The Octave of the Immaculate Conception
The Liturgical Year
By Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)
This, the eighth day from that on which we kept the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, is the Octave properly so called; whereas the other days were simply called days within the Octave. The custom of keeping up the principal Feasts for a whole week is one of those which the Christian Church adopted from the Synagogue. God had thus spoken in the Book of Leviticus: “The first day shall be called most solemn and most holy: you shall do no servile work therein … The eighth day also shall be most solemn and most holy, and you shall offer holocausts to the Lord, for it is the day of assembly and congregation: you shall do no servile work therein.” (Leviticus 25:35-36) We also read in the Book of Kings that Solomon, having called all Israel to Jerusalem for the dedication of the Temple, suffered not the temple to return home until the eighth day. (1 Kings 8:65-66)
In the Christian Church, there are two kinds of Octaves: Privileged Octaves and Non-privileged Octaves. The first are so solemn that no feast of a Saint, occurring during them, can be kept, but must be transferred to some other time out of the Octave. Neither, during these Octaves, can a Mass De Requiem be said unless the corpse be present for burial. Non-privileged Octaves admit the Feasts of Saints, which occur during them, provided they are semi-doubles or of higher class; but a commemoration of the Octave must be made both in the Office and the Mass of the Feast, which thus takes precedence of the Octave, unless this Feast be itself one of a first or second Class.
The Octave of the Immaculate Conception, the first that occurs in the Liturgical Year, is not privileged. It gives place not only to the Sunday, but also to the feasts of St. Damasus and St. Lucy, and to the various local feasts which are of a double or semi-double rite.
Let us once more devoutly reverence the Mystery of Mary’s Immaculate Conception: our Emmanuel loves to see his Mother honored. After all, is it not for him and for his sake that this Bright Star was prepared from all eternity, and created when the happy time fixed by the divine decree came? When we honor the Immaculate Conception of Mary, it is really to the divine Mystery of the Incarnation that we are paying our just homage. Jesus and Mary cannot be separated, for Isaias tell us that She is the Branch, and He the Flower. (Isaiah 11:1)
We give thee thanks, O Jesus our Emmanuel because thou hast granted us to live during the time that the privilege of thy Blessed Mother was proclaimed on this earth; the glorious privilege wherewith thou didst enrich the first instant of the life of the happy creature from whom thou didst take upon thyself our human nature! This Definition of thy Church has given us a clearer knowledge of thine infinite holiness. It has taught us to see more distinctly the harmony there is in all thy divine mysteries. But it also has impressed upon us the great truth that we ourselves, being destined to the most intimate union with thee here, and to the face-to-face vision of thy infinite Majesty hereafter, must labor without ceasing to purify ourselves from the smallest stains of sin. Thou hast said: Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God; (Matthew 5:8) and thou showest us, by the dogma of thy Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Conception, what is the purity which thy sovereign sanctity demands of us. Ah! by the love which led thee to preserve her from every stain of sin, have mercy on us who are her devoted children. Thou art so soon to be among us! Before many days are past, we shall have yielded to thy invitations, and have presumed to approach thy sacred Crib. We are not yet ready, dear Jesus! The effects of original sin are still so plainly upon us, and , what is worse, there are so many of our own sins, which we have added to this of our first parent: Oh! prepare our hearts and our senses, for we will not approach to Bethlehem unworthily. The sinless purity of thy Mother is not for us; we ask not for that; but we ask for forgiveness of our countless sins, for conversion, for hatred of the world and the world’s maxims, and for perseverance in thy holy love.
O Mary! created Mirror of divine Justice, and purer than the Cherubim and Seraphim, in return for the homage paid thee by this our generation, on that blissful day when the glory of thy Immaculate Conception was proclaimed throughout the world, give us that abundant richness of thy protecting love, which thou didst reserve till now. The world is shaken to its very foundations: thy hand can help it to rest again. Hell has let loose upon mankind the most terrible of its spirits of wickedness, who breathe but blasphemy and destruction; but at the same time, the Church of thy Jesus feels that her youth has been renewed within her, and that the seed of the divine word is broadcast and healthy in a thousand fresh portions of the earth. Never was the battle more fierce on both sides: so that we need all our hope to make us feel that hell will not prevail. Is this the great struggle which is to be followed by the day of judgment?
