Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve in the Rome of Old



From the Blessed Cardinal Schuster's Liber Sacramentorum:

According to the ancient Ordines Romani, two vigiliary offices were sung to-day by the papal choir, as was usual on the most solemn feasts of the yearly cycle. In the first, three psalms were recited with five lessons and as many responsories. In the fourth of these the Jews were reproved because they would not acknowledge the Messiah, now about to be born, and in the corresponding responsory were sung the famous Sibylline verses, Judicii signum, tellus sudore madescit, so that even the pagan muse might rebuke that obstinate people for their unfaithfulness to God. After None, the Pope, surrounded by the high officials of his Court, celebrated the stational Mass at St Mary Major, followed by the Supper provided by the Bishop of Albano, to which the Pontiff him­self sat down, together with the accompanying prelates. After this Vespers were sung, but as the vigils were to begin again at midnight, the Pope, instead of returning to the Lateran, arranged to spend the first part of the evening in the Liberian Palace, not, however, before he had with his own hands administered a cup of wine to each of the clergy, including the youthful singers of the Lateran schola.

In quite recent times Pius IX used to go to St Mary Major on the evening of the Christmas vigil, and there begin the first Mass early, so as to be in time to return to the Quirinal before the hour should have struck at which the ecclesiastical fast commenced preparatory to the following day's Com­munion. Unlike the other vigils, in which the penitential character and a sense of sadness predominate, that of Christmas, like the rest of Advent, is full of vivacity and holy joy. This is fully in accordance with the nature of the heart of man. After so long a period of anxious and painful expectation the sudden news of our approaching deliverance lightens the heart, while a common joy unites us and makes us forget for a moment the hard conditions of our life here below. We feel that we are all brothers, the sons of one Father; we are born again with the Christ-Child to the beauteous simplicity of a holy and spiritual infancy, and are brought back again by love to the perfect happiness of un­fallen man in paradise.