Hail, Dial of Achaz!
On thee the true Sun
Told backward the course
Which from old he had run!
This verse is based on what we read in 4 Kings xx and in Isaias xxxviii. King Ezechias was in danger of death by sickness, and God sent the prophet Isaias to bid him prepare for death. Then Ezechias prayed with weeping unto God. His prayer was heard; and Isaias was instructed to return and tell the King that God would give him fifteen more years of life. As a sign that the prophet was speaking the truth a miracle was worked, to wit, the shadow on the sun-dial of Achaz was put back ten degrees. In the Vesper Hymn our Lady is likened to Achaz's sun-dial, because Christ, the Sun of Justice, appeared through her. But He appeared, not as the Brightness of Eternal Light, but in all the debasement of human nature. In that sense He lowered Himself, as the sun's light on the dial went backward. This is further brought out in the next verse of the hymn:
And that man might be rais'd,
Submitting to shame,
A little more low
Than the angels became!
The first chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews sets out how Christ is superior to the angels inasmuch as He is the very Son of God. In the second chapter is quoted the passage from Psalm viii to prove how all things are subject to Him:
We translate this psalm:
What is man that thou shouldest be mindful of him?
And the son of man that thou shouldst visit him?
Thou dost make him a little less than the angels;
With glory and honor thou dost crown him.
Thou givest him dominion over the works of thy hands:
All things thou hast put under his feet.
Then the Epistle goes on to say how Jesus is made a little lower than the angels, namely, by suffering death. 'But we see Jesus who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour: that, through the grace of God He might taste death for all. . . For nowhere doth He take hold of the angels: but of the seed of Abraham He taketh hold.' Then the inspired author telling how our Lord, little less than the angels and submitting to the shame of being man suffered even death, goes on to say how we were raised by Him: 'Wherefore, it behoved Him in all things to be like unto His brethren, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest before God, that he might be a propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that wherein He Himself hath suffered and been tempted, He is able to succour them also that are tempted.'
Thou, wrapt in the blaze
Of His infinite light,
Dost shine as the morn
On the confines of night.
St. Paul, in his First Epistle to Timothy (vi, 15-16) speaks of God as 'the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords who alone hath immortality, dwelling in light inaccessible' (W.V.). So Christ as God is a 'blaze of infinite light' coming into this dark world. And Mary reflects this divine splendour as the early morn gets its light from the rising sun.
As the moon on the lost
Through obscurity dawns;
The serpent's Destroyer;
A lily 'mid thorns!
The moon gets its light from the sun. Mary reflects the light of the Sun of Justice, and by that gentle light leads souls through the obscurity of this life to the Beatific Vision of God.
We have already spoken of her as the enemy of the Serpent (None Explained). The last line is taken from the Canticle of Canticles ii, 2, which the Church interprets as the love song between Christ and His Spouse, the Church; and then applies it to Mary, most beloved of Christ and the most perfect member of the Church. The lines in the Canticle read:
I am the flower of the field
And the lily of the valleys.
As the lily among thorns,
So is my love among the daughters.
V. I made an unfailing light to arise in heaven:
R. And as a mist I overspread the whole earth.
These words are taken from Ecclesiasticus xiv, 6, where the subject is the praise of Wisdom (see Prime Explained). The unfailing light that Mary made appear from heaven is her Divine Son. And as the mist brings the gentle rain upon the earth, so did she bring, through her Son, grace abundant to mankind.
V. O Lady, recommend my prayer.
R. And let my cry come unto thee.
―Again, the authentic text tells us to add the Prayer: 'Holy Mary, Queen of heaven,' etc.