January 20, 2021: SS. FABIAN AND SEBASTIAN
January 20, 2021: SS. FABIAN, POPE AND SEBASTIAN, MARTYRS
O Fabian! Thou didst live out the long tempestuous days of thy Pontificate. But thou hadst the presentiment of the peaceful future reserved by God for his Church, and thou didst zealously labour to hand down to the coming generations the great examples of the Martyrs.
O Sebastian, brave Soldier of our Emmanuel! thou art now sweetly reposing at the foot of his throne. Thy wounds are closed, and thy rich palm-branch delights all heaven by the freshness of its unfading beauty.
Have regard , O Lord, we beseech thee, to our weakness, and as we sink under the weight of our own evils, may the glorious intercession of thy blessed Martyrs Fabian and Sebastian protect 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.
Two great Martyrs divide between them the honours of this twentieth day of January:—one, a Pontiff of the Church of Rome; the other, a member of that Mother-Church. Fabian received the crown of martyrdom, in the year 250, under the persecution of Decius; the persecution of Dioclesian crowned Sebastian, in the year 288. We will consider the merits of these two champions of Christ separately.
SAINT FABIAN, POPE AND MARTYR.
St. Fabian, like St. Clement and St. Antheros, two of his predecessors, was extremely zealous in seeing that the Acts of the Martyrs were carefully drawn up. This zeal was no doubt exercised by the clergy in the case of our holy Pontiff himself, and his sufferings and martyrdom were carefully registered; but all these interesting particulars have been lost, in common with an immense number of other precious Acts, which were condemned to the flames, by the Imperial Edicts, during the persecution under Dioclesian. Nothing is now known of the life of St. Fabian, save a few of his actions as Pope; but we may have some idea of his virtues, by the praise given him by St. Cyprian, who, in a letter written to St. Cornelius, the immediate successor of St. Fabian, calls him an incomparable man. The Bishop of Carthage [St. Cyprian] extols the purity and holiness of life of the holy Pontiff, who so peaceably governed the Church amidst all the storms which then assailed her. There is an interesting circumstance related of him by Eusebius. After the death of St. Antheros, the people and clergy of Rome assembled together, for the election of the new Pontiff. Heaven marked out the successor of St. Peter: a dove was seen to rest on the venerable head of Fabian, and he was unanimously chosen. This reminds us of the event in our Lord's Life, which we celebrated a few days back, when standing in the river Jordan, the Dove came down from heaven, and showed him to the people as the Son of God. Fabian was the depository of the power of regeneration, which Jesus, by his Baptism, gave to the element of water; he zealously propagated the Faith of his Divine Master, and, among the Bishops he consecrated for divers places, one or more were sent by him into these western parts of Europe.
We give, at once, the short account of the Acts of St. Fabian, as recorded in the Liturgy.
Fabian, a Roman by birth, governed the Church from the reign of Maximin to that of Decius. He divided the City into seven parts, which he consigned to as many Deacons, and to them he gave the charge of looking after the poor. He created also a like number of Subdeacons, who were to collect the Acts of the Martyrs, written by seven Notaries. It was he decreed, that, every year, on the fifth Feria, our Lord's Supper, the Chrism should be renewed, and the old should be burnt. At length, on the thirteenth of the Calends of February (January 20), he was crowned with martyrdom, in the persecution of Decius, and was buried in the cemetery of Callixtus, on the Appian Way, after reigning fifteen years and four days. He held five ordinations, in the month of December, in which ordinations, he made two and twenty Priests, seven Deacons, and eleven Bishops for divers places.
The dove, which marked thee out as the one chosen by heaven, showed thee to men as the visible Christ on earth; it told thee that thou wert destined for heavy responsibilities and martyrdom; it was a warning to the Church, that she should recognise and hear thee as her guide and teacher. Honoured thus with a resemblance to Jesus in the mystery of his Epiphany, pray to him for us, that he mercifully manifest himself to our mind and heart.
SAINT SEBASTIAN, MARTYR.
