fruit; the glories of this new-born Saviour; and the mercies which he has brought us. God forbid that our hearts should have lost, since morning, aught of their earnest fervour! has not Christ been born within us? Therefore, let our psalmody proclaim his praises, and ascend to him with all that beauty and loveliness and merit which the divine Liturgy always adds to our own individual fervour.
|V. Deus, in adjutorium
R. Domine, ad adjuvandum me festina.
Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto: Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen. Alleluia.
| V. Incline unto my aid, O God.
R. O Lord, make haste to help me.
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. Alleluia.
The first Psalm of Second Vespers for Christmas Day is that which always begins the Evening Office on Sundays and Feasts. It celebrates the Eternal Generation of the Word, and prophesies his Sufferings and his Triumph.
ANT. Tecum principium in die virtutis tuae, in splendoribus Sanctorum: ex utero ante luciferum genui te.
Dixit Dominus Domino meo: * Sede a dextris meis.
ANT. With thee is the principality in the day of thy strength, in the brightness of the Saints;
for the Father has said to thee: From the womb, before the day-star, I begot
The Lord said to my Lord, his Son: Sit thou at my right hand, and reign with me.
|ANT. Tecum principium in die virtutis tuae, in splendoribus Sanctorum: ex utero ante luciferum genui te.||ANT. With thee is the principality in the day of thy strength, in the brightness of the Saints; for the Father has said to thee: From the womb, before the day-star, I begot thee.|
The second Psalm praises our Lord for the Covenant he has made with his people, and for the Redemption he has this day sent us. The human race was sunk into the depth of misery: the God of mercy, faithful to his promises, gives us, in Bethlehem, him who is the Bread of life - the heavenly food that preserves from death.
ANT. Redemptionem misit Dominus populo suo, mandavit in aeternum testamentum
Confitebor tibi, Domine, in toto corde meo: * in consilio justorum et
ANT. He hath sent Redemption to his people; he hath commanded his covenant for ever.
I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart: in the council of the just, and in the congregation.
|ANT. Redemptionem misit Dominus populo suo, mandavit in aeternum testamentum suum.||ANT. He hath sent Redemption to his people; he hath commanded his covenant for ever.|
The third Psalm tells the happiness and hopes of the just man, on the day of Jesus’ Birth. In the very midst of darkness, there has suddenly risen up the bright and lovely Light, that is, our Emmanuel, our merciful God. The upright of heart are enlightened by him: but woe to the sinner that will not receive him
ANT. Exortum est in tenebris lumen rectis corde:
misericors et miserator, et justus Dominus.
Beatus vir, qui timet Dominum: * in mandatis ejus volet nimis.
ANT. To the upright of heart a Light has risen up in darkness; the merciful and compassionate and just Lord.
Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord: he shall delight exceedingly in his commandments.
|ANT. Exortum est in tenebris lumen rectis corde: misericors et miserator et justus Dominus.||ANT. To the upright of heart a Light is risen up in darkness; the merciful and compassionate and just Lord.|
The fourth Psalm expresses the cry of distress sent forth to its Deliverer by the human race, when in the depth of its misery and degradation. But this cry was also one of hope; for God had promised to come to its deliverance. At length the Lord, whose mercy is infinite, has vouchsafed to descend upon the earth, and our Redemption begins this very day.
ANT. Apud Dominum
misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine: * Domine, exaudi vocem meam.
ANT. With the Lord there is merciful forgiveness; and with him plentiful Redemption.
From the depths have I, thy people, cried to thee, O Lord: Lord hear my voice.
|ANT. Apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio.||ANT. With the Lord there is merciful forgiveness; and with him plentiful Redemption.|
The fifth Psalm celebrates the Ark of the Lord which rested in Ephrata. Mary was the true Ark, of which that of old was but a type: in her did our Lord take up his dwelling; in her did he place the throne of his Majesty. Let our God, then, arise and take possession of his Church, which begins to-day in Bethlehem; let him arise, and, together with Mary, the Queen of mercy, govern us. Henceforth he is to dwell among us - console us in all our tribulations - satisfy us poor ones with the Bread of eternal life - invest the new Priesthood with singular powers - shine in his Church as the Lamp of immutable truth - triumph over all his enemies - in a word, whilst the crowns of other kings shall fall off, the one which sits on the brow of our divine King, our sweet Babe of Bethlehem, shall flourish for everlasting ages.
