Nov. 14, 2019

November 14, 2019: ST. JOSAPHAT, BISHOP AND MARTYR

Rank: Double.

The Lord settled with him a covenant of peace, and made him a Chief, that he may have the honor of Priesthood for ever.

Prayer.

Stir up, O Lord, we beseech thee, in thy Church the Spirit wherewith the blessed Josaphat thy Martyr and Pontiff was filled, when he laid down his life for the sheep: that by this intercession we too may be stirred and strengthened by the same Spirit and not fear to give our lives for our brethren. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

 

Josaphat Kuncewicz, contemporary with St. Francis de Sales and St. Vincent de Paul, might have been taken for a Greek monk of the eleventh century, or an ascetic of the Thebaid. A stranger to the intellectual culture of the West, he knew only the liturgical books and sacred texts used in his own church; as a priest, an archimandrite, a reformer of his Order of St. Basil, and lastly as Archbishop, he combated all his life against the consequences of the schism of Photius, and closed the struggle by culling the palm of martyrdom. Yet all this took place in the heart of Europe, in the countries then subject to Catholic Poland, during the reign of the most pious of its kings. How is this mystery to be explained?

Immediately after the Mongolian invasions, Poland received into her arms, rather than conquered, the Ruthenian nation, that is to say the Slavs of the Greek rite from the Dnieper and the Dwina, who had formed around their capital and religious metropolis, Kiev, the nucleus of the power now known as Russia. Had she granted a participation in her own national life to these brethren separated from, but not enemies to, the Roman unity, who came to her full of confidence in her strength and her justice, Poland would have secured the triumph of the Catholic cause, and her own dominion throughout Slavonia. The union of the new-comers with the Roman Pontiff, which a little more political insight and religious zeal might have brought about in the fourteenth century, was not concluded until 1595.

This was the union of Brzesc. By the compact signed in this little town of Lithuania, the metropolitan of Kiev and the other Greek bishops declared that they returned to the communion of the holy Apostolic See. Being the spiritual superiors of half the nation, they thus completed the union of the three peoples, Ruthenian, Lithuanian, and Polish, then subject to Sigismund III. Now, a religious reform, even if decreed by a council, does not become a reality until men of God, true apostles, and if need be martyrs, come forward to consummate it. This was the vocation of St. Josaphat, the apostle and martyr of the Union of Brzesc. What he did not himself carry out was completed by his disciples. A century of glory was secured to the nation, and its political ruin was delayed for two hundred years.

But Poland left in a state of humiliating inferiority the clergy and people of the Grӕco-Slavonic rite, who had taken shelter in her bosom; her politicians never admitted practically that Christians of the Greek rite could be true Catholics, on an equality with their Latin brethren. Soon, however, the Latin Poles were engaged in deadly combat with the Muscovites, and we know how the former were vanquished. Historians lay down the causes of Poland's defeat; but they usually forget the principal one, which rendered it irremediable, viz: the almost total destruction of the Union of Brzesc, the forced return to schism of the immense majority of the Ruthenians whom St. Josaphat had brought into the Catholic Church. The consummation of this execrable work contributed, far more than political circumstances or military triumphs, to establish Russia's victory. Poland, reduced to nine or ten million Latins, could no longer struggle against her former rival now become her stern ruler.

The power of the Slavs separated from Catholic unity is on the increase. Young nations, emancipated from the Mussulman yoke, have formed in the Balkan Peninsula. Fidelity to the Grӕco-Slavonian rite, identified in their eyes with their nationality and with Christianity, was alone able to save these peoples from being stamped out by the Turkish forces. Victorious over the universal enemy, they cannot forget whence came their safety: the moral and religious direction of these resuscitated nations belongs accordingly to Russia. Profiting of these advantages with consummate skill and energy, she continues to develop her influence in the East. In Asia her progress is still more prodigious. The Czar, who at the end of the eighteenth century ruled over thirty million men, now governs one hundred and twenty-five millions; and by the normal increase of an exceptionally prolific population, the Empire, within another half century, will reckon more than two hundred millions of subjects.

Unhappily for Russia and for the Church, this power is guided at present by blind prejudice. Not only is Russia separated from Catholic unity, but political interest and the recollection of ancient strifes, convince her that her greatness depends upon the triumph of what she calls orthodoxy, which is simply the Photian schism. Yet the Roman Church, ever devoted and generous, opens wide her arms to welcome back her wandering daughter; forgetting the injuries she has received, she asks but to be greeted with the name of mother. Let this word be uttered, and a whole sad past will be effaced.

Russia becoming Catholic would mean an end to Islamism, and the definitive triumph of the Cross upon the Bosphorus, without any danger to Europe; the Christian empire in the East restored with a glory and a power hitherto unknown; Asia evangelized, not by a few poor isolated priests, but with the help of an authority greater than that of Charlemagne; and lastly, the Slavonic race brought into unity of faith and aspirations, for its own greater glory. This transformation will be the greatest event of the century that shall see its accomplishment; it will change the face of the world.

Is there any foundation for such hopes? [Yes because the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima said that her Immaculate Heart will triumph and Russia will one day return to the unity of Roman Faith.] Come what may, St. Josaphat will always be the patron and model of future apostles of the Union in Russia, and in the whole Grӕco-Slavonic world. By his birth, education, and studies, by the bent of his piety and all his habits of life, he resembled far more the Russian monks of the present day, than the Latin prelates of his own time. He always desired the ancient Liturgy of his Church to be preserved entire; and even to his last breath he carried it out lovingly, without the least alteration or diminution, just as the first apostles of the Christian faith had brought it from Constantinople to Kiev. May prejudices born of ignorance be obliterated; and then, despised though his name now is in Russia, St. Josaphat will no sooner be known, than he will be loved and invoked by the Russians themselves.

Our Grӕco-Slavonian brethren cannot much longer turn a deaf ear to the invitations of the Sovereign Pontiff. Let us hope, then, that the day will come, and that before very long, when the wall of separation will crumble away for ever, and the same hymn of thanksgiving will echo at once under the dome of St. Peter's and the cupolas of Kiev and of St. Petersburg.

 

We cannot presume to add anything to these authoritative words; the details will be filled up by the liturgical Legend.

Josaphat Kuncewicz was born of noble Catholic parents at Vladimir in Volhynia. When a child, as he was listening to his mother telling him about the Passion of Christ, a dart issued form the image of Jesus crucified and wounded him in the heart. Set on fire with the love of God, he began to devote himself with such zeal to prayer and other works of piety, that he was the admiration and the model of his older companions. At the age of twenty he became a monk under the Rule of St. Basil, and made wonderful progress in evangelical perfection. He went barefoot, even in the severe winter of that country; he never ate meat, drank wine only when obliged by obedience, and wore a rough hair-shirt until his death. The flower of his chastity, which he had vowed in early youth to the Virgin Mother of God, he preserved unspotted. He soon became so renowned for virtue and learning, that in spite of his youth he was made superior of the monastery of Byten; soon afterwards he became archimandrite of Vilna; and lastly, much against his will, but to the great joy of Catholics, he was chosen Archbishop of Polock.

In this dignity he relaxed nothing of his former manner of life; and had nothing so much at heart as the divine service and the salvation of the sheep entrusted to him. He energetically defended Catholic faith and unity, and labored to the utmost of his power to bring back schismatics and heretics to communion with the See of blessed Peter. The Sovereign Pontiff and the plenitude of his power he never ceased to defend, both by preaching, and by writings full of piety and learning, against the most shameless calumnies and errors of the wicked. He vindicated episcopal rights, and restored ecclesiastical possessions which had been seized by laymen. Incredible was the number of heretics he won back to the bosom of Mother Church; and the words of the Popes bear witness how greatly he promoted the union of the Greek and Latin churches. His revenues were entirely expended in restoring the beauty of God’s house, in building dwellings for consecrated virgins, and in other pious works. So bountiful was he to the poor that, on one occasion having nothing wherewith to supply the needs of a certain widow, he ordered his Omophorion or episcopal pallium to be pawned.

