April 25, 2021: ST. MARK, EVANGELIST
April 25, 2021: COMMEMORATION OF ST. MARK, EVANGELIST
“Thou, O Mark, art the mystic Lion, which, with the Man, the Ox and the Eagle, art yoked to the chariot whereon the King of kings pursues his triumphant course through the earth. Ezechiel, the Prophet of the Ancient Testament, and John, the Prophet of the New Law, saw thee standing nigh the Throne of Jehovah. How magnificent is thy glory! Thou art the historian of the Word made Flesh, and thou publishest to all generations his claims to the love and adoration of mankind. The Church reveres thy writings, and bids us receive them as inspired by the Holy Ghost.”
O God, who didst raise blessed Mark, thy Evangelist to the honourable commission of preaching thy Gospel; grant, we beseech thee, we may ever receive benefit from his instructions, and be defended by his prayers. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
The Cycle of holy mother Church brings before us to-day, the Lion, who, together with the Man, the Ox and the Eagle, stands before the Throne of God. (Ezechiel, i. 10) It was on this day, that Mark ascended from earth to heaven, radiant with his triple aureola of Evangelist, Apostle, and Martyr.
As the preaching made to Israel had its four great representatives,—Isaias, Jeremias, Ezechiel, and Daniel; so, likewise, would God have the New Covenant to be embodied in the four Gospels, which were to make known to the world the Life and teachings of his divine Son. The Holy Fathers tell us, that the Gospels are like the four streams which watered the Garden of pleasure, (Gen, ii. 10) and that this Garden was a figure of the future Church. The first of the Evangelists,—the first to register the actions and words of our Redeemer,—is Matthew, whose star will rise in September; the second is Mark, whose brightness gladdens us to-day; the third is Luke, whose rays will shine upon us in October; the fourth is John, whom we have already seen in Bethlehem, at the Crib of our Emmanuel.
Mark was the beloved disciple of Peter; he was the brilliant satellite of the Sun of the Church. He wrote his Gospel at Rome, under the eyes of the Prince of the Apostles. The Church was already in possession of the history given by Matthew; but the Faithful of Rome wished their own Apostle to narrate what he had witnessed. Peter refused to write it himself, but he bade his disciple take up his pen, and the Holy Ghost guided the hand of the new Evangelist. Mark follows the account given by Matthew; he abridges it, and yet he occasionally adds a word, or an incident, which plainly prove to us that Peter, who had seen and heard all, was his living and venerated authority. One would have almost expected, that the new Evangelist would pass over in silence the history of his master's fall, or, at least, have said as little as possible about it; but no,—the Gospel written by Mark is more detailed on Peter's denial than is that of Matthew; and as we read it, we cannot help feeling, that the tears, elicited by Jesus’ look, when in the house of Caiphas, were flowing down the Apostle's cheeks, as he described the sad event. Mark's work being finished, Peter examined it and gave it his sanction; the several Churches joyfully received this second account of the mysteries of the world's redemption, and the name of Mark was made known throughout the whole earth.
Matthew begins his Gospel with the human genealogy of the Son of God, and has thus realised the prophetic type of the Man; Mark fulfils that of the Lion, for he commences with the preaching of John the Baptist, whose office as precursor of the Messias, had been foretold by Isaias, where he spoke of the Voice of one crying in the wilderness,—as the Lion that makes the desert echo with his roar.
Mark having written his Gospel, was next to labour as an Apostle. Peter sent him, first, to Aquileia, where he founded an important Church: but this was not enough for an Evangelist. When the time designed by God came, and Egypt,—the source of countless errors,—was to receive the truth, and the haughty and noisy Alexandria was to be raised to the dignity of the second Church of Christendom,—the second See of Peter,—Mark was sent by his master to effect this great work. By his preaching, the word of salvation took root, grew up, and produced fruit in that most infidel of nations; and the authority of Peter was thus marked, though in different degrees, in the three great Cities of the Empire: Rome, Alexandria and Antioch.
St. Mark may be called the first founder of the Monastic life, by his instituting, in Alexandria itself, what were called the Therapeutes. To him, also, may be justly attributed, the origin of that celebrated Christian school, of Alexandria, which was so flourishing, even in the 2nd Century.
