Dec. 2, 2020

December 2, 2020: COMMEMORATION OF ST. BIBIANA, VIRGIN AND MARTYR

 

I have done what was just and right, O Lord, let not the proud calumniate me: I have walked upright in the ways of thy commandments: I have hated every evil way.

 

Prayer (Collect).

O God, the bestower of all good gifts, who in thy servant Bibiana joinedst the palm of martyrdom with the flower of virginity, grant that through her intercession our hearts may be united to thee by charity; and that being delivered from all dangers, we may obtain the everlasting rewards. 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.

 

Of the Saints, whose feasts are kept during Advent, five are Virgins. The first, St. Bibiana, whom we honour to-day, is a daughter of Rome; the second, St. Barbara, is the glory of the Eastern Churches; the third, St. Eulalia of Merida, is one of Spain's richest treasures; the fourth, St. Lucy, belongs to beautiful Sicily; the fifth, St. Odila, is claimed by France. These five wise Virgins lighted their lamps and watched, waiting for the coming of the Spouse. Such was their constancy and fidelity, that four of them shed their blood for the love of Him, after whom they longed. Let us take courage by this noble example; and since we have not, as the Apostle expresses it, as yet resisted unto blood, let us not think it hard if we suffer fatigue and trouble in the holy exercises of this penitential season of Advent: He, for whom we do them all, will soon be with us and repay us.

 

To-day, it is the chaste and courageous Bibiana, who instructs us by her glorious example.

Bibiana was a Roman Virgin, noble by birth, but more noble by her profession of the Christian faith. For, under the most wicked tyrant Julian the Apostate, Flavian, her father, was deprived of his dignity of prefect, and being branded with the mark of slavery, he was banished to Aquӕ Taurinӕ, and there died a martyr. Her mother, Dafrosa, was first shut up in her own house with her daughters, that she might die by starvation; but shortly afterwards was banished from Rome and beheaded. The virtuous parents thus put to death, Bibiana was deprived of all her possessions, as also was her sister, Demetria. Apronianus, the City Prӕtor, thirsting after their wealth, persecutes the two sisters. They are bereaved of every human help. But God, who gives food to them that are in hunger, wonderfully nourishes them; and the Prӕtor is exceedingly astonished on finding them in better health and strength than before.

Apronianus, notwithstanding, endeavours to induce them to venerate the gods of the Gentiles. If they consent, he promises them the recovery of all their wealth, the Emperor's favour, and marriage to the noblest in the empire: but should they refuse, he threatens them with prison, and scourgings, and the sword. But neither promises nor threats can make them abandon the true faith; they would rather die, than be defiled by the idolatrous practices of paganism; and they resolutely resist the impious Prӕtor. Whereupon, Demetria was struck down in the presence of Bibiana, and slept in the Lord. Bibiana was delivered over to a woman by name Rufina, who was most skilled in the art of seduction. But the virgin, taught from her infancy to observe the Christian law, and to preserve with the utmost jealousy the flower of her virginity, rose above nature, defeated all the artifices of the wretched Rufina, and foiled the craft of the Prӕtor.

Finding, therefore, that Rufina could in no wise shake the virgin's holy resolution, and that both her wicked words and frequent blows were of no avail; and seeing his hopes disappointed and his labour thrown away; the Prӕtor became violently enraged, and ordered Bibiana to be stripped by the lictors, to be fastened to a pillar with her hands bound, and to be beaten to death with leaded whips. Her sacred body was left for two days in the Bull-Forum, as food for dogs; but received no injury, being divinely preserved. A priest called John then buried it during the night, close to the grave of her sister and mother, near the Palace Licinius, where there stands at this day a Church consecrated to God under the title of St. Bibiana. Urban VIII restored this Church, having there discovered the bodies of Saints Bibiana, Demetria, and Dafrosa, which he placed under the high altar.

 

Another account of St. Bibiana.

A.D. 363

We are informed by Ammianus Marcelinus, a pagan historian of that age, and an officer in the court of Julian the Apostate, that this emperor made Apronianus governor of Rome in the year 363, who, while he was on the way to that city, had the misfortune to lose an eye. This accident he superstitiously imputed to the power of magic, through the malice of some who excelled in that art; and, in this foolish persuasion, to gratify his spleen and superstition, he resolved to punish and exterminate the magicians; in which accusation Christians were involved above all others, on account of many wonderful miracles which were wrought in the primitive ages. Under this magistrate, St. Bibiana received the crown of martyrdom. This holy virgin was a native of Rome, and daughter to Flavian, a Roman knight, and his wife Dafrosa, who were both zealous Christians. Flavian was apprehended, deprived of a considerable post which he held in the city, burned in the face with a hot iron, and banished to Acquapendente, then called Aquӕ Taurinӕ, where he died of his wounds, a few days after. Dafrosa, by an order of Apronianus, who had thus treated her husband for his constancy in his faith, was, on the same account, confined to her house for some time; and, at length, carried out of the gates of the city, and beheaded. Bibiana and her sister Demetria, after the death of their holy parents, were stripped of all they had in the world, and suffered much from poverty for five months, but spent that time in their own house in fasting and prayer. Apronianus had flattered himself, that hunger and want would bring them to a compliance; but seeing himself mistaken, summoned them to appear before him. Demetria, having made a generous confession of her faith, fell down and expired at the foot of the tribunal, in the presence of the judge, Apronianus gave orders that Bibiana should be put into the hands of a wicked woman named Rufina, who was extremely artful, and undertook to bring her to another way of thinking. That agent of hell, employed all the allurements she could invent; which were afterwards succeeded by blows: but Bibiana, making prayer her shield, remained invincible. Apronianus, enraged at the courage and perseverance of a tender virgin, at length passed sentence of death upon her, and ordered her to be tied to a pillar, and whipped with scourges loaded with leaden plummets till she expired. The saint underwent this punishment cheerfully, and died in the hands of the executioners. Her body was left in the open air, that it might be a prey to beasts; but, having lain exposed two days, was buried in the night, near the place of Licinius, by a holy priest called John. Peace being soon after restored to the church, a chapel was erected over her tomb; and, a hundred years after, in 465, Pope Simplicius built there a fair church, as Anastasius mentions in his life. This church was called Olympina, from a pious lady of that name, who defrayed the expenses. It was repaired by Honorius III, but being fallen to decay was afterwards united to St. Mary Major, till it was sumptuously rebuilt by Urban VIII in 1628, who placed in it the relics of SS. Bibiana, Demetria, and Dafrosa, which were discovered in that place which has been sometimes called St. Bibiana's cemetery.