ANT. De fructu ventris
tui ponam super sedem tuam.
Memento, Domine, David: * et omnis mansuetudinis
|ANT. I will set upon thy throne, O David, one of the fruit of thy womb.
O Lord, remember David, and all his meekness.
|ANT. De fructu ventris tui ponam super sedem tuam.||ANT. I will set upon thy throne, O David! one of the fruit of thy womb.|
|Multifariam, multisque modis olim Deus loquens patribus in Prophetis: novissime diebus istis locutus est nobis in Filio, quem constituit haeredem universorum, per quem fecit et saecula.||God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in times past to the Fathers by the Prophets; last of all in these days hath spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the world,|
For the version as preserved in the Monastic Rite, see above.
|Jesu, redemptor omnium,
Quem, lucis ante originem,
Parem paternae gloria
Pater supremus edidit;
Tu lumen et splendor Patris,
Memento, rerum conditor,
Testatur hoc praesens dies,
Hunc astra, tellus, aequora,
Et nos, beata quos sacri
Jesu, tibi sit gloria,
|O Jesu! Redeemer of man kind! born before the
light was made, and born of the Eternal Father, equal to him in infinite
O thou the Light and brightness of the Father! O thou the everlasting hope of all men! hear the prayers offered thee by thy servants through out the world.
Be mindful, O Creator of all things! that heretofore thou didst assume a Body like unto ours, and wast born from the sacred womb of a Virgin.
This present day, which the year has brought round to us, tells us of this mystery - that thou, the one Saviour of the world, didst come to us from the Father’s Bosom.
The stars, and earth, and sea, and all that is under heaven greet this the Author of their new salvation with a new canticle.
And we, who have been re deemed by the stream of thy precious Blood, we too pay thee the tribute of this Hymn, in honour of thy Birthday.
Glory be to thee, O Jesus! who wast born of the Virgin and to the Father, and to the Spirit of love, for everlasting ages. Amen.
|V. Notum fecit Dominus, alleluia.
R. Salutare suum, alleluia.
|V. The Lord hath made known, alleluia.
R. His Salvation, alleluia.
|Hodie Christus natus est: hodie Salvator apparuit; hodie in terra canunt Angeli, laetantur Archangeli; hodie exsultant justi, dicentes: Gloria in excelsis Deo, alleluia.||This day Christ is born, this day the Saviour hath appeared; this day the Angels sing on earth; the Archangels rejoice; this day the just exult, saying: Glory be to God in the highest, alleluia.|
The Canticle, Magnificat.
Concede, quaesumus, omnipotens Deus, ut nos Unigeniti tui nova per carnem Nativitas liberet, quos sub peccati jugo vetusta servitus tenet. Per eumdem.
LET US PRAY
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, etc.
Commemoration of St Stephen
ANT. Stephanus autem plenus gratia et fortitudine, faciebat signa magna in
V. Gloria et honore coronasti eum, Domine.
R. Et constituisti eum super opera manuum tuarum.
ANT. But Stephen, full of grace and fortitude, did great signs among the people.
V. Thou hast crowned him, O Lord, with glory and honour.
V. And hast placed him over the works of thy hands.
LET US PRAY
For Compline, see here.
The great Day is over, and the night is coming upon us, when sleep will refresh us after the holy fatigues of last night. Before retiring to rest, let us give the holy Martyrs a thought, whose memory is offered to our veneration by the Church in her Martyrology of this December 25. Diocletian and his colleagues in the Empire had recently published the famous edict of persecution, which waged against the Church the fiercest war she has ever sustained. The edict was torn down from the Emperor’s palace at Nicomedia by one of the Christians, who paid for this holy daring by a glorious martyrdom. The faithful of the same city were ready for the combat, and feared not to brave the Emperor’s power by continuing to frequent their Church, which was condemned to be pulled down. Christmas Day came, and several thousands of them had assembled there, in order to celebrate, for the last time within those walls, the Nativity of our Saviour. Being informed of it, the Emperor became furious, and sent one of the officers of his court to order the Church doors to be fastened, and a fire to be enkindled on each side of the building. This being done, the clang of trumpets was heard, and then a herald’s voice proclaiming to the faithful, in the Emperor’s name, that they who wished to save their lives would be permitted to leave the Basilica, on the condition of their offering incense on an altar of Jupiter, which had been placed near the door; but that otherwise, all were to be left a prey to the flames. One of the Christians thus answered, in the name of the whole assembly: ‘We are all of us Christians; we honour Christ as the one only God and King; and we are all ready to lay down our lives for him on this Day.’ Where upon the soldiers were commanded to set fire to the Church. In a very short time, it was one immense mass of flames, whence was offered to the Son of God - who deigned to begin on this same day the human life he had assumed - the generous holocaust of these thousands of lives, laid down as witness to his having come into this world. Thus was glorified, in the year 303, Emmanuel, who had come from heaven to dwell among us. Let us, after the example of the Church herself, join our homage to the Babe of Bethlehem with that offered him by these courageous Christians, whose fame the Liturgy will perpetuate even to the end of time.
