Lauds on the Vigil of Christmas
One of the most beautiful Offices of the entire liturgical year is, I think, that of Lauds on the Vigil of Christmas. A veritable Pre-Feast! Set amongst antiphons that are poignantly expressive of hope and gladsome anticipation, the festive psalms are sung: 66, 92, 99, 62, the Benedicite, and then, of course, the Laudate Psalms, 148-149-150.
Praying With the Church
In his Christmas address to the Roman Curia this past Monday, 20 December, Pope Benedict XVI gave the Church a glimpse of how he prays, thus revealing his benedictine heart. The Holy Father’s personal prayer is nourished by the antiphons, collects, and other texts of the Divine Office. He seems to ponder them, turning them over in his heart. Then, spontaneously, these same texts surface in his preaching and in his writing, inviting all who hear him or read him to enter, with him, into The Prayer of the Church.
Consider the antiphons we sang at Lauds this morning:
1. O Judah and Jerusalem, * fear not; tomorrow ye shall go out, and the Lord will be with you, alleluia. (Chronicles 20:17)
2. This day ye shall know * that the Lord cometh: and in the morning, then ye shall see His glory. (Exodus 16: 6-7)
3. On the morrow * the sins of the earth shall be washed away, and the Saviour of the world will be our King.
4. The Lord cometh! * –Go ye out to meet Him, and say, How great is His dominion, and of His kingdom there shall be no end: He is the Mighty God, the Ruler, the Prince of Peace, alleluia, alleluia.
5. On the morrow * ye shall be saved, saith the Lord God of hosts.
All, or any one of these antiphons, or even a phrase taken from them, is enough to hold the heart recollected in the presence of God through the remaining hours of what, for most of us, will be a very busy day of preparation. The Church herself teaches us to return to the antiphons of the morning Office by repeating them at Prime, at Tierce, at Sext, and at None. This is the very pedagogy of the Church, exercised in the Sacred Liturgy.
Praying the Rosary with Antiphons
For folks (even Benedictine Oblates) who do not have the time to pray the entire Divine Office, or even one or another of the Hours in full, it is always possible to integrate the antiphons of a given feast or mystery into the humble prayer of Our Lady’s Rosary. Given that there are five antiphons in this morning’s Office, one might read one antiphon before each decade of the Rosary. In this way, the mystery of the Incarnation (recalled in the Joyful Mysteries) becomes the meditation of each decade, while the Rosary itself is more closely bound to The Prayer of the Church. Thus does “Our Lady’s Psalter,” the Rosary, become a way of entering more fully into the contemplation offered us by the Church in her liturgy.
LIsten to Saint Paul
The Capitulum (short reading) is the incipit of Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, born a descendant of royal David, is the fulfillment of all that was spoken by the Prophets.
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an Apostle, separated unto the Gospel of God, which He had promised afore by His Prophets, in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, Which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh. (Romans 1:1)
The Short Responsory departs from the yearning Fourth Mode melody that we have sung all during Advent and, in anticipation of the joy of the Nativity, returns to the confident and glad-hearted Sixth Mode:
R. Today ye shall know * that the Lord cometh.
V. And in the morning, ye shall see His glory.
R. That the Lord cometh.
V. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
R. Today ye shall know * that the Lord cometh.
The Benedictus Antiphon
The Saviour of the world shall rise like the sun
and come down into the womb of the Virgin
as the showers upon the grass, alleluia.
The Benedictus Antiphon, with its expressive Eighth Mode melody, is exquisite. It joins two images of the mystery of the Incarnation. The first image is the dawning sun, the dayspring; Mary is the dawn, Christ the perfect day. The second is that of a gentle rain falling soft upon the grass. Mary is the virgin earth made fruitful by the Holy Ghost; Christ is the seed sown in her, a seed that, in the Most Holy Eucharist, becomes, for all, the finest wheat, the Bread of Life.
Finally, today’s Collect asks that we, who welcome the Infant Christ in His lowliness and poverty, may be found worthy of greeting Him without dread on the day of His return in glory. In this prayer there is no vapid sentimentality. It is rigorously theological, embracing, in a few carefully crafted phrases, the immense circle of the Economy of Salvation.
O God Whose mercy doth year by year cause us to rejoice,
looking forward to our deliverance,
grant that as we now make ready with gladness
to receive Thine only-begotten Son as our Saviour,
so we may see Him without dread
at HIs second and terrible coming as our Judge,
even our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
Who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
one God, world without end.