The only affair which a Christian has in this world, and in which consists all his happiness and joy, is to seek God, to attain to the perfect possession of his grace and love, and in all things most perfectly to do his will. By this disposition of heart he is raised above all created things, and united to the eternal and unchangeable object of his felicity. He receives the good things of this world with gratitude to the Giver, but always with indifference; leaves them with joy, if God requires that sacrifice at his bonds; and, in his abundance, fears not so much the flight of what he possesses as the infection of his own heart, or lest his affections be entangled by them. Such attachments are secretly and imperceptibly contracted, yet are ties by which the soul is held captive, and enslaved to the world. Only assiduous prayer and meditation on heavenly things, habitual self-denial, humble distrust and watchfulness, and abundant alms-deeds proportioned to a person's circumstances, can preserve a soul from this dangerous snare amidst worldly affluence.

Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Advent, Edition 1870;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.

 

St. Bibiana, pray for us.

 

Nov. 30, 2020

November 30, 2020: ST. ANDREW, APOSTLE

 

Rank: Double of the II Class.

 

When blessed Andrew was come to the place where the cross was prepared, he cried out, and said: O good-cross, long desired, and now ready for my longing mind; I come to thee with joy and confidence; do thou also joyfully receive me, a disciple of him, who hung on thee.

 

Prayer (Collect).

We humbly beseech thy divine Majesty, O Lord, that as the blessed Apostle Andrew was a teacher and pastor of thy church, so he may be with thee our perpetual intercessor. 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.

 

This feast is destined each year to terminate with solemnity the cycle which is at its close, or to add lustre to the new one which has just begun. It seems, indeed, fitting that the Christian year should begin and end with the cross, which has merited for us each of those years which it has pleased the divine goodness to grant us, and which is to appear, on the last day, in the clouds of heaven, as the seal put on time.

We should remember that Saint Andrew is the Apostle of the Cross. To Peter, Jesus has given firmness of faith; to John, warmth of love; the mission of Andrew is to represent the Cross of his divine Master. Now it is by these three, faith, love, and the Cross, that the Church renders herself worthy of her Spouse. Everything she has or is, bears this threefold character. Hence it is that after the two Apostles just named, there is none who holds such a prominent place in the universal Liturgy as Saint Andrew.

But let us read the life of this glorious fisherman of the lake of Genesareth, who was afterwards to be the successor of Christ himself, and the companion of Peter, on the tree of the Cross. The Church has compiled it from the ancient Acts of the Martyrdom of the holy Apostle, drawn up by the priests of the Church of Patræ, which was founded by the Saint… These Acts have been received by a far greater number of Catholic writers of eminence; amongst whom may be mentioned the great Baronius, Labbe, Natalis Alexander, Gallandus, Lumper, Morcelli, etc. The Churches, too, of both East and West, which have inserted these Acts in their respective Offices of St. Andrew, are of some authority, as is also St. Bernard, who has made them the groundwork of his three admirable sermons on St. Andrew.

Andrew, the Apostle, born at Bethsaida, a town of Galilee, was brother of Peter, and disciple of John the Baptist. Having heard his master say, speaking of Christ: Behold the Lamb of God! he followed Jesus, and brought to him his brother also. When, afterwards, he was fishing with his brother in the sea of Galilee, they were both called, before any of the other Apostles, by our Lord, who, passing by, said to them: Come after me; I will make you to be fishers of men. Without delay, they left their nets and followed him. After the passion and resurrection, Andrew went to spread the faith of Christ in Scythia in Europe, which was the province assigned to him; then he travelled through Epirus and Thrace, and by his teaching and miracles converted innumerable souls to Christ. Afterwards, having reached Patræ in Achaia, he persuaded many in that city to embrace the truth of the Gospel. Finding that the Proconsul Ægeas resisted the preaching of the Gospel, he most freely upbraided him for that he, who desired to be considered as a judge of men, should be so far deceived by devils as not to acknowledge Christ to be God, the Judge of all.

Then Ægeas being angry, said: Cease to boast of this Christ, whom such like words as these kept not from being crucified by the Jews. But finding that Andrew continued boldly preaching that Christ had offered himself to be crucified for the salvation of mankind, he interrupts him by an impious speech, and at length exhorts him to look to his own interest and sacrifice to the gods. Andrew answered him: I offer up every day to almighty God, who is one and true, not the flesh of oxen, nor the blood of goats, but the spotless Lamb upon the altar; of whose flesh the whole multitude of the faithful eat, and the Lamb that is sacrificed, remains whole and living. Whereupon Ægeas being exceeding angry, orders him to be thrust into prison, whence the people would easily have freed Andrew, had he not himself appeased the multitude, begging of them, with most earnest entreaty, that they would not keep him from the long-sought-for crown of martyrdom, to which he was hastening.

Not long after this, he was brought before the tribunal, where he began to extol the mystery of the Cross, and rebuke the judge for his impiety. Ægeas, no longer able to contain himself on hearing these words, ordered him to be hoisted on a cross, and so to die like Christ. Andrew having been brought to the place of execution, seeing the Cross at some distance, began to cry out: O good Cross, made beautiful by the body of my Lord! so long desired, so anxiously loved, so unceasingly sought after, and now at last ready for my soul to enjoy! take me from amidst men, and restore me to my Master, that by thee He may receive me, who by thee redeemed me. He was therefore fastened to the cross, on which he hung alive two days, preaching without cessation the faith of Christ: after which he passed to Him, whose death he had so coveted. The Priests and Deacons of Achaia, who wrote his Passion, attest that all the things which they have recorded were heard and seen by them. His relics were first translated to Constantinople, under the emperor Constantius, and afterwards to Amalfi. During the Pontificate of Pius II, the head was taken to Rome, and placed in the Basilica of St. Peter.

 

Nothing could be more expressive than the language used by holy Church in praise of the Apostle of the Cross. First, she employs the words of the Gospel, which record the circumstances of his vocation; then, she selects the most touching passages from the Acts of his martyrdom, drawn up by the priests of Patræ; and both are intermingled with appropriate sentiments of her own. Our first selection shall be from the Responsories of Matins.

Responsory.

℟. When the Lord was walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw Peter and Andrew casting nets into the sea, and he called them, saying:
*Come after me, and I will make you to be fishers of men.

℣. For they were fishers, and he saith to them:
*Come after me, and I will make you to be fishers of men.

℟. As soon as blessed Andrew heard the voice of the Lord calling him, leaving his nets, by the use and working of which he lived,
*He followed Him who gives the reward of eternal life.

℣. This is he who, for the love of Christ, hung upon a cross, and for his law endured a passion.
*He followed Him who gives the reward of eternal life.

℟. Andrew, the good Teacher, and the friend of God, is led to the Cross; which, seeing afar off, he says: Hail, O Cross!
*Receive the disciple of Him who hung upon thee, Christ, my master.

℣. Hail, O Cross, which art consecrated by the body of Christ, and art adorned by his members as with pearls.
*Receive the disciple of Him who hung upon thee, Christ, my master.

℟. Andrew seeing the Cross, cried out, saying: O admirable Cross! O desirable Cross! O Cross which shinest throughout the whole world!
*Receive the disciple of Christ, and by thee may He receive me, who dying by thee redeemed me.

℣. O good Cross, which art made fair and beautiful by the body of the Lord.
*Receive the disciple of Christ, and by thee may He receive me, who dying by thee redeemed me.

℟. Saint Andrew prayed, as he looked up to heaven, and with a loud voice, cried out and said: Thou art my God, whom I have seen: suffer me not to be detached by the impious judge:
*For I have learnt the power of the holy Cross.

℣. Thou art the Christ my master, whom I have loved, whom I have known, whom I have confessed: graciously hear me in this one prayer.
*For I have learnt the power of the holy Cross.

 

Another account of St. Andrew.

St. Andrew was a native of Bethsaida, a town in Galilee, upon the banks of the lake of Genesareth. He was the son of Jonas, or John, a fisherman of that town, and brother to Simon Peter, but whether elder or younger the holy scriptures have not acquainted us. They had afterwards a house at Capharnaum, where Jesus lodged when he preached in that city. It is no small proof of the piety and good inclinations of St. Andrew, that when St. John Baptist began to preach penance in the desert, he was not content with going to hear him as others did, but became his disciple, passed much of his time in hearing his instructions, and studied punctually to practise all his lessons, and copy his example; but he often returned home to his fishing trade. He was with his master when St. John Baptist, seeing Jesus pass by the day after he had been baptized by him, said, “Behold the Lamb of God.” (St. John, i. 36) Andrew, by the ardour and purity of his desires, and his fidelity in every religious practice, deserved to be so far enlightened as to comprehend this mysterious saying, and, without delay, he and another disciple of the Baptist went after Jesus, who drew them secretly by the invisible bands of his grace, and saw them with the eyes of his spirit before he beheld them with his corporal eyes. Turning back as he walked, and seeing them follow him, he said, “What seek ye?” They said, they desired to know where he dwelt; and he bade them come and see. There remained but two hours of that day, which they spent with him, and, according to several fathers, the whole night following. “O how happy a day, how happy a night did they pass!” cries out St. Austin. “Who will tell us what things they then learned from the mouth of their Saviour! Let us build ourselves a dwelling for him in our hearts, to which he may come, and where he may converse with us.” For this happiness is enjoyed by a soul which opens her affections to God, and receives the rays of his divine light in heavenly contemplation.

Andrew, who loved affectionately his brother Simon, called afterwards Peter, could not rest till he had imparted to him the infinite treasure which he had discovered, and brought him to Christ, that he might also know him. Simon was no sooner come to Jesus, but the Saviour of the world admitted him as a disciple, and gave him the name of Peter. The brothers tarried one day with him to hear his divine doctrine, and the next day returned home again. From this time they became Jesus's disciples, not constantly attending upon him, as they afterwards did, but hearing him frequently, as their business would permit, and returning to their trade and family affairs again. Jesus, in order to prove the truth of his divine doctrine by his works, wrought his first miracle at the marriage at Cana in Galilee, and was pleased that these two brothers should be present at it with his holy mother. Jesus, going up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, stayed some days in Judӕa, and baptized in the Jordan. Peter and Andrew also baptized by his authority, and in his name. Our Saviour being come back into Lower Galilee in autumn, and meeting one day Peter and Andrew fishing in the lake, before the end of the same year, he called them to a constant attendance upon the ministry of the gospel, saying, that he would make them fishers of men. Whereupon, they immediately left their nets to follow him, and never went from him again. The year following, the Son of God formed the college of his apostles, in which our two brothers are named by the evangelists at the head of the rest. Not long after, Jesus went down to Capharnaum, and lodged at the house of Peter and Andrew, and, at the request of them both, cured Peter's wife's mother of a fever, by taking her by the hand, and rebuking the fever, by which it left her. When Christ would not send away the multitude of five thousand persons who had followed him into the desert, till they were refreshed with some food, St. Philip said two hundred pennyworth of bread would not suffice. But Andrew seemed to express a stronger faith, saying, there was a boy who had five barley loaves and two small fishes—which, indeed, were nothing among so many—but Christ could, if he pleased to exert his power, seeing he was greater than Eliseus, who, with twenty loaves, fed a hundred men (IV or II Kings, iv. 43). “When Christ was at Bethania, at the house of Lazarus, a little before his Sacred Passion, certain Greeks who came to worship God at the festival, addressed themselves to Philip, begging him to introduce them to Jesus. Philip did not undertake to do it alone; but spoke to St. Andrew, and they both together spoke to their divine master, and procured these strangers that happiness. This shows the great credit St. Andrew had with Christ; on which account St. Bede calls him the Introductor to Christ, and says he had this honour, because he brought St. Peter to him. Christ having foretold the destruction of the temple, Peter, John, James, and Andrew asked him privately when that should come to pass, that they might forewarn their brethren to escape the danger.

