Quarto Nonas Decembris, December 2
I'm proposing to copy Dom Prosper's texts in (what remains of) Advent (whether I go back and begin with the first five days remains to be seen, ahem). The translation is that of Dom Laurence Shepherd OSB (1825-1885). The fact is that Dom Laurence's work, splendid though it is, has some lacunae and perhaps a few infelicities in its English, at least to 21st century American ears. I'm not going to fuss about any of it: am copying the text. The orthography is at times annoying and the pdf files I'm using exaggerate this, making it difficult occasionally to know whether the colon is a colon or a semi-colon or a comma or an A or an O et cetera. I intend to be as careful as I can be without enlarging this little project into one occupying hours each day.
Of the Saints, whose feasts are kept during Advent, five are Virgins. The first, St. Bibiana, whom we honour today, is a daughter of Rome; the second, St. Barbara, is the glory of the Eastern Churches; the third, St. Eulalia of Merida, is one of Spain's richest treasures the fourth; St. Lucy, belongs to beautiful Sicily; the fifth, St. Odila, is claimed by France. These five wise Virgins lighted their lamps and watched, waiting for the coming of the Spouse.
Such was their constancy and fidelity, that four of them shed their blood for the love of Him, after whom they longed. Let us take courage by this noble example and since we have not, as the Apostle expresses it, as yet resisted unto blood, let us not think it hard if we suffer fatigue and trouble in the holy exercises of this penitential season of Advent. He, for whom we do them all, will soon be with us and repay us. Today, it is the chaste and courageous Bibiana, who instructs us by her glorious example.
Bibiana, was a Roman virgin, noble by birth, but more noble by her profession of the Christian faith. For, under the most wicked tyrant Julian the Apostate, Flavian, her father, was deprived of his dignity of prefect, and being branded with the mark of slavery, he was banished to Aquae Taurinae, and there died martyr. Her mother, Dafrosa, was first shut up in her own house with her daughters, that she might die by starvation but shortly afterwards was banished from Rome and beheaded. The virtuous parents thus put to death, Bibiana was deprived of all her possessions, as also was her sister, Demetria. Apronianus, the City Praetor, thirsting after their wealth, persecutes the two sisters. They are bereaved of every human help. But God, who gives food to them that are in hunger, wonderfully nourishes them and the Praetor is exceedingly astonished on finding them in better health and strength than before.
Apronianus, notwithstanding, endeavours to induce them to venerate the gods of the Gentiles. If they consent, he promises them the recovery of all their wealth, the Emperor's favour, and marriage to the noblest in the empire but should they refuse, he threatens them with prison, and scourgings, and the sword. But neither promises nor threats can make them abandon the true faith; they would rather die, than be defiled by the idolatrous practices of paganism and they resolutely resist the impious Praetor. Whereupon, Demetria was struck down in the presence of Bibiana, and slept in the Lord.
Bibiana was delivered over to woman named Rufina, who was most skilled in the art of seduction. But the virgin, taught from her infancy to observe the Christian law, and to preserve with the utmost jealousy the flower of her virginity, rose above nature, defeated all the artifices of the wretched Rufina, and foiled the craft of the Praetor. Finding, therefore, that Rufina could in no wise shake the virgin's holy resolution, and that both her wicked words and frequent blows were of no avail and seeing his hopes disappointed and his labour thrown away the Praetor became violently enraged, and ordered Bibiana to be stripped by the lictors, to be fastened to a pillar with her hands bound, and to be beaten to death with leaded whips. Her sacred body was left for two days in the Bull-Forum, as food for dogs but received no injury, being divinely preserved.
A priest called John then buried it during the night, close to the grave of her sister and mother, near the Palace of Licinius, where there stands at this day a Church consecrated to God under the title of Saint Bibiana. Urban VIII restored this Church, having there discovered the bodies of Saints Bibiana, Demetria, and Dafrosa, which he placed under the high altar.
