10 December 2009

A Virtuous Woman

Many changes occurred in the Roman Breviary during the 1900’s starting at 1911. The feast of the Immaculate Conception used to be celebrated with an Octave. This permission first began with Pope Clement IX when he granted this favor to France, and later that permission was extended to the universal Church by Pope Innocent XII, although not privileged -- meaning that other feasts were also celebrated within those eight days. This lasted until changes were made in 1955. For that eight day period, in the early twentieth-century Roman Breviary, most of those days at the hour of Matins for the Second Nocturn contained extracts from “Ineffabilis Deus,” the Apostolic Constitution issued by Pope Pius IX in December of 1854 which declared that “in the first instance of her conception,” Mary “was preserved free from all stain of original sin.” In fact, also in that Apostolic Constitution, the Holy Father wrote: “Moreover, Our said Predecessors with great joy ordained that the Feast of the said Conception should be observed as of the same rank as that of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, and appointed that it should be kept with an Octave throughout the whole Church.” Well, those days may be gone but some interesting reflections were contained in the Breviary during those eight days at the hour of Matins in the Third Nocturn. Today would have been Day Three within the Octave and what was in the Roman Breviary is this Homily from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

Rejoice, father Adam, and you even more mother Eve, you who are the source of all, and the ruin of all, and the unhappy cause of their ruin before you gave them birth. Be comforted both in your Daughter, and such a Daughter; but chiefly you, O woman, of whom the first evil came, and who has cast your slur upon all women. The time has come for the slur to be taken away, and for the man to have nothing to say against the woman. At first, when he unwisely began to make an excuse, he did not scruple to throw the blame upon her, saying: The woman whom You have given to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate. Wherefore, O Eve, betake yourself to Mother Mary, betake yourself to your Daughter; let the Daughter answer for the mother; let her take away her mother's reproach; let her make up to her father for her mother's fault for if man is fallen by means of a woman, it is by means of Woman that he is raised up again.

What did you say, O Adam? The woman whom You have given to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate. These are wrathful words, by which you would rather magnify than diminish your offence. Nevertheless, Wisdom has defeated your malice. God asked you that He might find in you an occasion of pardon, but, in that He did not find it, He has sought and found it in the Treasure of His own mercy. One woman answers for another; the wise for the foolish; the lowly for the proud; for her that gave to you from the tree of death, another that gives to you to taste from the tree of life; for her that brought you the bitter food of sin, another that gives you from the sweet fruits of righteousness. Wherefore accuse the woman no more, but speak in thanksgiving, and say: Lord, the Woman whom You have given to me, she has given to me from the tree of life, and I have eaten; and it is in my mouth sweeter than honey, for thereby You have quickened me. Behold, it was for this that the angel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin, to the most admirable of women, a Woman more wonderful than all women, the restorer of those that went before, and the one that quickens those that come after her.

Is it not of this your Daughter, O Adam, that God spoke of when He said to the serpent: I will put enmity between you and the Woman? And if you will still doubt that He speaks of Mary, hear what follows: She shall bruise your head. Who won this conquest but Mary? She brought to nothing all the wiles of Satan, whether for the pollution of her body or the injury of her soul. Was it not of her that Solomon spoke of when he said: Who shall find a virtuous Woman? He had read that God had promised that the enemy, who had prevailed by means of a woman, was by a Woman to be overthrown, and he believed. But he wondered greatly, and said: Who shall find a virtuous Woman? That is to say: If our salvation, and the bringing back of that which is lost, and the final triumph over the enemy, is in the hands of a Woman, it must be that a virtuous Woman has been found, prepared to work in that matter.