Advent & Christmastide: December 2008 Archives

A Christmas Carol

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The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
Nativity Angelico.jpgHis hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.) 

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.



Yesterday, with exultation,
Join'd the world in celebration
Of her promised Saviour's birth;
Yesterday the Angel-nation
Pour'd the strains of jubilation
O'er the Monarch born on earth;


But today o'er death victorious,
By his faith and actions glorious,
by his miracles renown'd,
See the Deacon triumph gaining,
'Midst the faithless faith sustaining,
First of holy Martyrs found.


Thumbnail image for St Stephen.jpg 


Onward, champion, falter never,
Sure of sure reward for ever,
Holy Stephen, persevere;
Perjured witnesses confounding,
Satan's synagogue astounding
By thy doctrine true and clear.


Thine own Witness is in Heaven,
True and faithful, to thee given,
Witness of thy blamelessness:
By thy name a crown implying,
Meet it is thou shouldst be dying
For the crown of righteousness.


For the crown that fadeth never
Bear the torturer's brief endeavour;
Victory waits to end the strife:
Death shall be thy life's beginning,
And life's losing be the winning
Of the true and better life.


Fill'd with God's most Holy Spirit,
See the Heav'n thou shalt inherit,
Stephen, gaze into the skies:
There God's glory steadfast viewing,
Thence thy victor-strength renewing,
Pant for thy eternal prize.


See, as Jewish foes invade thee,
See how Jesus stands to aid thee,
Stands at God's right hand on high:
Tell how open'd Heav'n is shown thee,
Tell how Jesus waits to own thee,
Tell it with thy latest cry.


As the dying martyr kneeleth,
For his murderers he appealeth,
For their madness griefing sore;
Then in Christ he sleepeth sweetly,
And with Christ he reigneth meetly,
Martyr first-fruits, evermore.



Words: "Heri mundus exultavit," Adam of S. Victor (d. 1192). Translation by John Mason Neale; Music: "Heri Mundus Exultavit," by Walter Macfarren; Meter: 887 887. Hymns Ancient and Modern. London: William Clowes and Sons, Ltd., 1922, #64, p. 64-5.


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nativity Giotto detail.jpgImmensity cloistered in thy dear womb, Now leaves His well-belov'd imprisonment, There He hath made Himself to His intent Weak enough, now into the world to come; But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room? Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient, Stars and wise men will travel to prevent; The effect of Herod's jealous general doom.

Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith's eyes, how He which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie? Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high, That would have need to be pitied by thee?


Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go, With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.


John Donne (1572- 1631)


Magnum nomen Domini Emmanuel

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Birth of Christ.jpg





Evangelizo vobis gaudium magnum: natus est vobis hodie Salvator, Christus Dominus.


I proclaim to you good news of great joy: today a Savior is born for us, Christ the Lord.





God, who gladden us by the yearly expectation of our redemption, grant that we may merit to see Your Only Begotten, our Lord, Christ Jesus, whom we in joy are now receiving as the Redeemer also see in safety when He is coming as the Judge.



Hodie Christus natus est. Hodie Salvator apparuit. Hodie in terra canunt Angeli, lætantur Archangeli. Hodie exsultant iusti dicentes: Gloria in excelsis Deo! Alleluia.


Today the Savior has appeared: today the Angels sing, the Archangels rejoice: today the just rejoice, saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will towards men: Alleluia.


Nativity of Mary Pietro Cavallini.jpgToday, the twenty-fifth day of December

Unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth; And then formed man and woman in his own image.

Several thousand years after the flood; When God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant.

Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;

Thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.

Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;

One thousand years from the anointing of David as king;

In the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.

In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; The seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome.

The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; The whole world being at peace,

Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father,
Desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming,
Being conceived by the Holy Spirit,
And nine months having passed since his conception,
Was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.

Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.



Jeremiah Duccio.jpgI was struck by the readings that the Ambrosian Liturgy proposes for Monday of the third week of Advent. How must the members of the ancient people of Israel been disconcerted at the words of the prophet Jeremiah: "It will devour your harvests and your bread; it will devour your sons and daughters; it will devour your flocks and herds; it will devour the fortified cities in which you placed your trust" (Jer 5:17). He was telling them that another nation was going to conquer the kingdom in which they had put their trust. "Then, if they say: 'Why has the Lord our God done these things?', you will answer: 'Just as you have abandoned the Lord and served foreign gods in your country, so will you serve foreigners in a country that is not yours'" (Jer 5:19).

