March 19, 2019: ST. JOSEPH, SPOUSE OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, CONFESSOR, AND PATRON OF THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH
Rank: Double of the I Class
The Creator appointed thee the Spouse of the Holy Virgin; willed thee to be called the Father of the Word; and gave thee to be an instrument of our salvation.
Other Saints receive their beatitude after death, when a holy death has crowned their life; they receive their glory, when they have won the palm: but thou, by a strangely happy lot, hadst, even during life, what the Blessed have in heaven,—thou hadst the sweet society of thy God.
Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord, that the merits of the spouse of thy most holy Virgin-mother may be assisting to us; and what we cannot obtain through our own weakness, may it be granted to us by his prayers. Who livest and reignest, world without end. Amen.
He that is King, the God of Kings, the Lord of the earth, at whose bidding hell trembles, and before whom heaven prostrates ready to do his will,—yea, even He makes himself subject to thee.
Prayer to St. Joseph
Oh, St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interest and desires. Oh, St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.
Oh, St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls - Pray for me.
Let heav’n’s bright host thy praise proclaim,
And Christian Choirs resound the same,
Joseph in chastest wedlock tied,
To th’ ever Virgin Bride.
Thy pregnant Consort breaks thy rest,
And anxious doubts disturb thy breast;
Till th’ Angel thy suspicion heals,
And God, made man, reveals.
Thy arms embrace thy new-born Lord;
With him thou flee’st from Herod’s sword:
Him three days lost thou find’st again,
And joy succeed’s thy pain.
In th’ other world have saints their bliss,
And wear the palms deserv’d in this;
Thou, crown’d with greater happiness,
On earth dost God possess.
Pardon our sins, great One and Three,
Let Joseph’s prayers bring us to thee:
Where we may sing loud hymns of praise,
For endless years and days. Amen.
He appointed him Lord of his house.
℟. And chief over all he had.
To-day, it is Joseph, the Spouse of Mary, the Foster-Father of the Son of God, that comes to cheer us by his dear presence. In a few days hence, the august mystery of the Incarnation will demand our fervent adorations: who, after the Angel of the Annunciation, could better prepare us for the grand Feast, than he that was both the confidant and faithful guardian of the divine secret?
The Son of God, when about to descend upon this earth to assume our human nature, would have a Mother; this Mother could not be other than the purest of Virgins, and her divine Maternity was not to impair her incomparable Virginity. Until such time as the Son of Mary were recognised as the Son of God, his Mother's honour had need of a protector: some man, therefore, was to be called to the high honour of being Mary's Spouse. This privileged mortal was Joseph, the chastest of men.
Heaven designated him as being the only one worthy of such a treasure: the rod he held in his hand, in the Temple, suddenly produced a flower, as though it were a literal fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaias: There shall come forth a rod from the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root (Isaias, xi. 1). The rich pretenders to an alliance with Mary were set aside; and Joseph was espoused to the Virgin of the House of David, by a union which surpassed in love and purity everything the Angels themselves had ever witnessed.
But he was not only chosen to the glory of having to protect the Mother of the Incarnate Word; he was also called to exercise an adopted paternity over the very Son of God. So long as the mysterious cloud was over the Saint of Saints, men called Jesus the Son of Joseph, and the Carpenter's Son. When our Blessed Lady found the Child Jesus in the Temple, in the midst of the Doctors, she thus addressed him: Thy father and I, sorrowing, have sought thee (St. Luke, ii. 48); and the holy Evangelist adds, that Jesus was subject to them, that is, that he was subject to Joseph as he was to Mary.
Who can imagine or worthily describe the sentiments which filled the heart of this man, whom the Gospel describes to us in one word, when it calls him the just man (St. Matth, i. 19)? Let us try to picture him to ourselves amidst the principal events of his life:—his being chosen as the Spouse of Mary, the most holy and perfect of God's creatures; the Angel's appearing to him, and making him the one single human confidant of the mystery of the Incarnation, by telling him that his Virgin Spouse bore within her the fruit of the world's salvation; the joys of Bethlehem, when he assisted at the Birth of the Divine Babe, honoured the Virgin Mother, and heard the Angels singing; his seeing, first the humble and simple Shepherds, and then the rich Eastern Magi, coming to the stable to adore the new-born Child; the sudden fears which came on him, when he was told to arise, and, mid-night as it was, to flee into Egypt with the Child and the Mother; the hardships of that exile, the poverty and the privations which were endured by the hidden God, whose foster-father he was, and by the Virgin Spouse, whose sublime dignity was now so evident to him; the return to Nazareth, and the humble and laborious life led in that village, where he so often witnessed the world's Creator sharing in the work of a Carpenter; the happiness of such a life, in that cottage where his companions were the Queen of the Angels and the Eternal Son of God, both of whom honoured, and tenderly loved him as the head of the family:—yes, Joseph was beloved and honoured by the uncreated Word, the Wisdom of the Father, and by the Virgin, the master-piece of God's power and holiness.
We ask, what mortal can justly appreciate the glories of St. Joseph? To do so, he would have to understand the whole of that Mystery, of which God made him the necessary instrument. What wonder, then, if this Foster-Father of the Son of God was prefigured in the Old Testament, and that by one of the most glorious of the Patriarchs? Let us listen to St. Bernard, who thus compares the two Josephs: “The first was sold by his brethren, out of envy, and was led into Egypt, thus prefiguring our Saviour's being sold; the second Joseph, that he might avoid Herod's envy, led Jesus into Egypt. The first was faithful to his master, and treated his wife with honour; the second, too, was the most chaste guardian of his Spouse, the Virgin Mother of his Lord. To the first was given the understanding and interpretation of dreams; to the second, the knowledge of, and participation in, the heavenly Mysteries. The first laid up stores of corn, not for himself, but for all the people; the second received the Living Bread that came down from heaven, and kept It both for himself and for the whole world.”
Such a life could not close save by a death that was worthy of so great a Saint. The time came for Jesus to quit the obscurity of Nazareth, and show himself to the world. His own works were henceforth to bear testimony to his divine origin; the ministry of Joseph, therefore, was no longer needed. It was time for him to leave this world, and wait, in Abraham's bosom, the arrival of that day, when heaven's gates were to be opened to the just. As Joseph lay on his bed of death, there was watching by his side He that is the master of life, and that had often called this his humble creature, Father. His last breath was received by the glorious Virgin Mother, whom he had, by a just right, called his Spouse. It was thus, with Jesus and Mary by his side, caring and caressing him, that Joseph sweetly slept in peace. The Spouse of Mary, the Foster-Father of Jesus, now reigns in heaven with a glory which, though inferior to that of Mary, is marked with certain prerogatives which no other inhabitant of heaven can have.
From heaven, he exercises a powerful protection over those that invoke him. In a few weeks from this time, the Church will show us the whole magnificence of this protection; we shall be having a special Feast in honour of the Patronage of St. Joseph [the Workman]. What the Liturgy proposes to us to-day, are his glories and privileges.
Life and virtues of St. Joseph
The glorious St. Joseph was lineally descended from the greatest kings of the tribe of Juda, and from the most illustrious of the ancient patriarchs; but his true glory consisted in his humility and virtue. The history of his life hath not been written by men; but his principal actions are recorded by the Holy Ghost himself. God intrusted him with the education of his divine Son, manifested in the flesh. In this view he was espoused to the Virgin Mary. It is an evident mistake of some writers, that by a former wife he was the father of St. James the Less, and of the rest who are styled in the gospels the brothers of our Lord; for these were only cousin-germans to Christ, the sons of Mary, sister to the Blessed Virgin, wife of Alphӕus, who was living at the time of our Redeemer's crucifixion. St. Jerom assures us, that St. Joseph always preserved his virgin chastity; and it is of faith that nothing contrary thereto ever took place with regard to his chaste spouse, the blessed Virgin Mary. He was given her by heaven to be the protector of her chastity, to secure her from calumnies in the birth of the Son of God, and to assist her in his education, and in her journeys, fatigues, and persecutions. How great was the purity and sanctity of him who was chosen the guardian of the most spotless Virgin! This holy man seems, for a considerable time, to have been unacquainted that the great mystery of the Incarnation had been wrought in her by the Holy Ghost. Conscious therefore of his own chaste behavior towards her, it could not but raise a great concern in his breast, to find that, notwithstanding the sanctity of her deportment, yet he might be well assured that she was with child. But being a just man, as the scripture calls him, and consequently possessed of all virtues, especially of charity and mildness towards his neighbor, he was determined to leave her privately, without either condemning or accusing her, committing the whole cause to God. These his perfect dispositions were so acceptable to God, the lover of justice, charity, and peace, that before he put his design in execution, he sent an angel from heaven not to reprehend anything in his holy conduct, but to dissipate all his doubts and fears, by revealing to him this adorable mystery. How happy should we be if we were as tender in all that regards the reputation of our neighbor; as free from entertaining any injurious thought or suspicion, whatever certainty our conjectures or our senses may seem to rely on; and as guarded in our tongue! We commit these faults only because in our hearts we are devoid of that true charity and simplicity, whereof St. Joseph sets us so eminent an example on this occasion.
In the next place we may admire in secret contemplation, with what devotion, respect, and tenderness, he beheld and adored the first of all men, the new-born Saviour of the world, and with what fidelity he acquitted himself of his double charge, the education of Jesus, and the guardianship of his blessed mother. “He was truly the faithful and prudent servant,” says St. Bernard, “whom our Lord appointed the master of his household, the comfort and support of his mother, his fosterfather, and most faithful co-operator in the execution of his deepest counsels on earth.” “What a happiness,” says the same father, “not only to see Jesus Christ, but also to hear him, to carry him in his arms, to lead him from place to place, to embrace and caress him, to feed him, and to be privy to all the great secrets which were concealed from the princes of this world!”
“O astonishing elevation! O unparalleled dignity!” cries out the pious Gerson, in a devout address to St. Joseph, “that the mother of God, queen of heaven, should call you her lord; that God himself, made man, should call you father, and obey your commands. O glorious Triad on earth, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, how dear a family to the glorious Trinity in heaven, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! Nothing is on earth so great, so good, so excellent.” Amidst these his extraordinary graces, what more wonderful than his humility! He conceals his privileges, lives as the most obscure of men, publishes nothing of God's great mysteries, makes no further inquiries into them, leaving it to God to manifest them at his own time, seeks to fulfil the order of providence in his regard, without interfering with anything but what concerns himself. Though descended from the royal family which had long been in possession of the throne of Judӕa, he is content with his condition, that of a mechanic or handicraftsman, and makes it his business, by laboring in it, to maintain himself, his spouse, and the divine Child.
We should be ungrateful to this great saint, if we did not remember that it is to him, as the instrument under God, that we are indebted for the preservation of the infant Jesus from Herod's jealousy and malice, manifested in the slaughter of the Innocents. An angel appearing to him in his sleep, bade him arise, take the child Jesus, and fly with him into Egypt, and remain there till he should again have notice from him to return. This sudden and unexpected flight must have exposed Joseph to many inconveniences and sufferings in so long a journey, with a little babe and a tender virgin, the greater part of the way being through deserts, and among strangers; yet he alleges no excuses, nor inquires at what time they were to return. St. Chrysostom observes that God treats thus all his servants, sending them frequent trials, to clear their hearts from the rust of self-love, but intermixing seasons of consolation. “Joseph,” says he, “is anxious on seeing the Virgin with child; an angel removes that fear; he rejoices at the child's birth, but a great fear succeeds; the furious king seeks to destroy the child, and the whole city is in an uproar to take away his life. This is followed by another joy, the adoration of the Magi: a new sorrow then arises; he is ordered to fly into a foreign unknown country, without help or acquaintance.” It is the opinion of the fathers, that upon their entering Egypt, at the presence of the child Jesus, all the oracles of that superstitious country were struck dumb, and the statues of their gods trembled, and in many places fell to the ground, according to that of Isaiah xix. And the statues of the Egyptians shall be shaken in his presence. The fathers also attribute to this holy visit the spiritual benediction poured on that country, which made it for many ages most fruitful in saints.
After the death of king Herod, which was notified to St. Joseph by a vision, God ordered him to return with the child and his mother into the land of Israel, which our saint readily obeyed. But when he arrived in Judӕa, hearing that Archelaus succeeded Herod in that part of the country, apprehensive he might be infected with his father's vices—cruelty and ambition—he feared on that account to settle there, as he would otherwise probably have done, for the more commodious education of the child. And, therefore, being directed by God in another vision, he retired into the dominions of his brother, Herod Antipas, in Galilee, to his former habitation in Nazareth, where the wonderful occurrences of our Lord's birth were less known. St. Joseph being a strict observer of the Mosaic law, in conformity to its direction, annually repaired to Jerusalem to celebrate the passover. Archelaus being banished by Augustus, and Judӕa made a Roman province, he had now nothing more to fear at Jerusalem. Our Saviour being advanced to the twelfth year of his age, accompanied his parents thither; who having performed the usual ceremonies of the feast, were now returning with many of their neighbors and acquaintance towards Galilee, and never doubting but that Jesus had joined himself with some of the company, they travelled on for a whole day's journey without further inquiry after him, before they discovered that he was not with them. But when night came on, and they could hear no tidings of him among their kindred and acquaintance, they, in the deepest affliction, returned with the utmost speed to Jerusalem: where, after an anxious search of three days, they found him in the temple, sitting among the learned doctors of the law, hearing them discourse, and asking them such questions as raised the admiration of all that heard him, and made them astonished at the ripeness of his understanding: nor were his parents less surprised on this occasion. And when his mother told him with what grief and earnestness they had sought him, and to express her sorrow for that, though short, privation of his presence, said to him: “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I sought thee in great affliction of mind;” she received for answer, that being the Messias and Son of God, sent by his Father into the world in order to redeem it, he must be about his Father's business, the same for which he had been sent into the world; and therefore that it was most likely for them to find him in his Father's house: intimating that his appearing in public on this occasion was to advance his Father's honor, and to prepare the princes of the Jews to receive him for their Messias; pointing out to them from the prophets the time of his coming. But though in thus staying in the temple, unknown to his parents, he did something without their leave, in obedience to his heavenly Father, yet in all other things he was obedient to them, returning with them to Nazareth, and there living in all dutiful subjection to them.
