LITTLE CHAPTER [Is. xi. i, 2.].
There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Flower shall grow up from his root. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him.
AT THE BENEDICTUS.
The Holy Ghost shall come down upon Thee, 0 Mary; thou shall have in thy womb the Son of God. Alleluia.
THE COMMEMORATION OF SAINTS.
Lo, the Lord shall come and with Him all His saints : and in that day there shall be a great light.
Behold the Lord shall appear upon a shining cloud. And with Him thousands of saints.
Let us pray.
We beseech Thee, 0 Lord f by visiting purify our consciences, that Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, coming with all the saints, may find in us a dwelling-place prepared for Him: Who with Thee in the Unity of the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth God, throughout ages of ages. Amen.
The series of Antiphons are, as can be seen, taken from St. Luke's account of the Annunciation. Bearing this in mind, the Church would have us dwell on the sentiments of our ever dear and blessed Lady during the nine months she was preparing for the Birth of our Lord. In this spirit we should praise God in the Psalms for the wonders of grace He wrought in her soul at that period. The Antiphons are taken from the Office for the Feast of the Expectation of our Lady, which we mentioned as being made up of that earliest of Western offices of our Lady, written by St. Idelphonsus, bishop of Toledo. On the Little Chapter the author of the Myroure remarks : " Jesse was the father of King David, of whose lineage came our Lady, and therefore she is called the rod that came out of that root, Jesse. And out of her sprung a Flower, that is, our Lord Jesus Christ, upon Whom rested in most excellence the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost" [p. 147.].
The Antiphon at the Benedictus is taken from the first Vesper of the same feast and completes the Gospel narrative. The Commemoration of the Saints strikes another thought suitable to Advent. We are to prepare ourselves, as each year comes round, for the Coming of our Lord by mystical birth at Christmas ; but this is only as a preparation for His second Coming in the clouds and great majesty on the Day of Doom. This final Coming of the Judge is the thought which runs through the Commemoration. In the prayer that follows we may take consciences in two senses, or rather in two views, of the same thing, viz., our Reason to be purified so that we may know and therefore act; or our Soul to be purified from the stains with which we have polluted it by acting against our reason or conscience. We may also notice that we pray our Lord may find in us a mansion prepared for Him, that is by union with Him, we, at the Judgment may hear from His lips the blissful sentence : Come to the kingdom prepared for you. As we treat Him here so will He treat us there : With what measure ye mete, so shall it be meted unto you [att. vii. 2.].
AT LAUDS, OR MORNING SONG
(1) O wondrous intercourse ! The Maker of the human race, taking a living body from the Virgin, didst deign to be born : and going forth as Man, without a father, didst bestow on us His Godhead.
(2) When of the Virgin Thou was born after a manner unspeakable, then were fulfilled the Scriptures: like the dew on the fleece Thou didst come down to save the Human Race: We praise Thee, O our God.
(3) As the bush which Moses saw unconsumed, we acknowledge thy glorious Virginity to have been preserved : O Mother of God, intercede for us.
(4) The stem of Jesse has budded : the Star has risen from Jacob : the Virgin hath brought forth the Saviour. We praise Thee, O our God.
(5) Lo, Mary hath borne for us the Saviour Whom when John saw he cried out, saying: Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him Who bears the sins of the world. Alleluia.
The daughters of Sion have seen her and have called her most blessed: the queens, and they praised her.
AT THE BENEDICTUS.
A marvellous mystery is declared to-day: natures are newly set : God was made man : that which He was He remained: and that which He was not He has assumed, having undergone neither mingling nor division.
O God, Who by the fruitful maidenhood of blessed Mary hath proffered rewards to the human race, grant, we beseech Thee, that we may experience the intercession on our behalf of her through whom we merited to receive the Author of Life, our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son. Amen.
These Antiphons are taken from the Church's Office for the Feast of the Circumcision. Occupied as she is on Christmas Day with the Birth of the Son, the Church instituted, on the octave day, a special commemoration of the Mother. As the cycle of the feasts of the year developed, the Feast of the Circumcision arose and with it was blended the older office celebrated on this day. The Office of joy and admiration at Mary's Maternity has been fittingly chosen for this holy season.