The great progress made by the Catholic faith so stirred up the hatred of wicked men against the soldier of Christ, that they determined to put him to death. He knew what was threatening him; and foretold it when preaching to the people. As he was making his pastoral visitation at Vitebsk, the murderers broke into his house, striking and wounding all whom they found. Josaphat meekly went to meet them, and accosted them kindly, saying: My little children, why do you strike my servants? If you have any complaint against me, here I am. Hereupon they rushed on him, overwhelmed him with blows, pierced him with their spears, and at length dispatched him with an axe and threw his body into the river. This took place on the twelfth of November 1623, in the forty-third year of his age. His body surrounded with a miraculous light was rescued from the waters. The martyr’s blood won a blessing first of all for his murderers; for, being condemned to death, they nearly all abjured their schism and repented of their crime. As the death of this great bishop was followed by many miracles, Pope Urban VIII granted him the honors of beatification. On the third of the Calends of July, 1867, when celebrating the centenary of the Princes of the Apostles, Pius IX in the Vatican basilica, in presence of the College of Cardinals, and of about five hundred Patriarchs, Metropolitans, and Bishops of every rite, assembled from all parts of the world, solemnly enrolled among the Saints this great defender of the Church’s unity, who was the first Oriental to be thus honored. Pope Leo XIII extended his Mass and Office to the universal Church.

Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. VI, Edition 1903.

 

St. Josaphat, pray for us.

 

Nov. 13, 2019

November 13, 2019: ST. DIDACUS, CONFESSOR

Rank: Simple.

Lord, thou deliveredst to me five talents: behold I have gained other five.

Prayer (Collect).

O Almighty and eternal God, who, by a wonderful providence, makest choice of the weak things of this world to confound the strong; mercifully grant, that, being perfected in all humility, we may be raised by the prayers of thy holy Confessor, blessed Didacus, to the everlasting glory of heaven. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

 

A humble lay-brother, Didacus of St. Nioholas, is welcomed to-day by his father St. Francis into the company of Bernardino of Siena and John Capistran, who preceded him by a few years to heaven. The two latter left Italy and the whole of Europe still echoing with their voices, the one making peace between cities in the name of the Lord Jesus, the other urging on the Christian hosts to battle with the victorious Crescent. The age which they contributed so powerfully to save from the results of the great schism and to restore to its Christian destinies, knew little of Didacus but his unbounded charity. It was the year of the great Jubilee, 1450. Rome having become once more, practically as well as theoretically, the holy city in the eyes of the nations, not even the most terrible scourges could keep her children at a distance. From every quarter of the globe, crowds, urged by the evils of the time, flocked to the sources of salvation; and Satan's work of ruin was retarded by seventy years.

Men doubtless attributed but a very small share of such results to the humble brother, who was spending himself in the Ara-Cœli, in the service of the plague-stricken; especially if they compared him with his brethren, the great Franciscan apostles. And yet the Church pays to Didacus to-day the very same honours as we have seen her pay to Bernardine and John Capistran. What is this but asserting that before God heroic acts of hidden virtue are not inferior to the noble deeds that dazzle the world, if, proceeding from the same ardent love, they produce in the soul the same increase of divine charity.

The Pontificate of Nioholas V, which witnessed the imposing concourse of people to the tombs of the Apostles in 1450, was also, and still is, justly admired for the new impetus given to the culture of letters and the arts in Rome; for it belongs to the Church to adorn herself, for the honour of her Spouse, with all that men rightly deem great and beautiful. Nevertheless, who is there now of all the humanists, as the learned men of that age were called, who would not prefer the glory of the poor, unlettered Friar Minor, to that which vainly held out to them the hope of immortality? In the fifteenth century, as at all other times, God chose the foolish and the weak to confound the wise and the strong. The Gospel is always in the right.

 

Let us read the luminous life of this unlearned man, as given in the book of holy Church.

Didacus was a Spaniard [this name is merely a Latin form of the Spanish Diego, i.e. James], born at the little town of St. Nicholas de Porto in the diocese of Seville. From his early youth he began the practice of a perfect life, under the guidance of a pious priest in a solitary church. Then, in order to bind himself more closely to God, he made profession of the rule of St. Francis, in the convent of the Observantine Friars Minor at Arizzafa. There he bore the yoke of humble obedience and regular observance with great alacrity; and devoted himself especially to contemplation, in which he received wonderful lights from God, so that, illiterate as he was, he spoke of heavenly things in an admirable manner, evidently by a divine gift.

He was sent to the Canary Isles to govern the brethren of his Order; and there he had much to suffer. He was burning with the desire of martyrdom; and by his words and example, he converted many infidels to the faith of Christ. Coming to Rome in the Jubilee year, in the pontificate of Nicholas V, he was entrusted with the care of the sick in the convent of Ara Cœli. With such loving charity did he acquit himself of this duty, that the sick wanted for nothing even during the famine in the city; he also sometimes cleansed their ulcers by sucking them. He was remarkable for his great faith and his gift of healing; for by signing the cross upon the sick with oil from a lamp burning before an image of the Mother of God, to whom he had the greatest devotion, he miraculously cured many of them.

At length, when at Alcala, he understood that the end of his life was at hand. Clad in an old torn tunic, with his eyes fixed on the cross, he devoutly pronounced these words of the sacred hymn: O sweet wood, sweet are thy nails, and sweet thy burden; thou wast worthy to bear the King and Lord of heaven! He then gave up his soul to God, on the day before the Ides of November, in the year of our Lord 1463. His body was left unburied for several months, in order to satisfy the pious devotion of the numbers who came to see it; and, as though already clothed with immortality, it exhaled a sweet odor. He was renowned for many striking miracles, and was enrolled among the Saints by Pope Sixtus V.

Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. VI, Edition 1903; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.

 

St. Didacus, pray for us.

 

Nov. 12, 2019

November 12, 2019: ST. MARTIN I, POPE AND MARTYR

Rank: Simple.

This saint fought even unto death for the law of his God, and feared not the words of the wicked; for he was founded on a firm rock.

Prayer (Collect).

O God, who, by the yearly solemnity of blessed Martin, thy Martyr and Bishop, rejoicest the hearts of thy faithful: mercifully grant that we, who celebrate his martyrdom, may enjoy his protection. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

 

While the concourse of pilgrims to the sepulchre of the Bishop of Tours [St. Martin of Tours; feast Nov. 11] induced his third successor Perpetuus, to raise over his precious remains the basilica, in which so many prodigies were to be wrought all through the middle ages, Rome herself was dedicating to St. Martin one of her noblest churches, uniting with him as joint titular her own illustrious Pontiff and Confessor Sylvester. Adorned with this twofold glory, St. Martin-on-the-hill worthily inaugurated in the eternal City the cultus of Confessors side by side with that of the Martyrs. But another honour awaited the venerable sanctuary. Beside the wonder-working apostle and the pontiff of peace, both vanquishers of idolatory, who had escaped the sword only through the conversion of the persecutors, the last of the martyr-popes, also Martin by name, came to seek a resting-place, long after the pagan persecutions had ceased. “Martin I,” says Baronius, “fared better than any of his predecessors since the time of Constantine. Found worthy to suffer more than all of them for the Name of Jesus Christ, he had the good fortune to find a Decius and a Diocletian in a baptised prince.”

The emperor thus stigmatised by the great annalist was Constans II. From his grandfather Heraclius, who at least had given the world a few years of glory, he inherited nothing but the Byzantine pretension of imposing his dogmatic edicts upon the Church. Like the Ecthesis of Heraclius, the Type of Constans aimed at silencing the Catholics in their struggle with the Monothelites. St. Leo II, on the 28th June, has already initiated us into these contests concerning the integrity of the two natures, divine and human, in the Man-God. Could the Church, without protesting, allow it to be said that her Spouse had taken from Adam a mere appearance of humanity, a half-formed nature without a will, such as the new sectaries imagined?

