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old Antiphonaries of the Roman Church, which were published by the Blessed Joseph-Maria Tommasi, and by Gallicioli.
How lively was the faith of those olden times! To people, who lived unceasingly amidst the Mysteries of Religion, Prayer was a tie which knit them closely together, and made them" pass hours in the Church without weariness. They understood the value of the Prayers of the Church; and the Ceremonies of the Liturgy, (which complete the tribute of man's inward worship of his Creator,) were not, as now, unfortunately, they so often are, a dumb show, or, at best, an unmeaning poetry introduced for effect. What, in our days, are found only in individuals, were then in the mass of the people—faith, and a keen sense of the supernatural.
Thanks be to God! this strong practical faith is not dead among us, and is each year spreading in the land. How often have not we ourselves been charmed at seeing the traditions of the old Catholic customs still kept up in some families, especially in those favoured parts of the country, where heresy has not been able to corrupt the simplicity of the people. We have seen, and it is one of the most pleasing recollections of our childhood, one of these families seated together, after the frugal evening collation, round a blazing fire-side, waiting for the hour to come, when the whole house was to go to the Midnight Mass. A plain, but savoury, supper, which was to be eaten on their return home, and so add to the joy of holy Christmas-Night, was prepared before-hand. A huge piece of wood, called the Yule-Log, was burning cheerfully on the hearth; it would last till the Mass was over, and warm the old men and the little children, as they came in chilled by the sharp frost.
Meanwhile, till it was time for Mass, their conversation was upon the Mystery of this much-loved Night. They compassionated the Blessed Mother and the sweet Babe, exposed to the inclemency of wintry weather, and with no other shelter than that of a wretched stable. Then, too, there were the Christmas Carols, in the practice of which they had spent many a pleasant evening of Advent. The whole soul was evidently in these dear old melodies, and many a tear would fall as the Song went on to tell how the Angel Gabriel visited Mary, and declared to her that she was to be Mother of the Most High God—how Mary and Joseph were worn with fatigue, going from street to street in Bethlehem, trying to find a lodging, and no one would take them in—how they were obliged to shelter in a stable, and how the Divine Child was born in it—how the loveliness of the Babe in his little crib was above all 'the beauty of the Angels—how the Shepherds went to see him, and took their humble gifts, and played their rude music, and adored him in the faith of their simple hearts.—And thus they spent the happy Eve, passing from conversation to song, and from one song to another, and all was on Mary or Jesus, Joseph or Bethlehem. Cares of life were forgotten, troubles were gone, melancholy was a sin—but, it was time to leave; the Village clock had just gone eleven; and of the happy group, there was a little one, who had been too young the other years, and this was his first Midnight-Mass! There was no brighter face in the procession than his. Would he ever forget—that beautiful Night!
In many of our readers, these reminiscences will excite a feeling of regret, that the miseries of the world around us make such catholic customs as these, unrealities: at all events, they will show, how the holiest feelings of religion may blend with the best joys of family and home. The lesson is worth learning, though the examples that teach it are too catholic for these rough times. Let us, therefore, leave them, and turn again to objects, which are realities, made holy by To-Night's Mystery—they will assist us to enter still further into the spirit of the Church.
There are three places on this earth of ours, which we should visit to-night. For two of them, it can only be in spirit. The first is Bethlehem, and the Cave of the Nativity, which is Bethlehem's glory. Let us approach it with respectful awe, and contemplate the humble dwelling, which the Son of the Eternal God chose for his first home. It is a Stable in the hollow of a rock, just outside the city walls. It is about fortyfeet long, by twelve in width. The ox, and the ass, as spoken of by the Prophet, are there, standing near the Manger, mute witnesses of the Divine Mystery, to which man refused to lend his own dwelling.