Aelred, our countryman, abbot of Rieval, in his sermon on losing the child Jesus in the temple, observes that this his conduct to his parents is a true representation of that which he shows us, while he often withdraws himself for a short time from us to make us seek him the more earnestly. He thus describes the sentiments of his holy parents on this occasion: “Let us consider what was the happiness of that blessed company, in the way to Jerusalem, to whom it was granted to behold his face, to hear his sweet words, to see in him the signs of divine wisdom and virtue; and in their mutual discourse to receive the influence of his saving truths and example. The old and young admire him. I believe boys of his age were struck with astonishment at the gravity of his manners and words. I believe such rays of grace darted from his blessed countenance as drew on him the eyes, ears, and hearts of every one. And what tears do they shed when he is not with them.” He goes on considering what must be the grief of his parents when they had lost him; what their sentiments, and how earnest their search: but what their joy when they found him again. “Discover to me,” says he, “O my Lady, Mother of my God, what were your sentiments, what your astonishment and your joy when you saw him again, and sitting, not among boys, but amidst the doctors of the law: when you saw every one's eyes fixed on him, every one's ears listening to him, great and small, learned and unlearned, intent only on his words and motions. You now say: I have found him whom I love. I will hold him, and will no more let him part from me. Hold him, sweet Lady, hold him fast; rush on his neck, dwell on his embraces, and compensate the three days' absence by multiplied delights in your present enjoyment of him. You tell him that you and his father sought him in grief. For what did you grieve not for fear of hunger or want in him whom you knew to be God: but I believe you grieved to see yourself deprived of the delights of his presence even for a short time; for the Lord Jesus is so sweet to those who taste him, that his shortest absence is a subject of the greatest grief to them.” This mystery is an emblem of the devout soul, and Jesus sometimes withdrawing himself, and leaving her in dryness, that she may be more earnest in seeking him. But, above all, how eagerly ought the soul which has lost God by sin, to seek him again, and how bitterly ought she to deplore her extreme misfortune!
As no further mention is made of St. Joseph, he must have died before the marriage of Cana, and the beginning of our divine Saviour's ministry. We cannot doubt but he had the happiness of Jesus and Mary attending at his death, praying by him, assisting and comforting him in his last moments. Whence he is particularly invoked for the great grace of a happy death, and the spiritual presence of Jesus in that tremendous hour. The church reads the history of the patriarch Joseph on his festival, who was styled the saviour of Egypt, which he delivered from perishing by famine; and was appointed the faithful master of the household of Potiphar, and of that of Pharaoh and his kingdom. But our great saint was chosen by God the saviour of the life of him who was the true Saviour of the souls of men, rescuing him from the tyranny of Herod. He is now glorified in heaven, as the guardian and keeper of his Lord on earth. As Pharaoh said to the Egyptians in their distress: “Go to Joseph;” so may we confidently address ourselves to the mediation of him to whom God, made man, was subject and obedient on earth.
The devout Gerson expressed the warmest devotion to St. Joseph, which he endeavored by letters and sermons to promote. He composed an office in his honor, and wrote his life in twelve poems, called Josephina. He enlarged on all the circumstances of his life by pious affections and meditations. St. Teresa chose him the chief patron of her order. In the sixth chapter of her life she writes thus: “I chose the glorious St. Joseph for my patron, and I commend myself in all things singularly to his intercession. I do not remember ever to have asked of God anything by him which I did not obtain. I never knew any one, who, by invoking him, did not advance exceedingly in virtue: for he assists in a wonderful manner all who address themselves to him.” St. Francis of Sales, throughout his whole nineteenth entertainment, extremely recommends devotion to him, and extols his merits, principally his virginity, humility, constancy, and courage. The Syrians and other eastern churches celebrate his festival on the 20th of July; the western church, on the 19th of March. Pope Gregory XV, in 1621, and Urban VIII, in 1642, commanded it to be kept a holyday of obligation.
The holy family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, presents to us the most perfect model of heavenly conversation on earth. How did those two seraphims, Mary and Joseph, live in their poor cottage! They always enjoyed the presence of Jesus, always burning with the most ardent love for him, inviolably attached to his sacred person, always employed and living only for him. What were their transports in beholding him, their devotion in listening to him, and their joy in possessing him! O heavenly life! O anticipation of the heavenly bliss! O divine conversation! We may imitate them, and share some degree of this advantage, by conversing often with Jesus, and by the contemplation of his most amiable goodness, kindling the fire of his holy love in our breasts. The effects of this love, if it be sincere, will necessarily appear in our putting on his spirit, and imitating his example and virtues; and in our studying to walk continually in the divine presence, finding God everywhere, and esteeming all the time lost which we do not spend with God, or for his honor.
The Litany of St. Joseph
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Jesus hear us: Jesus graciously hear us.
God the Father, Creator of the world, Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of mankind, Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Ghost, Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, Have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, Immaculate Virgin, Pray for us.
Holy Mother of God, Pray for us.
Holy Virgin of virgins, Pray for us.
St. Joseph, virgin spouse of a Virgin Mother, Protect us.
Protector of the Infant Jesus, Protect us.
Protector of Mary, thy chaste spouse, Protect us.
Protector of St. Teresa, Protect us.
Protector of virgins, Protect us.
Protector of those devoted to thy service, Protect us.
Protector of all faithful Christians, Protect us.
Protector of the afflicted, Protect us.
Protector of humble and penitent sinners, Protect us.
Protector of the Catholic Church, Protect us.
Who wert the protector of Jesus yet unborn, Protect us.
Who wert the protector of Jesus in the stable of Bethlehem, Protect us.
Who wert the protector of Jesus, delivering him from the tyranny of Herod, Protect us.
Who wert the protector of Jesus, assisting him in his necessities, and providing him with food, Protect us.
Who wert the protector of Mary, thy spouse, and her most faithful companion, Protect us.
Who wert the protector and guardian of the virginity of Mary, Protect us.
Protector of all thy devout clients, Protect us.
Our good father, patron, and protector, Protect us.
Our spiritual protector, Protect us.
Our guardian protector, Protect us.
Our providential protector, Protect us.
O Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, Spare us for the love of him who carried and fed Thee.
O Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, Hear us for the love of him who clothed and lodged Thee.
O Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, Have mercy on us for the love of him who protected and guarded Thee from the cruelty of Herod.
Pray for us, St. Joseph, our protector, That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray. O God, who by thine ineffable providence hast chosen St. Joseph to be the spouse of the ever-blessed Virgin, grant us grace to have him for our intercessor in heaven, whom we honour upon earth as our faithful advocate and protector, who livest and reignest world without end. Amen.
O good St. Joseph, protect us, protect the holy Church.
Memorare to St. Joseph
(300 days indulgence granted by Pope Pius IX, 26th June 1863, applicable to the dead.)
Remember, most pure spouse of the blessed Virgin Mary, my amiable protector St. Joseph, that it is unheard of that any one ever had recourse to thy protection, and implored thy help, without receiving consolation. Full of this confidence in thy power, I come before thee and recommend myself to thee with fervour. Ah! despise not my prayer, O dear foster-father of our Redeemer, but graciously hear and obtain my request. Amen.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Lent, Edition 1870;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. I, 1903;
The Manual of the Sacred Heart, 1866; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
March 17, 2019: COMMEMORATION OF ST. PATRICK, BISHOP AND CONFESSOR
[Apostle of Ireland]
Blessed be the Lord of all, who hath visited his people by blessed Patrick; by whose prayers may we be loosened from the bonds of our sins, and come to the enjoyment of rest of the Blessed, together with him.
The Faithful people, with glad souls, celebrate the venerable solemnity of this day's Feast: wheron the blessed Pontiff Patrick laid aside the burden of mortality, and joyfully took his flight to the heavenly kingdom.
All the children of Ireland cry out to thee: Come, O holy Patrick, and save us!
O God, who was pleased to send blessed Patrick, thy Bishop and Confessor, to preach thy glory to the Gentiles: grant, by his merits and prayers, that we may, through thy grace, be enabled to keep thy commandments. 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.
Prayer (from an ancient manuscript Breviary of Armagh).
O God, by whose providence the blessed Patrick was chosen to be the Apostle of the Irish; that thus the people of Hibernia, who had gone astray in darkness and in the errors of the Gentiles, might be made children of the Most High by the laver of regeneration: grant, we beseech thee, that by his intercession, we may hasten without delay to the paths of justice. 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.
The Saint we have to honour to-day is the Apostle of that faithful people, whose martyrdom has lasted three hundred years;—it is the great St. Patrick, he that gave Erin the Faith. There shone most brightly in this Saint that gift of the Apostolate, which Christ has left to his Church, and which is to remain with her to the end of time. The Ambassadors or Missioners, sent by our Lord to preach his Gospel, are of two classes. There are some who have been intrusted with a small tract of the Gentile world; they had to sow the divine seed there, and it yielded fruit, more or less according to the dispositions of the people that received it: there are others, again, whose mission is like a rapid conquest, that subdues a whole nation, and brings it into subjection to the Gospel. St. Patrick belongs to this second class; and in him we recognise one of the most successful instruments of God's mercy to mankind.
And then, what solidity there is in this great Saint's work! When is it that Ireland receives the Faith? In the 5th century, when Britain was almost wholly buried in paganism; when the race of the Franks had not as yet heard the name of the true God; when Germany had no knowledge of Christ's having come upon the earth; when the countries of Northern Europe deeply slumbered in infidelity;—yes, it was before these several nations had awakened to the Gospel, that Ireland was converted. The Faith, brought to her by her glorious Apostle, took deep root and flourished and fructified in this Isle, more lovely even by grace than she is by nature. Her Saints are scarcely to be numbered, and went about doing good in almost every country of Europe; her children gave, and [were] still giving, to other countries, the Faith that she herself received from her beloved Patron. And when the 16th century came with its Protestantism; when the apostacy of Germany was imitated by England, Scotland, and the whole North of Europe, Ireland stood firm and staunch: no persecution, however cleverly or however cruelly carried on against her, has been able to detach her from the Faith taught her by St. Patrick.
Let as honour the admirable Apostle, chosen by God to sow the seed of his word in this privileged land; and let us listen to the simple account of his labours and virtues, thus given in the Lessons of his Feast.
Patrick, called the Apostle of Ireland, was born in Great Britain. His father's name was Calphurnius. Conchessa, his mother, is said to have been a relation of St. Martin, Bishop of Tours. He was several times taken captive by the barbarians, when he was a boy, and was put to tend their flocks. Even in that tender age, he gave signs of the great sanctity he was afterwards to attain. Full of the spirit of faith, and of the fear and love of God, he used to rise at the earliest dawn of day, and, in spite of snow, frost, or rain, go to offer up his prayers to God. It was his custom to pray a hundred times during the day, and a hundred during the night. After his third deliverance from slavery, he entered the ecclesiastical state, and applied himself, for a considerable time, to the study of the Sacred Scriptures. Having made several most fatiguing journeys through Gaul, Italy, and the Islands of the Mediterranean, he was called by God to labour for the salvation of the people of Ireland. Pope Saint Celestine gave him power to preach the Gospel, and consecrated him Bishop. Whereupon, he set out for Ireland.
It would be difficult to relate how much this Apostolic man had to suffer in the mission thus intrusted to him: he had to bear with extraordinary trials, fatigues, and adversaries. But, by the mercy of God, that land, which heretofore had worshipped idols, so well repaid the labour wherewith Patrick had preached the Gospel, that it was afterwards called the Island of Saints. He administered holy Baptism to many thousands: he ordained several Bishops, and frequently conferred Holy Orders, in their several degrees; he drew up rules for virgins and widows, who wished to lead a life of continency. By the authority of the Roman Pontiff, he appointed Armagh the Metropolitan See of the whole Island, and enriched that church with the Saints' Relics, which he had brought from Rome. God honoured him with heavenly visions, with the gift of prophecy and miracles; all which caused the name of the Saint to be held in veneration in almost every part of the world.
Besides his daily solicitude for the churches, his vigorous spirit kept up an uninterrupted prayer. For it is said, that he was wont to recite every day the whole Psaltery, together with the Canticles and the Hymns, and two hundred prayers; that he every day knelt down three hundred times to adore God; and that at each Canonical hour of the day, he signed himself a hundred times with the sign of the Cross. He divided the night into three parts: the first was spent in the recitation of a hundred Psalms, during which he genuflected two hundred times: the second was spent in reciting the remaining fifty Psalms, which he did standing in cold water, and his heart, eyes, and hands lifted up to heaven; the third he gave to a little sleep, which he took laid upon a bare stone. Being a man of extraordinary humility, he imitated the Apostles, and practised manual labour. At length, being worn out by his incessant fatigues in the cause of the Church, powerful in word and work, having reached an extreme old age, he slept in the Lord, after being refreshed with the holy Mysteries. He was buried at Down, in Ulster, in the 5th century of the Christian era.
Life and Works of St. Patrick.
If the virtue of children reflects an honor on their parents, much more justly is the name of St. Patrick rendered illustrious by the innumerable lights of sanctity with which the church of Ireland, planted by his labors in the most remote corner of the then known world, shone during many ages; and by the colonies of saints with which it peopled many foreign countries; for, under God, its inhabitants derived from their glorious apostle the streams of that eminent sanctity by which they were long conspicuous to the whole world. St. Patrick was born in the decline of the fourth century; and, as he informs us in his Confession, in a village called Bonaven Taberniӕ, which seems to be the town of Killpatrick, on the mouth of the river Cluyd, in Scotland, between Dunbriton and Glasgow. He calls himself both a Briton and a Roman, or of a mixed extraction, and says his father was of a good family, named Calphurnius, and a denizen of a neighboring city of the Romans, who, not long after, abandoned Britain, in 409. Some writers call his mother Conchessa, and say she was niece to St. Martin of Tours. At fifteen years of age he committed a fault, which appears not to have been a great crime, yet was to him a subject of tears during the remainder of his life. He says, that when he was sixteen, he lived still ignorant of God, meaning of the devout knowledge and fervent love of God, for he was always a Christian: he never ceased to bewail this neglect, and wept when he remembered that he had been one moment of his life insensible to the divine love. In his sixteenth year he was carried into captivity by certain barbarians, together with many of his father's vassals and slaves, taken upon his estate. They took him into Ireland, where he was obliged to keep cattle on the mountains and in the forests, in hunger and nakedness, amidst snows, rain, and ice. While he lived in this suffering condition, God had pity on his soul, and quickened him to a sense of his duty by the impulse of a strong interior grace. The young man had recourse to him with his whole heart in fervent prayer and fasting; and from that time faith and the love of God acquired continually new strength in his tender soul. He prayed often in the day, and also many times in the night, breaking off his sleep to return to the divine praises. His afflictions were to him a source of heavenly benedictions, because he carried his cross with Christ, that is, with patience, resignation, and holy joy. St. Patrick, after six months spent in slavery under the same master, was admonished by God in a dream to return to his own country, and informed that a ship was then ready to sail thither. He repaired immediately to the sea-coast, though at a great distance, and found the vessel; but could not obtain his passage, probably for want of money. Thus new trials ever await the servants of God. The saint returned towards his hut, praying as he went, but the sailors, though pagans, called him back, and took him on board. After three days' sail, they made land, probably in the north of Scotland: but wandered twenty-seven days through deserts, and were a long while distressed for want of provisions, finding nothing to eat. Patrick had often entertained the company on the infinite power of God: they therefore asked him, why he did not pray for relief. Animated by a strong faith, he assured them that if they would address themselves with their whole hearts to the true God, he would hear and succor them. They did so, and on the same day met with a herd of swine. From that time provisions never failed them till on the twenty-seventh day they came into a country that was cultivated and inhabited. During their distress, Patrick refused to touch meats which had been offered to idols. One day a great stone from a rock happened to fall upon him, and had like to have crushed him to death, while he was laid down to take a little rest. But he invoked Elias, and was delivered from the danger. Some years afterwards, he was again led captive; but recovered his liberty after two months. When he was at home with his parents, God manifested to him, by divers visions, that he destined him to the great work of the conversion of Ireland. He thought he saw all the children of that country from the wombs of their mothers, stretching out their hands, and piteously crying to him for relief.
Some think he had travelled into Gaul before he undertook his mission, and we find that, while he preached in Ireland, he had a great desire to visit his brethren in Gaul, and to see those whom he calls the saints of God, having been formerly acquainted with them. The authors of his life say, that after his second captivity, he travelled into Gaul and Italy, and had seen St. Martin, St. Germanus of Auxerre, and pope Celestine, and that he received his mission, and the apostolical benediction, from this pope, who died in 432. But it seems, from his Confession, that he was ordained deacon, priest, and bishop, for his mission in his own country. It is certain that he spent many years in preparing himself for those sacred functions. Great opposition was made against his episcopal consecration and mission, both by his own relations and by the clergy. These made him great offers in order to detain him among them, and endeavored to affright him by exaggerating the dangers to which he exposed himself amidst the enemies of the Romans and Britons, who did not know God. Some objected, with the same view, the fault which he had committed thirty years before as an obstacle to his ordination. All these temptations threw the saint into great perplexities, and had like to have made him abandon the work of God. But the Lord, whose will he consulted by earnest prayer, supported him, and comforted him by a vision; so that he persevered in his resolution. He forsook his family, sold, as he says, his birthright and dignity, to serve strangers, and consecrated his soul to God, to carry his name to the end of the earth. He was determined to suffer all things for the accomplishment of his holy design, to receive in the same spirit both prosperity and adversity, and to return thanks to God equally for the one as for the other, desiring only that his name might be glorified, and his divine will accomplished to his own honor. In this disposition he passed into Ireland, to preach the gospel, where the worship of idols still generally reigned. He devoted himself entirely for the salvation of these barbarians, to be regarded as a stranger, to be contemned as the last of men, to suffer from the infidels imprisonment and all kinds of persecution, and to give his life with joy, if God should deem him worthy to shed his blood in his cause. He travelled over the whole island, penetrating into the remotest corners, without fearing any dangers, and often visited each province. Such was the fruit of his preachings and sufferings, that he consecrated to God, by baptism, an infinite number of people, and labored effectually that they might be perfected in his service by the practice of virtue. He ordained everywhere clergymen, induced women to live in holy widowhood and continence, consecrated virgins to Christ, and instituted monks. Great numbers embraced these states of perfection with extreme ardor. Many desired to confer earthly riches on him who had communicated to them the goods of heaven; but he made it a capital duty to decline all self-interest, and whatever might dishonor his ministry. He took nothing from the many thousands whom he baptized, and often gave back the little presents which some laid on the altar, choosing rather to mortify the fervent than to scandalize the weak or the infidels. On the contrary, he gave freely of his own, both to pagans and Christians, distributed large alms to the poor in the provinces where he passed, made presents to the kings—judging that necessary for the progress of the gospel—and maintained and educated many children, whom he trained up to serve at the altar. He always gave till he had no more to bestow, and rejoiced to see himself poor, with Jesus Christ, knowing poverty and afflictions to be more profitable to him than riches and pleasures. The happy success of his labors cost him many persecutions.
A certain prince named Corotick, a Christian, though in name only, disturbed the peace of his flock. He seems to have reigned in some part of Wales, after the Britons had been abandoned by the Romans. This tyrant, as the saint calls him, having made a descent into Ireland, plundered the country where St. Patrick had been just conferring the holy chrism, that is, confirmation, on a great number of Neophytes, who were yet in their white garments after baptism. Corotick, without paying any regard to justice, or to the holy sacrament, massacred many, and carried away others, whom he sold to the infidel Picts or Scots. This probably happened at Easter or Whitsuntide. The next day the saint sent the barbarian a letter by a holy priest whom he had brought up from his infancy, entreating him to restore the Christian captives, and at least part of the booty he had taken, that the poor people might not perish for want; but was only answered by railleries, as if the Irish could not be the same Christians with the Britons: which arrogance and pride sunk those barbarous conquerors beneath the dignity of men, while by it they were puffed up above others in their own hearts. The saint, therefore, to prevent the scandal which such a flagrant enormity gave to his new converts, wrote with his own hand a public circular letter. In it he styles himself a sinner and an ignorant man; for such is the sincere humility of the saints, (most of all when they are obliged to exercise any acts of authority,) contrary to the pompous titles which the world affects. He declares, nevertheless, that he is established bishop of Ireland, and pronounces Corotick and the other parricides and accomplices separated from him and from Jesus Christ, whose place he holds, forbidding any to eat with them, or to receive their alms, till they should have satisfied God by the tears of sincere penance, and restored the servants of Jesus Christ to their liberty. This letter expresses his most tender love for his flock, and his grief for those who had been slain, yet mingled with joy, because they reign with the prophets, apostles, and martyrs. Jocelin assures us, that Corotick was overtaken by the divine vengeance. St. Patrick wrote his Confession as a testimony of his mission, when he was old. It is solid, full of good sense and piety, expresses an extraordinary humility and a great desire of martyrdom, and is written with spirit. The author was perfectly versed in the holy scriptures. He confesses everywhere his own faults with a sincere humility, and extols the great mercies of God towards him in this world, who had exalted him, though the most undeserving of men: yet, to preserve him in humility, afforded him the advantage of meeting with extreme contempt from others, that is, from the heathens. He confesses, for his humiliation, that, among other temptations, he felt a great desire to see again his own country, and to visit the saints of his acquaintance in Gaul; but durst not abandon his people; and says, that the Holy Ghost had declared to him that to do it would be criminal. He tells us, that a little before he wrote this, he himself and all his companions had been plundered and laid in irons for his having baptized the son of a certain king against the will of his father: but were released after fourteen days. He lived in the daily expectation of such accidents, and of martyrdom; but feared nothing, having his hope as a firm anchor fixed in heaven, and reposing himself with an entire confidence in the arms of the Almighty. He says, that he had lately baptized a very beautiful young lady of quality, who some days after came to tell him that she had been admonished by an angel to consecrate her virginity to Jesus Christ, that she might render herself the more acceptable to God. He gave God thanks, and she made her vows with extraordinary fervor six days before he wrote this letter.
St. Patrick held several councils to settle the discipline of the church which he had planted. The first, the acts of which are extant under his name in the editions of the councils, is certainly genuine. Its canons regulate several points of discipline, especially relating to penance. St. Bernard and the tradition of the country testify, that St. Patrick fixed his metropolitan see at Armagh. He established some other bishops, as appears by his Council and other monuments. He not only converted the whole country by his preaching and wonderful miracles, but also cultivated this vineyard with so fruitful a benediction and increase from heaven, as to render Ireland a most flourishing garden in the church of God, and a country of saints. And those nations, which had for many ages esteemed all others barbarians, did not blush to receive from the utmost extremity of the uncivilized or barbarous world, their most renowned teachers and guides in the greatest of all sciences, that of the saints.
Many particulars are related of the labors of St. Patrick, which we passover. In the first year of his mission he attempted to preach Christ in the general assembly of the kings and states of all Ireland, held yearly at Taraghe, or Themoria, in East-Meath, the residence of the chief king, styled the monarch of the whole island, and the principal seat of the Druids or priests, and their paganish rites. The son of Neill, the chief monarch, declared himself against the preacher: however, he converted several, and, on his road to that place, the father of St. Benen, or Benignus, his immediate successor in the see of Armagh. He afterwards converted and baptized the kings of Dublin, and Munster, and the seven sons of the king of Connaught, with the greatest part of their subjects, and before his death almost the whole island. He founded a monastery at Armagh; another called Domnach-Padraig, or Patrick's church; also a third, named Sabhal-Padraig, and filled the country with churches and schools of piety and learning; the reputation of which, for the three succeeding centuries, drew many foreigners into Ireland. Nennius, abbot of Bangor, in 620, in his history of the Britons, published by the learned Thomas Gale, says, that St. Patrick took that name only when he was ordained bishop, being before called Maun; that he continued his missions over all the provinces of Ireland, during forty years; that he restored sight to many blind, health to the sick, and raised nine dead persons to life. He died and was buried at Down in Ulster. His body was found there in a church of his name in 1185, and translated to another part of the same church. His festival is marked on the 17th of March, in the Martyrology of Bede, &c.
The apostles of nations were all interior men, endowed with a sublime spirit of prayer. The salvation of souls being a supernatural end, the instruments ought to bear a proportion to it, and preaching proceed from a grace which is supernatural. To undertake this holy function, without a competent stock of sacred learning, and without the necessary precautions of human prudence and industry, would be to tempt God. But sanctity of life, and the union of the heart with God, are qualifications far more essential than science, eloquence, and human talents. Many almost kill themselves with studying to compose elegant sermons, which flatter the ear yet reap very little fruit. Their hearers applaud their parts, but very few are converted. Most preachers, now-a-days, have learning, but are not sufficiently grounded in true sanctity, and a spirit of devotion. Interior humility, purity of heart, recollection, and the spirit and the assiduous practice of holy prayer, are the principal preparation for the ministry of the word, and the true means of acquiring the science of the saints. A short devout meditation and fervent prayer, which kindle a fire in the affections, furnish more thoughts proper to move the hearts of the hearers, and inspire them with sentiments of truer virtue, than many years employed barely in reading and study. St. Patrick, and other apostolic men, were dead to themselves and the world, and animated with the spirit of perfect charity and humility, by which they were prepared by God to be such powerful instruments of his grace, as, by the miraculous change of so many hearts, to plant in entire barbarous nations not only the faith, but also the spirit of Christ. Preachers, who have not attained to a disengagement and purity of heart, suffer the petty interests of self-love secretly to mingle themselves in their zeal and charity, and have reason to suspect that they inflict deeper wounds in their own souls than they are aware, and produce not in others the good which they imagine.
Hail illustrious Pontiff! Pastor of Hibernia's flock! O Patrick! holy Bishop! the guardian of our people! pray for us daily to the King of glory.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Lent, Edition 1870;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. I, 1903; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
St. Patrick, pray for us.
March 15, 2019: THE HOLY LANCE & THE NAILS OF OUR LORD
[Friday after I Sunday of Lent]
“They have dug my hands and feet. They have numbered all my bones.”
(Ps, xxi. 17, 18)
“and they shall look upon me, whom they have pierced”
(Zach, xii. 10)
O God, who in the infirmity of the flesh which thou didst assume wast pleased to be pierced with nails, and to be wounded with a lance for the salvation of the world; mercifully grant that we who venerate on earth the same nails and lance, may rejoice in heaven at the glorious triumph of thy victory. Who liveth and reigneth, world without end. Amen.
For meditation, the below narrations are taken from The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the Revelations of Anna Catherine Emmerich. With Ecclesiastical Approbation. Imprimatur. 1914.
Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross.
And now the lacerated Victim was thrown down upon the Cross. He yielded willingly to His executioners, and they jerked Him into position on His back, seized His right arm, drew His right hand over the hole prepared in the beam, and bound the arm first to the Cross. One of them planted his knee in Our Lord's breast, a second kept His hand from closing, the third fixed the sharp point of a long thick nail against the thick part of that blessed hand, and began to strick furiously with his iron hammer. Sweet and clear rang out the tones of pain from Our Lord's lips, while His blood leaped forth to redden the arms of His crucifiers. The tendons of His hands were torn loose, and carried by the three-edged nail on through the narrow hole into the cross-beam behind… Our Lady's tones of compassion were soft and low, outwardly she seemed unconscious, while Magdalen was beside herself with grief.
Jesus had shuddered at sight of the nails. They were long enough to extend an inch out on each side of a hand which grasped them in the center, and the round cap-shaped head felt, when grasped by the hand, about as broad as a half-dollar piece. The body of the three-edged nail tapered from the size of an ordinary thumb above to that of a little finger below, and ended in a sharp-filed point. When driven through it projected a little distance out from the beam of the Cross.
After nailing fast the right hand, they found that the hole bored for the left hand was too far out, about two inches beyond the finger-tips. So they unloosed His left arm from the beam, tied their ropes tight round the arm, braced their feet against the main beam of the Cross, and pulled violently till the hand was even with the place prepared for it. Jesus moaned while His arms were thus torn from their sockets. His shoulder-blades flattened out, His elbow joints visibly pulled asunder, His breast-bones forcibly expanded and elevated, and His knees drawn convulsively upwards. Again they planted their knees on his breast, tied His arms tight round the beams, and drove the second cruel nail through His left hand, while His sweet clear tones of pain mingled with the heavy blows of the hammer. His arms were drawn so tight and high that they no longer covered the upwards slanting cross-beams, and I could see between His arm-pits and the beams.
All His agony was shared by Our Lady, she was pale as a corpse, and tones of pain fell softly from her lips. The Pharisees spouted their mockeries and curses out over the wall where she stood, and those around her led her back a little way to the second group of holy women, where Magdalen, with bloodshot eyes and insane with grief, was tearing her face till it bled.
At about one third of the way up there was fastened to the Cross a projecting block of wood, held in place by a very large nail. This block was meant to serve as support for the feet of Jesus, so He might rather stand than hang. Otherwise His hands would tear through the nails, and His feet could not be nailed fast without breaking. Into this block was bored a hole to receive the nail through His feet, and a little hollow made for His heels. Elsewhere too along the main beam of the Cross were hollowed out some little cavities, in order to let Our Lord suffer longer, to prevent the hands from tearing through and the body from being dragged down by its own weight.
The violent straining of His arms had caused His knees to contract and had drawn His whole body higher than first intended. The executioners tied knots round His knees and forced them back to the beam, but even so His sacred feet would not by far reach the standing block. How the crucifiers cursed! Some were for making new holes for the arms, as it was too difficult to raise the block higher. Others shouted in awful mockery that He did not want to stretch out but they would show Him how. They tied cords to His right leg and dragged it with agonizing violence till His foot reached the block, whereupon they tied His leg tightly to the beam. Under this awful distension of His body His chest-bones cracked and He moaned aloud: “My God, My God.” As chest and arms were fast bound to the Cross in order to keep the hands from tearing through, the whole lower body seemed to tear loose from the upper, and His ribs to snap off from His breast-bone. O God, what a shuddering spectacle! In the same fearful manner the left foot was dragged down upon the right. They bound it down as tightly as they could, but as it could not be brought to rest firm enough for driving the nail, they took a borer, smaller and more flat-headed than the nails for the hands, and drove it into His instep, somewhat as a shoemaker uses the awl to make way for the needle. This done, they seized the most fearful of the nails, much longer than the others, and drove it with cracking grinding force through the opened instep, of His left foot, down through the right foot into the hole in the block and on into the beam of the Cross. I was looking on from the side of the Cross and saw the one nail go through both feet.
The distension of His body made this nailing of His feet more awful than any suffering He had yet endured. I counted about six and thirty hammer strokes, and mingling with them I heard constantly the moans of my poor Savior. Sweet, clear and pure came His tones of pain, while the mockeries of His furious tormentors sounded dull and cloudy.
The Death of our Lord and the piercing of His Side with a Lance.
Our Savior's hour was now come. He began to wrestle with death and a cold sweat broke out over His whole body. John stood below in front, drying his Maker's feet with his handkerchief. Magdalen was crouched against the back of the Cross, lost in agonizing sorrow. Our Lady stood between the Cross of Jesus and that of the good thief, supported in the arms of Mary of Cleophas and Salome, her eyes riveted to the face of her dying Son. Jesus said: “It is consummated,” then raised His head and cried with a loud voice: “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” ’Twas a sweet powerful cry, that penetrated and filled Heaven and earth. When the words were ended, He bowed His head and gave up the ghost, and like a luminous shadow I saw His soul sink down near the Cross into the ground and pass on into Limbo. John and the holy women fell face downward to the ground.
Abenadar, the captain, an Arabian by birth, later as disciple known by the name Ctesiphon, was sitting on his horse in the same position he had held since he had given Jesus vinegar to drink, so close that his horse's fore-feet rested on the hillock of crucifixion. He was deeply moved, and gazed long and earnestly, and uninterruptedly into that dying Face under its crown of thorns. The horse's head was sunk in sickening fear, and the rider, his pride broken, tightened not the slackened rein. Then Our Lord spoke those last words so loudly and powerfully, and gave up His spirit with that penetrating cry that resounded through earth, and hell, and Heaven.
Immediately the earth round about trembled, and the rocks burst and yawned wide between Our Lord and the thief on the left. God's testimony to His Son came sweeping through the depths of nature, and nature shuddered in horror. It was consummated—Our Lord's soul had passed from the body. And while all that vast multitude trembled with the reverent and trembling earth, while the keen sword of bereavement transfixed the hearts of friends — at this moment grace fell upon Abenadar. He felt his hard proud soul tremble like the rocks of Calvary—and in that feeling he threw from him his spear, struck with mighty hand his penitent heart, and cried out aloud with the voice of a new-born man: “Blessed be God, the Almighty, the God of Abraham and Jacob! This was a just man, truly He is the Son of God!” Swept away by his words many of the soldiers followed his example.
But now that he was a new man, a redeemed man, after rendering public homage to the Son of God, Abenadar would no longer be servant to Our Lord's enemies. He turned his horse's head to his subordinate officer, then called Cassius, and spoke a few words to the soldiers, as also to Cassius, who now bestrode Abenadar's horse and took his place as commander. Abenadar himself hurried down from Calvary and on through the Valley of Gihon till he reached the disciples hiding in the Valley of Hinnom. To them he announced the death of Jesus, and hurried onwards to report to Pilate.
The terror which fell upon those present at the death-cry of Jesus, when the earth shook and Calvary burst open, this terror spread out over entire nature: the veil of the Temple was rent asunder and some of its walls sank, many dead rose from their graves, and mountains and buildings collapsed in many parts of the world.
When Abenadar and many of the soldiers with him cried out in testimony of Our Lord's Divinity, many of the multitude were converted, and even many of the latest to arrive among the Pharisees. Many began to strike their breads and lament, and wandered down from the mountain and through the valley to their homes. Others rent their garments and sprinkled dust on their heads. All were filled with terror and consternation.
John rose up from where he lay, and several of the holy women, who so far had stood at a distance, now pushed their way into the enclosure, raised from the ground Our Lady and her friends, and led them out of the enclosure in order to console them.
Can we wonder that in sight of this awful spectacle Our Lady’s hands seemed paralyzed with agony, that her eyes darkened and her ears refused to hear, that a deathly pallor mantled her face, that her feet broke under her and let her sink to the ground? And when she was raised by gentle hands, when again she lifted her eyes to the Cross, what a vision met her eyes? That most pure and beautiful body, conceived in her by the Holy Ghost, flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone, the costly shrine formed in her Divinely overshadowed womb—how forlorn and desecrated is it now! Robbed of all its beautiful symmetry, robbed of its indwelling holy soul, thrown on the mercy of material laws which He had created and man had outraged! That, then, is the end of all: Men whom He came to call to life had put Him to death! His slaughtered body hangs ruined and disfigured upon the tree, the once beauteous shrine of charity and truth is shorn of all its loveliness, the noblest of the sons of men swings lifeless between two murderers! O Mother of Jesus, Queen of martyrs, who shall sound the depths of thy agony!
Spite of its awful disfigurement there was about Our Lord's body an air of soul-touching holiness. The two thieves were silent, and Dismas was praying, but their bodies hung down in fearful drunken distortions. Our Lord's friends and relatives sat or stood within the circle of the Cross, sorrowing and lamenting. Many of the holy women had returned into the city. —City and Hill were wrapped in a mantle of sadness, stillness and loneliness.
Meanwhile sadness and stillness reigned out there on Golgatha. The terrified multitude had dispersed. Our Lady, John, Magdalen, Mary of Cleophas and Salome sat or stood with heads muffled for sorrow in front of the Cross. Some soldiers were sitting on the low earthen wall, their spears lying near them. While Cassius rode back and forth, the soldiers on the summit talked down to their companions who were farther away. The sky was still overcast, and all nature was in mourning.
Six executioners now appeared, with ladders, shovels and ropes, and three-edged heavy clubs, intended to break the legs of those crucified. When they entered the enclosure. Our Lord's friends drew back a little way. Our Lady's soul was rent with new fear, lest these wretches maltreat even His dead body. And in fact they planted their ladders against the Cross, climbed up, and struck that sacred body, affirming that He merely pretended to be dead. But finding Him all cold and stiff, and seeing John at the request of the holy women appeal to the soldiers, they went no further at present, yet did not seem convinced of his death.
They turned from Our Lord to the two thieves, climbed up on the ladders, and began to break their bones. One broke the right arm above and below the elbow, a second did the same on the left arm, and a third, on the legs, both above and below the knee. Gesmas broke into fearful howls and they shattered his breast with three blows of their clubs. Dismas gave a last moan of agony, and died, the first mortal to follow Our Lord to Limbo.
The executioners still seemed in doubt as to Our Lord's death. Their shuddering barbarities towards the thieves made Our Savior's friends still more apprehensive of their return. But Cassius, afterwards called Longinus, whose weak squinting eyes had often called forth the contempt of his companions, was at this moment struck with a sudden impulse of grace. The vile-minded cruelties of the executioners and the anguish of the holy women combined with this sudden impulse of zeal to make him the fulfiller of a prophecy. He lengthened out his spear, which had been shortened by pushing its various parts one back into the other, and fastened the iron point upon it. I saw him turn his horse's head and drive the animal violently up the hillock of crucifixion, taking care to avoid the chasm in the rock. There was scarce room for his horse on top, but he paused between the Cross of Jesus and that of the good thief, to the right of Our Lord's body, seized his spear with both hands, and forced it violently into the hollow distended side and on through entrails and heart till the point came forth and opened a slight wound on the left side of Our Savior's breast. As with equal violence the now holy lance was dragged back out of the perforated body, it was followed by a full-flowing stream of blood and water that poured a flood of grace and salvation down into his uplifted face. He sprang from his horse, fell upon his knees, beat his breast, and in sight of all present loudly proclaimed his faith in Jesus.
Our Lady and her companions, their eyes turned constantly towards Jesus, watched with anxiety the sudden procedure of Cassius. When his lance passed into the sacred body, they gave a cry of woe and sprang forward to the Cross. Our Lady felt the blow in every fibre of her being, and sank as if the lance had pierced her own heart, into the supporting arms of her friends, while Cassius fell on his knees, his soul illumined by faith and light, his lips confessing the Lord and proclaiming thanks, while even his blear-eyed bodily vision grew bright and clear.
And now all gathered, with reverential tenderness, round the blood of the Redeemer, which was collecting in a depression in the rock beneath the Cross. It was mixed with water and covered with bubbling foam. By means of some kind of saucers which they had with them, Our Lady, Cassius, John and the holy women dipped most of this precious liquid into flasks, and absorbed what remained into pieces of cloth.
Cassius was completely transformed. His eyes both of soul and of body had been opened wide and clear, his heart was deeply moved and humbled. Struck by the miraculous change in their captain, the soldiers present likewise fell on their knees, beat their breasts and confessed Jesus. ’Twas touching to see the blood and water poured in an abundant stream out from the wide-open right side of Jesus, to see it fall foaming upon a pure clean stone, to see the holy company gather it up so tenderly, while into its sacred foam trickled tears from the eyes of Magdalen and Our Lady. The executioners did not return. They had meanwhile got word from Pilate not to touch the body of Jesus, since he had confided it to Joseph of Arimathea for burial.
Taken from: The Passion of
Our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the Revelations of Anna Catherine Emmerich.
Translated from the German by a Priest of the Order of St. Benedict. With Ecclesiastical Approbation. Imprimatur. 1914; and
The Missal for the Laity according to the use of the Holy Roman Church, 1846.
Glory be to thy patience, O Lord!
March 12, 2019: ST. GREGORY I, POPE, CONFESSOR, AND DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH
The blessed Gregory, being raised to the Chair of Peter, fulfilled, by his actions, the meaning of his name,—the Watchman.
Whilst he was interpreting the Mysteries of the Sacred Volume, there was seen upon him a dove whiter than snow.
Gregory was the mirror of monks, the father of the City, and the favourite of mankind.
O God, who hast rewarded the soul of blessed Gregory, thy servant, with eternal bliss; mercifully grant that we, who are oppressed by the weight of our sins, may find relief by his intercession. 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 summary of the key events in the life of St. Gregory the Great)
℟. From his early youth, Gregory was devout in God's service,
*And with all his heart sighed after the land of heavenly life.
He distributed his wealth to the poor, and became poor himself, after the example of Christ, who made himself poor for us.
*And with all his heart sighed after the land of heavenly life.
℟. Six Monasteries did he found in Sicily, and put in them communities of Brethren, who should serve Christ; a seventh also he
founded within the walls of Rome's city,
*Wherein he, too, enrolled himself in the heavenly warfare.
℣. He despised the world with its flowers, and sought out a place of solitude most dear to his soul.
*Wherein he, too, enrolled himself in the heavenly warfare.
℟. When they were in search of him to set him on the throne of the Papal dignity, he fled to the woods and caves
and hid himself;
*But a bright pillar of light was seen to shine upon him, in a straight line from the high heavens.
℣. The people, in their eager desire to have so excellent a Pastor, besieged heaven with their fastings and prayers.
*But a bright pillar of light was seen to shine upon him, in a straight line from the high heavens.
℟. Lo! now I am tossed by the waves
of the great sea, and am buffeted by the storms of pastoral care:
*And when I remember my former life, I sigh like one that looks back on the shore he has left behind.
℣. I am carried to and fro on huge waves, which scarcely permit me to see the port I sailed from.
*And when I remember my former life, I sigh like one that looks back on the shore he has left behind.
℟. He drew
moral and mystical interpretations from the Scripture fountain, and made the streams of the Gospel flow upon the people:
*And being dead, he yet speaketh.
℣. Like an eagle flying from one end of the world to the other, he provided for all, both little and great, by his large-hearted charity.
*And being dead, he yet speaketh.
℟. As he gazed on the boys of Anglia, it grieved him to think
that such bright faced youths should be in the power of the prince of darkness:
*And that they who had such comely faces, should have souls devoid of interior joy.
℣. Deeply did he sigh, and, from his inmost soul, grieve that the image of God should be disfigured by the old serpent.
*And that they who had such comely faces, should have souls devoid of interior joy.
John, the Bishop, arrogantly strove to interfere with the rights of the first See, bravely and meekly did Gregory rise up,
*Radiant with Apostolic authority, and humble exceedingly.
℣. Unflinchingly did he defend the Keys of Peter, and guard from insult the principal Chair.
*Radiant with Apostolic authority, and humble exceedingly.
℟. Gregory, a Pontiff great in merit and name, restored
the ancient melodies used in the Divine praise,
*And united the songs of the Church Militant with those of the Spouse Triumphant.
℣. His mystic pen transcribed the book of the Sacraments, and handed down to posterity the institutions of the ancient Fathers.
*And united the songs of the Church Militant with those of the Spouse Triumphant.
℟. He regulated the Stations
to be made at the Basilicas and Cemeteries of the Martyrs:
*And the army of Christ went in procession, with Gregory at their head.
℣. He was the leader of the heavenly warfare, and gave to all their spiritual armour.
*And the army of Christ went in procession, with Gregory at their head.
Among all the Pastors, whom our Lord Jesus Christ has placed, as his Vicegerents, over the universal Church, there is not one whose merits and renown have surpassed those of the holy Pope, whose feast we keep to-day. His name is Gregory, which signifies watchfulness; his surname is the Great, and he was in possession of that title when God sent the Seventh Gregory, the glorious Hildebrand, to govern his Church.
In recounting the glories of this illustrious Pontiff, it is but natural we should begin with his zeal for the Services of the Church. The Roman Liturgy, which owes to him some of its finest Hymns, may be considered as his work, at least in this sense, that it was he who collected together and classified the prayers and rites drawn up by his predecessors, and reduced them to the form, in which we now have them. He collected also the ancient chants of the Church, and arranged them in accordance with the rules and requirements of the Divine Service. Hence it is, that our sacred music is called the Gregorian Chant, which gives such solemnity to the Liturgy, and inspires the soul with respect and devotion during the celebration of the great Mysteries of our Faith.
He is, then, the Apostle of the Liturgy, and this alone would have immortalised his name; but we must look for far greater things from such a Pontiff as Gregory. His name was added to the three, who had hitherto been honoured as the great Doctors of the Latin Church. These three were Ambrose, Augustine, and Jerome; who else could be the fourth but Gregory? The Church found in his Writings such evidence of his having been guided by the Holy Ghost,—such a knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures, such a clear appreciation of the Mysteries of Faith, and such unction and authority in his teachings, that she gladly welcomed him as a new guide for her children.
Such was the respect, wherewith everything he wrote was treated, that his very Letters were preserved as so many precious treasures. This immense Correspondence shows us, that there was not a country, scarcely even a city, of the Christian world, on which the Pontiff had not his watchful eye steadily fixed; that there was not a question, however local or personal, which, if it interested religion, did not excite his zeal and arbitration, as the Bishop of the universal Church. If certain writers of modern times had but taken the pains to glance at these Letters, written by a Pope of the 6th century, they would never have asserted, as they have done, that the prerogatives of the Roman Pontiff are based on documents, fabricated, as they say, two hundred years after the death of Gregory.
Throned on the Apostolic See, our Saint proved himself to be a rightful heir of the Apostles, not only as the representative and depository of their authority, but as a fellow-sharer in their mission of calling nations to the true faith. To whom does England owe her having been, for so many ages, the Island of Saints? To Gregory, who, touched with compassion for those Angli,—of whom, as he playfully said, he would fain make Angeli,—sent to their island the Monk Augustine, with forty companions, all of them, as was Gregory himself, children of St. Benedict. The faith had been sown in this land as early as the second century, but it had been trodden down by the invasion of an infidel race. This time the seed fructified, and so rapidly, that Gregory lived to see a plentiful harvest. It is beautiful to hear the aged Pontiff speaking with enthusiasm about the results of his English mission. He thus speaks in the twenty-seventh Book of his Morals: “Lo! the language of Britain, which could once mutter naught save barbarous sounds, has long since begun to sing, in the divine praises, the Hebrew Alleluia! Lo! that swelling sea is now calm, and Saints walk on its waves. The tide of barbarians, which the sword of earthly princes could not keep back, is now hemmed in at the simple bidding of God's Priests.”
During the fourteen years that this holy Pope held the place of Peter, he was the object of the admiration of the Christian world, both in the East and West. His profound learning, his talent for administration, his position,—all tended to make him beloved and respected. But who could describe the virtues of his great soul?—that contempt for the world and its riches, which led him to seek obscurity in the cloister; that humility, which made him flee the honours of the Papacy, and hide himself in a cave, where, at length, he was miraculously discovered, and God himself put into his hands the Keys of Heaven, which he was evidently worthy to hold, because he feared the responsibility; that zeal for the whole flock, of which he considered himself not the master, but the servant, so much so indeed that he assumed the title, which the Popes have ever since retained, of Servant of the Servants of God; that charity which took care of the poor throughout the whole world; that ceaseless solicitude, which provided for every calamity, whether public or private; that unruffled sweetness of manner, which he showed to all around him, in spite of the bodily sufferings which never left him during the whole period of his laborious pontificate; that firmness in defending the deposit of the Faith, and crushing error wheresoever it showed itself; in a word, that vigilance with regard to discipline, which made itself felt for long ages after in the whole Church? All these services, and glorious examples of virtue have endeared our Saint to the whole world, and will make his name be blessed by all future generations, even to the end of time.
Let us now read the abridged Life of our Saint, as given us in the Liturgy.
Gregory the Great, a Roman by birth, was son of the Senator Gordian. He applied early to the study of philosophy, and was intrusted with the office of Pretor. After his father's death he built six monasteries in Sicily, and a seventh, under the title of Saint Andrew, in his own house in Rome, near the Basilica of Saints John and Paul, on the hill Scaurus. In this last named monastery, he embraced the monastic life, under the guidance of Hilarion and Maximian, and was, later on, elected Abbot. Shortly afterwards, he was created Cardinal-Deacon, and was by Pope Pelagius sent to Constantinople, as Legate, to confer with the Emperor Constantine. Whilst there he achieved that celebrated victory over the Patriarch Eutychius, who had written against the resurrection of the flesh, maintaining that it would not be a real one. Gregory so convinced him of his error, that the Emperor threw his book into the fire. Eutychius himself fell ill not long after, and when he perceived his last hour had come, he took between his fingers the skin of his hand, and said before the many who were there: “I believe that we shall all rise in this flesh.”
On his return to Rome, he was chosen Pope, by unanimous consent, for Pelagius had been carried off by the plague. He refused, as long as it was possible, the honour thus offered him. He disguised himself, and hid himself in a cave; but he was discovered by a pillar of fire shining over the place, and was consecrated at Saint Peter's. As Pontiff, he was an example to his successors by his learning and holiness of life. He every day admitted pilgrims to his table, among whom he received, on one occasion, an Angel, and, on another, the Lord of Angels, who wore the garb of a pilgrim. He charitably provided for the poor, both in and out of Rome, and kept a list of them. He re-established the Catholic faith in several places where it had fallen into decay. Thus, he put down the Donatists in Africa, and the Arians in Spain; and drove the Agnoites out of Alexandria. He refused to give the pallium to Syagrius, Bishop of Autun, until he should have expelled the Neophyte heretics from Gaul. He induced the Goths to abandon the Arian heresy. He sent Augustine and other Monks into Britain, and, by these learned and saintly men, converted that island to the faith of Christ Jesus; so that Bede truly calls him the “Apostle of England.” He checked the haughty pretensions of John, the Patriarch of Constantinople, who had arrogated to himself the title of “Bishop of the Universal Church.” He obliged the Emperor Mauritius to revoke the decree, whereby he had forbidden any soldier to become a monk.
He enriched the Church with many most holy practices and laws. In a Council held at St. Peter's, he passed several decrees. Among these, the following may be mentioned: That in the Mass, the Kyrie eleison should be said nine times; that the Alleluia should always be said, except during the interval between Septuagesima and Easter. That these words should be inserted in the Canon: Diesque nostros in tua pace disponsas (And mayst thou dispose our days in thy peace). He increased the number of Processions (Litanies) and stations, and completed the Office of the Church. He would have the four Councils, of Nicea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon, to be received with the same honour as the four Gospels. He allowed the Bishops of Sicily, who, according to the ancient custom of their Churches, used to visit Rome every three years, to make that visit once every fifth year. He wrote several books; and Peter the Deacon assures us, that he frequently saw the Holy Ghost resting on the head of the Pontiff, whilst he was dictating. It is a matter of wonder, that with his incessant sickness and ill health he could have said, done, written, and decreed, as he did. At length, after performing many miracles, he was called to his reward in heaven, after a pontificate of thirteen years, six months, and ten days; it was on the fourth of the Ides of March (March 12th), which the Greeks also observe as a great Feast, on account of this Pontiff's extraordinary learning and virtue. His body was buried in the Basilica of Saint Peter, near the Secretarium.
Life and Works of St. Gregory, the Great
St. Gregory, from his illustrious actions and extraordinary virtues, surnamed the Great, was born at Rome, about the year 540. Gordianus, his father, enjoyed the dignity of a senator, and was very wealthy; but after the birth of our saint, renounced the world, and died Regionarius, that is, one of the seven cardinal deacons who took care of the ecclesiastical districts of Rome. His mother, Sylvia, consecrated herself to God in a little oratory near St. Paul's. Our saint was called Gregory, which in Greek implies a watchman, as Vigilius and Vigilantius in Latin. In his youth he applied himself, with unabated diligence, to the studies of grammar, rhetoric, and philosophy; and after these first accomplishments, to the civil law and the canons of the church, in which he was perfectly skilled. He was only thirty-four years old when, in 574, he was made, by the emperor Justin the Younger, pretor, or governor and chief magistrate of Rome. By this dignity he was the chief judge of the city; his pomp and state differed little from that of a consul, and he was obliged to wear the Trabea, which was a rich robe of silk, magnificently embroidered, and sparkling with precious stones: a garment only allowed to the consuls and pretor. But he could say, with Esther, that his heart always detested the pride of the world. From his infancy he loved and esteemed only heavenly things, and it was his chief delight to converse with holy monks, or to be retired in his closet, or in the church at his devotions. After the death of his father, he built and endowed six monasteries in Sicily out of the estates which he had in that island, and founded a seventh in his own house in Rome, which was the famous monastery of St. Andrew, on the hill Scaurus, [then later] possessed by the Order of Camaldoli. The first abbot of this house was Hilarion, the second Valentinus, under whom St. Gregory himself took the monastic habit, in 575, being thirty-five years old. In this retirement, Gregory applied himself with that vigor to fasting and the study of the sacred writings, that he thereby contracted a great weakness in his stomach, and used to fall into fits of swooning if he did not frequently eat. What gave him the greatest affliction was his not being able to fast on an Easter-Eve, a day on which, says John the deacon, every one, not even excepting little children, are used to fast. His great desire of conforming to the universal practice on that day occasioned his applying to a monk of eminent sanctity, named Eleutherius, with whom having prayed, and besought God to enable him to fast at least on that sacred day, he found himself on a sudden so well restored, that he not only fasted that day, but quite forgot his illness, as he himself relates.
It was before his advancement to the see of Rome, or even to the government of his monastery, that he first, as Paul the deacon testifies, projected the conversion of the English nation. This great blessing took its rise from the following occasion. Gregory happened one day to walk through the market, and here taking notice that certain youths of fine features and complexion were exposed to sale, he inquired what countrymen they were, and was answered, that they came from Britain. He asked if the people of that country were Christians or heathens, and was told they were still heathens. Then Gregory, fetching a deep sigh, said: “It was a lamentable consideration that the prince of darkness should be master of so much beauty, and have so comely persons in his possession: and that so fine an outside should have nothing of God's grace to furnish it within.” This incident made so great an impression upon him, that he applied himself soon after to pope Benedict I, and earnestly requested that some persons might be sent to preach Christianity in Britain. And not finding any one disposed to undertake that mission, he made an offer of himself for the service, with the pope's consent and approbation. Having obtained leave, he privately set forward on his journey, in company with several monks of his own monastery. But when his departure was known, the whole city was in an uproar, and the people ran in a body to the pope, whom they met going to St. Peter's church. They cried out to him in the utmost consternation: “Apostolical father, what have you done? In suffering Gregory to go away, you have destroyed Rome: you have undone us, and offended St. Peter.” At these pressing instances the pope dispatched messengers to recall him: and the saint being overtaken by them on the third day, was obliged, though with great reluctance, to return to Rome. Not long after, the same pope, according to John the deacon, and the Benedictins, or, as Paul the deacon and Baronius say, his successor Pelagius II, made him one of the seven deacons of the church at Rome, who assisted the pope. Pelagius II sent him to Constantinople in quality of Apocrisiarius, or Nuncio of the holy see, to the religious emperor Tiberius, by whom the saint was received and treated with the highest distinction. This public employment did not make him lay aside the practices of a monastic life, in order to which he had taken with him certain monks of his house, with whom he might the better continue them, and by their example excite himself to recollection and prayer. At the request of St. Leander, bishop of Seville, whom he saw at Constantinople, he wrote in that city his thirty-five books of Morals upon Job, giving chiefly the moral and allegorical interpretations of that sacred book, in such a manner as to reduce into one body the most excellent principles of morality, and also of an interior life, of both which this admirable work hath been ever since regarded as the great storehouse and armory. Out of it St. Isidore, St. Thomas, and other masters of those holy sciences have chiefly drawn their sublime maxims. Mauritius having married the daughter of Tiberius, in 582, who had the empire for her dowry, St. Gregory was pitched upon to stand godfather to his eldest son. Eutychius was at that time patriarch of Constantinople. This prelate, having suffered for the faith under Justinian, fell at length into an error, importing, that after the general resurrection the glorified bodies of the elect will be no longer palpable, but of a more subtile texture than air. This error he couched in a certain book which he wrote. St. Gregory was alarmed, and held several conferences with the patriarch upon that subject, both in private and before the emperor, and clearly demonstrated from the scriptures, that the glorified bodies of the saints will be the same which they had on earth, only delivered from the appendices of mortality; and that they will be palpable as that of Christ was after his resurrection. The good bishop being docile and humble, retracted his mistake, and shortly after falling sick, in presence of the emperor, who had honored him with a visit, taking hold of his skin with his hand, said: “I profess the belief that we shall all rise in this very flesh.”
Pope Pelagius recalled St. Gregory in 584. He brought with him to Rome an arm of St. Andrew, and the head of St. Luke, which the emperor had given him. He placed both these relics in his monastery of St. Andrew, where the former remains to this day; but the latter has been removed thence to St. Peter's, where it still continues. The saint with joy saw himself restored to the tranquillity of his cell, where he eagerly desired to bury himself with regard to the world, from which he had fled naked into this secure harbor; because, as he signified to St. Leander, he saw how difficult a thing it is to converse with the world without contracting inordinate attachments. Pope Pelagius also made him his secretary. He still continued to govern his monastery, in which he showed a remarkable instance of severity. Justus, one of his monks, had acquired and kept privately three pieces of gold, which he confessed on his death-bed. St. Gregory forbade the community to attend and pray by his bedside, according to custom; but could not refuse him the assistance of a priest, which the council of Nice ordained that no one should be deprived of at the hour of death. Justus died in great sentiments of compunction; yet, in compliance with what the monastic discipline enjoins in such cases, in imitation of what St. Macarius had prescribed on the like occasion, he ordered his corpse to be buried under the dunghill, and the three pieces of money to be thrown into the grave with it. Nevertheless, as he died penitent, he ordered mass to be daily offered up for him during thirty days. St. Gregory says, that after the mass of the thirtieth day, Justus, appearing to his brother Copiosus, assured him that he had been in torments, but was then released. Pope Pelagius II dying in the beginning of the great pestilence, in January, 590, the clergy, senate, and Roman people unanimously agreed to choose St. Gregory for their bishop, although he opposed his election with all his power. It was then the custom at the election of a pope to consult the emperor as the head of the senate and people. Our saint, trusting to his friendship with Mauritius, to whose son he stood godfather, wrote to him privately to conjure him not to approve of this choice. He wrote also with great earnestness to John, patriarch of Constantinople, and to other powerful friends in that city, begging them to employ their interest with the emperor for that purpose: but complains in several letters afterwards that they had all refused to serve him. The governor of Rome intercepted his letters to the emperor, and sent others to him, in the name of the senate and people, to the contrary effect. In the mean time, the plague continued to rage at Rome with great violence; and, while the people waited for the emperor's answer, St. Gregory took occasion from their calamities to exhort them to repentance. Having made them a pathetic sermon on that subject, he appointed a solemn litany, or procession, in seven companies, with a priest at the head of each, who were to march from different churches, and all to meet in that of St. Mary Major; singing Kyrie Eleison as they went along the streets. During this procession there died in one hour's time fourscore of those who assisted at it. But St. Gregory did not forbear to exhort the people, and to pray till such time as the distemper ceased. During the public calamity, St. Gregory seemed to have forgot the danger he was in of being exalted to the pontifical throne; for he feared as much to lose the security of his poverty as the most avaricious can do to lose their treasures. He had been informed that his letters to Constantinople had been intercepted; wherefore, not being able to go out of the gates of Rome, where guards were placed, he prevailed with certain merchants to carry him off disguised, and shut up in a wicker basket. Three days he lay concealed in the woods and caverns, during which time the people of Rome observed fasts and prayers. Being miraculously discovered [by a pillar of fire shining over the place], and no longer able, as he says himself, to resist, after the manifestations of the divine will, he was taken, brought back to Rome with great acclamations, and consecrated on the 3d of September, in 590. In this ceremony he was conducted, according to custom, to the Confession of St. Peter, as his tomb is called; where he made a profession of his faith, which is still extant in his works. He sent also to the other patriarchs a synodal epistle, in which was contained the profession of his faith. In it he declares, that he received the four general councils as the four gospels. He received congratulatory letters upon his exaltation; to all which he returned for answer rather tears than words, in the most feeling sentiments of profound humility. To Theoctista, the emperor's sister, he wrote thus: “I have lost the comfort of my calm, and, appearing to be outwardly exalted, I am inwardly and really fallen.—My endeavors were to banish corporeal objects from my mind, that I might spiritually behold heavenly joys. Neither desiring nor fearing any thing in the world, I seemed raised above the earth, but the storm had cast me on a sudden into alarms and fears: I am come into the depth of the sea, and the tempest hath drowned me.” He adds: “The emperor hath made an ape to be called a lion; but cannot make him become one.” In his letter to Narses, the patrician, he says: “I am so overcome with grief, that I am scarce able to speak. My mind is encompassed with darkness. All that the world thinks agreeable, brings to me trouble and affliction.” To St. Leander he writes: “I remember with tears that I have lost the calm harbor of my repose, and with many a sigh I look upon the firm land which I cannot reach. If you love me, assist me with your prayers.” He often invites others to weep with him, and conjures them to pray for him. John, archbishop of Ravenna, modestly reprehended his cowardice in endeavoring, by flight, to decline the burden of the pastoral charge. In answer to his censure, and to instruct all pastors, soon after his exaltation, he wrote his incomparable book, On the Pastoral Care, setting forth the dangers, duties, and obligations of that charge, which he calls, from St. Gregory Nazianzen, the art of arts, and science of sciences. So great was the reputation of this performance, as soon as it appeared, that the emperor Mauritius sent to Rome for a copy; and Anastasius, the holy patriarch of Antioch, translated it into Greek. Many popes and councils have exhorted and commanded pastors of souls frequently to read it, and in it, as in a looking-glass, to behold themselves. Our English saints made it always their rule, and king Alfred translated it into the Saxon tongue. In this book we read a transcript of the sentiments and conduct of our excellent pastor. His zeal for the glory of God, and the angelic function of paying him the constant tribute of praise in the church, moved him, in the beginning of his pontificate, to reform the church music. Preaching he regarded as the principal and most indispensable function of every pastor of souls, as it is called by St. Thomas, and was most solicitous to feed his flock with the word of God. His forty homilies on the gospels, which are extant, show that he spoke in a plain and familiar style, and without any pomp of words, but with a surprising eloquence of the heart. The same may be said of his twenty-two homilies on Ezekiel, which he preached while Rome was besieged by the Lombards, in 592. In the nineteenth he, in profound humility, applies to himself, with tears, whatever the prophet spoke against slothful mercenary pastors. Paul the deacon relates, that after the saint's death, Peter the deacon, his most intimate friend, testified that he had seen in a vision, as an emblem of the Holy Ghost, a dove appear on his head, applying his bill to his ear while he was writing on the latter part of Ezekiel.
This great pope always remembered, that, by his station, he was the common father of the poor. He relieved their necessities with so much sweetness and affability, as to spare them the confusion of receiving the alms; and the old men among them he, out of deference, called his fathers. He often entertained several of them at his own table. He kept by him an exact catalogue of the poor, called by the ancients matriculӕ; and he liberally provided for the necessities of each. In the beginning of every month he distributed to all the poor, corn, wine, pulse, cheese, fish, flesh, and oil: he appointed officers for every street to send every day necessaries to all the needy sick; before he ate he always sent off meats from his own table to some poor persons. One day a beggar being found dead in a corner of a by-street, he is said to have abstained some days from the celebration of the divine mysteries, condemning himself of a neglect in seeking the poor with sufficient care. He entertained great numbers of strangers both at Rome and in other countries, and had every day twelve at his own table whom his sacristan invited. He was most liberal in redeeming captives taken by the Lombards, for which he permitted the bishop of Fano to break and sell the sacred vessels, and ordered the bishop of Messana to do the same. He extended his charity to the heretics, whom he sought to gain by mildness. He wrote to the bishop of Naples to receive and reconcile readily those who desired it, taking upon his own soul the danger, lest he should be charged with their perdition if they should perish by too great severity. Yet he was careful not to give them an occasion of triumphing by any unreasonable condescension; and much more not to relax the severity of the law of God in the least tittle. He showed great moderation to the schismatics of Istria, and to the very Jews. When Peter, bishop of Terracina, had taken from the latter their synagogue, St. Gregory ordered it to be restored to them, saying, they are not to be compelled, but converted by meekness and charity. He repeated the same orders for the Jews of Sardinia, and for those of Sicily. In his letters to his vicar in Sicily, and to the stewards of the patrimony of the Roman church in Africa, Italy, and other places, he reconmends mildness and liberality towards his vassals and farmers; orders money to be advanced to those that were in distress, which they might repay by little and little, and most rigorously forbids any to be oppressed. He carefully computed and piously distributed the income of his revenues at four terms in the year. In his epistles, we find him continually providing for the necessities of all churches, especially of those in Italy, which the wars of the Lombards and other calamities had made desolate. Notwithstanding his meekness and condescension, his courage was undaunted, and his confidence in the divine assistance unshaken amidst the greatest difficulties. “You know me,” says he,” “and that I tolerate a long while; but when I have once determined to bear no longer, I go with joy against all dangers.” Out of sincere humility he styled himself “the basest of men, devoured by sloth and laziness.” Writing to St. Leander, he says, he always desired to be the contempt of men and the outcast of the people. He declares, “I am ready to be corrected by all persons, and him only do I look upon as my friend by whose tongue I learn to wash away the stains of my mind.” He subscribed himself in all his letters, Servant of the servants of God, which custom has been retained by his successors. Indeed, what is a pastor or superior but the servant of those for whom he is to give a rigorous account to God? The works of St. Gregory were everywhere received with the greatest applause. Marinianus, archbishop of Ravenna, read his comments on Job to the people in the church. The saint was afflicted and confounded that his writings should be thought to deserve a place among the approved works of the fathers; and wrote to that prelate that his book was not proper for the church, admonishing him rather to read St. Austin on the psalms. He was no less dead to himself in his great actions, and all other things. He saw nothing in himself but imperfections, and subjects of confusion and humiliation.
