THE LITTLE CHAPTER.
" A chapter is as much as to say as a ' lytel head'; it is called 'little' for shortness. And it is called a 'head,' for it is always taken of Holy Scripture and often of the Epistle that is read in the Mass the same day. And Holy Scripture is chief above all other scriptures, as the head is above all other members of the body. And the Chapters are read at other hours instead of lessons in the way of doctrine and teaching as lessons are at Matins. And therefore, in other hours after the Chapter followeth a response with a verse, which meaneth the same as doth the lessons and response and verse at Matins. But the Chapter is not begun with Jube Domine, nor ended with Tu autem, because it is always said by the hebdomadary who occupieth an office of perfection, to whom it belongeth rather to give blessing than to ask it in that office. And by the same way it is presumed that she should not lightly offend in so short a reading that she should need to ask mercy with Tu autem. But ye all answer Deo grdtias, as ye do after another Lesson ; and for the same cause as is said before, after the first Lesson at Matins " [Myroure, p. 127.].
CANTICLE VI. 9.
The daughters of Sion saw her and call her most blessed : the queens, and they praised her.
Thanks be to God.
The daughters. These are the daughters of Jerusalem who celebrate the beauty of the King's spouse. In heaven it is a never-failing joy to the angels to see our ever dear and blessed Lady's glory and to acknowledge her as their queen ; on earth, it is a never-failing example to the daughters of the Church who, seeing her virtues, call her most blessed and follow in her footsteps : the queens are those kings' daughters spoken of in Psalm xliv., and represent these same holy daughters who have followed Mary to the end and share in her eternal reward. They are queens because they have exercised on earth a regal sway over themselves by Poverty, Chastity and Obedience ; they are queens because they are spouses of the Great King and dwell for ever in His courts. It was Mary's example that gave them heart to follow their Divine Master along the mystic way of self-sacrifice ; it was Mary's love that cherished them in the dark hour and who got from her Son the wine of charity which kept them strong. Therefore, never will they cease to praise her who has been the channel of God's mercies towards them ; for her love was only a showing of the love of Jesus for all mankind.
It is worth noting how the spirit of praise which is peculiar to this office of Lauds is kept up in the Little Chapter. We have the two words " bless" and " praise" repeated here. Bearing in mind that the mystery of this hour is that of the Assumption, the words of this Little Chapter describe to us the sentiments of heavenly citizens, when Mary, body and soul, was assumed into heaven. They saw her and blessed her; and their highest even bowed down and acknowledged her as their mistress; for she was the Mother of the King. In union with them, and thanking God for all His mercies towards her, we say the Deo Gratias.
The hymn carries on the same thoughts : the glory Mary has received, and the praise of God. Like the hymn at Matins, it is the composition of the Bishop Venantius For-tunatus. St. Anthony of Padua had a special devotion to this hymn and died with it on his lips.
(1) O Queen of' all the Virgin Choirs, Enthroned above the starry sky, Who with thy bosom's milk didst feed Thine own Creator, Lord most High.
Our Lady is the most glorious of all the virgins whom she has led after her to the King [Ps. xliv. 16.] ; inasmuch as she joins to her crown of Virginity that peerless diadem of Motherhood. The Virgin-Mother is fittingly raised up above the stars, which surround her as a crown [Apoc. xii. I.]. These stars are the saints ; St. Paul says : There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory [I Cor. xv. 41] ; that is, there is the glory of Jesus, the glory of Mary, and the glory of the Saints—each one a very world of beauty and magnificence. And amid all her glory Jesus, Who made her, never forgets that to her He owes not only His mortal existence but all that wealth of love that such a Mother had for such a Son. This human thought, mixed up with the glory of heaven, gives us confidence in Mary's power; for she is still the Mother of the King. Solomon, a type of our Lord, promised to grant his mother's request : And the king rose up to meet her and bowed himself unto her, and sat down on his throne and caused a seat to be set for the king's mother, and she sat on his right hand. Then she said, I desire one small petition of thee,' I pray thee say me not nay. And the king said unto her: Ask on, my mother, for I will not say thee nay [3 Kings ii. 19, 20.].
