Apologies for being a day late.
This Sunday, the first of the ecclesiastical year, is called, in the chronicles and charts of the middle ages, Ad te levavi Sunday, from the first words of the Introit; or, Aspiciens a longe, from the first words of one of the responsories of Matins.
The Station * is at St. Mary Major’s. It is under the auspices of Mary - in the splendid basilica which possesses the crib of Bethlehem, and is therefore called, in ancient documents, St. Mary’s ad Praesepe - that the Roman Church recommences, each year, the sacred cycle. It would have been impossible to select a place more suitable than this for saluting the approach of the divine birth, which is to gladden heaven and earth, and manifest the sublime portent of a Virgin Mother. Let us go in spirit to this august temple, and unite in the prayers which are there being offered up: they are the very ones we also use, and which we will now explain.
[* The Stations marked in the Roman missal for certain days in the year, were formerly processions, in which the whole clergy and people went to some given church, and there celebrated the Office and Mass. This usage, which dates from the earliest period of the Roman Church, and of which St. Gregory the Great was but the restorer, still exists, at least in a measure; for the Stations are still observed, though with less solemnity and concourse of people, on all the days specified in the missal.]
In the night Office, the Church commences the reading of the Book of Isaias, who, of all the Prophets, has the most distinctly and explicitly foretold the Messias; and she continues this same Book until Christmas day inclusively. Let us strive to enter into the teaching of the holy prophet, and let the eye of our faith affectionately recognize the promised Saviour in the descriptions, sometimes consoling and sometimes terrifying, under which Isaias depicts Him.
The first words of the Church, in the still midnight, are these:
Come, let us adore the King our Lord, who is to come.
This first duty of adoration complied with, let us listen to the oracle of the prophet Isaias, delivered to us by the holy Church.
Ch. i.The vision of Isaias, the son of Amos, which ho saw concerning Juda and Jerusalem, in the days of Ozias, Joathan, Achaz, and Ezechias, kings of Juda. Hear, O ye heavens, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord hath spoken: I have brought up children, and exalted them: but they have despised me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel hath not known me, and my people hath not understood. Woe to the sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a wicked seed, ungracious children. They have forsaken the Lord, they have blasphemed the holy One of Israel, they are gone away backwards. For what shall I strike you any more, you that increase transgression? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is sad. From the sole of the foot unto the top of the head, there is no soundness therein; wounds, and bruises, and swelling sores; they are not bound up, nor dressed, nor fomented with oil.
These words of the holy prophet, or rather of God who speaks to us by the prophet, should make a deep impression on the children of the Church, at this opening of the holy period of Advent. Who could hear without trembling this voice of our Lord, who is despised and unknown even at the very time when He is coming to visit His people? Lest men should be terrified at the splendour of His majesty, He divested Himself of it; and far from acknowledging the divine power of Him who thus humbled Himself out of love to them, these men have refused even to know Him; and the crib where He lay after His birth, had, at first, but two dumb animals to honour or notice it. Do you feel, Christians, how just are the complaints which your God here makes? And how your indifference for all His love is an insult? He calls heaven and earth to witness; He utters anathema against the sinful nation, His ungrateful children. Let us honestly confess that we, too, have not known the value of our Jesus’ visit to us, and that we have but too faithfully imitated the obduracy of the Jews, who heeded not the bright light when it burst upon their darkness. In vain did the angels sing on that December night; in vain did shepherds receive and welcome the invitation to adore the Babe and know Him; in vain did the Magi come from the east, asking where they were to find the crib of the King that was born. At this last example, the city of Jerusalem was somewhat moved; but the astonishment was only for a moment, and the old indifference soon stifled the good tidings.
Thus it is, O Jesus, that Thou comest unto darkness, and darkness does not comprehend Thee. We beseech Thee, let our darkness comprehend the light, and desire it. The day will come when Thou wilt disperse the spiritual and voluntary darkness of men by the awful light of Thy justice. Thy glory, O sovereign Judge, will be magnificent on that day, and we love to think upon Thy having it: but during these days of our life on earth, deliver us from Thy wrath. We are one great wound from the sole of the foot unto the top of the head; Thou knowest not where to strike: be, then, a Saviour, O Jesus, in this coming, for which we are now preparing. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is sad: come, and raise up this head which shame and vile passions bow down to the earth. Come, and comfort this heart oppressed with sin and fear. We confess it, our wounds are deep and sore; come, thou good Samaritan, pour in Thy soothing oil and heal them.
The whole world is in expectation of its Redeemer; come, dear Jesus, show Thyself to it by granting it salvation. The Church, Thy bride, is now commencing another year, and her first word is to Thee, a word which she speaks in the anxious solicitude of a mother for the safety of her children; she cries out to Thee, saying: ‘Come!’ No, we will go no farther in our journey through the desert of this life without Thee, O Jesus! Time is passing quickly away from us; our day is perhaps far spent, and the shades of our life’s night are fast coming on; arise, O divine Sun of justice. Come! guide our steps and save us from eternal death.
- From Dom Prosper Gueranger's commentary on Advent I in The Liturgical Year.