It is incredible how much he wrote, and, during the thirteen years that he governed the church, what great things he achieved for the glory of God, the good of the church, the reformation of manners, the edification of the faithful, the relief of the poor, the comfort of the afflicted, the establishment of ecclesiastical discipline, and the advancement of piety and religion. But our surprise redoubles upon us, when we remember his continual bad state of health and frequent sicknesses, and his assiduity in prayer and holy contemplation; though this exercise it was that gave always wings to his soul. In his own palace he would allow of no furniture but what was mean and simple, nor have any attendants near his person but clergymen or monks of approved virtue, learning, and prudence. His household was a model of Christian perfection; and by his care, arts, sciences, and the heroic practice of piety, flourished, especially in the city of Rome. The state of Christendom was at that time on every side miserably distracted, and stood in need of a pastor, whose extraordinary sanctity, abilities, and courage should render him equal to every great enterprise. And such a one was Gregory. The eastern churches were wretchedly divided and shattered by the Nestorians, and the numerous spawn of the Eutychians, all which he repressed. In the west, England was buried in idolatry, and Spain, under the Visigoths, was overrun with the Arian heresy. These two flourishing countries owe their conversion, in a great measure, to his zeal, especially the former. In Africa he extirpated the Donatists, converted many schismatics in Istria and the neighboring provinces; and reformed many grievous abuses in Gaul, whence he banished simony, which had almost universally infected that church. A great part of Italy was become a prey to the Lombards, who were partly Arians, partly idolaters. St. Gregory often stopped the fury of their arms, and checked their oppressions of the people: by his zeal he also brought over many to the Catholic faith, and had the comfort to see Agilulph, their king, renounce the Arian heresy to embrace it. In 592, Romanus, exarch, or governor of Italy for the emperor, with a view to his own private interest, perfidiously broke the solemn treaty which he had made with the Lombards, and took Perugia and several other towns. But the barbarians, who were much the stronger, revenged this insult with great cruelty, and besieged Rome itself. St. Gregory neglected nothing to protect the oppressed, and raised troops for the defence of several places. At length, by entreaties and great presents, he engaged the Lombards to retire into their own territories. He reproved the exarch for his breach of faith, but to no other effect than to draw upon himself the indignation of the governor and his master. Such were the extortions and injustices of this and other imperial officers, that the yoke of the barbarians was lighter than the specious shadow of liberty under the tyranny of the empire: and with such rigor were the heaviest taxes levied, that to pay them, many poor inhabitants of Corsica were forced to sell their own children to the barbarians. These oppressions cried to heaven for vengeance: and St. Gregory wrote boldly to the empress Constantina, entreating that the emperor, though he should be a loser by it, would not fill his exchequer by oppressing his people, nor suffer taxes to be levied by iniquitous methods, which would be an impediment to his eternal salvation. He sent to this empress a brandeum, or veil, which had touched the bodies of the apostles, and assured her that miracles had been wrought by such relics. He promised to send her also some dust filings of the chains of St. Paul; of which relics he makes frequent mention in his epistles. At Cagliari, a certain rich Jew, having been converted to the faith, had seized the synagogue in order to convert it into a church, and had set up in it an image of the Virgin Mary and a cross. Upon the complaint of the other Jews, St. Gregory ordered the synagogue to be restored to them, but that the image and cross should be first removed with due veneration and respect. Writing to Theodelinda, queen of the Lombards, he mentions, that he sent her son, the young king, a little cross, in which was a particle of the wood of the true Cross, to carry about his neck. Secundinus, a holy hermit near Ravenna, godfather to this young king, begged of the pope some devout pictures. St. Gregory, in his answer, says: “We have sent you two cloths, containing the picture of God our Saviour, and of Mary the holy Mother of God, and of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, and one cross: also for a benediction, a key which hath been applied to the most holy body of St. Peter, the prince of the apostles, that you may remain defended from the enemy.” But when Serenus, bishop of Marseilles, had broken certain sacred images which some persons lately converted from idolatry honored with their former idolatrous superstitions, St. Gregory commended his zeal for suppressing this abuse, but reproved him for breaking the images. When the archbishop of Ravenna used the pallium, not only at mass, but also in other functions, St. Gregory wrote him a severe reprimand, telling him that no ornament shines so bright on the shoulders of a bishop as humility. He extended his pastoral zeal and solicitude over all churches; and he frequently takes notice that the care of the churches of the whole world was intrusted to St. Peter, and his successors in the see of Rome. This authority he exerted in the oriental patriarchates. A certain monk having been accused of Manicheism, and beaten by the order of John the patriarch of Constantinople, appealed to pope Gregory, who sharply reprimanded the patriarch, exhorting him to eject a certain wicked young man by whom he suffered himself to be governed, and to do penance, and telling him: “If you do not keep the canons, I know not who you are.” He absolved the monk, with his colleague, a priest, reestablished them in their monastery, and sent them back into the East, having received their profession of faith. He also absolved John, a priest of Chalcedon, who had been unjustly condemned by the delegates of the patriarch. This patriarch, John, surnamed the Faster, usurped the arrogant title of œcumenical, or universal patriarch. This epithet was only used of a general council which represents the whole church. In this sense an œcumenical bishop should mean a bishop who represents the whole church, so that all other bishops are only his vicars. St. Gregory took the word in that sense: which would be blasphemy and heresy, and as such he condemned it. John indeed only meant it in a limited sense for an archbishop over many, as we call him a general who commands many; but even so it savored of arrogance and novelty. In opposition to this, St. Gregory took no other titles than those of humility. Gregoria, a lady of the bedchamber to the empress, being troubled with scruples, wrote to St. Gregory, that she should never be at ease till he should obtain of God, by a revelation, an assurance that her sins were forgiven her. To calm her disturbed mind, he sent her the following answer. “You ask what is both difficult and unprofitable. Difficult, because I am unworthy to receive any revelation: unprofitable, because an absolute assurance of your pardon does not suit your state till you can no longer weep for your sins. You ought always to fear and tremble for them, and wash them away by daily tears. Paul had been taken up to the third heaven, yet trembled lest he should become a reprobate.—Security is the mother of negligence.”
The emperor forbade any to be admitted in monasteries, who, having been in office, had not yet given up their accounts, or who were engaged in the military service. This order he sent to each of the patriarchs, to be by them notified to all the bishops of their respective districts. St. Gregory, who was at that time sick, complied with the imperial mandate, so far as to order the edict to be signified to the western bishops,” as appears from a letter which he wrote to the emperor as soon as his health was re-established. We learn from another letter, which he wrote some years after to the bishops of the empire, that, on this occasion, he exhorted the bishops to comply with the first part, and as to the second, not to suffer persons engaged in the army to be admitted among the clergy or to the monastic habit, unless their vocation had been thoroughly tried for the space of three years, that it might be evident they were converted from the world, and sought not to change one kind of secular life for another. He made to Mauritius the strongest remonstrances against this edict, saying, “It is not agreeable to God, seeing by it the way to heaven was shut to several; for many cannot be saved unless they forsake all things.” He, therefore, entreated the emperor to mitigate this law, approving the first article as most just, unless the monastery made itself answerable for the debts of such a person received in it. As to the second, he allows that the motives and sincerity of the conversion of such soldiers are to be narrowly examined before they ought to be admitted to the monastic habit. Mauritius, who had before conceived certain prejudices against St. Gregory, was offended at his remonstrances, and showed his resentment against him for some years, but at length agreed to the mitigations of each article proposed by St. Gregory: which the holy pope, with great pleasure, notified by a letter addressed to the bishops of the empire.”
The emperor Mauritius, having broken his league with the Avari, a Scythian nation, then settled on the banks of the Danube, was defeated, and obliged to purchase an ignominious peace. He also refused to ransom the prisoners they had taken, though they asked at first only a golden penny a head, and at last only a sixth part, or four farthings; which refusal so enraged the barbarians, that they put them all to the sword. Mauritius began then to be stung with remorse, gave large alms, and prayed that God would rather punish him in this life than in the next. His prayer was heard. His avarice and extortions had rendered him odious to all his subjects; and, in 602, he ordered the army to take winter quarters in the enemy's country, and to subsist on freebooting, without pay. The soldiers, exasperated at this treatment, chose one Phocas, a daring ambitious man, to be their leader, and marched to Constantinople, where he was crowned emperor. Mauritius had made his escape, but was taken with his family thirty miles out of the city, and brought back. His five sons were slain before his eyes at Chalcedon: he repeated all the while as a true penitent these words: “Thou art just, O Lord, and thy judgments are righteous.” When the nurse offered her own child instead of his youngest, he would not suffer it. Last of all he himself was massacred, after a reign of twenty years. His empress, Constantina, was confined with her three daughters, and murdered with them a few months after. The tyrant was slain by Heraclius, governor of Africa, after a tottering reign of eight years. When Phocas mounted the throne, his images were received and set up at Rome: nor could St. Gregory, for the sake of the public good, omit writing to him letters of congratulation. In them he makes some compliments to Phocas, which are not so much praises as respectful exhortations to a tyrant in power, and wishes of the public liberty, peace, and happiness. The saint nowhere approved his injustices or tyranny, though he regarded him, like Jehu, as the instrument of God to punish other sinners. He blamed Mauritius, but in things truly blameable; and drew from his punishment a seasonable occasion of wholesome advice which he gave to Phocas, whom the public safety of all Italy obliged him not to exasperate.
This holy pope had labored many years under a great weakness of his breast and stomach, and was afflicted with slow fevers, and frequent fits of the gout, which once confined him to his bed two whole years. On the 25th of January, 604, he gave to the church of St. Paul several parcels of land to furnish it with lights: the act of donation remains to this day engraved on a marble stone in the same church. God called him to himself on the 12th of March, the same year, about the sixty-fourth of his age, after he had governed the church thirteen years, six months, and ten days. His pallium, the reliquary which he wore about his neck, and his girdle, were preserved long after his death, when John the deacon wrote, who describes his picture drawn from the life, then to be seen in the monastery of St. Andrew. His holy remains rest in the Vatican church. Both the Greek and Latins honor his name. The council of Clif, or Cloveshove, under archbishop Cuthbert, in 747, commanded his feast to be observed a holyday in all the monasteries in England; which the council of Oxford, in 1222, extended to the whole kingdom. This law subsisted till the change of religion.
Every superior, who is endued with the sincere spirit of humility and charity, looks upon himself with this great hope, as the servant of all, bound to labor and watch night and day, to bear every kind of affront, to suffer all manner of pains, to do all in his power, to put on every shape, and sacrifice his own ease and life to procure the spiritual improvement of the least of those who are committed to his charge. He is incapable of imperious haughtiness, which alienates the minds of inferiors, and renders their obedience barely exterior and a forced hypocrisy. His commands are tender entreaties, and if he is obliged to extend his authority, this he does with secret repugnance, losing sight of himself, intent only on God's honor and his neighbor's salvation, placing himself in spirit beneath all his subjects, and all mankind, and esteeming himself the last of all creatures. St. Paul, though vested with the most sublime authority, makes use of terms so mild and so powerfully ravishing, that they must melt the hardest heart. Instead of commanding in the name of God, see how he usually expresses himself: “I entreat you, O Timothy, by the love which you bear me. I conjure you, by the bowels of Jesus Christ. I beseech you, by the meekness of Christ. If you love me, do this.” And see how he directs us to reprove those who sin: “If any one should fall, do you who are spiritual remind him in that spirit of meekness, remembering that you may also fall,” and into a more grievous crime. St. Peter, who had received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, shed more tears of tender charity than he speaks words. What heart can be so savage and unnatural, as to refuse to obey him who, having authority to lay injunctions, and thunder out anathemas, weeps instead of commanding. If SS. Peter and Paul pour out the water of tears and mildness, St. John casts darts of fire into the hearts of those whom he commands. “My little children,” says he, “if you love Christ, do this. I conjure you, by Christ, our good Master, love affectionately, and this is enough. Love will teach you what to do. The unction of the Holy Ghost will instruct you.” This is the true spirit of governing; a method sure to gain the hearts of others, and to inspire them with a love of the precept itself and of virtue. St. Macarius of Egypt was styled the god of the monks, so affectionately and readily was he obeyed by them, because he never spoke a word with anger or impatience. Moses was chosen by God to be the leader and legislator of his people, because he was the meekest of men: and with what astonishing patience did he bear the murmurs and rebellions of an ungrateful and stiff-necked people! David's meekness towards Saul and others purchased him the crown, and was one of the principal virtues by which he was rendered a king according to God's own heart. Those who command with imperious authority show they are puffed up with the empty wind of pride, which makes them feel an inordinate pleasure in the exercise of power, the seed of tyranny, and the bane of virtue in their souls. Anger and impatience, which are more dangerous, because usually canonized under the name of zeal, demonstrate persons to be very ill-qualified for governing others, who are not masters of themselves or their own passions. How few are so crucified to themselves, and so perfectly grounded in humility, patience, meekness, and charity, that power and authority infect not their souls with the deadly poison of secret pride, or in whom no hurry, importunity, or perverseness can extinguish the spirit of meekness, in which, in all occurrences, they preserve the same evenness of mind, and the same angelical sweetness of countenance. Yet with this they are sons of thunder in resisting evil, and in watching against all the artifices of the most subtle and flattering passions of sinners, and are firm and inflexible in opposing every step towards any dangerous relaxation. St. Gregory, by his whole conduct, sets us an example of this perfect humility and meekness, which he requires as an essential qualification in every pastor, and in all who are placed over others. He no less excelled in learning, with which, he says, that humility must be accompanied, lest the pastor should lead others astray. But above all other qualities for the pastoral charge, he requires an eminent gift of prayer and contemplation.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Septuagesima, Edition 1870;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. I, 1903; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
Pope St. Gregory I, pray for us.
