For ten days now I've been considering, at Matins of the Blessed Virgin, the lessons taken from Ecclesiasticus xxiv; just now, comparing the different recensions of the Little Office, such as the Carmelite, I have considered how (as Cardinal Bea did with his editio amplior) piously to supplement it. As a theoretical suggestion, perhaps at Our Lady's Matins, as each day the Nocturn recited is alternated (the first, on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays; the second, on Tuesdays and Fridays; the third, on Wednesdays and Saturdays), so perhaps the three Matins Lessons could have alternatives.
It so happens providentially that Ecclus xxiv, 1-24 (which Holy Church reads in praise of the Virgin - literally, Wisdom personified refers to the Book of the Law, but, as Holy Mary is perfectly conformed to God's will, she can be named Lady Wisdom, for her every behaviour can serve as a rule for Christians) can be subdivided into nine lessons (plus two verses already used as the short chapters at Vespers and Compline), so that the first three could be used on Tuesdays and Fridays, and the last three on Wednesdays and Saturdays, while the middle three, which are the existing lessons, could be kept for Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays.
I append below my suggestions, plus a Marian commentary on these texts:
Suggested Matins Lessons for Tuesdays and Fridays
Ecclus xxiv, 1-4
Sapientia laudabit animam suam, et in Deo honorabitur, et in medio populi sui gloriabitur, et in ecclesiis Altissimi aperiet os suum, et in conspectu virtutis illius gloriabitur, et in medio populi sui exaltabitur, et in plenitudine sancta admirabitur, et in multitudine electorum habebit laudem.(Wisdom shall praise her own self, and shall be honoured in God, and shall glory in the midst of her people, and shall open her mouth in the churches of the most High, and shall glorify herself in the sight of his power, and in the midst of her own people she shall be exalted, and shall be admired in the holy assembly, and in the multitude of the elect she shall have praise.)
As Our Lady spoke by her own blessed mouth, magnifying the Lord, she indeed sang in praise of what He had wrought in her, but only so as to give God the glory and testify to the truth: and she has been ever the glory and the refuge of good Christian people, the delight of pious folk, she who is the Mother and image and peerless archetype of the Church, the mistress of all churches, admired and exalted by the faithful and ever praised: "For all generations shall call me blessed".
Ecclus xxiv, 4b-7
Et inter benedictos benedicetur, dicens: Ego ex ore Altissimi prodivi, primogenita ante omnem creaturam. Ego feci in cælis ut oriretur lumen indeficiens, et sicut nebula texi omnem terram. Ego in altissimis habitavi, et thronus meus in columna nubis.(And among the blessed she shall be blessed, saying: I came out of the mouth of the most High, the firstborn before all creatures: I made that in the heavens there should rise light that never faileth, and as a cloud I covered all the earth: I dwelt in the highest places, and my throne is in a pillar of a cloud.)
The Holy Mother of God is indeed blessed among all women, blessed among the blessed, being sanctified and hallowed in her Immaculate Conception by the Holy Ghost, and rendered Virgin of Virgins, yea, holy among all the saints. She is the firstborn, because peerless and most beloved, daughter of God the Father, who created her as the unique fit Mother of His Onlybegotten Son: and by the same eternal decree by which the Incarnation was foreordained, so was she conceived in the Mind of God. Through her has it been effected that Christ, the Light of the world, should come down from heaven and illuminate all that sit in darkness and the shadow of death, rising as the Sun of justice that never shall set. As a cloud covers the earth and waters it, so have ever been her anxious prayers for all, that God would make alive all souls by the secret influx of grace. Assumed into heaven on high, there she dwells, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of heaven and earth, enthroned above the clouds.
Ecclus xxiv, 8-11a
Gyrum cæli circuivi sola, et profundum abyssi penetravi: in fluctibus maris ambulavi. Et in omni terra steti: et in omni populo, et in omni gente primatum habui: et omnium excellentium et humilium corda virtute calcavi.(I alone have compassed the circuit of heaven, and have penetrated into the bottom of the deep, and have walked in the waves of the sea, and have stood in all the earth: and in every people, and in every nation I have had the chief rule: and by my power I have trodden under my feet the hearts of all the high and low.)
That is, the Blessed Virgin has been raised up to the very heights of heaven, bodily, at her Assumption, after she had plumbed the very depths of sore torment and grief when compassionating her Son's most bitter Passion at the hands of malefactors (for Scripture very often represents evil by the uproarious sea), and she stood at the foot of the Cross when her heart would break, and by her maternal intercession has served Providence by obtaining great graces for all peoples, bequeathed her by Christ: and has trodden down the proud of heart (above all, that wily serpent, Satan), while the humble-hearted have delighted to submit themselves to her most gentle suasion.
