THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE GREAT ANTIPHONS

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THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE GREAT ANTIPHONS.

The Church enters to-day on the seven days, which precede the Vigil of Christmas, and which are known in the Liturgy under the name of the Greater Ferias. The ordinary of the Advent Office becomes more solemn; the Antiphons of the Psalms, both for Lauds and the Hours of the day, are proper, and allude expressly to the great Coming. Every day, at Vespers, is sung a solemn Antiphon, which consists of a fervent prayer to the Messias, whom it addresses by one of the titles given him by the sacred Scriptures.

In the Roman Church, there are seven of these Antiphons, one for each of the Greater Ferias, They are commonly called the O’s of Advent, because they all begin with that interjection. In other Churches, during the Middle Ages, two more were added to these seven; one to our Blessed Lady, O Virgo Virginum; and the other to the Angel Gabriel, O Gabriel; or to St. Thomas the Apostle, whose feast comes during the Greater Ferias; it began O Thoma Didyme [It is more modern than the O Gabriel; but dating from the 13th century, it was almost universally used in its stead.] There were even Churches, where twelve Great Antiphons were sung; that is, besides the nine we have just mentioned, there was Rex Pacifice to our Lord, O mundi Domina to our Lady, and O Hierusalem to the city of the people of God.

The canonical Hour of Vespers has been selected as the most appropriate time for this solemn supplication to our Saviour, because, as the Church sings in one of her hymns, it was in the Evening of the world (vergente mundi vespere) that the Messias came amongst us. These Antiphons are sung at the Magnificat, to show us that the Saviour, whom we expect, is to come to us by Mary. They are sung twice; once before and once after the Canticle, as on Double Feasts, and this to show their great solemnity. In some Churches it was formerly the practice to sing them thrice; that is, before the Canticle, before the Gloria Patri, and after the Sicut erat. Lastly, these admirable Antiphons, which contain the whole pith of the Advent Liturgy, are accompanied by a chant replete with melodious gravity, and by ceremonies of great expressiveness, though, in these latter, there is no uniform practice followed. Let us enter into the spirit of the Church; let us reflect on the great Day which is coming; that thus we may take oar share in these the last and most earnest solicitations of the Church imploring her Spouse to come, and to which He at length yields.

St. Alice, or Adelaide

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St. Alice, or Adelaide

Empress
(999)

THE SECOND kingdom of Burgundy, called also of Arles, was erected by Charles the Bald, emperor and king of France, who, in 879, bestowed Burgundy, Provence, Bresse, and Dauphiné, with his title on his brother-in-law Bose, descended by the mother from Lewis Debonnair. Rudolph or Ralph II., king of Burgundy, was father to St. Alice, whom he left at his death, in 937, only six years old. At sixteen she was married to Lothaire, king of Italy, by whom she had a daughter named Emma, who was afterwards married to Lothaire, king of France. The death of our saint’s husband, which happened about the year 949, left her a young widow, and the afflictions with which she was visited contributed perfectly to disengage her heart from the world, and make her devote herself to the practice of piety, which had been from her infancy the ruling inclination of her heart. Berengarius III., margrave of Yvrea, possessed himself of all Lombardy, and succeeded to the title of king of Italy. This prince, who had always been the declared enemy of his predecessor’s family, cast Alice into prison at Pavia, where she suffered the greatest hardships and indignities. She at length found means to make her escape, and fled towards Germany; but was met by the Emperor Otho I., who, at the solicitation of Pope Agapetus II., was marching at the head of an army of fifty thousand men to do her justice. He made himself master of Pavia and other places, and married Alice; but restored the kingdom to Berengarius, upon condition he should hold it of the empire. Berengarius soon forgot his engagements: whereupon Otho, at the earnest request of Pope John XII., sent his son Luitolph against him; and Luitolph, after gaining many victories, dying, the emperor went in person into Italy, made Berengarius prisoner, and banished him into Germany, where he died at Bamberg. After this victory, Otho was crowned emperor at Rome by the pope in 963.

