THE FIRST LESSON.
Ecclesiasticus xxiv. II.
In all things I sought rest, and I shall abide in the heritage of the Lord. Then the Maker of all things commanded and said to me, and He that made me rested in my tabenacle : and He said to me, Let thy dwelling be in and in Israel thine inheritance, and take thou root among Mine elect.
But do Thou, 0 Lord, have mercy.
Thanks to God.
That Wisdom of Whom it is said : I came forth from the mouth of the Most High and I have made in heaven a light that faileth not, My dwelling is on high, and My throne a pillar of cloud [Eccles. xxiv. 5.], is none other than the Second Person of the adorable Trinity. He is fittingly called the Wisdom of the Father, for He proceeds from Him by way of understanding. He is the Eternal Word, the perfect Image of the Father, the same Lord and God as the other two Divine Persons. Now, Creation is the work of Omnipotence, of Wisdom, and of Love. It is the work of the Blessed Three. But Sacred Scripture seems to point out that in a particular sense it is to be attributed to the Son Who was to be the first-born, of every creature [Col. i. 15.]. Thou hast made all things in wisdom, says the Psalmist [Ps. ciii. 24.]. And so the work of the new Creation is also to be particularly attributed to the Son, to Him Whose dearest Name is that of Jesus the Saviour, and Who hath sent us the Holy Ghost, the uncreated Love of Father and of Son. The work of restoration was founded on the sublimest Wisdom. Man had fallen from his primaeval righteousness and had to retrace his steps. This of himself he could not do, having lost the gift of sanctifying grace. But although God comes to his assistance, Man has to do his part and acts upon his own responsibility. The work, then, of regaining heaven is one not so much of repression, or of uprooting our nature, as of self-education. The nature which God gave, and which He Himself assumed, is not in itself bad. Original sin robbed it of that supernatural life in which our first parents were constituted; it gave it a distinct tendency towards evil. The Body overweighted the Soul, and right Reason lost its control over Man. So, in the Wisdom of God, the work of reparation consists in restoring the lost balance, setting Reason, or Conscience, back again upon its lost throne ; thus enabling us to act in wisdom instead of in thraldom to our lower appetites. This, then, was the wise work of the Repairer of the Fall. By this restoration of the God-like gift of Reason to its supremacy, and enriching it by the higher light of Faith, Man was set on the road to heaven, painful and slow though his progress might be. It was to be a lasting work. The first important point, therefore, was to teach man Who his Maker is; and what are his relations to that Maker. In the dealings of God with Israel we see the manner in which Divine Wisdom worked. One people chosen out from all the children of men; one small tract of country taken as the seat of the Divine operations.
To this people was the Covenant made : I will be your God and you shall be My people [Jer. xxx. 22.]. This Covenant with Israel, of course, did not tie God's hands, nor did it restrain His uncovenanted mercies towards those beyond the borders of the Twelve Tribes. But the work of education was, at first, to go on only within these limits. The Israelites were gradually taught to look forward with greater longing and intensity to Him Who was to come. Patriarchs sighed for Him ; Seers foretold Him. The place and the time when He was to come were predicted clearly. Each step was weighed, each wisely chosen. In all things Wisdom sought rest, that rest which only comes when perfect love exists between God and the Creature, when the work of education is done, and Man is fit for heaven. Israel was the chosen spot. It was the heritage of the Lord, and there Wisdom chose to abide. But as the Incarnation was the fulfilment of the past, so it was the promise of the future. Israel had to enlarge her tents and widen her borders [Cf. Isaias liv. 2.]. The true Israel, of which the Hebrews were only a tribe, is God's Church, where Wisdom ever abides in the inheritance of the Lord : I am with you all days, even to the end of world [Matt, xxviii. 20.]. Here, in the Church, the work of educating the soul for heaven proceeds apace, and would be the sooner accomplished did we not put so many obstacles in the way. But Wisdom knows how to achieve its ends. It is patient and can wait. It can turn the very obstacles into new stepping-stones to heaven. But meanwhile, from the very dawn of the Incarnation, there was one, a human creature, pure and holy, whose soul was a fitting resting-place for Divine Wisdom, and who was the type of what Humanity, aided by God's grace, could be. And this one was the stainless Virgin Mary, chosen to be God's Mother. She became the living " Seat of Wisdom," and showed forth, to the greatest extent possible to a mere creature, the Wisdom of God. Hence, Holy Church does not hesitate, by analogy, to apply to our ever dear and blessed Lady the description of the Eternal Wisdom given in these lessons. Her wisdom was but a ray of that which was God's ; and, moreover, it was not her own but the gift of her Maker.