More clear-sighted than Honorius, Martin I understood the danger, and knew how to repair the past, while securing the future. Scarcely had he ascended the apostolic throne, when he gathered, in the Church of our Saviour, one of the most beautiful assemblies ever held there. “Sound the trumpet, cry out upon the mountain; soldiers of God, awake!” Thus from its very opening did the Lateran Council of 649, repair the fatal silence and avenge the Church's honour. On reading its splendid and ample definitions, which present to the world the Son of the Virgin Mother in all his adorable integrity, we are reminded of the solemn declaration in the pretorium on the great Friday: “Behold the Man!” only that this time it was proclaimed in triumph and by those who loved him. Truly, O God our Saviour, thou art the most complete, the most perfect, the most beautiful of the sons of men.

What a solace to the mind, to see the imperial lucubrations returned, with the qualification of wicked and impious? To the Byzantine Cӕsar, who held the defenceless Pontiff at his mercy in still dependent Rome! Martin I like St. Paul, could take the Church of God to witness that he had not neglected his duty of enlightening the flock; he could remind the pastors of the price at which Christ had purchased the sheep committed to their care: he himself was ready for everything. His martyrdom was to secure the final triumph, of which the sixth general Council and St. Leo II were destined to gather the fruits.

The Greeks celebrate on the 13th April the feast of this glorious Pope, whom they call a “corypheus of divine dogmas, the honour of Peter's See, the pontiff who maintained the Church unshaken on the divine Rock.”

 

Rome gives the following brief notice of him in her Liturgy.

Martin was born at Todi in Umbria. Upon ascending the pontifical throne, he strove by letters and embassies to recall Paul, Patriarch of Constantinople from his wicked heresy to the true Catholic faith. But, supported by the heretical emperor Constans, Paul was so carried away as to exile the legates of the Apostolic See to various islands. The Pope, indignant at this outrage, summoned a council of one hundred and five bishops at Rome, in which he condemned Paul.

Upon this Constans sent the exarch Olympius into Italy, with orders either to kill Pope Martin or else to bring him to the emperor. Olympius, on reaching Rome, charged a lictor to assassinate the Pope as he was celebrating Mass in St. Mary's at the Crib. But the man, attempting to do so, was suddenly struck blind.

From that time many calamities befel the emperor Constans, which however made him no better; and he sent Theodore Calliopus to Rome to seize the Pope. By his deceitful dealing Martin was arrested and led prisoner to Constantinople. Thence he was banished into the Chersonesus; where, on the eve of the Ides of November, he died worn out by his sufferings for the Catholic faith, and not without the glory of miracles. His body was afterwards translated to Rome, and placed in the church dedicated to Saints Sylvester and Martin. He governed the church six years, one month, and twenty-six days. He held two ordinations in the month of December, and ordained eleven priests, five deacons, and thirty-three bishops for divers places.

 

Another account of Pope St. Martin I

A.D. 655

St. Martin was a native of Todi, in Tuscany, and became renowned in the clergy of Rome for his learning and sanctity. Whilst he was deacon of that church he was sent by the Pope Theodorus, in quality of apocrisiarius or nuncio, to Constantinople, where he showed his zeal against the reigning heresy of the Mouothelites. Upon the death of Theodorus, after a vacancy of near three weeks, Martin was elected pope, in July, 649, and, in the October following, held in the Lateran church a council of one hundred and five bishops, against the Monothelites, in which he condemned the ringleaders of that sect, particularly Sergius and Pyrrhus, who had been formerly bishops of Constantinople, and Paul, who was then in possession of that see. The Ecthesis of Heraclius and the Typus of Constans, two imperial edicts, were likewise censured: the former, because it contained an exposition of faith entirely favourable to the Monothelites: the latter, because it was a formulary by which silence was imposed on both parties, and it was forbid by it to mention either one or two operations in Christ. “The Lord,” said the Lateran fathers, “hath commanded us to shun evil and do good; but not to reject the good with the evil. We are not to deny at the same time both truth and error.”

The Emperor Constans sent Olympius, his chamberlain, in quality of exarch into Italy, with an order either to cause Martin to be massacred, or to send him prisoner into the East. Olympius, coming to Rome whilst the council was assembled, endeavoured to raise a schism; but not succeeding by open violence, had recourse to treachery, and commanded one of his attendants to murder the pope whilst he was administering the communion in the Church of St. Mary Major, which might be more easily done, as the pope carried the communion to every one in his own place. The servant who had undertaken to execute this commission afterwards swore that he had been struck with blindness, and could not see the pope. Olympius, therefore, seeing the pope had been thus protected by heaven, declared to him the orders which he had received, made his peace with him, and marched into Sicily, then in the hands of the Saracens, where his army perished, and he died of sickness. The emperor then sent Theodorus Calliopes exarch, with Theodorus Pellurus, one of his chamberlains, with a strict charge to seize Martin, whom he accused of heresy, because he condemned the type; and charged him with Nestorianism, as the Egyptians did all Catholics. The new exarch and the chamberlain arrived at Rome with the army from Ravenna on Saturday, the 15th of June, 653. The pope, who had been sick ever since October, shut himself up in the Lateran church, but sent some of his clergy to salute the exarch, who inquired where the pope was, saying, he desired to adore him, which he repeated the next day. Two days after, on Monday, Calliopas accused him of having arms concealed; but the pope bade him search his palace, which he did; and no arms being found, the pope said, “Thus have calumnies been always employed against us.” Half an hour after, the soldiers returned and seized the pope, who lay sick on a couch near the gate of the church; and Calliopas presented the clergy a rescript of the emperor, commanding St. Martin to be deposed as unworthy of the popedom. The clergy cried out, “Anathema to him who shall say that Pope Martin hath changed any point of faith, and to him who perseveres not in the Catholic faith till death.” Calliopas, fearing the multitude, said, “There is no other faith but yours; nor have I any other.” Several of the bishops said, “We will live and die with him.” The pope was led out of the church into the palace, and, on the 18th of June, taken thence at midnight, and carried in a boat down the Tiber to Porto, where he was put on board of a vessel to be conveyed to Constantinople. After three months' sail he arrived at the isle of Naxos, where he stayed with his guards a whole year, being allowed to lodge in a house. For a long time he was afflicted with a dysentery, and a loathing of food. When the bishops and inhabitants sent him any provisions, the guards plundered them, and abused with injurious language and blows those who brought him presents, saying, “Whoever shows any kindness to this man is an enemy to the state.” St. Martin was more afflicted at the injuries which his benefactors received than at his own sufferings. He was brought to Constantinople on the 17th of September, in 654, and, after much ill usage, lay in a dungeon without speaking to anybody but his keepers for near three months, from the 17th of September to the 15th of December. In one of his letters he wrote as follows: “It is now forty-seven days since I have been permitted to wash myself either in cold or warm water. I am quite wasted and chilled, and have had no respite either upon sea or land from the flux which I suffer. My body is broken and spent, and, when I would take any nourishment, I want such kind of food as is necessary to support me; and have a perfect aversion and loathing to what I have. But I hope that God, who knows all things, when he shall have taken me out of this world, will bring my persecutors to repentance.” On the 15th of December he was examined by the Sacellarius, or treasurer, in the chamber of that magistrate, in presence of the senate, which was then assembled there. He was removed thence to a terrace, where the emperor might have a sight of him from his window, and the Sacellarius ordered his guards to divest him of the marks of his episcopal dignity. Then delivering him into the hands of the prefect of the city, he said, “Take him, my lord prefect, and pull him to pieces immediately.” He likewise commanded those that were present to anathematize him. But not above twenty persons cried out anathema; all the rest hung down their heads, and retired overwhelmed with grief. The executioners, laying hold of the saint, took away his sacerdotal pallium, and stripped him of all his clothes, except a tunic, which they left him without a girdle, having torn it from the top to the bottom, so that his naked body was exposed to sight. They put an iron collar about his neck, and dragged him in this manner from the palace through the midst of the city, the gaoler being fastened to him, and an executioner carrying the sword before him, to show that he was condemned to die. The people wept and sighed, except a small number who insulted him; but the martyr preserved a calm and serene countenance. Being come to the prӕtorium, he was thrown into the prison with murderers; but about an hour afterwards was taken thence, and cast into the prison of Diomedes, so much hurt and bruised, that he left the staircase besmeared with his blood, and seemed ready to give up the ghost. He was placed on a bench, chained as he was, and almost dead with cold; for the winter was very severe. He had none of his own friends or servants about him but a young clerk who had followed him weeping. The gaoler was chained to him, and the order for his execution was expected every moment, and the holy pope impatiently waited for martyrdom. But it was delayed, and his irons were knocked off.