(2) What man had lost in hapless Eve Thy sacred womb to man restores : Thou to the wretched here below Hast opened Heaven's eternal doors.
The sorrowful Eve is here contrasted with the joyful Mother, Mary. As Jesus is the second Adam, the true Head of our Race, so is Mary the second Eve, the real mother of all the living. If Eve, by tempting Adam, took away our right to heaven, Mary restored it by giving us Jesus. If Eve brought sorrow by listening to the serpent, Mary brought joy by listening to the angel. If Eve is the mother of our Race according to Nature, Mary is the mother of mankind according to Grace.
Mary is the hinge on which hangs the door of heaven ; for on her consent turned the mystery of the Incarnation.
Those who have been weeping for their fall, return now like the stars in their glory, according to the words of the Psalm : Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. Going they went and wept, casting their seed; but coming they came with joy, bearing their sheaves [cxxv. 5, 6, 7.].
(3) Hail O refulgent Hall of Light, Hail Gate august of Heaven's high King : Through Thee redeemed to endless Life, Thy praise let all the nations sing.
One of the invocations of the Litany of Loreto is " gate of heaven." There is a difference between a " gate " and a " door." The " door " is the opening to the house itself; the " gate" is the entrance to the garden in which the house stands. Our Divine Lord is Himself the " Door " of the Eternal Mansions : I am the Door: by Me if any man enter in he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture [John x. 9.]. But Mary is the gate by which we have access to the door of the King's Palace. And in another sense, of her maiden-motherhood, she is the " closed gate," of which Ezekiel, in prophecy, says : The gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the Lord God of Israel hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut [xliv. 2.].
Her sacred womb was for nine months the place of Him Who said : I am the Light of the world: He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of Life [John viii. 12.]-
The life given by the Virgin. What Life is this ? Not only the mortal Life of our Saviour, but also the life of our souls, which we get from Him through her. Also our vocation, her special care, which is that manifestation of the life of Jesus [2 Cor. iv. 10.] which comes from bearing about in our bodies His dying by the immolation of religious profession.
The doxology of the hymn, Jesu, tibi sit gloria, is the same as at Matins, and is now said in thanksgiving to the Adorable Trinity in thanksgiving for Mary's glory in heaven.
Blessed art thou among women. And blessed is the Fruit of thy womb.
The same strain of praise is carried on and leads us to the culminating point of the office, the Gospel Canticle. We have been thinking of the glory of Mary, and praising God for it. We are now about again to approach directly the throne of God Himself. Just before we do so, as by a last effort to remind us of the Divine Maternity of her under whose patronage we approach the seat of Mercy, the Versicle and Response which commemorate it are put upon our lips to increase our fervour. It is this same thought which inspires the Antiphon before the Canticle itself:—
O blessed Mother of God, Mary, ever maiden, temple of the Lord, Sanctuary of the Holy Ghost: thou alone, unexampled, hath pleased our Lord Jesus Christ: Pray for the people; beseech for the clergy; intercede for the devout female sex.
Sanctuary of the Holy Ghost. As the Third Person is the Sanctifier and dwells in the souls of those who are united by charity to God, so in a true way is He the Sanctifier of our blessed Lady and makes her soul a very special sanctuary. Spiritual writers speak of three great sanctifications of our Lady, three special outpourings of the Holy Ghost. The first, when He sanctified her by preventing grace at the moment of her existence, the hallowing of the Immaculate Conception ; then when, by overshadowing grace, He poured out the fulness thereof at the moment of the Incarnation ; and lastly, amidst the fires of Pentecost, when that unutterable hallowing of the holy took place, and by creative grace Mary was made the Mother of the Church : once for herself, once for Jesus, and once for us.
THE BENEDICTUS [Luke i. 68-79.].
