Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
Holy Scripture [is] an ‘an immeasurable forest of prophecy.’ This forest is nowhere bare: everywhere there is the same dense foliage of inspiration, and from all the tree-tops of it there rustles the one word, “Christ.”
Frederick van der Meer, Augustine the Bishop
Today is the Octave-Day of the Nativity, eight days since our Lord’s Birth, and in fulfillment of the ancient law, our Lord as a son of Abraham submitted himself to the Rite of Circumcision.
The 1962 Roman Missal reads:
In the Old Law, by the rite of Circumcision, every male Jew became a member and shared in the privileges and blessings of the chosen people of God. A Jew who failed to be initiated by the ceremony was excluded. Our Lord was Son of God by nature, and absolutely sinless, and therefore did not need adoption into the membership of God’s children. Yet, He submitted to the law. The Church also honours on this day the holy Name of Jesus, given to the Divine Child at the Circumcision, and the Divine Maternity of Our Lady.
Dom Prosper Guéranger adds:
Our new-born King and Saviour is eight days old to-day; the Star that guides the Magi is advancing towards Bethlehem, and five days hence will be standing over the Stable where our Jesus is being nursed by his Mother. To-day the Son of Man is to be circumcised; this first sacrifice of his innocent Flesh must honour the eighth day of his mortal life. To-day also a Name is to be given him: the name will be Jesus, and it means Saviour. So that mysteries abound on this day: let us not pass one of them over, but honour them with all possible devotion and love.
Moreover, the Gospel in the Extraordinary Form announces:
At that time, after eight days were accomplished that the Child should be circumcised: His Name was called Jesus, which was called by the Angel before he was conceived in the womb.
For Unto is a Child is born, and unto us a Son is given.
Today, on this Fourth day of Christmastide, we hail the New-Born Savior as the Lord, the King of Martyrs [Dominus, Rex Martyrum], as we greet at the Crib of Christ the Holy Innocents.
As the 1962 Missal introduces:
It was because Herod believed the words of the Magi and of the High Priest whom he consulted that he sees as a rival in the Infant of Bethlehem and with jealousy pursues the Child, born King of the Jews. It is this God-King that the Holy Innocents by dying confess. Their passion is the exaltation of Christ. 
Dom. Prosper Guéranger adds:
Herod intended to include the Son of God amongst the murdered Babes of Bethlehem. The Daughters of Rachel wept over their little ones, and the land streamed with blood; the Tyrant’s policy can do no more: it cannot reach Jesus, and its whole plot ends in recruiting an immense army of Martyrs for heaven. These Children were not capable of knowing what an honor it was for them to be made victims for the sake of the Saviour of the world; but the very first instant had gone through this world without knowing it, and now that they know it, they possess an infinitely better. God showed here the riches of his mercy: he asks them but a momentary suffering, and that over, they wake up in Abraham’s Bosom: no further trial awaits them, they are in spotless innocence, and the glory due to a soldier who died to save the life of his prince belongs eternally to them. [Guéranger 278]
For out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings, O God, Thou hast perfected praise, because of Thine enemies [Ps 8. 3] the Introit rings.
May we ask always for the prayers of these most blameless Martyrs.
Dom. Prosper Guéranger, on the History of Christmas:
We apply the name Christmas to the forty days which begin with the Nativity of our Lord, December 25, and end with the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, February 2. It is a period which forms a distinct portion of the Liturgical Year, as distinct, by its own special spirit, from every other, as are Advent, Lent, Easter, or Pentecost. One same Mystery is celebrated and kept in view during the whole forty days. Neither the Feasts of the Saints, which so abound during this Season; nor the time of Septuagesima, with its mournful Purple, which often begins before Christmastide is over, seems able to distract our Holy Mother the Church from the immense joy of which she received the good tidings from the Angels [Lk ii. 10] on that glorious Night for which the world had been longing four thousand years. (1)
It is a regular feature of American Christmas practices to begin the celebration of “Christmas” right after Thanksgiving and conclude ‘the holiday’ right after the 25th, as New Years Eve and New Years Day have their own gaiety (wholly separate from Christmas), and already the commercial machine is moving us towards Valentine’s Day. The lights and holly will come down, our trees will be discarded by the roadside, and the Twelve Days of Christmas will be nothing more than a carol sung before Christmas — to say nothing of Christmas days leading us to the Epiphany, when we welcome the Magi to the Bethlehem crib. How strange were these travelers from the East to arrival and find St. Joseph, the Virgin, and the Christ child no longer in Bethlehem and none to adore and lavish those most costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Moreover, the current Church calendar will already switch over to the green vestments of Ordinary Time as early as January 9, only one day subsequent the Baptism of the Lord.
I wish we could resist these restless, impulsive actions and stay in Bethlehem a while longer, nestled betwixt the oxen who knows its master and the donkey who know its master’s manger [Isa I. 3], and contemplate with the Virgin Mary the mystery of her Son’s Nativity.