Once more let us visit in spirit the dear Cave, where Mary and Joseph are loving and nursing and adoring the Divine Infant. Let us, too, adore him, and ask his blessing. St Bonaventure, with an unction worthy of his seraphic soul, thus expresses the sentiments which a Christian should have on this Day, when admitted to the Crib of Jesus: ‘Do thou also kneel down - thou hast delayed too long. Adore the Lord thy God, and then reverence his Mother, and salute, with much respect, the saintly old man Joseph. After this, kiss the feet of the Infant Jesus, laid as he is on his little bed, and ask our Lady to give him to thee, or permit thee to take him up. Take him into thine arms, press him to thy heart, and look well at his lovely face, and reverently kiss him, and show him confidently the delight thou takest in him. Thou mayest venture on all this, because it is for sinners that he came, that he might save them: it was with sinners that he so humbly conversed, and at last gave himself to sinners, that he might be their food. I say, then, that his gentle love will permit thee to treat him as affectionately as thou pleasest, and will not call it too much freedom, but will set it down to thy love.’ [Meditations on the Life of Christ, by St Bonaventure.]
As a conclusion to our Feast, we give two favourite pieces of the Middle Ages, whereby our Fathers expressed their joy on this glorious Solemnity. The first is a Sequence, which is to be found in all the Roman-French Missals. For a long time it was thought to have been written by St Bernard: but we have seen it in a Manuscript of the eleventh century, and consequently it must have been written earlier than the date usually assigned to it.
Exsultet fidelis chorus.
Sol occasum nesciens,
Sicut sidus radium,
Neque sidus radio,
Cedrus alta Libani
Verbum ens Altissimi
Si non suis vatibus,
Quem docet littera
| Let the choir of all the faithful exult in their joy. Alleluia.
The Virgin’s womb hath given us the King of Kings! O wonderful mystery!
The Angel of the great Counsel is born of the Virgin, the Sun is born of a Star!
The Sun knows no setting; the Star is ever shining, ever bright.
As a star gives forth its ray, so does the Virgin her Child.
The star loses naught of its purity by the ray it yields, so neither does the Virgin by her Child.
The lofty cedar of Libanus comes down into our valley, making itself little as the hyssop.
He that is the Word of the Most High God deigns to take a body unto himself; he assumes our flesh.
Isaias had foretold all this; and the Jews, though they knew the prophecy by heart, see not its accomplishment in this mystery.
If they will not believe their Prophets, let them believe the Sybils, who thus sang:
‘Unhappy people, delay not, believe, at least, the ancient oracles! Why wilt thou be cast off, O wretched nation?
This is the Child of whom thy books tell thee: he is the Son of a Virgin-Mother.’
The second piece is a Sequence in honour of the most Holy Mother of God. It belongs to the fifteenth century. It is one of the many imitations of the Easter Sequence, Victimae Paschali, which are to be found in many of the Missals of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries
Virgini Marie laudes
Eva tristis abstulit;
Mors et vita modulo
Dic nobis, Maria,
Angelus est testis
Natus est ex me
Credendum est magis soli Gabrieli forti,
Scimus Christum processisse
Let the Christian people hymn their praises to the Virgin Mary.
Unhappy Eve was the cause of our ruin; but Mary brought forth a Son, who redeemed us sinners.
Death and life were thus strangely reconciled: there reigns now God, the Son of Mary.
Tell us, O Mary, Virgin most merciful and kind!
The Angel is witness, that was sent to me from heaven.
He that is my hope was born of me his Mother: but the Jews will not believe.
Faith must be had in Gabriel, the Power of God, rather than in the perverse Jewish tribe.
We know that Christ was in very truth born of Mary: