August 1, 2021: ST. PETER IN CHAINS
August 1, 2021: COMMEMORATION OF ST. PETER IN CHAINS
“The Lord sent his Angel, and he delivered me out of the
hands of Herod.”
(Acts, xii. 11)
O God, who didst deliver blessed Peter the Apostle from his chains, and set him at liberty untouched; deliver us, we beseech thee, from the bonds of our sins, and mercifully protect us from all evils. 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.
(Commemoration of St. Paul) O God, who by the preaching of blessed Paul the Apostle, didst instruct the multitude of the Gentiles; grant, we beseech thee, that while we celebrate his festival, we may find the effect of 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 Angel said to Peter: put thy garment about thee, and follow me.”
The bolts and fetters open fly,
And Peter gains his liberty:
Him the faithful flocks obey,
Who gives them food, and when they stray
Seeks them, and drives the wolf away.
To God the Father glory be:
Eternal Son, let’s sing to thee
Transcendent praise, and to thy name,
O Holy Ghost, be endless fame:
To Three and One give all the same. Amen.
V. Thou art Peter.
R. And upon this rock I will build my Church.
Scriptural Account of Herod's persecution, Peter's deliverance by an Angel, and Herod's punishment.
The Acts of the Apostles, Ch. xii. 1-23
1. And at the same time Herod the king stretched forth his hands, to afflict some of the church.
2. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
3. And seeing that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to take up Peter also. Now it was in the days of the azymes.
4. And when he had apprehended him, he cast him into prison, delivering him to four files of soldiers to be kept, intending after the pasch to bring him forth to the people.
5. Peter therefore was kept in prison. But payer was made without ceasing by the church unto God for him.
6 And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.
7. And behold an Angel of the Lord stood by him: and a light shined in the room: and he striking Peter on the side raised him up, saying: Arise quickly. And the chains fell off from his hands.
8. And the Angel said to him: Gird thyself, and put on thy sandals. And he did so. And he said to him: Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.
9. And going out he followed him, and he knew not that it was true which was done by the Angel: but thought he saw a vision.
10. And passing through the first and the second ward, they came to the iron gate that leadeth to the city, which of itself opened to them. And going out, they passed on through one street: and immediately the Angel departed from him.
11. And Peter coming to himself, said: Now I know in very deed that the Lord hath sent his Angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.
12. And considering, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, who was surnamed Mark, where many were gathered together and praying.
13. And when he knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, whose name was Rhode.
14. And as soon as she knew Peter‘s voice, she opened not the gate for joy, but running in she told that Peter stood before the gate.
15. But they said to her: Thou art mad. But she affirmed that it was so. Then said they: It is his Angel.
16. But Peter continued knocking. And when they had opened, they saw him, and were astonished.
17. But he beckoning to them with his hand to hold their peace, told how the Lord had brought him out of prison, and he said: Tell these things to James and to the brethren. And going out he went into another place.
18. Now when day was come, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter.
19. And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not; having examined the keepers, he commanded they should be put to death: and going down from Judea to Cesarea, he abode there.
20. And he was angry with the Tyrians and the Sidonians. But they with one accord came to him, and having gained Blastus who was the king’s chamberlain, they desired peace, because their countries were nourished by him.
21. And upon a day appointed, Herod being arrayed in kingly apparel, sat in the judgment seat, and made an oration to them.
22. And the people made acclamation saying: It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.
23. And forthwith an Angel of the Lord struck him, because he had not given the honour to God: and being eaten up by worms, he gave up the ghost.
Rome, making a god of the man who had subjugated her, consecrated the month of August to Caesar Augustus. When Christ had delivered her, she placed at the head of this same month, as a trophy of her regained liberty, the feast of the chains, wherewith, in order to break hers, Peter the Vicar of Christ had once been bound. O Divine Wisdom, who hast a better claim to reign over this month than had the adopted son of Caesar, thou couldst not have more authentically inaugurated thy empire. Strength and sweetness are the attributes of thy works, and it is in the weakness of thy chosen ones that thou triumphest over the powerful. Thou thyself, in order to give us life, didst swallow death; Simon, son of John, became a captive, to set free the world entrusted to him. First, Herod, and then Nero showed him the cost of the promise he had once received, of binding and loosing on earth as in heaven: he had to share the love of the Supreme Shepherd, even to allowing himself, like him, to be bound with chains for the sake of the flock, and led where he would not.