March 10, 2019: COMMEMORATION OF THE FORTY HOLY MARTYRS
“Forty have we entered on the battle; let us, O Lord, receive Forty Crowns, and suffer not our number to be broken. The number is an honoured one, for thou didst fast for forty days, and the divine law was given to the world after the same number of days was observed. Elias, too, sought God by a forty days’ fast, and was permitted to see him.”
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that as we have seen the courage of thy holy martyrs, in the confession of thy faith, we may experience their kindness in interceding with thee for us. 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.
We know the mystery of the number Forty. This tenth of March brings it before us. Forty new advocates! Forty encouraging us to enter bravely on our career of Penance! On the frozen pool, which was their field of battle, these Martyrs reminded one another that Jesus had fasted for Forty Days, and that they themselves were Forty in number! Let us, in our turn, compare their sufferings with the Lenten exercises which the Church imposes upon us; and humble ourselves in seeing our cowardice; or, if we begin with fervour, let us remember, that the grand thing is to be faithful to the end, and bring to the Easter Solemnity the crown of our perseverance. Our Forty Martyrs patiently endured the cruelest tortures; the fear of God, and their deeprooted conviction that he had an infinite claim to their fidelity, gave them the victory. How many times we have sinned, and had not such severe temptations as theirs to palliate our fall? How can we sufficiently bless that Divine mercy, which spared us, instead of abandoning us as he did that poor apostate, who turned coward and was lost! But, on what condition did God spare us? That we should not spare ourselves, but do penance. He put into our hands the rights of his own Justice; Justice, then, must be satisfied, and we must exercise it against ourselves. The Lives of the Saints will be of great help to us in this, for they will teach us how we are to look upon sin, how to avoid it, and how strictly we are bound to do penance for it, after having committed it.
The Church in her Liturgy, thus relates to us the martyrdom of the Soldiers of Sebaste.
During the reign of the Emperor Licinius, and under the presidency of Agricolaus, the city of Sebaste, in Armenia, was honoured by being made the scene of the martyrdom of forty soldiers, whose faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and patience in bearing tortures, were so glorious. After having been frequently confined in a horrid dungeon, shackled with chains, and having had their faces beaten with stones, they were condemned to pass a most bitter winter night in the open air, and on a frozen pool, that they might be frozen to death. When there, they united in this prayer: “Forty have we entered on the battle; let us, O Lord, receive Forty Crowns, and suffer not our number to be broken. The number is an honoured one, for thou didst fast for forty days, and the divine law was given to the world after the same number of days was observed. Elias, too, sought God by a forty days’ fast, and was permitted to see him.” Thus did they pray.
All the guards, except one, were asleep. He overheard their prayer, and saw them encircled with light, and Angels coming down from heaven, like messengers sent by a King, who distributed crowns to thirty-nine of the soldiers. Whereupon, he thus said to himself: “There are forty men; where is the fortieth crown? Whilst thus pondering, one of the number lost his courage; he could bear the cold no longer, and threw himself into a warm bath, which had been put near at hand. His saintly companions were exceedingly grieved at this. But God would not suffer their prayer to be void. The sentinel, astonished at what he had witnessed, went immediately and awoke the guards; then, taking off his garments, he cried out, with a loud voice, that he was a Christian, and associated himself with the Martyrs. No sooner did the governor's guards perceive that the sentinel had also declared himself to be a Christian, than they approached the Martyrs, and, with clubs, broke their legs.
All died under this torture except Melitho, who was the youngest of the forty. His mother, who was present, seeing that he was still living after his legs were broken, thus encouraged him: “My son, be patient yet awhile. Lo! Christ is at the door, helping thee.” But, as soon as she saw the other bodies being placed on carts, that they might be thrown on the pile, and her son left behind (for the impious men hoped, that, if the boy survived, he might be induced to worship the idols,) she lifted him up into her arms, and, summing up all her strength, ran after the waggons, on which the Martyrs' bodies were being carried. Melithon died in his mother's arms, and the holy woman threw his body on the pile, where the other martyrs were, that as he had been so united with them in faith and courage, he might be one with them in burial, and go to heaven in their company. As soon as the bodies were burnt, the pagans threw what remained into a river. The relics miraculously flowed to one and the same place, just as they were when they were taken from the pile. The Christians took them, and respectfully buried them.
A detailed account of the trial of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste.
These holy martyrs suffered at Sebaste, in the Lesser Armenia, under the emperor Licinius, in 320. They were of different countries, but enrolled in the same troop; all in the flower of their age, comely, brave, and robust, and were become considerable for their services. St. Gregory of Nyssa and Procopius say, they were of the thundering legion, so famous under Marcus Aurelius for the miraculous rain and victory obtained by their prayers. This was the twelfth legion, and then quartered in Armenia. Lysias was duke or general of the forces, and Agricola the governor of the province. The latter having signified to the army the orders of the emperor Licinius, for all to sacrifice, these forty went boldly up to him, and said they were Christians, and that no torments should make them ever abandon their holy religion. The judge first endeavored to gain them by mild usage; as by representing to them the dishonor that would attend their refusal to do what was required, and by making them large promises of preferment and high favor with the emperor in case of compliance. Finding these methods of gentleness ineffectual, he had recourse to threats, and these the most terrifying, if they continued disobedient to the emperor's order, but all in vain. To his promises they answered, that he could give them nothing equal to what he would deprive them of: and to his threats, that his power only extended over their bodies, which they had learned to despise when their souls were at stake. The governor, finding them all resolute, caused them to be torn with whips, and their sides to be rent with iron hooks. After which they were loaded with chains, and committed to jail.
After some days, Lysias, their governor, coming from Cӕsarea to Sebaste, they were re-examined, and no less generously rejected the large promises made them than they despised the torments they were threatened with. The governor, highly offended at their courage, and that liberty of speech with which they accosted him, devised an extraordinary kind of death; which being slow and severe, he hoped would shake their constancy. The cold in Armenia is very sharp, especially in March, and towards the end of winter, when the wind is north, as it then was; it being also at that time a severe frost. Under the walls of the town stood a pond, which was frozen so hard that it would bear walking upon with safety. The judge ordered the saints to be exposed quite naked on the ice. And in order to tempt them the more powerfully to renounce their faith, a warm bath was prepared at a small distance from the frozen pond, for any of this company to go to, who were disposed to purchase their temporal ease and safety on that condition. The martyrs, on hearing their sentence, ran joyfully to the place, and without waiting to be stripped, undressed themselves, encouraging one another in the same manner as is usual among soldiers in military expeditions attended with hardships and dangers, saying, that one bad night would purchase them a happy eternity. They also made this their joint prayer: “Lord, we are forty who are engaged in this combat; grant that we may be forty crowned, and that not one be wanting to this sacred number.” The guards in the mean time ceased not to persuade them to sacrifice, that by so doing they might be allowed to pass to the warm bath. But though it is not easy to form a just idea of the bitter pain they must have undergone, of the whole number only one had the misfortune to be overcome; who, losing courage, went off from the pond to seek the relief in readiness for such as were disposed to renounce their faith: but as the devil usually deceives his adorers, the apostate no sooner entered the warm water but he expired. This misfortune afflicted the martyrs; but they were quickly comforted by seeing his place and their number miraculously filled up. A sentinel was warming himself near the bath, having been posted there to observe if any of the martyrs were inclined to submit. While he was attending, he had a vision of blessed spirits descending from heaven on the martyrs, and distributing, as from their king, rich presents, and precious garments, St. Ephrem adds crowns, to all these generous soldiers, one only excepted, who was their faint-hearted companion, already mentioned. The guard, being struck with the celestial vision and the apostate's desertion, was converted upon it; and by a particular motion of the Holy Ghost, threw off his clothes, and placed himself in his stead among the thirty-nine martyrs. Thus God heard their request, though in another manner than they imagined: “Which ought to make us adore the impenetrable secrets of his mercy and justice,” says St. Ephrem, “in this instance, no less than in the reprobation of Judas, and the election of St. Matthias.”
In the morning the judge ordered both those that were dead with the cold, and those that were still alive, to be laid on carriages, and cast into a fire. When the rest were thrown into a wagon to be carried to the pile, the youngest of them (whom the acts call Melito) was found alive; and the executioners, hoping he would change his resolution when he came to himself, left him behind. His mother, a woman of mean condition, and a widow, but rich in faith, and worthy to have a son a martyr, observing this false compassion, reproached the executioners; and when she came up to her son, whom she found quite frozen, not able to stir, and scarce breathing, he looked on her with languishing eyes, and made a little sign with his weak hand to comfort her. She exhorted him to persevere to the end, and, fortified by the Holy Ghost, took him up, and put him with her own hands into the wagon with the rest of the martyrs, not only without shedding a tear, but with a countenance full of joy, saying, courageously: “Go, go, son, proceed to the end of this happy journey with thy companions, that thou mayest not be the last of them that shall present themselves before God.” Nothing can be more inflamed or more pathetic than the discourse which St. Ephrem puts into her mouth, by which he expresses her contempt of life and all earthly things, and her ardent love and desire of eternal life. This holy father earnestly entreats her to conjure this whole troop of martyrs to join in imploring the divine mercy in favor of his sinful soul. Their bodies were burned, and their ashes thrown into the river; but the Christians secretly carried off, or purchased part of them with money. Some of these precious relics were kept at Cӕsarea, and St. Basil says of them: “Like bulwarks, they are our protection against the inroads of enemies.” He adds, that every one implored their succor, and that they raised up those that had fallen, strengthened the weak, and invigorated the fervor of the saints. SS. Basil and Emmelia, the holy parents of St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Peter of Sebaste, and St. Macrina, procured a great share of these relics. St. Emmelia put some of them in the church she built near Anneses, the village where they resided. The solemnity with which they were received was extraordinary, and they were honored by miracles, as St. Gregory relates. One of these was a miraculous cure wrought on a lame soldier, the truth of which he attests from his own knowledge, both of the fact and the person, who published it everywhere. He adds: “I buried the bodies of my parents by the relics of these holy martyrs, that in the resurrection they may rise with the encouragers of their faith; for I know they have great power with God, of which I have seen clear proofs and undoubted testimonies.” St. Gaudentius, bishop of Brescia, writes in his sermon on these martyrs: “God gave me a share of these venerable relics, and granted me to found this church in their honor.” He says, that the two nieces of St. Basil, both abbesses, gave them to him as he passed by Cӕsarea, in a journey to Jerusalem; which venerable treasure they had received from their uncle. Portions of their relics were also carried to Constantinople, and there honored with great veneration, as Sozomen and Procopius have recorded at large, with an account of several visions and miracles, which attended the veneration paid to them in that city.
Though we are not all called to the trial of martyrdom, we are all bound daily to fight and to conquer too. By multiplied victories which we gain over our passions and spiritual enemies, by the exercise of meekness, patience, humility, purity, and all other virtues, we shall render our triumph complete, and attain to the crown of bliss. But are we not confounded at our sloth in our spiritual warfare, when we look on the conflicts of the martyrs? “The eloquence of the greatest orators, and the wisdom of the philosophers were struck dumb: the very tyrants and judges stood amazed, and were not able to find words to express their admiration, when they beheld the faith, the cheerfulness and constancy of the holy martyrs in their sufferings. But what excuse shall we allege in the tremendous judgment, who, without meeting with such cruel persecution and torments, are so remiss and slothful in maintaining the spiritual life of our souls, and the charity of God! What shall we do in that terrible day, when the holy martyrs, placed near the throne of God, with great confidence shall display their glorious scars, the proofs of their fidelity? What shall we then show? shall we produce our love for God? true faith? a disengagement of our affections from earthly things souls freed from the tyranny of the passions? retirement and peace of mind? Meekness? alms-deeds and compassion? holy and pure prayer? sincere compunction? watching and tears? Happy shall he be whom these works shall attend. He shall then be the companion of the martyrs, and shall appear with the same confidence before Christ and his angels. We beseech you, O most holy martyrs, who cheerfully suffered torments and death for his love, and are now more familiarly united to him, that you intercede with God for us slothful and wretched sinners, that he bestow on us the grace of Christ, by which we may be enlightened and enabled to love him.”
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Septuagesima, Edition 1870;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. I, 1903; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
Ye Forty Holy Martyrs, pray for us.