On Prayer – St. Francis De Sales

St. Bernard–whose memory is dear to those who have to speak on prayer–in
writing to a bishop, advised him that all that was necessary for him was to
speak well (meaning to instruct, to discourse); then to do well in giving
good example; and finally, to devote himself to prayer. And we, addressing
this to all Christians, shall dwell upon the third point, which is prayer.

First, let us remark in passing that, although we condemn certain heretics
of our time who hold that prayer is useless, we nevertheless do not hold
with other heretics that it alone suffices for our justification. We say
simply that it is so useful and necessary that without it we could not come
to any good, seeing that by means of prayer we are shown how to perform all
our actions well. I have therefore consented to the desire which urges me
to speak of prayer, even though it is not my intention to explain every
aspect of it because we learn it more by experience than by being taught.
Moreover, it matters little to know the kind of prayer. Actually, I would
prefer that you never ask the name or the kind of prayer you are
experiencing because, as St. Antony says, that prayer is imperfect in which
one is aware that one is praying. Also, prayer which one makes without
knowing how one is doing it, and without reflecting on what one is asking
for, shows clearly that such a soul is very much occupied with God and
that, consequently, this prayer is excellent.

We shall treat, then, on the following four Sundays, of the final cause of
prayer; of its efficient cause; of that which properly should not be called
the “material cause,” but rather the “object” of prayer; and of the
effective cause of prayer itself. For now, I shall speak only of its final
cause. But before entering upon the subject of prayer, I must say three or
four little things that it is well to know.

Four operations pertain to our understanding: simple thought, study,
meditation, and contemplation. Simple thought occurs when we go running
over a great number of things, without any aim, as do flies that rest upon
flowers, not seeking to extract any juice from them, but resting there only
because they happen upon them. So it is with our understanding, passing
from one thought to another. Even if these thoughts be of God, if they have
no aim, far from being profitable, they are useless and detrimental and are
a great obstacle to prayer.

Another operation of our understanding is study, and this takes place when
we consider things only to know them, to understand them thoroughly or to
be able to speak correctly of them, without having any other object than to
fill our memory. In this we resemble beetles which settle upon the roses
for no other end than to fill their stomachs and satiate themselves. Now,
of these two operations of our understanding we shall speak no more,
because they are not to our purpose.

Let us come to meditation. To know what meditation is, it is necessary to
understand the words of King Hezekiah when the sentence of death was
pronounced upon him, which was afterward revoked on account of his
repentance. “I utter shrill cries,” he said, “like a swallow,” and “I moan
like a dove,”‘ in the height of my sorrow. [Cf. Is. 38:14]. He meant to
say: When the young swallow is all alone and its mother has gone in search
of the herb called “celandine” in order to help it recover its sight, it
cries, it pips, since it does not feel its mother near and because it does
not see at all. So I, having lost my mother, which is grace, and seeing no
one come to my aid, “I utter shrill cries.” But he adds, “I moan like a
dove.” We must know that all birds are accustomed to open their beaks when
they sing or chirp, except the dove, who makes her little song or cooing
sound whilst holding her breath and it is through the movement up and down
which she makes of it, without letting it escape, that she produces her
song. In like manner, meditation is made when we fix our understanding on a
mystery from which we mean to draw good affections, for if we did not have
this intention it would no longer be meditation, but study. Meditation is
made, then, to move the affections, and particularly that of love. Indeed,
meditation is the mother of the love of God and contemplation is the
daughter of the love of God.

But between meditation and contemplation there is the petition which is
made when, after having considered the goodness of Our Lord, His infinite
love, His omnipotence, we become confident enough to ask for and entreat
Him to give us what we desire. Now there are three kinds of petition, each
of which is made differently: The first is made by justice, the second is
made by authority, and the third is made by grace.

The petition which is made by justice cannot be called “prayer,” although
we use this word, because in a petition of justice we ask for a thing which
is due to us. A petition which is made by authority ought not be called
“prayer” either; for as soon as someone who has great authority over
us–such as a parent, a lord or a master–uses the word “please,”2 we say
immediately to him, “You can command,” or “Your ‘please’ serves as my
command.” But true prayer is that which is made by grace, i.e., when we ask
for something which is not due to us at all, and when we ask it of someone
who is far superior to us, as God is.

The fourth operation of our understanding is contemplation, which is
nothing other than taking delight in the goodness of Him whom we have
learned to know in meditation and whom we have learned to love by means of
this knowledge. This delight will be our happiness in Heaven above.

We must now speak of the final cause [that is, the goal] of prayer. We
ought to know in the first place that all things have been created for
prayer, and that when God created angels and men, He did so that they might
praise Him eternally in Heaven above, even though this is the last thing
that we shall do–if that can be called “last” which is eternal. To
understand this better we will say this: When we wish to make something we
always look first to the end [or purpose], rather than to the work itself.
For example, if we are to build a church and we are asked why we are
building it, we will respond that it is so that we can retire there and
sing the praises of God; nevertheless, this will be the last thing that we
shall do. Another example: If you enter the apartment of a prince, you will
see there an aviary of several little birds which are in a brightly colored
and highly embellished cage. And if you want to know the end for which they
have been placed there, it is to give pleasure to their master. If you look
into another place, you will see there sparrow hawks, falcons and such
birds of prey which have been hooded; these latter are for catching the
partridge and other birds to delicately nourish the prince. But God, who is
in no way carnivorous, does not keep birds of prey, but only the little
birds which are enclosed in the aviary and destined to please Him. These
little birds represent monks and nuns who have voluntarily enclosed
themselves in monasteries that they may chant the praises of their God. So
their principal exercise ought to be prayer and obedience to that saying
which Our Lord gives in the Gospel: “Pray always.” [Lk. 18:1].

The early Christians who had been trained by St. Mark the Evangelist were
so assiduous in prayer that many of the ancient Fathers called them
“suppliants,” and others named them “physicians,” because by means of
prayer they found the remedy for all their ills. They also named them
“monks,” because they were so united; indeed, the name “monk” means
“single.” Pagan philosophers said that man is an uprooted tree, from which
we can conclude how necessary prayer is for man, since if a tree does not
have sufficient earth to cover its roots it cannot live; neither can a man
live who does not give special attention to heavenly things. Now prayer,
according to most of the Fathers, is nothing other than a raising of the
mind to heavenly things; others say that it is a petition; but the two
opinions are not at all opposed, for while raising our mind to God, we can
ask Him for what seems necessary.

The principal petition which we ought to make to God is that of union of
our wills with His, and the final cause of prayer lies in desiring only
God. Accordingly, all perfection is contained therein, as Brother Giles,
the companion of St. Francis [of Assisi], said when a certain person asked
him what he could do in order to be perfect very soon. “Give,” he replied,
“one to One.” That is to say, you have only one soul, and there is only one
God; give your soul to Him and He will give Himself to you. The final cause
of prayer, then, ought not to be to desire those tendernesses and
consolations which Our Lord sometimes gives, since union does not consist
in that, but rather in conforming to the will of God.

A Very Devout Contemplation – St. Vincent Ferrerr

Every Christian ought to believe what the Master, Jesus, on Holy Thursday ordained and instituted the holy sacrament of the Mass, to the holy apostles present, and he commanded them that they were to do the same with great reverence and perpetual memorial, according to what St. Luke says (Lk 22:19), and St. Paul to the Corinthians: “Do this in memory of me,” (1 Cor 11:24)

Namely: you should want to recall and remember devoutly, by hearing Mass, the entire blessed life of Jesus Christ. For this reason the priest, when elevating the chalice, says: “As often as you shall do these actions, do this in memory of Me.” He does not say: “In memory of my passion,” but “in my memory,” signifying that the Mass comprehends not only the sacred death of Jesus Christ, but also, quietly [tacite] his blessed life, beginning from his incarnation up to the holy Ascension.