At the head of her list of heroes, after the two glorious Apostles Peter and Paul, who form her chief glory—Rome puts her two most valiant Martyrs, Laurence and Sebastian, and her two most illustrious Virgins, Cecily and Agnes. Of these four, two are given us by the Calendar of Christmastide as attendants in the court of the Infant Jesus at Bethlehem. Laurence and Cecily will come to us further on in our year, when other Mysteries will be filling our hearts and the Liturgy: but Christmas calls forth Sebastian and Agnes. To-day, it is the brave soldier of the pretorian band, Sebastian, who stands by the Crib of our Emmanuel; to-morrow, we shall see Agnes, gentle as a lamb, yet fearless as a lion, inviting us to love the sweet Babe, whom she chose for her one only Spouse.
The chivalrous spirit of Sebastian reminds us of the great Archdeacon; both of them, one in the sanctuary, and the other in the world, defied the tortures of death. Burnt on one side, Laurence bids the tyrant roast the other; Sebastian, pierced with his arrows, waits till the gaping wounds are closed, and then runs to his persecutor Dioclesian, asking for a second martyrdom. But, we must forget Laurence to-day, to think of Sebastian.
We must picture to ourselves a young soldier, who tears himself away from all the ties of his home at Milan, because the persecution there was too tame, whereas, at Rome, it was raging in wildest fierceness. He trembles with anxiety at the thought, that, perhaps, some of the Christians, in the Capital, may be losing courage. He has been told that, at times, some of the Emperor's soldiers, who were soldiers also of Christ, have gained admission into the prisons, and have roused up the sinking courage of the confessors. He is resolved to go on the like mission, and, who knows? he may come within reach of a palm himself. He reaches Rome, he is admitted into the prisons, and encourages to martyrdom such as had been shaken by the tears of those who were dear to them. Some of the gaolers, converted by witnessing his faith and his miracles, became Martyrs themselves; and one of the Roman Magistrates asks to be instructed in a religion which can produce such men as this Sebastian. He has won the esteem of the Emperors Dioclesian and Maximian-Hercules for his fidelity and courage as a soldier; they have loaded him with favours; and this gives him an influence in Rome, which he so zealously tarns to the advantage of the Christian religion, that the holy Pope Caius calls him the Defender of the Church.
After sending innumerable martyrs to heaven, Sebastian, at length, wins the crown he had so ardently ambitioned. He incurs the displeasure of Dioclesian by confessing himself a Christian; the heavenly King, for whose sake alone he had put on the helmet and soldier's cloak, was to him above all Emperors and Princes. He is handed over to the archers of Mauritania, who strip him, bind him, and wound him, from head to foot, with their arrows. They left him for dead, but a pious woman, named Irene, took care of him, and his wounds were healed. Sebastian again approaches the Emperor, who orders him to be beaten to death in the circus, near the Imperial Palace.
Such are the Soldiers of our new-born King! but, oh! how richly does he repay them for their service! Rome, the Capital of his Church, is founded on seven Basilicas, as the ancient City was on its seven hills; and the name and tomb of Sebastian grace one of these seven sanctuaries. The Basilica of Sebastian stands in a sort of solitude, on the Appian Way, outside the walls of the Eternal City; it is enriched with the relics of the holy Pope and Martyr Fabian; but Sebastian, the valiant leader of the pretorian guard, is the Patron, and, as it were, the Prince of the holy temple.
It was here that he wished to be buried, as a faithful guardian, near the well wherein the bodies of the holy Apostles had been concealed, lest they should be desecrated by the persecutors. In return for the zeal of St. Sebastian for the souls of his christian brethren, whom he preserved from the contagion of paganism, God has made him the Protector of the Faithful against pestilence. A signal proof of this power granted to the holy Martyr, was given at Rome, in the year 680, under the Pontificate of St. Agatho.
Let us now listen to our holy Mother the Church, who thus speaks of her glorious Martyr, in the Office of his Feast.
