December 20th O Antiphon:
O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, who openest and no man shutteth, who shuttest and no man openeth: come and bring forth from his prison-house, the captive that sitteth in darkness and in the shadow of death. – Isaias xxii. 22; Apocalypse iii. 7; Luke i. 79.
On the Gospel of the Day.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On the Gospel of the Day.
Represent to yourself to-day the great and forcible preacher of penance of whom the Gospel tells us: “The word of the Lord was made unto John, the son of Zachary, in the desert. And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching the baptism of penance for the remission of sins; as it was written in the book of the sayings of Isaias the prophet: A voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight His paths. Every valley shall be filled; and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight; and the rough ways plain; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (St. Luke iii. 2-6.) Imagine that the great prophet addresses these solemn words to you, and meditate upon them.
1st. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.” Thus St. John calls upon you to-day, for behold! the Lord is already very near. The hallowed, the blessed night of His birth is drawing nearer and nearer. Have you prepared the way, made straight the paths for the coming Saviour, that is to say, have you made yourself ready to meet Him? Nothing is of greater importance than the preparation here spoken of. For God will not accomplish our salvation without our co-operation; and if the approaching festival, pre-eminently a festival of grace, is to be for your salvation, it is requisite that you should have “prepared the way” before hand. The grace which we may, which we ought to receive at Christmas may be compared to the sun, to the air, to fire. The sun is intrinsically good, so is the air, and so is fire; but only see how different is the action of the sun upon day and its action upon wax; how different is the effect the fresh air has upon the sick man and upon the healthy; how differently fire acts upon gold and upon straw, the former it refines but the latter it destroys; it soon makes dry wood blaze up brightly, while a long time is required to kindle green or damp wood, if indeed it can be got to burn at all. Therefore see, my soul, that you “prepare the way”; remove all obstacles that may impede the operation of grace; in your prayers, your mortifications, your love of solitude – be impressible and soft as wax, pure as refined gold. Consider how carefully the saints prepared themselves for the great festivals, see how the apostles after our Lord’s ascension persevered continually in prayer and fasting in order to prepare themselves for the coming of the Holy Ghost, and do you begin from this day forth to prepare yourself in like manner for the coming of the Son of God.
2d. “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low,” thus John proceeds in the exhortation he addresses to his hearers. By the mountains, St. Chrysostom says, we are to understand the proud and self-sufficient, whom our Lord will humiliate. Would that the approaching advent of Christ might lead you to humble yourself; that the anticipation of His coming might induce you to remove the mountain of your pride, the hill of your vanity and inordinate desire to please. Only reflect awhile, and ponder upon this truth: He who is about to come is the Son of God in His humility, as the poor lowly Infant in the manger at Bethlehem. Turn once more to the pages of history, and see if the truth is not forcibly borne in upon you, that only the humble in all ages have understood and do understand this mystery of humility, and that the graces peculiar to this mystery have ever been and still remain hidden from the haughty and arrogant. Herod, the proud monarch, is only roused to anger by the lowly Saviour’s birth; far indeed from his mind is the knowledge of the salvation that has appeared to all men; the haughty Pharisees of all times look with disdain at the crib where He is laid, whereas the lowly Virgin and the simple, modest shepherds gaze enraptured on the Infant Jesus. And we know that after many centuries were past, the mere remembrance of that blessed night caused the humble Francis to be inebriated with celestial joy. Arise then, my soul, do away with “the mountains and the hills,” exercise yourself in humility throughout this whole week, and in order to acquire this virtue more easily, “fill up the valley” of your heart. For the soul of the Christian is a profound abyss, full of spiritual infirmities and imperfections. Descend into that abyss, fill it up by means of self-knowledge, acknowledge your sins and shortcomings, and you will soon become more humble; in fact it is not necessary to investigate your moral imperfections for the purpose of putting pride to flight; it is quite enough to recall to mind your natural defects and worthlessness. St. Gregory says that the remembrance of our own vileness is the surest guardian of humility; and St. Bernard admonishes us to bear three things ever in mind: What wert thou? Nothing. What art thou? A vessel full of uncleanness. What shalt thou be? The food of worms.
