The Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 18th December begins the last week of Advent, which the Church calls the Week of Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We are only one week away from the Birth of Our Lord, and the Church imagines the jubilation and hope of Our Lady in expectation of her parturition: she was waiting to admire the Blessed Face of the Son she was generating in her womb.
By Dom Prosper Louis Pascal Guéranger
This feast, which in recent times has been kept not only throughout the whole of Spain, but also in many other parts of the Catholic world, owes its origin to the bishops of the 10th Council of Toledo, in 656. These prelates thought that there was an incongruity in the ancient practice of celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation on the 25th of March, inasmuch as this joyful solemnity frequently occurs at the time when the Church is intent upon the Passion of Our Lord, so that it is sometimes obliged to be transferred into Easter time, with which it is out of harmony for another reason. They therefore decreed that, henceforth, in the Church of Spain there should be kept, eight days before Christmas, a solemn Feast with an octave, in honor of the Annunciation, and as a preparation for the great solemnity of Our Lord’s Nativity. In the course of time, however, the Church of Spain saw the necessity of returning to the practice of the Church of Rome and of the whole world, which solemnize the 25th of March as the day of Our Lady’s Annunciation and the Incarnation of the Son of God. But such had been, for ages, the devotion of the people for the Feast of the 18th of December, that it was considered requisite to maintain some vestige of it. They discontinued, therefore, to celebrate the Annunciation on this day; but the faithful were requested to consider, with devotion, what must have been the sentiments of the Holy Mother of God during the days immediately preceding Her giving Him birth. A new Feast was instituted, under the name of “the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin’s Delivery.”
This Feast, which sometimes goes under the name of Our Lady of O, or the Feast of O, on account of the great antiphons which are sung during these days, and, in a special manner, of that which begins O Virgo virginum (which is still used in the Vespers of the Expectation—see below, together with the O Adonai, the antiphon of the Advent Office), was kept with great devotion in Spain. A High Mass was sung at a very early hour each morning during the octave, at which all who were with child, whether rich or poor, considered it a duty to assist, that they might thus honor Our Lady’s Maternity, and beg Her blessing upon themselves. It is no wonder that the Holy See approved of this pious practice being introduced into almost every other country. We find that the Church of Milan, Whose Advent fast lasted 40 days, long before Rome conceded this Feast to the various dioceses of Christendom, celebrated the Office of Our Lady’s Annunciation on the sixth and last Sunday of Advent, and called the whole week following the Hebdomada de Exceptato (for thus the popular expression had corrupted the word Expectato). But it, too, has given way to the Feast of Our Lady’s Expectation, which the Church has established and sanctioned as a means of exciting the attention of the faithful during these last days of Advent.
Most just indeed it is, O Holy Mother of God, that we should unite in that ardent desire Thou hadst to see Him, Who had been concealed for nine months in Thy chaste womb; to know the features of this Son of the Heavenly Father, Who is also Thine; to come to that blissful hour of His birth, which will give glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to men of good will. Yes, dearest Mother, the time is fast approaching, though not fast enough to satisfy Thy desires and ours. Make us redouble our attention to the great mystery; complete our preparation by Thy powerful prayers for us, that when the solemn hour has come, our Jesus may find no obstacle to His entrance into our hearts.
O Virgin of virgins! How shall this be? For never was there one like Thee, nor will there ever be. Ye daughters of Jerusalem, why look ye wondering at Me? What you behold is a divine mystery. (1)