Sebastian, whose Father was of Narbonne, and his Mother a lady of Milan, was beloved by Dioclesian on account of his noble birth and his virtues. Being a captain of the pretorian cohort, he was able to give assistance and alms to the christians, whose faith he himself followed, though privately. When he perceived any of them trembling at the great tortures of the persecutors, he made it his duty to encourage them; and so well did he do it, that many would go, and, for the sake of Jesus Christ, would freely offer themselves to the executioners. Of this number were the two brothers Mark and Marcellian, who were in custody under Nicostratus, whose wife, named Zoe, had recovered her speech by the prayer made for her by Sebastian. Dioclesian, being told of these things, summoned Sebastian before him; and after upbraiding him, in very strong words, tried every means to induce him to turn from the faith of Christ. But, finding that neither promises nor threats availed, he ordered him to be tied to a stake, and to be shot to death with arrows.
Every one thought he was dead; and a pious woman named Irene, gave orders that his body should be taken away, during the night, and buried; but she, finding him to be still alive, had him taken to her house, where she took care of him. Not long after, having quite recovered, he went before Dioclesian, and boldly chided him for his wickedness. At first, the Emperor was struck dumb with astonishment at the sight, for he had been told that Sebastian was dead; but, at length, the strange event and the Martyr's sharp rebuke so inflamed him with rage, that he ordered him to be scourged to death with rods. His body was thrown into a sewer, but Lucina was instructed by Sebastian, in her sleep, both as to where his body was, and where he wished to be buried. Accordingly, she buried him at the Catacombs, where, afterwards, a celebrated Church was built, called Saint Sebastian's.
We find the following Prayer in the Gothic Missal.
O God, who, by thy most blessed Martyr Sebastian, hast infused courage into the hearts of thy faithful, since thou didst make him, while concealed under the service of an earthly commander, a perfect soldier of thine own: grant, that we may ever fight for the securing thy praise; arm our mouth with the teachings of thy justice; enlighten our heart with the love of thy love, and, having freed our flesh from its concupiscence, secure it to thyself with the nails of thy cross.
Defender of the Church! Look down upon the Church on earth, that tires not in singing thy praise. As the Vicar of Christ called thee, lift up thy sword and defend her now. Prostrate her enemies, and frustrate the plots they have laid for her destruction. Let her enjoy one of those rare periods of peace, during which she prepares for fresh combats. Oh! by the arrows which pierced thee, we beseech thee shield us from those hidden darts, which satan throws against us.
Another account of St. Sebastian.
St. Sebastian was born at Narbonne, in Gaul, but his parents were of Milan, in Italy, and he was brought up in that city. He was a fervent servant of Christ, and though his natural inclinations gave him an aversion to a military life, yet to be better able, without suspicion, to assist the confessors and martyrs in their sufferings, he went to Rome, and entered the army under the emperor Carinus, about the year 283. It happened that the martyrs, Marcus and Marcellianus, under sentence of death, appeared in danger of being shaken in their faith by the tears of their friends: Sebastian seeing this, stepped in, and made them a long exhortation to constancy, which he delivered with the holy fire, that strongly affected all his hearers. Zoë, the wife of Nicostratus, having for six years lost the use of speech by a palsy in her tongue, fell at his feet, and spoke distinctly, by the saint's making the sign of the cross on her mouth. She, with her husband Nicostratus, who was master of the rolls, the parents of Marcus and Marcellianus, the jailor Claudius, and sixteen other prisoners, were converted; and Nicostratus, who had charge of the prisoners, took them to his own house, where Polycarp, a holy priest, instructed and baptized them. Chromatius, governor of Rome, being informed of this, and that Tranquillinus, the father of Saints Marcus and Marcellianus, had been cured of the gout by receiving baptism, desired to be instructed in the faith, being himself grievously afflicted with the same distemper. Accordingly, having sent for Sebastian, he was cured by him, and baptized, with his son Tiburtius. He then enlarged the converted prisoners, made his slaves free, and resigned his prefectship.