But glorious as were these works of Peter's disciple,—the Evangelist and Apostle Mark was also to receive the dignity of Martyr. The success of his preaching excited against him the fury of the idolators. They were keeping a feast in honour of Serapis; and this gave them an opportunity which they were not likely to lose. They seized Mark, treated him most cruelly, and cast him into prison. It was there that our Risen Lord appeared to him, during the night, and addressed him in these words, which afterwards formed the Arms of the Republic of Venice: “Peace be to thee, Mark, my Evangelist!” To which the disciple answered: “Lord”—for such were his feelings of delight and gratitude, that he could say but that one word, as it was with Magdalene, when she saw Jesus on the morning of the Resurrection. On the following day, Mark was put to death by the pagans. He had fulfilled his mission on earth, and heaven opened to receive the Lion, who was to occupy near the throne of the Ancient of days the place allotted to him, as shown to the Prophet of Patmos, in his sublime vision. (Apoc, iv.)
In the 9th Century, the West was enriched with the Relics of St. Mark. They were taken to Venice; and, under the protection of the sacred Lion, there began for that City a long period of glory. Faith in so great a Patron achieved wonders; and from the midst of islets and lagoons there sprang into existence a City of beauty and power. Byzantine Art raised up the imposing and gorgeous Church, which was the palladium of the Queen of the Seas; and the new Republic stamped its coinage with the Lion of St. Mark. Happy would it have been for Venice, had she persevered in her loyalty to Rome, and in the ancient severity of her morals!
Thou, O Mark, art the mystic Lion, which, with the Man, the Ox and the Eagle, art yoked to the chariot whereon the King of kings pursues his triumphant course through the earth. Ezechiel, the Prophet of the Ancient Testament, and John, the Prophet of the New Law, saw thee standing nigh the Throne of Jehovah. How magnificent is thy glory! Thou art the historian of the Word made Flesh, and thou publishest to all generations his claims to the love and adoration of mankind. The Church reveres thy writings, and bids us receive them as inspired by the Holy Ghost.
It was thou that, on the glad Day of Easter, announcedst to us the Resurrection of our Lord: pray for us, O holy Evangelist, that this divine Mystery may work its effects within us; and that our hearts, like thine own, may be firm in their love of our Risen Jesus, that so we may faithfully follow him in that New Life, which he gave us by his Resurrection. Ask him to give us his Peace, as he did to his Apostles when he showed himself to them in the Cenacle, and as he did to thyself when he appeared to thee in thy prison.
Thou wast the beloved disciple of Peter; Rome was honoured by thy presence: pray for the successor of Peter, thy master; pray for the Church of Rome, against which the wildest storm is now venting its fury. Pray to the Lion of the Tribe of Juda: he seems to sleep; and yet we know that he has but to show himself, and the victory is gained.
Apostle of Egypt! what has become of thy flourishing Church of Alexandria, Peter's second See, the hallowed scene of thy Martyrdom? Its very ruins have perished. The scorching blast of heresy made Egypt a waste, and God, in his anger, let loose upon her the torrent of Mahometanism. Centuries have passed since then, and she is still a slave to error and tyranny:—is it to be thus with her till the coming of the Judge? May we not hope that the great movement now preparing may be the dawn of her conversion? Pray, we beseech thee, for the countries thou didst so zealously evangelise, but whose deserts are now the image of her loss of Faith.
And can Venice be forgotten by thee, O thou her dearest Patron? Her glory is fallen, it may be for ever; but her people still call themselves thine, as did the Venetians of old. Let her not swerve from the Faith; bless her with prosperity; obtain for her that she may be purified by her trials, and return to the God who has chastised her in his justice. A nation that is loyal to the Church must prosper: let, then, Venice return to her former fidelity to (the Bishop of) Rome, and reject the evil counsels that are now proposed to her; and who knows but that the Sovereign Ruler of the world, being appeased by thy powerful intercession, may make thy Venice what she was before she rebelled against the Holy See, and tarnished the glories she won at Lepanto!
St. Mark, Evangelist.