Current Matins Lessons
(to be kept for Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays)
Ecclus xxiv, 11b-13 [Matins, Lesson i]
Et in his omnibus requiem quæsivi, et in hæreditate Domini morabor. Tunc præcepit, et dixit mihi Creator omnium: et qui creavit me, requievit in tabernaculo meo. Et dixit mihi: In Jacob inhabita, et in Israël hæreditare, et in electis meis mitte radices.(And in all these I sought rest, and I shall abide in the inheritance of the Lord. Then the creator of all things commanded, and said to me: and he that made me, rested in my tabernacle, and he said to me: Let thy dwelling be in Jacob, and thy inheritance in Israel, and take root in my elect.)
Our Lady, true Daughter of Sion, abode with those whose inheritance is the Lord, and in Him she ever remains and rests. The Creator of all willed that the Eternal Word take flesh in Mary, and sent a heavenly embassy, a holy angel, to announce His suit, and ask her consent: she consenting, He that made her rested in her tabernacle. Her portion was with her people, those of the covenant made with Jacob and Israel, the Chosen of God.
Ecclus xxiv, 14 [Vespers, Little Chapter]
Ab initio et ante sæcula creata sum, et usque ad futurum sæculum non desinam: et in habitatione sancta coram ipso ministravi.(From the beginning, and before the world, was I created, and unto the world to come I shall not cease to be, and in the holy dwelling place I have ministered before him.)
Before all time, God decreed that the Second Person of the Trinity would become Man, and thereby willed that Holy Mary be made the free instrument of His saving Incarnation. Never shall the Blessed Virgin die, for she reigns with Christ forever: and as her delight was to nurture her Divine Son, so evermore she delights to serve Him in heaven by doing His will, praying for sinners and the just, obtaining from Him the favours He delights to bestow through her.
Ecclus xxiv, 15-16 [Matins, Lesson ii; also used for the Little Chapters at Terce and Sext]
Et sic in Sion firmata sum, et in civitate sanctificata similiter requievi, et in Jerusalem potestas mea. Et radicavi in populo honorificato, et in parte Dei mei hæreditas illius, et in plenitudine sanctorum detentio mea.(And so was I established in Sion, and in the holy city likewise I rested, and my power was in Jerusalem. And I took root in an honourable people, and in the portion of my God his inheritance, and my abode is in the full assembly of saints.)
The chosen people of God were the elect company in which Holy Mary was in due process of time born of her holy righteous parents Joachim and Ann, and was brought forth among the tribes of Israel, and introduced to the Holy City, and the Temple: she, in herself the new and perfect Sion and Jerusalem, chosen to become the wondrous City of the Living God, the Holy One of Israel, to be made flesh in her womb, to be our Peace. Exalted to heaven, she dwells with all the holy children of God.
Ecclus xxiv, 17-20 [Matins, Lesson iii; verse 20 is also the Little Chapter at None]
Quasi cedrus exaltata sum in Libano, et quasi cypressus in monte Sion: quasi palma exaltata sum in Cades, et quasi plantatio rosæ in Jericho: quasi oliva speciosa in campis, et quasi platanus exaltata sum juxta aquam in plateis. Sicut cinnamomum et balsamum aromatizans odorem dedi; quasi myrrha electa dedi suavitatem odoris.(I was exalted like a cedar in Libanus, and as a cypress tree on mount Sion. I was exalted like a palm tree in Cades, and as a rose plant in Jericho: as a fair olive tree in the plains, and as a plane tree by the water in the streets, was I exalted. I gave a sweet smell like cinnamon and aromatical balm: I yielded a sweet odour like the best myrrh.)
The Virgin compares herself to stately trees and flowers, images of the righteous planted in Israel to bear goodly fruit for God – she, the humble and meek, a little one, was magnified and exalted by the Lord, growing from the tiniest into the greatest, raised up from earth to heaven, having in herself borne Heaven made a Son of earth: well may all called to be citizens of heaven shelter under her care. She is perfumed with the sweet cinnamon odour of Christ, Who is as balm, being our Healing, and as myrrh the sad spice for embalming, for in His Passion and Death he suffered all pain, yet decayed not nor corrupted, and rose triumphant the third day.
