Patristic Lectionary—24 December 2020, Vigil of the Nativity of Our Lord

[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from Durham University’s two-year lectionary for the Divine Office that draws mostly from patristic writings.  The lectionary was initially edited by Stephen Mark Holmes (University of Edinburgh School of Divinity) and subsequently re-edited and formatted by Michele Freyhauf (Durham University).  Click here for the link to the lectionary.]

Patristic Lectionary—24 December 2020, Vigil of the Nativity of Our Lord

[The image is of Our Lady of Walsingham.  Medieval England added an eighth O Antiphon, O Virgo Virginum.  The seven-letter acrostic of the traditional O Antiphons, Ero cras (“Tomorrow I come”), thus became an eight-letter acrostic, Vero cras (“Truth tomorrow” or “Truly tomorrow”).  “O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be? / For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after. / Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me? / The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.”]

Isaiah 44:1-8, 21-23

Promises of Redemption

“But now hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen! Thus says the LORD who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring. They shall spring up like grass amid waters, like willows by flowing streams. This one will say, ‘I am the LORD’s’, another will call himself by the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, ‘The LORD’s’, and surname himself by the name of Israel.”

Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me? Let him proclaim it, let him declare and set it forth before me. Who has announced from of old the things to come? Let them tell us what is yet to be. Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”

Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you, you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.

Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the LORD has redeemed Jacob and will be glorified in Israel.

St. Ambrose

Expositio psalmi CXVIII, 12, 13-15 (Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum 62, 258-260)

The divine Word, coming and knocking at the door of our soul, challenges our indolence and rouses us from slumber. His desire is always to enter and make his home with us. It is our own fault, therefore, if he does not always do so, or if, having once entered, he does not always stay with us.

Let your door stand open to receive him, unlock your soul to him, lay bare the hidden recesses of your mind. Show him the coffers of innocence, the treasure house of peace; let him see how beautiful his grace has made you. Throw wide the gate of your heart, run toward the sun whose unfailing light shines on every man. That true light shines for everyone, but those who close their windows deprive themselves of its eternal radiance. If you shut the door of your mind you shut out Christ. Though he has the power to enter, he does not care to burst in uninvited or to force himself upon us against our will.

Born of a virgin, Christ came forth from the womb to shed his light over the whole world, so that everything might be illumined by his rays. His light is received by all who long to see the splendour of that everlasting glory which no darkness can ever dim. Here, the sun of our daily experience is succeeded by the darkness of night; but the sun of holiness knows no setting since wisdom can never give place to evil.

Blessed is the soul at whose door Christ stands and knocks. Our door is faith; if faith is strong enough, the whole house is safe. That is the door by which Christ enters. Let us be alert, then, otherwise the Bridegroom may come and find himself shut out, and so take his departure. But if your heart is watchful, he will knock and ask you to open your door to him.

Our soul has its door, our soul has its gates – gates of which Scripture says: Swing back your gates, captains of the guard; swing back, everlasting gates! Let the King of glory enter! Heaven must surely lie within those souls whose gates are everlasting. If you will swing back the gates of your faith, the King of glory will enter your house in triumphal procession, bearing the insignia of his own passion.

Holiness too has its gates. We find in Scripture those words that the Lord Jesus spoke through his prophet: Open for me the gates of holiness, and that other text: Praise the Lord, Jerusalem; Zion, praise your God, for he has strengthened the bars of your gates.

It is the soul, therefore, that has its door, its gates, and to this door and these gates Christ comes and knocks. Open up to him; his desire is to enter, to find his bride watching and waiting for his coming.

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