O Blessed Mother of Jesus! O Queen of the universe! can it be that the Star of thy Immaculate Conception has shone in the heavens only to light up the ruin and wreck of this earth? The sign foretold by the Beloved Disciple St. John (Revelation 12:1) of the woman that appeared in the heavens clad with the Sun, bearing on her head a crown of twelve stars, and crushing the Crescent beneath her feet—has it not more brightness and power than that other, which appeared in the heavens telling men that God’s anger was appeased, and that the deluge was over? The light which shines upon us is from a Mother. It is our Mother that comes to console and heal us is from a Mother. It is our Mother that comes to console and heal us. It is heaven that smiles upon poor guilty earth. We have deserved the chastisement we have received, and more than we have received: but the anger of God will give way, and he will spare us.
The graces which God poured out upon the world on that great Day of the Church’s Definition of Mary’s Immaculate Conception were not to be without their effect; a new period then commenced. Mary, on whom heresy had heaped its blasphemies for three hundred years, will again reign in the love of those whom her Son redeemed; countries will abandon those errors which have made them slaves and dupes of men’s doctrines; the old serpent will again writhe under that crushing pressure which God set up from the beginning; and the divine Sun of Justice will pour out on the regenerated world the floods of a light, more than ever dazzling and resplendent. We may not live to see that time; but we have signs of its near approach.
It was two centuries ago that thy devout servant whom the Church has placed upon her altars, Leonard of Porto-Manrizio, predicted that when this dogma of thy Immaculate Conception should be defined, the world would enjoy a long period of peace. The troubles of the present time in which we are living are, we doubt not, a prelude to that happy peace, during which the divine word will traverse the whole world unimpeded, and the Church militant will reap her harvest for the Church in heaven. Sweet Mother of our Jesus! the world was also in agitation in those times which preceded the Birth of thy divine Son; but peace reigned throughout the whole earth when thou didst give it its Savior in Bethlehem. Until that grand time come when thou wilt show to the world the magnificence of the power which God has given to thee, assist us, each year, to prepare for the glorious solemnity of Christ: oh! pray for us, that we may be cleansed from all our sins when that splendid Night comes, during which will be born of thee Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Light eternal.
PROSE IN HONOR OF THE HOLY MOTHER OF GOD
(Taken from the ancient Roman-French Missals)
Let every heart, that is devout, now raise itself and devoutly celebrate the Conception of the Virgin ever blessed.
Let the mind be inflamed with love; and let praise and jubilee unite with the love.
In her admirable Conception, she is a rose in its beauty, she is a lily in its whiteness.
As fruit that comes from the flower, so was Mary brought forth in her purity, for her Son had possession of her from the first.
As a dew-drop contracts not a stain from the earth whereon ’tis formed,
So was Mary untainted by original sin when she was conceived in her mother’s womb.
Let us then sing our sweetest hymn in praise of a cloudless brightness, the Immaculate Conception.
Put on all your joy, ye choirs of earth, and sing of her, that was a daughter of Adam, but not of his sin.
May she be pleased with our hymns, and defend us from all sin in this our present life, And when our last hour comes, deliver us by her prayers from the abyss of hell into which the devil will seek to drag us.
PRAYER FOR THE TIME OF ADVENT
(The Mozarabic Breviary, Fourth Sunday of Advent, Oratio)
New and unheard of tidings are those, which the word of thy prophet, O Lord, has announced to the world: A Virgin shall bring salvation to mankind by giving birth to her Son. Now, therefore, that thy Church, filled with joy, is preparing to receive, with great devotion, this admirable mystery of the Incarnation; we beseech thee, give her to celebrate the praise of the Incarnate Word with new and welcome canticles: that thus, he, whose praise is sung in the furthermost parts of the earth, may see his will fulfilled by the faithful throughout the universe. Amen.