Glorious chains! never will ye make Peter's successors tremble any more than Peter himself; before the Herods and Neros and Caesars of all ages ye will be the guarantee of the liberty of souls. With what veneration have the Christian people honoured you, ever since the earliest times! One may truly say of the present feast that its origin is lost in the darkness of ages. According to ancient monuments, (Martyrolog. Hieronym., Bed., Raban., Notker.) St. Peter himself first consecrated on this date the basilica on the highest of the seven hills, where the citizens of Rome are gathered to-day. The name Title of Eudoxia, by which the venerable Church is often designated, seems to have arisen from certain restorations made on occasion of the events mentioned in the Lessons. As to the sacred chains, which are its treasure, the earliest mention now extant of honour being paid to them occurs in the beginning of the second century. Balbina, daughter of the tribune Quirinus, keeper of the prisons, had been cured by touching the chains of the holy Pope Alexander; she could not cease kissing the hands which had healed her. “Find the chains of blessed Peter, and kiss them rather than these,” said the Pontiff. Balbina, therefore, having fortunately found the Apostle's chains, lavished her pious veneration upon them, and afterwards gave them to the noble Theodora, sister of Hermes. (Acta S. Alenxandri.)
The irons which had bound the arms of the Doctor of the Gentiles, without being able to bind the word of God, were also after his martyrdom treasured more than jewels and gold. From Antioch, in Syria, St. John Chrysostom, thinking with holy envy of the lands enriched by these trophies of triumphant bondage, cried out in a sublime transport: “What more magnificent than these chains? Prisoner for Christ is a more beautiful name than that of Apostle, Evangelist, or Doctor. To be bound for Christ's sake is better than to dwell in the heavens; to sit upon the twelve thrones is not so great an honour. He that loves can understand me; but who can better understand these things than the holy choir of Apostles? As for me, if I were offered my choice between these chains and the whole of heaven, I should not hesitate; for in them is happiness. Would that I were now in those places, where it is said the chains of these admirable men are still kept! If it were given me to be set free from the care of this Church, and if I had a little health, I should not hesitate to undertake such a voyage only to see Paul's chains. If they said to me: Which wouldst thou prefer, to be the Angel who delivered Peter or Peter himself in chains? I would rather be Peter, because of his chains.”
Though always venerated in the great basilica which enshrines his tomb, St. Paul's chain has never been made, like those of St. Peter, the object of a special feast in the Church. This distinction was due to the pre-eminence of him “who alone received the keys of the kingdom of heaven to communicate them to others,” and who alone continues, in his successors, to bind and loose with sovereign power throughout the whole world. The collection of letters of St. Gregory the Great proves how universally, in the sixth century, was spread the cultus of these holy chains, a few filings of which enclosed in gold or silver keys was the richest present the Sovereign Pontiffs were wont to offer to the principal churches, or to princes whom they wished to honour. Constantinople, at some period not clearly determined, received a portion of these precious chains; she appointed a feast on the 16th January, honouring on that day the Apostle Peter, as the occupant of the first See, the foundation of the faith, the immovable basis of dogma.
The following is the legend of the feast in the Roman Breviary:
During the reign of Theodosius the younger, Eudoxia, his wife, went to Jerusalem to fulfil a vow, and while there she was honoured with many gifts, the greatest of which was an iron chain adorned with gold and precious stones, and said to be that wherewith the Apostle Peter had been bound by Herod. Eudoxia piously venerated this chain, and then sent it to Rome to her daughter Eudoxia. The latter took it to the Sovereign Pontiff, who in his turn showed her another chain which had bound the same Apostle, under Nero.
When the Pontiff thus brought together the Roman chain and that which had come from Jerusalem, they joined together in such a manner that they seemed no longer two chains, but a single one, made by one same work-man. On account of this miracle the holy chains began to be held in so great honour, that a church at the title of Eudoxia on the Esquiline was dedicated under the name of St. Peter ad vincula, and the memory of its dedication was celebrated by a feast on the Kalends of August.