Someone might say: This command was given and imposed only to priests and not to laypeople. I reply that this command was also given to the laity. To the priests it was ordained that they remember the holy life of Jesus Christ by devoutly celebrating Mass, to the laity however by devoutly hearing, attentively listening and contemplating.

And I find that the Son of God, descending from heaven and assuming human flesh in the virginal womb of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, up to the day on which he ascended to heaven did thirty principal deeds which is comprehended and reprised in the Mass. And they are the following.

1. The first work which our Master and Savior Jesus Christ, did for us in this world, was his sublime and wonderful incarnation, when descending from heaven he placed himself in the bosom of the Virgin Mary, by which he put on our vesture, that is our humanity; for the divinity was hidden under the humanity. And this wonderful work is symbolized and represented in the Solemn Mass, when the priest enters the sacristy, signifying the entry of the Son of God into the bosom of the Virgin Mary, where he was clothed with our humanity.

Here the devout Christian ought to contemplate three things: first, that just as in the sacristy there are relics, jewels, and other ecclesiastical decorations, so in this glorious sacristy, that is in the Virginal womb, there were relics, namely the power of God the Father working, wisdom and the person of God the Son incarnating himself and the grace of the Holy Spirit informing. There were jewels namely grace and virtues, for in the Virgin Mary dwells the fullness of grace and virtues; and ornaments with which our high priest is about to celebrate Mass, on Good Friday, on the altar of the True Cross, in the sacred and sanctified body of Jesus Christ, from the purest and most chaste blood of the Virgin Mary formed and incarnated.

Second is that when the priest is vested in the sacristy, no lay person sees him; but they believe that he is vested and the hope that he will come forward shortly. For which it must be noted that when our high priest Jesus Christ vested himself in the virginal womb of the Virgin Mary, no one from the Jewish people saw him or knew him; in the same way that his Incarnation was hidden and kept secret, the believers however believed and hoped that he would vest himself, that is be incarnated and born of the Virgin, just as it had been prophesied by many prophets.

Third is that the priest in the sacristy puts on seven vestments. Namely the cassock, if he is a simple priest — a rochet if is he is a bishop, a scapular if he is a monk;– amice, alb, cincture, maniple, stole and chasuble. So, our great high priest vested himself in the womb of the Virgin Mary, who is called a sacristy, seven vestments, namely the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, by which the most sacred Body of Jesus Christ is vested and dressed, (Isaiah 11:2-3) This is the first work in the symbolism of the Mass.

2. The second work which our Savior Jesus did was when on the night of his birth day, God and man he came out from the virginal womb and revealed himself to the whole world, ant the night, which had been dark, is illuminated like the day. And he wished to be born before Joseph and Mary, and placed in the middle of two animals, the ass and the ox. And a multitude of angels were singing: “Glory to God in the highest!” And the shepherds worshiped.

Secretly he remained in the glorious sacristy, that is in the Virgin Mary, after his birth, openly and publicly he declared himself. This is symbolized when the priest comes out from the sacristy. The Deacon represents the Virgin Mary, the Sub-deacon, St. Joseph, two acolytes the ox and the ass. The light which they carry signifies the brightness which showed forth at the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. Priests who with candles and with a loud voice sing “Glory to the Father…” when the priest goes out from the sacristy, they represent the multitude of angels singing: “Glory is given to God, etc.” The cymbals sound and the bells ring, which signifies the great joy of the shepherds when they were celebrating with the sound of flutes [tibiarum] the birth of our Savior and high priest. When he exits from the sacristy, dressed in gleaming vestments, the priest symbolizes the purity of Jesus Christ who pure and shining remained without the stain of sin.

3. The third wonderful work which Jesus Christ did was when on the eight day after his nativity he willed to be circumcised. For original sin circumcision happened, for which in no way was Jesus Christ obliged, since he was without any stain of sin, but accepting it he taught us a great example of humility, wishing to appear a sinner and in the likeness of sin.

And this the priest symbolizes when making a profound bow he confesses that he is a sinner, saying: “I confess to almighty God, ” etc. Although the priest be sacramentally absolved, he is nevertheless bound to declare himself a sinner, even if he were holier than John the Baptist; for demonstrating and signifying that Jesus Christ, who is the beginning and fullness of all sanctity and perfection, wished to appear a sinner, subjecting himself to the law of circumcision, so that he might put an end to it and complete it; or signifying the mystical body of the Church and all of mankind.

4. The fourth work which he did was when he summoned the three kings form the East, led by a star, which led them up to the manger of the ox and ass, in the middle of which they adored and confessed him to be God and Lord of the universe, offering him gold, frankincense and myrrh.

This is symbolized when the priest, after the confession, ascends the altar and kisses it, profoundly bowing his head saying,: ” Take away from us, O Lord, we beseech You, all our iniquities that we may enter with pure minds into the Holy of Holies,”(1) and just as three kings brought three gifts, the priest offers, by bowing himself, the incense of devout prayer, the gold of adoration with great reverence, and the bitter myrrh, signing himself with the sign of the Holy Cross in memory of the sorrowful and bitter passion of Jesus Christ.

5. The fifth work which Jesus Christ did in this world, was when he wished to be presented in the temple. His glorious mother brought him there and presented him, and there were present Simenon and that holy widow, Anna, praising God.

This the priest symbolizes when he comes to the side of the altar, receives the missal and reads the Entrance Antiphon [Introit] of the Mass. The Deacon and Sub-deacon and assistant symbolize the glorious Simeon and the prophetess Anna. The Acolytes and the others, who should not approach the altar, symbolize the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, and the other ancients and parents, who were standing at a distance hearing and devoutly paying attention. Truly the virgin Mary was entirely worthy that she would approach the altar, but she chose not to, to give an example to the laity who also as holy and justified, ought not ascend to the altar unless because of an urgent necessity, otherwise not without sin.[non sine damno.] When the holy man Simeon received the glorious Son of God, he sang four verses (Lk 2:29-32), signifying the four actions which the priest does; namely, the reading of the Introit; Kyrie eleison, which is the same as imploring the mercy of God the Father for himself and others, the Glory to God, and the Prayer.

6. The sixth work which Our Lord Jesus Christ did in this world, was when he fled from the promised land to the land of Egypt, yielding the place to the fury of Herod. And here he remained with his glorious mother and St. Joseph for seven years.

And this is represented in a solemn Mass when the Sub-deacon with one acolyte goes to read the Epistle, the priest remaining at the altar with another and a Deacon; and then the take themselves from the altar, and are seated; and sitting, they do seven things, which represents the seven years when Jesus Christ remained in Egypt: First, the epistle is read, second the Responsory, third the Alleluia (a Hebrew word which means “We praise God,” fourth, a sequence [prosa]; fifth a blessing is given to the Deacon, — he performs the last act standing, signifying that in the seventh year Jesus Christ returned to his own land.

7. The seventh work which he did in this world, was when, having returned from Egypt into the promised land after the death of Herod, led by his Mother and St. Joseph into the temple of Jerusalem, and there he stayed. And on the third day, his Mother and Joseph discovered him in the middle of the teachers, listening to them and asking questions.

And this represents the priest, when rising from his seat, goes to the altar and with devout attention listens to the singing of the Gospel, signifying that in the temple Jesus Christ listened to the Jews and he having been questioned prudently was instructing them in the faith of the Messiah. And so, the gospel ended, the priest intones the Credo, “I believe in one God.”

8. The eighth work which our Savior Jesus Christ did in this world, was that when he was found by his mother and St. Joseph in the temple, so much was their joy that they were not able to keep from tears; which Jesus Christ seeing, out of humility and love,, left the teachers and came with them to Nazareth where, that he might console them of the sadness which they had had at his omission, he served them, according to the gospel which says: “He was subject to them,” (Lk 2:51).