After Christ's resurrection and the descent of the Holy Ghost, St. Andrew preached the gospel in Scythia, as Origen testifies. Sophronius, who wrote soon after St. Jerom, and translated his catalogue of illustrious men, and some other works into Greek, adds Sogdiana and Colchis. Theodoret tells us, that he passed into Greece; St. Gregory Nazianzen mentions particularly Epirus, and St. Jerom Achaia. St. Paulinus says, this divine fisherman, preaching at Argos, put all the philosophers there to silence. St. Philastrius tells us, that he came out of Pontus into Greece, and that in his time people at Sinope were persuaded that they had his true picture, and the pulpit in which he had preached in that city. The Muscovites have long gloried that St. Andrew carried the gospel into their country as far as the mouth of the Borysthenes, and to the mountains where the city of Kiou now stands, and to the frontiers of Poland. If the ancients mean European Scythia, when they speak of the theatre of his labours, this authority is favourable to the pretensions of the Muscovites. The Greeks understand it of Scythia, beyond Sebastopolis in Colchis, and perhaps also of the European; for they say he planted the faith in Thrace, and particularly at Byzantium, afterwards called Constantinople. But of this we meet with no traces in antiquity. Several Calendars commemorate the feast of the chair of St. Andrew at Patrӕ, in Achaia. It is agreed that he laid down his life there for Christ. St. Paulinus says, that having taken many people in the nets of Christ, he confirmed the faith which he had preached by his blood at Patrӕ. St. Sophronius, St. Gaudentius, and St. Austin assure us that he was crucified; St. Peter Chrysologus says, on a tree; Pseudo-Hippolytus adds, on an olive-tree. In the hymn of Pope Damasus it is barely mentioned that he was crucified. When the apostle saw his cross at a distance, he is said to have cried out, “Hail, precious cross, that hast been consecrated by the body of my Lord, and adorned with his limbs as with rich jewels. I come to thee exulting and glad; receive me with joy into thy arms. O good cross, that hast received beauty from our Lord's limbs; I have ardently loved thee; long have I desired and sought thee: now thou art found by me, and art made ready for my longing soul; receive me into thy arms, taking me from among men, and present me to my master; that he who redeemed me on thee, may receive me by thee.” The body of St. Andrew was translated from Patrӕ to Constantinople in 357, together with those of St. Luke and St. Timothy, and deposited in the Church of the Apostles, which Constantine the Great had built a little before. St. Paulinus and St. Jerom mention miracles wrought on that occasion. The churches of Milan, Nola, Brescia, and some other places, were, at the same time enriched with small portions of these relics, as we are informed by St. Ambrose, St. Gaudentius, St. Paulinus, &c.

When the city of Constantinople was taken by the French, Cardinal Peter of Capua brought the relics of St. Andrew thence into Italy, in 1210, and deposited them in the Cathedral of Amalphi, where they still remain. Thomas the Despot, when the Turks had made themselves masters of Constantinople, going from Greece into Italy, and carrying with him the head of St. Andrew, presented it to Pope Pius II, in the year 1461, who allotted him a monastery for his dwelling, with a competent revenue, as is related by George Phranza, the last of the Byzantine historians. It is the common opinion that the cross of St. Andrew was in the form of the letter X, styled a cross decussate, composed of two pieces of timber crossing each other obliquely in the middle. That such crosses were sometimes used is certain; yet no clear proofs are produced as to the form of St. Andrew's cross. It is mentioned in the records of the duchy of Burgundy, that the cross of St. Andrew was brought out of Achaia, and placed in the nunnery of Weaune, near Marseilles. It was thence removed into the abbey of St. Victor, in Marseilles, before the year 1250, and is still shown there. A part thereof, inclosed in a silver case gilt, was carried to Brussels by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy and Brabant, who, in honour of it, instituted the Knights of the Golden Fleece, who for the badge of their Order, wear a figure of this cross, called St. Andrew's cross, or the cross of Burgundy. The Scots honour St. Andrew as principal patron of their country, and their historians tell us that a certain abbot, called Regulus, brought thither from Patrӕ, in 369, or rather from Constantinople some years later, certain relics of this apostle, which he reposited in a church which he built in his honour, with a monastery called Abernethy, where now the city of St. Andrew's stands. Usher proves that many pilgrims resorted to this church from foreign countries, and that the Scottish monks of that place were the first who were called Culdees. Hungus, King of the Picts, soon after the year 800, in thanksgiving for a great victory which he had gained over the Northumbrians, gave to this church the tenth part of all the land of his dominions. Kenneth II, King of the Scots, having overcome the Picts, and entirely extinguished their kingdom in North Britain, in 845, repaired and richly endowed the Church of St. Regulus, or Rueil, in which the arm of St. Andrew was reverently kept. The Muscovites say he preached the faith among them, and honour him as the principal titular saint of their empire. Peter the Great instituted under his name the first and most noble order of knighthood, or of the blue ribbon; leaving the project of a second Order of St. Alexander Newski, or of the red ribbon, to be carried into execution by his widow.

St. Andrew, by conversing with Christ, extinguished in his breast all earthly passions and desires, and attained to the happiness of his pure divine love. We often say to ourselves, that we also desire to purchase holy love, the most valuable of all treasures, and the summit of dignity and happiness. But these desires are fruitless and mere mockery, unless we earnestly set about the means. In the first place, we must be at the expense (if that can be called an expense which is the first step to true liberty and happiness) of laying a deep foundation of humility, meekness, and self-denial. “We must first, with the apostle, leave all things; that is to say, we must sincerely and in spirit forsake the world (though we live in it), and must also renounce and die to ourselves before we can be admitted to the familiar converse of our Redeemer and God, or before he receives us to his chaste spiritual embraces, and opens to us the treasure of his choicest graces. This preparation and disposition of soul it must be our constant care always to improve: for, in the same proportion that the world and self-love are banished from our hearts, shall we advance in divine love. But this great virtue, the queen, the form, and the soul of all perfect virtue is learned, exercised, and improved by conversing much with God in holy meditation, reading, and assiduous fervent prayer and recollection; also by its external acts, in all manner of good works, especially those of fraternal charity and spiritual mercy.

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 I, 1806.

 

St. Andrew, pray for us.

 

Nov. 29, 2020

November 29, 2020: COMMEMORATION OF ST. SATURNINUS, MARTYR

 

“He that shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father.”
(St. Matth, x. 32)

 

Prayer (Collect).

O God, by whose favour we celebrate the glory of blessed Saturninus, thy Martyr, grant that we may be assisted by his merits. 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.

 

An account of St Saturninus.

