The Circumcision of Our Lord
and Octave of the Nativity
The Liturgical Year
Ven. Abbot Dom Guéranger
Our new-born King and Savior is eight days old today; the Star, that guides the Magi, is advancing towards Bethlehem, and, five days hence, will be standing over the Stable where our Jesus is being nursed by his Mother. Today, the Son of Man is to be circumcised; this first sacrifice of his innocent Flesh must honor the eighth day of his mortal life. Today, also, a Name is to be given him the Name will be Jesus, and it means Savior. So that, Mysteries abound on this day: let us not pass one of them over, but honor them with all possible devotion and love.
But this Day is not exclusively devoted to the Circumcision of Jesus. The mystery of this Circumcision forms part of that other great mystery, the Incarnation and Infancy of our Savior a mystery on which the Church fixes her heart, not only during this Octave, but during the whole forty days of Christmas-Tide. Then, as regards our Lord’s receiving the Name of Jesus, a special Feast, which we shall soon be keeping, is set apart in honor of it. There is another object that shares the love and devotion of the Faithful, on this great Solemnity. This object is Mary, the Mother of God. The Church celebrates, today, the august prerogative of this divine Maternity, which was conferred on a mere creature, and which made her the co-operatrix with Jesus in the great work of man’s salvation.
The holy Church of Rome used to formerly say two Masses on the first of January; one was for the Octave of Christmas Day, the other was in honor of Mary. She now unites the two intentions in one Sacrifice, in the same manner as, in the rest of this Day’s Office, she unites together the acts of her ado ration of the Son, and the expressions of her admiration for, and confidence in, the Mother.
The Greek Church does not wait for this Eighth Day, in order to pay her tribute of homage to Her, who has given us our Emmanuel. She consecrates to Mary the first Day after Christmas, that is, the 26th December, and calls it the Synaxis of the Mother of God, making the two Days one continued Feast. She is thus obliged to defer the Feast of St. Stephen to the 27th December.
But it is today, that we, the children of the Roman Church, must pour forth all the love of our hearts for the Virgin-Mother, and rejoice with her in the exceeding happiness she feels at having given birth to her and our Lord. During Advent, we contemplated her as pregnant with the world’s salvation; we pro claimed the glory of that Ark of the New Covenant, whose chaste womb was the earthly paradise, chosen by the King of Ages for his dwelling-place. Now, she has brought him forth, the Infant-God; she adores him, Him who is her Son. She has the right to call him, her Child; and He, God as he is, calls her in strictest truth, his Mother.
Let us not be surprised, therefore, at the enthusiasm and profound respect, wherewith the Church extols the Blessed Virgin, and her prerogatives. Let us, on the contrary, be convinced, that all the praise the Church can give her, and all the devotion she can ever bear towards her, are far below what is due to her as Mother of the Incarnate God. No mortal will ever be able to describe, or even comprehend, how great a glory accrues to her from this sublime dignity. For, as the glory of Mary comes from her being the Mother of God, one would have first to comprehend God himself, in order to measure the greatness of her dignity. It is to God, that Mary gave our human nature; it is God, whom she had as her Child; it is God, who gloried in rendering himself, inasmuch as he is Man, subject to her: hence, the true value of such a dignity, possessed by a mere creature, can only be appreciated, in proportion to our knowledge of the sovereign perfections of the great God, who thus deigns to make himself dependent upon that favored creature. Let us, therefore, bow down in deepest adoration before the Majesty of our God; let us, therefore, acknowledge that we cannot respect, as it deserves, the extraordinary dignity of Her, whom he chose for his Mother.
The same sublime Mystery overpowers the mind from another point of view what were the feelings of such a Mother towards such a Son? The Child she holds in her arms, and presses to her heart, is the Fruit of her virginal womb, and she loves him as her own; she loves him because she is his Mother, and a Mother loves her child as herself, nay, more than herself: but, when she thinks upon the infinite majesty of Him, who has thus given himself to her to be the object of her love and her fond caresses she trembles in her humility, and her soul has to turn, in order to bear up against the overwhelming truth, to the other thought of the nine months she held this Babe in her womb, and of the filial smile he gave her when her eyes first met his. These two deep-rooted feelings of a creature that adores, and of a Mother that loves are in Mary’s heart. The being Mother of God implies all this: and may we not well say, that no pure creature could be exalted more than she? And that in order to comprehend her dignity, we should first have to comprehend God himself? And that only God’s infinite wisdom could plan such a work, and only his infinite power accomplish it?
A Mother of God! It is the mystery, whose fulfilment the world, without knowing it, was awaiting for four thousand years. It is the work, which, in God’s eyes, was incomparably greater than that of the creation of a million new worlds, for such a creation would cost him nothing; he has but to speak, and all whatsoever he wills is made. But, that a creature should become Mother of God, he has had, not only to suspend the laws of nature by making a Virgin Mother, but also to put himself in a state of dependence upon the happy creature he chose for his Mother. He had to give her rights over himself, and contract the obligation of certain duties towards her. He had to make Her his Mother, and Himself her Son.