And this humble service the priest symbolizes when, having said the Creed, he turns himself to the people saying, The Lord be with you; and then he arranges [disponit] the host and chalice, and the other things pertaining to the holy sacrifice, in symbolizing the deference of Jesus Christ toward the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph; as it is said by St. Paul and St. Matthew ch. 20, ” the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister,” (Mt 20:28)

9. The ninth work which he did in this world was when thirty years old, he left Nazareth where he was serving his mother and St. Joseph, and in many ways: for with the other boys he used to go to the spring, which was a long way from Nazareth just as the monastery of the Çaydia is from the town of Valencia. Of this service the Master of Church History (Peter Comestor, 1178) makes explicit mention. Also he would help St. Joseph in his carpentry work, just as Matthew says in ch. 13:55, and Mark ch. 6:3, and according to the Gloss, by St. Nicholas of Lyra in these gospels. And after he had completed thirty years, he left them and went to the Jordan River, and received baptism which baptism indeed was not necessary for him, but he accepted it so that through contact with his sacred body there might be communicated to the water the regenerative power for saving those believing and obeying him.

And this the priest symbolizes when he washes his fingers, not because of necessity, since he is pure in conscience through sacramental confession, and clean by a natural bath, but to commemorate the testimony of humility which Jesus Christ gave wishing to be baptized.

10. The tenth work which our Savior did in this world was, according to Luke, Mark and Matthew, that after the baptism he went into the desert and fasted forty days and forty nights, neither eating nor drinking, but the whole time staying in prayer, not praying for himself but for us.

And this is symbolized when the priest at the middle of the altar bows profoundly and says, “In a spirit of humility…,”(2) praying that in the Holy Sacrifice, we might become a sacrifice [hostia] which is pleasing to the Lord our God. This prayer commemorates the prostrations and humiliations which the Savior was doing in the desert, praying and beseeching. The priest however turns himself around to the people saying: “Pray brethren…,” for me that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable before God. And those attending then should say, “The Holy Spirit come over you, etc…” (3)Note that the prayer of Jesus Christ in the desert was secret; so in this step, the priest prays secretly so that not even the deacon nor the Sub-deacon can hear.

11. The eleventh work which Jesus the Savior did was that after he had fasted he began to preach, crying out: “Do penance, and the kingdom of God is at hand.”

And the priest symbolizes this by saying, in a loud voice, “Lift up your hearts.”(4) By teaching us that Jesus Christ taught both by mouth and by example. And so as he sings the Preface he holds his hands up, and not down. [elevatas et not demissas.]

12. The twelfth work which Jesus Christ did in this world was that not only was he teaching by word and deed, but he confirmed his sacred teachings with miracles. For only God can work such things, namely raise the dead, give sight to the blind, heal the paralytics.

And this the priest commemorates when three times he says, “Holy,” denoting that Jesus Christ worked miracles not through his human power, but in virtue of the three divine persons, Father and Son and the Holy Spirit, of one all powerful God. Finally he says: “Hosanna,” that is “Saving,” to demonstrate that Christ worked miracles so that he might save us.(5)

13. The thirteenth work which he did in this world was when after he had preached and worked many miracles, at thirty-three years of age, he came to Jerusalem so that he might dine with his disciples. And secretly many things were necessary for the redemption of mankind, especially two, namely the institution of the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar and the great sermon which is prolonged in St. John , from chapter thirteen to seventeen.

And this is symbolized when the priest quietly reads the Canon, only the deacon hearing, just as only the apostles heard the sermon of Christ.

14. The fourteenth work was when, these two thing done, he entered into the garden [to] Jericho, and there offered three prayers, demonstrating that in so far as man he prayed to God the Father for three conditions of persons, namely for the holy fathers who were in purgatory, for those present in the world at that time, and for those in the future. After the third prayer he sweat blood, warning that those who were to come, with special fervor ought to pray because of the great dangers and trials which shortly will come upon them and which they will not be able to overcome unless by fervid prayers and in the strength of patience.

The priest symbolizes these three prayers by making three signs of the cross over the chalice, saying, “Blessed, ascribed, ratified…” and finally two other crosses, of which one over the chalice saying “And of the blood,” that we might know that in his Passion he prayed for himself insofar as he was a man, and for us sinners.(6)

15. The fifteenth work was when after the aforesaid prayer a great multitude of people, came forward with a great clamor, with swords and clubs, to seize Jesus. And he calmly [benevolenter] was willing to be seized and bound and led before Pilate who sentenced him to death on the cross: from which sentence he wished not to appeal, but gently assumed and carried his blessed cross.

And this is represented in the Mass when the priest takes the host for consecrating it, which he holds in his hands, saying, “And lifting up his eyes to heaven,” etc.(7) And then there is a great sounding of bells and of the bell wheel [rotae](8) signifying the tumult and sounds of the Jews when they arrested Jesus. Then the priest makes the sign of the cross over the host saying: “Bless and break,” etc.signifying the sentence of death passed by Pilate.

16. The sixteenth work was when, sentenced to death, Jesus Christ was led to death on Calvary and there he was crucified between two thieves, one on his right who is called Dismas, the other on the left named Gestas.

And this is signified when the priest elevates the host in which is Christ, God and man and he holds it with both hands. The right signifies the good thief, the left the bad. After this he elevates the chalice, signifying that Jesus Christ on the cross offered and sacrificed his precious blood to God the Father for the redemption of mankind. For which reason the priest elevating the precious blood, ought to say to himself, “We offer to you Lord the inestimable price of our redemption.”

17. The seventeenth work which Jesus Christ did was that, when he was crucified, he did not cease praying. And first he said in a loud voice, “Eli! Eli! Lama sabachtani.” – My God My God why have you abandoned me!” To which words St. Jerome adds: “Look on me.:” And he continued prayer up to the verse: “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” And there were 150 versicles (syllables?) Christ in the Cross said as many syllables as there are psalms, 150.

And while he was on the cross the wicked Jews did not cease laying on him injuries and curses, and others, saying, “Vah, you who destroy the temple of God, etc.,” (Mt 27:40). Others: ” If you be the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Others finally, “He saved others; himself he cannot save,” (v. 42). And the Lord calmly did not reply, but continued in prayer with great patience.

And this the priest symbolizes when holding his arms extended in the form of a cross, he prays saying, “Mindful, therefore, Lord, we, Your ministers,,” etc.(9)

18. The eighteenth work which Jesus Christ did in this world was when although already wounded with four wounds, namely in his hands and feet, nevertheless he wished, after his death to be pierced with a lance in his sacred side, whence flowed out blood and water. Which miraculously happened, contrary to nature, for all his blood had already been poured out, first in the scourging, then in the crowning of thorns, and in the nailing of his hands and feet.

And these five principal wounds are signified, when the priest makes the sign of the cross five times over the host and precious Blood saying, “Through him, and with him, etc.”(10)

19. The nineteenth work was when Christ crucified, crying out said the seven [last] words, which is commemorated when the priest recites the Our Father, in which seven petitions are contained. And indeed he does not say it secretly, but singing, just as Christ on the cross spoke out with a loud voice.

20. The twentieth work was, that Christ wanted his most sacred humanity to be divided in three parts; namely, the body on the cross, the blood shed in the tortures, and the soul which descended to hell to the holy fathers.

And this is represented in the Mass, when the priest divides the host in three parts. It must be noted however that he holds them together, because, even though the most holy humanity of Christ had been divided, never was the Divinity separated from it; moreover its was united to each part, as St. Paul says: “What he assumed once, he never divided,” [?]. It is similar to when a fragment of crystal is exposed to the sun, and then it is smashed into many more fragments, the sun lights up each part in the same way that it lights up the whole crystal; so each part of the humanity of Christ personally and substantially was filled with Divinity, just as the fragment of crystal is filled with the sun.

21. The twenty-first work which Christ performed was when he converted the many kinds of persons, wishing to show the fruit of his passion. And first, he converted the thief, a man of bad life and wicked deeds; second, a centurion, a leader of soldiers who said, “Indeed this man was the son of God,” (Mk 15:39); and third, ordinary people, according to which St. Luke said “And all the multitude of them …saw the things that were done,” namely the miracles which happened, “returned striking their breasts,” (Lk 23:48).