St. Martin continued in the prison of Diomedes near three months, to the 10th of March, 655, when he was ordered to be banished to the Taurica Chersonesus on the 15th of May. The famine was so great in that country, that the pope assured his friends in one of his letters, “Bread is talked of here, but never seen. If some relief is not sent us from Italy, or Pontus, it is impossible to live.” He wrote another letter in September, wherein he says, “We are not only separated from the rest of the world, but are even deprived of the means to live. The inhabitants of the country are all pagans; and they who come hither, besides their learning the manners of the people of the country, have no charity, nor even that natural compassion which is to be found among barbarians. Neither do they bring anything from other places in the barks which come hither to be loaded with salt; nor have I been able to buy anything but one bushel of corn, which cost me four gold pence. I admire the insensibility of all those who have heretofore had some relation to me, who have so entirely forgot me, that they do not so much as seem to know whether I am in the world. I wonder still more at those who belong to the church of St. Peter, for the little concern they show for one of their body. If that church has no money, it wants not corn, oil, or other provisions, out of which they might send us some small supply. What fear hath seized all these men, which can hinder them from fulfilling the commands of God, in relieving the distressed? Have I appeared such an enemy to the whole church, or to them in particular? However, I pray God, by the intercession of St. Peter, to preserve them steadfast and immovable in the orthodox faith. As to this wretched body, God will have care of it. ‘He is at hand;’ why should I give myself any trouble? I hope in his mercy, he will not prolong my course.” The good pope was not disappointed of his hope; for he died on the 16th of September, in 655, having held the holy see six years, one month, and twenty-six days. He was interred in a church of the Blessed Virgin, within a furlong from the city of Chersona; a great concourse of people resorted to his tomb. His relics were afterwards carried to Rome, and deposited in a church dedicated long before in honour of St. Martin of Tours. He is honoured by the Latins, on the 12th of November, the day of the translation of his relics to Rome, and by the Greeks on the 13th of April; also on the 15th and 20th of September. By the Muscovites on the 14th of April. His constancy and firmness appear in his letters. They are well written, with strength and wisdom; the style is great and noble, worthy of the majesty of the holy see.

The saints equally despised the goods and the evils of this life, because they had before their eyes the eternal glory with which momentary labours and sufferings will be abundantly recompensed. Can we be called Christians, who, by our murmuring and impatience under the least trials, and by recoiling at the least harsh word, show ourselves to be strangers to the spirit, and enemies to the cross of Christ? It is only by bearing the marks of his sufferings, and by practising the heroic virtues which tribulation calls forth, that we can enter into the bliss which he has purchased for us by his cross. If with the saints we look up at the joys which are to be the recompense of our patience, and consider attentively the example of Christ, we shall receive our sufferings, not only with resignation, but with joys, as graces of which we are most unworthy.

Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. VI, Edition 1903;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.

 

Pope St. Martin I, pray for us.

 

Nov. 8, 2019

November 8, 2019: COMMEMORATION OF THE HOLY FOUR CROWNED MARTYRS

For to them belongs the kingdom of heaven, who despising the life of this world, have obtained the rewards of the kingdom, and washed their garments in the blood of the Lamb.

Prayer (Collect).

Grant we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that as we have been informed of the constancy of the glorious Martyrs in the profession of thy faith, so we may experience their kindness in recommending us to thy mercy. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

 

A.D. 304

Four brothers in the persecution of Dioclesian, employed in offices of trust and honour at Rome, were apprehended for declaring against the worship of idols, and whipped with scourges loaded with plummets of lead, till they expired in the hands of their tormentors. They were buried on the Lavican Way, three miles from Rome, and were at first called the Four Crowned Martyrs; their names were Severus, Severianus, Carpophorus, and Victorius. Pope Gregory the Great mentions an old church of the four crowned martyrs in Rome. Pope Leo IV, in 841, caused the church to be repaired, and the relics of these martyrs to be translated thither out of the cemetery on the Lavican Way. When this church had been consumed by fire, Paschal II rebuilt it; upon which occasion the relics of these martyrs were discovered under the altar in two rich urns, the one of porphyry, the other of serpentine marble, deposited in a stone vault. The new altar was built upon the same spot; and these relics were again found in the same situation under Paul V. This church is an ancient title of a cardinal-priest.

The rage of tyrants, who were masters of the world, spread the faith which they vainly endeavoured, by fighting against heaven, to extinguish. The martyrs who died for it, sealed it with their blood, and gave a testimony to Jesus Christ, which was, of all others, the strongest and most persuasive. Other Christians, who fled, became the apostles of the countries whither they went; whence St. Austin compares them to torches, which, if you attempt to put them out by shaking them, are kindled, and flame so much the more. The martyrs, by the meekness and fervour of their lives, and their constancy in resisting evil to death, converted an infidel world, and disarmed the obstinacy of the most implacable enemies of the truth. But what judgments must await those Christians who, by the scandal of their sloth and worldly spirit, dishonour their religion, blaspheme Christ, withdraw even the faithful from the practice of the gospel, and tempt a Christian world, to turn infidel?

Taken from: The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.

 

Ye Holy Crowned Martyrs, pray for us.

 

Nov. 2, 2019

November 2, 2019: COMMEMORATION OF ALL THE FAITHFUL DEPARTED

Rank: Double.

 

“Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, at least you my friends; for the hand of God hath smitten me.”
(Job, xix. 21)

 

“It is therefore a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.”
(II Machabees, xii. 46)

 

Prayer (Collect).

O God, the Creator and Redeemer of all the faithful: give to the souls of thy servants departed the remission of all their sins; that, through the help of pious supplications, they may obtain the pardon they have always desired. Who livest and reignest, world without end. Amen.

 

Grant them, O Lord, eternal rest; and let perpetual light shine on them.

 

We will not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that are asleep, that you be not sorrowful, even as others who have no hope (I Thess, iv. 12). The Church to-day has the same desire as the Apostle thus expressed to the first Christians. The truth concerning the dead not only proves admirably the union between God's justice and his goodness; it also inspires a charitable pity which the hardest heart cannot resist, and at the same time offers to the mourners the sweetest consolation. If faith teaches us the existence of a purgatory, where our loved ones may be detained by unexpiated sin, it is also of faith that we are able to assist them; and theology assures us that their more or less speedy deliverance lies in our power. Let us call to mind a few principles, which throw light on this doctrine. Every sin causes a twofold injury to the sinner: it stains his soul, and renders him liable to punishment. Venial sin, which displeases God, requires a temporal expiation. Mortal sin deforms the soul, and makes the guilty man an abomination to God: its punishment cannot be anything less than eternal banishment, unless the sinner, in this life, prevent the final and irrevocable sentence. But even then the remission of the guilt, though it revokes the sentence of damnation, does not cancel the whole debt. Although an extraordinary overflow of grace upon the prodigal may sometimes, as is always the case with regard to baptism and martyrdom, bury every remnant and vestige of sin in the abyss of divine oblivion; yet it is the ordinary rule, that for every fault satisfaction must be made to God's justice, either in this world or in the next.