It follows from all this, that the blessings of the Incarnation, for which we are indebted to the love wherewith the Divine Word loved us, may and ought to be referred, though in an inferior degree, to Mary herself. If she be the Mother of God, it is because she consented to it, for God vouchsafed, not only to ask her consent, but, moreover, to make the coming of his Son into this world depend upon her giving it. As this his Son, the Eternal Word, spoke his Fiat over chaos, and the answer to his word was creation; so did Mary use the same word Fiat: let it be done unto me, she said. God heard her word, and, immediately, the Son of God descended into her virginal womb. After God, then, it is to Mary, his ever Blessed Mother, that we are indebted for our Emmanuel.
The divine plan for the world’s salvation included there being a Mother of God: and as heresy sought to deny the mystery of the Incarnation, it equally sought to deny the glorious prerogative of Mary. Nestorius asserted, that Jesus was only man; Mary, consequently was not Mother of God, but merely Mother of a Man, called Jesus. This impious doctrine roused the indignation of the Catholic world. The East and West united in proclaiming, that Jesus was God and Man, in unity of Person; and that Mary, being his Mother, was, in strict truth, “Mother of God.” This victory over Nestorianism was won at the Council of Ephesus. It was hailed by the Christians of those times with an enthusiasm of faith, which not only proved the tender love they had for the Mother of Jesus, but was sure to result in the setting up “of some solemn trophy, that would perpetuate the memory of the victory. It was then that began, in both the Greek and Latin Churches, the pious custom of uniting, during Christmas, the veneration due to the Mother with the supreme worship given to the Son. The day assigned for the united commemoration varied in the several countries, but the sentiment of religion, which suggested the Feast, was one and the same throughout the entire Church.
The Circumcision of Our Lord
and Octave of the Nativity
Double of the Second Class
Privileged Octave Day
Missa ‘Puer natus est’
Station at St. Mary’s Beyond the Tiber
INTROIT – Isaiah 9: 6
Puer natus est nobis: et fílius datus est nobis, cujus impérium super húmerum ejus: et vocábitur nomen ejus magni consílii Angelus. Ps. Cantáte Dómino cánticum novum: quia mirabília fecit. V. Glória Patri.
Unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulders: and His Name shall be called Angel of mighty counsel. Ps. Sing ye to the Lord a new canticle: because He hath done wonderful things. V. Glory be to the Father.
O God, who through the fruitful virginity of blessed Mary didst secure for mankind the reward of eternal salvation; grant, we beseech Thee, that we may experience her intercession for us, through whom we have been made worthy to receive the Author of life, our Lord Jesus Christ. Who with thee.
EPISTLE – Titus 2: 11-15
Dearly beloved: The grace of God our Savior hath appeared to all men, instructing us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly and justly and godly in this world, looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ: Who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and might cleanse to Himself a people acceptable, a pursuer of good works. These things speak and exhort: in Christ Jesus our Lord.
GRADUAL – Psalm 97: 3-4, 2
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God: sing joyfully to God, all the earth. V. The Lord hath made known His salvation: He hath revealed His justice in the sight of the nations.
ALLELUIA – Hebrews 1: 1-2
Alleluia, alleluia. V. God, who in divers manners spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all in these days hath spoken to us by His Son. Alleluia.
GOSPEL – Luke 2: 21
At that time, after eight days were accomplished, that the Child should be circumcised: His Name was called Jesus, which was called by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
OFFERTORY – Psalm 97: 12, 15
Thine are the heavens, and Thine is the earth, the world and the fullness thereof Thou hast founded: justice and judgment are the preparation of Thy throne.
Receive, we beseech Thee, O Lord, our offerings and prayers, cleansing us by these heavenly mysteries, and mercifully hearing us. Through our Lord.
It is truly meet and just, right and availing unto salvation that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty and everlasting God. Because by the mystery of the Word made flesh the light of Thy glory hath shone anew upon the eyes of our mind: that while we acknowledge Him to be God seen by men, we may be drawn by Him to the love of things unseen. And therefore with angels and archangels, with thrones and dominions, and with all the heavenly hosts, we sing a hymn to Thy glory, saying without ceasing:
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dóminus Deus Sábaoth. Pleni sunt cæli et terra glória tua. Hosánna in excélsis. Benedíctus qui venit in nómine Dómini. Hosánna in excélsis.
COMMUNION – Psalm 97:3
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
May this communion, O Lord, cleanse us from all sin, and by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, make us partakers of the heavenly remedy. Through the same our Lord.