These various persons are symbolized in the Mass when the priest three times says “Lamb of God,”(11) first for every sinner, signifying that the Lord Our God wishes to spare him just as he spared the thief, second signifying that just as Jesus Christ illuminated the centurion, so the governors of the people, whether spiritual or temporal he desires to illuminate them, and to pardon them. And just as souls moved by the passion of Christ come to salvation, so the priest, saying the third Lamb of God, asks on behalf of the whole Christian people, that the Lord deign to keep them in peace and in health, to pardon the sins of each, and to make them worthy participants of his holy grace.

22. The twenty-second work which Christ does in this world, was that after his holy passion he did not immediately ascend into heaven, but through his most profound humanity wished first to descend secretly to hell, that he might give glory to the holy fathers, awaiting with great expectation. At the moment they saw him, they were filled with great exultation, enjoying essential glory, now and forever free from any pain.

And this the priest prefigures when he puts a particle of the Host into the chalice to denote how the soul of Christ descending to hell, so rejoiced the holy fathers and confirmed them, that they hardly knew what happened to them in experiencing such a fullness of happiness. And from that sweetness and love they praised God saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; because he hath visited and wrought the redemption of his people,” (Lk 1:68).

23. The twenty-third work which Jesus Christ did in this world, was when after his painful death, he willed and ordered his body to be taken down from the cross by his friends, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and Gamaliel, having received permission from Pilate, and they laid him to rest behind a large stone, which today still can be seen in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. And then the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalen and the other devout persons let out great cries of grief.

And this is represented in the Mass when the priest, having given the sign of peace, (12) for a short period of time during which he held the body of Christ in his hands, ought to think of the sorrow of the Virgin Mary and of the others who were mourning, and so should shed many tears, and to conceive a special sorrow for his sins.

24. The twenty-fourth work was what Christ wished to be anointed with balsam and myrrh, to be wrapped in a clean burial cloth, and placed into a tomb newly carved in the stone, without any corruption or fracture.

And this is represented in the Mass when the priest takes the body of Christ, because the heart of the priest ought to be a new tomb, without corruption; and just as the tomb of Christ was of solid rock, so should he be strong in faith and a good life. And just as the body of Christ was wrapped in a clean shroud, so the conscience of the priest ought to be cleaned and shine forth with chastity. And just as the body of Christ was anointed with balsam and spices, so the heart of the priest ought to be saturated with every kind of virtue, not just the priest but also every Christian, hearing Mass, with these thoughts it is fitting to nourish their devotion.

25. The twenty-fifth work which Christ did was when he rose on the third day from death to life, and his tomb was opened.

And this the priest prefigures coming from the middle to the side of the altar, signifying that Christ from the mortal world passed into immortal life. And showing the empty chalice, as it signifies the open tomb, and Christ through his infinite power to have risen. And the deacon folds the corporal, in remembrance that the holy shroud by which the sacred body of Jesus was wrapped, had been found in the tomb.

26. The twenty-sixth work was that after his resurrection Christ appeared to the glorious Virgin Mary his mother, although of this in the Gospel there is no mention; the holy doctors but expressly affirm it, and especially St. Ambrose in his book On Virgins. And indeed it was exquisitely fitting that Christ before any others visited and comforted his mother, who more than others had suffered from his death.

And this the priest prefigures by saying, with his face to the people, “The Lord be with you.”(13). And then he reads the Postcommunion which is a prayer of great consolation, representing the consoling words which Christ said to the his mother, and the great praise which the holy fathers gave to her saying: “Queen of heaven rejoice,” etc.(14)

27. The twenty-seventh work which Christ did in this world, was when he appeared to the apostles together in the upper room, and said: “Peace be with you.”

And this is represented in the Mass when the priest turning around to the people saying again, “The Lord be with you,” (15) which is the same as namely peace be with you all.

28. The twenty-eighth work was when he gathered the apostles and said; “Go ye into the whole world, and preach …,” (Mk 16:15).

And this is symbolized at Mass when the priest says: “Go, the Mass is ended.” every believer returning to his work, because the holy sacrifice is completed.

29. The twenty-ninth work was when he fulfilled the promise made to Peter an the holy apostles, namely, establishing St. Peter in possession of the papacy, saying, “Feed by lambs,” Then indeed, according to all the teachers, truly he constituted him as the head of the universal church. And to the other apostles he said: “Receive the holy spirit; whose sins you forgive,” etc., giving power of forgiving sins which is divine power.

And this is represented at the end of Mass which the priest humbling himself profoundly, bows his head as much as he can before the altar and says, : May it be pleasing to you Blessed Trinity…”(16) petitioning the Trinity that the Holy Sacrifice be acceptable to God, and be beneficial for all the people. Ant this bow which he makes kissing the altar denotes the infinite mercy of our Gold who did not consider it unworthy to humble his divine power, passing on to sinful men the power of forgiving sins. And finally making the sign of the cross over the people signifying that their sins are forgiven though the sacred passion of Christ.

30. The thirtieth and last work of Christ in this world was when, in the presence of his Mother and the holy apostles, and about fifty people, according to St. Paul, standing on the Mount of Olives he wished to ascend to heaven. And raising his hands blessed all these who were lamenting his absence, and he returned to where he had come from.

And this is signified in the Mass when the priest, having given the blessing, returns to the sacristy whence he had come.

And so the whole life of our Redeemer in the sacred holy sacrifice of the Mass is covered. To which glory may he lead us, he who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.

Treatise On The Love Of God – St. Francis De Sales – Chapter IX and X

Treatise On The Love Of God – Chapters IX and X

HOW THE PURITY OF INDIFFERENCE IS TO BE PRACTISED IN THE ACTIONS OF SACRED LOVE.

ONE of the most excellent musicians in the world, who played perfectly upon the lute, became in time so extremely deaf that he entirely lost the use of his hearing, yet ceased he not for all that to sing and to handle his lute marvellous delicately, by reason of the great skill he had acquired, of which his deafness did not deprive him. But because he had no pleasure in his song, nor yet in the sound of his lute, inasmuch as, being deprived of his hearing he could not perceive its sweetness and beauty,—he no longer sang or played save only to content a prince whose native subject he was, and whom he had an extreme inclination, as well as an infinite obligation, to please, because brought up in his palace from childhood.

Hence he took an incomparable delight in pleasing him, and when his prince showed that he was pleased with his music he was ravished with delight. But it happened sometimes that the prince, to make trial of this loving musician’s love, gave him an order to sing, and then immediately leaving him there in his chamber, went to the chase. The desire which this singer had to accomplish his master’s will, made him continue his music as attentively as though his prince had been present, though in very deed he had no content in singing. For he neither had the pleasure of the melody, whereof his deafness deprived him, nor the content of pleasing his prince, who being absent could not enjoy the sweetness of the beautiful airs he sang.

My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready: I will sing and rehearse a psalm. Arise, O my glory! Arise psaltery and harp: I will arise early.421 Man’s heart is the true chaunter of the canticle of sacred love, himself the harp and the psaltery. Now ordinarily this chaunter hears his own voice, and takes a great pleasure in the melody of his song. I mean that our heart, loving God, relishes the 389 delights of this love, and takes an incomparable contentment in loving so lovely an object.

Notice, I pray you, Theotimus, what I mean. The young nightingales do first essay a beginning of song to imitate the old ones; but having got skill and become masters, they sing for the pleasure which they take in warbling, and they so passionately addict themselves to this delight, as I have said in another place, that by force of straining their voice, their throat bursts and they die. So our hearts in the beginning of their devotion love God that they may be united and become agreeable unto him, and imitate him in that he hath loved us for all eternity; but by little and little being formed and exercised in holy love, they are imperceptibly changed. In lieu of loving God in order to please God, they begin to love him for the pleasure they take in the exercises of holy love; and instead of falling in love with God they fall in love with the love they bear him, and stand affected to their own affections.