A.D. 257

St. Saturninus went from Rome by the direction of Pope Fabian, about the year 245, to preach the faith in Gaul, where St. Trophimus, the first Bishop of Aries, had some time before gathered a plentiful harvest. In the year 250, when Decius and Gratus were consuls, St. Saturninus fixed his episcopal see at Toulouse. Fortunatus tells us, that he converted a great number of idolaters by his preaching and miracles. This is all the account we have of him till the time of his holy martyrdom. The author of his acts, who wrote about fifty years after his death, relates that he assembled his flock in a small church; and that the capitol, which was the chief temple in the city, lay in the way between that church and the saint's habitation. In this temple oracles were given; but the devils were struck dumb by the presence of the saint as he passed that way. The priests spied him one day going by, and seized and dragged him into the temple, declaring that he should either appease the offended deities by offering sacrifice to them, or expiate the crime with his blood. Saturninus boldly replied, “I adore one only God, and to him I am ready to offer a sacrifice of praise. Your gods are devils, and are more delighted with the sacrifice of your souls than with those of your bullocks. How can I fear them who, as you acknowledge, tremble before a Christian?” The infidels, incensed at this reply, abused the saint with all the rage that a mad zeal could inspire, and after a great variety of indignities, tied his feet to a wild bull, which was brought thither to be sacrificed. The beast being driven from the temple ran violently down the hill, so that the martyr's skull was broken, and his brains dashed out. His happy soul was released from the body by death, and fled to the kingdom of peace and glory, and the bull continued to drag the sacred body, and the limbs and blood were scattered on every side, till the cord breaking, what remained of the trunk was left in the plain without the gates of the city. Two devout women laid the sacred remains on a bier, and hid them in a deep ditch, to secure them from any further insult, where they lay in a wooden coffin till the reign of Constantine the Great. Then, Hilary, Bishop of Toulouse, built a small chapel over this his holy predecessor's body. Silvius, bishop of that city, toward the close of the fourth century, began to build a magnificent church in honour of the martyr, which was finished and consecrated by his successor, Exuperius, who, with great pomp and piety, translated the venerable relics into it. This precious treasure remains there to this day with due honour. The martyrdom of this saint probably happened in the reign of Valerian, in 257.

In the spirit of the primitive apostles of nations we see what that of a true disciple of Christ ought to be. What was a Christian in those happy times of fervour? He was a man penetrated with the most lively sentiments of his own nothingness; yet courageous and magnanimous in his humility; disengaged from and raised above the world: crucified to his senses, and dead to himself: having no interest but that of Jesus Christ; mild, affable, patient, full of tenderness and charity for others, burning with zeal for religion, always ready to fly to the remotest parts of the globe to carry the light of the gospel to infidels, or to die with the martyrs in defence of the divine truth. Such a spirit and such a life, is something far greater and more astonishing than any signs of external miracles.

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 I, 1806.

 

St. Saturninus, pray for us.

 

Nov. 29, 2020

THE HOLY SEASON OF ADVENT

AND THOU BETHLEHEM Ephrata, art a little one among the thousands of Juda: out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be the ruler in Israel: and his going forth IS from the beginning, from the days of eternity.”
(Prophecy of Micheas, v. 2)

 

“Come…”
(Apoc, xxii. 20)

 

“Say to the cities of Juda: Behold your God. Behold the Lord God shall come with strength, and his arm shall rule: behold his reward is with him and his work is before him.”
(Prophecy of Isaias, xl. 9-10)

 

The History of Advent.

The name Advent (which from the Latin word Adventus, signifies a Coming) is applied, in the Latin Church, to that period of the year, during which the Church requires the faithful to prepare for the celebration of the Feast of Christmas, the anniversary of the Birth of Jesus Christ. The mystery of that great day had every right to the honour of being prepared for by prayer and works of penance; and, in fact, it is impossible to state, with any certainty, when this season of preparation (which had long been observed before receiving its present name of Advent) was first instituted. It would seem, however, that its observance first began in the West, since it is evident that Advent could not have been looked on as a preparation for the Feast of Christmas, until that Feast was definitively fixed to the twenty-fifth of December: which was only done in the East, towards the close of the fourth century; whereas, it is certain, that the Church of Rome kept the feast on that day at a much earlier period.

We must look upon Advent in two different lights: first, as a time of preparation, properly so called, for the Birth of our Saviour, by works of penance; and secondly, as a series of Ecclesiastical Offices drawn up for the same purpose. We find, as far back as the fifth century, the custom of giving exhortations to the people in order to prepare them for the Feast of Christmas. We have two Sermons of Saint Maximus of Turin on this subject, not to speak of several others, which were formerly attributed to St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, but which were probably written by St. Cesarius of Aries. If these documents do not tell us what was the duration and the exercises of this holy season, they at least show us how ancient was the practice of distinguishing the time of Advent by special sermons. St. Ivo of Chartres, St. Bernard, and several other Doctors of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, have left us set sermons de Adventu Domini, quite distinct from their Sunday Homilies on the Gospels of that season. In the Capitularia of Charles the Bald, in 846, the Bishops admonish that Prince not to call them away from their churches during Lent or Advent, under pretext of affairs of the State or the necessities of war, seeing that they have special duties to fulfil, and particularly that of preaching during those sacred times.

The oldest document, in which we find the length and exercises of Advent mentioned with anything like clearness, is a passage in the second book of the History of the Franks by St. Gregory of Tours, where he says that St. Perpetuus, one of his predecessors, who held that See about the year 480, had decreed a fast three times a week, from the feast of St. Martin [Nov. 11] until Christmas. It would be impossible to decide whether St. Perpetuus, by this regulation, established a new custom, or merely enforced an already existing law. Let us, however, note this interval of forty, or rather of forty-three days, so expressly mentioned, and consecrated to penance, as though it were a second Lent, though less strict and severe than that which precedes Easter.

Later on, we find the ninth canon of the first Council of Mâcon, held in 582, ordaining that during the same interval, between St. Martin's Day and Christmas, the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, should be fasting days, and that the Sacrifice should be celebrated according to the Lenten Rite. Not many years before that, namely in 567, the second Council of Tours had enjoined the monks to fast from the beginning of December till Christmas. This practice of penance soon extended to the whole forty days, even for the laity; and it was commonly called St. Martin's Lent. The Capitularia of Charlemagne, in the sixth book, leave us no doubt on the matter; and Rabanus Maurus, in the second book of his Institution of Clerics, bears testimony to this observance. There were even special rejoicings made on St. Martin's Feast, just as we see them practised now at the approach of Lent and Easter.

The obligation of observing this Lent, which, though introduced so imperceptibly, had by degrees acquired the force of a sacred law, began to be relaxed, and the forty days from St. Martin's Day to Christmas were reduced to four weeks. We have seen that this fast began to be observed first in France; but thence it spread into England, as we find from Venerable Bede's History; into Italy, as appears from a diploma of Astolphus, King of the Lombards, dated 758; into Germany, Spain, &c, of which the proofs may be seen in the learned work of Dorn Martène, On the Ancient Rites of the Church. The first allusion to Advent's being reduced to four weeks, is to be found in the ninth century, in a letter of Pope St. Nicholas the First to the Bulgarians. The testimony of Ratherius of Verona, and of Abbo of Fleury, both writers of the tenth century, goes also to prove that, even then, the question of reducing the duration of the Advent fast by one-third was seriously entertained. It is true, that St. Peter Damian, in the eleventh century, speaks of the Advent fast as still being for forty days; and that St. Louis, two centuries later, kept it for that length of time; but as far as this holy King is concerned, it is probable that it was only his own devotion which prompted him to this practice.

