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the West, for a long time, began their year with Christmas Day, as we find in the ancient Calendars, in the Martyrologies of Usuard and Ado, and in numberless Bulls, Charts, and Diplomas. It is evident, from a Council held at Cologne, in 1310, that this manner of computing the year was still observed at that time. In several countries of Europe, our own among the rest, the custom has been kept up of wishing a Happy Christmas, which was the ancient salutation when this Feast was the beginning of a new year. Hence, too, in these countries, the custom of making presents, of writing letters of good wishes, and of other friendly acts. How many of our practices of every-day life have originated from Faith, and yet are looked upon as mere consequences of natural good-feeling, or even compliments which society requires us to pay to each other!
To encourage her children in their Christmas joy, the Church has dispensed with the law of abstinence, if this Feast fall on a Friday. This dispensation was granted by Pope Honorius III., who ascended the Papal Throne in 1216. It is true, that we find it mentioned by Pope St. Nicholas I., in the 9th century; but the dispensation was not universal; for the Pontiff is replying to the consultations of the Bulgarians, to whom he concedes this indulgence, in order to encourage them to celebrate these Feasts with solemnity and joy: Christmas Day, St. Stephen, St. John the Evangelist, the Epiphany, the Assumption of our Lady, St. John the Baptist, and Saints Peter and Paul. When the dispensation for Christmas Day was extended to the whole Church, these other Feasts were not mentioned.
In the Middle Ages, the Civil Law, also, contributed to the people's love of Christmas, by enacting, that no Creditor could demand any payment from his Debtors during the entire week of Christmas, which was called, on that account, the week of remission-a name which it had in common with the weeks of Easter and Pentecost.
But, let us interrupt these interesting details regarding the grand Solemnity, whose near approach makes our hearts throb with joy. Let us repair to the House of our Heavenly Father, for the Hour of Vespers is near; and on our way, let our thoughts be at Bethlehem, where Joseph and Mary are already arrived. The sun is rapidly setting; and our Divine Sun of Justice is still hid beneath the Cloud, the Womb of the purest of Virgins. Night is coming on; Joseph and Mary are going through the narrow streets of the City of David, seeking a shelter. Let our hearts be attentive, and united, in love, with the two holy Pilgrims. Every heart and voice should now be giving forth to our God the tribute of praise and grateful love. Oh! happy we, that have a tribute of Song and Psalmody ready for our use, worthy of the Day and of its ineffable Mystery-it is our Mother that offers us her Liturgy. Let us prepare to join her.
FIRST VESPERS. After the usual invocation of the divine assistance, the Church intones, in a most solemn chant, the five following Antiphons, which precede as many Psalms.
1. ANT. Rex pacificus 1. Ant. The King of Peace, magnificatus est, cujus vul- whom the whole earth desitum desiderat universa terra. reth to see, hath shown his
2. ANT. The King of Peace 2. ANT. Magnificatus est is magnified above all the Rex pacificus super omnes Kings of the earth.
reges universæ terræ. Psalm: Confitebor tibi, page 100.
3. Ant. The days were com- 3. Ant. Impleti sunt dies pleted for Mary, that she Mariæ, ut pareret Filium should bring forth her first- suum primogenitum. born Son.
Psalm: Beatus vir, page 101.
4. Ant. Know ye, that the 4. Ant. Scitote quia proKingdom of God is at hand; pe est regnum Dei : amen amen I say unto you, it shall dico vobis quia non tardanot tarry.
5. Ant. Raise up your heads : 5. Ant. Levate capita ves
! your redemption is at tra; ecce appropinquat rehand.
PSALM 116. O ! praise the Lord, all ye Laudate Dominum omnes nations : praise him, all ye gentes : * laudate eum, ompeople.
nes populi. For his mercy is confirmed Quoniam confirmata est upon us, and the truth of the super nos misericordia ejus : Lord remaineth for ever. * et veritas Domini manet
in æternum. After having extolled, in these divine canticles, the eternal generation, the fidelity, the mercy, the greatness, and the truth, of her divine Spouse, who is coming, and in a few short hours will show himself
to her—the Church suspends her praise for a moment, and listens, in the Capitulum, to the consoling words of the Apostle of the Gentiles, concerning the coming of God our Saviour.
(Tit. iii. 4.) Apparuit benignitas et The goodness and kindness humanitas Salvatoris nostri of God our Saviour hath apDei, non ex operibus justi- peared ; not by the works of tiæ quæ fecimus nos, sed justice, which we have done, secundum
misericordiam but according to his mercy, suam salvos nos fecit. hath he saved us.
Encouraged afresh by these beautiful words, the Church resumes her praises, not borrowing, this time, the psalmody of the Royal Prophet, but singing a Hymn to Jesus, her Spouse, on the glory and beauty of his Birth-Day, which makes all Nature glad, and brings the sweetest joy of heart to such as know how to love the Divine Babe. It was St. Ambrose—the Bee of Milan, as he has been called—who composed this Hymn, which is sung, to-day, in almost every part of the world.
HYMN.* Jesu, redemptor omnium,
O Jesu ! Redeemer of manQuem, lucis ante originem, kind ! born before the light Parem paternæ gloriæ was made, and born of the Pater supremus edidit; Eternal Father, equal to him
in infinite glory;
* In the Monastic Breviary, it is as follows: R. Breve. Hodie scietis,
Verbum. V. Et habitavit in quia veniet Dominus. Hodie. nobis. * Alleluia. Gloria. VerÑ. Et mane videbitis gloriam bum. ejus. * Quia. Gloria. Hodie. In 2nd Vespers.
Christe, Redemptor omnium,
Ex Patre Patris Unice, R. Breve. Verbum caro fac. Solus ante principium tum est, * Alleluia, Alleluia. Natus ineffabiliter.
O thou the Light and bright- Tu lumen et splendor Paness of the Father! O thou tris, the everlasting hope of all Tu spes perennis omnium, men ! hear the prayers offered Intende quasfundunt preces thee by thy servants, through- Tui per orbem servuli. out the world.
Be mindful, O Creator of Memento, rerum conditor, all things ! that heretofore Nostri quod olim corporis, thou didst assume a Body like Sacrata ab alvo Virginis unto ours, and wast born from Nascendo, formam sumpsethe sacred womb of a Virgin. ris.
This present day, which the Testatur hoc præsens dies, year has brought round to us, Currens per anni circulum, tells us of this mystery—that Quod solus e sinu Patris thou, the one Saviour of the Mundi salus adveneris. world, didst come to us from the Father's Bosom.
The stars, and earth, and Hunc astra, tellus,æquora, sea, and all that is under hea- Hunc omne quod cælo subven greet this the Author of
est, their new salvation, with a
Salutis auctorem novæ new canticle.
Novo salutat cantico. And we, who have been re- Et nos, beata quos sacri deemed by the stream of thy Rigavit unda sanguinis, precious Blood, we, too, pay Natalis ob diem tui, thee the tribute of this Hymn, Hymni tributum solvimus. in honour of thy Birth-Day.
Glory be to thee, O Jesus ! Jesu, tibi sit gloria, who wast born of the Virgin! Qui natus es de Virgine, and to the Father, and to the Cum Patre et almo Spiritu, Spirit of love, for everlasting In sempiterna sæcula. ages. Amen.
Tu lumen, tu splendor Patris,
Memento salutis Auctor
Hunc coelum, terra, hunc
Nos quoque qui sancto tuo
Gloria tibi Domine,
Sic præsens testatur dies, Currens per anni circulum, Quod solus a sede Patris Mundi salus adveneris.