They no longer take pleasure in God, but in the pleasure they find in his love. They content themselves with this love as being their own, in their spirit and proceeding from it; for though this sacred love be called the love of God because God is loved by it, yet it is also ours, because we are the lovers that love. And it is thus we make the change; for instead of loving this holy love because it tends to God who is the beloved, we love it because it proceeds from us who are the lovers. Now who does not see that in so doing we do not seek God, but turn home to ourselves, loving the love instead of loving the beloved?

Loving, I say, the love, not by reason of God’s good-pleasure and liking, but for the pleasure and content we draw from it. This chaunter who in the beginning sang 421 Ps. lvi. 8, 9. 288 Treatise on the Love of God St. Francis de Sales to God and for God, now rather sings to himself and for himself than for God; and the pleasure he takes in singing is not so much to please God’s ear as his own. And forasmuch as the canticle of Divine love is of all the most excellent, he also loves it better, not by reason of the Divine excellence which is exalted therein, but because its music is more delicious and agreeable.

CHAPTER X. MEANS TO DISCOVER WHEN WE CHANGE IN THE MATTER OF THIS HOLY LOVE. You may easily discover this, Theotimus; for if this mystical nightingale sing to please God, she will sing the song which she knows to be most grateful to the Divine Providence, but if she sing for the delight which she herself takes in her melodious song, she will not sing the canticle which is most agreeable to the heavenly goodness, but that which she herself likes best, and from which she expects to draw the most contentment. Of two canticles which are both divine, it may well be that one may be sung because it is divine, and the other because it is pleasing.

Rachel and Lia are equally wife of Jacob, but he loves one only in the quality of wife, the other in quality of beautiful. The canticle is divine, but the motive which moves us to sing it is the spiritual delectation which we expect from it. Do you not see, we may say to a bishop, that God wills you to sing the pastoral song of his love among your flock, which, in virtue of holy love, he thrice commands you (in the person of S. Peter, the first of pastors) to feed? What is your answer? That at Rome or Paris there are more spiritual pleasures, and that there one may practise Divine love with more sweetness.

O God! it is not then to please thee that this man desires to sing, it is for the pleasure he takes in it; it is not thou he seeks in his love, but the contentment which he receives in the exercises of this holy love. Religious men would sing the pastors’ song, and married people that of religious, in order, as they say, to be able to love and serve God better. Ah! you deceive yourselves my dear friends: do not say that it is to love and serve God better: Oh no, no, indeed! It is to serve your own satisfaction better, you prefer this before God’s.

God’s will is as much in sickness as in health, and ordinarily almost more so; wherefore if we love health better, let us never say that this is in order to serve God the better, for who sees not that it is health that we look for in God’s will, not God’s will in health. 391 It is hard, I confess, to behold long together and with delight the beauty of a mirror without casting an eye upon ourself, yea, without taking a complacency in ourself; yet there is a difference between the pleasure which we take in beholding the beauty of the mirror, and the complacency we take in seeing ourself in it. It is also without doubt very hard to love God and not withal love the pleasure which we take in his love, yet there is a notable difference between the pleasure which we take in loving God because he is beautiful, and that which we take in loving him because his love is agreeable to us.

Now our task must be to seek in God only the love of his beauty, not the pleasure which is in the beauty of his love. He who in praying to God notices that he is praying, is not perfectly attentive to his prayer, for he diverts his attention from God to whom he prays, and turns it upon the prayer by which he prays. The very solicitude we have not to be distracted causes oftentimes a very great distraction; simplicity in spiritual actions is most to be commended. If you 289 Treatise on the Love of God St. Francis de Sales wish to contemplate God, contemplate him then, and that attentively: if you reflect and bring your eyes backwards upon yourself, to see how you look when you look upon him, it is not now he that you behold but your own behaviour—your self.

He who prays fervently knows not whether he prays or not, for he is not thinking of the prayer which he makes but of God to whom he makes it. He that is in the heat of sacred love, does not turn his heart back upon himself to see what he is doing, but keeps it set and bent upon God to whom he applies his love. The heavenly chaunter takes such pleasure in pleasing God, that he has no pleasure in the melody of his voice, except in so far as God is pleased by it. Why, Theotimus, did Amnon the son of David love Thamar so desperately that he even thought he should die of love? Do you think that it was she herself that he loved?

You soon see it was not. Look at this man who prays, apparently, with such great devotion, and is so ardent in the practice of heavenly love. But stay a little, and you will discover whether it be God indeed whom he loves. Alas! as soon as the delight and satisfaction which he took in love departs, and dryness comes, he will stop short, and only casually pray.

If it had been God indeed whom he loved, why should he cease loving him, since God is ever God? It was therefore the consolations of God that he loved, not the God of consolation. In truth there are many who take no delight in divine love unless it be candied in the sugar of some sensible sweetness, and they would willingly act like children, who, if they have a little honey spread upon their bread, lick and suck off the honey, casting the bread away; for if the delight could be separated from the love, they would reject love and take the sweetness only.

Wherefore as they follow love for the sake of its sweetness, when they find not this they make no account of love. But such persons are exposed to a great danger of either turning back as soon as they miss their relish and consolations, or else of occupying themselves in vain sweetnesses, far remote from true love, and of mistaking the honey of Heraclea for that of Narbonne.

The Purification of Mary ~ St. Vincent Ferrer

Luke 2:22 (Douay trans.) And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord: 23 As it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord: 24 And to offer a sacrifice, according as it is written in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons: 25 And behold there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was in him.

“And after the days of her purification,” (Lk 2:22). This present feast is one of the greater of the whole year. Reason. Because there are three grades of sanctity, which we celebrate in this feast.

The first, about eminent persons, that is exalted,

The second, even greater, namely about a holy and excellent person.

The third, much greater, about a transcendent holy person.

I say first, that at the first grade was certain of the apostles, Peter and Paul etc., John the Baptist, the martyrs and confessors etc. Therefore their feasts are great. The second grade is the Virgin Mary, who not only is holy, but has an excellence above all the saints, and so her feasts are greater. In the third grade is Christ alone, who transcends all heights of creatures. And so his feasts, like Christmas, Epiphany, Presentation, Resurrection, etc., are the greatest. These three grades of saints I find in today’s feast, because today the feast is:

About Simeon, the eminent saint,

About the Holy Virgin, more excellent than the others, and

About Christ the holiest, most transcendentally,

Who today was presented in the temple by the Virgin Mary, just as now women, after childbirth, come to the church with their offspring. And so this feast has three names. Inasmuch as it is of Simeon, it is called the day of Simeon’s Meeting. Inasmuch as it is of Jesus Christ, it is called the day of his Presentation. Inasmuch as it is of the Virgin Mary, it is called the day of the Purification of Mary. And because today is especially the feast of the Virgin Mary, and so uniquely the theme speaks, “the day of her purification,” etc. And so first we speak of the Virgin. Second of Christ. Third of St. Simeon.

PURIFICATION OF MARY

First, insofar as the present feast touches the Virgin, it is called the Day of the Purification of Mary. Now when you hear that the Virgin Mary needs purification, because she has never sinned in any way, neither in her heart by thinking wrongly, nor by her mouth, by speaking vainly, nor by doing ill with her body, moreover she was purer than the sun, to the extent that the Holy Spirit was in love [philocaptus] with her. About her purity the Canticle of Canticle says, “How beautiful you are, my love, how beautiful you are!” (Song 4:1), and again, “You are all beautiful, O my love, and there is not a spot in you,” (v. 7). Note how it is like a lover speaking. And “beautiful” is said three times, she was beautiful in the soul, because she never had a wicked or vain thought, otherwise with us. Second, beautiful in voice, because she never spoke in vain or frivolously, or indiscreetly. We, on the other hand do not have a “beautiful voice.” Third, “beautiful,” in her whole body, because she is without any defect and negligence, temperate in food and drink, diligent in the service of God; it is otherwise with us.