It is as if this were said for us; today we see signs that make everyone afraid, it seems that what has supported our history is unable to withstand the test of our times: one day the economy, finance and work, the next day politics and the judiciary, then the family, the beginning of life and its natural end. So, like ancient Israel before a frightening situation, we, too, ask ourselves: "Why is all this happening?" It is because we, too, have been so presumptuous as to think that we can still get along after cutting the roots that supported the foundations of our civilization. In recent centuries, our culture has believed it could build a future for itself while abandoning God. Now we see where this presumption is leading us.


Now, what does the Lord do in the face of all we have brought upon ourselves? The prophet Zechariah tells us, speaking to his people Israel: "Look, I am going to send you my servant Branch" (Zc 3:8). Notice the name. It is as if before the crisis of a world, our world - the prophets would describe it with an image dear to them, that of a dried-up trunk - a sign of hope were springing up. The enormity of a dried up trunk cannot prevent the sprouting of a humble, fragile branch in which lies the hope for the future.


St Benedict3.jpgBut there is one drawback: we, too, when we see this branch appearing -like those before that child in Nazareth--can be scandalized and say: "How can something so ephemeral be the answer to our need for liberation?" Can salvation come from something so small as faith in Jesus? It seems impossible that all our hope can rest on belonging to this frail sign. The promise that only from this can everything be rebuilt seems scandalous. Yet men like St. Benedict and St. Francis started from that. They began to live while belonging to that branch that had grown through time and space--the Church, and in this way became protagonists of a people and of history.

Benedict did not face the end of the Roman Empire with anger, pointing the finger at the immorality of his contemporaries, but rather witnessed to the people of his time a fullness of life, a satisfaction and a fullness that became an attraction for many. This became the dawn of a new world, small as it was (almost a nonentity compared with the whole, a whole that was in total collapse), but a real world. That new beginning was so concrete that the work of Benedict and Francis has lasted through the centuries, has transformed Europe, and humanized it.

"He has revealed himself. He personally," said Benedict XVI, speaking of the God-with-us. Fr. Giussani told us, "That man of two thousand years ago is hidden under the tent, under the appearance of a new humanity," in a real sign that arouses the inkling of that life that we are all waiting for so as not to succumb to the evil in us and to the signs of the nothingness which is advancing. This is the hope that Christmas announces to us, and that makes us cry out: "Come, Lord Jesus!"

Julian Carron3.jpg(Father) Julián Carrón

President of the Fraternity of Communion & Liberation


Letter to the editor of the Italian daily La Repubblica,
published December 23, 2008



Nativity of the Savior

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This sermon is one of the most, if not THE most, recommended texts for this feast. The theology is crisp and eternal. Therefore it is used in the East and the West alike.


Homily by Pope Saint Leo the Great (Sermon 21)

St Leo the Great3.jpg 

Our Savior, dearly-beloved, was born today: let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness, when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity.


No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all.


Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon. Let the gentile take courage in that he is called to life.


For the Son of God in the fullness of time which the inscrutable depth of the Divine counsel has determined, has taken on him the nature of man, thereby to reconcile it to its Author: in order that the inventor of death, the devil, might be conquered through that (nature) which he had conquered.


And in this conflict undertaken for us, the fight was fought on great and wondrous principles of fairness; for the Almighty Lord enters the lists with His savage foe not in His own majesty but in our humility, opposing him with the same form and the same nature, which shares indeed our mortality, though it is free from all sin.


Truly foreign to this nativity is that which we read of all others, "no one is clean from stain, not even the infant who has lived but one day upon earth." Nothing therefore of the lust of the flesh has passed into that peerless nativity, nothing of the law of sin has entered.


Nativity Duccio.jpgA royal Virgin of the stem of David is chosen, to be impregnated with the sacred seed and to conceive the Divinely-human offspring in mind first and then in body. And lest in ignorance of the heavenly counsel she should tremble at so strange a result, she learns from converse with the angel that what is to be wrought in her is of the Holy Ghost. Nor does she believe it loss of honor that she is soon to be the Mother of God. For why should she be in despair over the novelty of such conception, to whom the power of the most High has promised to effect it. Her implicit faith is confirmed also by the attestation of a precursory miracle, and Elizabeth receives unexpected fertility: in order that there might be no doubt that He who had given conception to the barren, would give it even to a virgin.


Therefore the Word of God, Himself God, the Son of God who "in the beginning was with God," through whom "all things were made" and "without" whom "was nothing made," with the purpose of delivering man from eternal death, became man: so bending Himself to take on Him our humility without decrease in His own majesty, that remaining what He was and assuming what He was not, He might unite the true form of a slave to that form in which He is equal to God the Father, and join both natures together by such a compact that the lower should not be swallowed up in its exaltation nor the higher impaired by its new associate.