Prayer is man’s richest boon. It is his light, his nourishment, and his very life, for it brings him into communication with God, who is life [Jn viii.12], nourishment [ibid vi. 35], and life [ibid 14. 6]. But of ourselves we know not what we should pray for as we ought [Rom. viii. 26]; we must needs, therefore, address ourselves to Jesus Christ, and say to Him, as the apostles did: ‘Lord, teach us how to pray’ [Lk xi. 1]. He alone can make the dumb speak, and give eloquence to the mouths of children; and this prodigy He effects by sending His Spirit of grace and of prayers [Zach. xii. 10], who delights in helping our infirmity, asking for us with unspeakable groanings. (1)
So begins Dom. Prosper Guéranger’s General Preface (1-19) to his L’Année Liturgique — The Liturgical Year — a 14-volume treasure trove which I have been meditating upon for the better part of three years. part of my devotions includes reading the days prayers and reflections before and sometimes only after the Mass and various Offices of the day. This practice is rather easy and sensical when it comes to the Saints, where Guéranger’s work serves as a helpful but more meditative Butler’s Lives of the Saints [link], which are themselves deeply edifying and commendable for anyone who wishes to grow in the imitatio santorum.
But I keep coming back every Advent to Guéranger’s commentaries, which I still find rich, deep, and full of insight. By why talk about this now and here? Well, I was recently following a blog like to another WordPress blogger, a Protestant, who among other things, eschews the keeping for Christian feast days, most notably, the Feast of the Lord’s Nativity, which we commonly call Christmas. Now, I do respect his sola scriptura stance, for ‘at least it’s an ethos.’ But why are the liturgical year and the liturgical life so necessary for one’s soul? The positive affirmations of such a question are more important.
Consider Guéranger’s opening remarks to the work entire. The issue is prayer. When we are born into Holy Mother Church through the sacrament of Baptism, we like infants are infans — unable to speak — and so we cry and wail without the what [quid] to say and the how [quo modo] to say it. As a father of three and a 7-month old now, I know what it’s like to have a child who doesn’t know what she wants nor does she have the capacity to ask. So too is it the newly baptized Christian who has asked, or on her behalf, of Christ’s Church for “faith.”
In asking for faith [fides, how to be fidelis or loyal to Christ], the baptized is further initiated into the catechism of one’s way of “living, moving, and being” [cf. Acts xvii. 28], which consists of learning, among other things, the orationes [from oro, to speak, pray, or plead] of the Church: the Paternoster or Our Father, the Ave or Hail Mary, and Credo or Apostles’ Creed . Then there are, of course, the prayers of the Mass and the Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours that give the new Christian the words to say. This is why the priest exhorts those assisting or hearing Mass, oremus – let us pray.
The words, given to the Church by the Word Incarnate or inspired by the Holy Spirit and carried on by his apostles and their successors, are the words of eternal life [Jn 6. 69].
And so we should learn these words in order to hear the Lord’s voice, to respond to His voice, and, when ready, to bring out the good stored in our hearts, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh [Lk 6. 45] and to render account to God himself [Rom. 14. 12].
In the end, I hope to go slowly through Guéranger’s work and comment on his commentary. This will be a lovely labor and one I hope I can accomplish with great gladness.
 For an in-depth display of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and catechesis, see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1214-1321 (pp. 312-333 or here and following). For an interesting study of early Christian catechesis, see F. van der Meer’s Augustine the Bishop, ch. 12: “Becoming a Christian,” 347-87 [Amazon link].
Other feasts than these [Easter, Pentecost] have an altogether different significance. Christmas is of comparatively recent origin. It does not, strictly speaking, commemorate a mystery, but a particularly unique natale, a birthday, and one falling on a specially suggestive day. Augustine knows that it replaces the birthday of Sol Invictus, although the pagan festival was only celebrated at a few places and was originally a particularity of the Roman city calendar. This fact, however, seems to have been widely known in Africa, since Augustine says in a Christmas sermon, “Let us celebrate this day as a feast not for the sake of this sun, which is beheld by unbelievers as much as by ourselves, but for the sake of him who created the sun.” [Sermo 190] He also believes, however, that there is a reliable tradition which gives December 25 as the actual date of the birth of our Lord. According to this same tradition the birth of John the Baptist took place six months before the eighth day before the calends of January, that is, on the eighth day before the calends of July—which means, unfortunately, that it fell on the 24th, and not on the 25th, of June.
Broadly speaking, however, the feast of St. John coincides with the summer solstice and Christmas with the winter solstice. This fact does not particularly disturb the good bishop. He merely points out that as Christmas the days begin to grow longer and on the feast of St. John to grow shorter, a symbol to show that the one had of necessity to become greater, while the other had to grow less.
F. van der Meer, Augustine the Bishop (292-293)