Why, therefore, does the theme state, the day of the Purification of Mary? St. Luke raises this question in today’s gospel, saying, “the day of the purification of Mary.” He immediately says, “according to the law of Moses,” and he does not say according to the her own person, because she did not need it.

Let us now see what the law of Moses is which he gives to women giving birth to males. The law says, “If a woman having received seed shall bear a man child, she shall be unclean seven days,… neither shall she enter into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification be fulfilled,” (Lv 12:2,4). So this precept does not touch the Virgin Mary, because she did not give birth “having received seed.” So St. Thomas III, q. 37, a. 4 “Whether it was fitting that the Mother of God should go to the temple to be purified?” And he replies yes:

As the fullness of grace flowed from Christ on to His Mother, so it was becoming that the mother should be like her Son in humility: for “God gives grace to the humble,” as is written James 4:6. And therefore, just as Christ, though not subject to the Law, wished, nevertheless, to submit to circumcision and the other burdens of the Law, in order to give an example of humility and obedience; and in order to show His approval of the Law; and, again, in order to take away from the Jews an excuse for calumniating Him: for the same reasons He wished His Mother also to fulfill the prescriptions of the Law, to which, nevertheless, she was not subject.

And so, expressly, the evangelist Luke says, “And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses,” (Lk 2:22). She herself had no need of purification, for in Leviticus 12 it says, “If a woman having received seed shall bear a man child,” (Lv 12:2). Moses seems to have spoken to exempt the mother of God from uncleanness, who had given birth having not received seed, and so it is clear that she was not obliged to the fulfillment of this precept, but fulfilled the observance of purification voluntarily.

But here is the question. Why did God ordain this law? It is never a sin to generate children in the state of matrimony. The response is that it is not. But many reasons are given by the holy doctors. I wish to declare only one. The reason for this law is because all the precepts of the law are reduced and are included in the ten commandments of the Decalogue, which is broken down fourfold, namely by deed, omission, word and thought. Four times ten makes forty. Women in conceiving, bearing, birthing and nursing sin against the precepts of God in these four ways, and so they experience the day of purification.

1. First they sin in the act of conceiving. For God has ordered the act of generation for the conservation of human nature. Many are not urged toward it unless like a horse or mule, a dog or pig, according to the sensuality of the flesh, when they ought to have the intention of the preacher, who preaches to convert the pagans to God, so that paradise be filled with the children of God, so the propagators ought to have the intention of begetting children for paradise. The Virgin Mary however did not sin by deed, because she conceived not by a man but by the Holy Spirit, who formed the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, like the kernel is formed within a hazel nut or almond. And so the Church sings: “Begotten of no human will, but of the Spirit, Thou art still, the Word of God in flesh arrayed, the promised fruit to man displayed.” (Ambrose: Veni redemptor gentium).

2. Second, women sin in childbearing by omission, because if at first they were doing penance, namely by fasting, prayers, pilgrimages, and such, when they are pregnant they give them all up. Although they might be somewhat fastidious, then they make themselves more fastidious, and more delicate. The Virgin Mary did not sin in this way, by omitting something, because St. Bernard says, that she was pregnant without difficulty, moreover the pregnancy bore her. Like a cloud which cannot be raised, but when the rays of the sun touch it, it is raised and is lighter, so the ray of the eternal sun existing in the womb of the Virgin. Thus she did not give up any of her devotions, rather she performed them even more. Like a priest, when carrying the Eucharist, is more devout, so the Virgin, who was the custodian of the body of Christ.

3. Third, women sin in speech when they give birth. When they feel the pains of childbirth they say many vain and indiscreet words. When however they should have recourse to Christ by saying “Jesus” and to the Virgin Mary, who gave birth without pain, and to the saints of God. Some of them curse Eve, some their husbands, other say, “O, if I can get past this, I’ll never again approach my husband.” But the Virgin did not sin in this way, because she gave birth without pain or misery, like the ray of the sun passes through the glass window without breaking it, it even renders her more beautiful. Isaiah, “It shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise: the glory of Lebanon is given to it: the beauty of Carmel, and Sharon,” (Is 35:2).

4. Fourth, women sin by thought in suckling. They think, “Now I have the heir! Now I am the Lady!” When rather in great fear they should be saying, “O Lord, you have given me a son. What will become of my son? Will he be so wicked a man, that he would kill me; or what evil deed might he do that he would be hung, and finally damned?” But the Virgin did not sin in this way. She knew the scriptures. Therefore when in childbirth she saw the miracles which would be done; she was thinking about her passion. And so St. Luke says, Mary “kept all these words,” collecting them, “in her heart,” (Lk 2:51). When she beheld the infant Jesus, newborn, and naked, in her heart she thought, saying, “O woe, so my son shall be naked on the cross.” Then she wrapped him in a blanket, thinking that so she would wrap his body in a shroud in his tomb. Then she put him in the manger in the middle of two animals, thinking, that so he would be suspended between two thieves. It is clear therefore, that the Virgin Mary in no way sinned, neither in the deed of conceiving, nor in the omissions of childbearing, nor in the outcries of childbirth, nor in the thoughts of nursing. Other women are sinners.

Rightly Bernard says that she was like her son, who wished to endure circumcision to which he was not bound, because it is given as a sign of sin, like cutting off the ears of a thief as a mark of his thievery. So the Virgin wished to keep this law, to which she was not obliged.

Practically and plausibly we should here explain how she was exempted from that law, because on the fortieth day from the birth of her son, as it is today, she came to the temple of the Lord, in which were standing the generous and rich women, and the poor and simple, and the virgins, each group separately. And the Jews observe this custom today. The Virgin Mary, however in her entry into the temple considered, thinking with whom should she associate, because although she was generous and most noble, of the tribe of David, nevertheless she was poor and simply clothed, because she had given her whole dowry out of love of God and all the gold which the kings of the orient had given to her, and she was willing to live by her own hands. Therefore if she joined with the rich women, they could have said to her, “Go to your own place. Dear God, the wife of a poor carpenter wants to associate herself with us! etc.” If with the virgins, although she would have been a virgin, they would have said to her, “And you, who have a husband and son wish to come with us? How about this!” Therefore she put herself with the simple and poor women, and so was fulfilled a certain prophecy which the Holy Spirit predicted through the mouth of Solomon saying, “As the lily among thorns, so my love,” supply “is,” ” among the daughters,” (Song 2:2). We have here an example of humility. Whoever exalts himself, because whoever wishes to be at the head table in dinner parties etc. And so the Virgin Mary, queen of paradise, takes her place at the back. And so Mary says, “Because he has regarded the humility of his handmaid,” – she doesn’t say “the charity” or, “the virginity.” – “For behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed,” (Lk 1:48). And this was first humility which today she practiced in fulfilling the law.

Note too another great humility in the Virgin Mary, because the gospel today says, “to do for him according to the custom of the law,” (Lk 2:27). The custom of the law was, as is clear from Leviticus 12, that when after childbirth on the fortieth day the woman comes to the temple, on bended knees before the priest, she would say, “Here is the offering. You are to offer a sacrifice for me, that God might forgive my sins which I have committed, conceiving, bearing, birthing and nursing.” Then the priest, having accepted the offering and making the sacrifice, gives the woman a blessing, and the woman goes away. The Virgin Mary wished today to observe this custom, coming into the temple, and speaking to the priest – not to Simeon, because we do not read that he was a priest, but a holy man. Today is the fortieth day since she gave birth to her son, and on the eighth day he was circumcised, and was called “Jesus,” and she gave a pair of turtledoves as an offering for him, or two young pigeons, asking that he pray for her. O what great humility! The most holy one speaks to a sinner, “Pray for me.” And the priest did not recognize her, or rather he knew her in the Isaiah saying, “Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel,” (Isa 7:14). Then was fulfilled the prophecy of Solomon saying in the person of the virgin, “I am black but beautiful, O you daughters of Jerusalem,” etc. (Song 1:4), “Do not consider me that I am brown, because the sun has altered my color,” (v. 5). The Virgin was black to ignorant eyes, eyes not recognizing her; but she was beautiful to the angels of God. “Do not consider me,” supply “in disdain,” “because the sun has altered my color,” because the heat of divine love so humbles one, supply by inflaming. And so she can say to us that of Matthew 11, “learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light,” (Mt 11:29-30).