Now, then, to apply the Lesson to our ever dear and blessed Lady. This lesson has a great affinity to the spirit which pervades the Psalms of the first Nocturn. It treats of the predestination of Mary.
In all things I sought for rest. This is the longing of the human heart—rest; and rest can only be found in God. It was by her Ecce ancilla Domini that Mary found her rest, submitting her will once for all to that of Her Maker : This is my rest, for I have chosen it [Ps. cxxxi. 14.]. Therefore does she abide for ever in the inheritance of the Lord. By her complete submission to God's Will it is seen that, in her case, Reason had fully resumed its throne and ruled her. She was the Handmaiden ; He was the Lord. When she had proved her submission, the Creator of all things rested in her sacred womb ; and on account of her incomparable dignity of Mother of God, which was the recompense for her submission, she has had appointed to her in the Church a place commensurate with her dignity.
Jacob, whose other name was Israel, which means "seeing God," is typical of the Church. Nor must it be forgotten that Jacob means " supplanter," and refers to the true Supplanter, Jesus, Who has supplanted the first Adam and made Himself the true Head of our Race. And in her turn Mary supplants Eve, and is the true " Mother of all the Living." Jacob may also be taken to represent the active life, and Israel, " seeing God," the contemplative life. The example of Mary, the type of union with God, must find a place in the souls devoted to the active life if they would escape the dangers they are exposed to. But Israel is her chosen heritage, her very own ; for those souls who follow the Lamb into the heights of simple contemplation are, in a special way, her children ; for their submission to God is more complete than the others, their interior life more resembles her's who ever kept these words in her heart [Luke ii. 19.], and who heard the Will of God and did it [xi. 28.]. It is in these souls that her example strikes root deeply, and produces in them flowers here, and fruit hereafter. " When the lesson is ended the reader addresseth her heart and voice to God and saith, Tu autem, that is, But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, as if she said : I have offended in my reading by some vanity of myself, or by irreverence to Thy Holy Word, or by some negligence, and the hearers perhaps also by some distraction of their minds from this holy lesson ; but Thou, Lord, have mercy upon us. Then the hearers answer, not to her asking mercy, but for the holy doctrine that they have heard in the lesson, and say : We give thanks to God. The reader asketh mercy rather than returns thanks; for he that teacheth or doeth anything, though it be never so good, and done with ever so good an intention, yet he ought not at once to give God thanks, as though he had done it well, like as did that proud Pharisee, as the Gospel telleth [Luke xviii. 1 1 .] ; but he ought to humble himself and ask for mercy, fearing lest he have offended in anything and not done well, as that holy and rightful and patient man Job did. For notwithstanding that his deeds were holy and good, yet he said : / dread all my works [ix. 28.]. For he that loveth cleanness of conscience dreadeth always lest anything should defile it. But the hearers thank God and say Deo gratias. For he that is taught or receiveth any benefit of God ought to give thanks therefore. Nevertheless, the reader asketh mercy for the hearers as well as for herself, and the hearers give thanks both for the readers and for themselves ; for all good deeds done in Holy Church are common to all them that are in charity" [Myroure, pp. 106-7.].
Maidenhood holy and without spot! I know not with what praises I may extol thee;* For Him Whom the heavens might not hold thou didst bear in thy womb.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb. For Him, &c.
This Responsory, sung immediately after the Lesson, is a loving commentary on the thoughts inspired by the words of Holy Writ, that God should dwell in a temple made with hands. The soul is lost in admiration at the wonderful designs of Eternal Wisdom and cannot find words enough to praise so great a work, but those which the Holy Ghost Himself put upon the lips of the Angel and holy Elizabeth : Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb.
May the Virgin of Virgins herself intercede for us to the Lord.
In this second Blessing we catch up the idea which seems to predominate in the second Nocturn, viz., that of the beauty of the soul of Mary and of the treasures of grace with which Divine Wisdom enriched her in preparation for the dignity of being His Mother. And the Virgo virginum of the blessing strikes at once the note of her spotless purity and sanctity : The white raiment in which she walks with Jesus amid the lilies among which the Spouse feedeth [Cf. Apoc. in. 4 ; Cant. iv. 7.], Thou art all fair [Ibid. ii. 16.].
From - The Little Office of Our Lady; a treatise theoretical, practical, and exegetical - Taunton, Ethelred L. (Ethelred Luke), 1857-1907