From that time St. Peter's chains began to receive the honours of this day, instead of a pagan festival which it bad been customary to celebrate. Contact with them healed the sick, and put the demons to flight. Thus, in the year of salvation 909, a certain count, who was very intimate with the Emperor Otho, was taken possession of by an unclean spirit, so that he tore his flesh with his own teeth. By command of the Emperor he was taken to the Pontiff John, who had no sooner touched the count's neck with the holy chain than the wicked spirit was driven away, leaving the man entirely free. On this account devotion to the holy chains was spread throughout Rome.
Another account of St. Peter in Chains.
The chains and prisons of the saints were the subject of their greatest joy and glory, and the source of the highest graces and crowns. God honoured them in the prince of the apostles with wonderful miracles. It has been related in the life of St. James the Great, that Herod Agrippa, King of the Jews, having put to death that apostle in the year 44, in order to gain the affection and applause of his people, by an action still more agreeable to them, caused St. Peter, the prince of the sacred college, to be cast into prison. It was his intention to put him publicly to death after Easter. The whole church at Jerusalem put up its prayers and cries to God, without ceasing, for the deliverance of the chief pastor of his whole flock, and God favourably heard them. The king took all precautions possible to prevent the escape of his prisoner, as he and the other apostles had formerly been miraculously delivered out of prison by an angel (Acts, v. 19). St. Peter himself remained, no doubt, in perfect joy, committing himself with entire confidence and submission to the divine disposal. In this tranquillity of mind and entire resignation of himself, he lay fast asleep, on the very night before the day intended for his execution, when it pleased God to deliver him out of the hands of his enemies. He was guarded by sixteen soldiers, four of whom always kept sentry in their turns; two in the same dungeon with him, and two at the gate. He was fastened to the ground by two chains, and slept between the two soldiers. In the middle of the night a bright light shone in the prison, and an angel appeared near him, and striking him on the side, awaked him out of his sleep, and bade him instantly arise, gird his coat about him, put on his sandals and his cloak, and follow him. The apostle did so, for the chains had dropped off from his hands. Following his guide, he passed after him through the first and second ward or watch, and through the iron gate which led into the city, which opened to them of its own accord. The angel conducted him through ono street; then, suddenly disappearing, left him to seek some asylum. Till then the apostle, in his surprise, doubted whether the whole was not a mere vision; but, upon the angel's vanishing, he acknowledged his miraculous deliverance, and blessed the author of it. He went directly to the house of Mary the mother of John, surnamed Mark, where several disciples were met together and were sending up their prayers to heaven for his deliverance. As he stood knocking without, a young woman going to the door and perceiving it was his voice, ran in and acquainted the company that Peter was at the door; and when she persisted in the thing, they concluded rather it must be his guardian angel, sent by God upon some extraordinary account: until, being let in, he related to them the whole manner of his miraculous escape; and having enjoined them to give notice thereof to St. James and the rest of the brethren, he withdrew to a place of more retirement and security, carrying, wherever he went, the heavenly blessing and life. The next day, when he was not to be found, Agrippa commanded the keepers to be put to death, as supposing them accessory to St. Peter's escape. This wonderful deliverance is a proof, that though God does sometimes allow the wicked to execute their designs, yet when it pleases him, he restrains them, and sets bounds to their wickedness, and that he always watches over his faithful servants. We likewise see, by this event, the power and efficacy of public prayer. The Jewish passover that year fell on the 1st of April; but the Greek Menӕa commemorates this miracle and St. Peter's Chain on the 16th of January, in memory of the dedication of a church called St. Peter's Chain, in which one of his chains was kept. The Western church has long kept this festival on the 1st of August, on account of a dedication made on this clay of the famous old church of this title in Rome, which has been a place of great devotion. It gives a title to a cardinal. Mention is made of priests of this church in the fifth century.