The good empress was not puffed up with prosperity, and made use both of her riches and power only to do good to all men, especially to protect, comfort, and relieve all that were in distress. Otho I., surnamed the Great, died in 973, having reigned as king of Germany thirty-six years, as emperor almost eleven. Alice educated her son, Otho II., with great care, and his reign was happy so long as he governed by her directions. But not standing upon his guard against flatterers, he suffered his heart to be debauched by evil counsellors. After the death of his first wife, who was daughter to the marquis of Austria, he married Theophania, a Grecian princess, and so far forgot his duty to his good mother as to banish her from court. Her tears for his irregularities were not shed in vain. Misfortunes opened his eyes; he recalled her, and, with the most dutiful deference, reformed the abuses of the government by her counsels. The young emperor, having been defeated by the Greeks in Calabria, died of a dysentery at Rome in 983, after he had reigned nine years. His imperious widow, Theophania, who became regent for her son, Otho III., made it a point of honour to insult her pious mother-in-law; but Alice made no other return for all the ill treatment she received at her hands but that of meekness and patience. The young empress being snatched away by a sudden death, she was obliged to take upon her the regency. On this occasion it appeared how perfectly she was dead to herself. Power she looked upon merely as a burden and most difficult stewardship; but she applied herself to public affairs with indefatigable care. She showed herself so much a stranger to all resentment, as to load with benefactions those courtiers who had formerly given her most to suffer. Her attention to the public concerns never made her neglect the exercises of mortification and devotion. At set hours she retired to her oratory, there to seek by humble prayer the direction and light of heaven in her counsels, and to weep before God for those sins of the people which it was not in her power to remedy. In correcting others she felt in her own breast the confusion and trouble which her correction must give them; hence she forgot nothing which could soften it. Thus, by gaining their confidence and affection, she easily conducted them to virtue. Her own household appeared as regular as the most edifying monastery. She filled all the provinces which had the happiness to share in her protection, but especially the city of Magdeburg, with religious houses, and other monuments of charity and piety, and she zealously promoted the conversion of the Rugi and other infidels. In the last year of her life she took a journey into the kingdom of Burgundy to reconcile the subjects of that realm to King Ralph, her nephew, and died on the road, at Salces, in Alsace, in the year 999. Her name is honoured in the calendars of several churches in Germany, though not in the Roman. A portion of her relics is kept in a costly shrine in the Treasury of Relics at Hanover, and is mentioned in the Lipsanographia of the electoral palace at Brunswick-Lunenburg, printed in 1713. See the life of St. Alice, written by St. Odilo, with histories of her miracles, published by Leibnitz, Collectio Scriptorum Brunswicensium, t. 2, p. 262.

The Lives of the Saints. 1866. Volume XII: December. Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).

 

Saint Eusebius of Vercelli

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Saint Eusebius of Vercelli

Bishop
(† 370)

Saint Eusebius was born of a noble family on the island of Sardinia, where his father is said to have died in prison for the Faith. He was brought up in Rome in the practice of piety, and studied in Vercelli, a city of Piedmont. Eusebius was ordained a priest there, and served the Church of Vercelli with such zeal that when the episcopal chair became vacant he was unanimously chosen, by both clergy and people, to fill it.

The holy bishop saw that the best and principal means to labor effectually for the edification and sanctification of his people was to have a zealous clergy. Saint Ambrose assures us that he was the first bishop who in the West united the monastic life with the clerical, living and having his clergy live almost like the monks of the East in the deserts. They shared a common life of prayer and penance, in a single residence, that of the bishop, as did the clergy of Saint Augustine in his African see. Saint Eusebius was very careful to instruct his flock in the maxims of the Gospel. The force of the truth which he preached, together with his example, brought many sinners to a change of life.

When a Council was held in Italy, under the influence of the Emperor Constans and the Arian heretics, with the intention of condemning Saint Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, Saint Eusebius courageously resisted the heretics. He attempted to have all present sign the Nicene Creed, but the paper was torn out of his hands and his pen was broken. With Saint Dionysus of Milan, he refused to sign the condemnation of the bishop of Alexandria. The Emperor therefore had him banished to Scythopolis in Palestine with Saint Dionysus of Milan, then to Cappadocia, where Saint Dionysus died; and finally he was taken to the Upper Thebaid in Egypt, where he suffered grievously. The Arians of these places loaded him with outrages and treated him cruelly, and Saint Eusebius confounded them wherever they were.

At the death of Constans in 361, he was permitted to return to his diocese, where he continued to combat Arianism, concertedly with Saint Hilarion of Poitiers. He has been called a martyr in two panegyrics appended to the works of Saint Ambrose. Two of his letters, written from his dungeons, are still extant, the only ones of his writings which have survived. One is addressed to his church, the other to the bishop of Elvira to encourage him to oppose a fallen heretic and not fear the power of princes. He died in about the year 370. His relics are in a shrine in the Cathedral of Vercelli.

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources, by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 14