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Advent: December 23rd

December 23, O Emmanuel; Optional Memorial of St. John of Kanty, Priest; Ember Saturday

Other Titles: John Cantius; John Kantius; Day 7 O Antiphons: O Emmanuel (O God Is With Us)


December 23, 2023 (Readings on USCCB website)



December 23, O Emmanuel: Almighty ever-living God, as we see how the Nativity of your Son according to the flesh draws near, we pray that to us, your unworthy servants, mercy may flow from your Word, who chose to become flesh of the Virgin Mary and establish among us his dwelling, Jesus Christ our Lord. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.

Optional Memorial of St. John of Kanty: Grant, we pray, almighty God, that by the example of the Priest Saint John of Kanty we may advance in knowledge of holy things and by showing compassion to all, may gain forgiveness in your sight. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.


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Today the Church celebrates the Optional Memorial of St. John of Kanty (1390-1473), priest. Born in Kanty (Cracow, Poland), he taught at the university and became pastor of a parish. He was distinguished for his piety and love of neighbor.

We reach the culmination of the O Antiphons today. Today is the Seventh O Antiphon, O Emmanuel (O God Is With Us). In previous antiphons our cry was directed to the Messiah as He manifested Himself to the Chosen People, to the Gentiles, and in nature; now He is addressed in person and asked to remain with us as Emmanuel.

Reading this final antiphon gives the feeling that a climax has indeed come. The very term Emmanuel, God with us, reveals the kindly, human heart of Jesus — He wants to be one of us, a Child of man, with all our human weakness and suffering; He wants to experience how hard it is to be man. He wants to remain with us to the end of time, He wants to dwell within us, He wants to make us share His nature.

Today is also the Optional Memorial of St. John of Kanty (1390-1473). Born in Kanty (Kraków, Poland), he taught at the university and became pastor of a parish. He was distinguished for his piety and love of neighbor.

It is the last day of the December Ember Days; today is Ember Saturday of Advent. The Roman Martyrology commemorates St. John of Matha and St. Josep Manyanet y Vives.

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December Ember Days: Ember Saturday

For centuries this Ember Saturday was the only day in the Church's year for conferring the sacrament of Holy Orders. The ordination on the Ember Saturday in Advent was formerly the only one held in Rome. It was therefore a day of some importance. Indeed, all the parts of today's traditional Mass bear the marks of their ancient origin: the numerous readings interspersed with chants and collects recall the primitive form of the vigil as it was practiced in Rome.

The Church no longer regularly ordains priests during the times of the Quarterly Ember Days, but this is a special time, particularly Ember Saturday, to pray for priests, particularly the ones who are about to be ordained within the year.

It is very difficult for us to sense how important the Ember Vigil services were in the early Roman liturgy. Embertide meant covenant renewal with God, thanksgiving for the gifts of nature and grace, and conferral of Holy Orders (Ember Saturday in December was the Church's official ordination day). Finally, the December series served as the ancient Advent observance, before the four-week season was introduced.

In order to understand today's Mass we must go back to early times when the liturgy was celebrated at night in the Church of St. Peter in Rome. In the previous missal, the two previous Ember Day Masses had an intimate and tender character; today's reflects a universal spirit (Church of St. Peter). The Mass presents Advent in an abbreviated form; these and topics developed during its four weeks are synthesized in today's formulary. Before us stands Christ who came as Man, who comes through grace, and who will come with power in the end of time. These three "comings" are united into one grace-laden "visitation" in the present. Several times there appears the light-and-darkness motif; for the Mass was celebrated at a very early morning hour, a circumstance that spontaneously occasioned the symbolism: from Advent's night to Christmas Light. Such is the theme of the traditional Mass.

The citations for the readings from the Mass for Ember Saturday:

Old Testament Lessons:
Isa 19:20-22;
Isa 35:1-7;
Isa 40:9-11;
Isa 45:1-8;
Dan 3:47-51, 52-56;

New Testament Epistle:
2 Thes 2:1-8

Luke 3:1-6 St. John the Baptist Prepares the Way

For those following the Jesse Tree, you can either continue through Christmas Eve following Catholic Culture's Jesse Tree, or use symbols based on the “O” Antiphons (see Jesse Tree Instructions and O Antiphons).

     Jesse Tree, Day 21 ~ Blessed Virgin Mary
     Jesse Tree Overview

O Emmanuel
"O Emmanuel (God with us), our King and Lawgiver, Thou expected one of the nations and their Redeemer, come and save us, O Lord our God."