" Ye have in your service three Gospels, that is, Benedictus and Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, and all three are sung standing for reverence of the Gospel. Zachary, the father of St. John Baptist, made Benedictus, and our Lady made Magnificat, and the holy man, Simeon, made Nunc Dimittis. These songs are not sung in the same order as they were made; for Magnificat was made first, then Benedictus, and last, Nunc Dimittis. But Benedictus is sung first, for it maketh mind of St. John Baptist who was the foregoer of our Lord, Jesus Christ, as it is said in the same song. And as St. John was likened to the day-star, for as that goeth before the sun, so St. John went before our Lord in his conception, and in his birth, and in his preaching and baptising, and in his death ; therefore this song is sung at Lauds, that is, the service of morrow-tide when the star appeareth ; and also for this song beginneth with praising and thanking God for the redemption of mankind, and Lauds are said to praise God specially for the same benefit . . . therefore it is convenient that it be sung at Lauds " [Myroure, p. 131.].
M. Bacquez, in his treatise on the Divine Office, says that this Canticle, the new song of Psalm cxlix., is the stepping-stone between the Old Law and the New; from the promise to the fulfilment, from the figure to the reality. It was sung by one of the last of the priests of the order of Aaron, the first of that race who, having knowledge of our Lord's coming, proclaims in a moment of exaltation the vocation of this new-born son as the Foregoer of the Messias.
In order to understand the meaning of this Canticle it will be well to recall the Gospel history as given by St. Luke, and in passing we may draw attention to the fact that St. Luke is the Liturgical Evangelist, and to him we owe the three Gospel Canticles. This holy Evangelist, the friend of our ever dear and blessed Lady, to whom she confided the mysteries of the Annunciation, of the Visitation, of the Nativity, of the Presentation, of the Loss and Finding, and of the Hidden Life at Nazareth, shall tell us the circumstances under which this Canticle was first said :—
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless. And they had no child, because that Elizabeth was barren ; and they were now well stricken in years. And it came to pass that while he executed the priestly office before God in the order of his course, according to the custom of the office of the priesthood, it was his turn to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
But the angel said unto him: Fear not, Zacharias; for thy Prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son and thou shall call his name John. And thou shall have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink, and shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. He shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just: to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
And Zacharias said unto the angel; Whereby shall I know this ? For I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.
And the angel answered and said unto him ; I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God, and am sent to speak unto thee, and show thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak until the day that these things shall be performed; because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
And the people waited for Zacharias and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. And when he came out, he could not speak unto them : and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple ; for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. And it came to pass that as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house. . . .[Luke i. 5-23.].
And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judea : and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost. . . . [Ibid. 39-41.].
Now Elizabeth's full time came that she should be delivered : and she brought forth a son. And her neighbours and her cousins heard how the Lord had showed great mercy upon her, and they rejoiced with her.
And it came to pass that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child and they called him Zacharias, after the name of his father. And his mother answered and said, Not so : but he shall be called John. And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. And they made signs to his father, how he would have him called. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all.
And his mouth was opened immediately and his tongue loosed, and he spake and praised God. . . .[Ibid. 57-64.].
And his father, Zacharias, was filled with the Holy Ghost and prophesied, saying [Ibid- 67.] ;
(1) Blessed be the Lord God of Israel: for He hath visited and wrought the redemption of His people :
(2) And hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.
