September 19, 2021: ST. JANUARIUS, BISHOP AND COMPANIONS
September 19, 2021: COMMEMORATION OF ST. JANUARIUS, BISHOP AND COMPANIONS, MARTYRS
O holy martyrs, and thou especially, O Januarius, the leader no less by thy courage than by thy pontifical dignity, your present glory increases our longing for heaven; your past combats animate us to fight the good fight; your continual miracles confirm us in the faith. Praise and gratitude are therefore due to you on this day of your triumph.
O God, who by the yearly solemnity of thy holy Martyrs Januarius and Companions, comfortest us thy people; mercifully grant, that, as we rejoice at their merits, we may likewise be encouraged by their example. 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.
Januarius is ever preaching the Gospel to every creature; for his miraculous blood perpetuates the testimony he bore to Christ. Let those who say they cannot believe unless they see, go to Naples; there they will behold the martyr’s blood, when placed near his head which was cut off seventeen hundred years ago, to liquefy and boil as at the moment it escaped from his sacred veins. No; miracles are not lacking in the Church at the present day. True, God cannot subject Himself to the fanciful requirements of those proud men, who would dictate to Him the conditions of the prodigies they must needs witness ere they will bow before His infinite Majesty. Nevertheless, His intervention in interrupting the laws of nature framed by Him and by Him alone to be suspended, has never yet failed the man of good faith in any period of history. At present there is less dearth than ever of such manifestations.
The following is the legend concerning St. Januarius and the sharers in his glorious martyrdom.
During the persecution of the Christians under Diocletian and Maximian, Januarius, bishop of Beneventum, was brought before Timothy, president of Campania, at Nola, for the profession of the Christian faith. There his constancy was tried in various ways. He was cast into a burning furnace, but escaped unhurt, not even his garments or a hair of his head being injured by the flames. This enraged the president, who commanded the martyr's body to be so stretched that all his joints and nerves were displaced. Meanwhile Festus his deacon, and Desiderius a lector, were seized, loaded with chains, and dragged, together with the bishop, before the president’s chariot to Pozzuolo. There they were cast into a dungeon, where they found the deacons Sosius of Misenum and Proculus of Pozzuolo, with Eutyches and Acutius laymen all condemned to be thrown to wild beasts.
The following day they were all exposed in the amphi-theatre; but the beasts, forgetting their natural ferocity, crouched at the feet of Januarius. Timothy, attributing this to magical arts, condemned the martyrs of Christ to be beheaded; but as he was pronouncing the sentence, he was suddenly struck blind. However, at the prayer of Januarius he soon recovered his sight; on account of which miracle, about five thousand men embraced the faith. The ungrateful judge was in no way softened by the benefit conferred upon him, on the contrary, he was enraged by so many conversions; and, fearing the emperor’s edicts, he ordered the holy bishop and his companions to be beheaded.
Eager to secure, each for itself, a patron before God among these holy martyrs, the neighbouring towns provided burial places for their bodies. In obedience to a warning from heaven, the Neapolitans took the body of St. Januarius, and placed it first at Beneventum, then in the monastery of Monte Vergine, and finally in the principal church at Naples, where it became illustrious for many miracles. One of the most remarkable of these was the extinction of a fiery eruption of Mount Vesuvius, when the terrible flames threatened with destruction not only the neighbourhood but even distant parts. Another remarkable miracle is seen even to the present day, namely: when the martyr’s blood, which is preserved congealed in a glass vial, is brought in presence of his head, it liquefies and boils up in a wonderful manner, as if it had been but recently shed.
Another account of St. Januarius and Companions.
St. Januarius, a native some say of Naples, others of Benevento, was bishop of this latter city, when the persecution of Dioclesian broke out. Sosius, deacon of Miseno, Proculus, deacon of Puzzuoli, and Eutyches, or Eutychetes, and Acutius, eminent laymen, were imprisoned at Puzzuoli for the faith, by an order of Dracontius, governor of Campania, before whom they had confessed their faith. Sosius, by his singular wisdom and sanctity, had been worthy of the intimate friendship of St. Januarius, who reposed in him an entire confidence, and for many years had found no more solid comfort among men than in his holy counsels and conversation. Upon the news that this great servant of God and several others were fallen into the hands of the persecutors, the good bishop determined to make them a visit, in order to comfort and encourage them, and provide them with every spiritual succour to arm them for their great conflict: in this act of charity no fear of torments or danger of his life could terrify him; and martyrdom was his recompense. He did not escape the notice of the inquisitive keepers, who gave information that an eminent person from Benevento had visited the Christian prisoners. Timothy, who had just succeeded Dracontius in the government of that district of Italy, gave orders that Januarius, whom he found to be the person, should be apprehended and brought before him at Nola, the usual place of his residence; which was done accordingly. Festus, the bishop's deacon, and Desiderius, a lector of his church, were taken up as they were making him a visit. They had a share in the interrogatories and torments which the good bishop underwent at Nola. Some time after the governor went to Puzzuoli, and these three confessors, loaded with heavy irons, were made to walk before his chariot to the town, where they were thrown into the same prison where the four martyrs already mentioned were detained; they had been condemned, by an order from the emperor, to be torn in pieces by wild beasts, and were then lying in expectation of the execution of their sentence. The day after the arrival of St. Januarius, and his two companions, all these champions of Christ were exposed to be devoured by the beasts in the amphitheatre; but none of the savage animals could be provoked to touch them. The people were amazed, but imputed their preservation to art-magic: and the martyrs were condemned to be beheaded. This sentence was executed near Puzzuoli, as Bede testifies, and the martyrs were decently interred near that town. Some time after the Christian faith was become triumphant, towards the year 400, their precious relics were removed.