Joseph and Mary enter into the Stable-Cave. It is night, and all nature is buried in silence; but these two Hearts are sending up their praise and adoration to God, who thus deigns to atone for man's pride. The Virgin-Mother prepares the Clothes, which are to swathe the limbs of the Divine Infant, and longs, though with a most tranquil patience, for the blissful moment, when she shall have the first sight of the Blessed Fruit of her womb, kiss him, caress him, and feed him—the Eternal God—at her Breast.
Our Jesus, on His part, now that he is about to leave the sanctuary of his Mother's womb, and make his visible entrance into this world of sin, adores his Heavenly Father, and, (according to the revelation of the Psalmist, which is commented by St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews,) thus speaks: Sacrifice and oblation thou willedstnot; but a Body thou hast fitted unto me. Holocausts for sin did not please thee. Then, said I, behold I come. In the head of the Book, it is written of me, that I should do thy will, O God n
All this was happening in the Stable at Bethlehem,
about this very hour of the Night. The Angels of God were singing their anthems of praise to this his incomprehensible mercy towards his rebel creatures. They looked down with admiration upon the Mother of theirGod,<Ae Mystical Rose, whose hidden Beauty was soon to bloom and fill the world with its fragrance.
0 happy cave of Bethlehem! scene of these stupendous Mysteries! who is there that can forget it to-night? Who is there that does not love it above the richest palaces of Kings ?—From the very commencement of Christianity, it was the object of men's deepest veneration. When, later on, God sent the great St. Helen to resuscitate in his Church the knowledge and love of the Holy Places of Palestine, one of the works of the holy Empress was to build a magnificent Basilica over the spot, where stands this trophy of God's love for his creatures.
Let us go in spirit to this venerable Basilica; we shall find there groups of infidels and schismatics, but we shall also find the Religious, who have the care of it, preparing to sing the same Matins, and iu the same Latin tongue, which we are to have. These Religious are the Children of St. Francis, heroic followers of the poverty of their Divine Master, the Infant of Bethlehem. Because they are poor and humble, therefore have they had, for upwards of four hundred years, the honour of being the sole guardians of these Holy Places, which the Crusaders grew tired of defending. Let us pray in union with them, tonight; and go with them, and kiss that sacred spot of the Cave, where is written in letters of gold: Here Was Jesus Christ Born Of The Virgin Mary. (hic De Virgine Maria Jesus Christus Natus Est.)
In vain, however, should we seek at Bethlehem for the holy Crib, in which the Infant Jesus lay. The curse of God has struck that unhappy country, and deprived it of this precious relic, which now, for upwards of twelve hundred years, has been venerated in the centre of Catholicity, Rome, the favoured Spouse of Christ.
Rome, then, is the second place we must visit on this blessed Night. And in the Holy City itself, there is one special Sanctuary, which claims all our veneration and love. It is the Basilica of the Crib, the splendid Church of Saint-Mary-Major. Of all the Churches, which the people of Rome have erected in honour of the Mother of God, this is the grandest. It stands on the Esquiline, rich in its marble and gold, but richer still in its possessing, together with the Portrait of our Lady painted by St. Luke, the humble yet glorious Crib of Jesus, of which the inscrutable designs of God have deprived Bethlehem. An immense concourse of people is to-night assembled in the Basilica, awaiting the happy moment, when this monument of the love and the humiliation of a God will be brought in, carried on the shoulders of the Priests, as an Ark of the New Covenant, whose welcome sight gives the sinner confidence, and makes the just man thrill with joy. Thus has God willed, that Rome, which was to be the new Jerusalem, should be also the new Bethlehem; and that the children of the Church should find, in this the unchangeable centre of their Faith, the varied and exhaustless nourishment of their Love.
But the Basilica of the Crib is not the only sanetuary in Rome which has an attraction for us tonight. An. imposing ceremony, which embodies a profound mystery, is taking place, at this very hour, in the palace of the Vatican, near the Tomb of the Prince of the Apostles.
The Divine Infant, who is to be born amongst us, is the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace,whose government is upon his shoulders,1 as we shall sing to