It was the God of Israel, that is, of Jacob, who was the heir of the promises made to Isaac and to Abraham : In thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed [Gen. xxii. 1 8.], Whom the holy man blessed. For it was the promised Redeemer Who—although yet in Mary's womb—now visited him and began the work of redemption by hallowing the unborn babe that had gladdened his old age. It was the infusion of the Holy Ghost that made Zacharias recognise his God in Mary's child; even as it was that same Divine impulse which caused his wife, three months before, to greet her as the mother of my Lord [Luke i. 43.]. It was this Divine light, too, which made the old man speak of the redemption of God's people as something not future but already accomplished. A horn is taken as a symbol of power, and the horn of salvation as the agent or author of salvation. "A horn," says the author of the Myroure, "groweth in the highest part of a beast, and yet is harder than the flesh and softer than the bone ; and therewith the beast defendeth himself against noxious things. So our Lord Jesus Christ took His Body of the highest and worthiest part of mankind, that is our Lady; and that Manhood of His is mightier above all mankind and weaker than God, and therewith not only He overcame His enemies, but they also that cleave thereto in faith and devotion may thereby surely be defended from all contrary power. And therefore our Lord Jesus is a horn of health to us in the house of David who was God's child, for though He was a great king and a prophet, yet He was meek and obedient to God as a child to his father" [pp. 131-2.].
(3) As He spoke by the mouth of His saints who, since the world began, are His prophets.
From the very hour of the Fall, the promise of the Redeemer was made : I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed: she shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel [Gen. iii. 15.], A long line of prophets was sent to God's people, mostly in the hour of affliction, to cheer them with the promise; and their message as the destined time drew near became more distinct and precise. Listen to Jeremias : Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. And in His days Judea shall be saved and Israel shall dwell safely : and this is the Name whereby He shall be called: The Lord, our Righteousness [Jer. xxiii. 5, 6.]. The earlier prophecies of Jacob had specified the tribe of Judah from whom the Sceptre should go forth and the Law-giver [Cf. Gen. xlix. 10.]. Balaam had seen Him in vision : A Star out of Jacob and a Sceptre rising out of Israel [Numbers xxiv. 17.]. Moses had announced Him as a Teacher and Law-giver of Whom he was but a type [Deut. xviii. 15.]. To David's line had the promise been confined : The Lord hath sworn in truth unto David, He will not deceive ; of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne [Ps. cxxxi. ii.], and he had sung of His Eternal Priesthood [Ps. cix. 5.]. Isaias, the royal seer, foretold His miraculous birth : Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel: God with us, and had described Him as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief [vii. 14 ; liii. 3.]. Michias had foretold His birthplace : But thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, though thou be little among the thousands of Judea, yet out of thee shall come forth unto me He that is to be the Ruler in Israel; Whose goings forth have been from of old from everlasting [v. 2.]. Aggeus had proclaimed that the Desired of all nations should come and make the second Temple more glorious than the first [ii. 7.] ; and Daniel, the man of desires, had fixed the time by the prophecy of the seventy weeks [Cf. ix. 25-27.]. Truly hath God at sundry times and in divers manners spoken in times past unto the fathers by the prophets [Heb. i. I.]. In this verse is to be noted that there is but one mouth to all His prophets ; for they all spoke by the Holy Ghost. The one word they spoke was—
(4) Salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all that hate us.
(5) To perform the Mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant. Sui sancti.
God loved us, the work of His hand : I have loved thee with an everlasting love [Jer. xxxi. 3.]. That is why He took pity on us in our fall and promised us Redemption and pledged Himself over and over again to perform the Mercy of restoring us, and to remember His holy covenant that He should be our God and we His people [Ibid. xxx. 22.]. And to whom was this covenant made ? The answer is in the next verses.
(6) The oath which He swore to Abraham our father, that He would give Himself to us :
(7) That being delivered out of the hands of our enemies we might serve Him,
(8) In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.
The oath was to Abraham, our father, for he was the Father of the Faithful [Gen. xvii. 5.]. It was conceived in these terms : In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed [Gen. xxii. 18.]; in other words, that He should give Himself to us by becoming our Emmanuel, that is, God with us [Is. vii. 14.]. Says one of His prophets : God Himself shall come to save us [Isaias xxxiii. 22.] : and the reason of His coming is in verses 7 and 8.