The city of Naples was so happy as to get possession of the relics of St. Januarius. During the wars of the Normans they were removed, first to Benevento, and, some time after, to the abbey of Monte-Vergine; but, in 1497, they were brought back to Naples, which city has long honoured him as principal patron. Among many miraculous deliverances which it ascribes to the intercession of this great saint, none is looked upon as more remarkable than its preservation from the fiery eruptions of Mount Vesuvius, now called La Somma, which is only eight miles distant, and which has often threatened the entire destruction of this city, both by the prodigious quantities of burning sand, ashes, and stones, which it throws up on those occasions to a much greater distance than Naples; and, by a torrent of burning sulphur, nitre, calcined stones, and other materials, which like a liquid fire has sometimes gushed from that volcano, and, digging itself a channel (which has sometimes been two or three miles broad), rolled its flaming waves through the valley into the sea, destroying towns and villages in its way, and often passing near Naples. Some of these eruptions, which in the fifth and seventh centuries threatened this city with destruction, by the clouds of ashes which they raised, are said to have darkened the sky as far as Constantinople, and struck terror into the inhabitants of that capital. The intercession of St. Januarius was implored at Naples on those occasions, and the divine mercy so wonderfully interposed in causing these dreadful evils suddenly to cease thereupon, especially in 685, Bennet II being pope, and Justinian the Younger emperor, that the Greeks instituted a feast in honour of St. Januarius, with two yearly solemn processions to return thanks to God. The protection of the city of Naples from this dreadful volcano by the same means was most remarkable in the years 1631 and 1707.
The Standing Miracle.
The standing miracle, as it is called by Baronius, of the blood of St. Januarius liquefying and boiling up at the approach of the martyr's head, is likewise very famous. In a rich chapel, called the Treasury, in the great church at Naples, are preserved the blood, in two very old glass vials, and the head of St. Januarius. The blood is congealed, and of a dark colour; but, when brought in sight of the head, though at a considerable distance, it melts, bubbles up, and, upon the least motion, flows on any side. It happens equally in all seasons of the year, and in variety of circumstances. The usual times when it is performed are the feast of St. Januarius, the 19th of September; that of the translation of his relics (when they were brought from Puzzuoli to Naples), the Sunday which falls next to the calends of May; and the 20th day of December, on which, in 1631, a terrible eruption of Mount Vesuvius was extinguished, upon invoking the patronage of this martyr. The same is done on extraordinary occasions at the discretion of the archbishop. This miraculous solution and ebullition of the blood of St. Januarius is mentioned by Pope Pius II when he speaks of the reign of Alphonsus I of Arragon, King of Naples, in 1450: Angelus Cato, an eminent physician of Salerno, and others mention it in the same century. Almost two hundred years before that epoch, historians take notice that King Charles I of Anjou, coming to Naples, the archbishop brought out the head and blood of this martyr. The continuator of the chronicle of Maraldus says the same was done upon the arrival of King Roger, who venerated these relics, in 1140. Falco of Benevento relates the same thing. From several circumstances this miracle is traced much higher, and it is said to have regularly happened on the annual feast of St. Januarius, and on that of the translation of his relics, from the time of that translation, about the year 400.
Miracles recorded in holy scripture are revealed facts, and an object of faith. Other miracles are not considered in the same light; neither does our faith rest upon them as upon the former, though they illustrate and confirm it; nor do they demand or admit any higher assent than that which prudence requires, and that which is due to the evidence or human authority upon which they depend. When such miracles are propounded, they are not to be rashly admitted; the evidence of the fact and circumstances ought to be examined to the bottom, and duly weighed; where that fails it is the part of prudence to suspend or refuse our assent. Also if it appears doubtful whether an effect be natural or proceed from a supernatural interposition, our assent ought to lean according to the greater weight of probability, and God, who is author of all events, natural and supernatural, is always to be glorified. If human evidence set the certainty of a miracle above the reach of any doubt, it must more powerfully excite us to raise our minds to God in sentiments of humble adoration, love, and praise.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. V,
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.
St. Januarius and Companions, pray for us.