Suggested Matins Lessons for Wednesdays and Saturdays
Ecclus xxiv, 21-23
Et quasi storax, et galbanus, et ungula, et gutta, et quasi Libanus non incisus vaporavi habitationem meam, et quasi balsamum non mistum odor meus. Ego quasi terebinthus extendi ramos meos, et rami mei honoris et gratiæ. Ego quasi vitis fructificavi suavitatem odoris: et flores mei fructus honoris et honestatis.(And I perfumed my dwelling as storax, and galbanum, and onyx, and aloes, and as the frankincense not cut, and my odour is as the purest balm. I have stretched out my branches as the turpentine tree, and my branches are of honour and grace. As the vine I have brought forth a pleasant odour: and my flowers are the fruit of honour and riches.)
Being Immaculate, and ever avoiding all folly and sin, she kept herself beautified as a worthy tabernacle for the Incarnation of the Most High, as the precious Ark of the New Covenant, and ever maintained herself in entire purity of mind and body as a fountain enclosed, a garden compassed about, as befits one uniquely God's Mother, ever a Virgin: and in this she shews how all good Christians must strive by grace to keep pure as temples of the living God. She ever stretches forth the mantle of her maternal protection, shading fallen man from evil influences, thus honouring those born again as Christians with her gracious prayers. Holy Mary is as a plenteous vine, giving forth the sweet odour of Christ in bearing Him Who is our salvation. All her works are honourable and full of grace. As Mother and Mediatrix of grace, God's choicest blessings overflow from her into all hearts.
Ecclus xxiv, 24 [Compline, Little Chapter]
Ego mater pulchræ dilectionis, et timoris, et agnitionis, et sanctæ spei.(I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope.)
The Holy Virgin, Queen and Mother of mercy, is our life, our sweetness, and our hope: by her perfect example, she teaches us what charity is, what holy fear, reverence and godly awe, what true knowledge is, eager adhesion to Him Who is Truth, and what wonderful hope we ought have in Him, her Son – our way, our truth and our life.
Ecclus xxiv, 25-27
In me gratia omnis viæ et veritatis: in me omnis spes vitæ et virtutis. Transite ad me, omnes qui concupiscitis me, et a generationibus meis implemini: spiritus enim meus super mel dulcis, et hæreditas mea super mel et favum.(In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue. Come over to me, all ye that desire me, and be filled with my fruits. For my spirit is sweet above honey, and my inheritance above honey and the honeycomb.)
The Mother of God was filled with all grace at her Immaculate Conception, filled by the Author of grace, conceiving within her God the Son Who is the Source of all grace, ever and anon lifted by the indwelling Spirit to new heights of grace. She is graced with the way to follow Christ perfectly, with full grasp of His truth and of Him Who is Truth, and so in adherence to her example is all hope of true life and true virtue. She is Lady Wisdom, calling out in the way to whoso would find the Lord, bidding them imbibe her saving instruction and profit thereby unto life eternal. One so beautiful of face and still fairer in faith is ever to be loved and admired: by running to her, we come nigh unto God Who seats her above heaven with Himself. To be filled with her fruits is to obtain the graces God is pleased she should dispense, and above all to receive into ourselves Christ, the Blessed Fruit of her womb. Her spirit is sweet because pure and wholly graced, a nature so good and so supernaturalized as to be perfected in God. Her heritage, for those who love and follow her, is likewise richer than any lesser good.
Ecclus xxiv, 28-31
Memoria mea in generatione sæculorum. Qui edunt me, adhuc esurient, et qui bibunt me, adhuc sitient. Qui audit me non confundetur, et qui operantur in me non peccabunt: qui elucidant me, vitam æternam habebunt.(My memory is unto everlasting generations. They that eat me, shall yet hunger: and they that drink me, shall yet thirst. He that hearkeneth to me, shall not be confounded: and they that work by me, shall not sin. They that explain me shall have life everlasting.)
Yes, as she herself declared, inspired by the Holy Ghost as St Luke records, the memory of the Blessed Virgin shall endure for ever: for the Almighty wrought marvels in her, and therefore all generations shall bless her. Of Mary there is never enough: we receive the Blessed Eucharist, the Most Holy Flesh and Blood of Christ, from her, who gave Him birth as Man: of her we receive Christ, for Whom we ever hunger and thirst, Whose sweetness is such that we ever desire more. If we listen to Our Lady, her last words ever remind us: Do whatever He tells you. In this practice, in such a hope, we can never be confounded. Her will is entirely conformed to the Lord's: hence, to follow her is to be a true imitator of her, as she is the perfect disciple of her Son Christ – therefore, to work out our salvation as she did is never to sin. Praising her, explaining her mysteries, is but to give the glory to God Who made such a marvel as Mary, and is but to point out so sure an Advocate and model, to follow whom and to seek whose aid is surely the safe short way to life.