In the first Antiphon the last words remind us of the saying of one of the doctors of the Church : God became Man that man might become God, meaning thereby that sharing of the Divine Nature by grace of which St. Peter speaks : Jesus our Lord, according as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness . . . that by these ye might be made partakers of the Divine
Nature [2 Pet. i. 3, 4.] ; and St. Paul : For we were made partakers with Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end [Heb. iii. 14.] ; or again ; In that we might be partakers of His holiness [Ibid. xii. 10.] ; or once more : The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children His heirs ; heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ [Rom. viii. 16, 17. ].
The second Antiphon contemplates the mystery of the Mother-maiden. As the dew fell on Gideon's fleece, but left the earth round about all dry, so the operation of the overshadowing Holy Ghost made Mary to be a Mother without ceasing to be a Maid. And as silently as falls the dew was the mystery wrought : Whilst all things were in deep silence and the night was in the midst of her course, Thine almighty Word, 0 Lord, leaped down from His royal seat [Wisdom xviii. 15.].
This miracle extorts from us the cry as we contemplate it : We praise Thee, O our God. The same thought is amplified in the third Antiphon. As the burning bush was on fire and not consumed, so Mary's maidenhood was fruitful and not lost. And it was her purity and her grace that kept her unconsumed in that intimate union with her Maker ; for what Creature, unless specially supported by God, can be so near without failing ; according to that word of the Prophet : Who can dwell with everlasting burnings ? [Is. xxxiii. 14.] the everlasting burnings of the holiness of the Godhead.
The root of Jesse, David's father, and the Star Balaam saw in vision from Mount Peor [Num. xxiv. 17.], are celebrated in the next Antiphon, and find their antitype in the Saviour born of the Virgin. And again our praise bursts forth at the thought. But Mary's Child is also the Lamb for the Sacrifice; and the Precursor points Him out as such : Behold the Lamb of God Who bears the sins of the world [John i. 29.]. The shadow of Calvary thus falls across the Manger, and in the Babe we see Him of Whom it was written : Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our infirmities, for the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all [Is. liii. 4.]. This fifth Antiphon gives a special meaning to the Psalms of praise that follow.
The Little Chapter has already been commented on ; but here we may take the words of God's servants on earth and the blessed in heaven contemplating the blissful Mother in adoration before her newborn Son ; for Jesus Christ the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever [Heb. xiii. 8.], is always to His Mother the Babe of Bethlehem, as well as the Boy of Nazareth, the Man of Galilee, and the Victim of Calvary.
The Antiphon at the Benedictus is full of great thoughts. The Incarnation which it celebrates is a mystery which leads us into the very centre of the Godhead. The Second Person of the Adorable Trinity, distinct from Father and Son, has from all eternity the Nature of God. What He was He remained when He became Man, that is, always God. What He had not, that is, having a human Nature, He at that moment assumed. In other words, He was God from all eternity, and Man from the date of His Incarnation. There was no mingling of the two Natures, each remained distinct; but they were united by the One divine Person Who made them both His very Own. This is the mystery of the Incarnation. We know what was done ; but for the rest we can only worship in silent love.
In the Collect our Lord is called the Author of Life, according to the words of St. Peter : But Jesus, the Author of Life, ye have slain [Acts iii. 15.]. He is also called, with the same meaning, the Author of Eternal Salvation [Heb. v.], and the Author and Finisher of our Faith [Ibid. xii. 2.]. In Him Who says of Himself, I am the Life [John xi. 25.], the Apostle tells us was life and the life was light [Ibid. i. 4]. It is that supernatural life of grace which He shares with us, and which, beginning in Baptism, and destined to go on for all eternity, we, in this Collect, put specially under the patronage of our Lady.
From - The Little Office of Our Lady; a treatise theoretical, practical, and exegetical - Taunton, Ethelred L. (Ethelred Luke), 1857-1907