On the other hand, every supernatural act of virtue brings a double profit to the just man: it merits for his soul a fresh degree of grace; and it makes satisfaction for past faults, in exact proportion to the value, in God's sight, of that labour, privation, or trial accepted, or that voluntary suffering endured, by one of the members of his beloved Son. Now, whereas merit is a personal acquisition and cannot be transferred to others, satisfaction may be vicarious; God is willing to accept it in payment of another's debt, whether the recipient of the boon be in this world or in the next, provided only that he be united by grace to the mystical Body of our Lord, which is one in charity. This is a consequence of the mystery of the Communion of Saints, as Suarez explains in his beautiful treatise of Suffrages. Appealing to the authority of the greatest and most ancient princes of science, and discussing the objections and restrictions since proposed by others, the illustrious theologian does not hesitate to formulate this conclusion, with regard to the suffering souls in particular: “I believe that this satisfaction of the living for the dead is a matter of simple justice, and that it is infallibly accepted with its full value, and according to the intention of him who applies it. Thus, for instance, if the satisfaction I make would, if kept for myself, avail me in strict justice for the remission of four degrees of purgatory, it will remit exactly the same amount to the soul for whom I choose to offer it.”

We well know how the Church seconds the goodwill of her children. By the practice of Indulgences, she places at their charitable disposal the inexhaustible treasure accumulated, from age to age, by the superabundant satisfactions of the Saints, added to those of the Martyrs, and united to those of our blessed Lady and the infinite residue of our Lord's sufferings. These remissions of punishment she grants to the living by her own direct power; but she nearly always approves of and permits their application to the dead by way of suffrage, that is to say, in the manner in which, as we have seen, each of the faithful may offer to God who accepts it, for another, the suffrage or succour of his own satisfactions. Such is the doctrine of Suarez, who adds that an Indulgence ceded to the dead, loses nothing either of the security or of the value it would have had for ourselves who are still militant.

Now, Indulgences under every form are continually coming in our way. Let us make use of our treasures, and exercise mercy towards the poor suffering souls. Is any condition more pitiable than theirs? So great is their anguish, that no distress on earth can approach to it; and withal so nobly endured, that not a murmur breaks the silence of that “river of fire, which in its imperceptible current bears them on little by little to the ocean of Paradise.” All heaven cannot help them, for there is no merit to be gained there. God himself, though most merciful, owes it to his justice not to deliver them until they have paid the whole debt that they carried with them beyond the world of trial. The debt was contracted perhaps through our fault, and in our company; and it is to us they turn for help, to us who are still dreaming of nothing but pleasure, while they are burning, and we could so easily shorten their torments! Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you my friends, because the hand of the Lord hath touched me (Job, xix. 21).

Whether it be that Purgatory is now more than ever overflowing with the multitudes daily sent thither through the worldliness of the age, or that the last and universal judgment is approaching, — the Holy Ghost is no longer satisfied with keeping up the zeal of ancient confraternities devoted to the service of the departed. He raises up new associations, and even religious families, whose one aim is to promote, by every possible means, the deliverance or the solace of the suffering souls. In this kind of redemption of captives there are likewise to be found Christians, who at their own risk offer to take upon themselves the chains of their brethren, by utterly foregoing, for this purpose, not only all their own satisfactions, but even the suffrages which may be offered for them after death: an heroic act of charity, which must not be lightly undertaken, but which the Church approves; for it greatly glorifies our Lord, and in return for the risk incurred of a temporary delay of beatitude, merits for its author a greater nearness to God, both by grace here below, and in glory in heaven. If the suffrages of the simple faithful are of such value, of how much more are those of the whole Church, in the solemnity of public prayer, and the oblation of the awful Sacrifice, wherein God himself makes satisfaction to God for every sin! From the very beginning the Church has always prayed for the dead, as did even the Synagogue before her (II Mach, xii. 46).

As she honoured with thanksgiving the anniversaries of her martyred sons, so she celebrated with supplications the memory of her other children, who might not yet be in heaven. In the sacred Mysteries she daily uttered the names of both, for this twofold purpose of praise and prayer. As in each particular church it was impossible to name all the Blessed of the entire world, a common mention was made of them all; and in like manner, after the recommendations peculiar to each place and day, a general commemoration was made of all the dead. Thus, as St. Augustine remarks, those who had no relatives and friends on earth, were henceforth not deprived of suffrages; for, to make up for their abandonment, they had the tender compassion of the common Mother.

The Church having always followed the same method with regard to the commemoration of the blessed and that of the departed, it might be expected that the establishment of All Saints Feast in the ninth century, would soon lead to the solemn Commemoration of All Souls. In 998, according to the Chronicle of Sigebert of Gembloux, St. Odilo, Abbot of Cluny, instituted it in all the monasteries under his crosier, to be celebrated in perpetuity on the morrow of All Saints’. In certain visions, recorded in his Life, Odilo and his monks had been denounced by the demons as the most indefatigable helpers of the holy souls, and most formidable to the powers of hell; and this institution was the Saint's
retaliation. The world applauded the decree; Rome adopted it; and it became the law of the whole Latin Church…

 

Pray for us, because we are unable to help ourselves. You who can do it, lend us your assistance. You who have known us on earth, you who have loved us, will you now forget and neglect us? It is commonly said, that a friend is tried in the day of need. What necessity can be equal to ours? Let it move your compassion. ‘A hard heart shall fare ill at the last day.’ (Ecclus, iii. 26) Be moved by your own advantage…
(Gerson, t. iii. p. 193)

 

Holy Souls in Purgatory

By purgatory, no more is meant by Catholics than a middle state of souls, viz., of purgation from sin by temporary chastisements, or a punishment of some sin inflicted after death, which is not eternal. [...] This doctrine of a state of temporary punishment after death for some sins, is interwoven with the fundamental articles of the Christian religion. For, as eternal torments are the portion of all souls which depart this life under the guilt of mortal sin, and everlasting bliss of those who die in the state of grace, so it is an obvious consequence that among the latter, many souls may be defiled with lesser stains, and cannot enter immediately into the joy of the Lord. Repentance may be sincere, though something be wanting to its perfection; some part of the debt which the penitent owes to the divine justice may remain uncancelled, as appears from several instances mentioned in the holy scriptures, as of David, of the Israelites in the wilderness, of Moses and Aaron, and of the prophet slain by a lion, which debt is to be satisfied for, either in this life or in the next. Certainly, some sins are venial, which deserve not eternal death; yet if not effaced by condign penance in this world, must be punished in the next. Every wound is not mortal; nor does every small offence totally destroy friendship. The scriptures frequently mention these venial sins, from which ordinarily the just are not exempt, who certainly would not be just if these lesser sins, into which men easily fall by surprise, destroyed grace in them, or if they fell from charity (Prov, xiv. 16; James, iii. 2; St. Matth, xii. 36; St. Matth, vi. 12). Yet the smallest sin excludes a soul from heaven so long as it is not blotted out. Nothing which is not perfectly pure and spotless can stand before God, who is infinite purity and sanctity, and cannot bear the sight of the least iniquity. Whence it is said of heaven, “There shall in no wise enter into it any thing defiled.” (Apoc, xxi. 27) It is the great employment of all the saints or pious persons here below by rigorous self-examination to try their actions and thoughts, and narrowly to look into all the doublings and recesses of their hearts; continually to accuse and judge themselves, and by daily tears of compunction, works of penance, and the use of the sacraments, to correct all secret disorders, and wipe away all filth which their affections may contract. Yet who is there who keeps so constant a guard upon his heart and whole conduct as to avoid all insensible self-deceptions? Who is there upon whose heart no inordinate attachments steal; into whose actions no sloth, remissness, or some other irregularity ever insinuates itself? Or whose compunction and penance is so humble and clear-sighted, so fervent and perfect, that no lurking disorder of his whole life escapes him, and is not perfectly washed away by the sacred blood of Christ, applied by these means or conditions to the soul? Who has perfectly subdued and regulated all his passions, and grounded his heart in perfect humility, meekness, charity, piety, and all other virtues, so as to bear the image of God in himself, or to be holy and perfect, even as he is, without spot? Perhaps scarce in any moment of our lives is our intention or motive so fervent, and so pure or exempt from the least imperceptible sinister influence and mixture of sloth, self-complacency, or other inordinate affection or passion; and all other ingredients or circumstances of our action so perfect and holy, as to be entirely without failure in the eyes of God, which nothing can escape. Assiduous conversation with heaven, constant watchfulness, self-denial, and a great purity of heart, with the assistance of an extraordinary grace, give the saints a wonderful light to discover and correct the irregularities of their affections. Yet it is only by the fervent spirit and practice of penance that they can be purified in the sight of God.