Holy Bibiana, most wise Virgin thou hast gone through the long unbroken watch of this life and when, suddenly, the Spouse came, thy lamp was bright and richly fed with oil. Now thou art dwelling in the abode of the eternal marriage-feast, where the Beloved feeds among the lilies. Remember us who are still living in the expectation of that same divine Spouse, whose eternal embrace is secured to thee for ever. We are awaiting the Birth of the Saviour of the world, which is to be the end of sin and the beginning of justice; we are awaiting the coming of this Saviour into our souls that he may give them life and union with himself by love; we are awaiting our Judge, the Judge of the living and the dead. Most wise Virgin intercede for us, by thy fervent prayers, with this our Saviour, our Spouse, and our Judge; pray that each of these three visits may work and perfect in us that divine union, for which we have all been created. Pray also, faithful Virgin, for the Church on earth, which gave thee to the Church in heaven, and which so devoutly watches over thy precious remains. Obtain for her that strict fidelity, which will ever render her worthy of Him, who is her Spouse as he is thine. Though he has enriched her with the most magnificent gifts, and given her confidence by his promises which cannot fail, yet does he wish her to ask, and us to ask for her, the graces which will lead her to the glorious destiny which awaits her.
We will today consider the state of nature at this season of the year. The earth is stripped of her wonted verdure, the flowers are gone, the fruits are fallen, the leaves are torn from the trees and scattered by the wind, and every living thing stiffens with the cold. It seems as though the hand of death had touched creation. We see the sun rise after the long night of his absence and scarce have we felt his warmth at noon, than he sets again, and leaves us in the chilly darkness. Each day he shortens his visit. Is the world to become sunless, and men to live out the rest of life in gloom The old pagans, who witnessed this struggle between light and darkness, and feared the sun was going to leave them, dedicated the twenty-fifth day of December, which was the winter solstice, to the worship of the sun. After this day, their hopes revived, in seeing the glorious luminary again mounting up in the sky, and gradually regaining his triumphant position.
We Christians can have no such feelings as these; our light is the true faith, which tells us that there is Sun to be sought for which never sets, and is never eclipsed. Having Him, we care little for the absence of any other brightness nay, all other light, without Him, can only lead us astray. Jesus! thou true light, that enlightenest every man coming into this world! thou didst choose, for thy birth among us, a time of the year which forces us to reflect upon the miserable state of the world when thou didst come to save it. "The evening was coming on, and the day was far spent," says St. Bernard: "the Sun of Justice had all but set, so that exceeding scanty was his light or warmth on earth for the light of divine knowledge was very faint, and, sin abounding, the heat of charity had grown cold. There was neither Angel to visit men, nor Prophet to speak to them; both seemed in
despair, for the hardness and obstinacy of man had made every effort useless: then said, they are the words of our Redeemer, then I said, lo! I come!" O Jesus, Sun of Justice, give us a clear knowledge of what the world is without thee; what our understanding is without thy light; and what our heart, without thy divine heat. Open thou the eyes of our "faith that whilst seeing with the eyes of the body the gradual decrease of the material light, we may think of that other darkness, which is in the soul that has not thee. Then, indeed, will the cry, which comes from the depths of our misery, make its way to thee, and thou wilt come on the day thou hast fixed, dispelling every shadow of darkness by thy irresistible brightness.
Prayer for the time of Advent, from the Mozarabic Breviary, Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent ('Capitula').
Domine Jesu Christe, qui assumpto homine, hominum susceptor effectus, in lucem gentium datus es; aperi oculos cordium in te credentium populorum, atque abstrahe misericors de conclusione religatos adhuc vinculis diffidentiae: et quos in domo carceris detineri conspicis in tenebris ignorantiae, tuae quaesumus scientiae irradies splendore.
Lord Jesus Christ, who having assumed human nature, and becoming the Saviour of the human race, wast given as light to the nations; open the eyes of the hearts of them that believe in thee, and mercifully set free from their prison them that are bound in the fetters of unbelief; and whom thou seest captives in prison in the darkness of ignorance, enlighten them, we beseech thee, by the splendour of the knowledge of thee.