The discipline of the Churches of the West, after having reduced the time of the Advent fast, so far relented, in a few years, as to change the fast into a simple abstinence; and we even find Councils of the twelfth century, for instance, Selingstadt in 1122, and Avranches in 1172, which seem to require only the clergy to observe this abstinence. The Council of Salisbury, held in 1281, would seem to expect none but monks to keep it. On the other hand, (for the whole subject is very confused, owing, no doubt, to there never having been any uniformity of discipline regarding it in the Western Church,) we find Pope Innocent III, in his letter to the Bishop of Braga, mentioning the custom of fasting during the whole of Advent, as being at that time observed in Rome; and Durandus, in the same thirteenth century, in his Rational on the Divine Offices, tells us that, in France, fasting was uninterruptedly observed during the whole of that holy time.

This much is certain, that, by degrees, the custom of fasting so far fell into disuse, that when, in 1362, Pope Urban the Fifth endeavoured to prevent the total decay of the Advent penance, all he insisted upon was that all the clerics of his court should keep abstinence during Advent, without in any way including others, either clergy or laity, in this law. St. Charles Borromeo also strove to bring back his people of Milan, to the spirit, if not to the letter, of ancient times. In his fourth Council, he enjoins the parish priests to exhort the faithful to go to communion on the Sundays, at least, of Lent and Advent; and afterwards addressed to the faithful themselves a Pastoral Letter, in which, after having reminded them of the dispositions wherewith they ought to spend this holy time, he strongly urges them to fast on the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, at least, of each week in Advent. Finally, Pope Benedict the Fourteenth, when Archbishop of Bologna, following these illustrious examples, wrote his eleventh Ecclesiastical Institution for the purpose of exciting in the mind of his diocesans the exalted idea which the Christians of former times had of the holy season of Advent, and to the removing an erroneous opinion which prevailed in those parts, namely, that Advent only concerned Religious, and not the laity. He shows them, that such an opinion, unless it be limited to the two practices of fasting and abstinence, is strictly speaking, rash and scandalous, since it cannot be denied that, in the laws and usages of the universal Church, there exist special practices, having for their end the preparing the faithful for the great feast of the Birth of Jesus Christ.

The Greek Church still continues to observe the fast of Advent, though with much less rigour than that of Lent. It consists of forty days, beginning with the 14th of November, the day on which this Church keeps the feast of the Apostle St. Philip. During this entire period, the people abstain from flesh-meat, butter, milk, and eggs; but they are allowed, which they are not during Lent, fish, oil, and wine. Fasting, in its strict sense, is only binding on seven out of the forty days; and the whole period goes under the name of St. Philip's Lent. The Greeks justify these relaxations by this distinction; that the Lent before Christmas is, so they say, only an institution of the monks, whereas the Lent before Easter is of Apostolic institution.

But, if the exterior practices of penance which formerly sanctified the season of Advent, have been, in the Western Church, so gradually relaxed as to have become now quite obsolete except in monasteries; the general character of the Liturgy of this holy time has not changed; and it is by their zeal in following its spirit, that the Faithful will prove their earnestness in preparing for Christmas.

The liturgical form of Advent as it now exists in the Roman Church, has gone through certain modifications. St. Gregory seems to have been the first to draw up the Office for this season, which originally included five Sundays, as is evident from the most ancient Sacramentaries of this great Pope. It even appears probable, and the opinion has been adopted by Amalarius of Metz, Berno of Richenaw, Dom Martène, and Benedict the Fourteenth, that St. Gregory originated the ecclesiastical precept of Advent, although the custom of devoting a longer or shorter period to a preparation for Christmas has been observed from time immemorial, and the abstinence and fast of this holy season first began in France. St. Gregory therefore fixed, for the Churches of the Latin rite, the form of the Office for this Lent like season, and sanctioned the fast which had been established, granting a certain latitude to the several Churches as to the manner of its observance.

The Sacramentary of St. Gelasius has neither Mass nor Office of preparation for Christmas; the first we meet with are in the Gregorian Sacramentary, and, as we just observed, these Masses are five in number. It is remarkable that these Sundays were then counted inversely, that is, the nearest to Christmas was called the first Sunday, and so on with the rest. So far back as the ninth and tenth centuries, these Sundays were reduced to four, as we learn from Amalarius, St. Nicholas the First, Berno of Richenaw, Ratherius of Verona, &c, and such also is their number in the Gregorian Sacramentary of Pamelius, which appears to have been transcribed about this same period. From that time, the Roman Church has always observed this arrangement of Advent, which gives it four weeks, the fourth beings that in which Christmas Day falls, unless the 25th of December be a Sunday [and if 24th of December be a Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Advent being omitted, is replaced by the Vigil of Christmas]. We may therefore consider the present discipline of the observance of Advent as having lasted a thousand years, at least as far as the Church of Rome is concerned; for some of the Churches in France kept up the number of five Sundays as late as the thirteenth century.

The Ambrosian Liturgy, even to this day, has six weeks of Advent; so has the Gothic or Mozarabic Missal. As regards the Gallican Liturgy, the fragments collected by Dom Mabillon give us no information; but it is natural to suppose with this learned man, whose opinion has been confirmed by Dom Martène, that the Church of Gaul adopted, in this as in so many other points, the usages of the Gothic Church, that is to say, that its Advent consisted of six Sundays and six weeks.

With regard to the Greeks, their Rubrics for Advent are given in the Menӕa, immediately after the Office for the 14th of November. They have no proper Office for Advent, neither do they celebrate during this time the Mass of the Presanctified, as they do in Lent. There are only in the Offices for the Saints, whose feasts occur between the 14th of November and the Sunday nearest Christmas, frequent allusions to the Birth of the Saviour, to the Maternity of Mary, to the cave of Bethlehem, &c. On the Sunday preceding Christmas, in order to celebrate the expected coming of the Messias, they keep what they call the Feast of the Holy Fathers, that is the commemoration of the Saints of the Old Law. They give the name of Ante-Feast of the Nativity to the 20th, 21st, 22nd, and 23rd December; and although they say the office of several Saints on these four days, yet the mystery of the Birth of Jesus pervades the whole Liturgy.

 

The Mystery of Advent.

If, now that we have described the characteristic features of Advent, which distinguish it from the rest of the year, we would penetrate into the profound mystery which occupies the mind of the Church during this season, we find that this mystery of the Coming, or Advent, of Jesus is at once simple and threefold. It is simple, for it is the one same Son of God that is coming; it is threefold, because he comes at three different times and in three different ways.

