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originating in an analogy to certain phenomena of this world: in other words, these Writers denied what Revelation asserts, namely, that God only created this world for the sake of his Christ and his Church. The very facts, which these enemies of our holy Religion brought forward as objections to the true Faith, are, to us Catholics, additional proof of its being worthy of our most devoted love.
Thus, then, have we explained the fundamental Mystery of these Forty Days of Christmas, by having shown the grand secret hidden in the choice, made by God's eternal decree, that the Twenty-fifth Day of December should be the Birth-day of God upon this earth. Let us, now, respectfully study another mystery :—that which is involved in the place, where this Birth happened.
This place is Bethlehem. Out of Bethlehem, says the Prophet, shall He come forth, that is to be the Ruler in Israel.1 The Jewish Priests are well aware of the prophecy, and, in a few days hence, will tell it to Herod.2 But, why was this insignificant Town chosen, in preference to every other, to be the Birth-place of Jesus? Be attentive, Christians, to the mystery! The name of this City of David signifies the House of Bread: therefore did He, who is the living Bread come down from heaven,3 choose it for his first visible home. Our Fathers did eat manna in the desert, and are dead ;* but, lo! here is the Saviour of the world, come to give life to his creature Man, by means of his own divine Flesh, which is meat indeed.5 Up to this time, the Creator and the creature had been separated from each other;—henceforth they shall abide together in closest union. The Ark of the Covenant, containing the manna which fed but
the body, is now replaced by the Ark of a New Covenant, purer and more incorruptible than the other—the incomparable Virgin Mary, who gives us Jesus, the Bread of Angels, the nourishment which will give us a divine transformation; for, this Jesus himself has said: He that eateth my flesh abideth in me, and I in him.1
It is for this divine transformation that the world was in expectation for four thousand years, and for which the Church prepared herself by the four weeks of Advent. It has come at last, and Jesus is about to enter within us, if we will but receive him? He asks to be united to each one of us in particular, just as he is united, by his Incarnation, to the whole human race; and for this end, he wishes to become our Bread, our spiritual nourishment. His coming into the souls of men, at this mystic season, has no other aim than this union. He comes, not to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him,3 and that all may have life, and may have it more abundantly.* This divine Lover of our souls will not be satisfied, therefore, until he have substituted himself in our place, so that we may live not we ourselves, but He in us ; and in order that this mystery may be effected in a sweeter way, it is under the form of an Infant that this Beautiful Fruit of Bethlehem wishes first to enter into us, there to grow, afterwards, in wisdom and age, before God and men.5
And when, having thus visited us by his grace and nourished us in his love, he shall have changed us into himself, there shall be accomplished in us a still further mystery. Having become one in spirit and heart with Jesus—the Son of the heavenly
Father—we shall also become Sons of this same God our Father. The Beloved Disciple speaking of this our dignity, cries out: Behold! what manner of charity the Father hath bestowed upon us—that we should be called, and should be the Sons of God P We will not now stay to consider this immense happiness of the Christian soul, as we shall have a more fitting occasion, further on, to speak of it, and show by what means it is to be maintained and increased.
There is another subject, too, which we regret being obliged to notice only in a passing way. It is, that, from the Day itself of our Saviour's Birth even to the Day of our Lady's Purification, there is, in the Calendar, an extraordinary richness of Saints' Feasts, doing homage to the master-feast of Bethlehem, and clustering, in adoring love, round the Crib of the Infant-God. To say nothing of the four great Stars, which shine so brightly near our Divine Sun, and from whom they borrow all their own grand beauty—St. Stephen, St. John the Evangelist, the Holy Innocents, and our own St. Thomas of Canterbury:—what other portion of the Liturgical Year is there, that can show, within the same number of days, so brilliant a constellation? The Apostolic College contributes its two grand Luminaries, St. Peter and St. Paul: the first, in his Chair of Rome; the second, in the miracle of his Conversion. The Martyr-host sends us the splendid champions of Christ, Timothy, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Vincent, and Sebastian. The radiant line of Roman Pontiffs lends us four of its glorious links, named, Sylvester, Telesphorus, Hyginus, and Marcellus. The sublime school of Holy Doctors offers us Hilary, John Chrysostom, and Ildephonsus; and in their company stands a fourth Bishop—the amiable Francis
1 I. St. John, iii. 1.
of Sales. The Confessor-kingdom is represented by Paul the Hermit, Anthony the conqueror of Satan, Maurus the Apostle of the Cloister, Peter Nolasco the deliverer of Captives, and Raymond of Pennafort, the oracle of Canon Law and Guide of the consciences of men. The army of Defenders of the Church deputes the pious King Canute, who died in defence of our Holy Mother, and Charlemagne, who loved to sign himself "the humble champion of "the Church." The choir of Holy Virgins gives us the sweet Agnes, the generous Emerentiana, the invincible Martina. And lastly, from the saintly ranks which stand below the Virgins—the Holy Widows—we have Paula, the enthusiastic lover of Jesus' Crib. Truly, our Christmastide is a glorious festive season! What magnificence in its Calendar! What a banquet for us in its Liturgy!
A word upon the Symbolism of the colours, used by the Church during this Season. White is her Christmas-Vestment; and she employs this colour at every Service, from Christmas Day to the Octave of the Epiphany. To honour her two Martyrs, Stephen and Thomas of Canterbury, she vests in Red; and to condole with Rachel wailing her murdered Innocents, she puts on Purple; but these are the only exceptions. On every other day of the twenty, she expresses, by her White Robes, the gladness to which the Angels invited the world, the beauty of our Divine Sun that has risen in Bethlehem, the spotless purity of the Virgin-Mother, and the clean-heartedness which they should have, who come to worship at the mystic Crib.
During the remaining twenty days, the Church vests in accordance with the Feast she keeps; she varies the colour so as to harmonise, either with the red Roses which wreathe a Martyr, or with the white Everlastings which grace her Bishops and her Confessors, or again, with the spotless Lilies which crown her Virgins. On the Sundays which come during this time—unless there occur a Feast of a Double class, requiring Red or White; or, unless Septuagesima has begun its three mournful weeks of preparation for Lent—the colour of the Vestments is Green. It is, say the interpreters of the Liturgy, to teach us, that, in the Birth of Jesus, who is the flower of the fields, 1 we first received the hope of salvation, and that, after the bleak winter of heathendom and the Synagogue, there opened the verdant springtime of grace.
With this we must close our mystical interpretation of those rites which belong to Christmas in general. Our readers will have observed that there are many other sacred and symbolical usages, which we have not even alluded to; but, as the mysteries, to which they belong, are peculiar to certain Days, and are not, so to speak, common to this portion of the Liturgical Year; we intend to treat fully of them all, as we meet with them on their proper Feasts.
1 Cant. i. 1.