Station for Christmas Eve is at St. Mary Major in Rome with a Privileged Vigil of the First Class. It was only when Our Lord’s nativity was celebrated with increasing solemnity that a special Mass was said on this vigil. The Church, contrary to her general practice, prescribes, that if Christmas Eve fall on a Sunday, the fasting alone should be anticipated on the Saturday; but that the Office and Mass of the Vigil should take precedence of the Office and Mass of the fourth Sunday of Advent. How solemn, then, in the eyes of the Church, are these few hours which separate us from the great Feast! On all other Feasts, no matter how great they may be, the solemnity begins with first Vespers, and until then the Church restrains her joy, and celebrates the Divine Office and Sacrifice according to the Lenten rite. Christmas, on the contrary, seems to begin with the Vigil; and one would suppose that this morning’s Lauds were the opening of the Feast; for the solemn intonation of this portion of the Office is that of a Double, and the Antiphons are sung before and after each Psalm or Canticle. The purple Vestments are used at the Mass, but all the genuflexions peculiar to the Advent Ferias are omitted; and only one Collect is said, instead of three, which always denote that the Mass is not that of a solemnity. Let us enter into the spirit of the Church, and prepare ourselves, in all the joy of our hearts, to meet the Saviour who is coming to us. Let us observe with strictness the fast which is prescribed; it will enable our bodies to aid the promptness of our spirit. Let us delight in the thought, that before we again lay down to rest, we shall have seen Him born, in the solemn mid-night, who comes to give light to every creature. For, surely, it is the duty of every faithful this happy Night, when, in spite of all the coldness of devotion, the whole universe keeps up its watch for the arrival of its Saviour. It is one of the last vestiges of the piety of ancient days, and God forbid it should ever be effaced!
First, then, the Church makes a mysterious Announcement to her children. It serves, as the Invitatory of Matins, and as the Introit and Gradual of the Mass. They are the words which Moses addressed to the people of God, when he told them of the heavenly Manna, which they would receive on the morrow. We, too, are expecting our Manna, our Jesus, the Bread of life, who is to be born in Bethlehem, which is the House of Bread. The Responsories are full of sublimity and sweetness. Nothing can be more affecting than their lyric melody, sung to us by our Mother the Church, on the very night which precedes the night of Jesus’ Birth.
At the Office of Prime, in Cathedral Chapters and Monasteries, the announcement of to-morrow’s Feast is made with unusual solemnity. The Lector, who frequently is one of the dignitaries of the Choir, sings, to a magnificent chant, the following Lesson from the Martyrology. All the assistants remain standing during it, until the Lector comes to the word Bethlehem at which all genuflect, and continue in that posture until all the glad Tidings are told:
The year from the creation of the world, when in the be ginning God created heaven and earth, five thousand one hundred and ninety-nine: from the deluge, the year two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seven: from the birth of Abraham, the year two thousand and fifteen: from Moses and the going out of the people of Israel from Egypt, the year one thousand five hundred and ten: from David’s being anointed King, the year one thousand and thirty-two: in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel: in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad: from the building of the city of Rome, the year seven hundred and fifty-two: in the forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus: the whole world being in peace: in the sixth age of the world: Jesus Christ, the eternal God, and Son of the eternal Father, wishing to consecrate this world by his most merciful coming, being conceived of the Holy Ghost, and nine months since his conception having passed, in Bethlehem of Juda is born of the Virgin Mary, being made man: THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO THE FLESH.
INTROIT Exodus 16: 6, 7
This day you shall know that the Lord will come, and save us: and in the morning you shall see His glory. (Ps. 23: 1) The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world, and all they that dwell therein. v. Glory be to the Father…
O God, Who dost gladden us year by year with the expectation of our redemption, grant that we, who now with joy receive Thine only begotten Son as our Redeemer, may behold Him also without fear, when He cometh as our judge, our Lord Jesus Christ. Who with Thee livest and reignest, in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
world without end. R. Amen.
Commemoration of Sunday Advent IV
Lord, we beseech Thee, stir up Thy power, and come, and with great might succor us: that by the help of Thy grace that which is hindered by our sins may be hastened by Thy merciful forgiveness. Who livest and reignest, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God., Forever and ever. R. Amen.
EPISTLE Romans 1: 1-6
Lesson from the Epistle of Blessed Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, which He had promised before by His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, Who was made to Him of the seed of David according to the flesh, Who was predestinated the Son of God in power, according to the spirit of sanctification, by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead: by Whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith, in all nations, for His name, among whom are you also the called of Jesus Christ.
GRADUAL/ALLELUIA Exodus 16: 6, 7
This day you shall know that the Lord will come, and save us; and in the morning you shall see His glory. V. (Ps. 79: 2, 3) Give ear, O Thou that rulest Israel: Thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep; Thou that sittest upon the cherubim, appear before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasses.
V. To-morrow the sins of the earth shall be cancelled, and the Saviour of the world Alleluia. shall reign over us. Alleluia.
GOSPEL Matthew 1: 18-21
When Mary, the mother of Jesus, was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost. Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately. But while he thought on these things, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to him in his sleep, saying: Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call His name Jesus. For He shall save His people from their sins.
OFFERTORY ANTIPHON Psalm 23: 7
Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lifted up, O eternal gates: and the King of glory shall enter in.
Grant us, we beseech Thee, O almighty God, that, as in anticipation we come to celebrate the adorable birthday of Thy Son, so we may joyously lay hold upon His everlasting rewards. Who with Thee livest and reignest, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. R. Amen.
Commemoration of Sunday Advent IV
O Lord, we beseech Thee, look down favorably upon these present Sacrifices: that they may profit us both unto devotion and salvation. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God Forever and ever. R. Amen.
PREFACE of the Most Holy Trinity
It is truly meet and just, right and for our salvation, that we should at all times and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, ever-lasting God: Who, together with Thine only-begotten Son, and the Holy Ghost, are one God, one Lord: not in the oneness of a single Person, but in the Trinity of one substance. For what we believe by Thy revelation of Thy glory, the same do we believe of Thy Son, the same of the Holy Ghost, without difference or separation. So that in confessing the true and everlasting Godhead, distinction in persons, unity in essence, and equality in majesty may be adored. Which the Angels and Archangels, the Cherubim also and Seraphim do praise: who cease not daily to cry out with one voice saying:
COMMUNION ANTIPHON Isaias 40: 5
The glory of the Lord shall be revealed; and all flesh shall see the salvation of our God.
Grant us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that we may begin a new life with this festival of the Nativity of Thine only begotten Son, Who, in these mysteries, feeds us with the meat and drink of that life which is eternal. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, Who livest and reignest, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God world without end. R. Amen.
Commemoration of Sunday Advent IV
Having received Thy gifts, we beseech Thee, O Lord: that as we frequent this Mystery, so the work of our salvation may advance. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God For ever and ever. R. Amen.