Holiness is inward ; righteousness or justice has an outward signification. This correspondence of Body and Soul has to be real before Him, and has to be the rule of our whole life; " not one day to begin well, another day to leave off; but all days while we live " [Myroure, p. 133.]. These words remind us of the claim of our vocation. We have bound ourselves to serve God all the days of our life in holiness and righteousness before Him.
(9) And thou, child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High : for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.
Turning his words now to his own son, the holy priest extols the vocation in store for him. John was to be the prophet and the foregoer, that is, he was to teach the people that the Messias was come, and by his preachings and calls to repentance, to prepare the way for the Lamb of God. The thought of our vocation suggested in the last verse goes on through all these following verses : Every one, in the measure of God's appointment, is set to be a teacher of the things of God, and to prepare His way, not only in one's own soul, but in the souls of others. The great law of charity : Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself [Matt. v. 43.] obliges us to this. But God has many ways of dealing with His creatures. There is not one hard, fast way ; for He has given us individuality, and we stand each singly before Him, not as a class. Therefore, true religion, while making us jealous for ourselves of the way in which God is calling us, makes us respect and rejoice over the many different ways in which He calls other souls. If we get narrow-minded and exclusive and set up our own way as the best (best it is for us), we may be sure there is something wrong in ourselves. Now how we are to prepare the ways of the Lord can be learnt from the rest of the Canticle.
(10) To give to His people knowledge of salvation: for the forgiveness of their sins.
(11) Through the tender mercies of our God, in which the Day Spring front on high hath visited us.
The first step in preparing God's Way is to convince the Reason ; for that, in its practical aspect, is Conscience. Men must have a knowledge of the salvation prepared for them before they value it. Hence the necessity of a Catholic education, and of an accurate understanding of the whys and wherefores of our Faith. God demands that we should serve Him with our reason, not by acting without reason. We have to submit it to Him; but not to annihilate it. This knowledge of salvation must be directed to its proper end ; it is for the forgiveness of their sins, that is, the reason once convinced must strive after moving the will, in the perverseness of which sin consists. The motive to be used in thus influencing the will to conform itself to the Divine Will is that of the tender mercies of God which moved Him to become Man for our salvation. Hence from Knowledge comes Love, the mainspring of action. As the Spouse says: He hath set charity in order within me [Cant. ii. 4.]. And this motive of influencing the will is in accord with the very nature of God Himself, which is Love : God is Charity [I John viii. 16.]. As Love is the motive of all God's dealing with His creatures, so it must be ours in relation to Him.
The Day Spring from on high hath visited us. This may be taken either of our Lord Himself, Who is called in the Apocalypse the bright and Morning Star [xxii. 16.] ; or of our ever dear and blessed Lady, the Morning Star that heralds in the rising Sun. She was probably present at the birth of John the Baptist, and she had come a bringer of blessings untold ; for the Saviour of the world had already begun, through her, His work of Salvation.
(12) To lighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death : and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
The result of preparing the ways of the Lord is enlightenment and guidance. One is the perfection of the reason by the first four of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost; the second is the perfection of the will by the other three.
Sit in darkness; a habitual state due to dimness of the full light of reason, which in its turn is perfected by the more perfect light of faith.
To guide our feet; not to force them, but by gentle persuasion to direct them.
The way of peace —that is, to the end that we may obtain perfect peace, the peace of God which passeth all understanding[Phil. iv. 7.] ; that peace we pray the Lamb of God to grant us, and which by His innermost mercy we shall obtain in the heavenly Jerusalem, the City which is the beata pads visio —" the blest vision of peace " [Hymn Ccelestis Urbs Jerusalem.].
Glory be to the Father, the Lord God of Israel Who hath been mindful of His promise. Glory to the Son, the Day Spring on high Who hath visited us and wrought the redemption of His people : Glory to the Holy Ghost, the Light-Giver Who spoke by the prophets, and works in us holiness and righteousness.
From - The Little Office of Our Lady; a treatise theoretical, practical, and exegetical - Taunton, Ethelred L. (Ethelred Luke), 1857-1907