May 12, 2020: SS. NEREUS, ACHILLEUS, DOMITILLA, AND PANCRAS
May 12, 2020: SS. NEREUS, ACHILLEUS, DOMITILLA (VIRGIN), AND PANCRAS, MARTYRS
Come in, ye Saints of God! for a dwelling hath been prepared for you by the Lord. The faithful people have followed you on your way, that ye may intercede for them with the Majesty of the Lord. Alleluia!
May the blessed solemnity of thy Martyrs, Nereus, Achilleus, Domitilla, and Pancratius, we beseech thee, O Lord, afford us comfort, and make us worthy to serve thee. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in unity of the Holy Ghost, God, World without end. Amen.
So far in our Paschal Season, the choir of Martyr-Virgins has not yet offered to Jesus its crown of roses and lilies. It does so to-day, by presenting to him the noble Flavia Domitilla,—the fairest flower of Rome, that was cut down by the sword of martyrdom in the first age of the Christian Faith. It was under the persecution of Domitian,—the same that condemned John the Evangelist to be burned alive in the caldron of boiling oil,—that Flavia Domitilla was honoured with banishment and death, for the sake of our Redeemer, whom she had chosen as her Spouse. She was of the Imperial family, being a niece of Flavius Clemens, who adorned the Consular dignity by martyrdom. She was one of the Christians belonging to the court of the Emperor Domitian, who show us how rapidly the Religion of the poor and humble made its way to the highest classes of Roman life. A few years previous to this, St. Paul sent to the Christians of Philippi the greetings of the Christians of Nero's palace (Philipp, iv. 22). There is still extant, not far from Rome, on the Ardeatine Way, the magnificent subterraneous Cemetery, which Flavia Domitilla ordered to be dug on her Prӕdium, and in which were buried the two Martyrs, Nereus and Achilleus, whom the Church honours to-day together with the noble Virgin, who owes her crown to them.
Nereus and Achilleus were in Domitilla's service. Hearing them one day speaking on the merit of Virginity, she there and then bade farewell to all worldly pleasures, and aspired to the honour of being the Spouse of Christ. She received the Veil of consecrated Virgins from the hands of Pope St. Clement: Nereus and Achilleus had been baptised by St. Peter himself. What glorious reminiscences for one day!
The bodies of these three Saints reposed, for several centuries, in the Basilica, called the Fasciola, on the Appian Road; and we have a Homily, which St. Gregory the Great preached in this Church, on their Feast. The holy Pontiff dwelt on the vanity of this earth's goods; he encouraged his audience to despise them by the example of the three Martyrs, whose Relics lay under the very Altar, around which they were that day assembled. “These Saints,” said he, “before whose Tomb we are now standing, trampled, with contempt of soul, on the world and its flowers. Life was then long, health was uninterrupted, riches were abundant, parents were blessed with many children; and yet, though the world was so flourishing in itself, it had long been a withered thing in their hearts.”
Later on, the Fasciola having been almost reduced to ruins, by the disasters that had befallen Rome, the bodies of the three Saints were translated, in the 13th Century, to the Church of St. Adrian, in the Forum. There they remained till the close of the 16th Century, when the great Baronius, who had been raised to the Cardinalate, with the Title of Saints Nereus and Achilleus, resolved to repair the Church that was thus intrusted to his care. Through his munificence, the naves were restored; the history of the three Martyrs was painted on the walls; the marble pulpit, from which St. Gregory preached the Homily, was brought back, and the Homily itself was graven, from beginning to end, on the back; and the Confession was enriched with mosaics and precious marbles, preparatory to its receiving the sacred Relics, of which it had been deprived for three hundred years.
Baronius felt that it was high time to put an end to the long exile of the holy Martyrs, whose honour was now made so specially dear to him. He organised a formal triumph for their return. Christian Rome excels in the art of blending together the forms of classic antiquity and the sentiments inspired by Faith. The chariot, bearing a superb canopy, under which lay the Relics of the three Martyrs, was first led to the Capitol. On reaching the top of the clivus Capitolinus, the eye met two Inscriptions, placed parallel with each other. On one, were these words: “To Saint Flavia Domitilla, Virgin and Martyr of Rome, the Capitol, purified from the wicked worship of demons, and restored more perfectly than by Flavins Vespasian and Domitian, Emperors, kinsmen of the Christian Virgin.” On the other: “The Senate and People of Rome to Saint Flavia Domitilla, Virgin and Martyr of Rome, who, by allowing herself to be put to death by fire, for the Faith of Christ, brought greater glory to Rome, than did her kinsmen, the Emperors Flavius Vespasian and Domitian, when, at their own expense, they restored the Capitol, that had twice suffered from fire.”
The Reliquaries of the Martyrs were then put on an altar, that had been erected near the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. After being venerated by the Faithful, they were replaced on the chariot, which descended by the opposite side of the Capitol. The Procession soon reached the triumphal arch of Septimus Severus, on which were hung these two inscriptions:
“To the holy Martyrs, Flavia Domitilla, Nereus and Achilleus, the best of citizens, the Senate and People of Rome, for their having honoured the Roman name by their glorious death, and won peace for the Roman commonwealth by shedding their blood.”
“To Flavia Domitilla, Nereus and Achilleus, the invincible Martyrs of Christ Jesus, the Senate and People of Rome, for their having honoured the City by the noble testimony they bore to the Christian Faith.”
Following the Via Sacra, the Procession was soon in front of the triumphal Arch of Titus, the monument of God's victory over the deicide nation. On one side there were inscribed these words: “This triumphal Arch, formerly dedicated and raised to the Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasian, for his having brought the rebellious Judea under the yoke of the Roman people, is now, by the Senate and People of Rome, more auspiciously dedicated and consecrated to Flavia Domitilla, kinswoman of the same Titus, for having, by her death, increased and furthered the Christian Religion.”
On the other side of the Arch, there was the following inscription: “To Flavia Domitilla, Virgin and Martyr of Rome, kinswoman of the Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasian, the Senate and People of Rome, for her having, by the shedding her blood and laying down her life for the Faith, rendered a more glorious homage to the death of Christ, than did the said Titus, when, by a divine inspiration, he destroyed Jerusalem, to avenge that same Death.”
Leaving on the left the Colisseum,—the hallowed ground whereon so many Martyrs had fought the battle of Faith,—they passed under the triumphal Arch of Constantine, which so eloquently speaks of the victory of Christianity, both in Rome and the Empire, and which still bears on it the name of the Flavia family, of which the first Christian Emperor was a member. The two following inscriptions were attached to the Arch.
“To Flavia Domitilla, Nereus and Achilleus, the Senate and People of Rome. On this Sacred Way,—whereon so many Roman Emperors received triumphal honours for having brought various provinces into subjection to the Roman People,—these Martyrs are receiving to-day a more glorious triumph, for that they conquered, by a greater courage, the conquerors themselves.”
“To Flavia Domitilla, the Senate and People of Rome. Twelve Emperors, her kinsmen, conferred honour on the Flavia family and on Rome herself, by their deeds of fame; but she, by sacrificing all human honours and life itself, for Christ's sake, rendered greater service to both family and City than they.”
The Procession then continued its route along the Appian Way, and at length reached the Basilica. Baronius, assisted by a great number of Cardinals, received the precious Relics, and took them with great respect to the Confession of the High Altar. Meanwhile, the Choir sang this Antiphon of the Pontifical: “Come in, ye Saints of God! for a dwelling hath been prepared for you by the Lord. The faithful people have followed you on your way, that ye may intercede for them with the Majesty of the Lord. Alleluia!”
The following is the account of our three Martyrs, as given in the Liturgy.
Nereus and Achilleus, brothers, were in the service of Flavia Domitilla, and were baptised, together with her and her mother Plautilla, by St. Peter. They persuaded Domitilla to consecrate her virginity to God; in consequence of which, they were accused of being Christians, by Aurelian to whom she was betrothed. They made an admirable confession of their Faith, and were banished to the Isle of Pontia. There they were again examined, and were condemned to be flogged. They were, shortly afterwards, taken to Terracina; and, by orders of Minucius Rufus, were hoisted on the rack and tormented with burning torches. On their resolutely declaring that, having been baptised by blessed Peter the Apostle, no tortures should ever induce them to offer sacrifice to idols, they were beheaded. Their bodies were taken to Rome, by their disciple Auspicius, Domitilla's tutor, and were buried on the Ardeatine Way.
Flavia Domitilla, a Roman lady, and niece of the Emperors Titus and Domitian, received the holy veil of virginity from the blessed Pope Clement. She was accused of being a Christian, by Aurelian, to whom she was promised in marriage, and who was a son of the Consul Titus Aurelius. The Emperor Domitian banished her to the Isle of Pontia, where she suffered a long martyrdom in prison. She was finally taken to Terracina, where she again confessed Christ. Finding that her constancy was not to be shaken, the judge ordered the house where she lodged to be set on fire; and thus she, together with two virgins, her foster-sisters, Theodora and Euphrosyna, completed her glorious martyrdom, on the ninth of the nones of May (May 7th), during the reign of the Emperor Trajan. Their bodies were found entire, and were buried by a Deacon, named Cӕsarius. But this is the day, on which the bodies of the two brothers and that of Domitilla were translated from the Diaconia of Saint Adrian to the Basilica, called Fasciola.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - The Paschal Time, Vol. II, Dublin, Edition 1871; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
Ss. Nereus, Achilleus, Domitilla, and Pancras, pray for us.