V. Dóminus vobíscum.
R. Et cum spiritu tuo.
Da nobis, quaesumus, Dómine, imitári quod cólimus: ut discámus et inimícos dilígere; quia eius natalícia celebrámus, qui novit étiam pro persecutóribus exoráre Dóminum nostrum Iesum Christum, Fílium tuum:
Qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti Deus per omnia saecula saeculorum.
Pro Octava Nativitatis
Concéde, quaesumus, omnípotens Deus: ut nos Unigénititui nova per carnem Natívitas líberet; quos sub peccáti iugo vetústa sérvitus tenet.
Per eundem Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum.
V. The Lord be with you.
R. And with thy spirit.
Let us pray.
Grant us, we beseech You, O Lord, to imitate what we celebrate, so that we may learn to love even our enemies; because we keep the anniversary of the death of Him Who knew how to plead even for His persecutors with our Lord, Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who livest and reignest with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.
Let us pray.
For Octave of the Nativity
Grant, we beseech You, almighty God, that the new birth, in the flesh, of Your only-begotten Son may deliver us whom the bondage of old keeps under the yoke of sin.
Through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, Our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end.
From Gueranger's Liturgical Year;
St. Peter Damian thus begins his Sermon for this Feast: "We are holding in our arms the Son of the Virgin, and are honouring, with our caresses, this our Infant God. The holy Virgin has led us to the dear Crib. The most beautiful of the Daughters of men has brought us to the most beautiful among the Sons of men, [Ps. xliv. 3.] and the Blessed among women to Him that is Blessed above all. She tell us ... that now the veils of prophecy are drawn aside, and the counsel of God is accomplished. ... Is there anything capable of distracting us from this sweet Birth? On what else shall we fix our eyes? ... Lo! whilst Jesus is permitting us thus to caress him; whilst he is overwhelming us with the greatness of these mysteries, and our hearts are riveted in admiration - there comes before us Stephen full of grace and fortitude, doing great wonders and signs among the people. [Acts, vi. 8.] Is it right, that we turn from our King, to look on Stephen, his soldier? No - unless the King himself bid us do so. This our King, who is Son of the King, rises ... to assist at the glorious combat of his servant. ... Let us go with him, and contemplate this standard-bearer of the Martyrs."
The Church gives us, in to-day's Office, this opening of a Sermon of St. Fulgentius for the Feast of St. Stephen: "Yesterday, we celebrated the temporal Birth of our eternal King: to-day, we celebrate the triumphant passion of his Soldier. Yesterday, our King, having put on the garb of our flesh, came from the sanctuary of his Mother's virginal womb, and mercifully visited the earth: to-day, his Soldier, quitting his earthly tabernacle, entered triumphantly into heaven. Jesus, whilst still continuing to be the eternal God, assumed to himself the lowly raiment of flesh, and entered the battle-field of this world: Stephen, laying aside the perishable garment of the body, ascended to the palace of heaven, there to reign for ever. Jesus descended veiled in our flesh: Stephen ascended wreathed with a martyr's laurels. Stephen ascended to heaven amidst the shower of stones, because Jesus had descended on earth midst the singing of Angels. Yesterday, the holy Angels exultingly sang, Glory be to God in the highest; to-day, they joyously received Stephen into their company. ... Yesterday, was Jesus wrapped, for our sakes, in swaddling-clothes: to-day, was Stephen clothed with the robe of immortal glory. Yesterday, a narrow crib contained the Infant Jesus: to-day, the immensity of the heavenly court received the triumphant Stephen."
Thus does the sacred Liturgy blend the joy of our Lord's Nativity with the gladness she feels at the triumph of the first of her Martyrs. Nor will Stephen be the only one admitted to share the honours of this glorious Octave. After him, we shall have John, the Beloved Disciple; the Innocents of Bethlehem; Thomas, the Martyr of the Liberties of the Church; and Sylvester, the Pontiff of Peace. But, the place of honour amidst all who stand round the Crib of the new-born King, belongs to Stephen, the Proto-Martyr, who, as the Church sings of him, was the first to pay back to the Saviour, the Death suffered by the Saviour. It was just, that this honour should be shown to Martyrdom; for, Martyrdom is the Creature's testimony, and return to his Creator for all the favours bestowed on him: it is Man's testifying, even by shedding his blood, to the truths which God has revealed to the world.
