The Liturgical Year: The Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

painting of 'The Expectation of the birth of the Virgin Mary' by Palma il Giovane, 1628; Church of San Geremia, Venice, Italy; photographed on 31 May 2016 by Didier Descouens; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsThis Feast, which is now kept not only throughout the whole of Spain but in almost all the Churches of the Catholic world, owes its origin to the Bishops of the tenth Council of Toledo in 656. These Prelates having thought that there was an incongruity in the ancient practice of celebrating the feast of the Annunciation on the twenty-fifth of March, inasmuch as this joyful solemnity frequently occurs at the time when the Church is intent upon the Passion of our Lord, and is sometimes obliged to be transferred into Easter Time, with which it is out of harmony for another reason – they decreed that, henceforth, in the Church of Spain there should be kept, eight days before Christmas, a solemn Feast with an Octave, in honour of the Annunciation, and as a preparation for the great solemnity of our Lord’s Nativity. In course of time, however, the Church of Spain saw the necessity of returning to the practice of the Church of Rome, and of those of the whole world, which solemnise the twenty-fifth of March as the day of our Lady’s Annunciation and the Incarnation of the Son of God. But such had been, for ages, the devotion of the people for the Feast of the 18th of December, that it was considered requisite to maintain some vestige of it. They discontinued, therefore, to celebrate the Annunciation on this day; but the faithful were requested to consider, with devotion, what must have been the sentiments of the Holy Mother of God during the days immediately preceding her giving him birth. A new Feast was instituted, under the name of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgins Delivery.

This Feast, which sometimes goes under the name of Our Lady of O, or the Feast of O, on account of the Great Antiphons which are sung during these days, and in a special manner, of that which begins Virgo Virginum – is kept with great devotion in Spain. A High Mass is sung, at a very early hour, each morning during the Octave, at which all who are with child, whether rich or poor, consider it a duty to assist, that they may thus honour our Lady’s Maternity, and beg her blessing upon themselves. It is not to be wondered at that the Holy See has approved of this pious practice being introduced into almost every other country. We find that the Church of Milan, long before Rome conceded this feast to the various dioceses of Christendom, celebrated the Office of our Lady’s Annunciation on the sixth and last Sunday of Advent, and called the whole week following the Hebdomada de Exceptato (for thus the popular expression had corrupted the word Expectato). But these details belong strictly to the archaeology of Liturgy, and enter not into the plan of our present work; let us, then, return to the Feast of our Lady’s Expectation, which the Church has established and sanctioned as a new means of exciting the attention of the faithful during these last days of Advent.

Most just indeed it is, Holy Mother of God, that we should unite in that ardent desire you hadst to see Him, who had been concealed for nine months in your chaste womb; to know the features of this Son of the heavenly Father, who is also yours; to come to that blissful hour of his Birth, which will give Glory to God in the highest, and, on earth, Peace to men of good-will. Yes, dear Mother, the time is fast approaching, though not fast enough to satisfy your desires and ours. Make us redouble our attention to the great mystery; complete our preparation by your powerful prayers for us, that when the solemn hour is come, our Jesus may find no obstacle to his entering into our hearts.

The Great Antiphon to Our Lady

O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be, for never was there one like you, nor will there ever be. You daughters of Jerusalem, why look you wondering at me? What he behold is a divine mystery.


– from the book The Liturgical Year: Advent, by the Very Reverend Dom Prosper Gueranger, Abbot of Solesmes, translated from the French by the Revered Dom Laurence Shepherd, Monk of the English-Benedictine Congregation, 2nd edition; published in Dublin Ireland by James Duffy, 15 Wellington-Quay, 1870