Wednesday, December 18, 2002

The Feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The 18th of December was an ancient feast in honour of Our Lady's pregnancy. It does not appear to have ever been universal in the Roman Rite but it was very widespread. This is Gueranger's description of the feast:

(from Dom Gueranger’s “The Liturgical Year”, vol. I)

“This feast, which is now kept not only throughout the whole of Spain but in many other parts of the Catholic world, owes its origin to the bishops of the tenth Council of Toledo, in 656. These prelates thought that there was an incongruity in the ancient practice of celebrating the feast of the Annunciation on the 25th of March, inasmuch as this joyful solemnity frequently occurs at the time when the Church is intent upon the Passion of our Lord, so that it is sometimes obliged to be transferred into Easter time, with which it is out of harmony for another reason; they therefore decreed that, henceforth, in the Church of Spain there should be kept eight days before Christmas a solemn feast with an octave in honour of the Annunciation, and as a preparation for the great solemnity of our Lord’s Nativity. In course of time, however, the Church of Spain saw the necessity of returning to the practice of the Church of Rome, and of those of the whole world, which solemnize the 25th of March as the day of our Lady’s Annunciation and the Incarnation of the Son of God. But such had been, for ages, the devotion of the people for the feast of the eighteenth of December, that it was considered requisite to maintain some vestige of it. They discontinued, therefore, to celebrate the Annunciation on this day; but the faithful were requested to consider, with devotion, what must have been the sentiments of the holy Mother of God during the days immediately preceding her giving Him birth. A new feast was instituted, under the name of ‘the Expectation of the blessed Virgin’s delivery’.

“This feast, which sometimes goes under the name of ‘Our Lady of O’, or the ‘feast of O’, on account of the great antiphons which are sung during these days, and in a special manner, of that which begins ‘O Virgo virginum’ (which is still used in the Vespers of the Expectation, together with the O Adonai, the antiphon of the Advent Office), is kept with great devotion in Spain. A High Mass is sung at a very early hour each morning during the octave, at which all who are with child, whether rich or poor, consider it a duty to assist, that they may thus honour our Lady’s Maternity, and beg for her blessing upon themselves. . . .We find that the Church of Milan, long before Rome conceded this feast to the various dioceses of Christendom, celebrated the Office of our Lady’s Annunciation on the sixth and last Sunday of Advent, and called the whole week following the ‘Hebdomada de Exceptato’ (for thus the popular expression had corrupted the word ‘Expectato’). . . .”

The Great Antiphon to Our Lady

“O Virgo Virginum, quomodo
fiet istud? quia nec primam
similem visa es, nec habere
sequentem. Filiae Jerusalem,
quid me admiramini? Divinum
est mysterium hoc quod cernitis.”

“O Virgin of virgins! How shall
this be? for never was there one
like thee, nor will there ever be.
Ye daughters of Jerusalem, why
look ye wondering at me? What
ye behold, is a divine mystery.”