3d. “The crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways plain.” These words contain a further admonition from the lips of the preacher of the desert, as to how we ought to prepare the way for the Lord who is to come. The rough ways, says St. Gregory, will be levelled and made plain, when hearts that are harsh and irascible become, through the influence of divine grace, calm, meek and gentle. For it is as the goodness and kindness of God unto men that Jesus will appear amongst us; He will come, sent by the charity of the Father; He will come, impelled by the love of us poor mortals; He will come for the purpose of giving unto men “a new commandment, that they love one another.” (St. John xiii. 34.) If therefore you consider this, if you make the motive and the object of our Lord’s advent the subject of your meditation, you cannot fail to see clearly that you ought to make the rough ways plain in order to prepare the way for Him who is to come. You cannot presume to stand beside the manger wherein divine Love is laid, if your heart is full of unkind, quarrelsome, angry feelings; and never can you promise yourself to celebrate the feast with a rich harvest of graces for yourself, unless you practise more perfectly than you have done heretofore the virtue of “brotherly love” so earnestly and so frequently enjoined upon us by the Seraphic Francis.
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
Of a pure Mind and simple Intention.
III. When a man begins to grow lukewarm he is afraid of a little labour and willingly takes external comfort.
But when he begins perfectly to overcome himself, and to walk manfully in the way of God, then he makes less account of those things which before he considered burthensome to him.——Thomas à Kempis—Imitation of Christ Bk II, Ch IV, pt. II.
December Devotion: The Immaculate Conception.
Virtues to practice: Conformity to the will of God, divine love.
Come, let us adore the King our Lord, who is to come!
Hymn from the Office of Lauds for Advent
The solemn voice of the Precursor is heard, explaining the obscurity of the ancient figures; let our slumbers cease; Jesus is rising on our horizon.
Let the sluggish soul now rise, and stay no more upon this earth; a new star is shining, which will take all sin away.
Lo! the Lamb is sent to forgive us freely our debt; let us unite in tears and prayers, that we may obtain pardon.
That when He comes the second time, filling the world with fear, He may not have to punish us for our sins, but may protect us in mercy.
Power, honour, praise, and glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Paraclete, for ever and ever. Amen.
Prayers from the Office and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for Advent
V. O Lord, hear my prayer.
R. And let my cry come unto Thee.
Almighty Lord and God, who hast brought us to the beginning of this day, let Thy powerful grace so conduct us through it, that we may not fall into any sin, but that all our thoughts, words, and actions may be regulated according to the rules of Thy heavenly justice, and tend to the observance of Thy holy law. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
V. Incline unto my aid, O God.
R. O Lord, make haste to help me.
Lord God, and King of heaven and earth, vouchsafe this day to rule and sanctify, to direct and govern our souls and bodies, our senses, words, and actions in conformity to Thy law, and strict obedience to Thy commands; that by the help of Thy grace, O Saviour of the world! we may be fenced and freed from all evils. Who livest and reignest for ever and ever. Amen.
V. O Lord God of hosts, come and deliver us.
R. Show Thy face, and we shall be saved.
V. Show us, O Lord, thy mercy.
R. And grant us the Saviour, whom we expect from Thee.
V. The Lord shall rise upon thee, O Jerusalem!
R. And His glory shall be seen upon thee.
Bend Thine ear, O Lord, we beseech Thee, to our prayers, and enlighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of Thy visitation; who livest and reignest God, world without end. Amen.
Novena for Advent
Hail and blessed be the hour and the moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour vouchsafe, O my God! To hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother. Amen.
(It is piously believed that whoever recites the above prayer fifteen times a day from the feast of St. Andrew (Nov. 30th) until Christmas will obtain what is asked.)
Act of Perfect Contrition
Oh my God! I am heartily sorry
for having offended Thee and
I detest all my sins because
I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell;
But most of all because I have offended Thee, My God,
Who art all-good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace,
To confess my sins, to do penance,
And to amend my life. Amen.
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