St. Mark was of Jewish extraction. The style of his gospel abounding with Hebraisms, shows that he was by birth a Jew, and that the Hebrew language was more natural to him than the Greek. His acts say he was of Cyrenaica, and Bede from them adds, of the race of Aaron. Papias, quoted by Eusebius, St. Austin, Theodoret, and Bede say, he was converted by the apostles after Christ's resurrection. St. Irenaeus calls him the disciple and interpreter of St. Peter; and, according to Origen and St. Jerom, he is the same Mark whom St. Peter calls his son [I Peter, v. 13 - The church that is in Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you: and so doth my son Mark.]. By his office of interpreter to St. Peter, some understood that St. Mark was the author of the style of his epistles; others that he was employed as a translator into Greek or Latin, of what the apostle had written in his own tongue, as occasion might require it. St. Jerom and some others take him to be the same with that John, surnamed Mark, son to the sister of St. Barnabas: but it is generally believed that they were different persons: and that the latter was with St. Paul in the East, at the same time that the Evangelist was at Rome, or at Alexandria. According to Papias, and St. Clement of Alexandria, he wrote his gospel at the request of the Romans; who, as they relate, desired to have that committed to writing which St. Peter had taught them by word of mouth. Mark, to whom this request was made, did accordingly set himself to recollect what he had by long conversation learned from St. Peter; for it is affirmed by some, that he had never seen our Saviour in the flesh. St Peter rejoiced at the affection of the faithful; and having revised the work, approved of it, and authorized it to be read in the religious assemblies of the faithful. Hence it might be that, as we learn from Tertullian, some attributed this gospel to St. Peter himself. Many judge, by comparing the two gospels, that St. Mark abridged that of St. Matthew; for he relates the same things, and often uses the same words; but he adds several particular circumstances, and changes the order of the narration, in which he agrees with St. Luke and St. John. He relates two histories not mentioned by St. Matthew, namely, that of the widow giving two mites, and that of Christ's appearing to the two disciples going to Emmaus. St Austin calls him the abridger of St Matthew. But Ceillier and some others think nothing clearly proves that he made use of St. Matthew's gospel. This evangelist is concise in his narrations, and writes with a most pleasing simplicity and elegance. St. Chrysostom admires the humility of St. Peter, (we may add also of his disciple St. Mark,) when he observes, that his evangelist makes no mention of the high commendations which Christ gave that apostle on his making that explicit confession of his being the Son of God; neither does he mention his walking on the water; but gives at full length the history of St. Peter's denying his Master, with all its circumstances. He wrote his gospel in Italy; and, in all appearance, before the year of Christ, 49.
St. Peter sent his disciples from Rome to found other churches. Some moderns say St. Mark founded that of Aquileia. It is certain at least that he was sent by St. Peter into Egypt, and was by him appointed bishop of Alexandria, (which, after Rome, was accounted the second city of the world,) as Eusebius, St. Epiphanius, St. Jerom, and others assure us. Pope Gelasius, in his Roman council, Palladius, and the Greeks, universally add, that he finished his course at Alexandria, by a glorious martyrdom. St Peter left Rome, and returned into the East in the ninth year of Claudius, and forty-ninth of Christ. About that time St Mark went first into Egypt, according to the Greeks. The Oriental Chronicle, published by Abraham Eckellensis, places his arrival at Alexandria only in the seventh year of Nero, and sixtieth of Christ. Both which accounts agree with the relation of his martyrdom, contained in the ancient acts published by the Bollandists, which were made use of by Bede and the Oriental Chronicle, and seem to have been extant in Egypt in the fourth and fifth centuries. By them we are told that St Mark landed at Cyrene, in Pentapolis, a part of Lybia bordering on Egypt, and, by innumerable miracles, brought many over to the faith, and demolished several temples of the idols. He likewise carried the gospel into other provinces of Lybia, into Thebais, and other parts of Egypt. This country was heretofore of all others the most superstitious: but the benediction of God, promised to it by the prophets, was plentifully showered down upon it during the ministry of this apostle. He employed twelve years in preaching in these parts, before he, by a particular call of God, entered Alexandria, where he soon assembled a very numerous church, of which it is thought says Fleury, that the Jewish converts then made up the greater part. And it is the opinion of St. Jerom and Eusebius, that these were the Therapeutes described by Philo, and the first founders of the ascetic life in Egypt.