Such was the veneration of the faithful for the relics of the apostles Ss. Peter and Paul, deposited at Rome, that the popes themselves durst not presume to touch, separate, or give away part of the precious remains of their bodies. This St. Gregory the Great often testifies in his epistles. Pope Hormisdas assures us of the same in his letter to Justinian, nephew to the Emperor Justin I and afterwards his successor, who had begged a small particle of them for a church he was building to their honour at Constantinople. Both these popes testify that it was the custom for the popes only to put down a linen cloth, called Brandeum, upon the tomb of the apostles, which being thus blessed was sent and received with the respect duo to a relic; and God often worked miracles by these Brandeums. Justinian was satisfied with such a relic, and with the reasons of respect for the sacred bodies alleged by the pope. His ambassadors at the same time begged and obtained a small portion of St. Peter's Chains, which were kept at Rome with great devotion in the ancient church which is known by that title, at least ever since the fifth century. The popes were accustomed to send the filings of these chains as precious relics, to devout princes, and they were often instruments of miracles. The pope himself rasped off these filings, which he enclosed in a cross or in a golden key, as appears from St. Gregory, who says in his letter to King Childebert, to whom he sent one of these keys, that many persons, out of devotion, hung such keys about their necks as preservatives from dangers. St. Cӕsarius says that the chains with which this apostle was bound in his last imprisonment before his martyrdom, were preserved by the faithful, and honoured at Rome in his time. Arator, subdeacon of the church of Rome, who composed a poem on the Acts of the Apostles, in the reign of Justinian, says that Rome was also enriched with one of the chains with which that apostle was bound by Agrippa at Jerusalem, and from which the angel delivered him. St. Chrysostom affirms the same, and expresses the most earnest desire to have been able to go so far to see and kiss that relic of this great apostle's glorious sufferings. It is said, that Eudocia, the wife of Theodosius the Younger, in 439, brought from Jerusalem two chains with which St. Peter had been bound in that city, and having given one to a church in Constantinople, sent the other to Rome to her daughter Eudoxia, who was married to Valentinian III, and who is said to have built a church on the Esquiline hill, in which it was deposited.
The iron chains of this apostle have been esteemed as more precious and valuable than gold, says St. Cӕsarius. Pagan Rome never derived so much honour from the spoils and trophies of a conquered world as Christian Rome receives from the corporeal remains of these two glorious apostles, before which the greatest emperors lay down their diadems, and prostrate themselves, as St. Chrysostom and St. Austin observe. Among other proofs of the veneration of the primitive Christians towards those sacred pledges, Orsi appeals to the images of Ss. Peter and Paul, which are found frequently carved in the ancient cemeteries of Rome, and on many sepulchral urns, which many antiquaries have shown to be more ancient than the persecution of Dioclesian. Eusebius tells us, that he had seen the pictures of these two apostles, which had been preserved down to his time. That of St. Paul agrees with the description given of him in the dialogue entitled Philopatris, wrote about the end of the first century, before Lucian, who was born under Trajan, and flourished under Marcus Aurelius. It also agrees with that extant in the very ancient, though apocryphal acts of St. Thecla.
The first day of August is called by us Lammas-day, softened from Loaf-mas; a mass of thanksgiving for the first fruits of the earth, or of the corn, being anciently celebrated in England on this day. It was kept with a solemn procession, and was also called the Guild of August. The solemn blessing of new grapes was performed both among the Greeks and Latins, in some places on the 1st, in others on the 6th day of August, and is expressly mentioned in ancient liturgical books, as Cardinal Bona, and others, take notice.
We owe to God, in a special manner, the first fruits of our lives, and of all our actions, in acknowledgment that he is our beginning and last end. Of this tribute he is extremely jealous, as he expressed in the old law by his rigorous precept of the sacrifice of first fruits. A Christian, to acquit himself of this duty, ought to begin every day, and every undertaking, by fervently renewing the consecration of himself and of all his actions to God, with an humble sacrifice of thanksgiving for his benefits, and an earnest petition of the divine blessing and grace to make a good use of the gifts of heaven.
from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. IV, Dublin, Edition 1901;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. II; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
Loose, by the command of God, O Peter, who causest the kingdom of heaven to be opened to the blessed, the chains that bind us here on earth.