The Blessed Virgin was preserved by an extraordinary grace from the least sin in the whole tenor of her life and actions; but, without such a singular privilege, even the saints are obliged to say that they sin daily; but they forthwith rise again by living in constant compunction and watchfulness over themselves. (Prov, xxiv. 16) Venial sins of surprise are readily effaced by penance, as we hope of the divine mercy; even such sins which are not discovered by us, are virtually repented of by a sincere compunction, if it be such as effectually destroys them. Venial sins of malice, or committed with full deliberation, are of a different nature, far more grievous and fatal, usually of habit, and lead even to mortal sin. Those Christians who shun these more wilful offences, yet are not very watchful over themselves, and labour not very strenuously in subduing all their passions, have just reason to fear that some inordinate affections taint almost the whole body of their actions, without being sufficiently repented of. And the very best Christians must always tremble at the thought of the dreadful account they have to give to God for every idle word or thought. No one can be justified before God but by his pure and free mercy. But how few even among fervent Christians bring, by his grace, the necessary conditions of cleanness and disengagement of heart and penance, in so perfect a manner as to obtain such a mercy that no blemishes or spots remain in their souls? Hence a saint prayed, “Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” (Ps, cxliii. 2) No soul which leaves this world defiled with the least stain, or charged with the least debt to the divine justice, can be admitted in the kingdom of perfect purity and unspotted sanctity, till she be perfectly purged and purified. Yet no man will say that a venial sin, which destroys not sanctifying grace, will be punished with eternal torments. Hence there must be a relaxation of some sin in the world to come, as is sufficiently implied, according to the remark of St. Austin, in these words of Christ, where he says, that the sin against the Holy Ghost “shall not be forgotten in this world, nor in the world to come.” (St. Matth, xii. 32) Christ, exhorting us to agree with our adversary or accuser by appeasing our conscience, mentions a place of punishment out of which souls shall be delivered, though not before they shall have paid the last farthing (St. Matth, v. 27). St. Paul tells us, (I Cor, iii. 13) that he whose work shall abide the trial, shall be rewarded; but he who shall have built upon the foundation (which is Christ or his sanctifying grace) wood, hay, or stubble, or whose imperfect and defective works shall not be able to stand the fiery trial, shall be saved, yet so as by fire. The last sentence in the general judgment only mentions heaven and hell, which are the two great receptacles of all men, both the good and the bad for eternity, and after the last judgment there will be no purgatory. It is also very true of every man at his death that on whatever side the tree falls, on that it shall always lie; the doom of the soul is then fixed for ever either to life or death; but this excludes not a temporary state of purgation before the last judgment, through which some souls enter into everlasting life. This doctrine of a purgatory will be more evidently proved from the following demonstration of the Catholic practice of praying for the souls of the faithful departed.

The church of Christ is composed of three different parts: the triumphant in heaven, the militant on earth, and the patient or suffering in purgatory. Our charity embraces all the members of Christ. Our love for him engages and binds us to his whole body, and teaches us to share both the miseries and afflictions, and the comforts and blessings of all that are comprised in it. The communion of saints which we profess in our creed, implies a communication of certain good works and offices, and a mutual intercourse among all the members of Christ. This we maintain with the saints in heaven by thanking and praising God for their triumphs and crowns, imploring their intercession, and receiving the succours of their charitable solicitude and prayers for us; likewise with the souls in purgatory, by soliciting the divine mercy in their favour. Nor does it seem to be doubted but they, as they are in a state of grace and charity, pray also for us; though the church never addresses public suffrages to them, not being warranted by primitive practice and tradition so to do. That to pray for the faithful departed is a pious and wholesome charity and devotion, is proved clearly from the Old Testament, and from the doctrine and practice of the Jewish synagogue. The baptisms or legal purifications which the Jews sometimes used for the dead, demonstrate their belief that the dead receive spiritual succours from the devotion of the living (I Cor, xv. 29; Ecclus, vii. 87). In the second book of the Machabees, (II Mac, xii. 43, 46) it is related, that Judas, the Machabee, sent twelve thousand drachms of silver to the temple for sacrifices to be offered for the dead, “thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection. It is therefore a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from their sins.” This book is ranked among the canonical scriptures by the apostolical canons, Tertullian, St. Cyprian, St. Hilary, St. Ambrose, St. Austin, the third council of Carthage, &c. Some ancients call it apocryphal, meaning that it was not in the Hebrew canon compiled by Esdras, it being writ after his time; and Origen and St. Jerom, who give it that epithet, sometimes quoted it as of divine authority. The Catholic church admits the Deutero-canonical books of those which were compiled after the time of Esdras, as written equally by divine inspiration. If some among the ancients doubted of them before tradition in this point had been examined and cleared, several parts of the New Testament which are admitted by Protestants, have been no less called in question. Protestants, who at least allow this book a historical credit, must acknowledge this to have been the belief and practice of the most virtuous and zealous high-priest, of all the priests and doctors attached to the service of the temple, and of the whole Jewish nation; and a belief and custom which our blessed Redeemer no where reprehended in them.

The faith and practice of the Christian church from the beginning is manifest from the writings of the primitive fathers. In all ancient liturgies, or masses, express mention is made of prayer and sacrifice for the dead. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, expounding to the catechumens the several parts of the liturgy, says, that in it we pray for the emperor and all the living; we also name the martyrs and saints to commend ourselves to their prayers, then mention the faithful departed to pray for them. “We remember,” says he, “those that are deceased, first the patriarchs, apostles, and martyrs, that God would receive our supplications through their prayers and intercession. Then we pray for our fathers and bishops, and in general for all among us who are departed this life, believing that this will be the greatest relief to them for whom it is made whilst the holy and tremendous victim lies present.” These words of this father are quoted by Eustratius, in the sixth age, and by Nico, the monk. St. Cyril goes on, and illustrates the efficacy of such a prayer by the comparison of a whole nation which, in a joint body, should address their king in favour of persons whom he should have banished, offering him at the same time a crown. “Will not he,” says the father, “grant them a remission of their banishment? In like manner, we, offering our prayers for the dead, though they are sinners, offer not a crown, but Christ sacrificed for our sins, studying to render the merciful God propitious to us and to them.” Arnobius, speaking of our public liturgies, says, “In which peace and pardon are begged of God for kings, magistrates, friends, and enemies, both the living and those who are delivered from the body.” In the Apostolical Constitutions is extant a very ancient fragment of a liturgy, from which Grabe, Hicks, and Deacon borrow many things for their new models of primitive liturgies, and which Whiston pretended to rank among the canonical scriptures. In it occurs a prayer for the dead; “Let us pray for those who are departed in peace.” There is no liturgy used by any sect of Oriental Christians, though some have been separated from the communion of the church ever since the fifth or sixth centuries, in which prayer for the dead does not occur. The most ancient fathers frequently speak of the offering the holy sacrifice of the altar for the faithful departed. Tertullian, the oldest among the Latin Christian writers, mentioning certain apostolical traditions, says, “We make yearly offerings (or sacrifices) for the dead, and for the feasts of the martyrs.” He says, “that a widow prays for the soul of her deceased husband, and begs repose for him, and his company in the first resurrection, and offers (sacrifice) on the anniversary days of his death. For if she does not these things, she has, as much as lies in her, divorced him.” St. Cyprian mentions the usual custom of celebrating sacrifice for every deceased Christian. Nor can it be said that he speaks in the same manner of martyrs. The distinction he makes is evident; “It is one thing to be cast into prison not to be released till the last farthing is paid, and another thing through the ardour of faith, immediately to attain to the reward; it is very different by long punishment for sin to be cleansed a long time by fire, and to have purged away all sin by suffering.” St. Chrysostom reckons it amongst the dreadful obligations of a priest, “that he is the intercessor to God for the sins both of the living and the dead.” In another place he says, “It is not in vain that in the divine mysteries we remember the dead, appearing in their behalf, praying the Lamb who has taken away the sins of the world, that comfort may thence be derived upon them. He who stands at the altar cries not out in vain. Let us pray for them who have slept in Christ. Let us not fail to succour the departed, for the common expiation of the world is offered.” Prayer for the faithful departed is mentioned by the fathers on other occasions. St. Clement, of Alexandria, who flourished in the year 200, says, that by punishment after death men must expiate every the least sin before they can enter heaven. The vision of St. Perpetua is related by St. Austin, and in her acts. Origen, in many places, and Lactantius, teach at large, that all souls are purged by the punishment of fire before they enter into bliss, unless they are so pure as not to stand in need of it.

