The Liturgical Year
by Dom Guéranger, O.S.B.
The Liturgical Year
by Dom Guéranger, O.S.B.
This, the eighth day from that on which we kept the feast of the Immaculate Conception, is the octave properly so called; whereas the other days were simply called days within the octave. The custom of keeping up the principal feasts for a whole week is one of those which the Christian Church adopted from the Synagogue. God had thus spoken in the Book of Leviticus: "The first day shall be called most solemn and most holy, you shall do no servile work therein... The eighth day also shall be most solemn and most holy, and you shall offer holocausts to the Lord, for it is the day of assembly and congregation: you shall do no servile work therein." We also read in the Book of Kings, that Solomon, having called all Israel to Jerusalem for the dedication of the temple, suffered not the people to return home until the eighth day.
We learn from the Books of the new Testament that this custom was observed in our Saviour's time, and we find Him authorizing, by His own example, this solemnity of the octave. Thus, we read in Saint John, that Jesus once took part in one of the Jewish festivals, about the midst of the feast, and the same Evangelist relating how our Lord cried out to the people: "If any man thirst, let him come to Me, and drink": observes, that it was on the last and great day of the festivity.
In the Christian Church there are three kinds of octaves. Some feasts are celebrated with a privileged octave--that is, one of which the Office is said daily, or at least a commemoration is always made. Other feasts have a common octave, or one whose commemoration may, on greater feasts, be sometimes omitted. And, lastly, some have a simple octave, of which only the Octave Day itself is kept or commemorated. Privileged octaves, whose office is said or commemorated every day, are divided into three Orders. The octaves of the First Order are those of Easter and Pentecost. Those of the Second Order, of which days within the octave exclude all feasts except doubles of the First Class, are the octaves of the Epiphany and of Corpus Christi. The octaves of the Third Order, which must always be commemorated, although days within the octave exclude only the same feasts as do common octaves, are those of Christmas of the Ascension of Our Lord. The octave of the Immaculate Conception, the first that occurs in the ecclesiastical year, is a common octave.
Let us once more devoutly reverence the mystery of Mary's Immaculate Conception: our Emmanuel loves to see His Mother honoured. After all, is it not for Him for His sake that this bright star was prepared from all eternity, and created when the happy time fixed by the divine decree came? When we honour the Immaculate Conception of Mary, it is really to the divine mystery of the Incarnation that we are paying our just homage. Jesus and Mary cannot be separated, for Isaias tells us that she is the branch and He the Flower.
We give Thee thanks, O Jesus our Emmanuel, because Thou hast granted us to live during the time that the privilege of the Thy blessed Mother was proclaimed on this earth; the glorious privilege wherewith Thou didst enrich the first instant of the life of the happy creature, from whom Thou didst take upon Thyself our human nature! This definition of Thy Church has given us a clearer knowledge of Thine infinite holiness. It has taught us to see more distinctly the harmony there is in all Thy divine mysteries. But it has also impressed upon us the great truth that we ourselves, being destined to the most intimate union with Thee here, and to the face-to-face vision of Thy infinite Majesty hereafter, must labour without ceasing to purify ourselves from the smallest stains of sin. Thou has said: "Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God."; and Thou showest us, by the dogma of Thy blessed Mother's Immaculate Conception, what is the purity which Thy sovereign sanctity demands of us. Ah! by the love, which led Thee to preserve her from every stain of sin, have mercy on us who are her devoted children. Thou are so soon to be among us! Before many days are past we shall have yielded to Thy invitations, and have presumed to approach Thy sacred crib. We are not yet ready, dear Jesus! The effects of original sin are still so plainly upon us, and, what is worse, there are so many of our won sins, which we have added to this our first parent. Oh! prepare our hearts and our senses, for we will not approach to Bethlehem unworthily. The sinless purity of Thy Mother is not for us; we ask not for that; but we ask for forgiveness of our countless sins, for conversion, for hatred of the world and the world's maxims, and for perseverance in Thy holy love.
O Mary! created mirror of divine justice, and purer than the Cherubim and Seraphim, in return for the homage paid thee by this our generation, on that blissful day when the glory of thy Immaculate Conception was proclaimed throughout the world, give us that abundant richness of thy protecting love, which thou didst reserve till now. The world is shaken to its very foundations: thy hand can help it to rest again. Hell has let loose upon mankind the most terrible of its spirits of wickedness, who breathe but blasphemy and destruction; but, at the same time, the Church of thy Jesus feels that her youth has been renewed within her, and that the seed of the divine word is broadcast and healthy in a thousand fresh portions of the earth. Never was the battle more fierce on both sides: so that we need all our hope to make us feel that hell will not prevail. Is this the great struggle, which is to be followed by the day of judgment?
O blessed Mother of Jesus! O Queen of the universe! can it be that the star of thy Immaculate Conception has shone in the heavens only to light up the ruin and wreck of this earth? The sign foretold by the beloved disciple St. John, of the woman that appeared in the heavens clad with the sun, bearing on her head a crown of twelve stars, and crushing the crescent beneath her feet--has it no more brightness and power than that other, which appeared in the heavens telling men that God's anger was appeased, and that the deluge was over? The light which shines upon us is from a Mother. It is our Mother that comes to console and heal us. It is heaven that smiles upon poor guilty earth. We have deserved the chastisement we have received, and more than we have received: but the anger of God will give way, and He will spare us.
The graces which God poured out upon the world on that great day of the Church's definition of Mary's Immaculate Conception, were not to be without their effect; a new period then commenced. Mary, on whom heresy had heaped its blasphemies for three hundred years, will again reign in the love of those whom her Son redeemed; countries will abandon those errors which have made them slaves and dupes of men's doctrines; the old serpent will again writhe under that crushing pressure which God set up from the beginning; and the divine Sun of justice will pour out on the regenerated world the floods of a light more than ever dazzling and resplendent. We may not live to see that time; but we have signs of its near approach.
It was in the last century that thy devout servant whom the Church has placed upon her altars, Leonard of Porto-Maurizio, predicted that when this dogma of thy Immaculate Conception should be defined, the world would enjoy a long period of peace. the troubles of the present time in which we are living are, we doubt not, a prelude to that happy peace, during which the divine world will traverse the whole world unimpeded, and the Church militant will reap her harvest for the Church in heaven. Sweet Mother of our Jesus! the world was also in agitation in those times which preceded the birth of thy divine Son; but peace reigned throughout the whole earth, when thou didst give it its Saviour in Bethlehem. Until that grand time come when thou wilt show to the world the magnificence of the power which God has given to thee, assist us, each year, to prepare for the glorious solemnity of Christmas: oh! pray for us, that we may be cleansed from all our sins when that splendid night comes, during which will be born of thee Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the light eternal.