Thursday, January 10, 2008

Christ our Star our Map our Road

Australian Catholics are hopefully still familiar with the hymns written by James McAuley (d. 1976) and given music by Richard Connolly, which IMHO are the last decent examples of the genre; most if not all more modern stuff betrays an ideological bias.

One of McAuley's hymns has the stirring couplet "Christ our star, our map, our road / To the Father's high abode"; and this I was put in mind of by a passage of St Ambrose.

Until the reforms of Pius XII and Bl. John XXIII, the Epiphany had its own Octave, with Patristic readings each day in Matins of nine lessons.  Unfortunately, these were gone by the publication of the 1962 Breviary; the modern Divine Office provides quite excellent Patristic readings of course, but only concentrate on the coming of the Magi on the Epiphany itself, and on the succeeding day – the rest of the time (excepting the Saturday) till the feast of the Lord's Baptism simply presages that (highly important) event.  (In the same way, the newer form having abolished the Octave of Pentecost, now the days after Ascension must needs focus already on the coming Holy Spirit, to the exclusion of Christ's return to His Father and Session in majesty at His Right).

Years ago I first noted the extract from St Ambrose's Commentary on St Luke's Gospel (yes, St Luke's - he presumably digresses to compare and contrast St Matthew's account of the Magi) that appeared at Matins of the 11th of January, as part of the 8th Lesson, describing Christ as our Star; here is the passage, and my translation:

Stella ab his vidétur: ubi Heródes est, non vidétur; ubi Christus est, rursus vidétur, et viam demónstrat.  Ergo stella hæc via est, et via Christus [cf. S. Jo. xiv, 6]: quia secúndum incarnatiónis mystérium Christus est stella.  ‘Oriétur’ enim ‘stella ex Jacob, et exsúrget homo ex Israël’.  [Num. xxiv, 17.] Dénique ubi Christus, et stella est.  Ipse enim est ‘stella spléndida et matutína’ [Apoc. xxii, 16].  Sua ígitur ipse luce se signat.

[The star is seen by them, but where Herod is, it is not seen; where Christ is, it is again seen, and shews the way.  Therefore this star is the way, and the way, Christ (cf. S. John xiv, 6); for according to the mystery of the Incarnation Christ is a star.  For ‘there shall arise a star out of Jacob, and a man shall arise out of Israel’ (Numbers xxiv, 17).  And so where Christ is, also the star is.  For he himself is the ‘splendid and morning star’ (Apoc. xxii, 16).  Therefore by his very own light he signifies himself.]

Christ is our Star, Who is Light from Light and Splendour of the Father, shining down and lighting our Way: for He both shews the Way, and is our Way, the only Way, to the Father.  As travellers and seafarers of old marked the stars – above all, the Pole Star – that they might determine their perilous course through the darkness of night, so only Christ (Who never sets, Who is ever risen, at the Right Hand of God) shines amidst the changes and chances of this darkened world as the sure beacon alone indicating our true path.

The Liturgia Horarum gives this apposite collect for the 7th of January, or Monday after Epiphany (if transferred to a Sunday):

Corda nostra, quæsumus, Domine, tuæ majestatis splendor illustret, quo per mundi hujus tenebras transire valeamus, et perveniamus ad patriam claritatis æternæ.  Per Christum Dominum nostrum.  R/.  Amen.

(May the splendour of Thy Majesty enlighten our hearts, we beseech Thee, Lord, whereby we may be able to pass through the darkness of this world, and attain to the eternal brightness of our fatherland.  Through Christ our Lord.  R/.  Amen.)

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