“In the first Coming,” says St. Bernard, “he comes in the flesh and in weakness; in the second, he comes in spirit and in power; in the third, he comes in glory and in majesty; and the second Coming is the means whereby we pass from the first to the third.”

This, then, is the mystery of Advent. Let us now listen to the explanation of this threefold visit of Christ, given to us by Peter of Blois, in his third Sermon de Adventu: “There are three Comings of our Lord; the first in the flesh, the second in the soul, the third at the judgment. The first was at midnight, according to those words of the Gospel: At midnight there was a cry made, Lo the Bride-groom cometh! (St. Matth, xxv. 6) But this first Coming is long since past, for Christ has been seen on the earth and has conversed among men. We are now in the second Coming, provided only we are such as that he may thus come to us; for he has said that if we love him, he will come unto us and will take up his abode with us (St. John, xiv. 23). So that this second Coming is full of uncertainty to us; for who, save the Spirit of God, knows them that are of God? They that are raised out of themselves by the desire of heavenly things, know indeed when he comes; but whence he cometh, or whither he goeth, they know not. As for the third Coming, it is most certain that it will be, most uncertain when it will be; for nothing is more sure than death, and nothing less sure than the hour of death. When they shall say, peace and security, says the Apostle, then shall sudden destruction come upon them, as the pains upon her that is with child, and they shall not escape (I Thess, v. 3). So that the first Coming was humble and hidden, the second is mysterious and full of love, the third will be majestic and terrible. In his first Coming, Christ was judged by men unjustly; in his second, he renders us just by his grace; in his third, he will judge all things with justice. In his first, a Lamb; in his last, a Lion; in the one between the two, the tenderest of Friends.”

The holy Church, therefore, during Advent, awaits in tears and with ardour the arrival of her Jesus in his first Coming. For this, she borrows the fervid expressions of the Prophets, to which she joins her own supplications. These longings for the Messias expressed by the Church, are not a mere commemoration of the desires of the ancient Jewish people; they have a reality and efficacy of their own,—an influence in the great act of God's munificence, whereby he gave us his own Son. From all eternity, the prayers of the ancient Jewish people and the prayers of the Christian Church ascended together to the prescient hearing of God; and it was after receiving and granting them, that he sent, in the appointed time, that blessed dew upon the earth, which made it bud forth the Saviour.

The Church aspires also to the second Coming, the consequence of the first, which consists, as we have just seen, in the visit of the Bridegroom to the Spouse. This Coming takes place, each year, at the feast of Christmas, when the new birth of the Son of God delivers the faithful from that yoke of bondage, under which the enemy would oppress them. The Church, therefore, during Advent, prays that she may be visited by Him who is her Head and her Spouse; visited in her hierarchy; visited in her members, of whom some are living, and some are dead, but may come to life again; visited, lastly, in those who are not in communion with her, and even in the very infidels, that so they may be converted to the true light, which shines even for them. The expressions of the Liturgy which the Church makes use of to ask for this loving and invisible Coming, are those which she employs when begging for the coming of Jesus in the flesh; for the two visits are for the same object. In vain would the Son of God have come, [two thousand] years ago, to visit and save mankind, unless he came again for each one of us and at every moment of our lives, bringing to us and cherishing within us that supernatural life, of which he and his Holy Spirit are the sole principle.

But this annual visit of the Spouse does not content the Church; she aspires after a third Coming, which will complete all things by opening the gates of eternity. She has caught up the last words of her Spouse, Surely, I am coming quickly; (Apoc, xxii. 20) and she cries out to him, Ah! Lord Jesus! come! (Apoc, xxii. 20) She is impatient to be loosed from her present temporal state; she longs for the number of the elect to be filled up, and to see appear, in the clouds of heaven, the sign of her Deliverer and her Spouse. Her desires, expressed by her Advent Liturgy, go even as far as this: and here we have the explanation of those words of the beloved Disciple in his prophecy: The nuptials of the Lamb are come, and his Spouse hath prepared herself (Apoc, xix. 7).

But the day of this his last Coming to her, will be a day of terror. The Church frequently trembles at the very thought of that awful judgment, in which all mankind is to be tried. She calls it “a day of wrath, on which, as David and the Sibyl have foretold, the world will be reduced to ashes; a day of weeping and fear.” Not that she fears for herself, since she knows that this day will for ever secure to her the crown, as being the Spouse of Jesus; but her maternal heart is troubled at the thought that, on the same day, so many of her children will be on the left hand of the Judge, and, having no share with the elect, will be bound hand and foot, and cast into the darkness, where there shall be everlasting weeping and gnashing of teeth [St. Matth, xxv. 31-46]. This is the reason why the Church, in the Liturgy of Advent, so frequently speaks of the Coming of Christ as a terrible Coming, and selects from the Scriptures those passages, which are most calculated to awaken a salutary fear in the mind of such of her children as may be sleeping the sleep of sin.

This, then, is the threefold mystery of Advent. The liturgical forms in which it is embodied, are of two kinds: the one consists of prayers, passages from the Bible, and similar formulas, in all of which, words themselves are employed to convey the sentiments which we have been explaining; the other consists of external rites peculiar to this holy time, which, by speaking to the outward senses, complete the expressiveness of the chants and words.

First of all, there is the number of the days of Advent. Forty was the number originally adopted by the Church, and it is still maintained in the Ambrosian liturgy, and in the Eastern Church. If, at a later period, the Church of Rome, and those who follow her Liturgy, have changed the number of days, the same idea is still expressed in the four weeks which have been substituted for the forty days. The new Birth of our Redeemer takes place after four weeks, as the first Nativity happened after four thousand years, according to the Hebrew and Vulgate Chronology.

As in Lent, so likewise during Advent, Marriage is not solemnised, lest worldly joy should distract Christians from those serious thoughts wherewith the expected Coming of the Sovereign Judge ought to inspire them, or from that dearly cherished hope which the friends of the Bridegroom (St. John, iii. 29) have of being soon called to the eternal Nuptial-feast.