Now we are about to receive the Savior, Emmanuel, God with us. God's only-begotten Son, born of the Father before all time, God of God, light of light, true God of true God, one being with the Father, is about to be born in time. For the salvation of men, He has come down upon earth and is conceived by the Holy Ghost in a virgin. He shall be called God with us, and yet He will be one in nature with us. He is to be like to us in all things except sin. He wills to share our poverty and to pray and suffer with us; He assumes our guilt. He is God with us in every phase of our life; He even takes our place on the cross, He remains with us in Holy Communion, in our daily Mass, and in our tabernacles. At some time in the future He will still be God with us in His beautiful heaven. All this He has done for us even though we have repeatedly turned our back on Him.

Come and save us." The great God is with us. He has come, not to destroy the sinful world, as He once destroyed Sodom and Gomorrha, but to redeem it from its sins. This redemption is to be accomplished at the cost of great personal sacrifice to Him. As if this did not satisfy the burning ardor of His love, He wills to remain with us in our tabernacles. He incorporates us into Himself and shares His very life with us. We are engrafted in Him as a branch might be grafted to a new tree. "I am the vine, you are the branches" (John 15:5). God with us! We are united to Christ as a limb is united to a body, as a branch is united to a vine. We now belong to Christ and no longer to ourselves. We are one with Him. What a grace, what greatness, what nobility have been conferred upon us! God looking upon us no longer sees miserable specimens of mankind, but members of Christ. When He looks upon Christ, He sees Christ and us as united in one body, as a tree united to its branches. Even the smallest leaf fluttering on the farthest branch belongs to that tree and lives by the sap of that tree. Could He have redeemed us in a more perfect manner than by thus implanting in us and infusing in us His divine life? Let us reflect upon this seriously.

God with us! It was that He might be with us that He came that first Christmas at Bethlehem. He came that He might lift me up from the dust, and that I might share in His life. He will return this Christmas that He may continue and complete that work. It is for the same purpose that He comes in every Holy Mass and Communion, and in each inspiration and grace He gives us. His final coming will be for the same purpose, and will have the further aim of sharing with us His glorified life in heaven. We shall then enjoy the perfect vision of God, perfect love, and the fulfillment of all our desires for all eternity. For all eternity!
—Excerpted from The Light of the World by Benedict Baur, O.S.B.

7th O Antiphon: O Emmanuel (O God Is With Us)

Come to save us, O Lord our God.

Traditional Antiphon: O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and Lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: Come to save us, O Lord our God.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, expectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

Vespers Antiphon: O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.

The manger reminds us of the simplicity and poverty surrounding the birth of Jesus and is representative of His life of humility.

Recommended Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7

St. John of Kanty
John Cantius was born in the year 1397 in the Polish town of Kanty (whence his surname). He became a professor of theology, then parish priest; soon, however, he returned to the professor's chair at the University of Cracow. On foot he visited the holy places of Rome and Palestine. One day, after robbers had deprived him of all his effects, they asked him whether he had anything more. The saint said no, but hardly had they gone when he remembered having sewn some gold pieces inside his clothing; immediately he followed and overtook them. The robbers, astonished at the man's sense of truthfulness, refused to accept the money and returned to him the stolen luggage.

To guard himself and his household from evil gossip he wrote upon the wall of his room (after the example of St. Augustine): Conturbare cave, non est placare suave, diffamare cave, nam revocare grave, i.e. "Guard against causing trouble and slandering others, for it is difficult to right the evil done." His love of neighbor was most edifying. Often he gave away his own clothing and shoes; then, not to appear barefoot, he lowered his cassock so as to have it drag along the ground. Sensing that his death was near at hand, he distributed whatever he still had to the poor and died peacefully in the Lord at an advanced age. He is honored as one of the principal patrons of Poland.

Patronage: Lithuania; Poland; diocese of Bielsko-Żywiec (since 1992); Jagiellonian University

Symbols and Representation: Dressed in a professor's gown with his arm around the shoulder of a young student whose gaze he directs towards heaven; giving his garments to the poor.

Highlights and Things to Do:

Today is Day Eight of the Christmas Novena

Ember Saturday of Advent, Station with San Pietro in Vaticano (St. Peter's in the Vatican):
The Station is in the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican, where the people would assemble towards evening, that they might be present at the ordination of the priests and sacred ministers. The original basilica was built by Constantine in 323 over the place where St. Peter was buried.

For more on San Pietro in Vaticano, see:

For further information on the Station Churches, see The Stational Church.