This Sunday, the first of the ecclesiastical year, is called, in the chronicles and charts of the Middle Ages, Ad te levavi Sunday, from the first words of the Introit; or Aspiciens a longe, from the first words of one of the Responsories of Matins.
The Station is at St. Mary Major’s. It is under the auspices of Mary—in the splendid Basilica which possesses the Crib of Bethlehem, and is therefore called, in ancient documents, St. Mary’s ad Præsepe—that the Roman Church recommences, each year, the sacred Cycle. It would have been impossible to select a place more suitable than this for saluting the approach of the Divine Birth, which is to gladden heaven and earth, and manifest the sublime portent of a Virgin Mother. Let us go in spirit to this august temple, and unite in the prayers which are there being offered up: they are the very ones we also use, and which we will now explain.[The Stations marked in the Roman Missal for certain days in the year were formerly processions, in which the whole clergy and people went to some given church, and there celebrated the Office and Mass. This usage, which dates from the earliest period of the Roman Church, and of which St. Gregory the Great was but the restorer, still exists, at least in a measure; for the Stations are still observed, though with less solemnity and concourse of people, on all the days specified in the Missal.]
In the Night Office, the Church commences the reading of the Book of Isaias, who, of all the Prophets, has the most distinctly and explicitly foretold the Messias; and she continues this same Book until Christmas Day inclusively. Let us strive to enter into the teaching of the holy Prophet, and let the eye of our faith affectionately recognize the promised Savior in the descriptions, sometimes consoling and sometimes terrifying, under which Isaias depicts him.
The first words of the Church, in the still midnight, are these:
Come, let us adore the King our Lord, who is to come.
This first duty of adoration complied with, let us listen to the oracle of the Prophet Isaias, delivered to us by the holy Church.
Beginning of the Book of the Prophet Isaias 1:1-6
These words of the holy Prophet, or rather of God who speaks to us by the Prophet, should make a deep impression on the children of the Church, at this opening of the holy period of Advent. Who could hear without trembling this voice of our Lord, who is despised and unknown even at the very time when he is to come to visit his people? Lest men should be terrified at the splendor of his Majesty, he divested himself of it; and, far from acknowledging the divine power of Him who thus humbled himself out of love to them, these men have refused even to know him; and the crib, where he lay after his birth, had, at first, but two dumb animals to honor or notice it. Do you feel, Christians, how just are the complaints which your God here makes? and how your indifference for all his love is an insult? He calls heaven and earth to witness; he utters anathema against the sinful nation, his ungrateful children[…]
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