PRESENTATION OF JESUS CHRIST

Second, this feast next touches our Lord Jesus Christ. It is also named the Day of the Presentation of Jesus Christ. We understand that Christ did not need a presentation, because he never was apart from God the Father, nor was he ever absent. Just as the sun sends forth its rays to us, and nevertheless the rays are always with the sun, so to with Christ. We are distanced from God by sin, and so we need a presentation. Christ however was always present to the Father, even while in the womb of the Virgin, day and night. And so the Father said to him, “Son, you are always with me,” (Lk 15:31). Although I will send you in the world for enlightening in evangelical faith, for warming in the love of God and bearing fruit in good works.

So today the presentation of Christ was not of necessity but of humility, just like the purification of the Virgin mother. Christ indeed wished to observe the law of presentation, as St. Thomas says III, q. 37, a. 3, where he says, that Christ wished to be “made under the Law, that He might redeem them who were under the Law” (Gal 4:4-5), and that the “justification of the Law might be” spiritually ‘fulfilled’ in His members. And in the solution to the third objection [ad 3m], he says:

For this very reason He wished the legal victims to be offered for Him who was the true Victim, in order that the figure might be united to and confirmed by the reality, against those who denied that in the Gospel Christ preached the God of the Law. “For we must not think,” says Origen (Hom. xiv in Luc.) “that the good God subjected His Son to the enemy’s law, which He Himself had not given.”

These remarks are in the same citation. We gather from the body of this article 3, and from the solutions to the objections, that Christ wished to be presented in the temple today for four reasons.

1. First for the fulfillment of the law. And this the Doctor [St. Thomas] touches in the body of the article where he says:

Now, the Law contained a twofold precept touching the children born. one was a general precept which affected all–namely, that “when the days of the mother’s purification were expired,” a sacrifice was to be offered either “for a son or for a daughter,” as laid down Leviticus 12:6. And this sacrifice was for the expiation of the sin in which the child was conceived and born; and also for a certain consecration of the child, because it was then presented in the Temple for the first time. Wherefore one offering was made as a holocaust and another for sin.

The other was a special precept in the law concerning the first-born of “both man and beast”: for the Lord claimed for Himself all the first-born in Israel, because, in order to deliver Israelites, He “slew every first-born in the land of Egypt, both men and cattle” (Ex 12:12-29), the first-born of Israel being saved; which law is set down Exodus 13. Here also was Christ foreshadowed, who is “the First-born amongst many brethren” (Rom 8:29).

Therefore, since Christ was born of a woman and was her first-born, and since He wished to be “made under the Law,” the Evangelist Luke shows that both these precepts were fulfilled in His regard. First, as to that which concerns the first-born, when he says (Lk 2:22-23): “They carried Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord: as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.'” Secondly, as to the general precept which concerned all, when he says (Lk 2:24): “And to offer a sacrifice according as it is written in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons.” (Summa theologiae, III, q. 37, a. 3, body).

2. Second, Christ wished to be offered in the temple for the sanctification of the temple. And this the same Doctor [St. Thomas] says such in the response to the first objection:

As Gregory Nazianzen says that that precept of the law: “Sanctify unto me every firstborn that opens the womb among the children of Israel,” (Ex. 13:2), was fulfilled in God incarnate alone in a special manner exclusively proper to Him. For He alone, whose conception was ineffable, and whose birth was incomprehensible, opened the virginal womb which had been closed to sexual union, in such a way that after birth the seal of chastity remained inviolate.” Consequently the words “opening the womb” imply that nothing hitherto had entered or gone forth therefrom. Again, for a special reason is it written “‘a male, because He contracted nothing of the woman’s sin:” and in a singular way “is He called ‘holy,’ because He felt no contagion of earthly corruption, whose birth was wondrously immaculate” (Ambrose, on Luke 2:23). (St. Thomas, ibid., ad 3m)

And so he did not need to be sanctified in the temple, but rather the temple ought to be sanctified by him, because he was and is the saint of saints. Whence Haggai: “Yet one little while, and I will move the heaven and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land. And I will move all nations: and the desired of all nations shall come,… Great shall be the glory of this last house more than of the first” (Hag 2:7-8,10). To Malachi, “And presently the Lord, whom you seek, and the angel of the testament, whom you desire,” (Mal 3:1).

3. Third Christ wished to be offered in the temple for our instruction, as the Doctor [Thomas] touches upon in the same place in the response to the second objection, because:

As the Son of God “became man, and was circumcised in the flesh, not for His own sake, but that He might make us to be God’s through grace, and that we might be circumcised in the spirit; so, again, for our sake He was presented to the Lord, that we may learn to offer ourselves to God” [Athanasius, on Luke 2:23]. And this was done after His circumcision, in order to show that “no one who is not circumcised from vice is worthy of Divine regard” [Bede, on Luke 2:23].

4. Fourth he wished to be offered in the temple for a mystical significance. The Doctor touches on this in the response to the fourth objection.

The law of Leviticus 12:6,[8] “commanded those who could, to offer, for a son or a daughter, a lamb and also a turtle dove or a pigeon: but those who were unable to offer a lamb were commanded to offer two turtle doves or two young pigeons” [Bede, Hom. xv in Purif.]. “And so the Lord, who, ‘being rich, became poor for our [Vulgate: ‘your’] sakes, that through His poverty we [you] might be rich,” as is written 2 Corinthians 8:9, “wished the poor man’s victim to be offered for Him” just as in His birth He was “wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger” [Bede on Luke 1]. Nevertheless, these birds have a figurative sense. For the turtle dove, being a loquacious bird, represents the preaching and confession of faith; and because it is a chaste animal, it signifies chastity; and being a solitary animal, it signifies contemplation. The pigeon is a gentle and simple animal, and therefore signifies gentleness and simplicity. It is also a gregarious animal; wherefore it signifies the active life. Consequently this sacrifice signified the perfection of Christ and His members. Again, “both these animals, by the plaintiveness of their song, represented the mourning of the saints in this life: but the turtle dove, being solitary, signifies the tears of prayer; whereas the pigeon, being gregarious, signifies the public prayers of the Church” [Bede, Hom. xv in Purif.]. Lastly, two of each of these animals are offered, to show that holiness should be not only in the soul, but also in the body. (St. Thomas, Summa, ibid., ad 4m).

This St. Thomas says in the same article. And because of these four reasons Christ wished to be presented in the temple. Nevertheless from the aforesaid the literal reason is also clear why Christ preserved every firstborn.

But the moral reason is this. Just as indeed between husband and wife there is a marriage for generating offspring, so between the spirit and flesh there is a quasi marriage-union for generating offspring, namely virtuous acts and meritorious works, because the flesh without the spirit counts for nothing. For the sprit moves the flesh to accomplish works of virtue and merits, which are called offspring. So David says, “Your children as olive plants, round about your table,” (Ps 127:3). Of these “children,” virtuous actions, God wishes the firstborn to be offered to him.