Not long after, in the year 285, Carinus was defeated and slain in Illyricum by Dioclesian, who, the year following, made Maximian his colleague in the empire. The persecution was still carried on by the magistrates, in the same manner as under Carinus, without any new edicts. Dioclesian, admiring the courage and virtue of St. Sebastian, who concealed his religion, would fain have him near his person, and created him captain of a company of the pretorian guards, which was a considerable dignity. When Dioclesian went into the East, Maximian, who remained in the West, honored our saint with the same distinction and respect. Chromatius, with the emperor's consent, retired into the country in Campania, taking many new converts along with him. It was a contest of zeal, out of a mutual desire of martyrdom, between St. Sebastian and the priest Polycarp, which of them should accompany this troop, to complete their instruction, and which should remain in the city, to encourage and assist the martyrs, which latter was the more dangerous province. St. Austin wished to see such contests of charity among the ministers of the church. Pope Caius, who was appealed to, judged it most proper that Sebastian should stay in Rome, as a defender of the church. In the year 286, the persecution growing hot, the pope and others concealed themselves in the imperial palace, as a place of the greatest safety, in the apartments of one Castulus, a Christian officer of the court. St. Zoë was first apprehended, praying at St. Peter's tomb on the feast of the apostles. She was stifled with smoke, being hung by the heels over a fire. Tranquillinus, ashamed to be less courageous than a woman, went to pray at the tomb of St. Paul, and was seized by the populace, and stoned to death. Nicostratus, Claudius, Castorius, and Victorinus were taken, and after being thrice tortured, were thrown into the sea. Tiburtius, betrayed by a false brother, was beheaded. Castulus, accused by the same wretch, was thrice put on the rack, and afterwards buried alive. Marcus and Marcellianus were nailed by the feet to a post, and having remained in that torment twenty-four hours, were shot to death with arrows.
St. Sebastian, having sent so many martyrs to heaven before him, was himself impeached before the emperor Dioclesian; who, having grievously reproached him with ingratitude, delivered him over to certain archers of Mauritania, to be shot to death. His body was covered with arrows, and he left for dead. Irene, the widow of St. Castulus, going to bury him, found him still alive, and took him to her lodgings, where, by care, he recovered of his wounds, but refused to fly, and even placed himself one day by a staircase where the emperor was to pass, whom he first accosted, reproaching him for his unjust cruelties against the Christians. This freedom of speech, and from a person, too, whom he supposed to have been dead, greatly astonished the emperor; but recovering from his surprise, he gave orders for his being seized and beat to death with cudgels, and his body thrown into the common sewer. A pious lady called Lucina, admonished by the martyr in a vision, got it privately removed, and buried it in the catacombs, at the entrance of the cemetery of Calixtus. A church was afterwards built over his relics by pope Damasus, which is one of the seven ancient stationary churches at Rome, but not one of the seven principal churches of that city, as some moderns mistake; it neither being one of the five patriarchal churches, nor one of the seventy-two old churches which give titles to cardinals. Vandelbert, St. Ado, Eginard, Sigebert, and other contemporary authors relate, that in the reign of Louis Débonnaire, pope Eugenius II gave the body of St. Sebastian to Hilduin, abbot of St. Denys, who brought it into France, and it was deposited at St. Medard's, at Soissons, on the 9th of December, in 826; with it is said to have been brought a considerable portion of the relics of St. Gregory the Great. The rich shrines of SS. Sebastian, Gregory, and Medard, were plundered by the Calvinists, in 1564, and the sacred bones thrown into a ditch, in which there was water. Upon the declaration of two eye-witnesses, they were afterwards found by the Catholics; and in 1578, enclosed in three new shrines, though the bones of the three saints could not be distinguished from each other. The head of this martyr, which was given to St. Willibrord by pope Sergius, is kept at Esternach, in the duchy of Luxemburg. Portions of his relics are shown in the cathedral at St. Victor's; the Theatins and Minims at Paris; in four churches at Mantua; at Malaca, Seville, Toulouse, Munich in the ducal palace, Tournay in the cathedral, Antwerp in the church of the Jesuits, and at Brussels, in the chapel of the court, not at St. Gudula's, as some have mistaken. St. Sebastian has been always honored by the church, as one of her most illustrious martyrs. We read in Paul the deacon, in what manner, in the year 680, Rome was freed from a raging pestilence, by the patronage of this saint. Milan, in 1575, Lisbon, in 1599, and other places, have experienced, in like calamities, the miraculous effects of his intercession with God in their behalf.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Christmas, Vol. II, Edition 1868;
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.
Ss. Pope Fabian and Sebastian, pray for us.