The prodigious progress of the faith in Alexandria stirred up the heathens against this Galilӕan. The apostle therefore left the city, having ordained St. Anianus bishop, in the eighth year of Nero, of Christ the sixty-second, and returned to Pentapolis, where he preached two years, and then visited his church of Alexandria, which he found increased in faith and grace, as well as in numbers. He encouraged the faithful and again withdrew: the Oriental Chronicle says to Rome. On his return to Alexandria, the heathens called him a magician, on account of his miracles, and resolved upon his death. God, however, concealed him long from them. At last, on the pagan feast of the idol Serapis, some who were employed to discover the holy man, found him offering to God the prayer of the oblation, or the mass. Overjoyed to find him in their power, they seized him, tied his feet with cords, and dragged him about the streets, crying out, that the ox must be led to Bucoles, a place near the sea, full of rocks and precipices, where probably oxen were fed. This happened on Sunday, the 24th of April, in the year of Christ 68, of Nero the fourteenth, about three years after the death of SS. Peter and Paul. The saint was thus dragged the whole day, staining the stones with his blood, and leaving the ground strewed with pieces of his flesh; all the while he ceased not to praise and thank God for his sufferings. At night he was thrown into prison, in which God comforted him by two visions, which Bede has also mentioned in his true martyrology. The next day the infidels dragged him, as before, till he happily expired on the 25th of April, on which day the Oriental and Western churches keep his festival. The Christians gathered up the remains of his mangled body, and buried them at Bucoles, where they afterwards usually assembled for prayer. His body was honourably kept there, in a church built on the spot, in 310; and towards the end of the fourth age, the holy priest Philoromus made a pilgrimage thither from Galatia to visit this saint's tomb, as Palladius recounts. His body was still honoured at Alexandria, under the Mahometans, in the eighth age, in a marble tomb. It is said to have been conveyed by stealth to Venice, in 815. Bernard, a French monk, who travelled over the East in 870, writes, that the body of St. Mark was not then at Alexandria, because the Venetians had carried it to their isles. It is said to be deposited in the Doge's stately rich chapel of St. Mark, in a secret place, that it may not be stolen, under one of the great pillars. This saint is honoured by that republic with extraordinary devotion as principal patron.
The great litany is sung on this day to beg that God would be pleased to avert from us the scourges which our sins deserve [See April 25: Rogation Day, Greater Litanies]. The origin of this custom is usually ascribed to St. Gregory the Great, who, by a public supplication, or litany with a procession of the whole city of Rome, divided into seven bands, or companies, obtained of God the extinction of a dreadful pestilence. This St. Gregory of Tours learned from a deacon, who had assisted at this ceremony at Rome. The station was at St. Mary Major's, and this procession and litany were made in the year 590. St. Gregory the Great speaks of a like procession and litany which he made thirteen years after, on the 29th of August, in the year 603, in which the station was at St. Sabina's. Whence it is inferred that St. Gregory performed this ceremony every year, though not on the 25th of April, on which day we find it settled, in the close of the seventh century, long before the same was appointed for the feast of St. Mark. The great litany was received in France, and commanded in the council of Aix-la-Chapelle in 836, and in the Capitulars of Charles the Bald. St. Gregory the Great observed the great litany with a strict fast. On account of the Paschal time, on the 25th of April, it is kept in several diocesses only with abstinence; in some with a fast of the Stations, or till None.
Nothing is more tender and more moving than the instructions which several councils, fathers, and holy pastors, have given on the manner of performing public supplications and processions. The first council of Orleans orders masters to excuse their servants from work and attendance, that all the faithful may be assembled together to unite their prayers and sighs. A council of Mentz commanded that all should assist barefoot, and covered with sackcloth: which was for some time observed in that church. St. Charles Borromӕo endeavoured, by pathetic instructions and pastoral letters, to revive the ancient piety of the faithful, on the great litany and the rogation days. According to the regulations which he made, the supplications and processions began before break of day, and continued till three or four o'clock in the afternoon. On them he fasted himself on bread and water, and preached several times, exhorting the people to sincere penance. A neglect to assist at the public supplications of the church, is a grievous disorder, and perhaps one of the principal causes of the little piety and sanctity which are left, and of the scandals which reign amongst Christians. They cannot seek the kingdom of God as they ought, who deprive themselves of so powerful a means of drawing down his graces upon their souls. We must join this procession with hearts penetrated with humility, and spend some time in prayer, pious reading, and the exercises of compunction. What we are chiefly to ask of God on these days is the remission of our sins, which are the only true evil, and the cause of all the chastisements which we suffer, or have reason to fear. We must secondly beg that God avert from us all scourges and calamities which our crimes deserve, and that he bestow his blessing on the fruits of the earth.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – The Paschal Time, Vol. II, Dublin, Edition 1871;
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. Mark, pray for us.