To omit others, St. Austin expounds those words of the thirty-seventh psalm, “Rebuke me not in thy fury,” of hell; and those which follow, “Neither chastise me in thy wrath,” of purgatory, as follows, “That you purify me in this life, and render me such that I may not stand in need of that purging fire.” In his Enchiridion he says, “Nor is it to be denied that the souls of the departed are relieved by the piety of their living friends, when the sacrifice of the Mediator is offered for them, or alms are given in the church. But these things are profitable to those who, whilst they lived, deserved that they might avail them. There is a life so good, as not to require them; and there is another so wicked, that after death it can receive no benefit from them. When, therefore, the sacrifices of the altar or alms are offered for all Christians, for the very good they are thanksgivings; they are propitiations for those who are not very bad. For the very wicked, they are some kind of comfort to the living.” This father teaches that a funeral pomp and monument are comforts of the living, but no succour of the dead; but that prayer, sacrifices, and alms relieve the departed. He repeats often that sacrifice is offered in thanksgiving to God for martyrs, but never for their repose. “It is an injury,” says he, “to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought to be ourselves recommended.” And again, “You know in what place (of the liturgy) the martyrs are named. The church prays not for them. She justly prays for other deceased persons, but prays not for the martyrs, but rather recommends herself to their prayers.” This he often repeats in other places. St. Austin, and St. Epiphanius, relate, that when Aërius, an impious Arian priest, denied suffrages for the dead, this heresy was condemned by the universal church. How earnestly St. Monica on her death-bed begged the sacrifices and prayers of the church after her departure, and how warmly St. Austin recommended the souls of his parents to the prayers of others is related in their lives.

The like earnest desire we discover in all ancient Christians and saints. St. Ephrem, in his testament, entreats his friends to offer for him, after his departure, alms, prayers, and oblations (or masses), especially on the thirtieth day. St. Athanasius tells Constantius that he had prayed earnestly for the soul of that emperor's deceased brother, Constans, Eusebius relates, that Constantine the Great would be buried in the porch of the Church of the Apostles, “that he might enjoy the communication of the holy prayers, the mystical sacrifice, and the divine ceremonies.” The same historian testifies that after his death, “numberless multitudes poured forth prayers to God with sighs and tears for the soul of the emperor, repaying a most grateful office to their pious prince. St. Paulinus, upon his brother's death, wrote to his friends, earnestly recommending him to their prayers, that by them his poor soul amidst scorching flames might receive the dew of refreshment and comfort. St. Ambrose, writing to one Faustinus, who grieved immoderately for the death of his sister, says, “I do not think your sister ought to excite your tears, but your prayers: nor that her soul is to be dishonoured by weeping, but rather recommended to God by sacrifices.” In his funeral oration on the great Theodosius he prays thus, “Give perfect rest to thy servant, Theodosius.” And again: “I loved him, therefore I follow him unto the country of the living. Neither will I forsake him till by tears and prayers I shall bring the man whither his merits call him, unto the holy mountain of the Lord.” He mentions the most solemn obsequies and sacrifices on the thirtieth, sometimes fortieth day, for so long they were continued; but, on the third, seventh, and thirtieth days with particular solemnity. St. Gregory the Great mentions that he having ordered thirty masses to be sung for a monk named Justus, on the thirtieth day after the last mass was said, Justus appeared to Copiosus, his provost, and said, “I was in pain, but now am well.”

It is certainly a “holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead.” (II Mach, xii. 46) Holy and pious because most acceptable to God, to whom no sacrifices are more honourable and pleasing than those of charity and mercy, especially spiritual, and when offered to persons most dear to him. The suffering souls in purgatory are the chosen heirs of heaven, the eternal possession of which kingdom is secured to them, and their names are now written there amongst its glorious princes. God most tenderly loves them, declares them his spouses, enriches them with the precious gifts and ornaments of his grace, and desires to shower down upon them the torrents of his delights, and disclose to them the light of his glory. Only his justice opposes and obliges him to detain them in this distant banishment, and in this place of torments till their debts are discharged to the last farthing. Such is his hatred of the least sin; and such is the opposition which the stain of sin bears to his infinite justice and sanctity. Yet his tender mercy recommends them to the charitable succours which we as their fellow-members in Christ have in our power to afford them, and he invites us to appease his anger by interposing our prayers in order to avert them from the weight of his justice. If a compassionate charity towards all that are in any distress, even towards the most flagitious, and those who only labour under temporal miseries and necessities, be a most essential ingredient of a Christian spirit; and that in which the very soul of religion and piety towards God consists: if the least alms given to the poor be highly rewarded by him, will he not exceedingly recompense our charity to his friends and most beloved children, in their extreme necessity? All works of mercy draw down his most abundant graces, and will be richly repaid by Him, who at the judgment day will adjudge the immortal crowns of his glory to this virtue. But except the leading others to God by our instructions and prayers, what charity, what mercy can we exercise equal to this of succouring the souls in purgatory? A charity not less wholesome and profitable both to them and to ourselves, than pious in itself, and honourable to God. If we consider who they are, and what they suffer, we shall want no other motives to excite us to fervour in it. They are all of them our fellow-members in Jesus Christ. We are united with them by the bands of sincere charity, and by the communion of saints. Every one of them is that brother whom we are bound to love as ourselves. The members of one and the same body conspire mutually to assist one another, as the apostle puts us in mind; so that if one of these members suffers, the others suffer with it; and if one be in honour, the others rejoice with it. If our foot be pricked with a thorn, the whole body suffers with it, and all the other members set themselves at work to relieve it. So ought we in our mystical body. It would be impious and cruel to see a brother in the flames, and not to give him a hand, or afford him some refreshment if we can do it. The dignity of these souls more strongly recommends them to our compassion, and at the same time to our veneration. Though they lie at present at a distance from God, buried in frightful dungeons, under waves of fire, they belong to the happy number of the elect. They are united to God by his grace; they love him above all things, and amidst their torments never cease to bless and praise him, adoring the severity of his justice with perfect resignation and love.