But who is this firstborn? It is a rule of philosophy, that that which is ultimate in execution is first in intention, toward God. For example, if it is asked: Why do you go to Mass today? What was your first intention? If you say: “For the honor of God and of the Virgin, and because of the precept of the church,” then you stand right in conscience, because your intention is good, because you are going because of God. If however you say: “I go to church just to see the ladies,” etc., then you offer your firstborn to the devil, and not to God, because your intention is evil. The same for alms, if you give them out of an intention of vainglory, or such like, the firstborn is given to the devil. If however it is given so that God would give you alms, the grace which you seek from him, when your soul comes to the gate of paradise, knocking and asking for the alms, that God would give you alms, then the firstborn is given to God. And so in whatever virtuous work, you should inquire within yourself as to whom the firstborn is given and offered, lest merit is lost from an evil intention. A virtuous deed done from a bad intention counts for nothing, and many great virtuous works are lost because they are done with a bad intention, because the firstborn is not offered to God. See why God commands that the firstborn are to be offered to him. And so the Apostle says, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God,” (1Cor 10:31).

Therefore our Lord Jesus Christ as firstborn and only-begotten of the Virgin Mary, wished to be presented to God the Father in the temple and offered in the hands of the priest. And “by five sicles,” like five royals of silver, he is redeemed according to the law, which is found in Numbers 18 where it says, “Whatsoever is firstborn of all flesh, which they offer to the Lord, whether it be of men, or of beasts, shall belong to you: only for the firstborn of man shall you take a price…” and he is redeemed, “by five sicles,…which is twenty ebolos.” (Num 18:15-16). And so unless he is redeemed, he would belong to the priest, and would serve in the temple.

In fact this is how the presentation took place. The Virgin Mary offered her son, Christ into the hands of the priest, and he offered him to the Lord. O how foolish the priest! If he had known him, he would have adored him. Finally, the priest wished to keep him, seeing that the Virgin mother was poor. And the Virgin said to him, “You are not to keep him. See, I have five sicles. These she had gradually saved up, and received from her own labor, perhaps by eating less, so that she might redeem her son. And she opened her purse, not made of gold or iron, and counted out five sicles according to the custom of the law.

The question here is: Why did Christ wish to be redeemed by five sicles, since he was to be the redeemer of the world, and for this reason he was sent by God the Father? Note two answers to this. One is allegorical, the other moral.

The allegorical is this He wished to be redeemed by five sicles, just as he was about to redeem the world with the five major wounds, which make up our entire redemption: circumcision, flight into Egypt, scourging, crowning and crucifixion. And so David, “Because with the Lord there is mercy: and with him plentiful redemption,” (Ps 129:7).

The second reason is moral, giving us an example, as when man is sold to the devil by sin, because to sin mortally is to sell oneself to the devil. For example: He who is pompous and vain, for the price of pride, immediately sells himself to the devil. The greedy, charging interest and a price, by which he is sold to the devil. Include thievery, robbery and the other species of greed. The lustful person, by that delight gives his soul over to the devil. The same for the other sins. And so it is necessary to be redeemed by five sicles, if we wish to be saved, namely by the works of penance. The first is contrition, with the purpose of not returning to sin. Second is oral confession. Third, the affliction of the body. Fourth, the restitution of what is owed. Fifth, the forgiveness of injuries. And this is verified by the words of scripture, “There is one who buys much for a small price, and restores the same sevenfold,” (Sir 20:12).

MEETING WITH SIMEON

As for the third, this feast inasmuch as it touches St. Simeon, is said to be the day of the meeting with Simeon. Practically. Then at the time when the Virgin gave birth to her son, all the Jews skilled and learned in the law held for certain that the Messiah was born, because they were seeing the time assigned by the prophets and fulfilled, but they did not know him. And because of this John the Baptist said, “There has stood one in the midst of you, whom you know not,” (Jn 1:26). And so many were praying that he might show himself to them, especially Simeon, holy and just. “And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.” And knowing the prophecy: “And presently the Lord, whom you seek, and the angel of the testament, whom you desire, shall come to his temple,” (Mal 3:1), because of this he came to the temple every day. And when he saw a woman carrying a child, he inquired, “Is it a boy or a girl? And the Holy Sprit said nothing to him until this day, when he said to him, “Today you shall meet the Messiah king in the temple; you shall see him.” And so after a good sleep he rose in the morning, and went to the temple, purifying himself, and praying, because when the king ought to enter his home, his home should be decorated. And so the church sings: “Adorn thy bridal chamber, O Sion, and receive Christ the King, and with great devotion, expect to see him,” (John Damascene: Antiphon for the Feast of the Presentation).

It was otherwise with the priest, who expected him so that he would receive a greater offering, and he would have doves and pigeons. “For all seek the things that are their own; not the things that are Jesus Christ’s,” (Phil 2:21). For there are three conditions of persons, who are not occupied from certain business matters. First, a child at play. Second, women dancing. Third, priests offering. But of those who are of Jesus Christ, immediately they are aware. When however the Virgin with Joseph entered the temple, the Holy Spirit said to Simeon, “Simeon, this woman is his mother, and her son is the king and Messiah promised in the law.” Immediately the old man, weeping for joy, adored him, and receiving him into his arms began to sing a beautiful canticle of four verses: “Now you do dismiss your servant, O Lord, according to your word in peace, etc.,” (Lk 2:29). Behold the day of the Meeting of Simeon.

And so today the church sings: “And when his parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he also took him into his arms, and blessed God, and said: Now do you dismiss your servant, O Lord, according to your word in peace,” (Lk 2:27-29).

It is asked why holy Simeon took him in his arms, because this was not promised to him by the Holy Spirit, but it was promised to him that he would not die until he first saw Christ the Lord. Whence therefore such presumption that he would take him? I reply that for our salvation it does not suffice to see Christ through faith, but it is necessary to receive him in the hands through good works. So Mark, last chapter, “He who believes and is baptized, shall be saved,” (Mk 16:16). One might say, “I have those eyes of the soul, the right by believing the divinity of Christ, and the left, the humanity of Christ. So Christ is seen by us on the way. What else is it necessary for me to do? I say, like Simeon, that Christ is received in to our hands through good works. “What shall it profit, my brethren, if a man say he has faith, but has not works? Shall faith be able to save him?” “Faith without works is dead,” (James 2: 20, 26). As a sign of this we carry lighted candles in our hands, which signifies three things which are in Christ. The soft wax signifies the flesh of Christ, which has vulnerability, which has been liquefied in the passion. The white wick signifies the most pure soul of Christ. The flame, however, signifies the immense divinity of Christ. It is not sufficient just to see the light on the altar, nor Christ through faith, but to receive him in our hands through good works. And so the Apostle [Paul says], “Glorify and bear God in your body,” (1Cor 6:20). Then indeed Christ is born by us when out of love of him we avoid sin. Thanks be to God.

Candlemas Feb 2nd, 2019

Today is a day of purification, renewal, and hope. On this day, exactly 40 days after Christmas, we commemorate Mary’s obedience to the Mosaic law by submitting herself to the Temple for the ritual purification, as commanded in Leviticus:

Leviticus 12:2-8
Speak to the children of Israel, and thou shalt say to them: If a woman having received seed shall bear a man child, she shall be unclean seven days, according to the days of separation of her flowers. And on the eighth day the infant shall be circumcised: But she shall remain three and thirty days in the blood of her purification. She shall touch no holy thing: neither shall she enter into the sanctuary, until the days of her purification, be fulfilled. But if she shall bear a maid child, she shall be unclean two weeks, according to the custom of her monthly courses, and she shall remain in the blood of her purification sixty-six days.

And when the days of her purification are expired, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring to the door of the tabernacle of the testimony, a lamb of a year old for a holocaust, and a young pigeon or a turtle for sin, and shall deliver them to the priest: Who shall offer them before the Lord, and shall pray for her, and so she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that beareth a man child or a maid child.

And if her hand find not sufficiency, and she is not able to offer a lamb, she shall take two turtles, or two young pigeons, one for a holocaust, and another for sin: and the priest shall pray for her, and so she shall be cleansed. 

Luke 2:22-24
And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord: As it is written in the law of the Lord: Every male opening the womb shall be called holy to the Lord: And to offer a sacrifice, according as it is written in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons:

Read more about Candlemas at Fisheaters and New Advent