The people are forcibly reminded of the sadness which fills the heart of the Church by the sombre colour of the Vestments. Excepting on the Feasts of the Saints, purple is the only colour she uses; the Deacon does not wear the Dalmatic, nor the Subdeacon the Tunic. Formerly it was the custom, in some places, to wear Black Vestments. This mourning of the Church shows how fully she unites herself with those true Israelites of old, who, clothed in sackcloth and ashes, waited for the Messias, and bewailed Sion that she had not her beauty, and “Juda, that the sceptre had been taken from him, till He should come who was to be sent, the expectation of nations.” (Gen, xlix. 10) It also signifies the works of penance, whereby she prepares for the second Coming, full as it is of sweetness and mystery, which is realised in the souls of men, in proportion as they appreciate the tender love of that Divine Guest, who has said: My delights are to be with the children of men (Prov, viii. 31). It expresses, thirdly, the desolation of this Spouse who yearns after her Beloved, who is long a-coming. Like the turtle dove, she moans her loneliness, longing for the voice which will say to her: Come from Libanus, my Spouse! come, thou shalt be crowned:—thou hast wounded my heart (Cant, iv. 8, 9).

The Church also, during Advent, excepting on the Feasts of Saints, suppresses the Angelic Canticle, Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax hominibus bonӕ voluntatis; for this glorious Song was only sung at Bethlehem over the crib of the Divine Babe;—the tongue of the Angels is not loosened yet;—the Virgin has not yet brought forth her divine treasure;—it is not yet time to sing, it is not even true to say, Glory be to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will!

Again, at the end of Mass, the Deacon does not dismiss the assembly of the faithful by the words: Ite, Missa est. He substitutes the ordinary greeting: Benedicamus Domino! as though the Church feared to interrupt the prayers of the people, which could scarce be too long during these days of expectation.

In the Night Office, the Holy Church also suspends, on those same days, the hymn of jubilation, Te Deum laudamus. It is in deep humility that she awaits the supreme blessing which is to come to her; and in the interval, she presumes only to ask, and entreat, and hope. But let the glorious hour come, when, in the midst of darkest night, the Sun of Justice will suddenly rise upon the world,—then indeed she will resume her hymn of thanksgiving, and all over the face of the earth, the silence of midnight will be broken by this shout of enthusiasm: “We praise thee, O God! we acknowledge thee to be our Lord! Thou, O Christ, art the King of glory, the everlasting Son of the Father! Thou, being to deliver man, didst not disdain the Virgin's womb!”

On the Ferial Days, the Rubrics of Advent prescribe that certain prayers should be said kneeling, at the end of each Canonical Hour, and that the Choir should also kneel during a considerable portion of the Mass. In this respect, the usages of Advent are precisely the same as those of Lent.

But there is one feature winch distinguishes Advent most markedly from Lent: the word of gladness, the joyful Alleluia, is not interrupted during Advent, except once or twice during the ferial office. It is sung in the Masses of the four Sundays, and vividly contrasts with the sombre colour of the Vestments. On one of these Sundays—the third—the prohibition of using the organ is removed, and we are gladdened by its grand notes, and rose-coloured Vestments may be used instead of the purple. These vestiges of joy, thus blended with the holy mournfulness of the Church, tell us, in a most expressive way, that though she unites with the ancient people of God in praying for the coming of the Messias, (thus paying the debt which the entire human race owes to the justice and mercy of God,) she does not forget that the Emmanuel is already come to her, that he is in her, and that even before she has opened her lips to ask him to save her, she has been already redeemed and predestined to an eternal union with him. This is the reason why the Alleluia accompanies even her sighs, and why she seems to be at once joyous and sad, waiting for the coming of that holy night which will be brighter to her than the most sunny of days, and on which her joy will expel all her sorrow.

Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Advent, Edition 1870.

 

“Come…”
(Apoc, xxii. 20)

 

Nov. 26, 2020

November 26, 2020: ST. SYLVESTER, ABBOT

Rank: Double.

 

Death by revealing to thee, O Sylvester, the vanity of noble birth and beauty, opened to thee the path of life.

 

Prayer (Collect).

May the intercession, O Lord, of blessed Sylvester, the Abbot, recommend us to thee; that what we cannot hope for through any merits of our own, we may obtain by his prayers. 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. 1267

God often brings the world to those who flee from it, as Sylvester Gozzolini among others experienced. In the thirteenth century, the world, all in admiration at the sanctity and the eloquence of the new Orders, seemed to have forgotten the monks and the desert. God, who never forgets, led his elect silently into solitude, and the wilderness began again to rejoice and flourish like the lily; strength was restored to the weak hands and feeble knees of the sons of the cloister (Isaias, xxxv. 1-3). The austerities of olden days and the fervor of prolonged prayer were revived at Monte Fano, and extended into sixty other monasteries; the new religious family of the Sylvestrians was approved by Innocent IV in 1247. Though originated seven centuries after St. Benedict, and distinguished from the elder families by its blue habit, it claims the Patriarch of Cassino for its legislator and father.

 

Let us read the life of St. Sylvester which was inserted in the Breviary by Pope Leo XIII.

Sylvester was born of a noble family at Osimo in the Marches of Ancona, and in his boyhood was remarkable for his love of study and his good conduct. As a youth he was sent by his father to Bologna to study jurisprudence, but was admonished by God to devote himself to sacred learning. This incited his father to anger, which Sylvester patiently endured for ten years. On account of his remarkable virtue, the Canons of Osimo elected him an honorary member of their chapter, in which position he benefited the people by his prayers, his example, and his sermons.

While assisting at the funeral of a nobleman, his relative, who had been remarkably handsome, he looked into the open coffin, and seeing the corpse all deformed, said to himself: What this man was, I am now; what he is now, I shall be hereafter. As soon as the funeral was over, reading these words of our Lord: If any one will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me, he retired into solitude in order to attain greater perfection; there he gave himself up to watching, prayer and fasting, often eating nothing but raw herbs. The better to conceal himself from men he frequently changed his place of abode; and at length settled at Monte Fano, which, though near to Fabriano, was at that time a desert. There he built a church in honor of the most holy father Benedict, and founded the Congregation of Sylvestrians, under the rule and habit shown him by St. Benedict in vision.

Satan, roused to envy, strove in many ways to terrify his monks, making assaults by night at the monastery gates. But the man of God repressed the enemy’s attacks with such vigor, that the monks, recognizing their father’s sanctity, were more and more confirmed in their holy purpose. Sylvester was remarkable for the spirit of prophecy and other gifts, which he guarded by deep humility. This so stirred up the devil’s envy that he cast the saint headlong down the oratory stairs and well nigh killed him, but the blessed Virgin at once graciously restored him to health. In gratitude for this benefit, Sylvester showed her the tenderest unfailing piety to the end of his life. He died at the age of about ninety years, renowned for sanctity and miracles, on the sixth of the Kalends of December, in the year of salvation 1267. The Sovereign Pontiff Leo XIII extended his Office and Mass to the universal Church.

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.

 

November 26, 2020: St. Peter of Alexandria.

 

St. Sylvester, pray for us.