Be Not Afraid.

The Fourth Day of the Greater Antiphons.*

Lessons from the feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:

• Isaiah 7: 10-14.
• Psalm 24: 1-6.
• Luke 1: 26-38.

Lessons from the dominica,** according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:

• Philippians 4: 4-7.
• Psalm 79: 2-3, 2.
• John 1: 19-28.

6:50 AM 12/20/2018 — Yesterday, we heard of the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah; today he visits our Blessed Mother, as this fifth day before the Nativity draws our attention to the Annunciation, the announcement to the Mother of God that She would be the Mother of the Savior. Her docility to the will of God, delivered to Her by an angel, hearkens back to a similar attitude taken by the man who would soon after this become Her husband, about whom we read two days ago. Make no mistake: the Blessed Virgin did not ask to be the Mother of God; She didn't apply for the job, in spite of the fact that God prepared Her for it by Her Immaculate Conception. I fear sometimes that we so mystify and embellish the Mother of God so as to think that Her will was somehow less free than ours, and that tasks which She appears to embrace without anxiety came easily to Her because of Her holiness. Even the Mother of God, conceived without sin, was not immune to human doubt and human fear—otherwise She wouldn't have been human.
     That's why Mary's life is the perfect example for all of us. Just as it was for Her, the circumstances of our lives are often not choices we make for ourselves, and we may very well doubt our ability to be faithful in the difficulties they present. But as our Lord said in Saint John, “It was not you that chose me, it was I that chose you” (John 15: 16 Knox); and, because He has chosen us, He will not abandon us. We can pretend that He has, because we don't want to admit to our failures. But that's only because we forget that the gift of Sufficient Grace, about which we've been thinking during this season, is not a guarantee that our lives will be problem free. Our Lord said that Himself: “If any man has a mind to come my way, let him renounce self, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9: 23 Knox).
     Now, those words may not sound particularly pleasant to us, but what the angel said to Mary at Her Annunciation, he has also said to each one of us: he said it to me on the day I was ordained, he said it to many of you on the day you were married, he said it to each one of us on the day of our baptism: “Be not afraid.” That one simple sentence, spoken by God through all eternity, sums up the entire Gospel on the subject of grace. But so often we are afraid. We’re afraid of obligation. We’re afraid of sacrifice. And to overcome this fear we have to accept what we so often don't want to accept: that God has not abandoned us. We must respond as Mary did: “…let it be unto me according to thy word.” Saying that did not mean that Mary understood it all, and I think it is unreasonable to assume that She did, for She did not have clairvoyance. What She did have was faith. Faith enough to say, "I am not afraid." Just as we must say every single day: I am not afraid of following the Lord. I am not afraid of responsibility and obligation. I am not afraid of living with a sudden and unexpected loss. I am not afraid of marriage. I am not afraid of the priesthood. I am not afraid of the Gospel. I am not afraid of the cross. I am not afraid of things not going my way. I am not afraid of doing what is right, no matter what the consequences. I am not afraid of life.
     It’s not part of the pre-Christmas narrative this time of year, but there is another Gospel passage that could be instructive for us:

And Jesus checked him with a word, and the devil came out of him; and from that hour the boy was cured. Afterwards, when they were alone, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, Why was it that we could not cast it out? Jesus said to them, Because you had no faith. I promise you, if you have faith, though it be but like a grain of mustard seed, you have only to say to this mountain, Remove from this place to that, and it will remove; nothing will be impossible to you (Matt. 17: 17-19 Knox).

* The Greater Antiphons sung at Vespers, known as the "O Antiphons," and also serving as the verse before the Gospel in the ordinary form, are ordered and utilized differently between the two forms of the Roman Rite. The banners at the top of the pages for the Days of the Greater Antiphons have been created to reflect the original ordering of the antiphons as used in the extraordinary form. For reference, the usages of the two forms compare thus:

Date: Extraordinary Form: Ordinary Form:
Dec. 17. O Sapientia. O Sapientia.
Dec. 18. O Adonai. O Adonai.
Dec. 19. O Radix Iesse. O Radix Iesse.
Dec. 20. O Clavis David. O Clavis David.
Dec. 21. O Oriens. O Emmanuel.
Dec. 22. O Rex Gentium. O Rex Gentium.
Dec. 23. O Emmanuel. O Rex Gentium.
Dec. 24. [The Vigil of Christmas.] O Oriens.

  Regarding December 24th: in the Roman Rite, the concept of a vigil differs completely between the ordinary and extraordinary forms. In the ordinary form, a vigil is simply a celebration of the feast the evening before, either prior to or following First Vespers (in the United States, after 4:00 PM). On Solemnities on which an obligation has been attached, this may be fulfilled at either the Mass of the vigil the evening before, or on the feast itself.
  In the extraordinary form, the word “vigil” designates the entire day before a First Class Feast, and the Mass for the vigil takes place in the morning. If a feast carries an obligation, this must be satisfied on the feast itself; the extraordinary form does not offer the opportunity to satisfy an obligation on the evening before.
  In the extraordinary form, December 24th is the Vigil Day of Christmas and has its own proper texts, the Days of the Greater Antiphons having concluded on the 23rd. In the ordinary form, the morning of December 24th is a day of the Greater Antiphons up to Vespers, at which point it becomes the vigil for Christmas.

** In the extraordinary form, the days of the Greater Antiphons do not have specific lessons assigned to them as they do in the ordinary form, with the lessons taken from the previous Sunday as usual.