Without detriment therefore to the properties of either substance which then came together in one person, majesty took on humility, strength weakness, eternity mortality: and for the paying off of the debt, belonging to our condition, inviolable nature was united with possible nature, and true God and true man were combined to form one Lord, so that, as suited the needs of our case, one and the same Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, could both die with the one and rise again with the other.


Virgin of the Annunciation Angelico.jpgRightly therefore did the birth of our Salvation impart no corruption to the Virgin's purity, because the bearing of the Truth was the keeping of honor. Such then beloved was the nativity which became the Power of God and the Wisdom of God even Christ, whereby He might be one with us in manhood and surpass us in Godhead.


For unless He were true God, He would not bring us a remedy, unless He were true Man, He would not give us an example. Therefore the exulting angel's song when the Lord was born is this, "Glory to God in the Highest," and their message, "peace on earth to men of good will." For they see that the heavenly Jerusalem is being built up out of all the nations of the world: and over that indescribable work of the Divine love how ought the humbleness of men to rejoice, when the joy of the lofty angels is so great?


Let us then, dearly beloved, give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit, Who "for His great mercy, wherewith He has loved us," has had pity on us: and "when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together in Christ," that we might be in Him a new creation and a new production.


Let us put off then the old man with his deeds: and having obtained a share in the birth of Christ let us renounce the works of the flesh.


Christian, acknowledge thy dignity, and becoming a partner in the Divine nature, refuse to return to the old baseness by degenerate conduct.


Remember the Head and the Body of which thou art a member.


Recollect that thou wert rescued from the power of darkness and brought out into God's light and kingdom.


By the mystery of Baptism thou weft made the temple of the Holy Ghost: do not put such a denizen to flight from thee by base acts, and subject thyself once more to the devil's thraldom: because thy purchase money is the blood of Christ, because He shall judge thee in truth Who ransomed thee in mercy, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

O Emmanuel

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The Great Antiphon for December 23


Emmanuel.jpgO Emmanuel, God with us, our King and Lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: Come to save us, O Lord our God.


O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.


Isaiah 7:14; 88:8; 33:22; Genesis 49:10; cf. Ezekiel 21:32.


Symbols: tablets of stone, Chalice and Host.

O King of the Gentiles

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The Great Antiphon for December 22


Rex Gentium.jpgO King of the Gentiles and their desired One, the Cornerstone that makes both one: Come, and deliver man, whom You formed out of the dust of the earth.



O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:  veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.



Psalm 2:7-8; Haggai 2:8; Genesis 2:7; Ephesians 2:14-20.


Symbols, Crown, scepter.

O Dawn of the East

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The Great Antiphon for December 21



Oriens.jpgO Dawn of the East, brightness of the light eternal, and Sun of Justice: Come, and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.



O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:  veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.



Zac 6:12; Habakkuk 3:4; Malachi 3:20; Psalm 19:6-7; 107:10; Luke 1:78.


Symbol: rising sun.

Advent Summons

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Come forth from the holy place,
Sweet Child,
Come from the quiet dark
Where virginal heartbeats
Tick your moments.


Come away from the red music
Of Mary's veins.
Come out from the Tower of David
Sweet Child,
From the House of Gold.


Institution of the Crib by St Francis.jpg

God enters human history

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Nativity LLotto.jpgGod has become man. He has become a child. Thus he fulfills the great and mysterious promise to be Emmanuel: God-with us. Now he is no longer unreachable for anybody. God is Emmanuel. By becoming a child, he offers us the possibility of being on familiar terms with him.


I am reminded here of a rabbinical tale recorded by Elie Wiesel. He tells of Jehel, a little boy, who comes running into the room of his grandfather, the famous Rabbi Baruch. Big tears are rolling down his cheeks. And he cries, My friend has totally given up on me. He is very unfair and very mean to me. Well, could you explain this a little more? asks the master.


Okay, responds the little boy. We were playing hide and seek. I was hiding so well that he could not find me. But then he simply gave up and went home. Isn't that mean? The most exciting hiding place has lost its excitement because the other shops playing.


The master caresses the boy's face. He himself now has tears in his eyes. And he says, Yes, this is not nice. But look, it is the same way with God. He is in hiding, and we do not seek him. Just imagine! God is hiding, and we people do not even look for him.


In this little story a Christian is able to find the key to the ancient mystery of Christmas. God is in hiding. He waits for his creation to set out toward him, he waits for a new and willing Yes to come about, for love to arise as a new reality out of his creation. He waits for man.


Pope Benedict XVI

O Key of David

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The Great Antiphon for December 20


Clavis David.jpgO Key of David, and Scepter of the House of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens: Come, and bring forth the captive from his prison, he who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.


