V. O Lady, make speed to befriend me.
R. From the hands of the enemy mightily defend me.
V. Glory be to the Father, etc. Alleluia.
Hail, Virgin most wise,
Hail, Deity's shrine,
With seven fair pillars,
And table divine!
We have already remarked how the Church applies to Mary the description of Wisdom given in the inspired books known as the Sapiental (i.e. Wisdom) Books, to wit, Proverbs, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus. In Proverbs ix, we read:
Wisdom hath built herself a house;
She hath hewn her out seven pillars.
She hath slain her victims,
Mingled her wine,
And set forth her table.
The sacred writer in cc. vii-ix contrasts Wisdom as a beautiful lady with Folly a foul temptress. Above (p. 6) we read a long passage from chapter viii, which is immediately followed by the words: Wisdom hath built herself a house. In order to attract souls to real delights, Wisdom is represented as preparing a beautiful banquet to which she invites them. (Compare our Lord's parables of the feasts prepared for the guests, Matt. xxii, 1-14; Luke xiv, 15-24). She builds a house; she makes it like a palace, complete with columns (the number seven denotes completeness). She prepares the viands, mixes the wine with spices to make it more delicious, and lays the table. The text continues (Douay Version):
She hath sent her maids to invite
To the tower, and to the walls of the city:
Whosoever is a little one, let him come
And to the unwise she said:
Come, eat my bread,
And drink the wine which I have
mingled for you.
The literal meaning of the passage is as above. Lady Wisdom invites men to come to her feast that they may listen to her and not to mistress Folly. But besides the literal sense there is a mystical meaning which the Fathers of the Church have pointed out. Wisdom Incarnate is our Lord Jesus Christ. He has built a house, His Church. To it He has given the seven sacraments; and upon the table of the altar He has prepared the Eucharistic banquet. He sends His messengers to all parts of the city of God to invite little ones to come and eat the Bread and drink the Wine He has got ready for them. How can we apply the words to our Lady? St. Augustine tells us: 'God's Wisdom, the Co-eternal Word, built him a house of humanity in a Virgin's womb' (de Civ., 1. 17, c. 20). Mary is therefore the Deity's shrine. In her womb the Head of the Church was formed, and so, there we may also place the seven fair pillars and table divine.
The next stanza clearly refers to the Immaculate Conception, and needs no explanation.
Preserved from the guilt
Which hath come on us all,
Exempt, in the womb,
From the taint of the Fall!
A new Star of Jacob!
Of Angels the Queen!
O Gate of the saints!
O Mother of men!
Why is Mary called a new Star of Jacob?
We read in the Book of Numbers (c.xxii) how when the children of Israel were nearing the end of their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, Balac, King of Moab, sent to a soothsayer, by name Balaam, to come and lay a curse on Israel. But when God revealed to Balaam that he should not curse Israel he dismissed the messengers that Balac had sent with the money for the cursing. Balac thereupon sent more important messengers. This time Balaam set out. The incident of the speaking ass and the appearance of the angel where to impress on him that he must prophesy not that which will please the ear of Balac, but what God puts into his mouth. The result is the utterance of four deeply significant oracles. In the first (xxiii, 7-10) he speaks of Israel as God's special people destined to become great and holy. Balac tries a second time to get Balaam to curse Israel. But the second oracle (18-24) is more sublime than the former. It speaks of the unchangeableness of Yahwé and of His designs; of Israel's freedom from idol-worship and from sorcery; of the exodus from Egypt by the power of Yahwé, and of the certainty of Israel's triumph. The third oracle was delivered from the top of Mount Phogor from where Balaam gazed down on the tents of the tribes of Israel (xxiii, 28-xxiv, 9). He describes the fertility of Israel's territory, and again marvels at the great strength that Yahwé has granted to His favored nation. But the fourth oracle is the most marvelous. It deals wholly with the future even right up to the fall of the Roman Empire. In it we hear of the Star;
A Star shall rise out of Jacob,
And a scepter shall spring up from Israel
. . . . . . . .
Out of Jacob shall come he that shall
And shall destroy the remains of the city.
This mighty Ruler is no other than Christ our Lord. He is also the Star of Jacob, for He was to come from Israel. But before His rising there was to come forth in Jacob a new star―a Virgin-Mother―Mary, Queen of angels, Gate of the saints and mother of men.
O terrible as
The embattled array!
Be thou of the faithful
The refuge and stay.
This verse takes us to perhaps the most beautiful book of the Old Testament―the Canticle of Canticles (Song of Songs). It speaks of the love of God for His spouse―the Chosen People, as a type of the love of Christ for His Church; and then of the love of Jesus for His holy Mother―the symbol of His Church. The verse in Canticles vi, 2, 3, reads:
I to my beloved,
And my beloved to me,
Who feedeth among the lilies.
Thou art beautiful, O my love;
Sweet and comely as Jerusalem;
Terrible as an army set in array.
The last line means rather 'dignified' or 'awe-inspiring' as a host with its waving banners. Our Lady is as strong a protection for us against the enemies of our souls as is a mighty army advancing with banners unfurled to certain triumph.
The response to the next versicle deserves attention. The versicle reads:
V. The Lord Himself created her in the Holy Ghost. (Ipse creavit illam in Spiritu Sancto.)
―referring to our Lady's soul from the first moment of her conception free from original sin, and hence full of grace given by the Holy Ghost.
To this versicle the response is often given:
R. And poured her forth over all his
(Et effudit illam super omnia opera sua.)
But this was the reading of the condemned text, which was altered to:
R. And exalted her among his works.
(Et exaltavit illam inter opera sua.)
Strangely enough, in the Pius IX edition of 1876 there is no response at all to the versicle. This would seem to be an oversight. But if a response is to be read it should certainly be the latter of the above, and not that which was eliminated from the condemned text.
Then follows the other R. and V.
O Lady, recommend my prayer.
And let my cry come unto thee.
After which the authentic text tells us to add the Prayer: 'Holy Mary, Queen of heaven,' etc. But there is nothing to the effect that the three versicles and responses given after the Prayer at Matins are to be repeated here after Prime or at the close of any other of the Hours. They may, therefore, be omitted.