In order to understand this, let us consider what is the plan of God, in the salvation he has given to man. The Son of God is sent to instruct mankind; he sows the seed of his divine word; and his works give testimony to his divinity. But, after his sacrifice on the cross, he again ascends to the right hand of his Father; so that his own testimony of himself has need of a second testimony, in order to its being received by them that have neither seen nor heard Jesus himself. Now, it is the Martyrs who are to provide this second testimony; and this they will do, not only by confessing Jesus with their lips, but by shedding their blood for him. The Church, then, is to be founded by the Word and the Blood of Jesus, the Son of God; but she will be upheld, she will continue throughout all ages, she will triumph over all obstacles, by the blood of her Martyrs, the members of Christ: this their blood will mingle with that of their Divine Head, and their sacrifice be united to his.
The Martyrs shall bear the closest resemblance to their Lord and King. They shall be, as he said, like lambs among wolves. [St Luke, x. 3.] The world shall be strong, and they shall be weak and defenceless: so much the grander will be the victory of the Martyrs, and the greater the glory of God who gives them to conquer. The Apostle tells us, that Christ crucified is the power and the wisdom of God [I Cor. i. 24.]; - the Martyrs, immolated, and yet conquerors of the world, will prove, and with a testimony which even the world itself will understand, that the Christ whom they confessed, and who gave them constancy and victory, is in very deed the power and the wisdom of God. We repeat, then - it is just, that the Martyrs should share in all the triumphs of the Man-God, and that the liturgical Cycle should glorify them as does the Church herself, who puts their sacred Relics in her altar-stones; for, thus, the Sacrifice of their glorified Lord and Head is never celebrated, without they themselves being offered together with him, in the unity of his mystical Body.
Now, the glorious Martyr-band of Christ is headed by St. Stephen. His name signifies the Crowned; - a conqueror like him could not be better named. He marshals, in the name of Christ, the white-robed army, as the Church calls the Martyrs; for, he was the first, even before the Apostles themselves, to receive the summons, and right nobly did he answer it. Stephen courageously bore witness, in the presence of the Jewish Synagogue, to the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth; by thus proclaiming the Truth, he offended the ears of the unbelievers; the enemies of God, became the enemies of Stephen, and, rushing upon him, they stone him to death. Amidst the pelting of the blood-drawing missives, he, like a true soldier, flinches not, but stands, (as St. Gregory of Nyssa so beautifully describes it,) as though snow-flakes were falling on him, or roses were covering him with the shower of their kisses. Through the cloud of stones, he sees the glory of God; - Jesus, for whom he was laying down his life, showed himself to his Martyr, and the Martyr again rendered testimony to the divinity of our Emmanuel, but with all the energy of a last act of love. Then, to make his sacrifice complete, he imitates his divine Master, and prays for his executioners: falling on his knees, he begs that this sin be not laid to their charge. Thus, all is consummated - the glorious type of Martyrdom is created, and shown to the world, that it may be imitated, by every generation, to the end of time, until the number of the Martyrs of Christ shall be filled up. Stephen sleeps in the Lord, and is buried in peace - in pace - until his sacred Tomb shall be discovered, and his glory be celebrated a second time in the whole Church, by that anticipated Resurrection of the miraculous Invention of his Relics.
Stephen, then, deserves to stand near the Crib of his King, as leader of those brave champions, the Martyrs, who died for the Divinity of that Babe, whom we adore. Let us join the Church in praying to our Saint, that he help us to come to our Sovereign Lord, now lying on his humble throne in Bethlehem. Let us ask him to initiate us into the mystery of that divine Infancy, which we are all bound to know and imitate. It was from the simplicity he had learnt from that Mystery, that he heeded not the number of the enemies he had to fight against, nor trembled at their angry passion, nor winced under their blows, nor hid from them the Truth and their crimes, nor forgot to pardon them and pray for them. What a faithful imitator of the Babe of Bethlehem! Our Jesus did not send his Angels to chastise those unhappy Bethlehemites, who refused a shelter to the Virgin-Mother, who in a few hours was to give birth to Him, the Son of David. He stays not the fury of Herod, who plots his Death - but meekly flees into Egypt, like some helpless bondsman, escaping the threats of a tyrant lordling. But, it is under such apparent weakness as this, that he will show his Divinity to men, and He the Infant-God prove himself the Strong God. Herod will pass away, so will his tyranny; Jesus will live, greater in his Crib, where he makes a King tremble, than is, under his borrowed majesty, this prince-tributary of Rome; nay, than Caesar-Augustus himself, whose world-wide empire has no other destiny than this - to serve as handmaid to the Church, which is to be founded by this Babe, whose name stands humbly written in the official registry of Bethlehem.