O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit:  veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.


Revelation 3:7; Isaiah 22:22; Psalm 107:10. Symbols: key; broken chains.

O Root of Jesse

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The Great Antiphon for December 19

Root of Jesse.jpgO Root of Jesse, who stands for an ensign of the people, before whom kings shall keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: Come to deliver us, and tarry not.



O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.



Isaiah 11:1-3; 10; 52:15; Habakkuk 2:3.


Symbol: vine or plant in flower, especially a rose.

O Adonai

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The Great Antiphon for December 18


Adonai.jpgO Lord and Ruler of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come, and redeem us with outstretched arm.


O Adonai, et dux domus Israël, qui Moyse in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.


Isaiah 11:4-5; Exodus 6:13; 3:2, 20:1; Jeremiah 32:21.


Symbols: burning bush, stone tablets.

O Wisdom

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The Great Antiphon for December 17


Oil Lamp.jpg

O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: Come, and teach us the way of prudence.


O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.


Ecclesiastes 24:5; Isaiah 11: 2-3; 40:14; Sirach 24:2, 30; Wisdom 8:1.


Symbols: oil lamp, open book.



The importance of the "Great O Antiphons" is twofold:  each one is a title for the Messiah and each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah and other Old Testament Scripture passages foretelling the coming of the Messiah. These ancient texts from sacred Scripture sung as verses before and after the Magnificat at Vespers in the Divine Office. The Great O Antiphons are characteristically "Benedictine" in nature because they flourished in the monastic liturgy with great élan. One can't think of the Advent observance without thinking of the Great O Antiphons.




Advent Presence

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As we are at the midway point in the liturgical season of Advent (in the roman rite) it is helpful to remember what we doing and why we are doing it. Pope Benedict is helpful in recalling the essence of the season.


"Advent" does not mean "expectation," as some may think. It is a translation of the Greek word parousia which means "presence" or, more accurately, "arrival," i. e., the beginning of a presence. In antiquity the word was a technical term for the presence of a king or ruler and also for the God being worshiped, who bestows his parousia on his devotees for a time.

Advent Taize.jpg "Advent," then, means a presence begun, the presence being that of God. Advent reminds us, therefore, of two things: first, that God's presence in the world has already begun, that he is present though in a hidden manner; second, that his presence has only begun and is not yet full and complete, that it is in a state of development, of becoming and progressing toward its full form.


His presence has already begun, and we, the faithful, are the ones through whom he wishes to be present in the world. Through our faith, hope, and love he wants his light to shine over and over again in the night of the world.


That night is "today" whenever the "Word" becomes "flesh" or genuine human reality. The Christ child comes in a real sense whenever human beings act out of authentic love for the Lord.


Pope Benedict XVI

2 angels.jpgRejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice; let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.


Gaudete Sunday is called such because of the first word in Latin of the antiphon that begins, Gaudete...Rejoice.... The full antiphon is noted above. It orients our prayer and Mass today! The presence of the Lord is acknowledged to be here, right now, in our midst. Catholics are a people full of joy today and everyday of our existence. The Presence of the Lord is always in our midst: in the Eucharist, sacred Scripture, in our hearts and in our community. Pope Benedict offers us a perspective on an aspect of this joy:


The root of man's joy is the harmony he enjoys with himself. He lives in this affirmation. And only one who can accept himself can also accept the you, can accept the world. The reason why an individual cannot accept the you, cannot come to terms with him, is that he does not like his own I [the I is the whole self, one's entire body, soul and mind] and, for that reason, cannot accept a you. Something strange happens here. We have seen that the inability to accept one's I leads to the inability to accept a you. But how does one go about affirming, assenting to, one's I?


The answer may perhaps be unexpected: We cannot do so by our own efforts alone.

Advent tree.jpgOf ourselves, we cannot come to terms with ourselves. Our I becomes acceptable to us only if it has first become accept to another I. We can love ourselves only if we first been loved by someone else. The life a mother gives to her child is not just physical life; she gives total life when takes the child's tears and turns them into smiles. It is only when life has been accepted and is perceived as accepted that it becomes also acceptable. Man is that strange creature that needs not just physical birth but also appreciation if he is to subsist... If an individual is to accept himself, someone must say to him: "It is good that you exist" -must say it, not with words, but with that act of the entire being that we call love.


For it is the way of love to will the other's existence and, at the same time, to bring that existence forth again. The key to the I lies with the you; the way to the you leads through the I.


(Benedictus, 2006)

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]



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This page is a archive of entries in the Advent & Christmastide category from December 2008.

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