Those of whom we speak are not damned souls, enemies of God, separated or alienated from him; but illustrious conquerors of the devil, the world, and hell; holy spirits laden with merits and graces, and bearing the precious badge of their dignity and honour by the nuptial robe of the Lamb, with which, by an indefeasible right they are clothed. They are the sons of God, heirs of his glory and saints. Yet they are now in a state of suffering, and endure greater torments, than it is possible for any one to suffer, or for our imagination to represent to itself, in this mortal life. They suffer the privation of God, says the council of Florence, the most dreadful of all torments. No tongue can express what a cruel pain this is to a soul separated from the body, impetuously desiring to attain to God, her centre. She seems just enjoying him, attracted by his infinite charms, and carried towards him by a strong innate bent not to be conceived: yet is violently repelled and held back. Whence the poor soul suffers an incomprehensible agony and torment. It is also the opinion of St. Austin and other learned fathers, founded in the words of St. Paul, and the traditionary authority of eminent prelates of the first ages, that they also suffer a material fire like that of hell, which being created merely for an instrument of the divine vengeance, and blown up by the anger of God, with the most piercing activity torments even spirits not clothed with bodies, as our souls in this life feel the pain of the corporeal senses by the natural law of their union with our bodies. Though it be no article of faith, that the fire here spoken of is not metaphorical, to express the sharpness of these torments, yet that it is real and material is the most probable opinion, grounded in the most venerable authority. “The same fire torments the damned in hell and the just in purgatory,” says St. Thomas, who adds, “The least pain in purgatory exceeds the greatest in this life.” St. Austin speaks to this point as follows, “It is said, ‘He will be saved, as it were, by fire.’ Because it is said, ‘He will be saved,’ that fire is contemned. Yet it, will be more grievous than whatever a man can suffer in this life. You know how much wicked men have suffered here, and can suffer. Good men may undergo as much; and what did any malefactor ever endure which martyrs have not suffered for Christ? All those torments are much more tolerable. Yet see how men do all things rather than suffer them. How much more reason have they to do what God commands them, that they may escape his torments.” Venerable Bede says, “Purgatory fire will be more intolerable than all the torments that can be felt or conceived in this life.” Which words are but a repetition of what St. Cæsarius of Aries had wrote before to this purpose, “A person,” says he, “may say, I am not much concerned how long I remain in purgatory, provided I may come to eternal life. Let no one reason thus. Purgatory fire will be more dreadful than whatever torments can be seen, imagined, or endured in this world. And how does any one know whether he will stay days, months, or years? He who is afraid now to put his finger into the fire, does he not fear lest he be then all buried in torments for a longtime?” Do we think that God can find torments in nature sufficient to satisfy his provoked vengeance? No, no. He creates new instruments more violent, pains utterly inconceivable to us. A soul for one venial sin shall suffer more than all the pains of distempers, the most violent colics, gout, and stone joined in complication; more than all the most cruel torments undergone by malefactors, or invented by the most barbarous tyrants; more than all the tortures of the martyrs summed up together. This is the idea which the fathers give us of purgatory. And how long many souls may have to suffer there we know not.

The church approves perpetual anniversaries for the dead; for some souls may be detained in pains to the end of the world, though after the day of judgment no third state will any longer subsist; God may, at the end of the world, make the torments of souIs which have not then satisfied his justice so intense in one moment that their debts may be discharged. For we know that he will exact a satisfaction to the last farthing. How inexorable was he in punishing his most faithful servant Moses for one small offence! (Deut, iii. 24, 25) How inflexible with regard to David (II Kings (Samuel) xxiv. 15) and other penitents! nay, in the person of his own divine Son (St. Matth, xxvi. 36)! This, even in the days of his mercy; but, after death, his justice is all rigour and severity, and can no longer be mitigated by patience. God answers their moans, that his justice must be satisfied to the last farthing, and that their “night is come in which no man can work.” (St. John, ix. 4) But they address themselves to us, and not having a voice to be heard, they borrow that of the church and its preachers, who, to express their moans and excite our compassion, cry out to us for them in the words of Job: “Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, at least you my friends; for the hand of God hath smitten me.” (Job, xix. 21) Gerson, the pious and learned chancellor of Paris, represents them crying out to us as follows: “Pray for us, Because we are unable to help ourselves. You who can do it, lend us your assistance. You who have known us on earth, you who have loved us, will you now forget and neglect us? It is commonly said, that a friend is tried in the day of need. What necessity can be equal to ours? Let it move your compassion. ‘A hard heart shall fare ill at the last day.’ (Ecclus, iii. 26) Be moved by your own advantage,” &c.

Did we behold those dungeons open under our feet, or had we a view of the torments which these souls endure, how would this spectacle affect us! How would their pains alone speak to us more pathetically than any words! How would our eyes stream with tears, and our bowels be moved, to behold innumerable holy and illustrious servants of God, and our brethren in Christ, suffering “by wonderful but real ways,” more than our imagination can represent to itself! Here perhaps lies a parent, a brother, a bosom-friend and companion. For if we may be permitted to dive into the secrets of the divine judgments, we shall be persuaded that the number is very small of those that departing this life pass immediately to glory without having some satisfaction to make, some debt to cancel. Who can flatter himself that his soul is so pure before God, as to have no unperceived irregular attachment or affection, no stain which he has not perfectly washed away? How rare is the grace for a soul to leave this infected region without the least spot; the judgments of God are hidden and unsearchable; but their very inscrutability makes us tremble. For we know that he will judge justices, and woe even to the commendable life of man if it be discussed according to the rigour of justice, as St. Austin says. Does not St. Peter assure us, that the just man himself will scarce be saved? If then we have lost any dear friends in Christ, whilst we confide in his mercy, and rejoice in their passage from the region of death to that of life, light, and eternal joy, we have reason to fear some lesser stains may retard their bliss. In this uncertainty, why do not we earnestly recommend them to the divine clemency? Why do not we say with St. Ambrose, in his funeral discourse on Valentinian the Younger, who was murdered in 392, at twenty years of age, whilst a catechumen, “Give the holy mysteries to the dead. Let us, with pious earnestness, beg repose for his soul. Lift up your hands with me, O people, that at least by this duty we may make some return for his benefits.” Afterwards, joining with this emperor his brother Gratian, who was dead before him, in 383, he says, “Both blessed, if my prayers can be of any force! No day shall pass you over in silence: no prayer of mine shall ever be closed without remembering you. No night shall pass you over without some vows of my supplications. You shall have a share in all my sacrifices. If I forget you, let my own right hand be forgotten.” With the like earnestness this father offered the holy sacrifice for his brother Satyrus. Perhaps the souls of some dear friends may be suffering on our account; perhaps for their fondness for us, or for sins of which we were the occasion by scandal, provocation, or otherwise; in which cases motives, not only of charity, but also of justice, call upon us to endeavour to procure them all the relief in our power.

If other motives have less weight with us, we certainly cannot be insensible to that of our own interest. What a comfort shall we find to eternity in the happy company of souls whose enjoyment of bliss we shall have contributed to hasten! What an honour to have ever been able to serve so holy and glorious saints! With what gratitude and earnestness will they repay the favour by their supplications for us, whilst we still labour amidst the dangers and conflicts of this world! When Joseph foretold Pharaoh's chief butler the recovery of his dignity, he said to him, “Remember me, when it shall be well with thee; and mention me to Pharaoh, that he may bring me out of this place.” (Gen, xl. 14) Yet he remembered not Joseph, but forgot his fellow-sufferer and benefactor. Not so these pious souls, as St. Bernard observes: only the wicked and depraved, who are strangers to all feelings of virtue, can be ungrateful. This vice is far from the breasts of saints, who are all goodness and charity. Souls delivered and brought to glory by our endeavours will amply repay our kindness by obtaining divine graces for us. God himself will be inclined by our charity to show us also mercy, and to shower down upon us his most precious favours. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (St. Matth, v. 7) By having shown this mercy to the suffering souls in purgatory, we shall be particularly entitled to be treated with mercy at our departure hence, and to share more abundantly in the general suffrages of the church, continually offered for all that have slept in Christ. The principal means by which we obtain relief for the suffering souls in purgatory are sacrifice, prayer, and almsdeeds. The unbloody sacrifice has always been offered for the faithful departed no less than for the living. “It was not in vain,” says St. Chrysostom, “that the apostles ordained a commemoration of the deceased in the holy and tremendous mysteries. They were sensible of the benefit and advantage which accrues to them from this practice. For, when the congregation stands with open arms, as well as the priests, and the tremendous sacrifice is before them, how should our prayers for them not appease God? But this is said of such as have departed in faith.”

Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. V, Edition 1903;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.

 

May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.